Monday, December 13, 2010

A few of my favorite things

There are things you know you love before you know they exist or before you know they have names or to name them. For me these things are frequently mongrels--mixed breeds of pursuits, activities or passions that when combined reach beyond what the disparate parts can do on their own.

I write entirely to find out what I am thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see, and what it means. --Joan Didion.

I never thought of trail running as something different from distance running, just the best/coolest part of what running is. When I rekindled my running a few years back, I saw an issue of Trail Runner Magazine on the newsstand and it was instant and immersive epiphany. The first time I hit a trail with that intention in my crawl, I basically floated above the trails. I read and thought about it when I wasn't doing it. It provides an aesthetic, a rush, a peace, a calm, a connection that other ways of being don't and maybe can't. Trail running is the reduction, the distillation of what I dig most about running, kind of like fast-forwarding through the boring parts of an action movie.

Cruising the streets, surveying concrete and asphalt for hills, tools, angles, transitions, this was/is the organic, responsive part of skateboarding that tractor-beamed me into it as a teenager. A sort of nomadic zen that seemed to be created with/by the hum of polyurethane wheels in motion. When I stepped back into skating at age 35 on a 7x27 Element board with thin wheels not meant for rolling, something was amiss. Ollying objects was fun, but nothing soulful.

When a friend brought his Subsonic Pulse 40-inch longboard over and we took turns surfing the street and learned long distance pumping, the mutt offspring of long distance skateboarding took root in me. Just going out cruising, seeing what you encounter, but also pushing your own boundaries or limits.

Most recently it was the naming of the lyric essay while reading David Shields. The lyric essay is a label-shunning literary hybrid that describes what I have looked for in reading and strive to create in writing. I'm not sure when or where or who coined the genre, but the Seneca Review outed it in a 1997 issue. The editors, John D'Agata and Deborah Tall talk about it like this:

"The lyric essay partakes of the poem in its density and shapeliness, its distillation of ideas and musicality of language. It partakes of the essay in its weight, in its overt desire to engage with facts, melding its allegiance to the actual with its passion for imaginative form... As Helen Vendler says of the lyric poem, "It depends on gaps. . . . It is suggestive rather than exhaustive." ... it may meander, making use of other genres when they serve its purpose: recombinant, it samples the techniques of fiction, drama, journalism, song, and film.

"Given its genre mingling, the lyric essay often accretes by fragments, taking shape mosaically - its import visible only when one stands back and sees it whole... It elucidates through the dance of its own delving... Loyal to that original sense of essay as a test or a quest, an attempt at making sense, the lyric essay sets off on an uncharted course through interlocking webs of idea, circumstance, and language - a pursuit with no foreknown conclusion, an arrival that might still leave the writer questioning... We turn to the lyric essay - with its malleability, ingenuity, immediacy, complexity, and use of poetic language - to give us a fresh way to make music of the world."

Yeah, that's the ticket. A test, a quest, an attempt at making sense, questioning, trying to figure the world and myself out as part of the process. Trying to learn something via writing that I didn't and wouldn't have known otherwise. That's what writing has always been about for me and why in school and outside of school, philosophy and literature and writing have always been connected, there have never been clear lines between them and the best writers, the ones that I come back to again and again, are the ones who fuse all these things together and speak them, combine them in ways that you never forget. Ways that make you see. Differently.

* image by Robert Rauschenberg

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