Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trick Yourself

[veeeerrry genuine disclaimer: this post is about physicality (running). I include #s in it because these #s are specific and real to my story. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the #s do not matter, in themselves; I am disgusted with myself because these are my #s, and my failure to reach them is my failure. Many people have #s that are faster/stronger -- awesome awesome awesome friend, good for you; some people have #s that are maybe lower/less fast -- if you are crushing your #s you are crushing it. With hardness. If any of my self-snark conveys some opposite point, that is the bile of my heart staining the intent of my expression; that is the opposite of the meaning I'd like to present. When I fail my goals I feel bad; here's a way I kinda got around that sort-of close-to, today. That's the point; the #s don't matter and should be normed to the reader's experience.]

Last night, as I often do, I kind of sketched out my hope for my run this a.m. The hope that I sketched out was 10 miles; I knew as I "sketched" it that it was very unlikely, almost surely would not happen. My right abductor is screwed up, I've got some kind of "sportsman's hernia" bullshit going on, my hip flexors are all out of whack probably because of ways I've been compensating for these things.

Also, I'm in Chicago, which means that
(a) the weather is more likely to be sh1tty (indeed: was forecast to be sh1tty, and was sh1tty), and
(b) I'll be running just on endless flats, and after years of trail-running I find the mental stamina of long flat runs pretty draining; after 2 or 3 miles I feel like I've run 7 or 8, mentally, because physically and spatially it's all just boring/the same.

And (a) and (b) interact, because (a) meant I would not have music (my phone works crappily enough already, without another soaking in the Chicago rain).

I woke up this morning and the weather was sh1tty; I at once downgraded my run to a "fast 4" -- 4 miles, splits under 7'/mile. I knew, as I sketched this, I wouldn't make it -- my legs are messed up fatigued excuses excuses.

I got out by around 5:45am; my f#cking feet got wet at once and I was like, "fuck this. my legs hurt my shit's tired my feet are wet; fuck this."

0.31 miles into my run I turned around to go back in. I was gonna do a Yoga Sculpt class at Hyde Park's Core Power Yoga; this wasn't a great idea because (a) I did one of these yesterday; psychologically and physically it's probably better to cross-train; (b) those classes are freaking expensive (especially compared to a free run); and (c) it was 5:55a.m. or whatever -- the class was at 8am. So basically the morning would be chopped up into unusable bits and I'd be burning a lot of the day fuddling around.

But I was so mad and disgusted with myself that I literally turned around, not "turned around", and then turned around again to go back out on the run because...well here we go: first, I told myself I'd do intervals.

There's a workout I've programmed in my Garmin called (natch) "Intervals"; 6 2.5-minute splits of running fast (target is low 6s or high 5s) with cooldowns of equal length in between. So I'm like, "look, your splits will suck, but at least you will have pushed it...done a thing. It'll be a short run but you'll have done a thing."

I did very, very shitty intervals. They were slow. I was running into the wind for the first half and my legs were tired and I am a weak litany of failures; they were terrible intervals.

But I did them. And I was finishing, having run about 4 miles, approaching the point to turn back inland off of the lakefront trail, I was like: okay, so, okay this sucks you suck fine but you're not in pain fine run 2 miles or 15 minutes, whichever comes first.

So I did that and, to my ongoing shame and disgust, 15 minutes came first (just!) and whatever I pushed past it a bit ran 2.3 or so miles.

Running back I made an honest mistake (ran out on a promontory that did not reconnect to the land, had to double back) that added some more distance.

Total length for that segment: 5.63 miles.

So my total length on the day was 9.67 miles.

This is no big deal. I did not reach my goal; it was a slow crappy moody crappy run, and I am a slow crappy moody crappy guy. BUT there was something useful/interesting to me, here.

Like anyone who works out, ever, I of course do various things to "trick myself" into pushing past certain obstacles. "Just run fast until..."; "just swim hard for...". Whatever whatever. And of course when you have someone training you, that's the big advantage of that--if they're good, the point of them is to take on some of theme metering and pushing. But most of us do it our own in some way, and even in my anger right now I recognize that as part of the satisfaction of these physical activities at which I am such a pathetic and abject failure.

But what I did this morning was interesting and different, in that I actually tricked myself. I was not saying, "just do the shorter interval run and we'll see how we feel." I was not thinking "2 miles or 15 minutes, whichever comes first" (fingers crossed). I meant it! In every part of my conscious brain and intention, I thought that that's what I was going to do. I was going to stop after my intervals -- even though they were crappy (I knew they'd be crappy, although they were perhaps even crappier than feared). I was totally going to run "2 miles or 15 minutes".

But maybe I wasn't? Maybe somewhere in me--and again, I really really do not mean with any conscious intention at all--I had some idea that I wouldn't, that I'd push past if I could? Because as I run past the 2 mile mark (I ran about 18 minutes out, the 2.3 miles or whatever), I did shake my head and laugh and talk to myself as if to someone else: "James you motherfucker. Ha. Okay. Okay."

So that's the point of this post: that maybe this is a good strategy, too. It's probably a natural extension of just do it; that's probably basically still the best strategy ever. And the knowing mental games are useful -- you can't trick yourself all the time. But I mean: I really did, or insofar as I could have told you at the time I did, this morning. And I'm certainly glad I did -- pathetic and mismade I may be  (am!), I'm less pathetic and mismade than I'd feel if I hadn't pushed past and at least kinda done a thing.

Wish I'd done the math earlier and just finished the 10.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Simply Summer's Eve

As you may know, yoga studios / gyms / etc. often get samples of products to distribute to members; these samples are often placed in the bathrooms or at the check-in desk. I currently have a LOT of B-12 vitamins in little packets for this reason (tastiness of vitamins: abundant; evidence that these vitamins will do what the packet claims they will: minimal).

I've also, of late, grabbed a bunch of a particular little cleansing wipe that's been stashed into these "Take One!" wicker baskets. They're the kind of thing that you'd expect in this setting: "single-serve" packets in plastic with a coupon attached in case you want to go buy the product.

I've been grabbing one or two every time I go into this particular studio, where I practice a fair amount, so I've got...I dunno. Twenty? I'm not hoarding: this kind of thing is useful! Wipes for your face/mat? Great. They've got a picture of an orange on the front. I like grabbing a couple, ripping open the external plastic baggie (not the one sealing the product) to throw it away and recycle the ancillary materials, stashing them in my gym bag.

Some of you may see where this is headed.

I am home yesterday, working; I am fussing around between Doing Real Things; I decide that a semi-productive way to fuss would be to clean my keyboard and mouse. They need it: they're a bit schmutzy and I look at them often like, "I should clean these."

And now I have just the thing: cheerful "mandarin blossom" "cleansing cloth"es!

I crack open a "cloth" and use it to clean off my mouse and keyboard. It works well -- it's not too wet or astringent and within a few minutes the shiny black plastic of my gaming keyboard and mouse is shiny and black, free of schmutz.

As I'm finishing up I take a look at the marketing copy; these things smell good. Maybe I'll grab some!
"For freshness on the go..."
"Infused with botanical extracts that cater to your most intimate parts..."
"The de-light-fully scented, individually wrapped clothes..."
"Gynecologist tested..."
By the time I got to "For external vaginal use only" I'd grokked the situation. To be clear, the situation was not troubling. If anything, I hope and assume that any "cleansing cloth" meant to go anywhere near anybody's vagina is vastly overqualified to clean off my keyboard and gaming mouse. And, I mean, they did a great job! They smell nice!

Anyway these are the clothes. I will have a Moment before first doing so, but I have no doubt I'll be using them to clean off my face and yoga mat throughout the summer. I have, f'real, a bunch.

smells gr8
not specifically designed for gaming peripherals

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Just Cut It

Captain's Log, stardate whatever the ten-fifty-thousandth time I've realized this:

If you are the kind of writer to whom, generally, 'the words' per se come well;
and you are having trouble with 'the words' -- they aren't coming;
there's a good chance the sentence/thought/beat you are writing is bullsh1t,
and the problem is therefore the words are sh1t too, or:
there just aren't any there. Cuz it's bullsh1t.

TBH I think that most people are 'the kind of writer to whom' &c.; i.e. that the flaw in the process that many people who think writing is 'hard' have run into is not that they're 'bad at writing' -- we're all pretty fluid at expressing ourselves through language, for the most part (see: the Internet).

It's the earlier stage of making sure you're saying something that's not nonsense/bullsh1t/a waste of everyone's time, including your own but especially the reader's.

Anyway: so much for that story beat. b-bye.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

AlphaSmart 3000 Entry #4: LAX Departures

so...I took this thing out again. I took it out by accident; not by accident, really, but as part of a sub-optimal packing strategy that was sub-optimal mainly in that it, this thing, is a giant f'ing hunk of chonky plastic in a world (my bag. in this framing, the world is my bag) of sleek chrome.

It's the "a" key that's worst, mainly. Bad key to be worst. Well the "a" key and all the other keys. Like my hands are tired already.

I should write about something. I really should write about something. I have like...literally two- or three-dozen half-written blog posts on the Blogger server, here "right here" in cyberspace terms which are the terms under which you are reading this thing O MY GOD THIS "A" KEY but not, as this freaking A key demonstrates, the terms under which I am writing.

It's a very powerful feeling, in fact. A powerful feeling in a preposterous fucking package I mean this thing is BSURED. Which by the way is what happens, apparently, when you attempt to type "a b s u r d" on this ridiculous contraption.

BUT I am, as you can probably tell, readerfriend, also in a sense in love with it already. Because of what I mentioned...some amount of text above, I can't tell because as I mentioend in the first round of entries the AlphaSmart 3000 features 4 lines of let's count them it's one of those screens where each character occupies  a dot-matrix square
four lines of
123456789012345678901234567890123456789040 characters
4 lines of 40 characters each
is what I can see.

So also, and this is fun, it feels like I've written a lot! When really I've not written very much t ll! What a delightful ruse! I am like a small child who, imagining himself having undertaken some bold & marvelous journey, is full of the wonder of exploration and perhaps a little bit puffed-up in the chest re: himself. When really he's gone a bit further up the hill that slopes up from his backyard, a small hill that while yes it is wooded is really just a lightly wooded shrubbed interstitial area between his family's house and their neighbor's house, which is plainly visible and reawlly not that far if you just look up the unobstructed road of 4 Quarry Lane.

That's an address where I lived and that kid was once me I was aMAZED at this cave I once found it was like a dark interior of more than I could imagine and the whole f'ing thing was I think a LITERAL stone's throw (perhaps not a stone thrown by me, at that age; but a grown person's stone's throw) from my familiar backyard.

That is me on this keyboard, that makes everything hard.


A couple procedural notes I've been storing in MY backround memory and want to write before I lose. Nothing happens when you hit CTRL+backspace on this keyboard; i.e., you don't delete words whole-words at a time. Nor does CTRL+[arrow] move yo uwords at a time. This is a word processor in a _lesser sense even_ than that football game with the red dots that I had as a kid that we all had as kids and that is now apparently in that big sequel (o k) was a video game.

If you followed that sentence, bravo. I barely did. I'm baerly following any of this. I'm NOT following any of this.

I'm off to a really great weekend with friends for a life-event of one of the best people I know, who is marrying a woman I have every reason to believe merits someone like him. It's very joyful. I'm a little anxious about not getting writing done, especialy because I haven't been as productive this week as I might've for REASONS that I may someday write about but that are right now too raw/proximate.

The other procedural note I wanted t omake [my hands are TIRED, fam] is that when you hit CAPS lock how it lets you know CAPS is on is that the rightmost square on the bottom line (which is the line where your words appear as you type, obvs), so position 40 on the bottom line just goes dark: black rectangle. So you know CAPS IS ON.

I don't think I'm-- well no I'm OBVIOUSLY wasting time. But I don't think I'm "just" "wasting" "time" circling around the one point that I guess I am going to make before signing off here -- I really do imagine myself just talking to you, _you_, and that's really pleasurable, sitting here writing at Gate 51B at LAX on my way to this really fantastic weekend where maybe (probably) I won't get enough writing done.

My phone is charging far away from me and that makes me slightly anxious.

OKAY but I was saying I don't think I'm just circling around the one point as like a ploy or a joke or an annoying thing; it may be annoying but that's not my like...not waht I mean to be doing.

I think this weird perorating twittery nonsense is like a demonstratio nof the point that I'm making, which is the kind of EXTRAORINDARY (black rectangle, end of the line) change and liberation that comes with no internet. It's not...because this thing is not a laptop with the internet turned off. I can do that. And, unless things are going badly--I'm in a distracted environment, or truly in no state to be writing--...checking the internet a lot is not a problem for me, as a writer. I know that's a cliche writer problem. I am a cliche in lots of ways, no doubt, but not that one. I don't have a hard itme just sitting there doing it.

But this is so much more. Because this cannot will not could never be more than i tis, which is this RIDICULOUS hunk of etch-a-sketch plastic I mean look at the pic that i'll embed somewhere in this entry, it's this completely absurd little machine from a different era of hardware sure but it also feels more profoundly different than that. It feels, looks like a  TOY. Like a framice. A _device_. A thing unlike the things that we use now to connect to the whole world all the time; to put words together; to share them.

But it can do words! Not very well -- these f'ing keys. But it can do them! In fact that's all it can do so it has (I suppose) a comparative advantage in that. And I'm so pleasantly tired here, doing words on it, talking to you, like being alone with you in a pleasantly dim room and we're talking; and we're not ALONE ore ABANDONED but we are, maybe, secluded; maybe we're the las tones at the restaurant and there's no rush to get out, or we're at the campsite and the nearest tents are fifty meters away down the lakeshore, their fires like ours burning down into embers. This device feels like that in a fluorescent airport departure lounge, slight patinas of anxiety for a distant--charging phone, for a seat not yet given, and STILL it feels like that: a soft, shared space -- you and me, words. Because all it can do, as wonky as it is at doing it, is that.   

Friday, May 5, 2017

HliAT #22: Cleanup Post Trail Run

How Long It Actually Takes To...

conduct what I'd characterize as a non-dawdling but nonetheless unhurried personal cleanup/change, at my car at the trailhead after a trail run. Said cleanup includes: taking off most of clothes; toweling off; taking off rest of clothes (keeping on towel -- illegal public nudity not part of this or any other HliAT and is not recommended or condoned); laying out sweaty clothes on top of car for some airing out; cleaning off shins/lower legs of dirt and dust; taking off shoes; semi-cleaning feet; putting on (non-running) shoes and socks (because I'm wearing shorts! so I can put on my shoes first! so great!); shimmying into clean boxers beneath towel with shoes on (!); putting on shorts; last drying as necessary (really just hair, at this point); faffing around putting various sweaty running clothes/shoes/socks into various plastic bags for keeping thingz nice as possible in Speedy; um kind of last few faffy things for which I cannot give account ("where'd I put that gum?" "is my phone in the-- oh, no, there it is", etc.); walk around to driver's-side door shutting off stopwatch: 10:49.72

Speedy waiting faithfully at a trailhead (not today's)
This one is close to my heart. It used to be very relevant to my life; given that, I'm pleased by how comparatively quick an un-dawdling one actually takes. (I'm confident a dawdling one can take almost up 3x this time). sidebar: In one of my l0ng-4ss posts which I've yet to publish (the l0ng-4ss posts always take forever; not so much to write or even to edit, just to like be riding the exact right wave of mood and circumstance to dig into them with the requisite time / passion / attention to get them worthy of clay)-- ANYWAY, in one of those long posts, I'll be writing about how, for awhile upon moving out to Topanga, I stopped doing any trail runs that I could not do right from my house. So I was not doing this routine (driving to a trailhead; having to tidy up at my car after the run) at all, for awhile. And that future long post will be about how that is dumb because it stems from a...anyway, I'll save that for the post. Point is: this HliAT is part of my healing, friends. Thank you for listening. end sidebar

Anyway this is how long it takes to do this thing. I think I did a good job picking a representative example of this particular activity. On the face of it, perhaps this activity is less universal than some HliATs. But I bet you have a thing like this, friend. If you are this friend, I bet you have several.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cliche, Usage, Orwell, and Taking One for the Team

Years ago I read--and friend, if you have not, you should read as well--George Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language". The passage that most stuck with me, that stuck close and tight, was Orwell's discussion of "dying metaphors", which I reproduce in its entirety here:

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

What resonated with me and stuck with me (as it has, I know, for many; this is a famous and oft-referenced essay) was Orwell's distinction between the three things:

(1) "newly invented metaphors": evocative, novel, imaginative. Orwell doesn't say it, but it's clear from here and elsewhere in the essay that he means apt, specific, successful "newly invented metaphors";
(2) "dead" metaphors which have become "ordinary" words because we don't even notice them as metaphors anymore, we just say them (Orwell uses "iron resolution"; a favorite example of mine in this vein is "mainstay"), and
(3) the "dying" metaphors: "huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves."

It's (3) that really makes Orwell's distinction between (1) and (2) so valuable, and that's so resonant. We have so many ways of talking about this kind of writing; we call it "sophomoric" (using a metaphor that's become an ordinary word) and--rightly, I think--can be hardest on the unimaginative middle-brow patterings of people who clearly have read a couple of books but lack either the dedication, self-knowledge, or imagination to not simply parrot these semi-metaphors for whatever craven reason they have for wasting their own words and, therefore, our attention therein.

And I'm fascinated by this because it comes back to my main fascination these days, i.e., execution. The "dying" metaphors convey the idea of a metaphor ("I'm using a metaphor; I'm using language; I'm saying a thing") without actually doing anything that a metaphor is meant to (being evocative; making the reader see/feel/hear/experience the thing being described in a more vivid, immediate way). I'm totally with Orwell on this, and have been since the first time I read this like two decades ago.

BUT THERE IS A BIG PROBLEM. I was thinking about it because I was thinking about memes of language on the internet and social media; not the blah demotic shareable nonsense of "memes", which as a category I'd put squarely into (2) and then forget forever if I could. Memes like freaking the first meaning here: patterns of culture that get passed around; in this case usage and figures of language. And these elements of culture/language spread and flare and then, often, die away; a good example is this thing on Twitter where people are cutting off their tweets to comic effect. I like this thing! I think it's funny. And what's happened with it, as happens with these things, is that a someone thought of it and did it and then a few thought-leadery Twitter-leadery people did it and then it proliferated wildly and now it's a whole thing so people are going to (rightly?) pause before using it, using "that thing" that everyone's doing, so it will have had its moment of usage and spiked and then it will be gone.

And we won't get to have the automatic, reflexive, "dead" metaphor version (the Orwell's category (2) version) of the linguistic figure that I'll name "Tweet gets cut off mid-word [to comic effect]". And that's a shame! I wish we would! I wanna hold onto that one.

So then, here is the big problem:

Someone invents something and it's a category (1) -- a novel and evocative metaphor (I know that the Twitter thing isn't a metaphor; I'm lumping "figures of language usage" together here); they use it, other people respond to it well, a few other people adopt it, it spreads...

And there we go. Because here, discernment kills the fragment of linguistic invention in question. Because in order for the invention to lock in, to get to Orwell's category (2) and become a "dead" metaphor--meaning an automatic and obvious part of language that we can all use unfussily--it has to walk the long, hard, tacky road through category (3). And that means that a lot of people have to be willing to use it in a way that sounds played-out, hackneyed, and clichéd, for quite a long time.

And look I know: this is all subjective. And sure fine a sniffy Arugala-eater who blogs about this kind of $hit in the first place might be snowflake-sensitive about what is and is not cliché; many of these people might go on using it because they lack the resources (familiarity with language; time; attention; discipline) that would even provide the discernment that might prevent them from doing so. Flipside: I might be one of those people! Certainly, I'm way less formally imaginative or "out there" in my writing--all of my writing; any of my writing--than some people. But I'd still argue that, whatever the spectrum of tastes we are talking about is, it is basically shaped like a bell-curve, meaning basically there is a fat middle portion of people who are not that different from myself and who perceive these figures of language in a similar way that I do: who see category (3)s in the same places that I do, and with something like the same distaste. Which leads me to the question:

How do we transform novel linguistic turns of usage into standard "dead" parts of the language? Because I don't think "dead" is bad here. It's good to go on inventing things, you can't have too many category (1)s. But it's fine for the best of the (1)s to pass into usage; in fact, it's more than fine! It's a gift! It's a structure on which our shared language builds and evolves -- just as (METAPHOR COMING OH I HOPE IT'S A (1)) eons of dead foraminifera stack one on the other to make some beautiful things, so too these "dead" metaphors etc. etc.

But for them to die, for a category (1)  (new! evocative!) to reach category (2) (dead. unfussy standard language building-block) it has to go through (3), and--again--that means a lot of people have to use it past the point of novelty, through the point where they sound silly using it, still more through that point where despite that fact they are using people are using it using it till it just becomes standard usage, till we are numbed to it and no one any longer judges anyone for its use.

It's like the vernacular language equivalent of being a sin-eater or something: huge #s of people just taking the hits of sounding like clunky knobs over and over and over and over for a really really long time until finally the metaphor is dead and a language brick with which we all build, baked in, fascinating and surprising when we're reminded of where it even came from ("mainstay", I say again, friend).

And I think I find this problematic--wherever my usage of language registers on your sensitivity spectrum, friend, or yours does on mine--because I buy both the judgment inherent in Orwell's categorization and the benefit inherent in having categories (1) and (2). So I am, therefore, to some extent judging people (or, let's not be too hard on me, here: judging their sentences/writing) that is in fact, in the long-view, serving me. Because every dumb usage, every category (3) usage, is part of the process that further kills what was once a category (1) thing (which can't last, definitionally) and brings it into easy use as a category (2). I need category (3)s, in terms of their function, but I despise them. They're lame! They evince, at best, carelessness; at worst a simultaneous pretension and lack of focus/ability! I sure try to avoid them, even in emails and stuff. I'm guilty of them sometimes, I bet. But I avoid them, definitely.

So I want to have my cake and eat it, too ⇐ category (2)! see??? How many times did people have to say that in a unimaginative, imitative way for it to become just this super-standard thing that I can say and you won't bat an eye because it's not like I'm even trying to sound smart or imaginative, it's basically just like I'm using the word "hypocritical" with some topspin on the ball ⇐ category...I dunno. (1), but not so great? Is that a (2), yet? "spin on the ball"? I think not. Just not a (3). Just tell me it's not a (3). end digression ⇒  I want a rich language of usage built on the dead language blocks of the imaginative past; blocks that sure now are dulled with use, "dead", but nonetheless enriching and useful: it's great that we can say 'have your cake and eat it too' instead of some long-ass bespoke sentence or a single word that might not capture the same meaning as well. But I'm STILL being all sniffy about category (3)s; I need them, but I despise them: and so generations of sentences must be sacrificed on the alter of corny clunky ham-fisted Internet "smart-not-smart" awkwardness to build the rich language we all surely deserve.