Sunday, January 29, 2012

Subject to the Metronome

I run now only in my daydreams
when my mind spins freely
as it used to wheel when running shoes were tied
and I headed out along the forest trails.
Then as breathing settled
resting on the edge, balancing oxygen loss and gain
a disengagement occurred of left brain control
and the freely spinning right brain
filled my self with vivid sense images.
The old log pond on the right side of the trail
breathed a bouquet whose complexity
defied full description and transported the runner passing.
I think now of those running days, and sadness descends, bittersweet.
All things are subject to the metronome.
Rust and the moth prove the power of entropy.
Yet the spirit: imagination and memory
lifts and reconciles
and yields acceptance for what is gone forever.
-by Bob Dickerson (died Dec 7, age 89. Six Rivers Running Club founding member).
*taken from the North Coast Journal.

Parenting sucks. Oh wait, I mean it is the most amazing thing ever, like feeling the warm gaze of God looking upon you, like opening your heart to a thousand possibilities. Except it is hard and not at all glamorous. If any of my kids are reading this, I shall quote the great Paul Simon: "I sure do love you, let's get that straight."

It is such an old story. You start getting old, then you look at your kids starting to toddle towards the edge of the nest and spread their wings, and you realize that you cannot possibly ever read all the books you should nor learn the piano pieces you could nor run as fast as you would of had you just started taking it a little more seriously say, about, 20 years ago. Their wing spreading spells your demise.

I do believe I am hitting my mid-life crisis. I am not exactly sure what the definition of mid-life is. At my current age, both of my parents faced their first serious health concerns. In fact, I said goodbye to my Dad in the Coronary Care Unit, him all hooked up to machines and me all of 5 or 6 and I swear I can still smell that place. He went on to live, in the usual midwestern, stubborn way, and even survived a heart transplant. But this year marks 13 years of life without Dad, 16 years of life without Mom. Mom's is easy to mark, as it coincides with whatever birthday my eldest is celebrating.

Moroseness aside, I did run 12 miles today. I meant to run 15, but I was post night shift and had this queasy feeling at mile 11 which told me I'd better just wrap this thing up and soon. 12 felt like a respectable long run, at least for someone my age.

I knock heads with my left hamstring on a daily basis. Also with my teenaged son and with my desire for some kind of balance in life, some kind of understanding of what it is all about. The hamstring responds well to massage, but is never satiated. The son responds to love, or so I keep telling myself. The balance is a hopeless quest, windmill tilting at best, and probably a sickness of the west, philosophically. Understanding what it is all about? I am left speechless. But this I know: youth is nice, but I never want to go back. I love my kids. I hope Medicare still exists when I hit 65. And what really matters is the answer to the deeply meaningful question:

Whatchya gonna do now?

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Cows, January 22, 2012

I used to find respite in sleep. As a medical resident, I could nap, in REM sleep the moment my head hit the pillow, and ready to take on the world when my pager went off 30 minutes later. That was then. Now I am a total insomniac. Sleep, a biologically essential escape, is freedom even for the imprisoned or the dying or the downhearted. It is no wonder sleep deprivation is a form of torture. 

Children sleep well, usually, and I imagine for them it is a tasty moment without parental guidance or interference. Other free moments sneak into the lives of our children, of course. Waking moments like school. Like relationships with people not ourselves. Like driving. This last one is especially on my mind, as my eldest baby is now permitted to drive. Not yet licensed, but she has tasted the open road from the only better seat than shotgun. 

I was chatting with my daughter's coach, a legendary local runner, about the confines of marathon training. Too many miles or too few? It is like the surgeon who chastises the medical student for cutting the suture too long or too short. I told Coach about my quest to understand the marathon, to be able to maintain my speed past mile 20, to find the perfect training regimen in a book or on line that will lead me to my own little version of greatness. He, in his usual no-BS manner, simply said "I never look at the internet. I just run." But maybe only a 2:29 marathoner can be so free?

Today, I decided to just run 14 miles, despite the cold rain. I kept startling cows. I used my GPS watch, so I cannot claim complete abandon. At one point, I looked down and the damn thing had stopped. I think it might've been complaining about the downpour. I smacked it once and it came back to life. GPS watches are highly over rated. 

A friend texted, wondering what I was up to, (trexting, i.e. running while texting, is extremely dangerous. Do this at your own risk) and I informed them I was running in the rain. There was a long pause, then their response: "Why?"

This person knows me fairly well, and I recognized the rhetorical, ironical quality of this text. Soon thereafter, though, I encountered:
 Run, January 22, 2012
Run, January 22, 2012

And so I trexted: "This is why."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Lead Horses and Lions

As I ran today I came across this sign: "Lead Horses Across Bridge", which got me thinking about perception. The first thing that came to mind was that the fastest horses were to be found on the other side of the bridge. Then I pictured a gallery of horse statues made from lead, with this sign alerting passersby so they wouldn't miss the art. Finally, I concluded this most likely was a kind reminder to horse owners to get off of the horse and hold their reins while walking across the bridge. I wondered then if horses got spooked by this particular bridge or if the sign just indicates good horse etiquette?

Of course, this seemingly straightforward yet potentially complicated signage is only the tip of the iceberg. Life is fraught with dangerous assumptions and blind men describing elephants. Doctors are taught to hear hoof beats and predict horses as the culprit instead of zebras. But the wise doctor keeps that zebra possibility in her back pocket because:
1. You might save someone's life if you figure out a rare diagnosis.
2. If you don't save their life, you will at the very least look super cool.
3. Number 2 must be clarified: you will look very cool to other geeks like yourself.

The Olympic marathon trials air tomorrow. Only 3 men and 3 women get to be on the team. The favorites are well known, but the marathon can be deceptive, surprising, merciless. Like the guy who won in 1996 despite projectile vomiting in the last few miles. For women, I am voting for the fastest qualifier who is, nonetheless, considered an underdog, Desi Davila. If you believe the signs, Ryan Hall will win for men. I think he is great (see my last post where he is used to demo running form extraordinaire). But I kind of love Meb. And Dathan Ritzenhein deserves credit for bringing himself back after a year off from running (due to injury) to run a steaming fast 5K. The perceptions of these elite runners might be right, more or less, but ultimately what really matters is how fast they run on race day. Self-perception may be even more powerful. One can only be a lead horse if one believes one can be a lead horse.

Now having exhausted horses, zebras and an elephant being groped by a blind man, I need to mention lions. The usual picture we all have when this word appears is the African plains, and the King of animals. It also may produce an image of Aslan, or the logo for MGM. But the lion to whom I refer is the mountain lion, the catamount, the panther, the puma, the cougar. He may have other names as well, but these are just off the top of my head. I have been avoiding dawn and dusk runs in the woods, as the lions prefer these times to hunt. But the other night, the lion creeped into my dream. It went like this:

A lion kept trying to get into my house. I kept trying to protect my family and my dogs from said lion. It finally got in. Twas not pretty. The end.

What does this dream signify? And why do I have to keep worrying about lions?

Possible answers to these extremely important questions:
This dream occurred right after I completed 10 hospital shifts where I saw everything from the gruesome to the tragic. The dream occurred after a particularly large hunk of intense dark chocolate right before bed. The dream occurred after walking my skittish poodle (whom I've renamed "Fiercy McPoof") in the dark, near the woods. The dream occurred as I drifted off to sleep, anxiously wondering  "what my life and my children's lives may be."

I'm going with "all of the above."

Thursday, January 5, 2012


"My" Forest, run, Jan 5, 2012

My eldest is writing a paper on Martin Luther King, Jr. and it got us discussing the meaning of the word revolution. It is a meaty word for a gritty world. It is pretty too. It makes me think of the constant turning and returning of life. Or of bicycle tires. Or of the legs of a runner with decent form, which should turn like a bicycle exactly under and somewhat behind their bodies.

I am considering a revolution in my life, but I haven't yet decided which meaning of the word that will involve. Some moments I consider a radical take-it-to-the-streets kind of revolution, where I shout for all to hear about the absurdities of medical care in this country (expensive, often low quality, and a work force of health care workers stretched much too thin). Or I consider just quitting and trying something new. Or I consider coming home from my night shift and going for a run. Which is what I did today.

A trusted colleague and friend reminded me recently of the turning of the mind and the power of meditation. I have studied this a bit, and read the science behind it. Its very simplicity is revolutionary. But like anything simple but beautiful and powerful (Scarlatti comes to mind), it takes a lot of practice. You cannot hide from your own mind. With Scarlatti, there are no big chords to hide your musical gaffs or missteps. It is all right there, on the surface. Horowitz can describe this better than I.

Lately I have felt completely beaten down under the weight of illness, poverty and despair I have been encountering at work. Things I have seen that honestly would be considered too unlikely for fiction keep me awake at night. I believe we are due for a revolution of kindness in our society. The broken people are not the strongest lobbyists in Washington, and their doctors are kept busy enough with the constant state of emergency that they don't seem to be lobbying all that powerfully either. 

The sun still shines nicely through the trees in my forest though.  The endorphins still fuel the runners. The high school students keep writing papers. The world keeps turning.