Running slowly

I barely did much of a stretch before I started to run.

It was my first time back on the road, my first couple of steps toward running again. I’d gone back to Coonskin Park, a daffy or derogatory named place depending on where you’re from. Some people think (including me) that there’s a racist connotation to the name, but the place was supposedly named for an old hunter and trapper who kept a bunch of actual coonskin pelts nailed to a wall.

Either way, we should have changed it a decade or three ago. At best, the name comes across as dated. At worst, it sounds “accidentally racist” or sort of offensive by accident.

If we couldn’t name the Summersville Dam, the Gad Dam because it sounds like blasphemy and because it certainly would have encouraged people to blaspheme as a joke, then why keep Coonskin?

I am going on more about this subject than I intended.

Anyway, it’s a nice, local park with a crap name.

I stretched for all of 30 seconds. I never know how much is enough or really what I’m doing.

I am the worst for acquiring books on subjects, like training to run, but then not actually reading them. I put them on the table next to my bed, next to the comic books, the novels and the less savory stuff (like books on getting published or improving your writing) and never do more than glance at the forward.

I guess the belief is having the book is the first step.

I take a lot of first steps. The second one is what kills me.

After a mediocre stretch, I started off at a slow trot. A couple of old women in spandex were walking on the other side of the park road, chatting away and moving at a pretty good clip.

They ignored me as I passed, as did the woman with her pair of dogs.

The dogs didn’t ignore me. They eyed me with deep suspicion and sniffed the air as I approached, but didn’t come after me.

By the pond, a handful of early morning fishermen cast their lines and lures. A woman with bleached hair and more denim than is usually considered fashionable (I was once shamed by a co-worker for wearing a blue jean jacket and blue jeans) reeled in a fish, peeled it off her line and threw it back. She caught another half a minute later. It may have been the same fish. Maybe he enjoyed the bite of the hook.

Only a few ducks and geese were up and about. Most remained curled up and half asleep, taking some warmth from the morning sun.

I ran as far as I could, which turned out to be about half a mile. Then I turned around and mostly walked back.

It was a start, not much of a start, but still…

 

Roadwork

We have reached the end of April and with it, I need to start making some decisions.

Am I really serious about the Spartan Race, another triathlon, a distance run?

The next Spartan Race in West Virginia takes place the last weekend in August. The Charleston Distance Race, a 15-mile run, is the first week in September. The Stonewall Jackson Triathlon is August 18.

I could do all three, one or none, I guess.

In the last couple of weeks, since my visit to the doctor, I have shaved off a few pounds –about 10. I’ve made it to the gym three times in the past week. This is coming off a pretty ugly cold, which probably helped with the weight loss as much as anything.

I also have a new fitness/self-help book to drive myself crazy with and maybe I just want to do something.

Last year, one of my hardest moments was coming to grips with not getting to be in the Spartan Race. I’d screwed around on my training, been on again off again for months and had been letting my feelings decide my meal for the evening.

I was a mess and then I busted a gut, literally.

I felt humiliated, but also a little revealed. As little as I’d accomplished with my training, I probably would have crashed on the course. I’d have drowned in a puddle or been trampled by much worthier participants.

Getting injured was a convenient excuse, except I only barely earned that injury.

The good side of getting hurt was that it led to my blood pressure problem being diagnosed. I sleep better because of the meds I’m certain and I’m not filled with rage, which was kind of how things felt a year ago.

Of the three, the Charleston Distance Run would be the easiest to work toward. It’s just down the road, doesn’t require any equipment and could be managed with consistent, but uncomplicated training.

Running a triathlon requires cycling and swim training. I’d need to break out my old bike and also find a better one. The bike I have is a clunky beast designed for someone to use for a very occasional trip around a flat park. The Stonewall Jackson triathlon would include swimming in a lake. That’s a different kind of swim training than laps in a pool.

A Spartan Race is an obstacle course race, which requires a different kind of plan than either long distance running or a triathlon. You use different muscles. It’s an endurance race, but you’re not really training for distance. Even if the race is a 15 mile beast run, you’ll never run more than a mile or so before you have to climb something or haul weights somewhere.

I have a lot to think about –or maybe I’ve been thinking long enough and just need to do something.

Red Jackets

I joined the Kanawha Kordsmen a year ago. It was as much a surprise to them as it was to me. I would never have imagined it a few years ago.

I became acquainted with them through my column. It was possibly the best thing I did during Year Two, though stand up comedy was pretty good, too.

I stayed partly for the opportunity to do something musical and also for the company. They’re a great bunch of guys who never fail to make me feel welcome.

One of the things I like about the Kordsmen is we’re pretty diverse –very different careers, education levels and personal histories. The group has church pastors, telecom executives, college professors and laborers. We have Jews, Atheists and Christians. We have gay men, an African-American from New England who loves hockey and a former Marine who will tell you he’s crazy.

I like that I say “We.” I’m part of it.

Singing with them does me more good than I would have thought.

I think part of that has to do with deliberately making something in common with other people. I think a lot of us stick with just the people we already have some connection with. The people we work with become our friends in the same way we made friends in school. We become friends with people who share an interest –like fishing or gardening or writing. We meet in a place we think is the middle.

With the Kordsmen, I met them somewhere else.

I’m not much of a singer.

For years, I didn’t do much more than sing in the car with the radio. It was a big deal for me to step beyond that, and I read music like a kid in kindergarten reads Shakespeare, which is to say badly, if at all. Most of the time I can figure out if I’m supposed to be high or low or somewhere in the middle, but the specific locations of what’s in the high, the low or the middle eludes me.

With quite a bit of practice I’m getting modestly better, but for a while, I wasn’t really attending rehearsals consistently. I’d come every other week or every third week. The job was eating up a lot of time. With the bankruptcy and sale, I felt drained and just didn’t have much left at the end of the day.

I came into (briefly) a small sum of money (not a fortune), but it helped pay off a couple of minor, though nagging credit cards. I paid my taxes, took care of my son’s boy scout camp fees, restocked my refrigerator and covered my yearly membership to the Kordsmen.

Those red jackets cost money.

But I didn’t go to the annual convention. I did that last year. I had the best time. I got to share a moment on stage with a bunch of very supportive guys and we sang our hearts out.

It was sort of magical when we won our division and were named “most improved.” I got to be part of that. My being there didn’t hurt them. I might have even helped a little.

This year, I knew I wasn’t going right after Mom died.

I missed most of the rehearsals leading up to the convention and I was only barely listening to the learning material. So, I opted out of the convention. It was the right thing to do, though we won. We won in a new, improved division, the division I helped get them to last year.

I am so proud of that.

So, this week was my first real night back after everything. They welcomed me back in the circle to stretch and sing. They told me it was good to see me again and cheered when Ron announced that I’d signed up for another year.

Rehearsal was awkward. I bumbled my way through “Lazy Day,” a song written by some full-on, pipe smoking hippie back in the 1960s. I like the arrangement. I actually like the barbershop arrangement more than I like the original radio hit.

The original was part of the Papa’s Pizza soundtrack, one of the songs played every third Saturday night on the oldie’s station we listened to at the restaurant where I worked.

I’m pretty sure the radio station recorded half a dozen of a syndicated show called “Solid Gold Saturday Night,” which featured the over saturated soft rock songs of the 60s and 70s.

It wasn’t a bad show, mostly innocuous. They just played the same shows over and over, thinking nobody would notice.

At some point during the two and a half years of working Sundays at the pizza parlor, the radio station must have lost a couple of those tapes.

I still can’t listen to “Sugar Shack” without wanting to light myself on fire.

Anyway, I sang and got a couple of looks from people. I was out of tune and didn’t know the material. I have a long way to go, but I made it back. It was good to be back and nice to be among people who said they missed me.

 

 

Tone 3.

This is the last of the list of things I’d like to do in 2018.

48 -Try all 31 flavors (it seemed whimsical and totally within my ability to accomplish. So far, I have like eight flavors).

49 -Plant more fruit trees (Like every other homeowner, I have an ongoing battle with my property. Fruit trees seem like a nice addition. I like fruit).

50 -20 lunches outside (Just a general idea of getting outside of my office during the day a bit more).

xx51 -Try honey mead (It was just some weird alcohol I hadn’t tried. I had some. It wasn’t much to be impressed with. I expected sweet, it tasted sort of vinegary with some herbal notes).

52 -Moisturize (Just a pledge to take better care of myself)

53 -Take Dad to Frost Top (I thought this would be cool, a little trip to do while my Dad was in town from Michigan. He didn’t seem all that impressed. So, we didn’t go).

54 -Paint my bedroom (It’s sort of dull in here and I suppose I’ve been here long enough that I should consider making the house more to my liking).

55 -Learn to skate (I totally did this. I know how to ice skate now).

56 -Find two cool, new Captain America t-shirts (I have 11 currently, but a couple of them are getting pretty threadbare).

57 -Enjoy coffee more (Sometimes the best part of my day is a cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon).

58 -Got to a zoo (I haven’t been to one in years).

59 -Write a will and obituary (I did this. Maybe I should post it sometime).

60 -Go stargazing (I became a fan of looking at the night sky a while back. It soothes me and fills me with a sense of wonder, but I’ve never looked at the sky through a good telescope. I’ve always wanted to).

61 -Make salsa from scratch (I have tomatoes and peppers growing in the widow. I have seeds for cilantro. I should get some onions).

62 -Learn to ride a motorcycle (Kind of overdue).

63 -Build a comic book collection (That is coming along, but it’s an easy one).

64 -Acquire a tractor tire (This is really good for exercise, but I have no idea how to transport one in my Chevy Cruze).

65 -Be a lot more forgiving (I’m trying really hard to let go of old grudges and be less judgemental).

66 -Make better plans for the holidays (This was added after the disaster that was New Year’s Eve, but so far, nothing has really meshed well. Valentine’s Day was rough. The plan came apart. Easter happened, but it wasn’t really any fantastic. I’m still working on it).

67 -Go to different flea markets, pawn shops and thrift stores (I like thrift stores, but I recognize where I go is sort of played out).

68-Write lewd haiku and distribute (I haven’t done much with this).

69 -Compliment someone different every day (I get this one most days).

70-Get stuff done.

 

Where I am.

I stood on the scale and closed my eyes as the nurse read the number. I winced. I knew things had gotten bad again. I just didn’t know how bad.

Some people drink when they’re under stress; or they smoke. I think we all find some way to self-medicate when we feel awful. I eat. I binge in the evening and then mindlessly snack until bedtime.

“Dad, you eat, like, enough for four people,” my son tells me.

Sometimes, I do, and I’ve been under a lot of pressure for a very long time.

For great chunks of time. I can offset the calories with exercise. It’s a perverse take on the old weight loss equation –take in less than you burn up. Instead, I burn up as much as I take in –or I did.

I’d go to the gym, pump iron, I’ll swim, walk or trot. I’d find chores that kept me active, that kept the weight at bay, but with the looming bankruptcy of my newspaper followed by news that it was likely going to be sold to a company with a reputation for slashing jobs and cutting services to churn out what would barely pass as a free shopper paper, I felt crushed by forces I had little control over.

Either way it came down, it was going to be hard. If I lost my job, bankruptcy and ruin seemed right around the corner. If I kept my job, I’d be pushed to do more than I already did, which is often in the neighborhood of too much.

Add to that, I already wasn’t sleeping well. I felt isolated and alone. Things at home were chaotic. Money kept getting tighter and I couldn’t see a way out.

Then my mother died.

Mom had been sick for a while, longer than the time she’d been at the nursing home in Virginia. Before her stroke, she’d fallen down a couple of times. My sister, Laura, told me that Mom’s hip was probably going to need to be replaced. Her back was a problem, too, had been for decades.

Mom hadn’t take care of herself. She’d been defiant of her diabetes for a couple of years, ate whatever she wanted regardless, and her weight had always been awful.

She didn’t exercise. Her weight, back and hip made it hard for her to walk much more than the length of a shopping mall and back.

After the stroke, Mom’s health began to steadily disintegrate. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Her diabetes became more difficult to control. She struggled sometimes to even breathe. Then in the last year, she’d had a couple of incidents where she’d gone unresponsive and had to be brought back around in a hospital emergency room.

Her death wasn’t a surprise, but it was still a shock. I’m still living with it –the grief and the guilt of it.

For most of her time at the nursing home, Mom shared a room with a delusional old woman who sometimes babbled out of her head and out of her time.

The room they shared was smaller than my college dorm room, and Mom spent most of her time watching television. She’d used to love to read, but reading was harder for her now, and she couldn’t really do the old math puzzles like she had before.

I hated visiting. The facility unnerved me. Sometimes, you could hear residents up the hall, out of their minds, screaming until they were hoarse. Others, hollow-eyed and silent, would creep the hallways in their wheelchairs, peering through open doors to gawk and stare.

My mother’s declining condition frightened me. We struggled to find things to talk about sometimes. Mom’s world had shrunk considerably and I couldn’t stretch out my life for longer than a couple of hours.

I didn’t go as often as I should have and I didn’t call nearly often enough.

Mom died and these are the things I think about a lot.

Then the paper was sold, not to who we expected, but to someone else. We had to apply for our jobs, which seemed to be mostly a formality. Decisions had probably already been made.

There were cuts. They weren’t lethal, but they still hurt.

Things began to settle. It was like looking around after a storm had passed, surveying the damage and trying to figure out what to do next.

Over the last six months, I’d been putting on weight, which was contrary to what my doctor had told me to do six months ago. He’d told me to lose 20. Instead, I’d gained almost 30, which earned me another pill to take every morning because of high cholesterol, a result of all the extra calories.

 

I felt pretty bad, too. Exercise at the gym had been inconsistent. I’d stopped going to my self-defense class, wasn’t really going as often as I needed to be part of the Kanawha Kordsmen.

Instead, I was staying home alone a lot, watching hour after hour of Netflix while scrolling through Facebook.

But I’m trying to right things. I dumped Facebook off my phone a week ago. I’m working on getting away from even looking at it on my off-time. I’m also cutting back on my television viewing, reading a lot more and trying to get back on track with my resolutions. I’m working on straightening out my schedule, making an effort to not eat as much garbage or eat as much of anything.

The blog is part of the process, too. My head is not together at this point and I recognize that, but I think I can fix this.

I hope there will be noticeable progress by the time I officially launch this thing in a month. I guess we’ll see.

Tone: page 2

The list of resolutions and things I’ve sworn (not really) to do in 2018 continues, along with notes about progress, plans, excuses, etc…

26-Attend a seance (this one seems to disturb everyone I mention this to, but I’ve never done this. My belief in ghosts and spirits leans more toward skeptic than believer, but I’ve seen stuff I can’t effectively explain).

27-Meet a Zoroastrian (It’s just one religion I’ve never encountered).

28-Watch the movie “Freaks” (currently unavailable on my streaming services).

29-Sync up “Dark Side of the Moon” with “Wizard of Oz” (This seems like a Pink Floyd fan thing that I should have done ages ago).

30-Start a podcast (just to say I have one).

31-SPARTAN (Train and complete one Spartan race. I tried last year and blew it in training).

32-Triathlon (I did a mini two years ago and it was one of the highlights of my summer).

33-Ballroom dance (If all goes well, I’ll be doing this one in May).

34-Teach my kid to swim (Actually, Emmett sort of knows how, but he needs to improve to do the scout camp he wants to do).

35-Watch the final season of “The Office” (I’ve kind of meant to do this for a while).

36-Visit the Russian Orthodox Monastery (It’s one of the odder places in WV –just unexpected that it would be here, of all places).

37-See Shawnee Park (Reportedly haunted).

38-Go to a Drive-In Movie (I haven’t been to one in years).

39-Visit the Poky Dot (A place known for its ridiculously gigantic ice cream dishes. I love ice cream).

XX40-Perform with a rock n’ roll band (I actually did this February 2. I performed with Rubber Soul during their “With a Little Help For Our Friends” show, which was the realization of a lifelong dream –just to be on a stage with a rock band).

41-Visit the King Tut Drive-in (I hear the peanut butter pie is good).

42-Make booze (I’d like to make whiskey, but would settle for wine).

43-Take an actual, 100 percent vacation (I have trouble with that. I tend to work during my time off).

44-Take a trip by train (I’ve never done that, always wanted to go somewhere by rail).

45-Try snowtubing (It looks like more fun than skiing).

46-Save money to send Emmett to Italy (Students from his school are going. He was asked to come, but money is tight).

47-Hang up Christmas lights (maybe not a lot, but some –the neighbors go nuts with it. I feel left out a little).

Tone

It would be easy to just use this space as a place to complain. It’s been a hard year.

So, I think I’m starting over here, now –or at least, I’m starting over this week.

At the beginning of the year, I set up a long list of resolutions and objectives. I do this almost every year and usually fall short. This year, I felt like I really needed to make some progress, that I could make some progress.

I made a list and have been picking at it on and off since January.

Here’s the first 25 on the list:

1-Travel (So far, not much)

2-Grow a good garden (Seeds have sprouted on the window sill)

3-Call my mom (This one is off the books. Mom died March 1)

4-lose 40 pounds (I’m trying to do that one again. I gained weight since the last time I visited by doctor)

5-Run races (Not yet)

6-Get out of debt (small progress)

7-Be a better human (I’m always trying)

8-Sell a book (not so much yet)

9-Try to camp again (Not so much yet, but it’s still snowing here)

10-Do more comedy (I keep saying that I’ll hit that local comedy open mic, haven’t been back)

11-Have an awesome birthday (June 18 is only a couple of months away)

12-Visit friends and family (Not so much, except for a funeral last month)

13-Go to a music festival (Still early)

14-Drink crazy, expensive bourbon (nope, but I have a line on that)

15-Visit the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (Maybe this summer)

16-Meet Mike Mignola (Creator of “Hellboy,” my second favorite superhero) and buy a sketch (Mike isn’t coming to anywhere near here soon. I may have to just send him a check)

17-Drive to Colorado (That sounds awesome all the time)

18-Freelance for other publications (I haven’t tried)

19-Get radio show distributed (I haven’t tried)

20-Read 50 books (I have 11 under my belt now and I’m reading two now)

21-Do a three-day fast (Not yet)

22-Move up or move out (basically, get promoted, get a raise or get a new job –so far, no)

23-Kayak (Not yet)

24-Go to a midnight movie (Go? No. Netflix? Not really)

25-Hire a handyman, fix some stuff (Pending)

So, this is a work in progress. There are about 50 more things to add. I’ll post another batch soon.

Why resolutions in the first place? I think I need goals. I think without stated goals, I tend to just keep treading water, doing the same things over and over. The days just run together.

Do I think I can do everything on my vast and ponderous list?

No. I think I’ll do well to get a third of it, but I want to be challenged to break out of the corner I’ve managed to paint myself into. That’s what this is about, really.