Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.82 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.81 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ...
|Bats flit through the beam of my flashlight as Caroline Williams and I climb the steep purple-blazed Roaring Run Trail. It's midnight, the start of Easter morning, and thousands of brilliant stars are beaming down upon us. During the past five hours we've done about 15 miles on the Massanutten Mountain Trails course, including a couple of bonus miles when we missed the turn off the dirt road.|
As we backtrack in search of a trail marker I recount ultrarunner Eric Clifton's thoughts about getting lost during a major race. Yes, my right knee and left metatarsals ache. Sure, my bronchitis occasionally gives me a coughing fit. Admittedly, I've lost a few pounds from dehydration and I'm about to run out of water.
But it's all good. Caroline is wonderful to run with, and Walker Williams is infinitely patient as our crew. We're doing the 2010 "Chocolate Bunny", a VHTRC fun run on Massanutten Mountain. The little vermiform appendix hanging down at the bottom of the GPS map shows where we went astray.
Walker drives Caroline and me out to Massanutten Mountain on Saturday afternoon. We arrive at the Chocolate Bunny start/finish area, Gap Creek, and decide to start our trek early. At 6:20pm Walker hugs Caroline, I give him a manly wave, and we're off!
Caroline has been here many times, but my only previous experience was the 2008-01-20 - Massanutten Mountain South Training Run with friend Caren Jew, when we encountered ice, snow, and temps in the teens. Today conditions are near-perfect — thermometer dropping from the 70s into the 50s — but the steep climbs and rocky terrain demonstrate that it's nontrivial to maintain even a 20 min/mi pace on the Massanutten Trail.
For the first mile we follow the Jawbone Gap Trail up ~800 feet and join the orange-blazed Massanutten Trail. It follows the ridgeline of Kerns Mountain. Southward we go for ~5 miles. A beautiful fuchsia sunset distracts us occasionally from the rocks underfoot. At 8pm it's dark enough for us to turn on our flashlights. Caroline falls once but catches herself on her hands without major damage. Her headlamp is too faint to illuminate much, but fortunately I have an extra light to lend her.
Fast runners who started at 7pm now begin to pass us. We step aside and cheer as they speed by. Bobby Gill pauses to take a photo of Caroline and me. At mile ~6 we descend to Crisman Hollow Rd, where we jog downhill at ~12 min/mi for a couple of miles to the first aid station, the Park Service visitor's center at New Market Gap on US-211.
Here ever-helpful Walker meets us, we refuel, and I Tweet our status. We check in with the race officials, grab snacks, and begin the giddy thousand-foot climb to Bird Knob. Contrary to the official turn sheet for the race , once we're near the top we follow a white-blazed connector trail. Caroline reassures me that it's the right path, but after we get on it we see no other runners.
The trail eventually takes us to a forest road. We trot downhill and chat while scanning the shoulder for a trail sign. After more than a mile Caroline is pretty sure that we've missed it, so we turn around and trudge back. Now of course the post is blatantly obvious. Up we climb, first on the purple-blazed Roaring Run Trail, then on the pink Browns Run Trail. Boggy patches and ankle-deep water crossings are frequent, even though it hasn't rained for a week.
As we proceed I become increasingly fatigued. Besides residual bronchitis and ITB problems, and my normal left metatarsal issues, I perhaps should be taking in more electrolytes. I'm also feeling a bit dizzy now, maybe from peering at the circle of my flashlight beam on the rocks and sticks underfoot.
Whatever the reason, I warn Caroline that I'm thinking of stopping when we see Walker next, which I estimate will be about mile 22. We've been alternating the lead, but now as the path gets trickier Caroline takes over. I give her my bright handheld LED flashlight and stagger along behind in the fading illumination of my extra headlamp. The best indication of the right path now is by sound: when I'm on course the crunching of the brush underfoot is less loud. We both begin to stumble more often.
Finally at 2:20am we hear traffic, see lights, and there's Walker, awaiting us at the second US-211 parking lot — hooray! Caroline feels good and decides to do the final five miles solo, even though Walker and I try to persuade her otherwise. I rehydrate as Walker drives the minivan back up Crisman Hollow Road to the start/finish area. We tell Race Director Tom Corris the situation and he sighs but admits that Caroline's insistance on running alone is not unexpected. She's that kind of trail gal!
Tom gives us all chocolate bunnies for participating and we move the car down the road to where Caroline's trail emerges. I nap while Walker goes into the woods along the Scothorn Gap Trail to make sure Caroline doesn't miss the final turns. At about 4:20am they're at the car and the adventure is over.
I'm still on the MMT 100 waiting list, but after tonight's run I've got serious doubts about my abilities to do the race this year. Massanutten is tough, and 100 miles is a long way!
|The official chart at  says the Chocolate Bunny offers 5,400 feet of climb. I missed a thousand or so of that by skipping the last 5 miles that Caroline did solo, but we both got several hundred bonus when we went off course. This graph is my GPS's altitude chart, with horizontal axis showing distance in miles (0-22) and vertical depicting elevation in feet (~1000 to ~2900).|
- Monday, April 05, 2010 at 05:03:30 (EDT)
At a lecture I attended not long ago a psychologist talked about major personality characteristics and how they're measured. He offered his audience a chance to take the "Hogan Personality Inventory" and of course I couldn't resist. The results along its seven major dimensions are rather like a horoscope reading, with no major surprises and lots of ambiguity. (Do I sound like a believer in modern psychology?) The numbers are derived from a few hundred yes-no questions. My profile, sorted high-to-low:
And the shrink offered us another personality test, the Hogan Development Scale. More on that later ...
- Sunday, April 04, 2010 at 15:33:07 (EDT)
In a local newspaper column Michelle Kerns offers "The top 20 most annoying book reviewer cliches and how to use them all in one meaningless review". From her catalog, my favorite dirty dozen:
Wow — the list itself almost makes a review! But Kerns omits one word I find myself using far too often: thoughtful. And we need another set of adjectives for negative commentary: self-indulgent, fuzzy, derivative, bitter, disorganized, obvious, ...
- Saturday, April 03, 2010 at 05:54:16 (EDT)
|Buzz of iridescent green flies, bumblebees, junebugs ... damp toes at shallow water crossings ... warm afternoon sun ...|
After 12 days the bronchitis is beginning to recede. Temps are in the 70s as I head upstream from the Adelphi Manor Park cricket pitch. Sucking on a root beer barrel keeps the cough under control. The gravel road climbing to Oakview Dr is as steep as remembered. Milepost markers match GPS readings to within 0.01 mile.
(other runs on the same route: 2007-09-12 - Oakview Hill Work, 2007-11-28 - Northwest Branch Tempo Run and Hill Work, 2008-09-11 - NWB Hill Work, ...)
- Friday, April 02, 2010 at 04:42:46 (EDT)
Three hilarious TV shows, all doubtless doomed because they're dense in dialog, feature complex multi-threaded plot lines, and showcase excellent acting:
And one of my favorite underappreciated actresses, Suzy Nakamura, has appeared in small rôles on the first two already ...
- Thursday, April 01, 2010 at 12:37:54 (EDT)
From Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-Zinn, in the chapter "Presence":
Tibetans use the term "Kundun" when speaking of the Dalai Lama. Kundun means the Presence. It is neither a misnomer nor an exaggeration. In his presence, you become more present. I have watched him over a period of days, in a room with a small number of people, often with complex scientific conversations and presentations going on, varying naturally in degrees of interest. But he appears to be right there all the time, not just in his thinking but in his feeling tone. He attends to the matter at hand, and I've noticed that all of us around him become not only more present, but more open and more loving, just by being in his presence. He interrupts when he doesn't understand. He ponders deeply, you can see it on his face. Closeted with scientists and senior monks and scholars, he regularly asks pointed questions during their presentations, to which a frequent response is: "Your Holiness, that is exactly the question we asked ourselves at this point, and the next experiment we decided to do." He sometimes appears distracted, but usually I am fooled if I think so because he stays right on the point. But he does often look deep in thought, puzzled, or pondering a point. In the next moment, he can be very playful, radiating delight and kindness. You could say he was born this way, and that is a whole other story, of course, but these qualities are also the result of years of a certain kind of rigorous training of the mind and heart. He is the embodiment of that training, even though he would modestly say it is nothing, which is also more than passingly correct.
- Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 04:39:00 (EDT)
Three amusing tidbits about the University of Maryland at College Park:
- Monday, March 29, 2010 at 20:20:27 (EDT)
The Carnegie Corporation, founded in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie, has given grants that led to the discovery of insulin and the creation of "Sesame Street". In honor of its centennial the Corporation's president Vartan Gregorian speaks of its history in a brief video. A rough transcript:
Being president of the Carnegie Corporation carries a heavy weight on one's shoulders, especially if you're a historian, because you're in the presence of this giant, who was small physically but giant in terms of his vision. What he accomplished during his lifetime is just not only legendary, it's unbelievable. He knew about poverty, and he saw inequality and unequal access to learning as a way of oppression.
He came to the United States with practically nothing. He did not inherit anything except his name, and his quest for learning, his thirst for learning. He saw this country was not based on class alone, was not based on wealth alone, but was based on ideals.
I see two of them as fathers of philanthropy: John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. They came to philanthropy from different backgrounds, one from religious impulse, the other entirely as a civic duty. Both of them, however, believed in philanthropy.
You have to differentiate between philanthropy and charity. Charities give to the poor and the destitute. You don't question why they are poor. You alleviate ills. You don't do eradication of the cause of ills. And Carnegie decided that they had to deal with causes. Hence philanthropy, as a long-term investment.
Foundations have no reason to exist if they don't take risks. Otherwise they become charitable organizations that just distribute money. If you're a philanthropy, you take a risk. Carnegie Corporation during a century has been in the forefront of major institutions in the United States, major ideas in the United States, and major institutions around the world, a kind of incubator of ideas, a laboratory for change.
But at the same time, and I stress this, a testament to our people, our nation, and our democratic institutions. I'm proud that we're not parochial, parochial ideologically, parochial internationally, parochial ethnically — that we are a reflection of American democracy and institutions. I'm proud that we recognize diversity of opinion and diversity of our nation's ethnic make-up.
Those who have endured for a century have great responsibility for the future of philanthrophy in our country. Not as elders, but as keepers of memory and keepers of challenge.
(cf. EstateTax (2005-05-06), ...)
- Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 11:46:27 (EDT)
"Up your mileage!" That's the runner's answer to any ailment, so with my sore knee and horrid cold/cough I meet Gayatri Datta at 7am Saturday in downtown Bethesda to run a loop along the Capital Crescent Trail and Rock Creek. Within the first half mile we witness tragedy: a big bag of donuts lies in shreds, torn open on the ground, scrumptious contents strewn over the bikepath. "I should snag one of those!" I say, then amend the resolution to, "Well, maybe when we're done." Soon thereafter I spy an unopened Clif Shot energy gel and console myself by picking it up.
Outbound on our planned 20+ mile trek I soon get tired. At Fletchers Boathouse we visit the latrines and I ask if we can turn around soon, to make it a 10 mile day. Gayatri persuades me to go on to the Thompson Boat Center for 15. My GPS tracks closely with her unit until we pass through the Dalecarlia Tunnel, at which point the numbers mysteriously diverge by a few tenths of a mile. They reconverge during our return trip. Weird!
And the donuts? On the home stretch when we pass them, alas, the tragic scene is compounded: they've been run over by bicycles, trodden upon, and probably dog-licked. May they rest in peace.
- Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 08:09:31 (EDT)
Another quick-reading corporate "philosophy" book: The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Nothing to complain about, other than perhaps a lack of original thought or inspired prose. The subtitle summarizes the thesis: "Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal". The book is fast-reading with a chatty tone. The authors' advice is reasonable:
The pointers are fine: early to bed and early to rise (hmmm, didn't somebody else suggest that long ago?), eat healthy, take breaks, be physically active, avoid negative habits, figure out what's important to you and fence off time for it, etc. All good; the challenge of course is not to know but to do. I suspect that neither this nor any similar book will soon solve that!
- Friday, March 26, 2010 at 04:46:31 (EDT)
"Feed a cold, starve a fever" apparently have been joined by "push fluids to bronchitis"—or at least that's what I was advised when I visited the Kaiser HMO urgent-care clinic last evening. My going-in statement, "I've got a 38 mile run this weekend, so I need you to fix me up fast!" apparently amused the nurses and doctor; I heard them repeating it to one another in the hallway as they got to work.
In the winters of 2005-6 and 2007-8 I came down with a bad cold that turned into a lingering cough. Winter 2009-10 came and went I thought had I dodged the bullet, until this week when a bad cold turned into a lingering cough with wheezing sounds that even I could hear. Modern medicine has progressed somewhat, thank goodness. Two sessions on a nebulizer machine breathing albuterol and ipratropium got my heart rate up but seemed to cut down the lung noise. I was sent home with a multi-day course of prednisone and azithromycin plus an inhaler of albuterol.
"No running for 7-10 d" the printout says; it doesn't mention cycling, swimming, or speed-hiking, but I'll try to be good and restrain myself, in hopes of a speedier recovery. Albuterol/salbutamol is on the World AntiDoping Association prohibited drug list, so I guess I can't set any official records anyway while I'm on it. But how can I "push fluids" when I'm out of Negra Modelo beer? Hmmm ... is chocolate ice cream a fluid?
- Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 15:01:04 (EDT)
How to get my weight and blood pressure down a bit for this afternoon's doctor's appointment? How to make sure my aching right knee and left metatarsals are at full throb, in case that helps the diagnosis? Obviously, go out for a run an hour or two before! And where else to test the new GPS than on the classic "Purple Line", the little violet-blazed trail that runs down one side of Rock Creek and back up the other not far from my home.
|So at 12:15 off I go. Of course, I mess up the GPS measurement experiment at first, pausing the unit instead of taking a lap/split when I leave Ireland Dr and enter the woods. Muddy bogs and fallen logs decorate the trail. Officials have painted over most of the lavender markings on the trees, but enough remain that I manage to follow the trail. After about 2.5 miles I start a "clean" GPS file at the upstream bridge over Rock Creek. It indicates that the Purple Line is 2.16 miles long, and I feel bushed after covering it at an average pace of 13.2 min/mi.|
The trip home is faster, 1.4 miles at 10.6 min/mi, since it's on path and sidewalk. And the doctor's appointment? It turns out OK. My pulse is elevated, in the 90's two hours after the run finishes; the blood pressure is all right. She performs various indignities on me and declares me fit for another six months. We discuss drug patents and monopoly profits. She speculates that sitting in Lotus Position might have provoked my knee woes.
(Garmin trackfile mapping via http://gpsvisualizer.com - background map via Google)
- Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 06:43:07 (EDT)
The most disappointing part of the recent health care "debate"? It's gotta be exaggerated claims on both sides of the aisle. Op ed pundits (and no doubt talk show hosts, though I don't listen to them) shout that the republic will come to an end if the bill passes, or if it doesn't. Neither is right. As individuals, and societies, mature and grow wealthier, they reallocate their resources. More, or less, is spent on food, shelter, health, education, helping the neediest, research, etc.
Extreme all-or-nothing strategies aren't optimum. Long-term investment and no present consumption ("The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day." from Alice in Wonderland) is wrong, and so is eating all the seed corn at the cost of future disaster. Honest people can debate the right balance, but their voices tend to get drowned out by noisemakers at either end of the spectrum.
By the way, a feature of health care reform that hasn't been highlighted enough: there's now a 10% federal tax on "indoor tanning services". What is The Man going to do next, take away my guns and fair-trade bananas? It's the End of the World as We Know It!
(yep, I've sung this song before ... cf. PredictingVersusUnderstanding (1999-02-27), Underappreciated Ideas (1999-07-06), ExaggeratedCertainty (2002-12-16), ProbabilisticTragedy (2003-03-12), CreepingConfidence (2004-10-13), HardCoreBelievers (2005-09-02), WeeBitMoreComplicated (2007-08-29), Unreasonable Attention (2009-02-22), ...)
- Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 15:15:02 (EDT)
The cheerful sun is out after what seems like weeks of rain. Stephanie and I meet at 10am and venture out for parking lot perimeter laps. I chatter away in response to her question about how to get faster—speedwork, tempo runs, long slow distance, injury avoidance, etc.—and we cruise the first ~1.5 mile circuit at ~10.5 min/mi pace. The second loop is faster, ~9.0 min/mi, and then Stephanie heads back to the locker room while I do one more orbit almost as hard as I can, ~7.5 min/mi. The old right knee is slightly tight until that final circuit, when I'm pushing too hard to notice it.
- Monday, March 22, 2010 at 04:42:22 (EDT)
Diane Eshin Rizzetto's Waking Up to What You Do is subtitled "A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion". It's due back at the public library, and though I'm not finished with it I clearly need to get my own copy. It focuses on a modernized version of "The Precepts", guidelines for morality and skillful living. In Rizzetto's telling, they are:
Waking Up has clunky bits, but it has far more thought-provoking ones. Chapter 3, "The Dead Spot", builds a powerful metaphor (returned to again and again throughout the book) of a trapeze artist who has an instant, at the peak of her swing, in which to make a choice. From the subsection "Just This":
What if even for the briefest of moments, we take pause in the dead spot, that moment of nonaction, before we react, we step through the door marked Enter Here and meet life just as it is, in just this moment. It is this moment of Just This that the trapeze artist finds the most power and creativity. In Just This we meet the power and creativity to break away from our habitual thoughts, emotional matrix, body patterns, and energy that fuel and direct our reactions. So, for example, when someone insults us, with practice we can more quickly turn our awareness to our experience—to thoughts like, Who does she think she is talking to me that way? We can breathe in the presence of the tightening in the shoulders and neck, the heat in the face, the words wanting to form in outrage. Just This is exactly what the words suggest—there is only this right now. As one teacher has said, "Whereever you go, there you are." This is the core of our awareness practice—to challenge us to question our assumptions about what makes the world real to us. It turns us toward the realization that any assumption of permanence is exactly that—an assumption. That in truth, Truth can only be expressed as Just This.
There's more Good Stuff in Waking Up, including a short appendix called "A Primer in Awareness Practice" that's a brilliant quick-start guide to mindfulness meditation. There are also echoes of other self-improvement guidebooks. More to follow ...
(cf. Karma (2009-07-15), ...)
- Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 11:43:53 (EDT)
Stephanie is ready to run and my 10am meeting finishes early, so we set off just before 11am in a light drizzle that soon fades to nothing. The paved jogging trail is open again, with a backhoe/'dozer crawling along clearing fallen limbs and damaged brush nearby. Marked miles go by at 10:40, 10:14, and 9:05 as a small herd of four deer ambles past.
- Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 05:16:23 (EDT)
Not my cup of tea: Taming the Mind by Thubten Chodron is another of those mystical treatments of self-awareness that I seem prone to stumble upon. Good news: after skimming the table of contents (didn't find any sections on sex, alas) and searching in vain for an index, I started with the penultimate chapter—"What is Buddhism, What is Superstition?"—hoping for some hard-headed analysis. Instead, I learned that after death a person can hang around for up to but not more than 49 days before being reborn as a god, demi-god, human, animal, hungry ghost, or hellish being. I also read that, "Having clairvoyance isn't special. All of us have had it in previous lives." Hmmm ... if there's objective evidence for any of this I guess I missed the memo. The rest of the book, like The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation and Anger, is similarly uncritical. It's also unfortunately muddy in structure and unpoetic in language. Back to the public library it goes; my mind remains untamed.
- Friday, March 19, 2010 at 14:10:39 (EDT)
The passing car blasts through a monster puddle and splashes muddy water over Gayatri Datta and me as we stand waiting to cross Veirs Mill Rd. We're on the Matthew Henson Trail, starting a dawn run on the first morning of Daylight Savings Time. We met and fired up our GPS's at Winding Creek Local Park. Light rain falls and intermittent winds cut through our layers of clothing.
We'll see deer, I promise Gayatri before we start, and do we ever: first one, then half a mile later a pair, then four, and finally near the turnaround at trail's end a herd of half a dozen or more. Just after that last encounter whom should we meet running the other way but graceful Jean Arthur, president of the MCRRC! She's four miles into her 15 mile outing and looks strong.
During the return trip I find on the trail a White Owl "blunt white grape" cigar still in its wrapper. Gayatri tells me about a friend of hers in India who bought a metal Buddha head from a New Delhi street vendor for 3,000 rupees, a fabulous deal. We talk about Indian political history, Masala Coke, family, training, etc. Our pace is comfortable with lots of walk breaks and pauses to retie my shoes, drink from Gayatri's bottles, knot our jackets around our waists when we get too hot, etc. My GPS agrees well with Gayatri's, says I've burned ~950 calories, and provides these splits (pace in min/mi):
- Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 04:37:13 (EDT)
|Stuck in traffic, I mute the radio|
And think how primitive my world will seem
To someone living a thousand years from now:
"They drove their own cars! They got sick!"
And then I wonder how our life today
And how would it have felt, I ask, if one
Maybe the future will marvel and be moved
And when a life is drawing to its close
No, the memories will be eternal:
- Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 04:52:31 (EDT)
"Cool glove!" the high-school kid compliments me as I enter the tunnel under Wisconsin Av. My left hand looks like Hellboy's, covered by a huge eye-piercing fluorescent orange glove that I found lying on the shoulder of the road half a dozen miles ago.
It's a Friday afternoon and I've taken off from work an hour early to jog home. I've only tried this journey once before, as described in 2007-05-25 - Home Run Meltdown. That time was an ordeal, hot and slow. Today the temperature is 50 instead of 80, I weigh 20 lbs. less, and I eat chocolate chip pancakes for lunch. So the run obviously goes far better and I cover the distance almost 3 min/mi faster.
Rain varies from moderate to minimal. Earthworms squiggle graffiti on the path. The mile trek from the office to the intersection of Rt 123 and the GW Pkwy yields the aforementioned garish glove. On the hilly Potomac Heritage Trail leaves are slippery but I avoid a fall. Pimmit Run is nearly knee-deep, a muddy flood just as it was at the 2009-11-01 - Potomac Heritage 50k 2009. I wade across with great caution and manage not to be swept away.
After crossing Chain Bridge it's a clamber up the steep path to the Capital Crescent Trail. As I reach the top my GPS reads 3.00 miles. From this point onward the going is far easier and the pace accelerates. A porta-john in downtown Bethesda, placed by MCRRC and the Park Service, is a welcome sight. After a couple of sub-10 miles through Chevy Chase I'm walking up the hill on Brookeville Rd when the phone rings. It's Kate, checking that I'm ok! We chat, and I discover that the phone works fine even inside a waterproof zip-lock baggie.
At home I take a GPS data dump. It estimates 1203 calories burned and reads a total distance amazingly close to my 2007 estimate of "~11 miles".
|01||10:44||0:10:44||starting time about 2:58pm|
|02||14:50||0:25:33||entering the Potomac Heritage Trail at mile ~1.1|
|03||16:36||0:42:09||includes crossing of Pimmit Run|
|04||10:40||0:52:49||on the CCT above Chain Bridge|
|07||12:01||1:27:03||includes potty break in Bethesda|
|10.87||11:19||2:06:13||phone call from Kate|
- Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 04:38:34 (EDT)
What was going to be a lame joke about various possible successors to the Apple iPod and iPad—namely the iPed, iPid, and iPud—got derailed (thank goodness, I can hear you all saying!) when a search for the abbreviation "PID" led to a Wikipedia article about Proportional Integral-Derivative controllers. Fascinating stuff! And the example used to explain how a PID works—the challenge of adjusting hot and cold water faucets to get the right temperature while taking a shower—is brilliantly engaging. Son Robin the mechanical engineer will to have to teach his Old Man some Control Theory soon. A glance at the Wikipedia discussion of that topic leads quickly to Chaos Theory, yet another area that I know a tiny bit about and wish I understood better. And that leads to ...
- Monday, March 15, 2010 at 04:39:28 (EDT)
Meetings most of the day leave only a little time to trek on a pleasant March afternoon. Friend Amy and I walk the parking lot periphery (~1.5 miles) to test her rebuilt left hip joint—results not yet in. "Femoral acetabular impingement" is the phrase of the day. I change clothes and set off for a brisk couple of circuits around the hilly woodsy jogging course. Right knee feels iffy, but measured miles come in an accelerating blitz of 8:21 and 7:41, scaring squirrels and robins, zigging to avoid a pair of ladies walking the opposite direction on the paved pathway. Patches of snow melt in shaded nooks.
- Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 05:28:54 (EDT)
Jon Kabat-Zinn and other writers hit the bulls-eye when, discussing Buddhist-style mindfulness meditation, they stress the importance of practice before crisis. I've been trying to deliberately and nonjudgmentally self-observe in odd moments, when walking or waiting or otherwise unoccupied. Although I sometimes think about doing it, I rarely set aside an explicit time for conscious self-awareness.
But if I really need help—when pain from a broken arm keeps me awake through the night, when an argument looms and I can't bite my tongue in time to prevent it, when running a tough race moves past discomfort into the "Why am I doing this?" zone, when one of my well-known personal weaknesses emerges and I lose my cool—my attempts to apply mindfulness techniques are only partially successful ... just successful enough to hint that it could be done much better, given more practice.
- Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 15:41:36 (EST)
|Climbing the big hill at mile 30 of the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k my left metatarsals ache, my right knee twinges, and I'm happy. John Lennon's song Imagine, on the radio at 5am this morning, plays in my head. "... Above us, only sky ...." Two miles to go! |
(photo by Ken Trombatore, who was hiding behind a tree catching runners near the crest)
"Where's your pack of girlfriends?" the volunteer course marshall teases me. She's at the last corner now, guiding runners into a final sprint down unpaved Tschiffley Lock Rd. Several hours ago she saw us upstream, a group running along behind pacesetter friend Kate Abbott.
"They'll be along soon," I reply. Several miles back my feet start to feel frisky and I run ahead of the gang. At the Clopper Lake aid station, coming out of the side loop near mile 19, I take a couple of Succeed! electrolyte capsules. Apparently they're just what the old carcass craves. Half an hour later my strength returns and I feel like running again.
This year's SCGT 50k trail race actually begins at 4:45am as I hop on my left foot across the dining room. I'm trying to reach the nail clippers in the kitchen without touching my grease-coated right foot to the floor or falling down and waking Paulette. After trimming an ugly toenail I don socks and shoes, then head out.
A last-quarter moon shines bright in Scorpio, next to red Antares. At Riley's Lock I'm among the first to arrive, but as usual cheery Caren Jew is there ahead of me. In her minivan she gathers Holly Franz, Kate Abbott, Caroline Williams, Rob Dolan, and me for the ride to Damascus. Caren lends a pair of gloves to Caroline and encourages us all. We huddle in her warm car until Race Director Ed Schultze announces the early start is about to take place. Then it's ten minutes in the cold wind, a shout out of bib numbers to the officials, and at 7:10am we begin.
Halfway down the bikepath a helpful runner points out that my shoes are untied. I sit down to reknot the laces and claim Dead Last Place. At the bottom of the hill, where the course leaves the asphalt to head through the snowy woods, I catch up with Kate and Holly. Here it's Kate's turn to pause and install her YakTrax, metallic coils for extra traction. I'm wearing my screw shoes, a choice with mixed consequences: I never slip, but the lack of padding promotes metatarsalgia.
Across the crusty snow we trek, following leader Kate on Magruder Branch Trail. I check my new GPS frequently, trying not to fall while doing so. Our pace is slow but steady. A few miles downstream at the first major water crossing the stream is deep. Several people stop to take off their shoes and socks. Kate and I wade quickly across, avoiding the submerged stepping stones which look slippery.
The aid station volunteers are jolly and helpful. Ed Schultze has directed them not to give out paper cups, not to let runners drop trash anywhere, and not to offer fancy food. "If we treat them too good they will keep coming back just like the geese," his instructions say. Holly and I do our part, picking up litter as we progress.
After Rt 355, a dozen or so miles into the race, Judith Weber catches up and joins us. She's from Ellicott City and has run the Catoctin 50k, an ultra that Caren and I have done together and are planning to try again some day. We discuss our aches and discover that both of us tend to have the same foot pains.
At Clopper Lake, miles 16, we're passed by a passel of 8am starters including Mark McKennett. He's growing his hair out so he can shave "MMT 100" into it for the mid-May Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 miler. Shortly after Mark goes by, to my vast amazement fleet-footed friend Ken Swab materializes. He's been blasting along after taking the 8am start and has gained an astounding 50 minutes on me. Our mutual banter entertains the other runners in the train that tireless Kate is pulling along.
At Rt 28, mile ~25, I take two more S! e-caps. Jim Farkas refills my water backpack and Don Libes lets me drink Pepsi from the communal mug. "You promised you would volunteer at my aid station for a few seconds, and here you are!" he teases me. As I leave I look back and see no one, but after the race Kate tells me that she crested the hill and spied me outbound.
The final half-dozen solo miles go by briskly, if not totally comfortably. I pass several faltering runners, but my dream of finishing in under 7.5 hours soon fades. The right knee complains, but less than the left foot. I come in at 7:35:32 by my watch. The GPS measures 31.38 miles and says I've burned 3109 calories. Some of its other data are less credible, including an estimate of over 10,000 feet elevation change. Perhaps it's due to jitter in the altitude function.
|2010 SCGT course as recorded by a new Garmin Forerunner 205 GPS, plotted via GPS Visualizer on Google Maps, with markers every mile.|
Today's lessons relearned:
GPS split data, with Pace in units of min/mi:
(cf. Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2005 (2005-03-05), SenecaCreekGreenwayTrailMarathon2006 (2006-03-05), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon 2007 (2007-03-04), Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k 2008 (2008-03-02), 2009-03-07 - Seneca Creek Greenway Trail 50k (2009-03-14), ...)
- Friday, March 12, 2010 at 04:50:19 (EST)
The Faith to Doubt by Stephen Batchelor is subtitled "Glimpses of Buddhist Uncertainty". It's the little 1990 book that precedes his Buddhism Without Beliefs and, as the author describes it, is "a collection of essays, quotations, journal entries and stories strung together in an attempt to create a picture of one person's encounter with Zen Buddhism." Hmmm!
Chapter 2 of The Faith to Doubt includes a description of an experience that instantly brought to mind André Comte-Sponville's depiction of his awakening in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. Batchelor writes:
Shortly before I left Dharamsala I had an experience that I would hesitate to call mystical, but for which I can find no better term. This is how I wrote it down: I was walking through a pine forest, returning to my hut along a narrow path trodden into the steep slope of the hillside. I struggled forward carrying a blue plastic bucket filled with fresh water that I had just collected from a source at the upper end of the valley. I was then suddenly brought to a halt by the upsurge of an overwhelming sense of the sheer mystery of everything. It was as though I were lifted up onto the crest of a shivering wave which abruptly swelled from the ocean that was life itself. How is it that people can be unaware of this most obvious question? I asked myself. How can anyone pass their life without responding to it? This experience lasted in its full intensity for only a few minutes. It was not an illumination in which some final, mystical truth became momentarily very clear. For it gave me no answers. It only revealed the massiveness of the question.
Batchelor goes on to discuss a book that I remember looking at decades ago: Martin Buber's I and Thou. It belongs in my bibliography of unsystematic theology. But then, The Faith to Doubt gets rather impenetrable. I'm trying to read onward, but it's not easy ...
- Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 04:41:45 (EST)
After much dithering in recent weeks I finally decide to follow the example of friends and buy a wrist GPS unit. The Garmin Forerunner 205, an old model, seems to have the right mix of features and low cost. It arrives on Wednesday and when I get home with an hour to spare before sundown on Thursday it's time to try it out! The "classic" course that I had long estimated as about 5 miles turns out to be extremely close to that, according to satellite navigation (from home via Seminary and Linden to Ireland to Rock Creek Trail, downstream to East-West Hwy, then back via Jones Mill and Coquelin to the Capital Crescent Trail, thence home). Auto-splits are fun; GPS pace estimation seems to fluctuate a lot, especially near corners.
- Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 04:36:49 (EST)
The second book in J. K. Rowling's famous series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, can be quickly reviewed: except for one chapter of action it's rather less interesting than its predecessor Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Not much character development, not much new atmosphere, not much striking use of language. All plot twists could have been short-circuited if any of the kids spoke to any responsible adult at any appropriate moment. Daniel Pinkwater did this sort of thing better and funnier. I need to re-read The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, or look for some other Pinkwater stories. Potter can wait.
- Tuesday, March 09, 2010 at 04:44:37 (EST)
Yellow John Deere backhoes chip away at dirty snow mounds metamorphosed into ice. I pull sleeves down over my hands and wish I had worn a second layer whenever my course takes me into the wind. Occasionally tiny raindrops pelt my face. Laps on the 1.5 mile parking lot perimeter go by at 9.7, 9.1, and 7.8 min/mi. A pair of gentlemen walking the opposite direction nod at me when we meet. The right knee still feels tight and twingy, especially for the first mile. The left hip also seems rough at times, where the ball joint of the femur fits into the pelvis. Perhaps the old carcass is falling apart? I tune my gait, relax hips and shorten stride. The pain fades, perhaps coincidentally.
In the final quarter mile I hear footfalls and look back; a fast young male runner is catching up with me. He passes and I tell him I'll try to keep up until the next corner where my third lap finishes. "If you were a young lady I'd chase you harder!" I confess.
"Back there when I caught sight of your long hair," he says, "I asked myself, 'How can that woman stay ahead of me?'"
"Sorry to disappoint you!" I reply.
- Monday, March 08, 2010 at 04:48:08 (EST)
A few weeks ago the British newspaper The Guardian printed "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction" ( and ), guidelines and thoughts from a variety of authors. Some are tongue-in-cheek serious ("Never open a book with weather." - Elmore Leonard), some are literary-enriching ("Learn poems by heart" - Helen Dunmore; "Keep a diary" - Geoff Dyer), some are practical ("Try to be accurate about stuff" - Anne Enright; "Don't drink and write at the same time" - Richard Ford; "Always carry a notebook" - Will Self), and some are self-referential ("My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work." - Philip Pullman). The best of all is Neal Gaiman's:
The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
(cf. DearDiary (2001-03-19), ByHeart (2001-11-28), Memorizing Poems (2009-04-05), ...)
- Sunday, March 07, 2010 at 06:41:19 (EST)
Snowmelt puddles wet my shoes at driveway crossings. Meetings end a bit after 2:30pm, so there's only time for two laps around the 1.5 mile parking lot periphery. Temps are near 50°F but gusty winds make it feel cooler. I head counter-clockwise, opposite to my usual direction, and do the loop at ~9.1 min/mi for the first circuit and ~8.1 min/mi for the second.
- Saturday, March 06, 2010 at 03:56:21 (EST)
Some things you get lots of chances to try, fail, and try again. Other items, however, are big Lifetime Decisions. Examples:
The punch line? Take care and think thrice before deciding, especially when you don't get many do-overs!
- Friday, March 05, 2010 at 04:46:27 (EST)
|Scattered snowflakes hit me in the eye. My crimson shorts and shirt match my ruddy face and legs. It's the annual Road Runners Club of America race in Columbia MD, to which Cara Marie Manlandro kindly brings Ken Swab and me. In the community college gymnasium I chat with Pete Darmody, Doug Sullivan, Betty Smith, Christina Caravoulias, Wayne Carson, and others. We stay warm until time to hike to the starting line of the newly-remeasured course, now a full 10 miles, not short as in prior years. Hills, however, are unchanged. |
(photo courtesy Howard County Striders)
Friends are mostly taking it easy after training treks yesterday, but I'm well-rested and want to see how fast the old legs can crank. Prior best at this distance is ~9 min/mi, but that was before I learned that it's OK to run when tired. Log-linear interpolation between recent results for marathon (~9 min/mi) and 5k (~7 min/mi) suggest that my pace slows by ~0.65 min/mi whenever the distance doubles. That predicts a 10 miler pace of ~8.1 min/mi, a goal time of ~1:21. I admit when asked to hoping for 1:25 but secretly think sub-1:20 may be feasible.
CM and I set off together, but a few seconds into the race I look around and can't find her. The course begins downhill. The warmup is a blast and at mile marker 2 I see 15:00 on my watch. "OK", says I to myself, "not sustainable, but compared to 8:00 pace that's a minute in the bank. Hang on!" I keep pushing, walk a few steps at the mile 3 while I sip some water, then get back to work and skip the subsequent aid stations. Rolling hills begin to take a toll. I reach the halfway point at ~38:10 = ~7:40 net pace. The second half is rougher, but by chasing down cute lady runners ahead of me (and getting passed by some coming up behind me) I hang on to that minute and finish in an official 1:19:06, 272nd place overall. "You sandbagger!" says friend Kate Abbott when she hears the news.
The troubled right knee feels tight for a few miles, then becomes totally fine. Is this a tendon issue, or do the neurons just give up complaining? I focus on breath and gait, trying to relax, shorten stride, open and pivot hips. Maybe that helps relieve ITB tightness, if that's what the mystery problem is? The next day brings the current "normal"—minor pain after sitting with bent knee and when going down stairs. But running doesn't seem to cause things to get worse, and not-running doesn't seem to make things better. Guess I can keep on trucking? CM and I discuss summer training plans during the drive back home.
- Thursday, March 04, 2010 at 06:34:01 (EST)
Michael Downing's history of the San Francisco Zen Center Shoes Outside the Door is written in a nonlinear pointillistic-mosaic style, which relieved my guilt when I started skimming/skipping repetitive sections. It describes the rise and semi-fall of the first Buddhist monastery outside of Asia. The punch lines aren't surprising:
And big names don't mean big minds or big wisdom; rather frequently, they are the opposite. As Downing tells the story, at the San Francisco Zen Center in the 1960s contributions flowed in, celebrities flocked about, and the best-selling Tassajara Bread Book brought fame and healthy royalties. So did associated Center enterprises such as a farm, a retreat/resort, a bakery, and a clothing company. After founder Shunryu Suzuki died in 1971 the growth accelerated under his heir Richard Baker ... until spending scandals and sexual liaisons brought Baker down in 1983. Arguments and lawsuits ensured. It seems that Zen monks and students are, like philosophers, human beings too. The San Francisco Zen Center regrouped, reorganized, and survived the chaos. Shoes Outside the Door focuses on events before mid-1980s. It's well-written but over-long and disorganized. The lack of an index or references hurts.
- Wednesday, March 03, 2010 at 04:42:06 (EST)
A Nor'easter hurls leaves and twigs across the sidewalk; small branches lie where they've fallen. The sun is a faint glow behind snow-heavy clouds. Temps in the 30's, wind gusts likewise, and I'm the only one foolish enough to venture outside this morning, running the same three parking-lot perimeter 1.5 mile loops as two days ago. The knee aches a bit, so I'm trying a modified stride, more hip action and a return to my classic toe-out duck-like foot plant. Will it help the ITB, or whatever is twinging? I'm hopeful. Meanwhile the laps go accelerando, pace ~9.4, ~9.1, 8.1 min/mi respectively. After the first mile my head is sweating so I doff the cap and stuff it into my shorts where insulation is more needed.
- Tuesday, March 02, 2010 at 04:36:45 (EST)
The Oddmuse wiki engine allows for customized page styling via Cascading Style Sheets. CSS syntax remains an enigma to me, but I've begun some experiments with alternatives to the default style. If anyone else cares to join in, try the following to see how ZhurnalyWiki looks in different styles. Click on a sample style link to set a cookie to use that style. Click RESET STYLE to remove that cookie variable and revert to the default ZhurnalyWiki style. (The cookie changing will cause an extra line to display; click RELOAD PAGE to get this page again without that distraction.)
Samples from  (using CSS files located off site):
- Monday, March 01, 2010 at 04:47:12 (EST)
As the last Harry Potter virgin in the known universe I felt lonely and picked up the first two volumes at a local library used-book sale last week. J. K. Rowling's youthful wizard-in-training romps through a cotton-candy carnival of minor adventures in "Year 1", aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. It's reasonably well-written and fast reading, with frequent echoes of Roald Dahl (esp. James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) plus bits of some popular lightweight movies (esp. Men in Black and Star Wars). My hopes to spy shadows of J. R. R. Tolkien went unmet, alas. Perhaps in later books the situation will get less cartoonish. Don't tell me how it ends!
- Sunday, February 28, 2010 at 05:52:37 (EST)
The old right knee is twinging but I venture out again with Stephanie to circle the office parking lot and help her get a feel of what might be her 5k "race pace". The ~1.5 mile circuit takes us ~14 min (= ~9.3 min/mi), at which point my comrade punches out. She ran yesterday and this is perhaps faster than she has ever gone this distance before. I continue onward too fast, ~11.6 min (= ~7.7 min/mi), then run out of steam. The final lap is ~12.1 min (= ~8.1 min/mi). There's a 10 mile race on Sunday and I'm trying to calibrate what pace to endeavor. Today suggests sub-9 but probably not sub-8. That lines up with my rule-of-thumb for deceleration, 0.5-1.0 min/mi slower every time the distance doubles.
(cf. Year of Running - 2009 - Further Observations (2010-02-01), ...)
- Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 09:44:18 (EST)
Sometimes when I get discouraged and feel that Life has dealt me a Bad Hand, Things are Unfair, and The Man is Getting Me Down, I remember folks who have serious woes, and realize that really I've got no problems. Recently that came to mind when I read Chris Jones's profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire magazine. Film critic Ebert, lucky to be alive, is basically happy and productive. He says of his imminent death:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. ...
(cf. Roger Ebert's journal, ... )
- Friday, February 26, 2010 at 04:41:58 (EST)
Smiling Stephanie meets me near the office exit and at 12:30pm we head out, following most of the same route I did solo one day last summer (2009-07-14 - Langley Labyrinth). I've printed out a "turn sheet" for us to follow, to keep on course in the tangled web of neighborhood streets. Snowbanks line the roads and two dogs sit in a front yard to watch us as we pass. We tread carefully on an icy gravel connector path, cross Rt 123 with care at Ballantrae La, take a wrong turn on Chain Bridge Rd, admire a mini-mansion under construction, and reverse course a few blocks later at Dogwood Dr. I chatter nonstop and offer gratuitous commentary to Stephanie on training, income taxes, family, nutrition, etc. We return to our start after 45 minutes; Google Maps estimates we've done at least 4.1 miles. I predict sub-30 minutes for Stephanie's first race, a 5k fundraiser for Haiti about two weeks from now.
- Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 05:48:28 (EST)
How to review How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama (translated/edited by Jeffrey Hopkins)? Clearly it's not a book for me: I found it a disappointing muddle. Truly bizarre comments about death and sex and reincarnation are mixed in with personal anecdotes, illogical non-arguments, historical fragments, broken science, blatant sexism, and statements of faith as fact.
What happened? Perhaps language barriers made part of this mess; perhaps the personal charisma of the author overwhelmed the editor. Occasional bits of good advice are surrounded by repetitious nonsense. It's hard to see the depth and power of lower-case buddhism through this scratched lens of Tibetan religiosity. Maybe other writings by the same author are better? Maybe I'm missing something, and this sort of thing can't be read critically, with mind wide awake? I'm profoundly puzzled.
- Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 05:39:31 (EST)
At 0632 when I set off from the front steps the sun hasn't risen but my fluorescent lime-green shirt is bright enough that I feel safe without a flashlight. Melted snow has refrozen on the roads in occasional icy patches, but thanks to screw shoes I manage not to fall traversing them. The Capital Crescent Trail begins dauntingly, with a wall of plowed-aside snow blocking the entrance. I clamber over it and find a packed-down groove about hip width, pockmarked with deep sunken footprints from my predecessors. It's slow going, and the high trestle over Rock Creek is rather slippery. From Jones Mill Rd to Connecticut Av, however, the path has been cleared and I can run at a decent pace. Then, in the wealthy Chevy Chase neighborhood with "Save the Trail" signage, it's back to ice and snow. (rant: Apparently they want to keep the Purple Line away but can't be bothered to clean their back yard CCT segments.)
In downtown Bethesda at about 0730 the parking lot is busy as groups of runners gather. Sara Crum, Rebecca Rosenberg, Barry Smith, and Gayatri Datta spy me and shout. Soon Ken Swab arrives, and swears that CM Manlandro is coming "in a few minutes". Gayatri and I are getting cold, however, so we set out via Leland St instead of waiting. Less than a mile later Sara, Rebecca, and Barry catch up. At Beach Dr with still no sign of Ken and CM we turn northward to visit restrooms and add some mileage so Sara can achieve her goal of 16 today. I leave voicemails on both Ken's and CM's phones—a Droid and an iPhone respectively, which neither happens to be carrying at the moment, I later learn. The Candy Cane City clubhouse is unlocked but busy, so we continue to Meadowbrook Stables and powder our noses there.
Then it's downstream on Beach Dr (meeting Ken & CM en route back) to the end of the no-cars zone at Broad Branch Rd. Gayatri's GPS says almost 8 miles and we turn back. On the return trip when the others stop at the Military Road latrines Gayatri and I walk and jog onward. Gayatri tells me about her father's life and career in India. The others catch up and we proceed to Meadowbrook Stables again, from which I head for home, 2+ miles via the residential road on the north side of East-West Hwy. I foolishly keep up with two young ladies climbing the steep hill, then take Grubb Rd and Lyttonsville/Brookville/Linden etc. to arrive about 11am.
- Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 04:45:17 (EST)
An expert in interviewing job applicants said the other day that there are four key elements that help identify successful candidates out of all those seeking employment:
I like those four factors since it's easy to see how much trouble a person could get into if s/he lacked any one of them. My personal weakness: lack of initiative. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by overly ambitious colleagues who make up for that!
- Monday, February 22, 2010 at 04:52:57 (EST)
|"It doesn't make one stupid to hear again what one already knows!"|
That's a proverb attributed to the late physicist S. Chandrasekhar by one of his students. I like it and tend to quote it occasionally. The other evening, though, after saying it once I suddenly decided to recite it again:
|It doesn't make one stupid to hear again what one already knows!"|
(Yep, another self-referential humor attempt—one of my incorrigible affectations ... and cf. RedundancyRedundancy (1999-04-23), LatePhysicists (2000-09-24), ChandraStories (2004-02-25), ...)
- Sunday, February 21, 2010 at 11:06:39 (EST)
In Chapter 4 ("Sitting Meditation") of Full Catastrophe Living Jon Kabat-Zinn, describing his work with patients in his mindfulness-based stress reduction clinic, comments on the power of simplicity:
For the first few weeks, we just watch the breath come in and go out. You could practice in this way forever and never come to the end of it. It just gets deeper and deeper. The mind eventually becomes calmer and more relaxed, and mindfulness becomes stronger and stronger.
In the work of meditation the simplest techniques, such as awareness of breathing, are as profoundly healing and liberating as more elaborate methods, which sometimes people mistakenly think are more "advanced." In no sense is being with your breath any less "advanced" than paying attention to other aspects of inner and outer experience. All have a place and value in cultivating mindfulness and wisdom. Fundamentally it is the quality and sincerity of your effort in practicing and the depth of your seeing that are important rather than what "technique" you are using or what you are paying attention to. If you are really paying attention, any object can become a door into direct moment-to-moment awareness. But mindfulness of breathing is a very powerful and effective anchor for all other aspects of meditative awareness. For this reason we will be returning to it over and over again.
(cf. Wherever You Go, There You Are (2008-10-26), ...)
- Saturday, February 20, 2010 at 05:33:09 (EST)
|On 16 February friend Mary Ewell invites me to snowshoe with her on the Lake Fairfax trail. She kindly lends me her husband Andy's snowshoes. Alas, as a novice I don't know how to pick up my feet properly, and the pivot makes the shoes swing up so that the front edge thwacks me on the tibia. The result: big shin bruises!|
But the snow is deep, the exercise is fun, and the conversation with Mary is great. Near the end of the out-and-back I find a set of keys lying on the snow. They're Mary's, fallen from her pocket almost 40 minutes ago. Lucky us!
- Friday, February 19, 2010 at 05:37:45 (EST)
Bob Yarochan joins Sara Crum, Rebecca Rosenberg, and me at the downtown Bethesda parking lot for some President's Day Monday holiday morning miles. We take Leland St and Beach Dr, with a detour to Meadowbrook Stables. Temps begin in the teens and rise into the twenties as we progress. Icy patches abound, especially on sidewalks as snowbanks melt and refreeze. We all slip-slide but only at the very end of our journey is there a fall, thankfully a minor one.
Since yesterday was Valentine's Day much conversation involves that holiday and how different people celebrate or ignore it. Yesterday was also the Asian New Year, the Year of the Tiger. Rebecca is a sheep and pulls my leg; I fail to guess her age; Bob diagnoses my knee twinges and suggests treatments; Sara tells hilarious V-Day stories.
- Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 06:23:20 (EST)
Another fun word that looks like a typo: punctate. It's from the Latin (punctum = point) and is a biological/medical term for something that has tiny spots or pits.
- Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 06:29:00 (EST)
Don't ask me why, but a catchphrase that I saw once in the mid-1960s still surfaces in my head when I'm exceptionally fortunate and escape calamity. It's "Lord love a duck and lucky me!", a line from Cordwainer Smith's sf novel The Planet Buyer. I think it means something like, "Gee, maybe things really will turn out OK!"
Of course they always do, in some sense ...
- Monday, February 15, 2010 at 05:27:28 (EST)
In the darkness along snow-of-the-century-narrowed streets I trot, surrounded by dirty gray mountains. It's 6am on Saturday and I'm heading for Bethesda to meet friends, my first serious outing since 20 January. The twingey right knee still aches when I sit too long or go down stairs, but feels fine running. Screw Shoes tap out a clickety accompaniment to my breath.
In the spirit of "Nothing Exceeds like Excess" my route zig-zags to provide a pre-dawn 4+ mile bonus to the 11+ miles to come. The Capital Crescent Trail looks impassable. I follow Linden to Brookville to Grubb, and thence East-West Hwy. Here the messy plowed street is an advantage, since most cars stick to the full center lane leaving me a curbside half-width alley. My red-and-white LED flashlight alerts drivers as they swoop around corners. After half a mile it's time to escape the highway and take Brookville to Leland. That neighborhood hilly road is only one lane wide, so I lean aside into ice mounds as morning newspaper delivery cars crawl by, windows open, papers flying out like skeet.
The usual Barnes and Noble/Ourisman parking lot rendezvous is crowded today, with several groups of runners meeting at 7am. Sara Crum and her friend Amy Kealiher do an out-and-back with me for ten minutes on Leland/Hillandale as we await Barry Smith, Rebecca Rosenberg, and Gayatri Datta. Sara is prepping for an Antarctica marathon in a few weeks, where the three-loop course is a jumble of glacier ice. I suggest that instead of spikes or cleats she should wear high heels for maximum traction. Gayatri phones my cell. She's stuck behind dump trucks removing downtown snow, but detours and arrives shortly.
At the lot Rebecca, Barry, and Gayatri greet us. We head east along Leland to Rock Creek Park. A fortnight ago Gayatri broke her left wrist, so at 7:09am I start her GPS for her. During today's run I happily assist her with belt-pack bottle management. Neither of us has been on our feet much recently, so we send the rest of the gang ahead. Gayatri and I enjoy each other's company tremendously, taking guilt-free walk breaks as needed. She tells the story of her latest injury and we discuss Bollywood movies, medicine, family, training for high-altitude ultramarathon running, etc. Rock Creek is ice-covered but the road is generally clear.
Down Beach Dr we go, and reverse course at the Military Rd bridge. Returning we meet Barry/Sara/Rebecca/Amy who diverted to enjoy the facilities at Meadowbrook Stables. After telling outrageous lies about how far we ran, Gayatri and I proceed upstream. Belatedly I compute that I'm going to be late getting home. I need to be at the University of Maryland by 11am to take a NOAA weather service SKYWARN intro course, so I can become an official storm spotter. Most important: the class includes a free pizza lunch—I don't want to miss that! Gayatri kindly agrees to give me a ride home and then to Wheaton where I can catch a C2 Metrobus to College Park.
Veronique Dozier joins us. She began running in October 2009 and is in the MCRRC Speed Development Program, aiming to race her first 10k in April. Today her right knee—ITB?—is achy, but she's still cheerful. I give her my usual advice—run happy!—and encourage her to relax and enjoy the day. Back at the car Gayatri drives cautiously, protecting her broken wrist. At home I grab my wallet, then ride to the bus area where Gayatri drops me on her way to a hot tub soak and then an Indian movie with her husband. With seconds to spare I leap onto a departing bus. It turns out to be the wrong one, the C4 instead of C2, so I plan on walking a mile to the UM campus. But then the C2 passes us, we pass it, and I leap off to transfer. Lucky day: the pizza is excellent, as is the running!
- Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 16:23:35 (EST)
Ron Rosenbaum's "The Catchphrase of the Decade" discusses a host of clichés. Some of them still feel pretty good, but others have definitely seen happier days. My faves:
Roll the dice, string a few together, and you've got the punch line of a presentation, e.g., "At the end of the day, our market research indicates that the game-changer for this product's ecosystem is an outside-the-box work-around." Sorry about that ...
(cf. AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs (2002-08-28), ...)
- Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 05:14:08 (EST)
Jon Kabat-Zinn's 1990 description of his "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic" at the University of Massachusetts is fascinating but rather slower reading than his later books (Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses). Nevertheless it's full of practical wisdom on self-awareness. The title, as explained in the Introduction, comes from a line in the movie Zorba the Greek when the protagonist is asked if he has ever been married. Kabat-Zinn's paraphrase: "Am I not a man? Of course I've been married. Wife, house, kids, everything ... the full catastrophe!" His interpretation:
It was not meant to be a lament, nor does it mean that being married or having children is a catastrophe. Zorba's response embodies a supreme appreciation for the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies, and ironies. His way is to "dance" in the gale of the full catastrophe, to celebrate life, to laugh with it and at himself, even in the face of personal failure and defeat. In doing so, he is never weighed down for long, never ultimately defeated either by the world or by his own considerable folly.
And so Kabat-Zinn argues that the "catastrophe" everyone feels is "... the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crises and disaster but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up. The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing. This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything." The challenge of being human: to master "the art of conscious living".
(cf. Pepys on Matrimony (2009-12-26); trivia footnote: the actual lines from the movie Zorba the Greek: "Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I'm a man. So, I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe!"; from the book by Nikos Kazantzakis: "D'you think I'm not a man? Like everyone else, I've committed the Great Folly. That's what I call marriage—may married folk forgive me! Yes, I've committed the Great Folly, I've married!" as per the 1953 translation by Carl Wildman)
- Friday, February 12, 2010 at 05:20:45 (EST)
|The Amazon Conservation Team, a current environmental organization, has quite a nicely-designed bird-leaf-hand logo — almost as strikingly iconic as the long-ago Pharmacia & Upjohn hand-bird-star glyph.|
Perhaps the ACT symbol is derivative, or inspired-by? Even if so, neat!
(cf. LogoVision (2003-05-03), AmigaCheck (2004-05-19), Kubota Logo Mystery (2008-02-15), MAPCO Logo (2009-07-05), ...)
- Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 04:58:24 (EST)
A colleague proposes the following definition of "Critical Thinking":
|Critical Thinking = Skepticism + Objectivity + Rigor|
This is quite appealing, since one can examine what breaks down if any component is missing:
And besides all that it's an equation, which of course I like!
(Hmmm ... maybe those should be "*" instead of "+" between the terms? and cf. Critical Thinking (2009-12-03), ...)
- Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 10:49:53 (EST)
Another eye-catching word, from W. H. Gardner's introduction to Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins: tmesis. It's from the Greek "to cut" and describes a figure of speech in which something is injected in the middle of a word or phrase. Examples range from "Any-old-how" or "La-dee-freakin-da" to classical Latin as cited in Wikipedia:
... Words such as circumdare, to surround, are split apart with other words of the sentence in between, e.g. circum virum dant: "they surround the man". This device is used in this way to create a visual image of surrounding the man by means of the words on the line. ...
Hopkins uses tmesis in stanza 34 of "The Wreck of the Deutschland":
The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled
Mid-numberèd He in three of the thunder-throne!
As editor Gardner explains it, "The second line contains a tmesis: 'Miracle-of-flame in Mary' is rearranged so that the position of 'in-Mary' suggests the furling of the child in the mother and also suggests that Mary herself is an intrinsic part of the miracle." What a lovely-rich image!
- Tuesday, February 09, 2010 at 07:12:36 (EST)
Funny how much better things feel if they start out poor and get better, instead of starting out good and getting worse. And even if conditions are deteriorating, if the rate of change is slow (or slowing) somehow it doesn't seem so distressing.
Immediate personal case in point: the main furnace (heat pump) at home died more than a week ago and won't be fixed for several more days. It's an exotic ultra-high-efficiency model, still under warranty, and replacement parts have to come from out of state. Winter weather in the area has been frigid. We tried to warm a few rooms of the house using electric space-heaters, without much success. Cooking and running the natural-gas stove (with constant monitoring and a carbon-monoxide detector in the room, don't worry) helped.
But next a blizzard struck the area, bringing more than two feet of snow and cutting off all the electricity. That got a wee bit discouraging! But we were already making-do, so we added more layers of blankets and kept on cooking etc. And to pile on the suffering, I did a first pass through my income taxes by flashlight—and got a paper cut in the process.
And then, after 33 hours, the power came back on. Yay! Paulette and I laughed together and agreed that things didn't seem so bad now after all. "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone," as the Joni Mitchell song says.
(cf. PowerCurves (1999-06-18) on hysteresis, Andrew Tobias's remarks in NoRetrenchment (2002-08-05), and Z. A. Melzak's comments on annealing and Nazi concentration camp survivors quoted near the end of ResetTheThermostat (2004-04-01) and YearsOfWandering (2006-02-02) ...)
- Monday, February 08, 2010 at 07:03:15 (EST)
"Amateurs practice until they can get it right; pros practice until they can't get it wrong."
(but cf. UproariousAmateurishness (2004-07-12), ...)
- Sunday, February 07, 2010 at 16:08:55 (EST)
Another one of those delightful names that catch my inner eye and ear: Vartan Gregorian. Born in 1934 in Iran, thanks to the help of strangers (plus a lot of determination) he made it through tough times to the US, got a great education, and became a professor, the president of a university, and eventually the head of the Carnegie Corporation, a major charitable foundation.
Gregorian is a modest, charming, cheerful person, as comes out constantly in his talks and writings. As he says in a 2003 interview, re one motivation for writing his autobiography:
... I wanted people to know that life is not all cynical, that there are kind, wonderful people who do good things, help other people out of a sense of humanity, charity, religious obligation, ethnic pride, whatever. They help each other, and acknowledging that was the purpose of the book.
... another book that I need to read someday soon!
- Friday, February 05, 2010 at 05:05:11 (EST)
Such silly advice! Why should "instincts" be better than thoughtful, systematic collection and analysis of data? Yet people are constantly told "trust your instincts" when running through potentially-dangerous areas, evaluating strangers, etc. Maybe it's because one can never be proved wrong or held liable for recommending "trust your instincts"? Or maybe it's an implicit endorsement of prejudice?
- Thursday, February 04, 2010 at 05:02:20 (EST)
In the chapter "How Long to Practice?" of Wherever You Go, There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about the magic of the moment and the value of even a glimpse of awareness:
For those seeking balance in their lives, a certain flexibility of approach is not only helpful, it is essential. It is important to know that meditation has little to do with clock time. Five minutes of formal practice can be as profound or more so than forty-five minutes. The sincerity of your effort matters far more than elapsed time, since we are really talking about stepping out of minutes and hours into moments, which are truly dimensionless and therefore infinite. So, if you have some motivation to practice even a little, that is what is important. Mindfulness needs to be kindled and nurtured, protected from the winds of a busy life or a restless and tormented mind, just as a small flame needs to be sheltered from strong gusts of air.
If you can only manage five minutes, or even one minute of mindfulness at first, that is truly wonderful. It means you have already remembered the value of stopping, of shifting even momentarily from doing to being.
(cf. Work of a Lifetime (2009-02-01), Plenty of Time (2009-03-09), Every Moment is an Opportunity (2009-03-24), ...)
- Wednesday, February 03, 2010 at 05:01:50 (EST)
How to quickly write an article for school, newspaper, magazine, or web? Simply "... take a partly true, modestly interesting idea and puff it up to Second Coming proportions." You can't miss! And if you do it well enough, there might be a book in it ...
(adapted from ; cf. BasementWorries (2002-06-15), ThatWhichIsNotSeen (2002-09-05), AggressiveAggregation (2007-05-10), ...)
- Tuesday, February 02, 2010 at 08:10:05 (EST)
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