I have turned the above entry into an erasure poem. Hover over the text to read it.
I have turned the above entry into an erasure poem. Hover over the text to read it.
Thomas Gardner writes:
I’ve been feeling my way all week toward some still-unstated problem, running without a watch, not tracking my thoughts, trying to let the run distill itself down to breath, or rhythm, or attention–a single maple leaf suspended in a web, five feet over the trail. It’s hard to do. Thoughts rise and rattle, spread their wings, legs trailing them over the pond (35).
Was thinking about this as I ran. It is hard to “let the run distill down to breath, or rhythm, or attention.” I did have a moment, though, when I was focused on the river. Illuminated by the sun, it looked white, almost, but not quite, like it does when it’s covered with snow and ice. I like watching the sun and the river when they get together. The other day, the sun was focused on one spot in the river, a circle of light on the surface, inviting me to enter it. What would I find, I wondered, if I dove in?
Almost beat the rain this morning. Just started drizzling when I was finishing up my walk back to the house. During the run, while listening to the 3rd episode of S-Town, felt disconnected, disembodied, distanced from everything: the path, the people, the cars, linear time. I entered the dreamlike trance that Thomas Gardner writes about in Poverty Creek. This trance was not transcendent or like Quatro’s running as prayer. And it wasn’t triggered by a runner’s high. It was the result of the wind, the impending rain, the somber podcast and the gray sky that made everything look fuzzy.
A beautiful morning. Spring is finally here! I ran too fast in the first couple of miles and paid for it. I think it was because too many people were out on the trail. It felt like a race and I always run faster in a race. I didn’t wear headphones so I was able to hear the birds and when people said good morning to me. I estimate that I greeted around 20 people. There was one stretch of the trail where it felt like I was saying “good morning,” “good morning,” “good morning,” over and over again. It felt good, unlike the Franklin hill. That was tough. Had to walk part of it.
Nice, easy run. Listened to episode 2 of the new S-Town podcast. Enjoyed it, even though I probably would have preferred no headphones, but I had to catch up to Scott before he spoiled the twist at the end of the episode. I think hearing the twist (no spoiler), at the end of my run, made my whole running/listening experience more intense and other-worldly.
For my silence poem, I decided to read over my past log entries. Here are some themes that I noticed:
Today I decided I wanted to listen to music and run faster. So I did. Splits: 8’38”, 8’22”, 8’08”. Negative splits are always nice. It felt difficult but not undoable. The amount of effort I seemed to be putting in made me think my splits would be even faster. Oh well. Still felt great to fly down the path, working hard but knowing, after months of training, that my body could handle it. That joyful feeling of flight is my goal, not a fast time.
one: Lately I’ve been running without headphones more, listening to my breathing and the sounds around me. I’ve also been trying to allow for silence in my running. To not shut everything out with a playlist or a podcast. I like it. I like listening to the crunch of my feet on the path and how that sound changes depending on the condition of the path. I like picking out the different bird sounds, even as I can’t identify them, as I’m running above the river. I like being able to hear people greet me and to respond with a “hello” or “good morning”. And I like listening to the wind and coming up with words to describe its sound, like “sizzle” or “static on a tv.”
two: Read an article this morning about how Minnesotans are listening to more audiobooks lately, partly because of they’re more accessible, but also because their quality is higher. The article ends by speculating on the dangers of listening too much to audiobooks:
The pull of audio content is so strong that fans are beginning to wonder if having an easily accessible stream of stories is crowding out something vital: silence.
“We never want to do nothing and just think about life,” said Ubl. “If you study creativity you know inspiration comes when you allow your brain to turn off. Much can be found in the world of quiet but we’re uncomfortable there,” she said, “and we are missing something important.”
I agree with what Ubl says, but that’s not the main reason I’m making note of her words. Her quote is the final paragraph of the article. Another one of her quotes is used towards the beginning:
“I like the escapism, but I need the learning,” said Ubl, 28, research director for the generational consulting firm Bridgeworks. “I feel like I’m wasting time when there’s any moment of my day when I’m not learning.”
I imagine that this contradiction in her thought was, at least partly, taken out of context. It’s not explained, or even pointed out, in the article. But I think there’s more going on here. This contradiction exists for a lot of us. A need to always be doing! and learning! and engaging! even as we ache for silence. Many people are scared of that ache. Others don’t have time for it. I want to find some balance, where the need to engage and the ache for silence can be met beside each other.
three: I’m curious about silence. I decided to begin work on a poem about it with lots of questions. At this point I’ve only just started it. I’m using it to explore silence and to play with the tension between technology and nature that seems to saturate discussions about the need for silence.
What is silence?
Is it the absence of noise?
The shutting down of devices? Ideas? Expectations of what you should be doing?
What is silence?
Is it the abundance of sounds
that we usually fail to hear? That we often refuse to listen to? That don’t require a wifi signal?
Why is silence
so fragile, easily broken by the innocent rustling of the leaves or the oblivious ramblings of a bluetooth user?
Why is silence
so deafening, amplified by the absence of noise or the aftershocks triggered by years of exposure to LOUD music? LOUD thoughts? LOUD demands?
How is silence
ever possible when the hum of the city rumbles beneath us, a constant reminder of what has been done, is being done, will be done?
How is silence
ever comforting when it shuts out our access to inspirational podcasts and forces us to confront the beliefs about ourselves that we work hard to conceal?
What a beautiful day! Hardly any wind. Bright sunshine. Low humidity. Nearly 50 degrees. As I left the house, I didn’t know how much I would run. When I started running, and felt stiff and sore, I was sure I would only run 3 miles. But then, as my body warmed up and I listened to the birds and absorbed the calm stillness, I decided to do more. 5.75 miles in all. In past years, when I was running too fast, spontaneously adding miles was not something I’d ever consider. I’m glad my new training is helping me to run longer so that I can enjoy spring days like today.
I tried experimenting more with recording my thoughts on the run. I turned the voice memo app on and put it in my right breast pocket. The plan was to keep the voice memo app recording the entire time I was running and to try and speak as much as possible. To record as many of my random, stray, disjointed, jagged thoughts as I could. That was the plan but it failed. While I had been a little self-conscious when holding the phone up to my mouth and recording my thoughts, I refused to speak at all when my phone was in my pocket. It felt strange. I felt weird. Beyond self-conscious. Why? I’m not sure why holding the phone up to my mouth makes it easier.
I did manage to record some interesting rhythms with my phone rubbing against my jacket. And some cool sounds of birds, cars, kids playing at their school park, fleeting conversations, dogs barking. Every so often I’d say hello to someone. But, this recording is 57 minutes long and I’m not really interested in listening through the 95% of it that is just my phone rubbing in my pocket and me breathing, just to find the 5% of interesting noises or me saying “good morning” or “hi” or “hello.”
Addendum: After writing about the failed experiment, I decided to experiment some more. THis week in my poetry class we read Bernadette Mayer’s poem Failures in Infinitives. One experiment we could try was to do our own failure poem. Here’s mine:
Failures in Infinitives, Sara’s Version
why am I doing this? Failure
to speak into my phone while running
so as to record my thoughts
to remember my ideas
to access my truths
to bust the mind/body binary. Failure
to stop creating barriers
to find ways to speak
to invite openness
to not be afraid
to not care if others look at me strangely or dismiss my ideas so as
to be valued
to be understood. Failure
to avoid exposure so as
to be left alone
to not be bothered
to be given freedom to do what I want without the need to justify it in the only terms that have currency: Success! Validation! Status!
Failure to stop second-guessing my visions
to believe in my ideas. Failure
to reject a system that reduces me to my use-value. Failure
to undermine a system that sees products while ignoring process. Failure
to dismantle a system that actively discourages my need
to create new things
to experiment with im/possibilities
to see failure not as failure but as an opportunity
to take risks
to be uncomfortable
to learn new ideas and perspectives. Failure
to understand that the vulnerability that failure produces is not a weakness but a strength that enables us to be open to others
to say “good morning” or “hello” or “hi” to a person instead of an iPhone
Decided it was important to recover after three days of 5+ miles. So, I rested. Came across an article about Alexi Pappas, the elite runner/poet. Here’s what she writes about the connections between poetry and running:
In poetry, “there’s such an economy of words. I love having absolute freedom within boundaries. And in running, similarly, there are limitations. You might have a certain lane you have to stay in or a certain number of laps. But within those boundaries, there’s so much room for creativity and personality.”
Here are two of her poems:
When I sprint
are not all there
they are instead gasping
baby bird beaks
who beg cry
brave and scared
I seek worms in the form of air
Tree Perfume (source)
I can’t remember where
if I was alone
if there was a we
how fast or how long
how long ago
was a concentration of trees
steeped on me
I remember wishing
it never falls off me.
Ran without headphones again today.
Getting used to it.
Now I prefer it.
Squeezed a run in today after my daughter’s 11th birthday party at a bowling alley and before her mini-slumber party with 2 friends. Can’t remember much of what I thought about while I was running. Fleeting fragments of thought about my life, combined with a constant return to, “what’s my pulse?” and “how fast am I going?” and “this run doesn’t seem easy, but I could keep doing for a lot longer than 5 miles if I wanted.”
*franklin loop = west mississippi river road path/lake street bridge/east mississippi river road path/franklin bridge/west mississippi road
Tried something new today: 2 minute warm-up, then run 9.5 minutes fast/walk for 30 seconds x 4, finish by running fast until reading 5 miles
Ran with my headphones, listening to my cheesy playlist. It was humid, but not too cold. At some point, it started drizzling, but in the middle of a run, it was hard to tell, except for the relief from the heat of my effort that it brought. I think I would try this workout again. It helped me to go faster.
*the ford loop = west mississippi river road path/ford parkway bridge/east mississippi river road path /lake street bridge/west mississippi river road path
Today was a rest day. Like most rest days, I wanted to run but I didn’t because I know I need to rest, so I finished up an amazing book instead. Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember is about a writer who had a stroke at 33 because of a blood clot that traveled through a hole in her heart that she never knew she had. Powerfully written. Towards the end, she writes about how she had always been unable to exercise but thought it was because she wasn’t trying hard enough. Turns out, it was because she had a hole in her heart! After recovering from the stroke and then getting surgery to close up the hole, she is finally able to exercise. She starts running.
…running felt better than it had ever felt before. Every step was no longer a struggle. I understood how running felt like freedom. I was not gasping, I was taking deep and measured breaths. It was, I kid you not, as if with every breath I lifted my body off the treadmill. I no longer felt the immediate pain I’d always felt while exercising.
…I sat down on the floor to stretch, and instead of stretching, I took a breath, and when I exhaled, I exhaled sadness and disappointment and rage and my chubby childhood years and frustration, and I emptied myself until the voices in my head–a lifetime of voices that said I was not good enough that I was too fat that said I must starve that I was not good at sports that I would never be able to run or jump like anyone else for some unknown reason–went quiet (200).
Today for my run, I tried a variation on the poetry/writing experiment that I did on Monday. Inspired by my teacher’s suggestion to modify my first experiment with Bernadette Mayer’s proposal to “attempt writing in a state of mind that seems less congenial” (Please Add to This List, 12), I decided to record my thoughts while running up a steep and long hill: the Franklin hill, also known as the I-94 hill. Length: about 1/2 mile. Grade: Not sure, but it’s steep. I figured that running up a steep hill for several minutes would generate a “less congenial” state of mind.
I ran an easy 2.5 miles to get to the hill. I took a quick break to set up the voice memo app on my iPhone, then I ran up the hill while talking into my phone. I stopped at 3 minutes and 39 seconds, which was a little less than half a mile. Finally I ran home.
The following is a transcript of what I said while running. The only thing I’ve done to the words is to add line breaks. I tried to use the line breaks to mimic the breaks in my words as I caught my breath:
Starting my run
up the hill
I’ve taken a break
with a walk
I’ve definitely slowed my pulse down
The traffic above me
as I go under the bridge
The traffic beside me
as it goes by me
on the river road
the drivers think I’m weird
holding a phone
up to my mouth
while running up the
is in my eyes
my shadow behind me now
For most of the run
was ahead of me
right ahead of me
Sometimes off to the side
almost as if
it wanted to lead
be beside me
it wants to follow
Breathing here a little harder
the rest has worn off
the Franklin bridge
pulse is higher
I wonder how much of this I’m recording?
I love hearing my feet
on the dirt
in the gravel
I’m approaching a person
will I keep talking,
or be too embarrassed?
under the bridge
feels like someone’s following me
but it’s just my shadow
just passed the turn off for Franklin
I’m going to stop now
I used today’s run to complete my assignment for my poetry class by doing one of Bernadette Mayer’s experiments from Please Add to the List. Here’s what I posted for my class:
Inspired by Mayer’s suggestion on page 10: “Attempt tape recorder work. That is, recording without a text, perhaps at specific times.”
During a 3 mile run, I recorded my thoughts as they occurred to me by pulling out my iPhone mid-run and speaking into it using the Voice Memos app. Total recording time: 4 minutes and 16 seconds. Total run/walk time: 30 minutes.
Un-edited transcript from voice memos recording:
Pre-run. The chattering of the birds. I’d really like to learn all the different bird sounds and I’d like to be able to identify them but I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to because that’s just not something that I remember. But it made me think about how, when I try to focus on something and reflect, how overstimulated I get by the experience.
At the beginning of my run, just as I try to steady my breath, I try to calm my mind.
Mid-run. Attempting to formulate thoughts into words that I can speak without breathing too heavily. It’s a good test.
It’s the first day of spring, but it looks like late fall. I love running this time of year when the trees are bare. No leaves. And you can see to the other side.
Still feeling a bit self-conscious talking into this phone. Wondering what people think if they see me. Also, thinking too much about what I’m saying and whether or not it’s thoughtful or clever or deep, all of which it is not.
I always forget to remember: if when you’re running, you don’t feel the wind in one direction, when you turn around to run back, it will be in your face.
The wind makes so many different sounds. A whoosh through my ears. A sizzle in the trees. I wish I could figure out how to express it and capture those sounds in words.
Familiar landmarks: the fluorescent yellow cross-walk sign at 38th. I wonder how many times I’ve run this this winter.
2 and a half miles in. Feeling very warm and over-dressed, which I shouldn’t be surprised by but am because I was so cold earlier today walking home.
Just ran by a single black glove in the middle of the path. Wondering who it belongs to and what the story behind it is.
Just encountered a biker biking with no hands on the handlebars. I never understand how people can do that.
Just finished my run. Wanted to capture the sounds of all the birds I’m hearing. I think Scott says those are chickadees. What other birds am I hearing?
One possible poem:
As I start my run,
I work to steady my breath
and to calm my mind
I’m definitely self-conscious pulling out my phone and talking into it. Also self-conscious because I know that I’m recording everything I say and typing it up. I’m hoping that once I get into to it more, I might be able to record thoughts as they happen, not thoughts that I’m attempting to craft into clever or coherent ideas. But I like this experiment as a way to help me express how I feel/what I think when I’m running and as a way to develop a relationship between running and writing.
I want to try this experiment again and maybe experiment with it even more. Possible variations:
Question: Does the recording of my thoughts count as writing or is it merely the raw material to be crafted into something more polished?
It’s the day after the race and I’m resting my legs. I’m a bit sore, but not too bad. Just started an online poetry class about Bernadette Mayer and her list of experiments (Please Add this to the List). Really cool. I’m thinking about trying to write about running for my poetry experiments. In a post for class I wrote the following:
In the editor’s note it’s mentioned that Mayer writes hypnogogic poems. I looked up the word and found the definition (a state between waking and sleeping, when drowsy) and an interview with Mayer about how, after suffering a stroke, she experimented with using a tape recorder to record her thoughts in this drowsy/dreamy state. So cool. Currently, I’m writing about running and I’d like to experiment with ways to express the dreamlike state I sometimes enter during long runs.
A great race. Well organized. Decent weather (a bit chilly and windy, but no snow or ice). Challenging, but interesting course (tons of hills). I achieved all of my goals: running all the hills, not walking and negative splitting the second five miles. Perhaps the best thing about this race was that my husband Scott and I were able to run it together, which is a big deal because we’ve never run more than 5 miles together. In the past I’ve been too fast for him. But since I slowed down a bit to build up strength and endurance, we’re more evenly matched. Maybe we’ll run the marathon together?
I’m resting up today for the 10 mile run on Saturday. While I was walking to the studio, I listened to Krista Tippet’s On Being. This episode, How Trauma Lodges in the Body, featured an interview with the psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. He’s particularly interested in bodywork and how it can help people with trauma recover. I was struck by his discussion of the disconnect between mind and body in the West.
DR. VAN DER KOLK: But it’s true. Western culture is astoundingly disembodied and uniquely so. Because of my work, I’ve been to South Africa quite a few times and China and Japan and India. You see that we are much more disembodied. And the way I like to say is that we basically come from a post-alcoholic culture. People whose origins are in Northern Europe had only one way of treating distress. That’s namely with a bottle of alcohol.
North American culture continues to continue that notion. If you feel bad, just take a swig or take a pill. And the notion that you can do things to change the harmony inside of yourself is just not something that we teach in schools and in our culture, in our churches, in our religious practices. And of course, if you look at religions around the world, they always start with dancing, moving, singing…
MS. TIPPETT: Yeah. Crying, laughing.
DR. VAN DER KOLK: Physical experiences. And then the more respectable people become, the more stiff they become somehow.
Part of this running project and the development of one of my key running stories is the split between mind and body and how it works in my running, writing, thinking and being. I’m trying to develop a relationship between mind and body that doesn’t prioritize one over the other or understand them to be wholly separate and disconnected things. What could that relationship look like?
Also during the interview, they briefly mentioned the importance of a “robust heart rate variability.” What the hell is that, I wondered. So, I looked it up and found that it’s a measure of the time between heart beats and that it might be useful to track for improving your training. Now, I’m not trying to get too fiddly and overly complicated with my training. I don’t want to start tracking lots of different things, but I’m curious about HRV, mainly because my heart rate seems a little strange. The difference between a super easy run (166 BPM for 6 miles/avg. pace 9:43) and a decently hard run (180 BPM for 5K race/avg. pace 8:13) was not that much. Is that weird? Anyway, I’m just wondering how “robust” my hrv is.
Was only supposed to run 3 miles today, but decided to run a little extra. Wanted to do the Franklin hill one more time before my 10 mile race on Saturday, which, due to a recent course change, will include the monster hills that I’ve been running 3-4 times per week this winter. A few months ago, this course route would have freaked me out, but now it doesn’t bother me at all.
Ran without headphones again. So beautiful. Heard lots of birds. Thinking of trying to learn to identify different bird calls. While running and listening, tried to come up with words that could properly mimic the calls I was hearing. Now, writing this hours after the run, can’t remember the sounds or the words.
The river road is peaceful, but never completely quiet. It’s in the middle of Minneapolis and just across the river from St. Paul, so there’s a constant, underlying hum of city noise that you don’t so much hear as you feel deep in your core. I don’t mind that hum, but I miss my family’s farm in the remote UP Michigan, where it was always quiet and still. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to run up there, where there are few off-road paths, only dangerous shoulders, too close to recklessly fast drivers and to the edge of the woods, where black bears, stray dogs, foxes, cougars and who knows what else might lie in wait, ready to lunge at me as I run by. Though I would like to go back up there and sit in a field, breathing in the fresh air and listening to the silence.
Just read an essay applying Foucault’s theories on dominant discourses to self-narratives about long distance running. The author of the essay writes and then analyzes her own race report for The Big Sur Marathon. In her analysis, she discusses how she reinforces and subverts dominant discourses about femininity, the “ideal” body and running. I’m wondering: what are the dominant discourses in this story project?
I am attempting to challenge, transform, unlearn, disrupt, rework and play with these dominant discourses. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.
Finished watching Asics Running: Beat the Sun while biking for 30 minutes. I teared up when the racer whose wife had recently died finished his final run and was briefly interviewed. Losing a partner too soon seems to be a theme today. Before biking, I read about the artist/writer who died yesterday from ovarian cancer, only days after her essay, You May Want to Marry My Husband, was published in the New York Times. So sad. Looking at her work, especially her experimental memoirs, and realizing how awesome she was and then finding out from my sister that she had known her, made her death seem more real and even more sad.
It snowed last night. About 2-3 inches. The path was already almost all clear by the time I ran at 1 in the afternoon. My right thigh wasn’t hurting anymore, which is a relief. So glad I took yesterday off.
Earlier today, I read a blog post by an academic about her running. I particularly liked her discussion about discipline, although I want to find another word for it:
I remember telling R. years ago, in those early running days, that the key aspect of discipline for me was less about the need to make myself go do something than it was about the need to keep myself from doing too much. And so I’m trying to be very disciplined about things, to build strength slowly, to keep plodding forward, to focus on the years ahead rather than the miles right now.