feb 6/RUN

3.45 miles
river road, south/north
21 degrees / feels like 13
100% snow-covered

White and gray and a little gloomy this morning. Warmer. Not too cold. I was able to wear less layers: 1 pair of gloves instead of 2, one less shirt, no hood only my winter cap. Sometime last night, it snowed — a dusting. Enough to cover the trail, but not enough to make it more difficult to run. Looked down at the river: all white. Looked up at the sky: all white, too. It might have been snowing a little, but it was hard to tell. Mr. Morning! greeted me with an extra enthusiastic “morning!” and a wave. Like I often do, I imagined stopping to say hi and telling him that I call him Mr. Morning! because he always greets me with such delightful enthusiasm. I didn’t. The color of the day: bright, glowing orange. I was wearing it, and several other runners I encountered were too. Saw at least 2 fat tires, one with their bike light on. Overheard 2 walkers talking. One said: “Oh no, I don’t walk to Franklin. I used to run it, but it’s too far to walk. It’s 8 miles.” I wondered why she stopped running, and if she misses it. For 3/4 of the run, I listened to the gorge and my own breathing. For the very last bit, I put in a playlist — “Love is a Battlefield” and “Pressure” — and powered up the hill.

A great run. Always happy and grateful to spend time outside, moving my body by the river.

I’m thinking a lot about “what you see is what you get” and I’m starting to have too many ideas. Getting overwhelmed by possibilities. Maybe I should just watch the Olympics today? Yes, but before that, here are some meanings for whizz from the online OED (for the whizzy in whizzywig/WYSIWYG):

  1. An act, or the action, of whizzing; a sibilant sound somewhat less shrill than a hiss, and having a trace of musical tone like a buzz; a swift movement producing such a sound.
  2. The practice of picking pockets (chiefly in  on the whizz); a pickpocket. slang
  3. intransitive. To make a sound as of a body rushing through the air (see whizz n.1); (of trees) to rustle; (of a burning or hot object) to hiss, sizzle.
  4. To move swiftly with or as with such a sound.
  5.   intransitive. To urinate. slang. (as in, the whizz palace)

Looked up “whizz” in poets.org and found this poem with whizzing hummingbirds:

A Nearly Perfect Morning/ Jessica Greenbaum

It was a nearly perfect morning—bucolic, pastoral—
so I found myself cataloguing my past humiliations.
Really, there was no reason for it! I might as well have
looked for an ant hill to lie down on in a meadow
of goldenrod. I can’t explain it but perhaps I thought
that with the rising sun as my witness, with the catbirds
crows, and whizzing hummingbirds my soundtrack
that I could ameliorate them, neutralize their charges
against me by holding them up to the woods now in wait
for the light to balance on their individual leaves, on
the absorbing vastness of my fortune. The concentric rings
of the spider web have the wiry shine of guitar strings
there’s been so little wind it seems the trees have not
yet shook themselves awake, but we are moving around
this light at such a pace that by now the sun is nested
in the crook of two thin branches that could not hold
anything else. I was barely up to the third count
against my integrity when the whole lake turned white
but I decided it was not aghast, just trying to erase.

Looked up “whizz” on poetryfoundation.org and found this delightfully excessive poem about how water falls at Lodore. To save some space, I’m only including an excerpt:

from The Cataract of Lodore/ Robert Southey

Collecting, projecting,
 Receding and speeding,
 And shocking and rocking,
 And darting and parting,
 And threading and spreading,
 And whizzing and hissing,
 And dripping and skipping,
 And hitting and splitting,
 And shining and twining,
 And rattling and battling,
 And shaking and quaking,
 And pouring and roaring,
 And waving and raving,
 And tossing and crossing,
 And flowing and going,
 And running and stunning,
 And foaming and roaming,
 And dinning and spinning,
 And dropping and hopping,
 And working and jerking,
 And guggling and struggling,
 And heaving and cleaving,
 And moaning and groaning;

And so never ending, but always descending,
 Sounds and motions for ever and ever are blending
 All at once and all o’er, with a mighty uproar, –
 And this way the water comes down at Lodore.

I really like that cataract is another word for waterfall. So many poetic possibilities! Okay, I’m stopping now. Really.

feb 5/BIKERUN

bike: 10 minutes
bike stand
run: 3.25 miles
treadmill
10 degrees / feels like -6

Watched a few more minutes of Dickinson. Austin is drunk all the time, Sue is expecting his baby, Sue and Emily have declared their love for each other, Edward (Emily’s Dad) is having chest pains, and the mean girls are back. Oh, and the Civil War is raging and all the men in the town are dying. Should be an interesting season. Began listening to Erik Larson’s new book about William James and his expedition to a haunted house while I ran. Excellent! It’s called, No One Goes Alone. Listening to a book on the treadmill might help me to run longer. 30 minutes went by pretty quickly.

While I ran, I had some ideas of what and how to write about what you see is what you get: a lyric essay that juxtaposes many different ideas about it. I pulled out my phone and recording myself as I ran:

notes while running

Later, after I finished my run, while I was doing a cool down walk on the treadmill, I thought of another idea about what you see is what you get and Medusa and spoke it into my phone:

notes while walking

And, thinking about WYSIWYG as whizzywig, here’s a delightful poem I discovered about wigs:

Wigs Everywhere/ Justin Jannise

The brown squirrel, coiled & clinging
to the guardrail of my balcony,
is a wig.

I stepped out of the shower to dry my feet
on a damp wig.

You can fold a wig in a certain way
that it becomes a cup from which you can swig

water or juice or wigskey,
which is whiskey distilled
from fermented wigs.

I met Dolly Parton & she was all wig.

Kristen Wiig is a wig.
So was Ludwig van Beethoven.

In Britain, there used to be two political parties
—the Whigs & the Wigs.

There are wigs that are mops
& wigs that seduce cops.

In some countries, it is illegal for wigs
to marry other wigs.

Have you ever slept in a wig? It’s itchy.

The best wigs in life are free,
but the second-best cost
extraordinary amounts of money.

Somewhere in Detroit, you can trade
20 small wigs for one giant wig

& the award for Best Wig Ever goes to
Medusa. I love how she’d rather lose her head
than part with it

& how, even without a heart,
the head maintains its awful power.

feb 4/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
bike stand
run: 2.2 miles
treadmill
7 degrees / feels like -8

Finished the final episode of season 2 of Dickinson and started the first episode of season 3 while I biked. This first episode of season 3 is titled, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I memorized that poem last March. Didn’t think about it that much while I was finishing up my bike, but it, particularly the idea of hope, returned to me on my run.

I started my run feeling out of sorts, thinking about the possibility of a job I could apply for that sounds like a good/fun opportunity, but might require more vision than I have. As often is the case, I wondered: am I not pushing myself enough, using my vision loss as an excuse, or is this job just something too far beyond my abilities — too demanding, too much, too impractical for someone who can’t see fast enough? It took listening to several songs before I forgot these worries.

As I ran, I stared ahead at the blank tv screen, noticing how that empty black screen filled most of my central vision, while all around it, on the edge and outside of the frame were images — the light above, the wall to the wide, parts of the treadmill and the floor below. All the things I can see in my periphery. Even when my central vision is all gone, if/when that happens, I don’t think I will see the world like this, with a black space surrounded by slightly fuzzy, but identifiable shapes. Everything in the center will be more like a smudge, or a fogged up window.

Thinking about my periphery and what I can see with it, I’m reminded of watching ice skating on the olympics last night. I can tell my vision is worse; it is very difficult to follow, or to see the skater — well, I could see the skater, but mostly just flashes of their movement, not as a whole, complete object. To actually see the skater, I tried looking off to my right so I could see them through my periphery. Much better. Not completely clear, but they became a discrete, stable object on the ice.

So, I was thinking all morning about my theme for the month, what you see is what you get. I discovered that it was the catch phrase of Flip Wilson, used by his character, Geraldine. One source I found suggested it meant: this is me, accept me for who (and what and how) I am. I also was reminded that this phrase turns into a computer acronym: WYSIWIG. I mostly use the WYSIWIG editor on wordpress. I forgot it was called that because now they refer to it as the visual editor (as opposed to the code editor). I kept thinking about how this idea that what you see on the screen is what appears on the printed page is an illusion, concealing all the code that is required to make it appear as you want it. About a decade ago, I started learning some of that code (html, css). I don’t know much, just enough to understand that everything about how words or images look online involves a ton of behind-the-scenes brackets and semi-colons and classes and ids (and more). I find a lot of value in understanding, or at least being familiar with, how this works. And, I find a lot of danger in believing that all of what appears on a screen just is the way it is, almost by magic. I’m not suggesting that everyone should learn to code — wasn’t that a trendy slogan a few years ago? — but that they should be aware of how it works, and that it exists.

This ignoring of the process, and the naive belief that “things just happen,” reminds me of how many (most?) people believe vision works: you see what’s there with your eyes. They don’t think about the complex processes of vision, from cornea to retina to visual cortex, and how the brain, to make things easier and/or efficient, or because it has limited data, distorts or alters or guesses. When we see, we are not seeing the world as it is, but how our brains have figured it out.

Human perception is patently imperfect, so even a normal brain must fabricate a fair amount of data to provide a complete sense of our surroundings. We humans are lucky that we have these fancy brains to chew up the fibrous chunks of reality and regurgitate it into a nice, mushy paste which our conscious minds can digest. But whenever one of us notices something that doesn’t exist, or fails to notice something that does exist, our personal version of the world is nudged a little bit further from reality. It makes one wonder how much of reality we all have in common, and how much is all in our minds.

Chuck Bonnet and the Hallucinations/ Alan Bellows

As I was running, I thought again about E Dickinson and her feathered hope, and then the idea of hope and faith, and why we need it, how we envision it. Then, I pulled out my phone and recorded myself, mid-run:

What you see is what you get is an illusion, a type of empty hope, false faith, that some need to survive.

Is this fair? I’m not sure, but it’s something to think about some more, the idea that people invest an uncritical faith (I’m resisting the impulse to write “blind faith” here) and superficial hope in the belief that what we see is what is there, and that what we see is what is real. This belief provides comfort, makes it easier, enables them to not have to question or challenge, just accept.

Also on my run, as I listened to the excellent-for-running song, TNT by AC/DC, I thought about alt-text, and alt-text poetry, and how I might use it for a poem that pushes against the idea that what you see is what you get. Maybe vivid text descriptions of some things I see in my strange, slightly off ways, paired with straight, clear/basic description of those same things? I really like this idea; I’ll keep going with it to see if it could work.

To remember:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers/ Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all –

And sweetest — in the gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird —
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest sea —
Yet, never in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of Me.

“Faith” is a fine invention / Emily Dickinson

“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!

feb 3/RUN

4.6 miles
minnehaha falls and back
0 degrees / feels like 0
0% snow-covered

It was cold today, but there was sun, and no wind, so I decided to run outside above the gorge. It felt colder than 0 to me, especially at the beginning. I started to get a slight headache from the cold air on the bridge of my nose. Once I warmed up, it went away. The other part of me that was cold for a few minutes: my feet.

layers (extra cold version)

  • one pair of socks
  • 2 pairs of gloves, 1 black, 1 hot pink with white stripes + hand warmers
  • 2 pairs black running tights
  • green base layer long-sleeved shirt
  • black 3/4 pull-over
  • pink jacket with hood
  • gray jacket
  • buff
  • black cap
  • sunglasses

Mostly, I was alone on the trail. When I did encounter people, it was almost always walkers alone, or in pairs, often in clusters — one walker, then a few seconds later, another walker, etc. At the falls, there were a few more people. At least 2 of them had big cameras. The falls were totally frozen, so was the creek up above. Almost everywhere, it was quiet and still.

This month, I’ve decided to read and write about a phrase that is also the theme for a call for poems from a journal that I’m submitting to: “what you see is what you get.” I’m hoping to approach this from as many angles as I can think of (and have time for). As I ran, I thought about in two ways:

what you see is what you get = whatever it is you can see (with your cone dystrophy), is all you get to work with for figuring out how to make sense of something. With the limited data I get from cone cells, that will involve some guessing, and relying on other senses + past experiences

what you see is what you get = what you see is not what you get, or what is real is not seen, but sensed in other ways, like air and wind. You can’t see wind or air, but you know it’s there. I think I was thinking about another example — maybe something to do with shadows? — but I’ve forgotten now.

10 Things I Noticed

  1. School kids on the playground — in 0 degrees. Minnesota kids are hearty
  2. The collar of my jacket rubbing against my hood
  3. My breath, labored as I ran up a hill
  4. Some sort of bird chirping, sounding like spring
  5. A car’s wheel whooshing on the river road
  6. A low, almost shrill and sharp, buzz just barely noticeable near the DQ
  7. The soft shuffle of my feet striking the grit on the path
  8. Someone on the walking side of the double-bridge holding a snowboard (I think?), then a thud, then that someone yelling something that sounded slightly distressed, but mostly not. What were they doing?
  9. Returning 20 minutes later to the bridge, hearing some scraping or pounding in the ravine below. I don’t know what the noise was, but I imagined snowboard dude, along with some other snowboard dudes, was chipping ice, or climbing an ice column, or doing something else to ice to make it possible for them to get back up to the bridge. Will I ever know what was going on?
  10. (not related to sound): a walker, or runner, I couldn’t tell, below me on the winchell trail. As I ran I wondered, was there even someone there, or was I imagining it?
  11. one more: my shadow, behind me as I ran south. Sharp, well-defined

Another thing I did in relation to “what you see is what you get” was to do some research on Groundhog Day. I’ll add the notes to my February page; I’ve spent too much time in front of my computer right now. Some interesting stuff. I wanted to think about Groundhog Day because it was yesterday, and also it fits the theme. In the U.S. if it’s sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow on Feb 2, there will be 6 more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, and he doesn’t, spring is coming. As Scott pointed out, this tradition is not an instance of, “what you see is what you get,” but the opposite: “what you see, is what you don’t get.” note: If the groundhog sees his shadow, most people across the country are bummed. Ugh, 6 more weeks of winter! But, here in Minnesota, it’s cause for celebration. Only 6 more weeks of winter? Hooray!

feb 2/BIKERUN

bike: 15 minutes
bike stand
run: 2.8 miles
treadmill
2 degrees/ feels like -13

Another short stretch of very cold weather. Started the next episode of Dickinson while I biked, which is continuing the themes of fame, whether or not to be published, and the possible value of being invisible/ a Nobody. Fame is associated with glory and the impending Civil War and is presented almost exclusively as empty and unsatisfying. Invisibility, a quiet power, is better.

While I ran, listened to a playlist. Stared at the blank, black screen of the television. Don’t remember hearing anything, other than my music, or smelling anything. When I ran a few days ago, my daughter was cooking herself some lunch and had left the basement door open; I smelled her Velveeta mac-n-cheese. It was unpleasant. I don’t remember feeling much, other than my feet striking the belt. No wisps of hair falling out of my ponytail, feeling like spider webs. Did I feel any drips of sweat? Probably.

Missed Time/ Ha Jin

My notebook has remained blank for months 
thanks to the light you shower 
around me. I have no use 
for my pen, which lies 
languorously without grief. 

Nothing is better than to live 
a storyless life that needs 
no writing for meaning— 
when I am gone, let others say 
they lost a happy man, 
though no one can tell how happy I was.

I found this poem buried deep in a folder yesterday afternoon. It fits with the conversation I’ve been having with Dickinson as I watch and reflect on fame and being invisible. I didn’t think about many things while I was running, but I do remember thinking about how so much of my writing and documenting my life, on this running log, and my other online spaces (trouble, story, undisciplined, unofficial student transcript), is about recording my life for future others, including future Sara. This impulse (or compulsion) to document is partly the result of my love of storytelling, but it also comes from my desire to give others, especially my kids or their kids, etc., what I desperately wanted from my mom after she died: more words about a life lived — thoughts, experiences, accounts, stories. I missed the epic conversations I used to have with my mom, and I would have loved to continue them with her words. And, I wanted to know more about how she felt, what she thought about. Will my kids want my words? I’m not sure, but if they do, they’ll be there, a lot of them.

I disagree with the idea that nothing is better than to live/a storyless life that needs/no writing for meaning, and I don’t think happy is how I’d like to be remembered. Delighted? Joyful? Patient? Satisfied?