Woefully Underprepared

Gym class was, for my entire high school career, an interruption to an otherwise normal day. These were days I’d have to break my routine, find a quiet corner in a locker room, and try to shut out the entire rest of the room while I tried to shut out my own body image issues. Of which there were several. The class itself was spent either outdoors or in the gym, largely waiting to be released. It occurs to me now, 10-15 years on, that I was left without a concept of physical fitness that would actually work.

Before we worry too much about bullying, I was generally left alone. I think I was seen as a warm and pleasant, albeit a little odd, kid who didn’t really fit in. I floated around my friend groups, and was ignored by those I wasn’t a part of. I was a very religious kid, and it was my way of escaping from the fact that I was unpopular: I didn’t need their approval, I had God’s. I mention this for context, I was talking more about the educational component.

In my late 20s, I started running (you can go to the beginning of these archives for thoughts on that). Until I got to that point, I didn’t think I could run, in fact I told people as much. My understanding of fitness was that it only really worked with days spent at the gym, and was probably too expensive and time-consuming for me. I’d never learned how to stay fit. I’d never really had fitness explained in a way that I could understand. My sister being sick was a catalyst for me doing something, but I was (still am) figuring a lot of it out from scratch.

In my elementary school days, I kind of enjoyed outdoor games: I recall playing kickball, tag, Scramball, foursquare, games along those lines. Then things changed when middle school began, as that’s when the locker room became part of the ritual. This is when gym stopped being fun, it’s when I started to feel self-conscious (everyone loves Puberty, right?), and it’s when the athletic kids really started to set themselves apart from the lazy ones (guess where I fell).

What I’ve learned since then is that it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take effort. I learned that I can run, but that I need to start small, with short intervals. I learned that it’s within me to exercise, and I have learned the value of it. I even have a vague sense of how calories work. These are all things, as I was running recently, I felt like I should have learned in high school.

Which means that when “Gym period” turned into “Physical education” I learned nothing. I think some of it was a language barrier: I was being taught in a language, metaphorically speaking, which the sports kids could understand but was foreign to me. The value of it was also entirely lost on me, as I was apparently expected to just understand its inherent value–in the same way most classes were presented, but with seemingly fewer practical applications.

I was trying to think of how my gym experience could have been improved, while still on the run, and I started to feel like a Couch to 5k program over 10 or so weeks, followed by some yoga classes would probably have had more benefit than my entire 3 year gym career. Rather than treating it as recruiting for sports teams, the teachers could have focused on how it was within all of us to get some movement and burn some of our energy.

I’m no expert, but I can judge my results 10+ years on…

A Contextual Shift

The white pick-up truck in front of me was battered and rusty. It had certainly seen better days, and it’s up to speculation whether the rain was doing it any favors. In the center of the bed canopy window, written in white on black text, styled to look like it was stamped it into being on a massive label maker, were the words “Resist Despair.”

This seemed like a message of hope. No matter how bad things got, you are tough and you can overcome it. Even when it looks like your truck is about to rust where it stands, resist the temptation to just lose it.

There was something nagging me about the other spartan decorations on the back of the truck, so I looked up the phrase from another bumper sticker: “One world, One brotherhood” the next moment I was stopped. The Google results weren’t really that encouraging–Along with some possibly racist memes, I think the fourth hit was a Google Book upload on Indian Nationalism.

Which is when the context shifted, and I couldn’t see the previously hopeful message anymore. Now, “Resist Despair” was a comment made by someone who had never experienced depression to someone in the midst of it. It was a toxic “Man up.” It was insensitive, it lacked understanding. It was a command, it was not a suggestion.

I’ll take a moment here to remark that I’m not really that bent out of shape about some random person’s bumper sticker, but I am a little intrigued by the way that context made such a difference in that one moment. Context is a powerful force, clearly. It was enough to take me from inspired to resentful in the space of a Google search.

Even sadder is the fact that I have no idea if that’s even what the “One world, one brotherhood” thing is supposed to mean. Additional searching is coming up with nothing really significant, even if the sentiment feels like it could be positive. Hell, it’s even entirely possible I misread the sticker.

But the reason I’m banging on about it (aside from boredom) is that it strikes me how hard it is to separate oneself from one’s context–even if you’re actively trying not to be part of that context. Which is where this starts to get hard to swallow: How I appear to other people is beyond my control. This is going to be somewhat informed by my context.

The context I largely inhabit is that of the straight, white male. This is how I present when I walk down the street. I can’t change that. I also can’t change the actions of my contemporaries, many of whom I don’t know. I can’t really apologize for them either, I’m not responsible for their actions. But I know that people are affected by them, and that may affect how I am perceived.

This may be part of the reason it vexes me when I see things like an all-male panel dictating the future of women’s health. Or Hollywood films casting white people into roles for non-white people. Or the entire Men’s Rights Activist movement. It’s because other people are tainting my context with ideas that I disagree with; I don’t want to be lumped in with those people.

Given that I look like them, for all a stranger knows, I may well be. In the same way that the dude with the truck could be a reasonable, pleasant human being and his otherwise potentially innocent bumper sticker might just be tainted by the vagueness of its context. No amount of yelling and flapping my hands about how different I am will change how I seem–it’ll probably make it worse. I’m willing to allow that this is how I could look to other people–and seeing as I’m just as guilty of snap decisions, how can I be mad at someone for doing the same?

So what can I do? There is nothing to be gained by getting mad at people who lump me in with the sexists and racists (especially as no one has yet). All I can do is try to be better than my contemporaries, call people out when it’s appropriate, and associate with more like-minded folks.

… which probably explains my Facebook feed.

Witness This Ringing Endorsement

The wind whips up slightly, kicking up gentle clouds of sand which skitter across the track toward me. Soft, fluffy wisps of airborne dust rise to about chest height. This isn’t exactly a sandstorm coming my way–if I weren’t running, it might even look kind of pretty.

Still, I close my mouth and hope it doesn’t get behind my glasses.

One of the things that initially drew me to running was the low cost of entry. At the time, I was freshly unemployed. The prospect of a gym was beyond me, I could probably spring for some cheap running shoes, and was going to go for a free app to get me started.

Shortly after, I think I picked up the armband for my phone. It was a matter of convenience, really. I was starting to realize something practical about running: you need more than just shoes.

This is another story of me figuring something out the hard way…

In May, my girlfriend and I went with some mutual friends to Virginia’s Outer Banks. We had a week, and I was determined to enjoy myself and also get back into good habits–I had re-re-re-started my C25k program about 3 weeks prior. Expecting beach-weather, and beach-quantities of shade trees, I bought a hat and picked up a couple of bandannas on the way down.

Real talk for a minute: I am amid the long, drawn-out process of balding. Despite my best efforts and mostly my own denial, the hair on my head is thinning. For a while now, it’s done little to shield my scalp from the machinations of our nearest star. The combination of Fair British Isles skin and ineffective shade cover means I sunburn my head a lot. The bandanna was an effort to prevent that while running on the beach.

However, when I wear them now, I wonder what I did without them. They trap head sweat, so I don’t come home with stinging eyes. They somehow make my headphones and glasses fit together better. Come Winter, it’ll keep my head a bit warmer than nothing. While I feel a little silly, I simply tell myself that I’m a pirate exercising and I feel better about the world.

And, I don’t roast my dome.

So, I guess this post is mostly an endorsement for bandannas while running.

Getting Back To You

Hi.

It’s been a long time. I think nearly a year since the blog dropped off. I’ve been thinking about it, though. About picking up where I left off, about how to do it, about how I kind of missed it.

Yes, I know the image of a roller-coaster is cliched. But it’s fairly apt in this case: the year has been fraught with various and sundry highs, and some steep lows. I could detail them, like two people catching up on months apart with a laundry list of details. But I always feel as though those conversations always end with more months apart.

We have time, I realized, we have months for this conversation. It’s not coffee and catching up, it’s starting to run into each other. It’s rekindling a friendship.

At least, I hope so. In the time I’ve been away, I haven’t necessarily gotten any better at keeping promises.

 

Apparently this is also my 100th post on this blog. I’m going to pretend that’s more impressive than it is.

Your Mileage May Vary

Dust is once again collecting on my shoes. As I squint in the fading sunlight, I can hear my breath over the sounds of the highly under-rated Harvey Danger. After several months off, and several weeks of another take on the Couch to 5k program, I am getting close to where I was around this time last year, when I was in better shape than I am today. But, I have clawed my way back today.

Over the sounds that wall me into my own head, I detect the crunching of someone else’s footsteps. After a few endless seconds, a figure in red passes me on the right–then one in blue. The man and a woman–around my age–pass me handily. I want to speed up, but I already know how it will feel at the end of the run.

Then I start thinking about comparisons: I never feel it’s wise to compare myself to others. I know that where I am at my stage of life is a result of a complex, indeterminable series of variables and interpersonal connections. There are an immense number of factors that can have immeasurable impact on a person. The mere flap of a butterfly’s wings, metaphorically, can put me in a different place than someone else who starts the same thing at around the same time.

So, why can’t I make that connection with running? Because here I am, comparing myself to two complete strangers. For all I know, they’ve been running since high school. For all I know, they’re running an entirely different program to me: shorter sprints, compared to my longer runs. For all I know, a million other things are different.

A few paces ahead of me, Red and Blue stop at a bench–she adjusts her socks. I pass them handily. It’s not for another quarter-turn around the reservoir until they pass again, then stop and leave the path.

Perhaps with a little more time, I’ll let myself off the hook.