1. Running at night. Weird biorhythms with night running. I once raced a four miler in the Smokey Mountains at midnight. It was one of the worst races of my life. And how does one sleep after night running? The body all starred out and engine. You crank up the motor and it runs for hours. After-burn.
2. I need to run pretty fast. The study has parameters. I have performance anxiety. What if I show up for the study and don’t run fast enough? Like all the pointy-head scientists with clipboards go, “I thought you could run. You told us you could run.”
3. I have to run around one of those indoor 200 meter tracks. Haven’t done that in a while. (BTW, last summer some dude set the indoor 200 meter marathon record on just such a track. He ran around the track 221 times.)
4. I had a Superbowl party and am still eating leftovers. Like the other day I ate a dinner of Chex mix. For lunch today I ate a vegetable tray. Is that a good meal before a fast run?
So I head to the fancy rec center. You must have a fancy rec center these days, to recruit the students. I entered a door under a climbing wall. You have to have a climbing wall, folks. What’s the point of a fancy rec center with no climbing wall? At Dick’s Sports store, I climbed to the top of a climbing wall years ago and it is remarkably difficult to do. I remember thinking, “This is remarkably difficult.”
(Hey, I was thinking if I had a giant sports store I wouldn’t name it Dick’s. I really wouldn’t. But who asked me?)
Went down a labyrinth. Passed an indoor soccer field. Some kid kicked a soccer ball into another kid’s face. That happens, man. Volleyball courts. A lounge. Students sprawled out like cats. More left/right/left.I like spaces like this, corridors with weird rooms where people are banging out weights. Locker rooms. Underground space for serious athletics. I always feel detached from myself and also still myself in these places. It actually feels good.
Hey, there’s the track.
I see a woman with a clipboard and papers.
Me: “Hi. I’m Sean.”
Researcher Woman: “Hi, Sean. Read this and sign these papers.”
Papers are boring. They ask a lot of questions about my health. I don’t lie at all. I usually lie several times on medical forms. I just lied the other day to my kid’s doctor, actually.
Dr: “She’s (Referring to my little kid) not watching much TV, right?”
Me: “TV? What’s TV? No, no, she never watches TV. I have her too busy working on calculus and basket weaving.”
I don’t give a fuck. I’ll lie right to a doctor. I’m sure you will, too.
Wait, wait, back to the running study.
Papers filled out.
Me: “Ok. What’s this study about?”
Researcher Woman: “The purpose? The purpose of this study is to measure the effects of CWX Pro compression tights on the biomechanics of gait over time during a run to exhaustion. You know, in running to exhaustion, there are kinematic and kinetic adjustments in a person’s gait. CWX Pro compression tights are thought to delay these adjustments. We’ll see.”
Me: “You want me to run to total exhaustion?”
Researcher Woman: “Yes, but not today. Today I want you to run a 5k. A fast one. Go about 95% effort, OK? You can warm up now.”
I warm up. This means I run two 200 meter laps. I don’t warm up much, as a rule. I put on my shoes.
About two minutes later I say, “Well, I’m ready.”
The Researcher Woman gives me a look over the non-warmup. The look is sort of like I wonder if he knows what the hell he is doing?
Then I run. It goes all:
This is cool, this is different, 200 meter track is mostly curves, volleyball players around hope they don’t hit me, trip me, feet falling like leaves, quiet, quiet, haven’t run in my racing flats for a while, just blew by some dude, sorry dude, not trying to be one of those runners who run really fast by others to show out I am actually doing a study, could you get out my lane, OK, runner disappears, OK, good call, a frozen horse is appearing in my chest a bit, thawing now, good flow, legs loosening, arms singing a bit sourly, I am wondering why I volunteered now I am in pain, and oh a flow now, a flow, more people watching, some big dudes setting up cones to do a dash (40 meters?) very polite staying out of my lane, lungs gold with tap-tapping, a rock pressed against my thighs, some groove I’m hurting and sweating and researcher yells out 9 more laps!! and big dudes stop and watch me a while I run a little faster when people watch sort of stupid really I’m too old to care but I am human you know and so rather flawed I feel and so counting down 7,6…lost count now curving curving curving all the time on 200 meter track I might just mention the moon now by no reason to mention the moon and legs so blurry and 3 and 2 and 1 fast finish bring it home, bring it home…
I’m done. 19:03 5k. Not fast. Not slow. And inside the parameters for the study!
Researcher Woman: “You’re done. Now you need to do it in the lab next week. We need to hook you up to some things.”
Me: “Ergh…Uuuu. Ok. (panting) Haven’t run a 5k in a long time.”
Researcher Woman: “Just wait until the exhaustion run. You have to run that same pace into complete exhaustion…”
Went home and ate rotel. Yep, couldn’t sleep.
I get to hang around Cathy Day and she always does something smart. She is massively intelligent, and always has glow ideas about writing. Last night, she was reading, with Matt Mullins, and took photos of the audience from her perspective, as opposed to the usual photos of the reader up on stage:
It’s a cool idea and it shows people enjoying being read to. You get to see us glowing as we see these images and hear these words. Here are some more audience photos in her route book.
This reading was really way plasma. It glow.
Matt Mullins showed a film about a crow stealing a takeout container of Chinese food. The crow just plucks it off the road. This what people mean when they say, “Shit happens.” Then Matt read poems and stories. The man works many, many forms. Pretty impressive.
Cathy Day read from her novel in progress. She is writing about Cole Porter’s wife. I was really into this, because she read a scene taking place in Newport, R.I. Oh, I remember running the cliffs, running the walk winding along the mansions in that blustery seaside town. So I was nostalgic and submerged in Cathy Day’s fictional dream and my own memory simultaneously and it was flow and what words can do and isn’t it odd how the mind can go all airport fuel of candy.
I read my second graphic novel. (The first was in graduate school–Maus.)
The novel was The Alcoholic. It begins:
“My name is Jonathan A. I’m an alcoholic. I have a lot of problems. Not more than the average person, really, but I have a propensity for getting into trouble, especially when I’ve been drinking. This one night, I came out of a blackout and I was with this old, exceedingly tiny lady in a station wagon.”
Here are my thoughts on this book, and remember I know absolutely nothing about graphic novels.
1. Though I examined each illustration and even had several minutes of putting the book down to reflect, I read the book in one sitting, in my car, in a parking lot before I taught class. I like to sit in my car sometimes, because it is my own space and time, between being home and being at work. I put the heater on and lull myself into a reflective state. What did I feel about reading an entire book so quickly? Well, a little ripped off. I paid $15 for this book and now it’s done. Maybe I wasn’t used to this mix, more graphics and not words. By word count, this was a short book, even if it looked like a substantial book. Odd. I just think maybe this must be part of the form–you can read the things extremely quickly. Also I was captivated by the story, and that helps.
2. Does the mind work the same way when the images are provided?
I mean it can’t, right? Without the graphics above, I have to form the midget lady and the station wagon. My brain has to form my individual images, and this of course is a joy of reading. I read Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree and the great thing is my brother reads it and my colleague at work and we discuss the book in all these ways because we had to form the story, too, we were part of its making. The electrical activity in the brain must differ when we see the words, and here you go–the image.
3. Subject matter was drinking, drugs, sex–ideas I like to read about, generally. It was a bit of a romp, with enough of a break for reflection. Without the graphics, the writing was solid, a simply told story. Not a lot of fireworks, and here we get another key point of the graphic novel: Why would you spend time on close description? On physical character? On all the techniques writers use to fully form an immediate scene? Someone is going to draw the actual scene for you. Weird.
4. This is a very honest book. It reads as an honest account of true addiction. To do things over and over and over without any real reason why. The narrator digs and pries and questions why, and knows what to do and what NOT to do, but cannot find answers and cannot stop. It is very human. Since it’s a graphic novel, I didn’t know how close I could feel with the protagonist. This was foolish on my part. I felt very close. You know why?
5. The art work. Black and white was a good choice–I think color art would have made things less severe. And these illustrations are a weird mix of realism and abstraction. The expressions on the face are vivid. And drawings allow for some much weird shadowing, gritty angles, hollows, shards–a heavy impact. In a word, impressive. The drawings match the gravity of the story.
6. Humor. A dark story, but funny. Humans are funny, aren’t we? The panel above shows the narrator eating dinner with Monica Lewinsky. She’s eying a kielbasa…OK. One of the more powerful scenes for me was when the narrator was working as a taxi driver and met a drug dealer. They end up doing cocaine and other drugs (and drinks) in the dealer’s apartment and the dealer (who is gay) tries to have sex with the narrator and on and on and then the narrator wakes up with his torso and head in a metal garbage can. Oh, and he’s naked. It is a very effective drawing, and believe it or not, comical. Black humor. Sad, too, in its utter, utter dread. The bottom of the barrel is not always a metaphor.
8. Lastly, this is NOT a morality tale. Thank you. It looks at addiction with questioning. It doesn’t try to give a stupid-ass answer. Good.
Here are three Hobart flashes by Katie Jean Shinkle. Enjoy.