wounds, talent

When it was 10F last week, I was really careful to avoid the ice. My hair froze. I could not feel my face. But just as I was almost home, I fell, and not because I wasn't looking but because I was tripped. At first, it seemed too bizarre to be true, but what can I say. Moving on.
Though my knees are still oozing, one still swelling up at will; though there's nothing like being seen by colleagues limping down a set of stairs, or managing the scab-related litany (it's no longer Halloween to parade it!), it seems like I am beginning to get something out of this experience. Like, use out of my Mueller jumper's knee strap as of my return to running yesterday. But, seriously: I gained some time.
And now I sit at this computer and write, as fireworks are already going off - and will do so through the second new year in January. I am rarely a fan, but with my newly found time as I read a poem by Pindar, I found the fireworks perfect accompaniment to his paeans of physical glory.
In an ode to Epharmostus, Pindar includes a passage in the middle about the victor's earlier triumphs (a "now and then"!), showing how our hero, though young, was not allowed to compete with youths, so was faced with elder rivals - who one imagines to be more experienced, and manages to endure and prevail - and the drama of this suspense cedes to cheers reverberating in the arena, which you can practically feel as you read:
in Marathon, torn from beardless antagonists,  he stood the onset of older men for the silver vessels.  He threw these in his speed and craft  with no fall scored against him  and walked through the ring to loud acclamation  in the pride of his youth

Sometimes when I read Pindar, I stop reading his message and dwell instead on the characters or themes he brings up in a single poem, and forge my own associations, imagine my own poem.
This poem (Olympian 9) mentions a character called Telephus. He is mentioned in the poem as a stand-in for the concept of foe - a counter to a faithful character (Patroclus) born of the land that produced our athlete victor.
Pindar does not mention here that Telephus was wounded by Achilles, nor how the wound would not heal so Telephus consulted the oracle at Delphi and learned that what had wounded him would heal him. To skip to the end of this story: scraps of the weapon that had injured him were rubbed on the wound, which then healed. Frazer cites this as an example of "sympathetic magic" in his Golden Bough.
It is interesting to consider the relationship between what ails and cures. This is almost a holiday message.
But that is not all that I want to share in this holiday post, because there's a depth to ailments when other bonds with nature are strained.
In my case: trying to accept who I am without that urgent flailing towards "better", whether this means the so-far unsuccessful attempt to run faster, or the attempt to develop always further academically out of a pressing sense of responsibility ("must have it in case I need to give it!) To all this, Pindar says: natural talent is far better than learned abilities, especially where the latter lacks the divine component. In his words:
That which is inborn is always the best; but many men strive to win glory with excellence that comes from training. Anything in which a god has no part is none the worse for being quelled in silence. For some roads lead farther than others ... The paths to skill are steep things to win
So as the fireworks continue to rumble in this little city that produces so much light, I leave you with the idea of catharsis: for wounds, but also for a recognition of the talents "inborn" - what is sought is found. Here's to the endeavour!

Brush: Misprinted Type.
(Combined translations of Pindar's Olympian 9 by Svarlian and Lattimore)

till I should jump peninsulas

Could I but ride indefinite
And dwell a little everywhere,
Or better run away
With no police to follow,
Or chase me if they do,

Till I should jump peninsulas
Emily Dickinson, XX

Today it snowed. Tomorrow I begin marathon training, and thanks to help from kind folks at the Runner's World forum, picked a plan. It sounds so competent to write that: "pick a plan".
I remember this time last year, jumping into a Higdon plan late, amping up its miles, and all the winter runs with the funny encounters typical of where I live now: the most frequent being misted greetings exchanged with a certain kind of pensioner who goes out in inclement weather, usually so glad to see someone else outside. Then, at the tip of spring, the marathon came, and although no Pheidippides, on completing it I felt like all those miles actually built a distance between me and what was ailing me. Like I'd loosened a noose.
All those constricting, suffocating situations have nothing on me when I am accumulating miles, day in and day out.

When I began running again a year and a half ago, it was a way to deal with PhD frustration - all the waiting, never instruction or opportunity, just waiting. And as an underpaid lecturer, I had no money to get out of the city that summer, so I took to running out of it.
And this year, I feel constricted again for other reasons, in part yet again to do with the fact that I have so much I need to overcome and get done if I am going to continue on the path I'm on. Every single day, I run short of time - it's been like this since the end of last summer. I can't see the end. Also, there is no guarrantee of where I'm going. I "shake the hand of doubt". Could I but ride the indefinite Or better run away.
And run indefinitely...
The soul knows: who needs a road.
Leave the maps unwound.
The quote above, and the one about dout, is by Cape Town's Signpost Sound, for a beautifully atmospheric African Attachment Salomon video featuring suspenseful shots of ultra stars.
The song reminds me of when I used to go out to Ping Chau Island in my former life as a journalist just to hike the huge slabs of shale - medicine for the eyes after staring at a computer screen for hours on end. The shale was totally untouched by manmade paths, just a flat expanse where I could hike in any which way, uninformed by suggested direction, like Dickinson writes,
And row in nowhere all day long, 
And anchor off the bar

Brush: Ewansim via DeviantArt.


Was how I felt when I watched Jamil Coury's footage of Zach Miller (NF SF Endurance 2016). And also interested that it reflected how life can feel like sometimes: the sheer effort of will that is pushing through; the amount of effort that can be required just to make that "extra minute", or, in life terms, to make it to that next stepping stone.
I admit that watching Zach, it occurred to me that this was not an example of sprezzatura, which I guess I am aware of because that is something I am always wishing for (and also as a former asthmatic, kind of aware of my own heavy breathing which especially seems to last well into the first 10k of my runs). I wonder if I am fascinated by the breathing because I realise that even at the elite level, there are runners whose expressiveness betrays the earnestness of their endeavours. I learned from a Ginger Runner interview with Zach that he is a heavy breather - and find that I am rethinking my understanding of running style, even style in life: the art that is a life can be more or less expressive of the effort being made.
I've admired Zach as a running artist also for bringing in local culture to his descriptions of running. In that blog post, he acknowledges the theme of effort: "putting up a fight".
What colour would our competitor in this fight be? Grey: the colour of a shadow's dream, our life's travel towards death, with the fight for expression of existence along the way. The fight of work, the fight of accepting both success and failure in stride, the fight of accepting our lot and perservering.

Another Delaware Valley soul (like I was once, to make three - including Zach) once wrote about this effort that is a life, and how difficulties are necessary to offset the beauty:
Our efforts must gain us only bitter fruit, at first. How else can we know of  that which is sweeter? The world is an aggregation of comparative excellence. (Conrad Aiken, The Ramblers of an Idler)
And thus the meaning of this grey. Once it's clear that the grey is there, we can frame it with colour: whatever attempts or effort we can contribute, like the colours that frame expressionist Diebenkorn put around his famous "Ocean City".
In a blog post that reminisces about Diebenkorn, it was suggested that what kept him going was his work ethic and also refusal to rest on laurels or be defined by failures:
he’d talk about painting as a discipline, about having a work ethic, and about not being complacent with either success or failure and how they were both valuable lessons if you paid attention.

But my favourite part of that article, and which I think also relates to running, is where Diebenkorn is cited as having commented on the difficulties of making a composition in grey:
Diebenkorn spoke about the difficulty of making a gray painting—how hard it is to make something meaningful and able to connect when one of the fundamental elements of painting—color—is not present or is reduced.
Sometimes in running, there are those moments when I'm far from home and suddenly feeling really tired ... and grey. Since the majority of my runs are technically long runs, this can happen a lot. But it is only running that long that I get relief. So, at some point I'm bound to feel that there is no colour! There are times when it seems hard to enjoy the view out of exhaustion. How to connect the dots to get home? It is at such times that technicolor vision seems to turn on inside me: I start playing games like thinking the cold wind, like a dog tearing around me, is keeping me company, or that it's icy slaps are giving ice baths to my legs, cancelling out any pain.
The pain - or effort, fight, seems necessary not just integral to the human experience. Not allowing for it seems senseless. Plutarch, for example, advises we make peace with the fact that sometimes "human life in its genuine colours" is "but a shadow's dream" (as Pindar describes it). Acceptance is a way to move past it. My mind can accept that grey, which is real, and my will can then power through to reach colour.
As we are learning per aspera ad astra - how to reach our stars, we may be breathless in the attempt. What I got from watching the video of Zach was the idea that this is okay; that, and the sensation I was watching someone bringing colours to our shadows as we breathe our way out.

Brush: Ewansim via DeviantArt.


Not even a few days ago, my feet were tracing the (cement) path I used to run in the 1990's, up to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. I was only back for a tiny number of days, but the first evening in, jet-lagged to the core (swollen ankles, punchy outlook), my body took me up to the Peak. It had been almost two decades since I'd been back, and though I could not visualise the entire road I needed to follow to get to the Peak, it was like my body did remember it - what a bizarre feeling that was. And though I was not dressed to run, I sped-hiked it up the 550-some meter elevation until suddenly, along the way, views of the loud-fairy-light-city sprang up between the trees, getting more and more panoramic. Also, I remembered so clearly some turns of that path, and where the little temples were - and the smell of the greenery surprised my mind with its familiarity. It seemed like the only way to truly be back in the city where I grew up was for me to sweat onto it, to be reunited in that way. It did not matter that it was past ten and that I did not know if it was still safe (once upon a time, the police did not carry guns, only batons). I felt sure the path would still be there, because that is part of the colonial legacy few know of: despite the city's obviously-developed facade, behind the scenes are beautifully-manicured, well-marked paths almost anywhere there is nature, many of them bearing the names of former governors.

Now I am not in Hong Kong, but feel that the trip is tied to the reason I began to run in the first place: what if you do not feel "met" entirely where you are - it is necessary to train to reach the strength necessary to reach more places at once. I feel that alongside the physical effort I made in the past year, now I need to figure out a way to do that in my professional life. I want to build cultural bridges just like I have been training to run across material bridges (hence my out-and-back runs being mostly 23.4K).
So, this post is dedicated to physical and figurative Peaks we try to reach. I know many try and not all succeed - I kept thinking of that as I looked at block after block of skyscraping HK public housing, so many people trying to make it, and with a stronger work ethic than what seems to be Western-style today because parents do not stop worrying until they have sacrificed everything for their children to make it. But sadder than failing is atrophy of potential. So, on my first run since I've been back this morning (jet lag ruined my strength in the past two days), I will be thinking of how to start reaching my own personal Peak.

Brush: Ewansim via DeviantArt.
Creative Commons License