Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Running update.

I don't write about running much any more, primarily because I haven't been serious about it for a few years. When I was in Rome I ran quite a lot but only raced three times in the two years that I lived there, so I did lose a lot of the psychological focus which I found so essential to racing well. I'm still struggling to get that back, especially with the other important developments that have transpired in my life in recent years.

I signed on for the Memphis Marathon a couple of weeks ago. It's been six years since my last long race in Richmond--where I was in the best shape of my life and hoping to run 3:05 or thereabouts, yet stumbled in with a disappointing 3:15. I came lumbering down the last hill nearly bent in half from fatigue and felt a lot of remorse, having run just a few seconds too fast for each of the first 17 miles. My poor old ma was pretty shaken up to see me in such cruddy shape.

While I don't think I'll come close to either of those times, I'm eager to see how things shake out, and I'm especially excited to see my old friends. I haven't been back to Memphis since 1998, I suppose, and I do miss the folks there---some of the best friends I have made in life. 

I started an 18 week training schedule last week and immediately found myself with a small setback. My right calf—nothing serious, and I do have many months to go before the race (it's December 4, so I guess I still have about 16-17 weeks to prepare). I suppose I'm lucky that it's only my second month of training, but it's maddeningly typical. Just as things begin to improve I invariably have to take a little break to heal from some muscular annoyance.

The orthopedist seems to think it began with my piriformis syndrome problem. The piriformis is a small muscle embedded deep behind the gluteus maximus. The muscle often becomes inflamed in runners and ultimately causes terrific pain when it presses on the sciatic nerve. . I have a tough time driving for even five minutes due to sciatica—a literal pain in the ass. But my piriformis problem seems to have waned over the past few days and it's been replaced by a nagging pain in my right calf when I run as little as 1/4 mile. I tried heading out tonight for a nine-miler at dusk, but had to turn back.

Rest and ice. Massage, I guess.

Anyway, back to my long distance, bipedal aspirations. I'm really chomping at the bit to race again. While I'm pretty humbled by my current running companions—a group of guys I run with on Thursday nights—I hope to be able to keep up with them soon. They're great rabbits for me to chase, and while I may not catch them anytime soon, I've got to give it a shot.

It's been a while since I allowed the compulsion to overwhelm me. While it may not sound like a lot to some people, I ran six marathons in two years and I got pretty ground down by the training. My body and mind went through noticeable changes. My brain, and my way of thinking, changed. I began to consider almost everything in terms of time and distance and—if nothing else—I finally became able to do simple math in my head (you hear that Mrs. Updyke, you draconian bitch of a first grade teacher?). Most importantly, I had precious little energy for studio work. I spoke with a colleague about this phenomenon, and she agreed that she finds it impossible to divide her attention between athletic and artistic endeavor. For me, it felt as if the same reservoir of energy was available to both, and running drank the well dry.

I'm of the belief that if you're going to run 26.2 miles you should have a good reason, and for me the reason was always to fully appreciate the limits of my body by running that distance as fast as I was able. All told I did fairly well during that stretch of adulthood, and I'm sorry I took something of a break from it because there's a lot of catching up to do. 

I'll get there.

College Prep


Straight out of the gate, I'll admit that I've been procrastinating for weeks. No big surprise there, as I'm no stranger to delay tactics. But with each inexorable step toward the first day of classes, I long desperately for a mythic, inexhaustible source of inspiration to plan my classes. 

The prospect of showing up the first day unprepared (or, worse, trying like hell to sustain a class for 13 weeks on the scant traces of comprehensible ideas which are currently flitting around in my skull—cognitive free radicals) terrifies me. I must continually remind myself that this is the perennial prelude to the play. It begins with denial and an increasing preoccupation with menial tasks, things that I do to make myself feel busy and productive while the real work waits to be addressed. Like a pregnant mother readying the house for the monumental job ahead, I find myself taking on useful but unnecessary domestic projects. I develop a nesting instinct, or to use a more masculine metaphor, a revving of the engines, before a surge in productivity. And I've been this way since I was a little kid. (I'll spare readers the theory I entertained as an eight year-old, running races on the playing fields. Suffice it to say that it involved an analogy which included a full bladder and a gas tank.)

Maybe it was bravado with a little too much caffeine to jack up my enthusiasm, but this season's academic anxiety began with an attempt to design some new classes for students who were sorely in need of studio credits. We'd experienced a huge spike in enrollment and were granted the opportunity to add five new courses to the books. As outgoing department head, my friend and colleague Jean called me (as incoming department head) to ask for some input and we traded several ideas. There was a lot of enthusiasm at her dining table that Sunday evening, and I left feeling invigorated by the challenge of getting these new classes off the ground. Most of the new offerings are concept-leaning, since that's where the biggest holes seemed to be. We added five classes in all, and worked hard to get them on the books in time for the students to add them to their schedules.

The class I agreed to author and teach is called "Voice + Vision," and it will explore the symbiosis of writing and image-making.  I am really excited about taking a good look at hybrid visual-verbal experiences and I suspected that the students may find the class useful to their way of working, if not their portfolios. It is meant to be a process-oriented class, chiefly concerned with the intertwining paths of verbal and visual thinking. It was my idea and Jean agreed that since illustrators (and artists, particularly in this age of cross-media investigation) are forever swimming in texts and talk, the class could be an important addition.

But theory and practice are different theaters for ideas, and while I still maintain that the notion of a class which synthesizes writing and image-making in various incarnations is a great one, I have my work cut out for me in planning for it and in testing the waters with its inaugural group of students this fall. As intelligent as they are, our students tend to feel the greatest reward when they have mastered material processes or gained new technical skill. They're a bit of a no-nonsense, product-oriented crowd, and I've always struggled in trying to coax from them enjoyment of practice over achievement, of enjoying process without too much attention to finish. So that's the first challenge: simply convincing our students that it may be worth their time to "think about thinking" instead of which glazing technique will render most convincingly the folds of a model's dress, or which Photoshop filter to use when applying a sheen to vampire teeth. 

Additionally, I've found that most literature and pedagogical precedents for this sort of material are primarily concerned with critical writing about art, which can certainly be a valuable dimension of  the students' exploration, but there's not much out there to serve as paradigms for a class like the one I hope to teach. I am looking for a broader scope of applications and interactions—a survey of the landscape of opportunities.

I'm considering a requirement of either a blog or a journal in which the student might explore the collision of word and image. Hence, my use of this blog to inform myself of the possibilities of the medium. I don't know how well it will work for me (and, subsequently, for them) but I thought I'd give it a shot before asking them to do the same.

Lots of stuff, probably too much stuff, has been running through my head and I like to use writing to sort things out (hey, there's a thought). 

More to come, hopefully.