boxes full of mementos and trinkets

I have boxes full of mementos and trinkets. Correspondence from people I haven’t seen in years, testimonials of love between my wife and I, postcards from far away places. Meaningful, some, but lots rather trivial. Trifles and treasures all jammed together. Much is a veritable time capsule of noteworthy moments, echoes from outings with old friends. And here’s my learner’s permit— look at that proud, young face and the thick hair. Wow, 16 years young. Look at this, a garish bracelet of unknown origin. Chintzy, and such gaudy faux gold luster. This isn’t mine, how did it get here? How did any of this get here? Ticket stubs, too, so many of them. The Tragically Hip at the Fillmore, great show! Such a haphazard collection of remnants from the past. Is it me? It certainly is not NOT ME, not entirely. Still, even memory has become a reverberation of experiences once bursting with vigor.

The time comes, again, to seal the boxes and put them away, let them contentedly take up dust. The question still remains, what am I?

Much is left to come. How much of my life is hopes and plans for what lies ahead? There are wishes for mountain vistas with sun on my face, the great journey to reach such reflection points, the loving thought of my daughter and what she might achieve. All who I love and even those I’ll never know, a prayer for their peace and well-being. More immediate, right now, the desire to write something clear, honest, and resonantly shattering our ill-perceived separation. Something to build towards, perhaps.

Lofty goals aside, hunger grows in my belly— not a metaphorical hunger, but a “it’s nearly lunch time and I’m ready for a sandwich” kind of hunger! That brings me to cravings, their emptiness and misleading allure. All of these hopes, wishes, and the seemingly pointless cravings, where am I in the whole tangle? I tend to only crave what I’ve felt passion for, like freshly-baked brownies, scotch, and beautiful women! Each has had their place in my life, at times, but each quickly leads this fool astray.

What of my roles, career and other obligations? Nah, let’s skip that for now.

So what else? What of God and his plan? The Bible and other holy books have much to say. A grand, unified purpose for humankind. An ultimate arrival at peace for those in the know. That’s tempting, but my core yearns for an undeniable truth and, frankly, anything written and bound can be set aside and overwhelmed by the ordinary and extraordinary comings and goings of this life. Life happening shakes us in our boots! What of those unable or unwilling to move beyond the tremendous distractions or inescapable pain and suffering of this world? The worldly red dust has gotten rather thick despite repeated attempts to brush it away.

Here I am now, still not knowing much for sure. Yet, deeper into now and more thoroughly accepting THIS, what is here? What is undeniable? The tap-tap-tap on the keyboard, a warm home on a cold day. Gratitude. All my being coming together in pregnant thought, trying to clarify “what am I?” Thought alone will not get me there, that much I can see. Despite all that is and is not me, this oft insignificantly grumbling guy, being this and that on an ever-changing path of personhood, the picture remains incomplete.

Outside, winter still. Those last leaves barely twitching in the treetops on this calm, bright day.

Regarding me, not knowing for sure IS enough for now. Looking within and without, some of this self-bigger-than-any-knowable-me is subtly reflected in my surroundings, my relationships. Even in all that I can’t see or hear, like in the big old river down in the valley, there is something of me and all that is so much more than I will ever be. I trust in the river, in its movements and guiding voice not apart from my own. We’re intricately linked, the river and I. Such a grand, satisfying thought! Yet I am also bound to starving children, war, explosive diarrhea and other ugly things. The ugly bits are not what I’d like keep in boxes, but maybe I ought to. There is much to take on, starting here!

14 Fucks I Refuse to Give for 2014

{ First, I got the idea for this here: https://medium.com/life-tips/494224e0f983 }

This is my kind of list. I think New Year’s resolutions are often shit, especially the variety discussed on television morning shows aiming to eliminate bad habits. Superficial, mostly meaningless drivel! Striving for a life well-lived is worthwhile, but waiting until the end of a disappointing year to make positive change is the worst kind of misguided bullshit. Do it now as well as you can, otherwise don’t. Or don’t do it, and don’t do it with all you’ve got. No wavering!

There is amazing freedom in not giving a fuck about some things. Only after not giving a fuck about nonessential junk am I able to refocus on what’s necessary. Too many people too much of the time are giving way too many fucks about this and that while completely losing sight of what matters most in life. I don’t want to get stuck in the batshit crazy game of trying to give a fuck about everything. The fucks I give are finite, I must preserve them appropriately. Here are fourteen things I will try to not give a fuck about this year:

1) Swearing

This one should be self-evident by now, but anyway… Language is fascinating. Take a hard look at how language shapes our world view and you’ll understand the importance of an occasional swear word (or maybe you won’t, what-the-fuck-ever!). Yes, occasional. I don’t swear often in ordinary speech or around people I know aren’t comfortable with foul language. Nor do I swear around my daughter. If schmucks like me don’t  swear on occasion, prudes with little else to complain about would take up more absurd protestations. Maybe they’d try to reinstate prohibition (GASP!). Without curse words and people occasionally crossing the line, how would we know where the line rests? If not for the occasional f-bomb, would “shit” become the most terrible? Words have power and can be quite damaging, but sometimes we need all available verbal weaponry against the most heinous and frustrating aspects of our world. Don’t try to curb my fuck-yeilding! (Also, this: The Science of Swearing)

2) Weather & Whining

You know the always-changing phenomenon in our world that so many people whine about whenever it doesn’t meet their expectations? I’m growing less patient with pointless complaints about weather. I’m not talking about natural disasters, the kind that rips a family’s home apart or devastates entire communities. What gets me is taking issue with weather causing minor inconveniences and forcing people to change plans. Big whoop! Colder than average nights in winter, the unusual sweltering afternoon in summer, or a precipitation dump— so be it! Most people are entirely capable of dealing. Humans are incredibly adaptable beings, but besides our biology we’ve developed stuff like protective clothing, heat and air conditioning, and even climate-controlled vehicles. Many of us, especially those fortunate enough to have decent jobs and homes of our own, have little reason to get bent out of shape over an occasional cold snap or heat wave. When it’s cold, have a hot cup of tea and simmer the hell out, maybe put on a sweater. If it’s hot, have a cool glass of lemonade with a refreshing bowl of shut your face!

Here I am not giving a fuck about weather after a run at -20°F.

Not giving a fuck about weather after a run at -20°F on 1/6.

3) Offending Political, Religious or Social Sensibilities

Regardless of your political leanings or religious affiliation (or lack thereof), I respect you as a human being. I likely even love you on some level. It’s that simple. Yet, if you start spouting hateful intolerance or acting as if your ideology magically raises you above the human morass, then I’ll probably tune you out and cease communication on my end. If I care enough, I may try to explain in a straightforward manner how you’re coming across as a huge asshat. I’m not sorry if taking a stand causes turbulence in our relationship, because calling out abhorrent speech and behavior is sometimes necessary.  We’re all in this together, whether you act like it or not. Truth is not the exclusive domain of any one group. We can all share in truth, there’s enough to go around.

4) Doomsaying

If you’re frantically prepping for the impending apocalypse, fine, but go about your business without spreading fear. I really don’t want to hear very much about your extreme conspiracy theories on how and why society will surely crumble before long. You might be off track if arming yourself to the teeth and pitting yourself against all others because of doomsday paranoia. If an epic disaster strikes, take note: I am willing to share resources and help those in my vicinity. Guess what, if more of us take a helpful, caring approach to our neighbors in hard times while trying to be reasonably self-reliant, then we all have a much better chance of surviving whatever mess comes along. Don’t be a selfish tool and pretend you can somehow remain completely immune to the fate of your community. Your supply of food or ammo may eventually run out.

5) Manicuring My Lawn

There is so much I’d rather be doing than yard work. The grass and numerous ornamental gardens in my massive yard can go fuck themselves. In fact, they can have a huge orgy with a bunch of weeds and raise wild offspring. I’m all for letting some more of the wilderness return anyhow. If I’m going to put much effort into keeping plants alive, it will be for those that produce food. It’s time for permascaping and more vegetable gardening. Annual flower planting and grass maintenance is tired old nonsense, so 2013!

6) Marketing & Brand Loyalty

Marketing has gotten so damn pervasive there’s no escaping it. This is old news, but I’m getting more and more tired of the obnoxious hot mess. I’m past the key demographic marketers aim for anyway, but that shit is aggravating! I am going to purchase products I’ve found to be high quality or have a good reputation as such and if they fail in my experience I’ll move on to something else. I don’t care how entertaining your ads are, they’re not swaying me to buy anything. Old Spice, you make me laugh when I happen to pay attention to the occasional TV commercial, but I still do not want to smell like Old Spice. Also, stay the fuck away from my daughter, marketers!

7) Making a Spectacle of Running and Race Bling

Too many people are too damn proud of themselves, their times and miles accumulated. Excessive bling-flinging has gotten way out of hand in conjunction with increasingly high registration fees. I don’t want a medal for barely completing any event under the sun. Technical shirts are nice, but I don’t need those either. I want the organization and camaraderie of a good race, decent aid stations for a long one, maybe something light to eat and drink afterwards. All the extra— enough already!

8) Being a Fast Runner

I’m just glad to get out there these days, especially on trails through the wilderness. Maybe with friends, maybe solo, but running at all in the great outdoors is enough. I’m grateful for decent health and the ability to run even if for only a few miles. Let’s go ramble along and share adventures. There’ll be times where I give it hell and push limits, but I’m not holding myself to any standards or PR chasing these days.

9) Wallowing in Lethargy

This past year was tough, especially towards the end. For no particularly good reason I let time off from running in order to heal a couple injuries lead into a downward spiral landing me in a lethargic, miserable funk. I’ve known for a long time how my sense of well-being is closely tied to my activity level. If I’m not injured or sick, I should be getting out for an active release at least three times a week. Any less than that and I’m not really trying. Weather be damned, too (see #2 above)!

10) Preserving my Youth

Thirty-six is not particularly old, but it’s not filled with as much boundless energy and youthful optimism as previous years. Plenty has to do with the exhaustion inherent in being a parent of a toddler. I just don’t have time for much unnecessary drama. I’m full of grey hairs and I’m not particularly well-groomed anymore. Kids these days get on my nerves rather quickly and they need to stay the fuck off my yard! No worries, I’m still content with life most of the time. Besides, getting older isn’t half bad. I appreciate having less much more than when I was younger and seemingly surrounded by more (money/stuff).

11) Seeking Perfection

Pretty much in all areas, worrying about reaching perfection is a sham. Dietary, fitness, relational, institutional, educational, professional, parental… The human condition is such that our ideals are rarely completely achieved in terms of actual execution. We all make mistakes. Life is complex with many hindrances along the way. I don’t think we should settle for mediocrity or not set goals for what matters most, but we must accept ordinary life before striving for something supposedly better. In acknowledging and embracing reality as it is now can we most effectively move forward in positive directions. I’ll try, I may even work damn hard in some situations, but if I don’t reach lofty ideals (especially others’ unrealistic expectations), then to fuck all with that!

12) Anyone or Anything Distracting Me from Devotion to Family

I have a lovely wife, a wonderful two-year old daughter and a super cool dog. You think I’m going to let much get in the way of spending lots of time and energy on my family? Are career, artistic endeavors, plans for world domination, or recreational pursuits going to create much conflict? NOPE!

13) Taking Myself Very Seriously

I am the captain of this gravy boat happily sailing the seas of cheese! Laugh along or don’t, it doesn’t matter in the end. A little frivolity never hurts, that is, unless you throw out your back. I’ve got a long way to go before landing in Nowhereville.

14) Finishing What I Started

I like to try different things, take on new pastimes and methods occasionally. I rarely reach the pinnacle in any one area. Sometimes I see stuff through to completion, sometimes I drop it after awhile. Maybe dropping is the best ending in certain situations (Ultramarathoners, you get me?). Oh well, life goes on.

Happy New Year! May we all find peace throughout the year in not giving too many fucks.

to relate

I’ve something to say. It’s about my life, all it is and all it is not. Lots of times I’m a mess of a human being, doing the bare minimum to scrape by. I’ve been lethargic. Other times I’m inspired to great works and huge swoops of focused activity—maybe there’ll be more of that soon. Often I don’t quite understand what I’m doing or clearly see where I’m headed. Much is cyclic. There’s been a lot of thinking about purpose and meaning and in the end, well, I don’t have definitive answers. Hopefully I’m far from the end. Hopefully this conundrum of a life continues allowing me to puzzle along for awhile longer, because it feels like something special. I’m grateful to be here.

Lately I think I’m here to relate. People talk of finding their place in the universe, but maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps there is no place that stays put long enough to be found or is detectable by the eyes of the individual. For what are we separate from everyone and everything else we exist in relation to? There is no Gregory without all the rest—no me apart from deep, freezing waters and trees losing leaves; scathing displays of hurt alongside tender shows of affection;  a Swedish vocalist finding a pipe organ in New York City; and without you, yes you, your triumphs and failures. I relate to all of it, be it apparent or obscured by a complex fabric of unrecognizable connections. Even when I try to ignore how everything affects my being in this very place, here I am relating to the entire tangle.

I’m here at least, and maybe at most, to be good to this part of the world in the best way that I can. Not just those I obviously love, because that’s pretty easy most of the time, but also to those who rub me the wrong way. The obstacles, they deserve care. I probably can’t fix much. My principles may never overwhelm anyone’s shortcomings or injustices, not even my own, but that’s okay.

Love, patience, and wholehearted openness could be enough. We’ll see. I’ll try growing with an outwards embrace and that may be the best I can do. Compassion is not easily contained and compartmentalized. It spills over barriers and smooths rough edges. Sharing love and careful attention with all that surrounds is worth something. Besides, it’s all I’ve got right now, so here it is. Maybe it’s that simple. Maybe I am just a part, not apart from all that is. I’ll try to show up and meet my life right where it is now. I want to be an active, willing participant in this great tangle.

Hello, how are you today? … Please take care.

Gushing

I haven’t written of this before. When I was young I went out the back door of my grandparents’ house and walked across the long green yard, crawled under the farmer’s fence, wandered through overgrown pasture and climbed atop that far from home outcropping of granite. I told no one, nobody saw me leave and I was beyond earshot. On the rock I sat quietly and looked around and joined the peace.

After being eventually spotted by family I was called back and returned to the proper home of a child. All was well.

I may be back inside now, but the boy still sits on the rock and looks out across pastures and peers into woodlands, marveling at the gushing of the universe revealing itself right before my eyes. I haven’t needed anything more, just the occasional chance to look out again and welcome the gushing.

running dreams

I had a beard, but ran far and fast and the beard turned to fire. Then everything turned to ice. After awhile the beard grew back, legs recovered, and running continued. I’ve been waiting for something big to say, but amid life’s ordinary cycles a continuation of regular running through winter weather has been my focus. This will be enough for now.

Last night I dreamed I was in a long race on mountainous terrain. Weather was warm and sunlight deeply penetrating. The air was heavy with the mingled scents of trees and the dry dirt trail carried upwards by summer heat. In the midst of an especially challenging climb featuring hard-packed switchbacks, the ascent seemed impossibly steep after having already run many long miles. My eyes were incredibly heavy and the brain wanted little more than to shut off and go to sleep, but I kept going, one foot in front of the other at a respectfully steady pace—at peace with a difficult challenge. I was less than a mile from the finish ahead with family members at the mountaintop. Finally reaching the summit only a short straight away remained before the end. I cried as I saw my family, feeling purified and at home after running through so much in my imaginary dreamscape.

Such drama from the mind of a flatlander!

Running Season Dwindles in Fading Autumn Light

Reflecting on the crux of running season coming to a close, despite my wish to hold on until snow covers the ground, brings a mix of appreciation for all that’s happened and slight frustration over missed opportunities. I was able to run more miles than ever before in previous years and to set personal records in all race distances I attempted. Disappointment comes from a recent feeling of having more left in the tank, a wish for one more wicked race to end the season with fireworks. However, I’ve got nothing planned at this point. Any final races will have to be rather spontaneous and attempted without proper training.

I’ve alternated over the last few weeks between feeling relieved to not have to train for specific events anymore and somewhat depressed from lacking one more proving ground on which to pour out my running heart and soul. Being able to run more freely and explore the area has been enjoyable, but without many trails to rip in the immediate area near home, my love for trail running has been only teased, if not slightly thwarted.

I hear the calling of far off wilderness trails punctuated with mountains, valleys, crags, twists and turns. As of yet this is a call I cannot fully answer. I’ve absolutely realized trail running is what I love most. I’m cool with road running and racing on occasion, but if I don’t get some regular trail runs in my routine I gradually start to feel physically and emotionally beat down. Trail running is truly a rejuvenating endeavor, one which I have to find ways to continue and intensify.

This is why, for the first time in a public forum, I am now announcing that next year I plan to run a 50K as my initial steps into the world of ultramarathons. The distance doesn’t worry me since it’ll only be about 5 miles more than the marathon’s 26.2, a distance I gladly took on twice this year. What will be most challenging is the terrain that most ultras take place on— thoroughly challenging trails, often in the middle of nowhere, with all sorts of elevation change and uneven footing.

Ultras could possibly be a natural fit since another realization was solidly reiterated this year— I am not an elite runner, I am not running to win any races. I’m on the verge of being competitive in my age group in many races, but even that doesn’t excite me all that much compared to a solid run with friends in the woods or a race on trails. Therefore, maybe running long and at a moderate pace is what I’m after. I owe it to myself to give more serious trail running a real go.

My two favorite races of the year were the Walker North Country Marathon, which featured big chunks through the Chippewa National Forest, and the Big Woods Half Marathon, which was almost entirely in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. If I consider each as a trail marathon and a trail half marathon, then they were both personal records. The only other trail marathon I’ve done was the Equinox Marathon, which almost completely defeated and soured me on marathon running when I took on the course back in ’07 and ’08. I had never attempted a half-marathon on trails before and Big Woods was an exhilarating good time! With that race I was only about 5 minutes off my current PR for any half marathon. In Walker, where I went out too fast and pushed way too hard through the trails, I nearly bonked and struggled to finish, but the first 17-miles featured some of the most stimulating and satisfying running I’ve experienced in my entire life. I wouldn’t change the experience for anything; I learned a ton about my propensity to outpace my limits for a long race and about my love of long runs in the wilderness.

Let’s look at some numbers:

Total miles run so far this year: 1138
Highest monthly mileage: 174 (May)
Highest weekly mileage: 51 (5/24 to 5/30)

Races:

  • Earth Day Half Marathon (4/17): 1:40:11 (avg. pace: 7:39 mpm) (PR!)
  • SCSU on the Move 5K (4/29): 20:24 (avg. pace: 6:34 mpm) (PR!)
  • Ripley Rock ‘n Run 10K (5/22): 43:45 (avg. pace: 7:04 mpm) (PR!)
  • Lake Placid Marathon (6/13): 3:58:14 (avg. pace: 9:05 mpm) (PR!)
  • Sheels 5K (7/17): 21:52 (avg. pace: 7:00 mpm) (very hot morning)
  • Walker North Country Marathon (9/18): 4:26:42 (avg. pace: 10:05 mpm)
  • Big Woods Half Marathon (10/16): 1:45:01 (avg. pace: 8:00 mpm)

In the end I’m content with all I’ve endured through running and racing this year. I’m especially glad to have made some new running friends, for having connected with the local running club, the St. Cloud River Runners, and for having joined the community of awesome runners on dailymile. Most of all I’m eager to continue and more thoroughly engage myself with all that running has become for me— challenging, rewarding, exhausting, invigorating, thought-provoking, mind-numbing, humbling, inspiring, and most of all: wildly gratifying!

Thanks to all who supported and encouraged my running throughout the year!