Runner, Interrupted

Runers's WorldA story I’ve been working on for two years, Runner, Interrupted, just hit news stands in the February issue of Runner’s World:

The sounds of the city grow faint. The air smells of pine, and the wind whispers through the branches. The Alaska Pacific University Trail is rough with rocks, and Marko Cheseto struggles for balance as he runs. Looking for even patches in the dirt, he chooses his steps carefully. Each one is a decision. Once, when he had feet, he flew through these woods. He flew through them faster than anyone ever had.

Cheseto, 30, remembers how things once felt beneath those feet: the light touch of the track, the roll of the trails, the give of the red earth he grew up running on. He remembers how far those feet carried him—from a tiny village in the Kenyan Highlands across the world to Alaska and a new life as a star runner. He remembers how they propelled him to victory. Sometimes, he forgets he doesn’t have those feet anymore.

markochesetotrack300x200But not today. Today he remembers. Today he’s wearing metal feet inside his running shoes, and they are no match for real feet that slide over rocks and roots like water.

Cheseto has run this trail countless times since arriving at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2008. It was through these woods that he pushed himself and his teammates and helped forge the Seawolves into a national force. And it was here that he took that last run, the one that transformed him from the greatest runner the school had ever known into… someone else.

Read the full story here.

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Tony Judt on Shoddy Prose

Tony Judt, from The Memory Chalet:

In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell castigated contemporaries for using language to mystify rather than inform. His critique was directed at bad faith: people wrote poorly because they were trying to say something unclear or else deliberately prevaricating. Our problem, it seems to me, is different. Shoddy prose today bespeaks intellectual insecurity: we speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously (“It’s only my opinion…”). Rather than suffering from the onset of “newspeak,” we risk the rise of “nospeak.”

You can also read the essay here.

David Foster Wallace on Entertainment

“[P]robably each generation has different things that force the generation to grow up.  Maybe for our grandparents it was World War Two. You know?  For us, it’s going to be that, at a certain point, we’re either going to have to put away childish things and discipline ourself about, ‘How much time do I spend being passively entertained, and how much time to I spend doing stuff that isn’t all that much fun minute by minute, but that builds certain muscles in me as a grown-up and a human being?’”

David Foster Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself

New Year, New Mind

As the planet completes one more turn around the sun, it feels like time to reflect on something that I think about a lot:  How best to spend the time we have on it.

It’s something that was driven home by a line I came across in the book,  Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experiences, which notes that in 70 years of life we can take in about 185 billion bits of information. That information, in turn, makes up our consciousness.

“It is out of this total that everything in our life must come–every thought, memory, feeling, or action, writes, Mihaly Csikszentmihahyi,It seems like a huge amount, but in reality it does not go that far….an individual can experience only so much.  Therefore, the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; It is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of our life.”

For the last few years, I have been allowing a torrent of information into my mind, mostly via the Internet. Much of it good, and much of it important.  But at some point you have to choose.  I’m nearing 40 and according to Csikszentmihahyi, I have less than 90 billion bits left, and I have wasted too many already.

The internet is a powerful tool, but sometimes I feel like it is hungry for my mind, and up till now, I have been giving it too much, doing too many things online that up add up to nothing.  As a result, I’ve had this gnawing unease, like I was sliding down some scree slope of trivia, like my mind was a balloon with a million tiny holes.   Until reading that passage, I didn’t know exactly why.

So in a small but significant gesture–a finger in the dike–I’ll be spending each Monday this year offline. There is plenty of other work to be done (that used to be all we did!) and if there is anything urgent, there is a jurassic piece of technology on my desk called the telephone.

As far as I can see, this may be the only way to wrest back some control over the content and the quality of my life, and over my mind. This year, I want to remember how to lose myself in things again.  I want to regain the focus that has carried me so far.  And I don’t want to waste time on distractions, because I have too many things that I haven’t done yet.

So with that, I wish you all the best in the new year.

See you on Tuesdays.

Something To Do With Love

David Foster Wallace on Art and Love, via Zadie Smith in Harper’s.images

“I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent. . . .Talent’s just an instrument. It’s like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.”

Why We Write

George_OrwellGeorge Orwell from his essay Why I Write

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed.”