Monthly Archives: July 2016

Social Media Will Tear Us Apart

I stopped telling social media about my runs. I stopped cataloging every mile, detailing the weather, photographing my shoes or low angle action shots. I quit telling everyone about every workout I was completing, but not because I was consciously avoiding the narcissistic expressions social media enables, but rather because I just lost the compulsion to do so. I’m not entirely sure if there was a definitive breaking point, or knife edged thought change, but maybe more just a slow withering of desire to advertise myself. Maybe, that narcissistic dwindling was a product of the same dwindling in ability and drive to compete after my last surgery. I don’t know, but whatever happened, I just felt…too self conscious to advertise my running.

There were a couple moments that I mentioned my running, when I realized friends and connections were genuinely interested in my well-being, often marked by my ability to run and train, so I made a couple posts, but even those felt weird. And yeah, it’s weird I’m even writing about this, except that for so many years this was my main focus for social media. It’s primarily what I found myself expressing more than anything else, more than veganism, more than politics, more than the absurd ideas and jokes that come to me on long, boring car trips. So, in a way, it’s telling that I even feel compelled to write about NOT writing about running.

I think, ultimately, I just felt over the self-absorbed expressions that related to what is just a hobby. Sure, a very rewarding, fulfilling, obsessive hobby, but still just a personal endeavor. Then there has been that shift to focus my efforts and privileges for the benefit of others over the past handful of years, which when you find yourself acting on others behalf, in much less fortunate circumstances than your own, all your individual hobbies seem selfish and inconsequential. It’s hard to spend time talking about your latest ten miler when you could be putting out ideas or sharing information that aids someone else. But, of course, the inherent compulsion of social media is about the individual, the ego, the self-advertisement.

Which brings me to the now, where my expressions are finding a more detailed release in this blog, as I’ve cut myself off from social media completely. No Facebook. No Instagram. Just like that. I wasn’t planning on cutting myself off, where I counted down the days to a defined separation, but rather…just stopped. Just like that. It was a handful of days ago on vacation, and I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to do it, but I did. I tried to delete my accounts, but they make it so hard that I put up some sort of temporary halting, even though I’ve deleted them in my mind.

Regardless, I think I cut myself off due to the self-inflicted annoyance of my narcissistic tendencies coupled with “the crush of humanity” to use a phrase I’ve lifted from elsewhere. And since then, despite the blink of an eye time I’ve been away, it has really been a unique experience. In the past I’ve stepped away, but more just from Facebook, rationalizing some lessened negative aspect of Instagram. This time, however, I’ve cut off both, and it’s made all the difference.

I told myself I was going to devote all the appropriate time I could to my son while he was with me this month, and maybe the break was an extension of that idea, but doing it was something else. When I did, however, the effect was immediate. I found myself continuously engaged with both him and Laura, not just when we were around each other, but when I was off by myself as well. I found that my thought patterns slowly drifted from sketching expressions designed for a wide audience on social media, to a more immediate consideration of their needs and our time together instead. When we are in each other’s company, my mind isn’t elsewhere. I’m not daydreaming or out of mental focus or lost in that realm of distraction and haze that it is so easy to slip into through social media or any non-present media. There was something very immediate and physical about our time together, and ultimately, very comfortable.

I’m not trying to romanticize this or present anything that most would respond with a resounding “duh” as magical, but it’s been so long that I’ve allowed my continuous daily moments to be as simplified as they were prior to social media that it’s a wonderful reminding of that reality, of that simplistic enjoyment of just being around those closest to me in my life, both mentally and physically. I lost the compulsion to grab my phone in lulls, to post a thought to a removed, unanswering audience, and to instead just be ok with the immediate.

Admittedly, it’s not without some degree of concern that I’ve just cut myself off from a degree of communication with a wider circle of friends, considering our world has very rapidly come to embrace the ease of this communication as default. I’m not trying to practice a deliberate neo-luddite ideology or anything, so it is with a little apprehension that I’ve cut myself off from people that I’ve shared a certain reliance upon and with over the years. I can’t help but wonder if this psychological relaxation I’m experiencing is preceding a painful shooting in the foot. Right now though, it seems worth it.

On the other hand, the change of pace I’ve established in my running practice, which I wrote about recently has also fostered a change in identity of sorts. If not a change in identity, then at least a change in expression of identity. If social media is about any unspoken or unrecognized intent, it’s the continuous expression of our personal identities, our associations, our moral parameters. Some of them based in reality and some of them what we wish to be true. One of my greatest fears in quitting running in the past was the shift in identity. When you’ve spent so many years dedicated to one act, day in and day out, the fear is not in stopping this act, but rather how you perceive yourself once you stop doing what you DO. When you no longer do the thing you do, who are you as a person?

This is the dilemma so many face when they find they can’t physically do what they love, suddenly, whether that comes from disease, physical impairment, or any unforeseen change of life circumstance. It’s not the reality of impairment as it is the mental difficulty in changing and adapting to a new reality. I see this often in members of the military, old and way beyond their military engagement, but expressing their rank with such great vehemence. Or the cancer patient, who found themselves identifying as a fighter and survivor, only to be diagnosed as cured and now fighting to retain their recent identity that has been abruptly taken away. I’ve seen so many competitive runners struggle with the same difficulty, recognizing their diminished physical abilities and fighting so hard to remain the runner they’ve always been. They simply don’t know what else to be if they don’t have running.

For me, to abandon social media is to, in a way, abandon my identity as a competitive runner. Or, to have reconciled myself as no longer a competitive runner, but just a runner, the desire to express that identity has quickly waned. But, as I was mentioning before, there is a certain absurdity in the professed importance of our identities, of our narcissistic expressions towards others, of our self-absorbed involvement with social media while others are forced to navigate the world with so much less, or struggles of so much greater importance. Ultimately, that 10 miler we did today…who cares? And I don’t say that as a critique of other’s expressions on social media…really just my own, because I’m fully aware that my narcissism runs rampant (he says on his blog) and I’ve spent years talking about every little thing I’ve done with running.

And maybe I burned myself out with my own ramblings, but it feels so nice to shut the hell up about my running, my narcissism, my self-absorption, and to escape the “crush of humanity” we’ve found ourselves in, and to instead just enjoy the quiet, the minimal slow of information, but most importantly, the time spent with those around me, both mentally and physically.

I still have my amorphous identity, my considerations and thoughts, my act of running, but not just a little less complicated, a little less loud, and a lot more immediate and personal. Now, excuse me, I’m going to spend some more time with Laura, in that sort of immediate, rewarding, present way we all used to spend time with each other before social media.

Disconnect

I know the score when it comes to our relations with animals, so I know how to disconnect from the violence inflicted upon them by our culture. I’ve lived through years and years of the subtle, constant barrage of violence that surrounds us, that is built upon their lives, that is hidden from our awareness. And although it seems one would only become more adept and more accustomed to living through this awareness of violence as they age, I find myself becoming only more affected, more empathic, and more troubled by this reality of ceaseless suffering and outright denial of their value as individuals. It is one thing to confine, inflict pain upon and end the life of a creature one acknowledges of physical and emotional capability, but it is, oddly, something else entirely to do the same without recognition of these same capabilities and without the slightest semblance of thought as to one’s actions. For those of us who have allowed ourselves to become aware of an animal’s value as individuals and communities and nations, our aging, accumulated experience, and necessity to maneuver through the violence of an unthinking culture is no protection from the emotional difficulty of doing so.

On our drive out East I felt bombarded by the consistency of this suffering, as if the long protracted, but often hidden, violence of our civilization seeped through the cracks of the facade and the violence came spilling out. We passed a semi truck loaded with cages of chickens crammed into temporary caskets on their way to slaughter, many of them dead after a life of confined misery. One chicken has pushed his head through a gap in the cage wire, as if to seek a little extra space, but the head lay limp, it’s eyes closed, dead from either exhaustion, dehydration, or suffocation. The fate of which may have been better than where they were headed. Seeing these countless individuals, a visual mass of feathers and beaks and feces, I couldn’t help but think of the individual chickens being cared for on a farm by friends, all with distinct personalities, survival needs, and emotional capabilities, but when these lives are confined by the system of animal agriculture, they are reduced to commodities, brainless and emotionless resources, facts and figures on spreadsheets. The connection between animals as resources leads to the disconnect that is a mass of bodies piled on top of each other in a truck speeding down the highway, in full view for all to see.

We passed the truck, after I warned Laura to turn her head and not look out her window. But just a few miles up the road I caught another animal standing on the side of the road, a raccoon I believe, but then stumbling and falling. It’s movements relayed a crisis as it tried to stand immediately again, onto to stumble sideways, disoriented, and fall on it’s side yet again, this time unlikely to get up for a third attempt at escape. It was likely hit by a car, but not immediately fatal, and would die a prolonged death. There was something powerful about seeing the process of dying more immediately that struck me, and stayed with me.

It was both the chicken, with it’s head hanging limp, eyes closed in either avoidance of it’s fate or already lost to the grip, along with the raccoon, in the last moments of it’s life, that cut through the years of protective callous and rational awareness that helps us all through the days. I couldn’t seem to shake the moments of suffering or the tragic, uncomfortable business as usual normalcy that allows follows these events. And I still can’t.

But not because I’ve lost touch with reality. Not because I’ve become an over-emotional bleeding heart stereotype of an animal rights activist. Not because I seek some deeper tragedy with which to connect and gain sympathy from others for my own connection to the suffering. Not any of that, but just the continuous reality that it’s all too much. That it’s always too much, that it’s all so out of control.

Add to these moments the latest publicized shootings of black men around the country and the expected retaliation against the police that are shooting them, coupled with the surge in violence influenced by religious ideology and theistic absurdity on such a spectacular scale, multiplied by a trajectory of environmental crisis with no seemingly stable endpoint…and as someone recently said to me, “civilization is just a continuous and protracted act of violence.”

Mind you, I have been aware of this reality for quite some time, but I continuously find myself affected by the tragedy of our desire to continue down this path, unable to see the big picture through the barrage of details and distractions. I find myself unable to shrug away the violence and yet, at the same time, crippled to do anything about it. I find myself asking less, “Is it too big? Is it too much?” and instead making declarative statements. “It’s all too big. It’s all too much.”

And that is my greatest fear, of succumbing to the reality of this protracted violence that inflicts unimaginable pain upon the animal nations without even recognizing their ability to experience pain, let alone their existence as individuals, along with the culture of unthinking stupidity that leads people to monotheism, to human centric ideology, to know nothing of physical history, to know nothing of nature’s diversity, to know nothing of alternative ways of living, to know nothing of the environments and relationships that foster a happiness dictated by the slow machinations of evolution’s continued attempts toward survival. I don’t know how to balance the desire for the best life to possibly live in a state of isolation, of relationships mediated by digital connections, of not interacting with the world in a way to affect positive change when our trajectory seems nothing but negative.

And believe me, this isn’t doomsaying and the product of not looking for the light in all the dark. I make the most of my life, and continue to consider how best to live, making adjustments accordingly, experimenting with alternatives to see what solutions arise, but it’s hard to let go, to disconnect, to to navigate a world of mindless, purposeless violence when you know the alternatives exist. It’s so hard to create a personal sanctuary when the walls are burning on the outside. Sometimes, in the midst of so much immediate violence, it seems I’m just trying to wipe clean my window on the train as it speeds uncontrollably towards the cliff.

And yet, what else can we do? It is the impulse of our civilization that says we must always seek a place higher on the pyramid. We must always look for the next level, to find our way to more money, to seek greater power, to affect as many people as possible, to become the leaders of leaders, to gain the most followers, to alway develop more and more, to become bigger and bigger, to maximize everything. But when was this ever the dictate of the natural world? In the relatively beginning-less nature of existence, when did anything ever seek perpetual domination, perpetual growth without checks and balances?

There is, however, another way, but which takes a certain degree of perspective and confidence to live outside the insane logic of civilization. It is the logic of civilization to consolidate power and decision making and resources and to always hoard and become bigger and seek power and domination, of which we all seem to be sucked into the vortex of this logic, born into the insanity and with few alternatives. But the answer might be quite simple.

To disconnect.

T0 minimize our lives to the physical world around us, to prioritize immediate experiences and direct social relationships instead of mediated communications (he says on a blog). To know what it is to be a part of land, even if that is just our yard or an area to which we feel connected close by. To become attuned to our bodies and their fluctuating states of comfort. To learn at least one skill with our hands, to experience what it is to create and imagine from seemingly nothing. To know what it is to value our objects and seek a sense of permanence within them rather than live with the idea of constant renewal and waste.

To, again, disconnect from the logic of civilization that surrounds us, that we know deeply and intuitively is tragic and violent and disconnects us from the lives we would rather live. To use the masters tools to dismantle the masters house, we can disconnect from their disconnection. That is where we must start, individually, and together.

I’ll resist the urge to offer suggestions of disconnection more than I have already alluded, as they will be many and personal and it is only confining to offer “acceptable” forms of disconnection, but suffice to say they are all around us.

I will not, however, romanticize this disconnection either, because we’ll still drive past trucks loaded with the misery of animals confined by the logic of civilization, we’ll still watch the life of our fellow animals fade in the tragedy of our pace of life, we’ll still witness the unthinking production and consumption of animals as resources, and we’ll have to endure through it all. We can’t escape this logic until this logic buckles under the weight of it’s own absurdities and fails to uphold it’s moral boasting with foundations predicated on theological wishes and illusions.

We can, however, individually disconnect from this absurdity, from this pace of life, from this trajectory of violence…and find comfort in the value of our own physical realities, in our connections to the natural world, in our connection to the physical world, and in our connection to the ceaseless wonder of time, existence, and consciousness. It can be painful at times to remain connected to our world, emotionally and intellectually, but the converse joy is just as powerful and important.

A Change of Pace

I haven’t been this excited to go on a run in a long time. I can’t remember how long it’s been actually, so, it’s been THAT long.

Since my last surgery I’ve struggled to find my running rhythm, to find an ease and drive to keep putting in the work, day after day, week after week. Ultimately, it came to a head on a hot, humid morning when the accumulated fatigue finally wore me down and I couldn’t bring myself to start the workout…or even complete the mileage. I wondered to myself, “Isn’t it better to burn out than fade away?”.

But I wasn’t sure which part of that mantra I was playing out. Did I burn out? Each morning brought a sense of obligation to run, without an obvious, premeditated goal in which to strive towards. Each morning I made it into the run, but wasn’t convinced of the success when I finished, my legs weighted with effort and my lungs struggling to remain calm. It refused to get easier. I just couldn’t find the will to push harder to make the next effort easier in comparison. I might have blown up. I might have burnt out.

Or was this fading away? Despite the personal competitive success I managed before my last surgery, I couldn’t bring myself to find that same purpose, pushing against the new schedule of training before work and the mental tension that shortened window of run time brought upon me. I could no longer figure out what I was running for, who I was running for, and what the importance of it all was. Like a fire slowly losing oxygen, seemingly quite literally within myself, the flame was dying down. Was this fading away?

And yet, as much as I try to imagine a new daily schedule, filling the gap where running once lay…I can’t. I can’t imagine giving away the ability to spend hours in the woods of Southern Indiana, running with friends when called upon, or just finding the necessity of a cathartic release through physical exhaustion when nothing else is working. While at the same time, I can no longer dedicate myself to expending every last bit of creative energy during my morning runs. I just can’t compete anymore. Every attempt to this period involved not just running, but progressing, and training to progress. It was always about seeking out previous boundaries and surpassing them, but of course, the problem is that each boundary was found through intense training and so to surpass previous boundaries meant more intense training. 80 mile weeks to 90 mile weeks. 90 mile weeks to 100 mile weeks. 100 mile weeks to 120 mile weeks. There is, really, no where else for me to go. The effort to sustain such a training load is now both physically and psychologically out of my reach, or at least, in motivation anyways. Not only does that type of training seem within the realm of only a past physical self, it’s not even there mentally. It doesn’t even sound fun.

That hot and humid day, I just broke. I stopped running. I didn’t even take a break in such a way that I was renewing myself for the next effort, I was just done, and I felt a sort of comfortable release in doing so, despite the lingering tension of “giving up” or “burning out”, even, “fading away” in the back of my mind. I was just done. Add to this break, my son was coming for the month of July for our scheduled parenting time, and I was that much more motivated to leave the creative energy expense of running behind to focus all my attention and efforts upon him, leaving me with essentially no regret.

And, it’s all ok.

I didn’t believe it would be ok. I really didn’t. I thought I would be eaten up by the frustration, the lack of creative expense, but I’m not. Because, ultimately, I just changed up the pace. I’m no longer running for the attempt to progress indefinitely, to push against that stubborn wall of ability, to find my boundaries. I found them. I found them through competition, through self-drive, through the limits of cancer, through the ravages of surgery. I found all those limits and I’m no longer driven to find them. I feel accomplished, but, again, It’s not like I can just up and quit.

But I can change pace.

Now, I’m finding a certain satisfaction in running by daily motivation, but taking each day as it comes, and not scheduling or obligating myself to any distance or effort. Some days, I wake up and realize spending time in my garden will be the most satisfying activity. Or reading through my latest book. Or working on my latest drawing. And other days, running takes precedence over everything, without worry, without expectation, but just the genuine motivation and enjoyment of feeling my body work, of being in the world, of firing all cylinders and losing the tension that has built within.

Like I said, I haven’t been this excited to run in a long, long time. I’m on the East Coast for family vacation and tomorrow morning the boardwalk will be waiting with the scores of other runners laboring under the suffocating humidity. The planks will soften my step and the ocean will wave out it’s cooling temptation so close by, but I’ll just keep running, because this is where my genuine excitement to run has never faded and where I wait to wake early and meet the sunrise on it’s furthest horizon. Here is where I seem to never burn out, never fade away. The routine and scenery never seems to change here, yet in a way, I’m starting something new with my running, and the change of pace may take some time to be more literal, but the mentality behind it will be undeniably new.

It’s been awhile, but I look forward to running, again, into this latest life transition.