What I’m Running From
I spent the better part of a weekend telling myself I was going to write something. I had this outline on Rasputin all ready to go. He’s a great historical figure and I feel he’s fantastically misunderstood. I had this whole thing mapped out about his life and brutal murder, how he lived at exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a great story and I really want to sit down and write it. I tried to, but I was faced with that thing that comes up now and again. It’s that thing that always shadows me when I sit down to write a historical essay. That thing is this — nobody cares. “Stop wasting your time. Don’t talk about this, it sucks. Nobody wants to read this.” That’s what I tell myself.
That took the wind out of my sails. I couldn’t write about Rasputin anymore. I just couldn’t see anyone giving a fuck about a turn of the nineteenth century Russian peasant mystic. I went out and got coffee, came back to the apartment and tried it again, but my will was as good as dead. Maybe I should have hammered it out. That incessant voice in my head kept telling me not to waste my time. I gave up on Rasputin, at least for the time being.
I cut my losses and moved on to something different. I tried writing a piece on the importance of aesthetics in a city. I believe the way a place looks — the way the buildings are constructed, the way the roads are laid out, how clean the place is, how well the place is planned out in general — can strongly influence the moods and attitudes of its citizens, deeply affecting quality of life.
I live in Los Angeles, one of the ugliest major cities in the United States, the lack of attention paid to aesthetics here is crushing. On a daily basis, anyone who lives here is faced with filth, poor city planing, dismal public transit, traffic, pollution, cheap stucco everything, decay, drought, ugly high rises, cheaply constructed condos charging far more than they’re worth — it goes on and on.
I got deep into writing on that for a while, but to tell you the truth it was bumming me out. At the end of the day, I have to live here and writing about the largely unfixable problems tattooed into my city’s culture and infrastructure just depressed me. Not right now, I told myself. I gave up. I put on my running shoes and headed out the door.
This is what I do. This has become my coping mechanism. I go running. When I’m creatively blocked, I go running. When someone in my life is bothering me, I go running. When it gets too noisy in my apartment, I go running. There are times where I’ll run twice a day just because I need to get out of my head.
Running taught me a lot about mood control. It taught me how to quiet my mind, but not in the same way meditation quiets the mind. I meditate as well, but it’s a different thing all together. There are similarities — the concentration on breathing and the focus and discipline they require to be done right, but the thing that drove me to running in the first place is something that meditation can’t offer. Running gives me the ability to move my body around really fast like a maniac while cranking up the tunes.
I zoom down bike paths, hiking trails, high school tracks, running paths at parks, residential streets with the best of the best records ever recorded — Thin Lizzy’s Black Rose, Devo’s Freedom of Choice, Funhouse by the Stooges, Husker Du’s New Day Rising and Zen Arcade, the first New York Dolls record, Black Flag’s Loose Nut, Toys in the Attic and Rocks by Aerosmith, those early Dinosaur Jr. albums, all those phenomenal Stones records, Soundgarden’s entire catalog — all that great guitar, all those great songs.
I feel really close to my music when I run. I listen for all the little guitar overdubs. I dodge kids on bikes while I listen to all the care taken in the production of some of those records, and the balls-out non-production in some others. I think about how weird it is that this all means so much to me. This thing created by strangers. I think about this as I painfully huff and puff, hurtling down past the houses and trees.
Music has always been my first love. I’ve always been obsessed with it, how strange and beautiful it is that these people found the need to create these records and sell them to you for pretty much nothing. All those songs and records that stay in your heart forever, for the rest of your life. This thing created by a stranger that you’ll never meet that you paid around ten dollars for will touch your soul for as long as you live. Isn’t that wild?
There’s a bike path down the street from my apartment. It’s flat, there aren’t any hills or anything, so it doesn’t work your butt or give you that extra resistance but fuck it, that’s what squats and leg day is for. I enjoy the flatness of that track. I have a pair of giant headphones that I crank up loud. I can’t hear shit. If there were a big explosion somewhere near me at that point, I’d be the last to know. I’d probably run right into the damn thing, Devo blasting from the huge things protruding from my head like some kind of Mickey Mouse ears from the future.
The entire thing is around seven miles there and back. The first mile or two is a bitch, but after my body gets used to it and I’m strapped in for the long haul. When I’m feeling good, I run down a few residential streets to even it out to eight miles. By the time I’m done running eight miles, I feel pretty satisfied. I feel pretty high at that point, ready to handle my business.
I prefer to run in the morning, as the sun comes up. It’s always been my favorite time of day. I first began running when I was twenty, when I was forced to in basic training, during my time in the military. I hated it. I couldn’t run very far or very fast or for very long. The mornings in basic training were the worst part of my day. All these people yelling all the time, the sun barely up. It was a miserable experience. But I grew to be petty adequate at it by the time basic training was over. After seeing what running frequently did for my body, I was all in. Running became a part of my life after that. I’ve been running for fifteen years now.
These days, the only things I think about when I’m out there are music and moving forward — paying attention to my breathing and paying attention to how my feet land so I don’t fuck up my legs. I think about the song I’m listening to. I analyze its structure, try to figure out its tuning, I listen to hear how the drums are recorded, I listen for how many overdubs are layered onto a track, I try to pick apart the mix as I listen to it. Mostly, I’m usually overwhelmed with a feeling that this is good, I’m doing a good thing for myself.
I really tend to shy away from things that I could possibly put on as an identity. I like to refrain from calling myself, a “runner.” It makes me feel like I’m going to go out and buy some really expensive bright colored fancy running gear, five hundred dollar running shoes and do a marathon every other month. Everyone has their reasons and I’m not saying that calling yourself a runner and having that be a part of your identity is a bad thing, but it isn’t mine. I have always felt it important to keep away from attachments like that. There are so many hats you can wear, it muddles up your vision of who you truly are. It’s best to keep as little hats in your wardrobe as possible. Really taking on an identity like that wouldn’t be a good thing for me.
When I get home, there is nothing better than the feeling of a hot shower with the sound of the violin coming through the speakers. Lately I’ve been playing a lot of Bach’s violin concertos. Those notes linger in the air, defining that particular moment of existence for me and at that point, everything seems in order. It can’t last forever and reality sets in that the day is almost over and I’ve written nothing.
Everything I tried to do today just kind of sucked, but that run was great. It’s an old friend I can rely on again and again. So of course, that’s what I needed to do. That’s what I needed to write about this entire time, at least today. That run also helped put things in perspective for me. The Rasputin story is fascinating. There’s no way I’m not going to write about it. If nobody reads it, that’s their fault. If there’s anything running has taught me, it’s this — don’t stop until it’s over, don’t think, just breathe and keep moving forward.