The Clock: continued musings on temporality, climate and the player/hustler dichotomy.

Saturday. The wind chill outside makes it -30 C, and the quantity of snow on the ground already gave me more resistance than I needed on Thursday and Friday, so I’m doing my long run on the 200-meter track in the McGill gym. By a quirky coincidence of my body’s endurance capabilities and the arbitrary units of measure that we use for distance and time, completing this orbit every 60 seconds feels just right; my feet should be the second-hand of an extravagant, elliptical clock which measures out each minute, hopefully 224 times. I begin the run with a friend for a change of pace, both literally and figuratively – at first, Dave’s and my springs are not wound tightly enough to keep time, and then, caught up with the rare cameraderie of actually running with another human being, I give in to his impulse and we tear ass around the track a couple times, throwing in a little speedwork on the long run a la Zatopek.

An hour passes, and Dave leaves me to “have fun with the rest” of my 4-hour, 28-mile run. It was a fun warmup, and it temporarily relieved me of the feeling that I am an anomaly here, a loner… jogging buddies come and go, soccer players warming up take a few leisurely laps around the track, and there’s even an affectionate couple who seem to be on a date here, walking around the track dozens of times, lost in each other’s eyes. I just keep doing my thing, and pretty soon I’ve settled into my long-run headspace. By lap 68 I have fallen into a hypnotic rhythm. 60 seconds, 200 meters. 60 seconds, 200 meters. Behind me I hear a man huffing and puffing hard to catch up, but I know he won’t (why do people try to pass others on a track?) 59 seconds – focus on not focusing, and ignore these other people. 60 seconds, 60 seconds, 60 seconds… it’s like I’m not doing anything but watching a clock tick off each minute – not like I want them to pass more quickly, just like I’m impassively observing the movement of the hands. Two tall, powerfully-built sprinters start working their way around the inside lane, and I know I’m best off completely ignoring them, too. 58 seconds, 62 seconds. If I say this feels effortless, the sense that I am trying to convey is not actually that it is “easy,” but rather that I have entered an altered state of consciousness in which effort – and with it suffering, joy, pain, emotion – they are all currencies in which I have declined to trade. 63 seconds: if you find that you have slowed down, do not be frustrated with yourself, simply start again, start again… start with a calm and quiet mind… alert & attentive. At lap 112 I reverse my direction so that my legs are getting some kind of symmetrical workout. My tempo for the first 50-60 laps with Dave wasn’t consistent and I know that my lucid, effortless 60-second laps may be coming to an end. No biggie, just keep going. The sprinters are not happy about sharing the inside of the track with me, especially now that I’m going the other way. The girl snarls at me as we pass and says “Really?” My big achievement of the run was probably not feeling or expressing any emotion whatsoever at that point. My face stays relaxed, it’s just my same old 8-minute-mile face. I give the sprinters a little more room to play… they’re arising & passing like autumn leaves and I know I’ll have the inner lane to myself again soon enough.


That was a go-with-the-flow kind of run, and I’m not all that disappointed that it didn’t go “as planned.” I only managed 22 miles on the track, which I attribute dually to the psychological challenges it presented, and my irresponsible pacing in the first hour. Later that day I made up the remaining six miles in the park, bundled up like crazy. So again I more or less stuck to the week’s plan, getting in my 67 miles in spite of really extreme weather conditions on a few of the days. I’ve earned my poutine, not that I really feel you need to earn a poutine every time you eat one.

Returning a little to what I talked about in my first post, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the different ways we relate to time. Vipassana made me aware that a fixation on the past or the future is very often the cause of all a person’s misery, and I remember formulating a new reading of Ulysses while I was there (although of course I didn’t have the book with me): Stephen is stuck in the past (“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake”), dwelling not only on the hardships of personal history (i.e. mother’s death without reconciliation), but also those of national history. Bloom certainly has a tendency to construct hypothetical futures, but is more prone to experience the sensations that comprise his present lived experience: his stream-of-consciousness is constantly going back to current textile sensations, tastes and smells, sounds.

My friend Federico sent me this great video on how geography impacts our experience of time… it’s actually really fun and I’m going to talk about it now, so check it out:

This made a few things click for me. For months, I’ve been daydreaming of warmer places, especially the pacific northwest. I even had an actual dream, in November, that I was driving across the US and moving to Washington state. Now I dream all the time about coming down out of the rockies, into British Columbia. I think part of what appeals to me about the geography of the pacific northwest – and for that matter about England, which I’ve always loved – is that their climates lack extremes. Sure, people say Seattle, Vancouver, or the Bay Area don’t have the nicest climates, because they never get that warm and it rains a lot. I’ve always felt like, “so what?” The consistency really appeals to me. By eliminating the really dramatic changes of climate from season to season, you get closer to appreciating each day for what it is, instead of wishing winter would end, or wishing summer wouldn’t end.

I think one of the reasons that Montreal held a mystique for me as a teenager was its extreme climate. I was looking for a place where I could challenge and better myself, where I could create a future. I wanted to work hard, and work in a sort of “weighted vest.” This isn’t the kind of person I was in high school, in New Jersey – those were years where I felt fairly carefree and never actually wanted to do any work beyond the bare minimum (which at least for me was still a lot – thanks, parents). The setting in which you study seriously impacts how you lead your life, and I think I equated going to school in a freezing cold urban environment with a semi-monastic quest for excellence, or at least raising the bar. I also am a fan of moving forward in life through balancing dialectic relationships, and strongly contrasting seasons give you a chance to enrich your mental life that way. Those of you with whom I’ve discussed the “players vs. hustlers” dichotomy of gangster rap are aware that I have for some time found it easier to empathize with the hustler mindset (e.g. Nas, Biggie).

So I hustled pretty hard from Fall 2006 on. But sometime in late Fall 2010, I began to remember that what really matters in life is happiness… not some abstract future happiness that you can secure by working hard, but happiness in the present. Biggie was a genius, but after all, he did want to die. Perhaps this is why I’ve been feeling a pull to regions with a more consistent climate throughout the year. It is slightly depressing to think that my tuition for the M.A. would have been nearly enough to buy a new condo in historic Cuenca, Ecuador, nestled in the Andes with a high of 65 F every day of the year. But I digress. My point is, I’m trying to get closer to living in a present-oriented mode, because I am both past-oriented (when I feel unhappy from remembering either past happiness or past hurt) and future-oriented (in that a lot of what I’ve been doing these past five or six years is just working my butt off in every arena of life). The run from Montreal to Vancouver can help me accomplish that, not only because running is a practice that forces you to experience solely the present, but because the symbolism of moving from an extreme climate to a temperate climate mirrors the mental transition I’ll hopefully be going through.


~ by edmundmilly on January 16, 2012.

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