Head-gouge chronicles: Last night, I banged my head into the corner of an open kitchen-cabinet door and took out a little chunk of my bald scalp. It was not a graceful moment, and I did not react gracefully. What’s really frustrating, though, is that I seem to have developed a penchant for gouging my naked head on low doorways, window frames, cabinets, overhanging branches and such like. It happened at my dad’s about 10 days ago when I was hurrying to pack my stuff to leave. It happened to me a month ago, two violent encounters with Berkeley shrubbery, when I was out walking the dog. It happened getting into the shower at a friend’s house in New Jersey about 30 seconds after I looked at the low bar across the stall door and thought to myself, “I’m going to hit my head on that.” I’m not sure why all this is happening now. Maybe I’ve lost my ducking reflex, maybe I’m not paying as close attention to my surroundings as I used to, or maybe I’ve grown two inches without knowing it. All I can say is that I’m kind of tired of walking around with a scab on my head.
Power-shufflers vs. racing elitists: My friend Pete is doing a 50-mile running race today in Portland. Yes. Fifty. Miles. That’s nearly twice as long as a marathon, a distance that neither my brain nor my knees can comprehend. So, Pete’s a confirmed crazy ultra-endurance athlete (the big event he is preparing for: an Ironman-distance triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike course, and a marathon run) in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. As a serious student of the science of endurance sports, Pete has more than once commented on a phenomenon that has become firmly established in U.S. marathon running: participation is way, way up, and performance, measured in terms of finishing times, is way, way down. That’s because many among the hordes entering the humongous marathon fields in places like New York and Chicago are training merely to finish the course no matter how long it takes. Just in time for this weekend’s marathons in New York City, Salon is running a piece on the subject: “How Oprah Ruined the Marathon.” Now, in a country beset by obesity, you could argue that any popular physical activity is a great thing and ought to be encouraged. But there are those who say that what’s happening in the big marathons is sapping the athletic purpose and spirit of the races; what they see is a bunch of people who, instead of confronting the intense physical and mental demands of racing, are turning marathons into power-shuffling events — little more than long walks performed in fancy gear at a slightly elevated pace. Far from creating a nation of fit, competitive runners. Me? It’s been a long time since I walked 20 miles in a day, and I’ve never run a distance over 7.5 miles, so I’m not criticizing anyone who’s out there doing it at any speed. I think it’s great people want to get out there and get their heart rates up; but at the same time, there is something lost when the competitive ethic, the drive to perform and improve, is squeezed out. (And here’s a tragic postscript from today’s news: “28-Year-Old Marathoner Dies in Olympic Trials.”
Scribing sans distraction: Now that I have installed the latest Mac operating system on my aging iBook, I’m trying out an extremely stripped down text editor called WriteRoom. When you launch the program, the entire screen is blacked out; you don’t see your computer desktop at all; so no email notifications or browser windows or docks (in Mac speak) to divert you from your writing task. The text you type appears as green on black, an emulation of ancient word-processing screens. Does the distraction-free environment really make a difference? This is only the second day I’ve used it, and I haven’t written anything I was on deadlne for (as opposed to something “optional” like this here post). But so far, I’d say that having nothing to consider but my brain and the words on the screen is a help.