Wednesday, May 27, 2009

on 1000 miles and running.

My dad was a runner.

I am not a runner.

Those two statements, both true, have pretty much controlled and dominated my running life since I was 14 years old. I've been running since then, on and off, and, even though I still maintain that I am not a runner, I run frequently. I talk about running. I think about running. I dream about running. I love to run. But I am not a runner.

When I was growing up, while my parents were still together, my dad was a runner. He competed in the Duke City Marathon and even did some duathlons. He liked to ride his bike, but he loved to run. Some of my clearest childhood memories were of him in his skimpy running gear either coming home from a run, or me, my brothers, and my mom waiting for him to cross the finish line of some early morning run. He loved running.

When I got to high school, my relationship with my dad was complicated at best, but that didn't change the fact that I wanted to please him by running. But while he was built for marathons, lean (at that time) and sinewy, a runner's body built up over time, I was lazy and uncommitted to the sport. I sprinted, running the 400 damn well my freshman year and while everyone else trained, I coasted on the speed of a teenager. Eventually, their hard work and my laziness combined to make me an average runner by senior year, surpassed by my peers who worked harder and younger kids who were way more naturally gifted. I was never a great runner, but I was hardly the worst. I was solidly in the middle of the pack. (Ironic because that sentence could pretty much apply to everything I do now.) I liked running with the track team, probably a disproportionate amount, given my lack of natural talent, but I loved the camaraderie of running with the guys. Still, to this day, I consider running on the track to be the best team I was ever part of.

When I got to college, running became less important to me. I was concerned with other things. When I moved back home, running continued to be something that I used to do, as opposed to something I actively did. It wasn't until I broke my jaw and became pleasantly plump that I considered running as a method of controlling the weight. I'd always been an active guy, so I'd never been fat, per se, but I'd never been cut like some of my soccer- and running-friends. I got myself a Nike Plus iPod kit (linked because, seriously, it's an intense motivation tool and I'm not trying to come across like a shill or anything, but I'd highly recommend one) and I started running.

But then I stopped. And I started again. And I stopped again. And I started again. Even though I had to motivation of competing against strangers on the web, it never seemed real. It wasn't enough. I needed something else. I committed to running a marathon. But it was so far away and the training regimens that I found online were difficult for me to keep. (In retrospect, this is probably because I was vastly overestimating myself. Had I started a bit slower, I think I could have succeeded.) The marathon training was difficult and I was semi-unhappy with it a lot of the time. Then, about a month before I was supposed to run my marathon, I injured my foot. I thought that I could take some time off, but still, essentially complete my training and that I'd still be able to complete my marathon. That was a silly thought.

Near the last day possible to make the decision, I decided to run the half-marathon instead. It was a good choice. I ran under the time that I wanted to, and I felt good at the end of the race. Despite the positivity, I was pretty sure that, had I tried to run the whole thing, I would have died.

After that happened, I realized that I needed mini-goals in addition to a longer-term goal. Thus, at the end of 2008, I vowed to run 1,000 miles in the year 2009. It seems like a really big number (at least, to a semi-amateur like myself) but it's easily manageable if it's broken into 20 mile chunks. In fact, running 20 miles a week means that I'll actually run more than 1,000 miles.

Helping me out was my sister, who hooked me up with a 3 month gym membership for Christmas of that year. Without the gym, I'm not sure that I would have been so successful in January and February, when it was too cold for a man from the desert to run. (I know, I know, not cold compared to Minnesota and certainly not too cold to run in general - I mean, there are people who do it - but I just can't see myself doing that yet.) Regardless, as the winter months started to pass, I was proud of myself - I'd kept steady with my goal. By the time 1/4 of the year had gone by, I was only 8 miles behind my overall goal. This, to me, was acceptable, because I knew that, as the year progressed, I'd increase my long run, in preparation for the November marathon, so I'd rack up more later. However, at the 1/3 mark of the year, I was about 20 miles behind my goal, and in the month of May, I'm on target to only run 65 of the 90 miles that I was scheduled for. (May is the end of the school year and, as a teacher, it's one of the busiest times of the year. Still, more than doubling the amount of miles that I am behind is not a good thing.) Many factors conspired to rob me of my runs in May, not least of which was the afore-mentioned job. Little injuries, laziness, etc. are always easy scapegoats, but it's only serving to reinforce my overall goal for me. I still want to run 1,000 miles this year, and I still think I'm more than capable of doing so. I'm going on extended vacation to Pittsburgh this summer, and while I'm there, I think that I'm going to make a secondary goal of running at least five kilometers every day, except Sundays. (Recover days are important.) Not only will this perk my overall mileage back up, but it'll establish a good routine for me to follow when I might otherwise fall into a lazy pattern.

All of this, however, serves only to make me question: why do I run? I'm not really a runner. And I'm beyond the stage in my life where I think I need to run to impress my dad. So why do I run? I run to stay in shape. I run because I like exercise, it makes me feel good. I run to soak up the sunshine of New Mexico. I run because, when I do, I think to myself that I can eat whatever the hell I want that night. I run to see parts of the city that I otherwise wouldn't get to. I run because I've set a life goal of running in a marathon. I run, most of all, because it gives me time to think. When I have big things that I need to think about (changing jobs, girls, finances, etc.) I find that I always want to sleep on the matter, of course, but also that I don't feel ready to make a decision until I've had a long run thinking about it. Running helps me think.

Running also presents me with a community. The afore-mentioned Nike Plus website is a good one, and I just joined the Fittest Tweeter Challenge, where part of this entry will (hopefully) be modified and appear. The community that I feel when I'm running, even with strangers who merely pass me on the street, makes me feel good.

I'm not a runner.

But I love to run.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

on jersey girl.

Kevin Smith sometimes get a bad rep. Sometimes for things he's done that he deserves a bad rep for. And then there's those things that seemingly only I care about. But a while ago, Kevin Smith tried to go another route. He tried to be grown-up guy. He tried to do something that would appeal to a broader audience. He tried...and wasn't rewarded very kindly. However, I saw Jersey Girl when it came out, and I knew it was a good film. I will admit, though, that I didn't realize how much it tugged at my heartstrings until I re-watched it the other night.

Jersey Girl tells the story of a man moving through the professional world (or the semi-professional world of flacks, as it may be) and having a good time doing so. He meets a girl, they fall in love, they have great times, and then along comes baby and ruins everything. Or at least, that's how the old him saw it. Main character guy (Ben Affleck, doing his Kevin Smith stand-in duty) does a good job of convincing us that he's unhappy giving up his old lifestyle but, overall, pretty willing to do so. We skip the hard times of babyville (after seeing that he's completely unfit for it, but willing to try) and resume the story seven years later, when he's resigned to the new life. (Well, kind of. Every once in a while, he tries to get an interview for his old spot, but the guys only agree to interview him to see if it's really him [he lost his job in a Jerry Maguire-esque meltdown] and bet on the results. This does, however, allow for one of the great cameos of Jersey Girl.) Affleck's got an interesting relationship with his father and at the end of the movie, we see that Kevin Smith dedicated this film to his father, which makes a lot of sense upon examination.

The film is essentially a meditation on fatherhood, which was an obvious thing for Smith to be thinking about and writing about at that time, but it's not just Affleck to Gertie. Smith clearly worshiped George Carlin, who plays the grandfather role in this movie, and it's as much a paean to him as it is to his real-life father: a thank you to the men who helped him when he was younger. Carlin does great with the material he's given, which is plenty, and he brings real emotion to every scene that he touches. It's a wonderful thing to see such a genuine performance from such a legendary actor/comedian - it really makes me think, "There's probably a lot of people like this in our world. People who just kick ass day in and day out and rarely see any worldwide recognition for it, but whose kids are great people because of the amazing job they do."

If that's the overall lesson that I can take (and that I'd urge you to take!) from Jersey Girl, I think the movie's tremendously important.

Monday, May 25, 2009

on torture.

I've got lots to say about my year of work being done with the conclusion of the school year, the new Oktober People CD, and the movie First Snow, which I've been thinking about a lot since I saw it about a week ago, but I just want to take this opportunity for, essentially, a link of the day.

It's Memorial Day and we should keep in mind that there are still some people in our country who think that torturing is an acceptable way to gather intelligence.

Not this guy:

Not anymore.

Thank God. (Grabbed from Talking Points Memo.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

on terminator salvation.

I have a kind of oddly intense fascination with the Terminator franchise. I think it was a pre-Matrix, to me, with the combination of science-fiction, which I grew up loving, and philosophy, which I learned to love as a man, and the cybertechnopunk (whatever the new mashup term is for all of that) that comes along with visionary directors, of which James Cameron certainly was at that time. I love the Terminator franchise so much that I relentlessly defend the third movie, which gets me into trouble every once in a while. Regardless of the third movie, I got a chance to see the fourth movie in the sequence last night, thanks to a sneak peek from the Alibi.

It was great.

I didn't really think that it was going to be difficult to do a good job, because, as I mentioned, I didn't think the series was in a dark place, but I was still impressed. The future has finally arrived, and John Connor is every bit the man that we've always expected him to be. His resistance, though, is in a little bit of shambles, which we've never heard about before this point. He's got his (ret-conned?) wife in tow and he's hot on the trail of one Kyle Reese also known as his father. (Time travel's confusing. But rewarding.) Connor is well-loved, seemingly by everyone, except for those pesky people in charge. He's a folk hero who broadcasts on a semi-pirate radio signal, encouraging mankind to continue fighting. He's the kind of leader they need. Meanwhile, the official leadership runs around below the seas on a submarine, which isn't nearly as cowardly as it sounds, but rather, a really smart move...until the end. (But I'm not going to get into that. Go read JJ's thoughts on spoilers. I'm of the same mind.)

We see a new character introduced, Marcus, who has tremendous potential for future movies in the series, as a recurring character. We see Anton Yelchin - the former Charlie Bartlett! who's having a hell of a summer between this and Star Trek - playing the young Kyle Reese and doing a great job of it. These are all great things. The reward for a franchise for finding the right actors in a first step is tremendous. The familiarity the audience feels with these characters will grab plenty more dollars on the backend. So bravo to the casting director for getting these two; they're good.

Other than that, I mean, most of the plot can be gleaned from the trailers and I do think that's a bit of a shame, but I also think that it's acceptable as a first step. This is not to say, however that there are not twists and turns; there are and they're well-designed, if not implemented. (Nobody's going to be shocked at the guest appearance, or the denouement, for instance.) But this is okay, like I've said. Terminator movies, while philosophically intriguing are action movies at heart. And this one delivers on all fronts. Go see it this weekend.

Friday, May 15, 2009

on ninja 2009.

Last night I got the chance to see the NIN/JA 2009 Tour and it was as good as a kid born in the 80's who came to love music in the 90's would expect it to be. I'm sad to hear that Nine Inch Nails going to be taking a break for the foreseeable future but not that surprised. They've been going hard for a long, long time now and Trent's been at the forefront of some important copywrong issues lately. The concert was at the Journal Pavilion which, despite its unfortunately corporate-tinged name, was agreed upon as one of Albuquerque's most important investments in recent history. (As a sidenote, I think I'll talk about that at length in the future. We can build that amphitheatre and we all agree it's a good idea and investment, but we can't afford an arena?)

Regardless, let's talk just a little bit about the differences between the two bands. Before I get into details, let me just say that I like them both and I think they both did a great job last night. They're stalwarts of the rock scene of the late 80's and early 90's and they've continued to kick ass as time progressed.

Nine Inch Nails opened between the two (which I found odd. I wonder if this is one of those deals where the two alternate between headlining in different cities because the bands are equally big - or are they? Is this being billed as the Jane's Addiction Reunion Tour?) and they put on a hell of a show, if a bit short. They played some of the great songs, including "Terrible Lie," "Survivalism," and "The Day the Who World Went Away," of course, seeing as it's getting all that exposure now. The NIN show, though, really highlighted how much Trent Reznor is the brain, heart, nervous system, skin, everything behind the band. Of course Robin Finck is still there and he's an absolute monster, but Trent's the glue that holds all the various rotating parts together. He puts together the concepts and gets them right in-studio and then takes it on the road with some consummate professionals. The crew was tight, and Trent introduced them all, and seemed happy with them, but it seemed clear that he was not only the ringleader but the circus as well. I'm not saying this in any negative way. But, it does stand in stark contrast to the Jane's show.

Jane's Addiction came out with "Three Days" but only after a movie clip lamenting the fact that we all never got to see the original Jane's line-up before they broke up. (Can't find what movie that was had Kevin Bacon?) Jane's Addiction, for the first time in a long time, features all the original members, which includes, of course, Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro, but Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins (who, seriously, for my money is one of the best drummers who ever came out of the 90's rock scene, if not of all time - yes, I'm being dead serious). Their group, though always dominated by Farrell's magnetic personality and Navarro's insane guitar playing, has always acted in concert; they're a unit, they're an ensemble. They take their cues from one another and feed off the energy that builds up in their mutual history as well as (more than occasional) dislike of one another. This isn't a band that beefs hard like the brothers in Oasis or the notorious in-fighting of Fleetwood Mac, but it's not all rainbows and butterflies, either. Despite that (or maybe even because of it) the vibes that they have together are indescribable. They absolutely killed.

This was a great opportunity to see some classics and I'm so glad that I did. All of the above is intended in the most complimentary way possible, because both of these bands were huge parts of my childhood musical experiences and they did great last night. A big thanks to them for still having the goods more than 20 years later.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

on magic music tuesday.

Today begins a glorious week.

New Eminem drops one week from today. Wack. New Cam'ron drops today. Wacky. And new Green Day drops this Friday. Not as good as everyone's saying.

Those are my one-word (and one-sentence) reviews, but let me expand real quick.

The Eminem really is as bad as almost everyone agrees it is. There are many good songs on the album, but the thing as a whole just doesn't make a lot of sense. It's less than the sum of its parts.

Cam's always gonna be goofy and I swear to God, I Hate My Job might be my fave joint from him ever, but, he's got some consistency issues, too. I get the purpose that he's going for with the "Fuck Cam" skits, that really the best way to go about it? Also, the album feels uneven. I'll get into more depth on this in the future, but I'm sure Joey's gonna do a great job looking at it in the coming days as well, so make sure to check that.

Now, last but not least, the Green Day. They even got a write-up in the NYT, that's how excited people are for this album. After American Idiot, it seemed like Green Day couldn't lose. But heavy lies the head that wears the crown, etc. etc. etc. It's tough to follow a monster, and, in my opinion, Green Day didn't do as fantastic of a job as everyone is crediting them with. Is 21st Century Breakdown a good album? No doubt. But is it a masterpiece? As this point, I'm thinking no. But, again, I've only started to absorb it.

Give me some time with all of these new albums and I'll give them their due next week. In the meantime, go listen to some new music!

Monday, May 11, 2009

on star trek.

J.J. Abrams is my Master now. (Obviously, still with the massive amounts of love for Joss.)

With my always-mentioned love for LOST dominating my television-watching and JJ's almost impeccable record, it was an obvious choice to take my mama to see the new Star Trek for Mother's Day this weekend. Luckily, she's kind of a geek, too, so she agreed to come along.

First of all, let me reference the people who know more about Star Trek than I do (which, admittedly, is a lot of people, but...) and their videos where they say that the new Star Trek is worth your time:

So, ya know, Hank liked it. That's a plus.

Now, mainly I agree with Hank. Except for the fact that time travel doesn't bother me one bit. In fact, it's one of the main reasons I've been heavily lusting after this season of LOST. And I do pretty well at avoiding spoilers before movies, but, I mean, I think it was just a given that almost everyone knew that there was going to be some kind of time travel aspect to this movie. (Everyone did know that, right?) And I think it was common knowledge that Leonard Nimoy was gonna be in the flick as well. So given those two facts, I'm really not sure how anyone could be bothered by these so-called revelations. I mean...we all knew they were coming.

Other than that, I will say that Star Trek is a tremendously enjoyable film. You don't need to know anything about any of the various TV shows or previous movies in order to understand and enjoy it. It's got a self-sustained plot (which is the darling of every 'reboot') and it's got actors who look enough like the old ones while imbuing the characters with a sense of them selves. You can tell almost immediately that there are going to be some intense bonds between some of the characters, not only due to direct interactions, but due to the parallel storytelling. This is a well-directed film.

The plot itself, sure, leaves some stuff to be desired, like the quibbles that Hank mentions regarding the time-placement of Spock and the space-placement of Kirk, but really? I mean, aren't these kind of absurd complaints from anyone familiar with the genre of fiction? I mean, all stories rely upon some kind of coincidence like so. Some are greater than others, I certainly won't deny that, just doesn't strike me as solid ground upon which to stand.

Summertime movies officially opened up with Wolverine last weekend and Star Trek proudly continues that tradition. I've gotta be real, though, and acknowledge: very little is likely to get me as jazzed as Terminator next weekend. Do yourself a favor, though, in the meantime: go see Star Trek.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

on david sedaris.

David Sedaris came to town last weekend and thanks to one of the coolest girls I know, I got a chance to go see him! First of all, he was hilarious! If you've only read his books and you get a chance to go see him, I'd highly recommend it. He's got such an authentic voice, as anyone who's ever read any of his books knows, and he uses his humor in such a read-the-audience way. He really knew how to suitably push the issue of our mayor (the Honorable Mayor Martin Chavez) introducing him, first commenting on his hilariously short stature and later talking about how he's actually quite cute for a mayor. I would imagine so, but it's still weird to think about. Second of all, he's tiny. I know this something that he acknowledges and speaks about often, was crazy to hear his little voice in person and to connect it with all those hilarious words that I've read.

Regardless, Sedaris, as we already knew, is totally worth it. Among the subjects that he riffed on during his time in the 505 were being an American living overseas, the net effect of Obama's victory, and his recommendation for reading right now (linked, in case you're interested, as you should be). He did some reading, and he did some bits that seemed like they were off the top of his head, but regardless of whether he was reading or not, it always came across as something that had been genuinely observed.

The value of hearing either written works or real observations by someone who's actually thought them through, in my mind, cannot be overstated. Sedaris had as at least part of his opening monologue the observation that teenagers who came to see him sign and read books deserved some kind of token, because who would choose to do that as opposed to taking bong rips or getting pregnant in the shed behind the house. It was an apt observation, most definitely, but it was also a sad one: reading out loud to kids is one of the best things we can do to or for them, and yet it's something that's frowned upon or looked upon kind of condescendingly. I read aloud to my students all the time and I certainly see the benefits of it, but I'm also more than willing to admit that many of them look at it with at least a little bit of resentment. I think there must be some sort of connotation: "You're not smart enough to read this on your own, so I'm going to read it to you." When in reality, being read to is one of the most illuminating ways to add to a text.

Sedaris captures this vibe well by using the teacher technique of not only reading but pausing to expand on key passages as well. Special attention was paid to the ends of passages and engaging in a shared (at least as shared as it could be when one person was doing all the speaking and we were doing all the listening - until the very end, when he opened it up for Q&A) discussion of meaning beyond the simple words.

The opportunity to see David Sedaris was a great one, and I'm lucky that I was able to take advantage. Go see him if you have the chance!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

on wolverine.

Roger Ebert hated it. The Internet is all up in arms, not just over the movie itself but the issue of the flick leaking early as well. But I'm here to tell you, again, as always, relax: Wolverine is a good popcorn flick for the summer. The dialogue is laughable at times and, yes, the effects are atrocious in places; the claws look terrible in some scenes and merely okay in others. So why no hate? Well, what were we expecting? Tsotsi? Haha, not really, right? That'd just be silly.

Wolverine starts off up in Canada, as most comic book fans know, he's always been Canadian. His own comic book origin story cleared this up and, as I've explained to my non-comic book friends a lot recently, Joe Q made perhaps his only good decision as Editor-in-Chief when the first X-Men movie came out, saying, "Look, if we don't clear up his origin, eventually, the movies are going to. We owe it to our fans to do it right." And they did. Wolverine: Origin was great, and I don't know many people who'd disagree with that. They do a good job of interpolating that for the movie, although there are changes, and big ones, I'm not trying to say there's not, mixing some of the best of the comic with some duh changes. If you didn't think they were gonna make the brotherly change, you must have been kidding yourself. Other changes, however, were less obvious and not as well dealt with. Notably, the Deadpool changes. Those were a drag.

I'm surprised, though, that the scenes showing Logan and Victor moving through the various American wars wasn't more well-received, especially given the orgiastic reception of the similar opening for Watchmen that took us through time. (No video available there, obviously, stupid copyright laws.) I thought this was a good way to show how crazily old Logan is, which is an important part of his character.

After that, though, there's some interesting combination of various older storylines. I'm not really against any of the stuff we saw being mashed together, especially given the enormous amount of stories the movie had to draw from. Including all the Weapon Plus retcons was a great idea, as was the inclusion of some cooler modern characters like Wraith, and the afore-mentioned Deadpool (great while he was Ryan Renyolds-ized). I question why the Blob was even there and Agent Zero was a tool, but I never read his appearances, so I'm not going to judge too much. However, my biggest complaint would be the forced inclusion of Gambit. It's clear that his appearance here is merely a teaser, meant to whet our appetite until a fourth X-Men film appears on the horizon. Meh.

Overall, though, Wolverine is a solid movie. No one's going to mistake it for a film, but if you go expecting them to blow you away, you're going to the wrong movie. Go check out Sin Nombre. (Seriously, though, I wanna go see that, too.) Bottom line: Three Stars (out of Five).

Monday, May 4, 2009

on run for the zoo 2009.

You can see the finishers here.

I know I said I would blog about Wolverine today, but that's just not going to happen. Instead, this will be just a quick link, and I'll get back to reality tomorrow. Enjoy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

on swine flu.

From Kate:

Totally unconcerned. Let's all just calm down a little bit.

Back with regular blogging starting on Monday with a Wolverine review.