Running for Your Life: Get Stoner!

It might not qualify as the best opening lines in fiction, and if John Williams (1922-1994) had have submitted this to an agent in 2015:

“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.”

Chances are it wouldn’t have risen up and out of the slush pile. But do yourself a favor this summer and get Stoner!

“Stoner,” the novel by John Williams, has been reissued by the invaluable New York Review Books series, with an introduction by the great Irish author, John McGahern. Here is what McGahern (By the Lake, Amongst Women, The Dark, The Barracks) had to say about Stoner:

“If the novel can be said to have one central idea, it is surely that of love, the many forms love takes and all the forces that oppose it.”

In these days of the shortest of short attention spans, first lines of fiction usually clump in the extraordinarily clever or brilliantly concise, say in the variety of George Orwell’s “1984”: It was bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

But then there are those that catch fire like “Stoner” does, and don’t stop burning brightly until the end, with, in his case, perfectly chosen words in a final passage that leave us in awe of what it can mean to tell a story as large as life itself from such a simple beginning.

Next: Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday 

Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby, Bern

OK, there was once an American national candidate by the name of Ralph Nader. When it came to character, he wasn’t my cup of tea. But talk about political leanings, and there was plenty in Ralph Nader that reminded me of my Canadian heroes: Tommy Douglas, David Lewis and his son, Stephen. Now, along comes this guy by the name of Bernie Sanders. And, lo and behold, after twenty-seven years in the United States, I’m finally feeling political again … Or at least am hearing ideas from a political candidate that, gulp, remind me of Tommy, David and Stephen. Sanders wants to represent the Democratic Party as its presidential nominee. (Sorry, Hillary.) Here are 10 reasons why I’m feeling differently as the presidential campaign warms up, with the first Iowa Caucus set for Feb. 1, 2016:

  1. Bernie cut his political teeth decrying the shame of oligarchic inequality
  2. He feels the media are not to be trusted (Yours truly excepted, of course.)
  3. As a true progressive, he harkens back to the days before the only authentic Democrat was a centrist Democrat
  4. Bernie was one of the first on the left to mistrust welfare-killer, high-finance facilitator, and jail-poor-people-and-hassle-parasites parvenu Bill Clinton
  5. He regards as his ideas mentor his older brother, LARRY
  6. Before embracing politics, Bernie was a carpenter
  7. He’s not a fan of campaigning  
  8. Bernie didn’t own a suit when he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and was flat broke when he entered Congress
  9. Like me, in 1985, he traveled to Nicaragua to support the Sandinista revolution. Unlike me, he was dubbed a “Sandernista” and met with leader Daniel Ortega. Burlington and Managua became sister cities
  10. He played a tiger’s butt in puppet street theater

Next: Running for Your Life: Get Stoner !

Running for Your Life: My Dad on Canada Day

Later this month our family will be marking the 85th birthday of my father, the man who for decades was an integral part of public events on Canada Day in Owen Sound, Ontario. My dad, Bill O’Connor, supervised the setting off of the fireworks, a highlight in the city’s calendar year.

One year the daily newspaper, The Sun Times (where I’d get my start as a summer intern in this crazy business that I work in) did a feature on Dad, with a great picture showing the fireworks mortars that he’d had welded to his specifications. Given other circumstances, I firmly believe my pops would have plowed similar terrain as Elon Musk at Tesla, my dad had such an instinct for construction and science. His destiny, though, was different. His dad and my grandfather died in a farm accident when Dad was small and to help with the family income in those pre-World War II years, he quit his studies before high school.

Until just a little while ago, he’d put in more than a regular workweek, a lifelong dedication – 70-plus years – of providing for family, which he did, and how. But it wasn’t all about duty. Dad loves to work with his hands.

It’s not over, that’s for sure. Because that was my dad in the viewing area of my dad and mom’s new condo home, the tallest building in Owen Sound, on Wednesday night, where he had a bird’s-eye view of the fireworks out by the grain elevator at the mouth of the harbor. You can bet he had a fine time thinking back over all the hard work – and joy – he provided for thousands during those special years.

Next: Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby Bern

Running for Your Life: Reward Yourself

You gotta love that early moment in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” when our hero scoots off in her sparkly sneakers and runs up to an urban jogger and greets him with a smile and remarks, her arms pumping with glee, how much she loves to run.

Kimmy, for the uninitiated, has been out of cultural circulation for a medieval generation, fifteen years, so missed the Great Running Craze, the movement away from running that children do in play to what adults do in a workout.

The active word here is “work.” A big part of what has kept me running for my life all these years – I’ll be sixty in October – is that I’ve kept work and running (writing and reading, too) separate. For me, like Kimmy, running is pleasure … I “work” for a living, in my salaryman life. But that’s where my work ends.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t set a reward for the running that I do. (And not by running with music, because, by my lights, the music lives in the reward category. I know this is old school, but how about turning on your favorite tunes AFTER a run as you celebrate by singing in the shower ? … Just a thought.)

Make your reward something simple. Maybe after the shower, unwrap an energy bar with your “juice” of choice and watch a little “Kimmy.” We can all learn from that girl.

Next: Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby, Bern!

Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday

If only Oscar Wilde were alive. He’d have a few things to say. As even a cursory inventory of what he did say makes eminently clear:

  • A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. 
  • Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. 
  • I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying. 
  • A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally. 
  • True friends stab you in the front.

  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Next: Running for Your Life: Reward Yourself