Running for Your Life: A Power Seething

Regular readers – well, actually, even irregular readers – of this blog will know that the posts here rest on three codas: running, writing and reading. There are certainly scads of the first category but not so much of the third. So, rejoice readers. This one’s for you.

The book, that is. By Julian Bell, the painter-author with the Grade A bloodlines.

It’s called “Van Gogh: A Power Seething,” a short, intense study of the massive, intense, all-too-short life of Vincent Van Gogh, heretofore to be known as my emotional anti-hero.

Even the most Philistine among us knows that Van Gogh is the painter who in a rage mutilated his ear. Never an ear bud to be stuck in his head.

Who knew, though, that Van Gogh could write. Bell, for one. And he has an ear for the Vincent Bon Mot.

A sampler:

  • “One can’t present oneself as somebody who can be of benefit to others or who has an idea that’s bound to be profitable – no, on the contrary, it’s to be expected that it will end with a deficit and yet, yet, one feels a power seething inside one, one has a task to do and it must be done.”

  • “His (Jean-Francois Millet’s) peasant seems to be painted with the soil he sows.”

  • It was only through persistent attention to nature, through a reverence for “the true, the possible,” for “a few clods of earth,” that genuine achievement might arise.

  • The best hope for the artist lay in concentrating on a mere “atom of chaos,” in concretely working “to define one single thing.”

  • “Pride intoxicates like drink. When one is praise and has drunk one becomes sad.”

  • The painter may be in hell, but painting is still heaven.

Next: Running for Your Life: Love Those October Days

Running for Your Life: Why Race?

It’s a question I asked myself after the Nova Scotia Marathon in July. And one that comes my way pretty much every other day.

What’s your next race, Larry?

My skin doctor, a runner himself and enthusiast of those reverse-aging types like myself, marathoners who are approaching sixty (the past Sunday [Oct. 5] I turned fifty-nine), has recommended the Jersey Shore marathon (it’s flat and not in a hot-weather month) and I was impressed to see that my pal Marty and his wife Jane completed The Country half-marathon on my birthday. I would love to run The County one day.

I’m still not sure when. Maybe I’ll restrict myself to a half-marathon for a year, with the view to training for a marathon after I’ve turned 60.

When I began running almost forty years ago, I had a simple goal. To keep healthy. I was a pup, only twenty years old, when I landed in hospital with blood clots to my leg, groin and lung. My sudden decline stumped doctors. For months afterward, I was on megadose blood thinners. In those days, doctors didn’t have a great deal of experience with a twenty-year-old suffering from serious geriatric-style health problems. When I asked what I should do to improve my health, they said, Walk don’t run. Take it easy.

I didn’t take it easy for very long. I started running every other day before my twenty-first birthday. I still do that today.

But if I go three days without a run, my left leg swells up uncomfortably. It’s not about the blood clots. I haven’t had a serious clot since 2001. But my left leg has damaged vein valves, so much so that my calf, especially after a non-running day, expands to twice the size of my healthy calf. It doesn’t hurt, because I was blessed with healthy veins that serve as a bypass for the blood that doesn’t move freely through my damaged leg veins. These are called collaterals.

All of which is to say, why race? For years before I run the Brooklyn Half in 2009, it was enough to simply run for my life. Maybe I’m in transition. Race, or not race? Given my health history, this is a good problem to have.

Next: Running for Your Life: Love Those October Days 

Running for Your Life: Runners and Bikers: What's to Be Done?

When it comes to spaces like Brooklyn's Prospect Park, head for the desire paths in the woods and along the man-made waterways. Go where the speed demon bikers can't go. One mowed down and killed a mother of two in Central Park last month. So slow down, put to potential sacrifice your knees and ankles. Because when it comes to race bikers on an open asphalt roadway, they've got a potential killer under their butts.

Next: Running for Your Life: Why Race?

Running for Your Life: When Training Itself Isn't the Goal

What are we but an aggregation of our habits? We have destinies, sure. A son goes to war. A girl is born into poverty in Africa. A child is born to two Democratic-voting lawyers in Park Slope.

Change doesn’t figure in the human story quite the way we’ve been led to believe from our founding myths and fables. We mourn the warrior dead, but yet that path honors sacrifice, often, sadly, at a far too early age. In return there’s color guard burial, Arlington Cemetery in the center of our nation’s capital, still the most powerful nexus of our known universe.

So if change is hard to come by, good habits, for those of us with modest means, are not: eat well, sleep soundly, sing lullabies to babies, drink responsibly, compete hard in a sport, run for your life.

Thankfully, that’s what I’ve been able to do. Run for my life. In 2016, that will be the case for forty years, every other day, at the least, or during marathon training, of course, much more than that. Today (August 31) I ran hard, five miles in forty-five minutes, a pace I can manage these days. It was hot and humid, but I did not stop except to drink a little at a public fountain.

How do you keep at it? You don’t stop. Each day I run is different. For some, I’m itching to go, others I can’t seem to drag myself up and out of a chair. Habit, though, becomes ingrained: like eating well, doing good deeds, as simple as collecting plastic bags that blow in great numbers on the paths that I run; in five miles I’ll gather, two, three, four as they dance on the ground in the wind, and bring them home to be used as pick-up bags for Thurber, our redbone coonhound. You do what you do because you have to. Because it is what you do.

What role does passion play? It’s different. It’s different every day.

Next: Running for Your Life: Runners and Bikers: What’s to Be Done? 

Running for Your Life: Important Correction

If Oak Park, Illinois, is America’s Tree City then Park Slope, Brooklyn, is America’s Discarded  Plastic Bag City; in Park Slope, Black, is, decidedly, a minority plastic.

Next: Running for Your Life: When Training Isn’t the Goal