Friday, July 31, 2009

Saturday, February 26, 2005

From time to time, I pick a martial art to study for a while. When I was a kid, it was Karate. When I was in college, it was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Later, it was Tae Kwon Do. And briefly, more recently, I’ve even dabbled in Tai Chi, Systema, and Aikido. Put them together, and I’ve spent more time studying martial arts & self-defense than most people with a post-graduate degree spent in college.

TKD was the only discipline I studied that offered the breaking of a board as a belt test requirement. This didn’t happen until the test for green belt. The belt level progression was white, orange, yellow, yellow-with-stripe, green (obviously there were many higher belts, but they don’t appear in this story). There were about six weeks in-between tests, and that’s only if you were taking as many classes as possible to hit the minimum number required for the next test. Which is what I had been doing.

The school sold plastic boards which break apart and reattach for practice purposes. I remembered my school days and the teachers who told us that the homework should be harder than the quizzes should be harder than the tests; in order to be fully prepared, you had to train harder than the challenge would require. With this in mind I bought the practice board with the highest possible strength, rated at 2¼ boards. Master Lee tried to discourage me from doing so. “What happens if you don’t break it?” he asked.

I could only think of one consequence, and it was acceptable. “It’ll hurt,” I said. Pain on my knuckles would heal, and the hands are far enough away from any major organ so I knew it wouldn’t ever risk my life. Of all the things I want to accomplish, only death would keep me from all of them. Because of this, I lose much of my fear for a thing if I’m convinced it’s not going to kill me.

Board breaks are tricky. Fear of pain can cause you to pull your punch so you don’t hit will full force. If you don’t go through the board, the energy you put toward it ricochets back into your hand. This hurts, and the harder you hit without breaking just makes it hurt more. But if you get all the way through, the energy transfers into the open space behind the board, and any pain is completely diminished by the flush of victory.

Now that I think about it, this is one of those transcendental truths that can be applied to any challenge.

By the time I was preparing for my green belt test, a new head instructor had been brought in to restructure things in order to maintain attendance and interest for the school. One of the changes he made was to introduce weapons, where I got to learn a little about how to use nunchaku and a katana. Totally sweet, but part of another story (I’ll tell that one later, it has a soundtrack and everything).

The day of my coveted green belt test was a little disappointing. Another major change Master Lee made to the school was that everyone, even the white belts, get to break a board. I had been training there for months, and yet my first board break wasn’t going to be any more special than those who had started just a few weeks before. Undaunted, I kept positive; this was still my first board break, and this test would still be important to me.

Part of the restructuring of the school also meant a streamlined test day. Previously the test days would take a few hours, but Master Lee brought that down to a total of about ninety minutes. Mostly the time was cut by allowing several students to perform their board break at the same time instead of one-by-one. I aided the process by holding the boards for other students, which is exciting in and of itself. When a nervous belt candidate is charging toward you to channel their effort and power and energy into destroying something you’re holding, it can be a challenge not to flinch. Even when you don’t, your fingertips occasionally get banged from a poorly aimed strike.

But when that board snaps, everyone in the room relaxes and swells with encouragement and pride. Holding the broken pieces, there’s a smell of sawdust which adds to the coolness factor. It’s a great feeling for everyone involved.

It was a particularly large number of people testing that day – more than forty. Even with four or five people doing their breaks at once, it still took some time to get through everyone. I kept moving around helping others, being one with enough physical strength and confidence to hold a board steady.

Finally it came to be my turn to break. I went to the stack of 12” squares of wood in the corner and chose one at random. I put faith that they were all pretty much the same, but Master Lee grabbed a different board and handed it to me. I was sure he thought I had made a bad choice, and I tried to ponder whether he was handing me what he thought would be an easier board to break, or a harder one. What he said was, “Do two.” Wha… woah.

I walked over to the instructors who would be holding the boards for me and saw several raised eyebrows. “You’ve never broken a board before, have you?” one of them asked.

“No Sir.”

“Then why do you have two boards?” I felt like a child with his hand in the cookie jar. He wasn’t being rude or cynical, but something about the demeanor of a high level black belt can turn “What are you doing?” into “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?!” I gaped a little, unable to think of anything to say. I turned to Master Lee, who waved his assent.

“He’s fine, he can do two,” he said, exhibiting as much confidence as if he’d been asked whether I could walk across the room without falling down. Ironically, at that moment, I’m not sure I could have.

Four men held the boards for me. I got into my stance and lined up the edge of my hand with the center of the board. I tried to concentrate, but my awareness was brought to exactly who was holding the boards; it was our four highest ranked instructors, aged men of 3rd to 5th degree black belts. Each man was giving me the Thousand Yard Stare. For a moment I wondered if they would remove my heart and place it on a scale opposite a feather…

…then I noticed the utter silence in the room. I was the only student left to test, and all eyes in the room were on me. Every instructor. Every student. Every student’s friend or family member who had come to share in the victories that day. There was I, about to do what no previous student had been allowed or expected to do on his first board break.

I quivered. I recovered. I focused. I took two practice swings for the purpose of aiming. I felt and noted the necessary motion in my arm, made certain I could duplicate the motion with the necessary force.

“Permission to break, Sir?”

“Permission granted.”

Something in my head shifted, and my world became gray. My emotions and intellect dissolved. I became a being whose Sole Purpose On Earth was to drive the edge of my hand downward and bring it back again. The presence of two planks of wood in the path of my hand was cursory. I took a breath. In the smallest fraction of time, my arm snapped forward and back like a whip. There was a loud crack, and the smell of sawdust.

I had broken both boards. First try. The room erupted in applause and cheers.

Later I was approached by Roger, the instructor I had worked with most closely. “I saw that look of surprise on your face when your hand when through those boards,” he said.

Flushed with victory, I let my usual respect and decorum slip a little. “Damn right you, did!” I told him. He smiled, and clapped a congratulatory hand on my shoulder. To this day, it’s one of the proudest moments of my life.

I still have those boards on a shelf at home. They sit flat with the edges facing outward, a jagged gap parting them down the middle like a dark lightening strike. For a time I considered writing the date on them to help me remember that day, but I never did.

And I’ve never needed to.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Culture Gap

It was four years ago I was in a summer school program with the Moscow Art Theatre School in Cambridge, MA. During my six weeks there I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met in my life, including (but not limited to) a young man from England named Joel.

He was nineteen years old, and one of the most intelligent, culturally cognizant people I still have ever met. I only understand British culture from TV shows, movies, and the occasional author, which probably makes people cringe; as an American I certainly wouldn’t want to be judged solely by the standards of the more popular examples of American entertainment. I was continually impressed not only by the knowledge Joel had of American culture, but of those aspects of his own culture that American’s weren’t likely to understand. For example, when telling a story, he’d interrupt himself to explain a colloquialism he knew to mean something else (or nothing at all) on this side of the Atlantic. Considering how much younger he was than myself, I was constantly amazed at how few world wisdoms I had to teach him. He was, after all, more of a world traveler than I’d ever been, had done and seen things far beyond my own experiences.

It was mid-August, and our time with the Russians was nearly over. Lifelong friendships had been forged, experiences had, debaucheries exploited, and the biggest parties were yet to come. I had determined how much money I had left to spend, and further determined exactly how much of that money was for alcohol.

I never was much of a drinker, but it was long ago that I began to align my tastes and pick a few favorites. I tried beer and continued to hate it for many years; even now I consider it my cheap drink, a last option when I can’t afford what I want. Scotch was too rough, vodka was too oily, but good bourbon was like drinking liquid velvet. I’d settle on a favorite and stick with it until someone suggested something I had liked better. At this time my top pick was a Kentucky special called Knob Creek, still a top pick when I want to spend a little extra.

Joel and I were out on the lawn outside the dorm when Raph approached us. He was headed for a liquor store, and was taking requests. I asked for a bottle of Knob Creek, and noted the very odd expression that hit Joel’s face. I couldn’t tell what it was. The ensuing conversation was very short and took some reflection before I understood all the implications, but it clarified what I had seen on his face in that moment was a perfect shifting mixture of bemusement, confusion, and repulsion.

After a few moments he finally worked up to exactly what question he wanted to ask. What did you ask for?” he inquired.

“Knob Creek,” I said proudly. “It’s a bourbon.” For once I felt like I had the upper hand on him, but there was still a severe discontent to his features.

“Is it . . . actually called that?”

“Well, yes,” I said, still not understanding why he looked so confused and uncomfortable.

He took a moment to consider a few things. I never knew exactly what was going through his mind, but finally he came to an inescapable conclusion. “It shouldn’t be,” he said with conviction.

I’ve since come to understand that “knob” is a common British slang for “penis”. I had actually known that at the time, but taken out of context it didn’t occur to me in that particular moment. It had most certainly occurred to Joel, however. I never have discovered exactly how vulgar that word is in England, but no matter how lightly your intended use of the term, nobody will ever, ever ask for a glass of Penis Creek.

But if you ever do, do me a personal favor and make sure you say “on the rocks.”

Train Surfing

Over the last couple of months I’ve developed a new hobby. It’s free, it’s fun, and it takes absolutely no time out of my day.

I never leave work at 5:00. There’s nothing waiting for me at home that can’t wait an extra hour while the smashup of people clears out a bit. I used to wait so I could maybe find a place to sit right away since I have a longer ride home than most people. One day it occurred to me that I sit all damn day, and when I’m standing I spend too much time leaning on something.

When I was a teenager, I leaned on things in cool ways that made me look like a cross of James Dean and Marlon Brando. Or that’s what I had thought. When I finally saw myself in a mirror (or maybe it was a photograph), I discovered I looked like a tubby, lazy kid who thought he looked cool because he was leaning. Also there were pimples. More recently I’ve caught myself leaning on something when I wasn’t all that tired, and I realized I probably look like a tubby, lazy adult with more facial hair than acne.

Since those days, whenever I find something I can improve about myself, I do. Usually this translates to mannerisms or phrases too often repeated. Once I realize I’m saying or doing something with regularity, I make myself stop. Partly this is to minimize predictability (I love keeping people on their toes), and partly this is to keep from being annoying (I’ll be damned if I ever develop a personal catch phrase), and mostly it’s to keep sharp my imagination and creativity. Anytime I find an outright weakness, I work to eliminate it.

So instead of rushing to a seat on my ride home from work, now I find a place where I can stand undisturbed. Usually there’s a free handicapped area in the first car; if not, I stand in the doorway, well aware which side of the train the doors open at each stop so I have to shift as infrequently as possible. A firm grip on one of the many handrails can be beneficial, but not necessary 100% of the time. This fact fools many a tourist into complacency.

Mostly the trek between stops is smooth unless there’s too much speed on a particular bump. The regular riders know where these are and firm their grip on the safety rails with lightening reflexes. But no one can predict when an operator will see some emergency and yank the throttle backward. Say what you will about the capabilities of the CTA, but a fully loaded 8 car train can stop on the proverbial dime, and a suburbanite in a Cubs jersey suddenly gets a physics lesson.

But the longer I’ve lived here, the more I felt disquieted at never getting better at riding the train. Sailors get their sea legs, why shouldn’t a Chicago commuter get El legs? So I began to put this to the test. I loosened my grip on the rail, making a cursory loop without actually holding on. I began to shift my legs like a gyroscope, adjusting to the bounces of the train like a stuntman standing on the back of a galloping horse. My feet have to be placed far enough apart, but with one in front of the other to account for sideways lurches. My goal is to never actually move my feet once they’re set, but rather to shift my weight in counterbalance to the train’s motion.

After some practice, I’m delighted to report this works. I can now make the entire commute home (eighteen stops, forty-five minutes) and never once grab a handrail. I can even put one hand behind my back and hold a book with the other, dexterously turning pages with a thumb. Sometimes I just get into the music on my headphones, tapping out the rhythms on my bag which hangs at hip level. On particularly troublesome stretches of track I bend my knees to lower my center of gravity, bounce my lower half to match the train’s jumps and bumps while keeping my torso still and steady, and wish for a good Dick Dale tune.

My favorite part is watching people nervously watching such a large man seemingly do nothing to save himself from his peril or their own, for if I landed on another passenger my failure would be their misery. I delight in showing them that large is not the opposite of lithe. Time and again I’ve run into the conception that being a big person means being no more nimble than a pregnant yak. I like showing people that a seemingly obvious negative stereotype can be wickedly wrong.

Most especially if you apply that stereotype to me.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rough Week

I still haven’t sorted out how I feel about God, but this week surely hasn’t pushed me in any direction. I feel like my emotional endurance is being tested, run through a wringer. The very day I start to believe I can handle what’s been happening to me, some new element is introduced and things get harder again. Most recently this happened the evening of two Thursdays ago. Curiosity had got the better of me as I sought and discovered information I had previously hoped to avoid until I was ready. Turned out I wasn’t ready. I tried to react and deal with it on Saturday, but instead I learned a greater sense of the shape of things and everything got worse. Much worse.

I spent the next few days absorbing this new reality and getting back on my feet. My world had been spun and unraveled once more, and it was time to take new measures to rebuild myself as a solid and stable person. Sometimes you get sick and have to throw up before you can start feeling better, and I had a few rounds of this state both physically and emotionally in the intervening days. I was just starting to feel a reemergence of stability when a wholly unbidden event happened early Wednesday evening. It shook me, but I didn’t derail. Then it happened again Thursday morning, only longer. Then it happened again Friday morning, with a twist. After that, a word like “derail” can’t describe how I feel without the accompanying sounds and imagery of a train slipping off its track, flaming steel twisted and broken and mangled beyond recognition.

It’s as if someone is repeatedly dragging me to the limit of my tolerance and endurance and dancing all over it. I find myself wondering if I’m being tested, my actions and reactions being gauged and measured and weighed. I’ve been sized up to such a degree my auditor could fit me with a perfectly sized suit or coffin with equal aplomb. But to what purpose? How long does this test last? Am I being prepared for my future, or is this punishment for my past?

It’s a common human reaction to take for granted our fortunes, but we seek explanations for our tribulations. Selfishly we forget about previous days of our lives and start counting our karmic balance beginning only with the recent misfortunes, and we feel ourselves in disproportionate debt. We wonder why this happens and what we’re supposed to get from it and whether and when restitution will be paid. We feel owed, and why shouldn’t we? I’m not the only one who can speak to the experience that the worst days and events of my life in no way measure up to the best. There is no single happy memory that has impacted me in the way the sad ones have.

So I’ve come to a few conclusions. Primarily I’ve learned that happiness and sadness are cousins of creation and destruction. Happiness is built over a long period of time, made up of elements large and small. In a relationship happiness is built upon kisses and holding hands. It is built over dinner tables and glasses of wine. It’s kissing your loved one goodnight, and seeing that face first thing in the morning. It’s supporting and being supported through physical illness or emotional despair. It’s sharing experiences like a restaurant, a walk, a sit in a park, or a political debate. It’s all this and a thousand other elements that take months and years to build, and their slow progression makes it a simple matter to take it all for granted.

But taking happiness for granted can allow happiness to rot, and in the space of one conversation it can all come crashing down. All the building blocks crumble and can never again be used to rebuild. Nothing remains but a pile of ash and debris upon a cracked foundation. A relationship’s worth of broken experiences and charred memories that took two people to construct cannot be reconstituted with the efforts of just one.

Which leads me to my next conclusion.

There comes a point where “why” is irrelevant. Philosophical debates about the nature of existence no longer matter. If I’m being tested or not, I still have rent to pay and a cat to feed. Perhaps I’m being galvanized in preparation for some future hardship, but prepared or not it’s still happening and it doesn’t change my day-to-day routine. There may be a greater purpose, but if there is I can’t see it and if there’s none I’ll never know for sure and either way I still have to clean the laundry and the dishes and the floor. I still have to go to work tomorrow. I still have to find a new apartment and start school in September and if God has a plan or purpose for me it makes no damn bit of difference to these facts and realities and challenges I have to meet every day of my life. Only when the facts and realities and challenges are handled will I allow myself to lament over what I’ve lost, what I’m missing, and what I do not have.

I took our relationship for granted and it rotted and crumbled. I’m sad over it and I suffer for it every day. If I were wise enough to discover the words and deeds that would return me into her heart as solidly as she is still in mine, there would be no effort too strenuous or tedious or painful for me to attempt, nor a path too arduous or dangerous for me to traverse. The pain of losing her and living without her is far worse than any pains I may take in the process of getting her back.

I’m not that wise.

But I refuse to allow my pain and loss to negatively impact the rest of my life. I will not fail to live up to the accomplishments and dreams I’ve borne into reality. I will not lose more than I’ve already lost.

I’ll do what I have to do, and I’ll be proud. Just don’t ask me to be happy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prelude to a Quote

Sometimes the things we want are ripped from us. It may be our fault, or it may not. It may be foreseeable, and then again it may not. That which we lose hurts most when it's something we feel we could have prevented.

Sometimes the things we need are made available to us. Maybe it's fate, and maybe it's serendipity, I don’t know. If I had all the answers, not a day of my life would be lived in misery. And I’ve had more than a few days of misery since I came to this town. I’m certain there will be others.

It’s left to us to recognize how to make the most of what we need lest we lose it. It is by our hand that we appreciate the things we want when we have them, and it is our choice to deal with loss in our own way.

Yesterday, as I was re-watching one of my favorite TV shows, I was yanked forward by the following excerpt. I’ve watched this bit over a dozen times since then, and when I’m at my lowest, I come back to it. I had what I wanted, and lost it. I was presented with something I needed, and I used it.

And now I share it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

One Note Song

It’s been harder and harder to write about what’s going on in my life for two reasons. The first is related to the self-serving notion of keeping a blog in the first place. I started as a way of keeping in touch with the friends I don’t call or see on a regular basis, yet who are important to me all the same. Some people I haven’t talked to directly in months, if not years, and yet I still like to read what’s going on in their lives, and to have the stories of my life read by them. Now I feel like I have an obligation to continue what I started. And besides, it can be both fun and therapeutic for the less tragic elements of my life.

But for the last six months I have been defined by a singular event. I’ve railed against the reality of it ever since, wrongly believing I could discover the means to undo it. I fooled myself into thinking I wasn’t trying any more, but I recently realized I was simply using another approach to do exactly that. Other things have happened to me during this time, important things, but in light of the breakup these other things fade out of relevance the way the evening stars fade under the light of the morning sun. It feels like it’s all I have to talk about. In truth, give me half an opportunity and I’ll discuss nothing else. If I wrote about it here as often as I feel the misery of it all, I’d find the limits of how important the events of my life are to other people. Friends have tried to drag me out of my wallowing time and again by reminding me that I have so much to look forward to, or providing supportive words, gestures, or distractions, and to their credit they’re doing the right thing and I appreciate it greatly. Yet in my stubbornness their efforts have as much effect as dousing a bonfire with nothing more than a shovel and dirt. And so I try my best not to strain the bonds of friendship by complaining overmuch. I don’t like asking for help of any kind for any reason, so if I’m asking for help – or letting you know I need it – it’s only out of the most extreme desperation.

The other reason I don’t get too specific, or speak on this too often, is out of respect for Her. The circumstances of our relationship were such that we needed to keep it relatively quiet (i.e. off the internet) which is why it didn’t come out until after it was over. I will eternally regret that, because She was worth every song or poem ever written about love, honored and respected and cherished in my heart far beyond my capacity to express it. And after it was over I didn’t want any unwarranted attention visited upon her out of a misconstrued sense of loyalty to me. She had enough to contend with trying to make it through the worst parts of our relationship. Through every stage of our breakup and my attempt at reconciliation she put up with more exasperation in a single week than I would have wished upon her in a lifetime.

So why bring this up now? Because as much as I hate to admit it, I need help. As much as I can get. I finally accomplished the intellectual acceptance that it’s well and truly over. At long last I’ve acknowledged that we have less chance of getting back together than my poor heart has been able to take before now. Admitting this fact in my own head is difficult enough, but bringing it up for others to read helps to cement it into my reality. I’ve been lost in a storm of futile denial for too long, and I need to make an emotional waypoint here to ensure I don’t come back to this place in my attempt to stride onward.

Lately I’ve been trying to improve every weakness in my life because I know it’s the right thing to do for myself, but every time I took measure of my accomplishments I’d wonder if that would help in getting her back. That hope – a bastard of a thing to kill – is one of the major things that drove me to keep improving. Now I’ve fallen into the trap of Doing It For Her, and I need the motivation to keep doing these things whether or not she ever, ever comes back into my life.

So I ask you now to please help me. I need reasons to keep going. I need encouragement. The best reason I’ve been able to come up with on my own is related to my time with Her. I neglected the relationship time and again trying to fix problems (most of them financial) that I could have and should have taken care of years before we’d even met. If I hadn’t been doing that when we were together, I’d have had more time and strength to devote to us. I don’t say this to bring up the game of “what if”, but rather because I know that one day in my future there will be something (or someone) I desperately want, but won’t be able to have or maintain if I don’t eliminate my weaknesses here and now. I have millstones around my neck that seem of little significance today, but will later drown me if I don’t spend right now unchaining myself from them.

I need to continue to exercise and eat right. I need to sleep more and smoke less. I need to strategize my spending. I need to find a new place to live (and fast). I have seven weeks and two days before school starts, and I need to be able to devote myself fully with nothing holding me back. I put these words here, before witnesses, to make it easier to maintain progress and harder to lapse into regression.

Suggestions are welcome, encouraged, coveted and venerated.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Quote

“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen—I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkled lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

By popular demand to know its source, this quote comes from American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


“Now imagine your pain as a white ball of healing light.”

It’s been six weeks since I began to burn. I spent four months trying to win back the girl, and it just didn’t work. The fact is I had already lost the battle and picked the wrong fucking time to start fighting it. The blood had already been spilled, the tears shed, the bodies buried and the memorial structure to What Had Transpired Here had begun construction, and that’s when I finally arrived on the field looking for a foe to vanquish. Still I fought bravely and mightily and probably would have won but for the fact that my enemy had already won, gone home, started writing memoirs. I knew things had been going sour between her and I, but I took it for granted that it would wait while I threw my time and energy and effort at solving my personal problems. I was wrong. Finally I realized that by fighting I was only hurting us both – her, perhaps, more than myself – and threw in the towel. I hate hate HATE to give up and accept and admit defeat, but the only other paths before me fed into further despair and damnation.

The anger and rage and frustration and despair built within me for over a week before I figured out how to channel it (other than write, which usually helps a lot but just wasn’t cutting it this time). I started a training program in the hopes that physical pain would trump the emotional misery. It worked pretty well at first as soreness and exhaustion kept me drained and distracted. I set goals for myself to push harder each and every day, and I surprised myself by meeting those goals each and every time. I cut my smoking down from three or four packs a week to only one (which is helping in the wallet, too, since a pack costs from $8 to $10 up here). I’m also experimenting more and more in the kitchen, concocting unique experiences I would only wish upon myself until I get it just right.

It turns out I’m not out of the woods. Two weeks ago I stopped being able to sleep through the night. I can’t fall asleep until around 1:00, I wake around 7:00, and something rouses me at least once in between. If it’s a noise, it doesn’t register. If it’s a dream, it doesn’t linger. I find myself awake with no explanation, just a sense of confusion as I attempt to discover if I’m missing something critical to the moment. Has someone broken in? No. Is something on fire? No. Why am I awake? I cannot tell. The good news is that I seem to fall back asleep in short order, and I’m able to get to work about 30 minutes early and beat the bulk of the morning rush. This week I started cutting my caffeine intake to near zero in the hopes of combating this.

But the heartache has returned. Every moment of every day I feel her presence in my mind. It’s as if she’s standing just barely out of sight; turn my head a little and there she’ll be, speak and she’ll respond. This happens at work, at home, on the street, on the train, in a bookstore, in a movie theater, and I ignore it the way I ignore a scratch on the lens of my glasses. I cannot change it, and to dwell upon it would drive me completely mad. I can only ignore the feeling and hope it will starve and die before it rots me.

So now I’ve made two more changes. I’ve started reading again, new and imaginative stories that inspire me to tell a fictional tale half so interesting. There’s such a joy to be had from reading, hours spent on the same story that take more of my mental acuity than any movie or TV show.

Also, I’ve doubled my workouts. I keep the same rotation of routines, but now I’ll run after each. Saturday, I did my punching routine followed by a run. Sunday I did my jump rope/pushup/sit-up routine followed by a run. Yesterday repeated Saturday. Today was the biggest challenge yet; a run followed by a run. Instead of turning around at the midpoint of my playlist, I kept going until it was over. I made it all the way to the soccer fields at Northwestern University. The ruler function on Google Earth rates this as being about 3.6 miles which I covered in 30 minutes. Then I sat, stretched, started the playlist over and ran back home. Seven miles of gravel, sand and pavement passed under my shoes, and this is just the first week of the new regime. I’m excited at what I’ll be able to do in six more weeks.

School starts in two months and two days. By then I’ll be living in a new home, hopefully one I’ll love enough and be able to afford to keep for the next three years as I continue my professional education. My job has been continued through the end of July, and even should it go no further, I know I’ll be able to live on what I’ve saved until the loans kick in. Slowly I can feel my grief being replaced by a most pleasant, warm combination of pride and hope.

I’m still tender, but my skin is thickening.