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The Broken and the Whole.

21 August 2016

I live between the broken and the whole
But am no citizen of either side
I’ve come to understand a different role

I fought to swim the vanguard of the shoal
But learned when others fly I only glide
I live between the broken and the whole

I once pretended distant shores my goal
Or some lost place as far as I could ride
I’ve come to understand a different role

For I am neither stallion nor the foal
The unremarked corral where I reside
I live between the broken and the whole

Though I have nursed a lost and broken soul
I’ve risen – muck to middle – for my pride
I’ve come to understand a different role

I reach to you, still mired in the hole
And you can heed my hand and still decide
To take and understand a different role
To live, between the broken and the whole

House Selling Progress.

18 August 2016

An adorable young couple has made, and I have accepted, an offer on my home in St. Louis. I’m losing money. The St. Louis housing market never really recovered from the big recession, and I’m going to be getting back about 85% of what I paid for the home. That’s ok. I can afford the loss, and if you think of it in dollar terms, along with the upgrades I put into the home, it means I paid roughly $700/mo to live in the house. That’s quite reasonable.

Of course there’s still a lot to do and have done. Inspections, appraisals, etc. etc.. I will have to have a few additional repairs made, I’m sure. Hopefully nothing extensive or invasive. And then I will stop owning that home and start owning a small pile of cash instead. I might buy a car. But I’m most likely to simply invest the rest toward retirement. And then I’ll be finished with my life in St. Louis. Which makes me a little sad.

Maybe I’ll come back for the marathon in the spring.

How Do You Change Visions?

16 August 2016

I am fond of telling people with academic resumes that there are many other kinds of jobs out there. After all, I have one of them. I’ve had a few of them. My job is, I think, a lot better than an equivalent-rank professor’s job. I don’t have to scare up my salary in grants. I don’t have to teach or be subject to the whims of students. I make a decent bit more money than I would as a professor. And I still get to do interesting “research”, such as it is, and publish my work and present at conferences and whatever.

But I am not an academic. I am a middle manager in a large hospital. If I am ever going to be a professor, it will be adjunct. I was an adjunct professor before. I will probably be again, but I am not likely ever to be on the tenure track, or even a non-tenure track full time researcher. My career decisions have taken that from me, and that’s ok. I am good at what I do, and I work for a prestigious institution with a mission I believe in. I’m just not faculty.

But being an academic and a researcher is part of my vision of myself. And in part because of twitter, and the academic community I’ve become a part of there, I’ve tried to wedge myself in to academia. I do novel investigations! I publish! I get small, occasional grants! I’ve had real academics in my family! See? I’m one of the cool kids.

But I’m not. And the truth is, I had my chance at that world and I was marginally successful for a while, but I didn’t work hard enough, and I left for a better set of working conditions. And I got them. So why am I still trying to keep my foot in that door? Why do I pretend I have relevant opinions on federal funding and budgeting, on grant awards, on publication policy? I am an outsider, face against the glass.

I do that in many communities. I’m not good enough at anything to be an insider. So I do my best at a lot of things and latch on to those I can perform just well enough to seem like a participant for a while. Running. Music. Writing. Academics. Math. Science. I’m not actually adept at any of these things. I’m a poseur in almost every aspect of my life. I desperately want the people who are actually good at these things to think I’m good enough to be one of them.

I am not. I once might have been. Alcohol and indolence undid those dreams.

I can already hear some of the scientists who I know read this thinking, “Oh yes, I have impostor syndrome too.” I am not suffering from impostor syndrome. I have intentionally inveigled myself into societies where I do not belong, and cannot compete, because of what I want to think about my own quality, when it is not there. I am not an faux-impostor. And I am not a real impostor either – I cannot pass for these things I’d like to be.

I am simply a groupie. A person who so admires what others do that he wants to be somehow insinuated into the world where they do those things. Impostors at least have the talent to pretend.

So how to I change my vision? My vision of myself, my vision of the world I want to live in? My vision of my career? I am judged by things now that are not the things I would like to judge myself by. Corporate interests. Management. All those spiky buzzwords we love to mock and disparage. Finding my way in that world requires some heaving involution of my intent and efforts.

I am 42 years old. And I do not know what I am. I have spent so long forging false identities, I’ve neglected the mold of a real one. What should I be? What is left among these untended paths that I can still be? Or should I meekly accept the truth of my life as I have built it so far: I am nothing sturdy.

And I have never found much honor in flimsy things.

Continuing Failures.

15 August 2016

Well, I did not have what it takes to do the 12 miles in the heat Saturday morning. We went the whole twelve miles, but I didn’t run the whole way. My legs had it, but I didn’t. I am simply not equal to the heat during the summer.  My heart race races, I overheat, and I can’t go on. I’m gaining weight, and I’m not feeling fit. I don’t know what to do in the short term to fix it.

In the long term I know: eat less and exercise more. My body isn’t really changing shape as I’ve put on a few pounds, and I know that some of the weight I’ve gained is muscle, because I’m lifting weights and I can see the difference. But I’m also at way too high a body fat percentage, and as I’ve gained muscle I haven’t leaned down at all.

The result is I tried to drag 192 pounds through 12 miles at 80 degrees and 89% humidity and I couldn’t do it. I only made it about four miles before having to walk the first time. The full twelve took us about three hours. Which is a long time to be run-walking drenched in sweat and miserable. But we made the distance.

I really hope we have a cooling trend soon. At 70 degrees I can run a long time. And at 50, I can run forever. At least, I could last year. The marathon was a little warm last year, a low of 54 degrees, warming to 71 by the end of the race. And we did it. If historical averages hold, the marathon this year should have a low of about 38, and a high of about 54. Which sounds absolutely mesmerizing to me.

I am objectively in worse shape than I was last year this time. I’m slower, and I can’t finish long runs I was finishing last year. So I have to work harder. And I have to do something about my eating. Which means, don’t buy any more goddamn peanut butter. Because I can’t resist eating a third of a jar with a spoon and a glass of milk. No more little treats at work. I can cut 1000 calories a week without missing them if I’m just reasonably circumspect about my consumption.

If I lose the 5-7 pounds I’ve put on, and get my short runs in despite the heat, I should be ready to do the long runs even on the challenging days. This weekend the forecast calls for 68 at dawn on Saturday. Hopefully, after a few runs this week, I’ll be able to meet that challenge. Much is mental. But overheating is brutal, and I don’t know what to do except get into better shape, so my body is more efficient and doesn’t produce (and conserve) so much heat at the same energy levels.

I’m disappointed in my fitness at the same time as being proud of what I’ve accomplished this year. It’s a weird place to be. In the past year I’ve run a full marathon, broken the two hour mark in a half-marathon, I ran a 1:25 ten-miler, and finished my first triathlon. And no little kid’s version either. A 44 kilometer, hot, humid beast. I’ve achieved things I never thought possible.

And here I am, being stupidly mad at myself for not being fit. I guess I’ll just have to do better.

Disappointed in my Fitness.

12 August 2016

I have had two horrible runs this week, and one halfway decent one. I did better last week, but not by much. It’s hot. Really hot, and that’s part of the deal, no question. But I’m not feeling right, and it’s visible in my performance. Additionally, my right knee and left hamstring are injured. The knee has been slowly getting better. The hamstring is new as of the last few days, and getting worse.

As fun as the triathlon was, and as rewarding to finish and test myself, riding a bike this past year and replacing some of my running with miles on two wheels instead of two feet has been awful for my fitness. Running is just so much more work. For me, a mile run is work at least three or four miles ridden. There may just not be any way to get the fitness on a bike as there is on my feet. My heart rate won’t spike on the bike like it does on my feet or at the gym.

And so, even though I’ve been getting the hours in, exercise-wise, I haven’t maintained the cardiovascular fitness I had this time last year. I’m heavier, slower, and laboring in the heat. I’m injured more. I really enjoy riding, which makes me sad, because I can’t justify it if I want to maintain a high (for me) level of fitness. It just doesn’t sustain me.

I suspect a biking enthusiast would tell me: well just ride harder! Lovely idea, but I don’t have long rural roads on which to do that. I have city streets or I have public paths. Both are crowded and require regular slowing to share with cars, other bikes, or joggers. I simply can’t get the exercise on my bike that I can running, and I’m feeling the couple-hundred miles I haven’t run now.

Tomorrow I need to run 12 miles. It’s going to be in the mid-80s. And humid. And I don’t know if I have the legs. Between my injuries and my poor fitness, I don’t know if I can do it. This time last year I was putting down 15 and 16 mile runs at a 10:40 pace. None of those days were quite as bad as tomorrow will be. Morning temperatures were in the high 60s or low 70s. The low temp tomorrow will be 81. It’s going to be hard.

BB and I are going to shift to a spring marathon this coming year. The long training runs in the winter will be far better. A marathon in April, and training from January on, will be much easier to manage. Then the fall can be about half marathons and maybe my traithlon again. We’ll see. Right now, I’m disappointed in myself. I don’t have the fitness or the grit I feel like I should.

Tomorrow will be a test. I don’t know, right now, if I can meet it.

What Makes a Calling?

9 August 2016

Reading my friend Psyc Girl’s post about “living your calling” this morning has me wondering, what makes a calling? It’s something I’ve actually spoken out against, in science, but – as with most things on twitter – fumblingly and in brief, unfocused ejaculations. Because I’m not anti-calling. I’m 100% for it! Sort of! What do I mean?

To me, a calling is emotionally inextricable from religion. The first exposure I had to the word was religious – people I knew spoke of being called to missionary service or the priesthood. Being called meant having an irresistible urge to serve God, and to accept hardship, poverty, grueling toil, and perhaps even martyrdom to do so. It meant traveling far and wide, adhering to what was written on one’s sinew as truth, and accepting death rather than compromise.

Religion was not the only realm in which a calling existed though. I soon was given to understand the concept of an artistic calling. A kind of mania that allowed one to do nothing but create. An exultant suffering. Being called to art meant the same ascetic life. Poverty, itinerance, and enlightenment.

Those were the pillars of a calling. Not only being willing, but being compelled by God or from within to pursue a kind of rapturous integration between the self and the profession. An accountant, perhaps, was simply a person with a job. An artist or a nun or a missionary had blended lines where the person melted into the vocation and became a single entity.

There has arisen a culture of the calling in science. Perhaps it’s been with us a long time. Certainly the mathematical ascetic is a stereotype. But now, the biosciences, chemistry, physics, too have adopted the calling as the truest expression of desire for a scientific career.

One must be willing to endure a decade or more of low wages and miserable living conditions to advance to the world of leading a research lab. One must adopt an identity of “scientist” which dominates other aspects of one’s identity and comes with supplemental addenda which cannot be discarded: atheism, skepticism, progressivism. These requirements winnow the identity – with ecclesiastical rigor – into a small field of true believers.

Science is a great pursuit and scientists make critical contributions to society and community. But we have created a religion around it, rather than science simply being a profession at which the adept can labor happily. One must be called, in order to lead a life of science. And once one is a scientist, one is always a scientist, even if one leaves science: it has become an identity which consumes the self.

I am not an academic scientist. I am a sort of faux-academic science engineer. But I am not called to that. It is not my identity. I can imagine changing careers and becoming deeply invested in some other path. I was once sort of on the path to the academic life, but alcohol derailed me. Then I nearly returned to it before accepting the position I have now.

I enjoy my job. I believe in my institution. And I appreciate working here. But it is not the core of my life, the center of my existence. I do not sacrifice for my career, the way an academic must sacrifice for science. My career sustains me. It allows me to do the things I truly love, and be with people I love to be with. It provides me with a sense of contribution and social responsibility. But it is not the thing I love and want to be with. It is not my church.

And crucially, not being called to my work means that I am not a disgrace if I choose to change my career. I am not an apostate or a failure. We have arranged science as a pyramid where those at the top benefit from the labors of those new entries, and those multitudes who cannot, by the constraints of the system, advance are heaped with shame and scorn if they choose to break with the toxic apparatus of academic science.

Being called as a scientist means accepting a miniscule chance rising to the stability and acclaim and rewards of making major contributions, while enduring the much greater risk of being cast out and deemed insufficient. And being told that you yourself must consider yourself a failure if you do not ascend to the rarefied heights of tenured professorship.

So I don’t really want to have a calling. For those that do, I encourage them. If truly the priesthood, or professorship, or artistry is the only thing you can imagine doing with your life, and your vision of contentment is entwined with those goals, then go fight for them. That’s your desire? May you be blessed on your journey.

But I would rather be as I am. Perhaps without so fierce a sense of purpose. But content, and able to find my next path gladly if this one runs out.

One Week Down.

8 August 2016

22.3 miles down, 414.2 to go.

That’s my longest week in a while. I really dropped off my training in June and July, from a running perspective. Obviously, while I was triathlon training, I took some runs off my calendar and added some biking and some swimming. As a result, my total miles this year, compared to last, are way, way down. In fact, through the end of July, I’ve run 200 fewer miles than the same period last year.

On the other hand, in the entire calendar year last year, I rode 523 miles. Which I’ve already surpassed this year with five months to go. And I’ve swum some 10 kilometers this year, compared with about 1 last year. And in both years I’ve maintained a good gym presence, and done at least weekly strength training, and usually twice a week.

But the biking will drop off from here – and a lot of it won’t get recorded because I’m riding to and from work every day but not wearing my watch for that. So I could be adding almost 30 miles a week I won’t be recording. But that’s at the cost of walking. So, higher heart rate but lower calories burned. I don’t know what the effect of that tradeoff is, and I’m not convinced anyone does. I’m sure it’s idiosyncratic to the individual.

My knee is still barking at me, and this weekend’s long run was tough, but I did it at a fair clip. 10 miles at a 10:39 pace. It was cooler and drier, which helped. 65 degrees at the start of the run and only about 72 at the end of it. But I was still drenched in sweat, and the last two miles were unpleasant. After my triathlon, I rested for a week. And before it, I tapered for a week. Which means I basically took two weeks off with a big lift in the middle.

I needed that from a mental perspective: it’s a grind getting out there day in and day out. Some kind of exercise for at least 40-45 minutes six days a week. I generally get in somewhere between 7-10 hours of exercise a week, which seems like it ought to make me a lot fitter than I am. Just goes to show how hard it is for me to make improvements.

But I have been making them. I have done four chin-ups (palms in) and I even did two pull-ups (palms out) this weekend. That is a strictly objective measure of my improving strength. I hadn’t been able to do a real pull-up since junior high. Now, at 42, I did two of them in a row without putting my feet down in between. That feels really good.

I don’t get the same sense of accomplishment from lifting a heavier weight as I do from running a longer race. Races just take more. But I do like seeing the improvement from my strength training, and I feel strongly that it contributes to my running. But mostly, all of it contributes to my overall health and wellness.

My blood pressure is good. My other blood numbers are pretty good. And my A1c is staying below 5.8. I’m in pretty good shape, and while I could weigh less, I look good in a suit and feel fit when BB and I go hiking in foreign cities wearing heavy packs. That’s what I want out of life. So it’s going well.


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