Monday, April 17, 2017

Both Sides, Now

I've looked at clouds from both sides, now 
From up and down, and still somehow 
It's cloud's illusions I recall 
I really don't know clouds at all.
--Joni Mitchell, Both Sides, Now

It is 3:30 in the morning. I've chosen (and I can sort of hardly believe it) to get up this early and have breakfast. Lately I've been on a kick of getting up early to go out for my runs, and this time it is a long run. I figure I'll allot myself two and a half, maybe three hours to cover fifteen miles. I don't have any idea what it will take to do this. I mean, I haven't run that distance before, but I figure if I can step up my distance to fifteen I'll be golden for my half marathon in a few weeks.

The plan is pretty simple: go out and run up the highway I live on, cross some intersections that have no cross walks, run up more highway that has no sidewalk, and then cross into the town my grandparents live in. At this point, I figure things will be pretty empty, and I'll be good to run a few miles in the country setting, before crossing another highway and entering into the town I grew up in. I'll run down a pretty main road, and then cross a bridge before running back up the highway I live on. Bam: 15 miles. OK. I've had my powerbar, a banana, some water, and I'm ready to go. It is now about 4:15am on May, 5, 2013. I'm 27 years old. This will be my longest run to date.


It is around 11pm at night. Since we have been home, my wife and I have been trying different arrangements to allow us to sleep, but we're a bit reluctant to not have one of us watching the baby at all times. This whole thing is so new, and we really don't have much support, so I'm not sure if any of this is normal. My wife heads to bed and I have the baby, asleep on my lap, as I sit down to tuck into some sweet video game action for a couple of hours.

It isn't long, of course, before she is fussing. I'm holding her, I'm rocking her, and I'm singing. I try to take the edge off, but I'm not really sure what to do. Eventually, I put her into the boba wrap on my chest and she falls back to sleep. There is something so satisfying about feeling my little one pressed to my chest and sleeping soundly. Even if it only last fifteen minutes or so, before I try the whole diaper-bottle-rewrap-singing-swaying routine again to get her back to sleep.


I started running last summer. I hated my boss, I hated my job, and I wanted to change everything about my life. Depression was getting really bad. My wife and I started logging calories at the suggestion of a friend, and then I secretly started using a treadmill. I figured the run/walk thing would be interesting. I don't know what drove me to keep moving, but I started really enjoying getting up early and then taking naps after I get home. Since I started running I found the confidence to go on seven job interviews last year, and earned an offer from one which I immediately accepted. Culturally, it is going to be a much better workplace for me, I can tell already.

Oddly, the longer I run the more I really enjoy the sensation of being thirsty for water. I am looking to plod along my miles, I'm looking to just go out and put in the distance. I've read some books on running, I've run some 5ks, I'm training for a half marathon. We'll see what happens. So far I'm in love with running, even though it is really pretty awful and painful. I mean it hurts. I mean, it is so hard and it hurts. But I keep going anyway.


I feel really alone in this whole endeavor. Obviously my wife is there but we don't have any experience doing this before. My in-laws aren't really in touch with us at this point, not that it is a rift or anything, just a life thing. My family can't really help out, and we haven't thought to ask our closest friends for help yet (although in a couple of weeks I'll break down, pass out, and when I wake up I will call in every favor from anyone I've ever met.)

She's awake again! And fussing. I can't game like this so I shut off the console and sway with her. I put on Debussy's 'Claire de Lune'. This particular video version of it shows an overhead of the pianist playing. His touch is delicate, and the melody is flowing and lovely. Like watching the river as it flows by. I'm not sure she really processes the melodies of the things we listen to, but she seems calmed anyway, and goes back to sleep for another half hour or so. 

God dammit this is tiring -- why did we choose to do this again? And what the hell makes me think I'll be any good at this, anyway? And did I really have the nerve and hubris to think that running a marathon gave me the mental toughness to sit up all night with this living, breathing, rubik's cube of love and frustration?


As I head out up the high way (at 4:27 now) it is still dark. The street lights are on, there are intermittent cars (and semi trucks) but no real people to speak of. When I reach the first intersection -- where I run across two lanes of a normally very quick moving highway -- I think to myself that I have never seen it like this. It is so desolate. It is like the apocalypse over here. I cross in front of a gas station, where not too long ago I was in a car accident, and I proceed to the next major highway.

This one is a four lane highway, and again, it is absolutely deserted. I cross gingerly, almost expecting a car to come from nowhere and obliterate me, but none does. I proceed into the country back-roads, past the old out-of-business cinema. "King Williams Rambles" comes on my phone on shuffle. My feet dance along the pavement. Running is really a lot like dancing. I suck at dancing. I know nothing about it and although I have rhythm I've always been way to self conscious about being in motion in front of others. That is probably a part of the reason I'm out here running at 4:30 in the morning when there is no (sane) person awake.

Now I'm crossing into the hills and the back roads of the countryside. The first embers of sunrise are off in the distance, and I'm still feeling a bit of a chill. I don't really even have running gear at this point -- just an old navy sweatshirt with holes cut in the cuffs for my thumbs.

Just keep dancing into the hills.


I mean, the reason we chose to do this is pretty obvious to me: I really wanted to be a dad. For a long time now, I've loved the idea of carrying on my family's traditions, our stories, our weird little eccentricities. In a patriarchal society, the last name carries on through a man. Well, I'm the last man who has this last name. I want the line to continue.

Since I've been with my wife, I feel that my life has blossomed and grown like an ivy climbing up the house -- we've added more of those odd little things that feel so perfectly in place with my character and existence. We chose to do this because we love each other, and we love our child. There are so many heart melting experiences I've had just in the last year (during the pregnancy, and now in the early years of her post-womb existence) that have already changed how I see myself. How could I have any purpose other than this? To be the father of this wonderful person who hasn't even smiled or spoken to me yet.

The time is now 2:30 am. I'm standing in our kitchen, and the 'Claire de Lune' is playing over the stereo. I'm swaying with the baby in the wrap. This feels just like dancing to me. I've always sucked at dancing. That isn't why I'm up this early -- I'm not trying to avoid being seen. I'm just dancing for my sanity here trying to bring comfort to this perfect little being on my chest.  In another twenty minutes, I'll go into the bedroom and wake my wife up early with several apologies before passing out for my four hours. Someday we'll get better at this? Someday I'll get better at this. I want to be better at this.

I'll learn to live with the crying and the frustration and the feelings which all seem to contradict each other, and settle for the love of my child and paternal instinct winning out. 

I'm just 30 year old guy who is ready to pass out. It is January 2016 and I am a completely new person trying to figure out how to integrate my two selves.


I've looked at life from both sides, now 
From up and down, and still somehow 
It's life's illusions I recall 
I really don't know life at all.
--Joni Mitchell, Both Sides, Now

I mean, that's sort of how I got here, I guess. I'm not sure from where the wellspring of willpower comes, but it drives me to move and also to parent. It keeps me fighting the forces of depression and self-doubt that might hold me back. I don't have all the answers. Actually, I have very few of the answers. I'm just a marathon-running lunatic looking to make his little girl laugh.

Here, in the middle of month 15 of parenthood, I'm going to post this thing. I'd written it awhile ago as a mash-up of my two lives, while I was trying to reconcile my identity. Now I'm feeling a bit more solid in my parenting skills, but I'm also comfortable in my skin as a mid-pack endurance athlete. We'll see where we go from here.

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