Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Producing character

"Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope."

Summer is an odd time in my already odd life. People who have a similar custodial arrangement to mine have different view points. It's standard Texas one for summer in which Kiana spends the longest time of the year with her mother, either two 15 days periods or one 30 day period with a weekend in between with me. I'm known for frankness so I've heard it both ways about parents who are thankful for the break, others who don't know what to do with themselves by themselves, and one mother, the one that gave me the most to think about was that they just see it preparation for empty nest syndrome. 

Until this year, I had actually not stayed in town for the entirety of it. In it's 5 versions, there have been three of the 2 two week period and 1 of the 30 day syndrome. I'm not much of a nester so I'd leave the nest completely empty for at least part of the time it wasn't shared. 
But that's not the case this year since my girlfriend and I are living in sin. We've been doing things to the house still, mostly little decorations and such. And with no races on the calendar, at least not of my own, for the longest times in several years, I've started running more. 

Part of that is what else should you do with your time but dehydrate more by running in
summer? Part of that is that I've had good company in all of those runs. 3 weeks ago was the highest mileage of my life with my girlfriend and my bromance joking around which one was going to the highest (she beat him by a mile in the first week I ever broke 60 miles in one week). Not to be outdone, last week, he and I did 60 miles in one week on the first time I ever broke 70 miles. People keep asking what I'm training for since I'm stepping up my mileage and doing the most intense speed workouts since high school. I keep joking that I'm retired, which I presume means really tired from all the extra fun stuff you need to do. But I keep in mind the study that long distance runners have a higher brain cancer survival rate than anybody including other athletes, the theory being that it's the chemicals that are released in the brain after a certain amount of continuous running (though I fully concede that those chemicals seem to alter other things like how many swear words come out of my mouth towards the end of those runs).

But it's also because I've been helping Kiana train for her first triathlon. It's a sprint and it's arguable whether that or the Spartan Super will be the hardest thing she's ever done in one day but when we went out to try the course on the weekend she was home, she was suffering in the end. That determination and the fact that I am a believer in do as I do not just do as I say that got me to do my hardest 3 weeks of training. There was never a time she asked to stop. We may not always have great race days where I come from but a DNF still doesn't exist in our file and I hope we never add it. I've also done the entire time without music since music isn't allowed in triathlons just to show her it can be done. 

It hasn't all been work since a life that's all work would be almost as difficult for me as a life that's all play. But part of the playing has been actual plays where we went to the opening night of the Wizard of Oz. We even made the donation to be in the official photo booth where of course I had to be the scarecrow (If I only had a brain), Elaine dressed up as the witch with a nod to a little bit of our history. Kiana went as Dorothy. It was raining before and somehow right before seeing an outside play of the Wizard of Oz, there was a rainbow over the area we were going to. Maybe, just maybe, there is a place where 'the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true'. 

Where the balance of work and play should be is a great deal of debate but for me, an unemployed workaholic, I always thing work should be the over riding factor. Maybe it's justifying my approach to life but I think work can be converted into play far easier than play into work. But my parenting philosophy is coming more and more into play and work. It's always give them roots, than give them wings. Part of the reason we're doing the triathlon is in triathlons, you're not really going to be next to someone during the swim and you're not allowed to be next to someone on the bikes (that's for passing only). We went and practiced the course and we did it where she was on her own, primarily. As she practiced, she was suffering (we were much later in the day than the race itself will be cause you know sleeping in is good) but she was practicing with conviction. Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope. I suppose in the original writing it might have all been intended towards one person or community but I think Kiana's endurance character is a big factor in why my hope just doesn't blink. 


Her mom was a creative writing major and is into drama so she's sent Kiana to an acting camp the last couple of years. Before she headed over there she kept asking me what part she should try out for in Alice in Wonderland Along that giving wings approach, I told her that was her call. She would end up trying out for and getting Alice's part. She was on stage and had more lines than anyone else. It was a pleasure to watch her conviction, hear her 'British accent, to see her perform theatrically that 'imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.' Luckily they had a rule that there were no cell phones allowed or video cameras, to let the plays be enjoyed the way they were supposed. It was 20 minutes that flew by too fast but then again forever is 'sometimes just one second."


Soon she'll be home again and just by nature of scheduling, many things will be back to familiar rhythms without yellow brick roads or long rides or long swims. But I think we'll find ways to keep the balance of not running away from suffering or perhaps its better phrased of running while suffering. We'll find the endurance, the character and the hope. Who knows how the triathlon or 5th grade will go but I am glad we've used the summer to build up a base. Carrol said every adventure requires a first step so I trust and hope that the balance of good adventures are still coming up. 




Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Benefit of the Doubt

I think most of us like certainty.... High probability is comforting but there's something about certainty for humans even if it so very little of it exists in the real world . We make days 24 hours when there are exactly zero days in which sunrise to sunrise has been 24 hours. Just like there are zero months that correspond with the lunar cycle or 0 years that match exactly with the solar one... we divided things into clean kilometers and miles and speeds based on that. Us runners run with GPS watches and sometimes find ourselves running in a parking lot up and down till that watch beeps exactly. It's interesting how much heckling I've given and taken for the fact that so many looks of excitement and anticipation are marked by us by pressing a button at the start line. The finish line look of triumph or defeat are awfully similar for many of us, it's the pressing of that same button.

I like certainty too. The balance of utilizing it is certainly clear in concepts like geometry where we use perfect circles and squares to work within the natural elements (where no perfect circles or squares actually exists). But there are laws there like gravity and inertia etc that seem to reflect a universe that holds those rules so well in a vacuum and perfectly inconsistently within the actual universe. 

But I keep trying to give life, my life, my friends lives and opinions the benefit of the doubt. I am nervous about the echo chamber that I see in the universe online and in person where anyone who disagrees with my views or ideas of insert 'religion, political belief, ethnic views, sexuality views, diet, exercise approaches' is clearly wrong/evil/stupid. Because if we don't have the capacity for opening up to ideas there is a low chance of getting anyone to open up to ours and let them dance. Line dancing is entertaining but my favorite and the most intimate is interactive. I am known for being a bit arrogant but I don't have the arrogance to think everyone, heck anyone including my own child would be a better person if they thought exactly like me. I'm not even better for thinking exactly like me. 

That there's wiggle room in life is something I want to teach my daughter. Father's day we went to a lake we planned to swim at but it was closed to swimming due so bacteria so we sat and skipped rocks across it. I had my best rock skipping day and taught Kiana how to do it for the first time in her life. We didn't bemoan that we couldn't swim there, we just went with it and I skipped more rocks that day than the rest of my adult life combined. It even went from finding the best ones to skip to seeing if we could make this one that seemed impossibly big or uneven to skip. We managed more than I would have believed. We've done it a few times since then and I think Kiana and I will skip a few more days together. 

We went to another swimming hole a few days later which had a reasonable big jump. I have issues with heights and with a crowd heckling over and over as old men and small children jumped in I couldn't get up the nerve. Without fail when the heckling however good or mean natured came, I said I promise I'll get it done. I don't know how long it'll take me but I'll jump in (it was a 2 hour reservation). It took me half an hour of standing up there but I jumped. Kiana did it in just a few minutes. We both kept jumping off both the lower and the higher one and did the last one together. I've never hesitated in letting her see me afraid or letting her be. We don't have anywhere near 100%  success but I wonder if the fact we acknowledge doubt is why we're able to beat it. Not sure which one of us draws the courage from the other.

But summer started well with her and I having some adventures. Elaine has joined us for some though not all since she has a real job. But they both did their toughest bike ride ever, one that includes a serious hill. I had done it before them and said that it was okay if it had to be skipped on one of the turns. Kiana did it on all 6 of her 3.5 mile loops the time she went and Elaine did it on all 8 on the time she went. On both occasions I joined them pedal for pedal. For both it was the toughest ride of their life so far but maybe we're all just getting started. 

Maybe is a word you find in my vocabulary a lot. Statistically speaking is in here often and in almost all my public speeches. Doubt and hope are two sides of the same coin. They are bound together and both serve a function. We have negative associations with doubt usually because we associate it with uncertainty or even criminality like beyond a reasonable doubt. Hope is the positive side of the same idea perhaps. That's the trouble with hope; it's hard to resist.  With a disease that the median survival is 7 years, something I'm exactly 4 months away from my honest thought about it are I doubt I'll make 40 but I hope I will. 

I am watching 7 brain tumor survivors right now (8 if you include me) who are all around the same testing results that I am in very different stages. Two are marathon runners who had both surprising growth in their MRI's and are now dealing with the after math of that with new surgeries, chemicals etc. They both give great aura's of positivity in social media and in conversation and at least not there or to me, express much doubt. That positive vibe energy maybe very well what's keeping them going. I've hugged them at the beginning and ends of races before. I hope to again.  There are two others who were full grown adults that the tumor has gotten them bad enough to where they literally had to move back in with their parents at an age past mine (it's arguable whether it's the parent or the child who that's harder on on many levels). One was someone who had done races after relearning to walk but moved at such a pace that they were by far the last finisher except for the nurse and the other cancer survivor who did it next to her. I won the Brainpower 5k that year and everyone wondered why I missed the award ceremony; well now you have an answer. She asked me to come visit her as this was all starting and she was trying to grip her mortality. We walked some together that day even if it was slowly. Now she says we've gotta get a running date together where I'll push her in her wheelchair around the neighborhood. You better believe that run will rank up there with the stroller ones with Kiana. Two it has been stable for so long since it was fully removed that their odds look dramatically better with one even being declared cancer free and no longer having to do MRI's ever again. One is a small child whose the one I have the most sympathy for her and her parents. Cancer is a cruel disease. I am thankful each of us has been part of the other's journey. There's times, in complete frankness, whether I doubt if my sleep would be easier if I hadn't hidden more from this but I don't think so. 

My own doubts created some good decisions along the path as well as some horrible ones. Being careful with time and money when medical appointments were the norm helped get away from that debt sooner, live with more conviction. Being doubtful the resources would ever return made the impact be less and better for Kiana. Being doubtful that I would be around did and at some level still does make me nervous about being too engaged in relationships but I keep trying, I keep trying. Elaine and I are at almost two years since our first date. This year we've been doing more races and runs together. Last week, with this month being the first in 5 or 6 years that I've gone a full month without a race, it was my highest mileage week ever. It was in fact the 1st time I broke 60 miles in week. Not a single one of them was run by myself and I ran more miles with her than I have with anyone in week in my entire life. She's joined my enthusiasm for Spartans, with me having done now both a Super and a Sprint side by side with her. I do the elite heat and then repeat with her. The Beast is the hardest thing I do each year and this year will be her first. I don't have the capacity or time to do it twice in one day so when we do that in October it'll be one lap together. We even did an obstacle workout together for Independence Day. Even independence doesn't have to be done alone. 

We've continued to team up on house improvements. Until recently all the improvements had just been done in the bedroom (insert easy joke here). But now there's been improvements to some of the outdoor lights and furnitures. We've repainted and replaced a few things; not all but a huge percentage of the new bases are gray based and that definitely let to the easy joke of when are we going to get to 50 shades of gray in the house. In fact the most recent one was a new front door which like almost every improvement we've made, they let a lot more light in. I've actually started training with her for this month while Kiana's visiting her mother which led someone to say that it was to show people who usually run with her who her boyfriend is but that's incorrect. Relationships are based on trust; if you don't trust someone you shouldn't be in a relationship. It just turns out I enjoy being around her. 

I'm not going to give up hope but I'm also not going to give up doubt. I am going use them both to fuel decisions like you do in poker or anything involving probability. Hesitation can be good so can full propulsion and you need them both at specific moments. I'm going to keep giving people and situations the benefit of the doubt and perhaps continue to doubt cancer's ability to keep being too big of a factor on any given day. Maybe that's exactly how hope and doubt can work together.  I think doubt is hope's shadow and it's what happens when you have good light. I'll take that as the benefit of the doubt.