Sunday, November 13, 2011


"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them."
- Bruce Lee

Sometimes, in the course of life, we arrive at a comfortable plane. It happens without fanfare, without a trumpeting of celebration. It happens once we’ve climbed a difficult set of circumstances and then stand in both awe and admiration of what we have accomplished. For some, this plateau moment is so rewarding, so unexpected, it serves as some sort of deliverance.

Plateaus, in this sense, are deceptive. There is so much relief in reaching a goal, and so much self-congratulatory joy, that one often lingers longer than one should in this moment. Stay too long, and you risk staying forever. Get too comfortable, and you risk slipping into self-limitation.

But it won’t feel like limitation. It will feel like arriving, competence, it will even feel like skill. Therein lies the deception, the trickery. I’ve been thinking about this concept of plateaus mostly because mine were so unexpected, they felt like relief. So I grew comfortable in my own competence, thus limiting future opportunities for growth, challenge, and a higher resting place with a better view.

Since the Lucky Bucket Run in May, I mastered my 5k monkey mind. I learned the first kilometer is really a negotiation with myself as I ask helpful things like, “Why am I doing this?” and “Why did I eat that pizza yesterday?” The first kilometer is an exercise in mental mastery of the body because the body, by its own intuitive, cellular life force, resists that which is difficult, arduous.

(Photo: A disturbing find on the trail - a skeleton and tail)

The second kilometer is about surrender, when the body begins to understand that the mind is resolute. Body breathes. Body moves. Muscles once lamenting their plight begin to hum with opportunity. Feet adjust to the confines of their shoes, to the pounding against the ground beneath. And the heart finds the beat, the rhythm that anchors the orchestration of physical harmony.

It’s in the third and fourth kilometers that I find beauty. Mind clears, and I begin to look at the world around me with generous eyes. Sceneries seem to embolden their colors. The sound of my breathing, however labored, encourages me to continue. I find great peace in this place upon this plateau of will. That fifth length, the last of my run, is when all comes full circle and my beginning questions return. It feels like closure. It feels normal and complete.

So when my feet come to a stop, and my chest expands with a great breath of satisfaction, I celebrate. I marvel my body as a miracle, as a machine. Then I shamble to my car and drive home, self-satisfied and sure that I have done a good thing.

(Photo: Not everyone gets to compete with bicycles and horses for running and walking space)

But that’s it. The 5k is the same each time – only the weather changes. Sure, I become more efficient in my timing. I even feel a sense that, yes, I really am a runner. And this is where I’ve been stuck for four months, on a plateau of accomplishment and confidence. I’ve been comfortable, so much so, I felt as if I could skip a day or even week without suffering a setback.

(Photo: Light is a lively thing, with personality and motive)

Then one day I woke up and realized that it had been two months since I had set my feet to the path. This revelation startled me, mostly because time passes so quickly and I had not counted the sunsets and sunrises. I had not noticed the rewarding soreness in my muscles – that feeling I was going beyond myself – had faded within a brownie’s bite of flaccidity.

So Saturday, I met up with a Bucketeer and we decided to walk the MoPac trail. We wanted one last long walk before winter, before we’re forced to treadmills and tracks indoors by the unrelenting Nebraska chills and winds slice through our clothes and bite at our faces. It was a beautiful day. We started out in the late afternoon, and I took my camera with me because the light of ending day is my favorite. Everything is beautiful in the golden cast of the sun’s breath.

(Photo: Lone glove of a serial killer? Who was Dana? Who took the tail? What evil lurks in the hearts of man on the gravel path?)

Writers both, we look at the world in similar ways. So we noticed things along the trail and commented on them. A fox’s tail without it’s fox, a pair of sunglasses, graffiti painted on the tree in iconic anguish, a glove without its partner – these all pointed to a dark, central theme. Then the sun painted its best hues, and the bare trees became beautiful all over again.

We kept to the trail for an hour until reaching another town. Taking a short break, we contemplated how much daylight we had left.

(Photo: The elevator was humming with industry in Walton)

“What is it,” Aimee asked, “a fist for every hour or half-hour?” as she pointed her fists to the horizon, noting the gap between the land and the sun.

“I dunno,” I said. “I really need a watch. I’m thinking we’ve got about an hour, hour and a half.”

(Photo: Sometimes light is just a joy, a peeking)

We jogged for a bit, racing against time, before returning to our purposeful stride. The light was turning amber, and it was beautiful. The wind had a kiss of chill, a foreshadowing of the evening’s overnight low. As the breeze tossed my hair about my shoulders, I realized I have been growing out my hair for exactly that feeling when I can feel nature rushing through me and stirring about my head.

Other path people, runners who had left for parts further, were returning. They breathed past us, fluid. It was then Aimee and I noted that some people are just built for running, their hips seem to gracefully swing back and forth like pendulums, keeping their time and grace. I am not built for running. There is nothing graceful about my jackhammer hips. I am built for challenge – we all are. But sometimes I think we forget that the goal in life isn’t to be suspended in some matrix of comfort and competence, but to move, reject static, pre-fab existences, and to make the most of our days.

(Photo: The bare, emboldened by the light, fingers for the sky)

There’s an African proverb I read somewhere (but can’t remember where):

When death finds you, may it find you really living.

And as maudlin as that may seem at first read, it’s an encouragement. It’s a way of wishing someone well; of reminding one to push past the comfortable plateaus and toward the lively angles of challenge. I think this is why I admire Bruce Lee’s mind so much (and his abs – oh my word). He admonished us, “Be happy, but never satisfied.” There’s a call in that to maintain your hunger, to always know there’s something beyond the plane of satisfaction.

(Photo: Aimee on her path, notes the last golden tree)

There are no limits spare the ones we accept as deliverance. So I’ll be on the path again tomorrow, working my way toward a 10k frame of mind, hammering away with graceless determination. Yet, in the last hour of the day when light bursts to red, even that will be beautiful. I can live with that.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


It was Robert Orben, an American magician and comedy writer who once quipped, "Don't worry about your health. It will go away." When I was younger, back in the days when people still used pay phones and nerds still argued about VHS and Beta, I found jokes like this annoying. It was a difficult time in America, when we were burdened with prosperity, the jackwagons at Coca-Cola thought we needed a "New Coke," and Ronald Reagan was about to demand, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." With all that money, with the political landscape flattening our fears of nuclear annihilation, and with our eyes cast toward a golden economic horizon, most people my age had no patience with anything older than yesterday. So when I'd hear a sarcastic quip about aging, I would roll my eyes as if to say, "Whatever, like, that's not going to happen to me."

Flash forward twenty years and jokes about what my mother calls, "the de-crapitation of aging" are real knee-slappers, just like my boobs.

Friday, as I sat in the campus health center holding a plastic bag full of "Feel Your Boobies" bling, my mouth twisted into a sardonic smirk. Looking at the contemporary breast cancer campaign through my aged eyes, I thought of Virginia Slims and the product slogan, "You've come a long way, Baby." I remember when we called breasts, "Breasts." I also remember when daytime television icon Phil Donahue (the talk show king Oprah dethroned before taking over the universe) used his show to promote the "new" laser mammography reliant on "Optical Medical Imaging" (OMI) that would substantially improve the possibility of catching breast cancer (in both women and men) far sooner than previous technologies could. That was 1995.

OMI technology would inspire experiments lasers and thermal heating, and these images would be in vivid color. By 2005, this new technology would be casting "A New Light on Breast Cancer" across the medical community. However, the new technology is very expensive. That's why, twenty-five years after that Donahue show, most women are still slappin' down the mammary mommas onto x-ray slabs, feeling the rush of having one's tits in a wringer, and then shambling home with their mud flaps to wait to hear from their physician. Though machine devices themselves have evolved, the essential radiation-based technology still requires what seems like an archaic fit between a rock and a hard - very hard - place, as this image from demonstrates:

Though the radiation mammography method doesn't seem to have changed much, the public dialogue certainly has. When I was young, breast cancer awareness was for grown-ups. It was one of those concerns that came after menopause, something our mothers had to worry about (eew!). There was an order to the feminine life that didn't even begin, you know, until you were fertile (and therefore a threat to mankind). The order went something like this (though I got most of it wrong myself):

And it was this nuclear, heterocentric, linear progression that occupied a many o' Good Girls' thoughts. People, even women, whispered the word, "breast" and the word, "cancer" back then. So if you were at a baby or bridal shower and all the mothers started whispering, you assumed one of three conversations were happening:

1. The someone's got -lean in close - breast cancer chat

2. The "He's having an affair with a woman half his age"
(a/k/a "The I'm Taking That Bastard to the Cleaners") chat

3. The "I can't believe she gained so much/lost so much" chat (depending on baby or bride, respectively)

No matter what, as a nubile, fertile, doe-eyed icon of feminine youth and possibility, you left the old dogs to chew those bones. Cancer, especially breast cancer, wasn't something anyone under the age of 40 was expected to know anything about. So we didn't. We (mostly) stuck to the order of things. This is why, I suppose, that I found the Feel Your Boobies stuff so damn amusing. For one thing, I had to accept the fact that empowered women were now referring to the Thunder Twins as "boobies." For another, self breast exam was packaged as cool for the younger set. Not only did I get a card explaining how to inspect the livestock, I found lip balm, lotion, and a sticker in the bag.

I wondered if I was supposed to use the lotion while I petted the sweater puppies. Then I wondered what in the hell I was supposed to do with the lip balm. Did it go on before or after? Was I supposed to make myself feel pretty and then tickle the ivories? And why just a sticker when pasties would have made more sense (and fun, really)?

When I got home, I did what most sensible people would do: I put the sticker on my refrigerator and then sat down in front of my computer. Not only did I want to know more about the campaign itself, I wanted to know how this miraculous change in public perception had happened without my noticing it. That's when I discovered two things:

1. I was woefully unprepared for the imagery.

2. You have to be careful when using Google to find the phrase, "Feel your boobies."

There's an official video for the Feel Your Boobies campaign, and I watched it. I watched it five or six times with my mouth hanging open.

Here's the droopy scoop: Medical experts and researchers have determined that the more familiar a woman is with her breasts, the more likely she will be to notice irregularities. You can't just be on a first-name basis with the girls. You have to have a more intimate rapport. For an old codger like me, that meant having to go from calling my ladies Miss Shapen and Miss Droupe to Babs and Betty, taking them out on occasion, perhaps after a glass of Chardonnay and a good movie. They were shy, often hiding in my armpits to reproach my unwanted advances. Sometimes they'd cry the overwhelmed tears of the naive. Sometimes, having once been chaste ladies-in-waiting, they'd blush. But we got through the awkwardness of self-care and respect, and now the kitties purr.

There was once a time when lovers and husbands were the first to notice irregularities in a woman's breasts. Once researchers, doctors, and advocates discovered this trend, campaigns emerged to try to help an American society with hefty Puritanical emotional baggage, accept the concept of really feeling and knowing one's body. That could be why early campaigns used men as examples, and humor, to win over the sort of support Victoria and her secrets can't. Check out this one:

Though breast cancer isn't something to laugh about, the campaigns certainly give one ample opportunity to guffaw, snort, and scratch one's head. Laugh if you must, point, snicker, but know this: Even Ronald Reagan would want you to jiggle your jelly bean bags. Be sure to feel your boobies.

And just so you know, my own story of panic and cancer prevention is developing like a bad tan. To read more about that click here.

For more information, check out the National Breast Cancer foundation's website by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


My next run is in less than a week. I'm doing the Run4theHomeless 5k sponsored by The People's City Mission. Though I don't always agree with the spiritual mission of the program, I do support the free/reduced-price medical clinic the mission supports by courting medical professionals to volunteer their time. The mission calls this "social entrepreneurship" and provides medical care to uninsured or underinsured people in Lincoln without using federal money of any kind. The rhetoric of the mission itself is fascinating in a time when the politicos opposed to a federal healthcare intervention call such care "socialism." I also find the mission's use of visual rhetoric interesting (but perhaps a bit overdone). But these are small critiques of what is, essentially, the only focused program seeking to serve thousands of people in the City of Lincoln.

Finding a cause helps me to determine the sort of effect I'd like to make on my community. This run is just one small part of my own mission: to get up and on with life. By raising money with the Lucky Bucketeer Team (click here to support my run on June 11) that will support People's City Mission, I'm also helping myself. The exercise and training, the focus on giving, and the sense that through a collective effort change is possible, make the sweating on sweltering June days worth it. Perhaps the secret to living well is finding a cause and effect.