Monday, July 20, 2009

Anonymity, Safe Space, and Other Frontiers of Modern Existance

Warning: Much random thought follows. Not sure if it all comes together in the end.

There's been a bit of a kerfuffle at Duff's SW blog over the last two weeks, owing in part to what is largely a poorly worded gauntlet-throw by our busy author and, well, generalized internet obnoxiousness. There is also a bit of a punk rock debate intermixed, but we'll leave that alone for now...it's a separate issue, though, I grant, one of my personal favorites.

The debate is largely over the condition of anonymity on the internet and how we use it.

Duff's initial reaction appears to have been against commenters who post anonymously, trashing bands and so forth (and, presumably, the truly irritating set who insist on making repulsive remarks about his family--when is this ever necessary??). More precisely, he remarked that people should use their own names. Rightly or wrongly, it inspired scores of his readers to start posting under their own names or connecting their RL names to their online aliases (and, often, the particular ones used at the Loaded site). It seemed to me at the time that he was being reactionary--exactly to what I've not been able to discern (who gives an damn if an anonymous user trashes Green Day or whichever other band is mentioned--band trashing may not be any more conversationally useful than any other form of such behavior, after all), but clearly responding against something that bothered him immensely. Fair enough--his blog, his rules.

This blog is nominally anonymous, in so far as I don't provide my name, but most readers know me personally or I self-disclose by, for instance, directing my students here to read up on explications or some other old post. Yes, I realize that they can read the more personal information, and, truthfully, that's fine with me. I'd rather that they know I am human; I hope that the struggles recounted here could be of help to someone else--a student, a friend, a stranger...it doesn't matter and I don't even need to know, but I would like to think that occasionally this blog can stand as a reminder that someone else is out there, walking a similar road.

As it happens, I already use my RL name in the comment section of Duff's blog. This was a big deal for me at the time I begain posting (I felt so exposed), and, since I link back to these pages, it doesn't take much effort to get my first name.

I use an internet alias here, one I've used over the course of a decade or better, and I seldom post pictures that would identify me, though this is more of a "I hate pictures of myself" problem than a "oh noes they mights figures mes outs*" problem, so I thought I would bite the bullet and share one with you today.

Helpful, isn't it?

This gem, as the shirt suggests, is about 20 years old. I'm not sure how old I was...between 13 & 15, I would imagine, but barring any other identifiers, I can't be sure. Since it wasn't in my room, the posters don't help either, though, truth be told, I probably had many of the same ones back at Chez Kitsch. Oh, and, no, I haven't the slightest idea why I have my hair (OMG--look at all that hair! And the grin. Wow...I used to grin???? See it?) over my face...it was likely a Cousin Itt impersonation, but I might have been trying for Slash, though the photographer could do a waaaaay better Slash than me. But, you know, that picture is a pretty good summation of me: T-shirt, goofy hair, and late-80s music--->me in a nutshell (heck, even now). Anyone who knew me then and still remembers me well enough could easily identify that pic as me, I feel certain. The Duke shirt alone would be a significant tell; if the Duke sweatpants (which I am no doubt wearing) were visible, those too would be a giveaway, I wore them so very often, to the immense annoyance of Tarheels fans I grew up with.

But, I don't expect that people remember me. In fact, that is one of the operating premises of my life. I assume that I'm easily forgotten and of such little consequence that there is never any reason to assume otherwise, so I am caught surprised when people do remember me. So, the anonymity here is also an outgrowth of my standard operating procedure--I generally assume that I am anonymous--more or less--in my everyday life, so it seemed easiest to continue that feeling in the online environment. Thus, the exposure I felt when I first put my name on Duff's comment section; I'm used to a relative amount (however false it may be) of anonymity and to choose to violate that was quite scary.

Another commenter at Shakesville noted recently that she uses her real name when commenting there because she spent so much time hiding and dishonest in her alcoholic days, and I can understand where she is coming from there, too. In fact, when I read that comment, I was a bit stunned. It felt incredibly authentic, something I aspire to, but often mishandle. Authenticity was not why I used my RL name on Duff's blog (I guess); I'm not sure why I did, in truth. All I know is that it felt right at the time, whereas other spaces seem to call for one of my two favorite Internet aliases.**

In the picture above, I was as much myself as any young teen is capable of being--in my best friend's bedroom, goofing off and grinning (just trust me--it's there). I was in the safest of spaces--in the presence of someone I trusted entirely, who, in myriad ways, granted me permission to be whomever I needed to be at that time and space, as I searched for who I would be in the great someday. I think I was perhaps at my most authentic in that moment--goofy, laughing, wanting to be the center of attention, but hiding from the fact of the attention.

Such authenticity is harder to come by now. I've tried to be so many different people, according to the places and times and the demands that are made (or the demands I interpret, which may or may not actually be there). Such is the fact of human existence, of course--we all codeswitch. Many people are forced to live in a private hell for the comfort of others--to violate their authentic selves, lest they be shunned publicly, rather than just privately. Imagine living a life that forces contraction--forces fragmentation beyond the codeswitching we all live within.

Got the pain there? That's empathy. Use it judiciously before going on the attack.

It's funny how often we authenticate our aliases--give the stories behind them, mention how long we've used them (as I did above) and in what contexts. These aliases become a part of our authentic selves, should we use them long and carefully enough. The fragments we create in the aliases initially may bind and reform and reshape us as we grow and change online and off.

The online communities in which we live an participate offer us the possibility of expanded communities, greater empathy, and more opportunities to critically examine HOW we can be authentic, regardless of place, space, or time. The trick is, though, not to lose site of the opportunities by turning the comments into a free-for-all (which is what seems to happen, more often than not). Rather than using aliases as ways of naming ourselves and staking a claim for our selves, we too often use the anonymity to become self-righteous and thoughtless. How much better if we used the "second lives" we can share online to expand, rather than contract and attack. We turn the comment sections of newspapers and blogs into...well, how often do you "avoid reading the comments" because you know how awful they will be (I don't for instance, read comments in newspapers, lest I send myself around the bend)?

Duff made a mistake here: he unintentionally pulled a great big guilt trigger on a number of regular readers and commenters, which bothers me more than I can articulate. Within a few minutes, people began posting first and last names, etc., in order to...what...appease him? It's a peculiar trade-off that I've seen on a number of high-readership blogs; commenters forge a community of sorts--sometimes deliberately and other times just by the circumstance of participating together regularly. The blogger, however, operates in a special zone in the community, which will tend to bend to his or her will or outright reject it. A study of this habit in miniature can be seen in the comments from the blog in the week preceding the one linked above.

I don't believe that he intended such a response--he's never struck me as that sort of manipulator (even if he is a youngest child *grin*), but the revelations--the exposure of names--happened nonetheless, even by people who were offended by the remark that commenters should reveal more than he or she may be comfortable with*** the nebulous truth of their names. I *think* (see previous remarks on understanding one's hero vs. taking wild guesses, the latter of which is really what I am doing) he was merely getting at avoiding bad behavior and generalized obnoxiousness--to quote Fred Clark (again): "[s]imply follow the Golden Rule because it will protect you from becoming a gaping asshole."

When we enter a blog, we enter what can be a safe space for sharing, reflection, thinking, and, yes, humor at one an other's expense. We are invited to enter someone's thoughts--a fragment of their own self--and we should respect that. His blog; his rules. But, we should, I think, find ways to encourage each other's growth and voice--help each of us find our inner goofy kid, hiding behind her hair, hoping to be noticed and terrified that she might be, grinning and laughing. Damn, we'd be so much happier if we all got a little goofy together, rather than taking offense, going on the attack, and generally engaging in gaping assholery.



*Props to K. for providing proper Internetz speak here. I'm not yet conversational in the dialect, though I feel competent in my reading ability of such.

**solitarykitsch (of course) and, well, suffice to say that the other involves a long story and Trixter.

***The more I thought about that phrasing, the more wrong it seemed--he never asked for giving beyond comfort per se, though people certainly took it that way.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What I Learned: Running is Cheaper than Therapy

Actually, running is not cheaper than therapy, the shoes, after all, are not covered by insurance, and they alone will flatten your wallet. But, I love the notion. Moreover, I love that the notion is so common--that there are so many of us for whom running IS therapeutic--that the sentiment ended up on a hat. This post was, of course, supposed to be up and complete sometime last week, but it was neither, as it was still trapped in the confines of my head, and I think the ensuing events of the weekend make the delay a good thing, at least in terms of my ability to articulate what I learned while training for my first marathon.

And, yes, I do suspect and intend that it will not be my last. I enjoyed both the process (mostly) and the event (tremendously) so much that I cannot imagine never running another one. Trouble is now, of course, picking one...so many options. Can't afford all of them, but, hey, nothing wrong with a dream right? Big Sur to Carmel and Vienna, I'm looking at you. The half marathon in my hometown is a heck of a treat to look forward to in the meantime.

So what did I learn in this process and why did I undertake it in the first place? Let's begin here, then: gratitude. I learned a heck of a lot about gratitude during this adventure.

G., of course, deserves several hat tips for even putting up with me as I figured out what I was doing, which shoes really did work best for me, what caloric intake I needed to prevent the bad attitude from appearing, in addition to the hours I spent off and running on Saturdays. He even moved the "big breakfast" morning to Sundays, so that I could run early (early being something of a requirement in the South) on Saturdays and still be able to share the weekly bacon-fest with the kids on Sundays (the kids also deserve kudos--esp. TG, who has assured me that he's going to join me on a race next year). And, bless his heart, G. excels at not rolling his eyes at me when I find yet "another run I really, really, really want to do" or wax ecstatic over this running adventure or that one. I suppose the running commentary (har, har) is something of a relief for him from my normal obsessive streaks.

Speaking of which, I do have to thank Duff, Jeff, Geoff, and Mike from Loaded, who not only provided much of my mental soundtrack (since I don't wear earphones, I rely on whatever my brain is processing. Thank goodness "Sick" came out when it did) during training, and were kind enough to schedule a show in Nashville in honor of my first 15 miler. Okay, so the date of the show and the particular run were simply kismet, but it was a hell of a celebration--at least for me. And Duff, who was on the receiving end of more than one tweet regarding surviving "the big one," was kind enough to send good mantras and congrats. So, thanks gentlemen.

And while we are on the subject of people who have cheered me on from afar and put up with occasional panicked twittering on the subject, my buddy Mad has been a lifeline of understanding and advice. As ever, Mad, thank you--and I wish we were closer; I'd love to run one with you. Rhyte and DD also cheered from afar, and I am most grateful that DD took the chance to email me back in April. I'm so glad to have met you both. Rhyte--you'll rock in October, lady. Keep running!

Locally, I have my running buddies (someday we'll all manage to run together, eh?) J and K, who rock my world and are always way more hopeful about my chances for success than I am. Add to them the tremendous emotional support I got from the office cheering squad--Kelly, Jill, Charles (P.E. profs are so awesome!), Amy, Diane, Chris, Penny, and Sara (who never fails to ask how the morning run went), and the folks from both campuses and from church who followed my progress on race day. Thank you all.

Thank you, too, to the guy who pulled over to make sure I was okay when I fell this weekend, mid-run. I was, or thought I was, but I appreciated your kindness so very much as I dusted my wounded pride and knee. As it turns out, the spill was a bit more significant than I thought at the time. Seems I bruised my ribs, having fallen on the titanium plating that constitutes my right elbow and Humerus. *Sigh* But, I am grateful that this was my first fall--grateful and amazed, given the level of clumsiness that I operate at regularly (see titanium plate mention above. Me and Rollerblades. Terrible combination).

Thank you to the dogs who joined my runs and made me laugh--especially my boy George, who followed me home and stayed. George can also be credited with making me more attentive to my world, which allowed me to see young Agnes in the road; I'm grateful to have such a sweet (usually) young kitten around the house. And, of course, many thanks to the event planners for the Seattle Rock N' Roll marathon, who did such an incredible job.

To my fellow runners--thank you. The guys who recognized me as a newbie and gave me a pep talk before the run. The woman behind me who actually said that this was her "recovery marathon" (she'd run one the week before)--yeah, call me awestruck. The woman who remarked that "we're still in fucking Tukwila?" somewhere along the line. The guy who pointed out the bald eagle in Seward Park, and the guy dressed as Dee Snider (so rocked). And, the spectators throughout, who cheered and occasionally brought out the garden hose to cool down those who wished to do so. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this particular tribe of folk for a while.

My final thanks go to the volunteers who staffed the water stations during the marathon. 25,000 runners means that not only do the planners have to do their job in getting everything arranged, but they rely on the kindnesses of volunteers to stand on the roadsides with water and sports drinks and the occasional GU packet--and SCORES of volunteers are needed to make it work. As I ran through Tukwila and Seattle and the more tired I got, the more I looked forward to seeing their smiles (and, yes, the hydration they were about to bestow). It was difficult to remember to look up and say "thank you," but it also seemed important to do so. I recall thinking about communion services during the run--the sharing of bread and cup--this is exactly what the volunteers were doing. They gave of themselves to help others; they provided sustenance and, in effect, sanctuary for people they did not know and would likely never know. They performed the art of sharing at the table magnificently. I was touched and grateful and delighted to see the action of compassion on the part of volunteers and gratitude on the part of runners. I tried to carry that back to church last week, when I led at the table. Gratitude and compassion as verbs--actions you perform, not just emotions you feel.

For 25,000 runners, there were 25,000 reasons to run. She might of been celebrating her love of the endorphin rush, but the guy beside her in mile 10.5 was celebrating his overcoming of fear. He was running his 125th, and the other guy his first. She was running in honor of her 10 years in remission, while the woman three feet behind her was running in memory of her daughter. Scores of people. Scores of reasons for being there. At least one of us on the course was celebrating 140 days sober, though she couldn't have given you that day count at the time (and had to look it up a few moments ago to check). Whatever our reason for being--we were there: we celebrated together, shared at the same tables, and yanked ourselves along the same finish.

Why did I run? Well, initially it was just a way to keep sober. I felt awful, angry, undisciplined, and a plethora of other emotions at the time I decided to regain control of my life. I hated that I was unable to learn to be a "good drinker"; at the time, I was perhaps as upset about that as the lack of control. I felt like a failure. I was depressed (the ups and downs have not gone away of course, but they have begun to moderate at this point). The decision to run in a marathon was, perhaps, a desperation move, but it provided a goal and a distraction. Eventually, the practice brought discipline and calm. In the end, it provided excitement--and, as Mad put it, it is damn difficult to think yourself worthless and incapable when you complete 26.2 miles.

I am an addict and that will never change. I can choose to give in to the demonic side of that condition or I can choose to redirect its obsessive energies into a different kind of high (though, Rev. Dean did point out that this too can go overboard--he promises to stage an intervention if I start showing signs of anorexia. He was joking at the time (I think), but I'd rather like to hold him to that--I'll keep an eye on me, but it sure helps to have friends who are willing to do the same and make note of when my feet are too much in the fire, especially when I'm led astray by my other beautiful disease--my OCD). I am so delighted to have found a way to make my potentially (and often) negative exceptionalism (the OCD) positive. Running is a good thing. Marathons are fabulous.

Even injured, I can see the wonder and excitement, and I look forward to running again (tried this morning. Made it only .5 mile before having to walk the rest). Even a few months ago, I would have castigated myself for the fall and the inability to recover quickly--but, you know what? I'll get there--it will take time and it will require relying on others on occasion, but I can do that.

I ran 26.2 miles. I can do anything.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seattle Striding, or Toenails are for Sissies

Took a bit o' time off from blogging (and training) in order to...

well, I'm not really sure what I did. The living room is painted, and the work is largely complete, but beyond that?

Oh yeah, I walked the dog. Much dog walking in the last week or so.

So, the marathon. The image below captures the finish line and the view of the Viaduct on which we ran the latter half of the marathon. Oh, and the lovely skyline and port too (see how lovely the day turned out to be??).

It was wonderful, in a word. I was relatively confidant that I could finish it from fairly early in the race, which was a most excellent feeling. And I did finish, not only upright (the stated goal) but running. I even ran the SOB final hill at mile 25 (race planners--you are all cruel, evil humans, aren't you?).

The Flight to Seattle
As per normal, Delta hosed the day by delaying our flight by three and a half hours. Saw yet more of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Was not pleased, but we did finally arrive in Seattle at about 9:00 pm local time, at which point we settled for dinner at the hotel. Had a veggie Philly-cheesesteak. Yum.

We spent Friday touring Seattle, trying to make sure I didn't walk too much, but that I did get to at least stretch the ole legs, which had been crammed into the minuscule space for the "average size person" (um, yeah, if you mean an eight-year-old. Sure.) in the economy section the day before. We went to the Marathon Exhibition, picked up the race packet and some trinkets, and, because I refused to fly across the country with them, several GU packets. Saw the Sci-Fi museum (you had to know we'd go there) and the Music museum that inhabits the same building (excellent Seattle music room, there. Loved it.). Ate at a tiny cafe next to the museum and drove around Seattle a bit, checking out some of the race course, making the pilgrimage to the REI mothership, and hunting down a grocery store. We had dinner at the Pink Door at the Public Market--good pasta, EXCELLENT coffee. Also found Elliot Bay Bookstore, which is the very stuff of my dreams, and I wandered about its wonderfulness, finally selecting a Tom Robbins novel (Still Life with Woodpecker--love it. Always love my Robbins) and the first Sookie Stackhouse novel, which I cannot recall the name of and refuse to look up because I already wasted enough time on that book, thank you. At least she's honest in her vampire porn pretensions.

The Race Run (not racing, really, after all):

Saturday dawned, well, frankly, my day dawned before dawn, as I got up at 4 am to wolf down the requisite bagel and peanut butter and banana (yum), so we'll go with "Saturday dawned dark" or "Saturday finally dawned about an hour after I got on the shuttle". I wandered out of the hotel, appropriately dressed (surprising at that hour), and headed for the shuttle bus pickup site, which was on the other side of Safeco Field from my hotel. The line of school buses would have made a teen quiver in fear. Said shuttle took us to Tukwila, which is where the marathon was due to begin....in two hours. I met some interesting folk, including Elmer from Panama, who was running in the 7th corral (I was in the 27th of 30 some odd corrals, for reference) and for whom this was the 40th or so marathon. He immediately pegged me as a newbie and gave me a great pep talk. Thanks, Elmer!! One gentleman behind me was also running his first (in his case, the half marathon) and the other was on his 125th. Yes, you read that correctly. 1-2-5. He's 65 and has been running for 19 years. Do the math--that's a holy hell bunch o'marathons in 19 years. Needless to say, I was impressed.

We arrived at the gathering area at about 5 am. Did I mention yet that it was farking cold that morning? No? Well, it was. Farking, I tell you. Farking.

Only a few organizational glitches, nothing serious, and scores of Porta-pots (company name: Honey Pot) made for a pleasant wait in Tukwila. The sun finally deigning to rise made it even more pleasant and reduced the general shivering, which was so great with 25,000 runners that it threatened to generate an earthquake in the area. They called for people to line up in the corrals at 6:30 am. We listened to the music and waited (and waited and waited and waited). The drummer of Presidents of the United States of America was running, as was a guy who had recently run a half marathon in 64 minutes.

Yeah. That was 64.

My corral started about 45 minutes after the gun (see here for an explanation of wave starts, which are a good thing with 25,000 folks). I was more excited to see the start than I would have imagined being; finally, after all that work...it's here. And, as one of the DJs pointed out (rightly, I think), this was not the finish line, this was the party after all the training. For some reason, that totally resonated with me and kept going through my head during the run.

The course was far flatter than one might imagine for Seattle; it seemed to be a good one (sayeth the newbie) . The hills were few, and while steep, they were totally manageable. I was treated to some gorgeous scenery too, such as the turn into Seward Park, which almost made me stop running just to look. The weather turned out to be absolutely perfect--low 70s and sunny (the pictures here were taken over the next day, so they don't reflect all the beauty of the day's run--oh, and the shot of Rainer is from the Tacoma side here, not the Seattle side). Saw a bald eagle in the park (very cool) and, because it was sunny and clear, Rainer was quite visible from the bridge we ran across on Lake Washington. That is one incredible piece of mountain volcano, there. Very beautiful. Though, it did give me pause...people climb that sucker on purpose. Awe. Complete and total awe.

Saw some very interesting folks and phrases along the way. One woman had affixed to her shirt that she was celebrating 10 years of remission from cancer (woohoo!); I congratulated her as I ran by--she was awe-inspiring. A young fellow, about 70 or so, had a sign pinned to his shirt that read "Expected Finish Time: Tuesday. About noon." Loved that. Also loved, as is mentioned in the post title, the hat that read "Toenails are for Sissies." Having donated two (and possibly three) to the cause, I totally agree. Thank you to the LA Racer who wore that and made me giggle.

Returning to Safeco field, we lost the half marathoners and continued on to the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which we ran out to the bridge over Union Lake and then returned on. Miles 18 through 22 were, as expected tough, but I was greeted by such kindly smiling faces (yes, I know they were thinking something along the lines of "oh, that poor fool," but let me live in this one a bit), that I did pull myself through those and onwards to the last mile, where I found a hill. I grew up around sailors and never have I heard the colorful language that decorated that hill before...again, I'd have to call it awe inspiring. I did, however, run the hill (go me and the local hill training). Upon cresting the hill, what did I find but the band playing Faster Pussycat's "Bathroom Wall." Yes, yes, my life is good.

And, I finished the race--5:36:21, about what I expected. So, *grin*. Here's me in all my race completion glory (and all the associated stuff--I look like I'm ready for a day's hike with all the gear--the medal, however, is groovy). Please ignore how incredibly awful I look--remember: post-marathon. Dragged my exhausted tail back to the hotel, cleaned up and read for a while, then wandered off to dinner at Etta's (crabcakes, yet more yum). In short, I had a blast that day. My new marathon goal (and never did I imagine saying anything like that) is to complete one in under 5 hours. Since this is getting a tad long, I'll break the post here and post the rest, which will cover what I have learned in this process, on Thursday. I will let the cat out of the bag that I enjoyed this adventure so much that I'm doing it again--sort of. On the Friday before the marathon, I signed up for the Rock N' Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, so I get to run in my hometown two days after I turn 34. Woohoo! Started training again yesterday...here we go!