Thursday, November 27, 2014

Expecting the Worst

Recently, I read an article about the seven habits of chronically unhappy people. Most of these kinds of articles tend to be written for middle to upper-class white citizens living in the United States, but there were some very good points in this particular article. It definitely generated quite a stir with hundreds of people commenting on it.

A lot of the advice given on how to address these unhealthy habits was common sense, but simply pointing out the habits was enough to get me thinking. The article clearly stated that most people go from being happy to unhappy fairly regularly, and that's normal. Unfortunately, some people live in a constant state of worry and unrest. Many of the people commenting missed the part about some ups and downs being fine as long as you can figure out ways to avoid getting sucked under. What was more important to me was addressing the thinking around the habits and how important it is to be aware of why some of us tend to slip into these unhealthy habits in the first place. If nothing more, it's always good to take a look at our core beliefs and how they affect us.

On a side note, I can't stand the word victim. When people talk about playing the victim, it implies that pain and hurt are not real, and feelings are being denied. Yes, there are people who do see themselves as the victim, but it's important to consider why that happens. It seems victim is a word that's overused, misunderstood and misused.

A lady once told me that every woman, even those living in third-world countries, should stop playing the victim, because everyone has the ability to change his or her circumstances. She went on to claim that she hated feminists. Sure circumstances can change, but I have a feeling she would be singing a slightly different tune if she had no money, no transportation, no way of attending school and no support from her family or the community. It's weird how we become so complacent in this country but expect others to just change, buck the system and go against fixed and ingrained laws that are punishable by death or, at minimum, a dose of burning acid to the face.

What I'm finding more and more, whether it's people discussing feminism, Ferguson or heath care, is that the human element seems to be missing. We get so caught up talking in abstract terms, we forget there are real people involved in the issues. I am sure the internet has a lot to do with this. Human connection seems to be slipping away, even as we electronically network with more and more individuals.

I'm jumping around a bit, but hang with me here.

The other day, I got into a facebook debate. It had to do with a video in which a woman walked down the streets of New York receiving catcalls over many hours of filming. One person in the debate believes that it's the responsibility of the person receiving the mostly negative, sometimes threatening attention to suck it up and not be affected. Words are, after all, merely sounds that can't actually hurt anyone. As you can imagine, I am not of this opinion. It ended up being quite the debate.

What bothered me most about the whole thing was the bullshit Boulder spiritual woo this guy spouted. I think he was trying to sound smart, because he kept insisting that everyone was stupid while he demonstrated that he had no real understanding of anything science related. Go for the low blow when you have nothing of substance to say, I guess. It's upsetting that people like this are in a position to act as mentors to others. Apparently, he works as a life coach.

I'm all for positive thinking, but people here take it to an absurd level. There's a lot of talk about manifesting and "no negative energy in my sacred space" while the very people who spout these beliefs inflict their judgment and negativity on others. Hey, as long as you're happy, it's all good, right? Yeah, yoga-apparel-wearing, snotty lady, when you glare at me for simply walking by, snub me when I smile and say hello or make nasty comments about my appearance, you're not exactly being positive or nice. In fact, you're being pretty awful. Same goes when you call me stupid, oh so spiritual guy.

My concern is that people buy this shit. If you present anything in a pretty enough package and toss out enough new age rhetoric, people seem gullible enough to believe it. I have a friend who's smart, together and grounded, yet she goes to these charlatans who talk about quantum physics, even though they have no science background. They tell her that if she used the power of her mind, she really could put her hand through a wall, because, you know, there's so much space between atoms. That sounds really exciting, but it's just not accurate. Maybe if electrons sat still and all forces between atoms were eliminated, you could walk through a wall, but the world as we know it would also probably fall apart. But people take a teeny bit of truth and skew it in order to control others...and get money, of course. And people lap this shit up. It's sad. I'm sure some of the people who preach believe what they are saying, but my guess is the majority of them know more about the right terms to use to get people to cough up some dough.

In terms of being happy, finding the perfect pill, the next big self-help breakthrough or the best fad diet probably won't make you happy. If we constantly search for happiness outside ourselves, in a partner or shopping sprees, we probably won't find it. Things may seem different on the surface, but ultimately happiness comes from within.

But I'm not so sure we have to constantly assess our state of being in order to be happy. Sometimes I think it's better to be living and feeling than to be happy. Sometimes choices that are right don't lead to happiness at all. Sometimes achieving great things doesn't lead to happiness, and that's OK. I think we would all be better off if we focused more on how to be a part of the world and dropped the Hollywood idea that we have to be happy. Life isn't always fun. My goal in life is to be a better person, not to always have a smile on my face.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Short Story

Get 40% off You Can't Use Your Cell Phone in Here, a book of short stories by Kevin Beck and Lize Brittin on Smashwords:

Coupon good through Dec 3rd 2014. Coupon code:  TU77P

Here is an excerpt from one of the stories, Missing the Big Lebowski.

His roommates called him crazy. They didn’t understand why Brent ran long distances. Even his fellow runner friends didn’t understand why he was drawn to ultramarathons -- races exceeding 26.2 miles and typically held over challenging off-road terrain. To them, it was a sport only people who weren’t right in the head did, but Brent felt driven to run. He wasn’t crazy.
Unlike some professional athletes -- Brent had won the prestigious Alamosa 50-Miler three years in a row, twice setting a course record -- he found balance in his life. He was on his way to a master’s degree in physical therapy, worked part-time at the Boulder Bookstore and raced ultras well enough to be sponsored by Pearl Izumi along with a number of nutritional-supplement companies. He had his shit together, even if he occasionally slid toward the extreme side of things -- an occupational hazard for an ultra type.
With his curly blond hair, his enchanting, almost otherworldly light-blue eyes, and a body that had not a trace of fat yet wasn’t runner-emaciated, Brent had undeniably great looks to complement his sharp wit and compassionate nature. Nevertheless, he didn’t have a girlfriend. He occasionally went on dates, but he was more interested in achieving his athletic goals than in committing to a relationship. A lack of time and a fear of being restricted kept Brent perpetually single, and while his friends urged him to try online dating or otherwise meet someone new, or explore his options with the ladies he’d already met, he never thought it strange that he had no desire to be overly involved with someone of the opposite sex. Even though Brent was very open-minded and had once come close to having a drunken sexual experience with a guy in his Tuesday night running group, he never questioned his sexuality and wasn’t interested in a relationship with a man either.
Brent put his energies into running, work and school. He was no hermit, though, and enjoyed going out for a few beers with his friends now and then. He also wasn’t completely uninterested in sex, but he rarely brought anyone home with him. When he did, it was usually his friend Tracy, who understood that a relationship with him wasn’t in the cards. She was just as busy as Brent with her job as the vice president of operations at the local animal shelter, her volunteer position at Every Pet Veterinary Clinic and training for triathlons. Tracy appreciated whatever time she and Brent could spend together. When she occasionally had twinges of desire for something more, she reminded herself that a more substantial bond wasn’t possible. Brent was in the same boat with his feelings. He liked Tracy, but generally ignored entertaining any thoughts of a committed relationship.
On most Saturday mornings, Brent liked to get up early and head to the high country, where he would spend hours running on the mountain trails. He would fill his hand-held water bottle with a mixture of CarboPro and water, and pack a cooler with energy bars, apples, juice, extra water and pretzels. His two roommates, Greg and Travis, were usually asleep when he left, often crashed out in the living room where they spent many hours smoking, drinking and slipping into deep conversations. Those two liked to party, but they did so in a level-headed way, never letting their fun interfere with school or work. Greg was an undergrad studying English literature and Travis was in graduate school studying applied math. It didn’t bother Brent that the house usually reeked of pot. Greg and Travis respected their roommate and made sure to keep the windows open, so the smoke didn’t waft his way, even if the smell of herb lingered.
This Saturday was a little different, because Brent had stayed out late the night before, drinking a few beers with friends after dinner at Perry’s Bar on the mall downtown. He didn’t fret about getting up late and enjoyed a rare leisurely breakfast of pancakes instead of his usual quick power breakfast of yogurt, fruit and toast.
While Brent ate, he thought about where he would do his long run. The higher mountains seemed like a good option since he had the day off from work.
Springtime meant unpredictable weather, especially in the high country where electrical storms could appear out of nowhere, but the forecast showed a string of warm, mild days and clear nights for the next three days. It was unlikely that an unexpected disturbance would roll through the area. There would be snow on the ground up high, but that wasn’t a deterrent for a mountain runner like Brent. He was used to running in all conditions and didn’t mind being active in cooler temperatures.  
Two years earlier, Brent was training in the mountains one afternoon with Maddie, the third-place woman in the Leadville 100 in 2001, and Josh, one of Brent’s occasional training partners. The trio made it to Rogers Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area just as some dark clouds were sneaking over the top of the mountain. The small group didn't linger at the highest point along the route, doing a quick about-face once they reached the halfway point of their run. Brent usually liked to take his descents nice and easy, a slow jog down the trail to recover from the tough ascent, but on this day all three runners knew they were racing the approaching storm. Brent noticed their pace quicken as thunder rumbled in the distance and the sky went from piercing blue to black.
Nobody said anything after Josh mentioned that they needed to hurry down. As they departed the apex of their journey, they turned their attention to their footing on the rocky trail. Josh led the way and Maddie followed, with Brent bringing up the rear. Just as the timberline came into view, the first big clap of thunder sounded right near them. Brent jumped and instinctively flinched, ducking his head as if that would do anything against the wild elements of nature. As soon as he had regained his composure, he continued running, keeping Maddie and Josh in sight.
Shortly after the three of them reached the nominal safety of the trees, lightning burst in the sky, seeming to surround them in a violent flash. Brent felt goosebumps erupt over his skin. He admitted later that he had been scared. They continued their mad dash down the mountain as the angry sky unleashed all its fury, first dumping buckets of water, then releasing pellets of hail. The lightning and thunder continued until the threesome finally reached the parking lot, wet and cold but safe from the storm.
Brent dove into the car after Josh and Maddie and immediately turned on the heater, which seemed an odd thing to do in the middle of July. It was still dark all around. Brent and his running buddies let out some nervous laughter and talked about how crazy their experience had been. This would stick in Brent’s mind as one of his most memorable runs.
The short drive to Boulder brought them through the darkness and back into sunny weather. Brent, who hadn’t grown up in the mountains, was amazed at how quickly the weather could change at high altitude. He was always prepared, though, and would never think of testing fate by heading into a storm or running alone in unfamiliar territory.
Brent’s plan was to head North to Lyons and then up to Longs Peak. He figured he would run up from the Longs Peak Trailhead and head toward Chasm Lake. In the summer, when the trails were clear, he could head up the back side from the YMCA campground for a longer run. From the Ranger Station, it wouldn’t be too long of a journey for an ultra guy -- about nine miles round trip if he made it that far -- but with the snowpack on the trails, the incline and the altitude, it would be a solid workout. He could usually complete the run in less than two hours. If he felt up to it, he could wander down from the lake and up toward the peak if conditions allowed and he felt up to it. If he stopped on his way back to Boulder for a bite to eat at his favorite little Nepalese restaurant in Lyons, he could make it back home before 8 p.m, in time to shower and get ready to meet his buddies. Greg had mentioned that he and a few friends from school were going to see the cult classic, The Big Lebowski, which was playing at the Boulder Theater at 9 p.m. Brent had said that he would be there, barring any unforeseen delays.
Brent wasn’t worried about doing his run alone. He had made this trip countless times before, though only a few times this late in the day. Still, he looked forward to getting his body moving, whether it was a morning, afternoon or an occasional night run. As an ultrarunner, he rarely did double daily workouts and amassed the bulk of his weekly mileage in two long runs each weekend.
At 11:45 a.m., Brent changed into running shorts and a T-shirt and shoved a wind jacket, hat, gloves, a long-sleeved T-shirt, running pants, flip-flops and one extra pair of running shoes into a backpack. He slipped into his running shoes and tied the laces loosely, grabbed the backpack and scribbled a note to his roommates that read: Went for a mountain run. See you tonight. B.
After taking a moment to mentally review a short checklist of items he might need for the day, Brent tossed his cooler full of food and drink and his backpack full of clothing onto the back seat of his dark gray Honda Civic and headed out, stopping at Vic’s for a cup of coffee to go and then continuing north on Broadway until he reached the edge of town.
The drive was easy, a straight jaunt to Lyons and then west to Rocky Mountain National Park.   There were few cars on the road once Brent left Boulder. During the summer, the road to Lyons would be busy with tourists driving up to Estes Park and locals getting in their long weekend bike rides.
“Shit,” Brent said out loud. He realized that he had forgotten his cell phone. He sighed and assured himself he probably wouldn’t need it. It was something that he preferred having on him, especially when running solo in the mountains, but it wasn’t a necessity. Brent smiled as the pavement spooled away beneath him, reflecting on how people had gotten along just fine without cell phones in the past. He was all too aware of how addicted to electronics everyone was these days. Sometimes he took a break and completely unplugged, but having a cell phone on a solo run was a safety precaution, not a luxury or an obsession, a precaution he would have to do without on this day.  
As he neared the fourteener -- a colloquialism for any of Colorado’s remarkable fifty-three peaks rising more than 14,000 feet above sea level -- he could see large patches of snow scattered on the mountain itself as well as on the expanses of land leading up to the peak. The snowfields near the very top of Longs would shrink as they melted but linger even through the summer.
The Ranger Station parking lot was almost empty when Brent arrived about an hour after he left Boulder. Taking in the spectacular scenery, he mused that the house he shared with Greg and Travis on 12th Street, while not even half an afternoon’s drive away, might as well have been in Newark or Beverly Hills or in a Bangkok slum; so compelling were the vistas here that they effectively reduced practically all others to the same degree of mundanity.
A couple was attempting to herd their three small children, who seemed more interested in continuing their game of “I Spy” than in what their parents were saying, into the car. Only three other cars were in the lot. Brent assumed that the tan Jeep near the station belonged to whoever was on duty at the Ranger Station. Rangers were on duty until 5 p.m. most days. The other two vehicles probably belonged to people who were out on the trails.
It was late to be starting a run up this high, Brent admitted, but he reassured himself that he could turn back any time and put in a few extra miles the next day if he felt uncomfortable.
Easing himself out of the car, Brent noticed how stiff his body felt. He was sure this would dissipate with some light stretching and by limiting the first 10 minutes of his run to easy jogging. The air’s noticeably lower oxygen content as compared to Boulder, itself already at 5,300 feet above sea level, seemed to make any aches and pains more noticeable.
The cool, crisp air struck Brent and made him feel more awake. It wasn’t cold enough to cause condensation, but just because he couldn’t see his breath didn’t mean that it was warm. He guessed that it was about 45 degrees. It would be noticeably colder the higher he climbed, and Brent was aiming for an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet. The sky was extraordinarily blue and clear, not a cloud in sight. He dug into his backpack and pulled out his long-sleeved T-shirt to wrap around his waist and slipped on his hat and gloves. His legs would be fine in shorts once he got moving. He untied and tightened his laces, making sure they didn’t bind his feet as he retied them.
Brent put his car key in the pocket of his shorts and walked over to the bathroom of the Ranger Station to relieve himself. It was nice to be able to use a real bathroom before a run, though he had no problem finding places to go in nature. After walking back to the car, he took a few sips of water from the extra water container in the cooler, grabbed his hand-held water bottle, stretched and jogged to the trailhead. Brent knew the trail well, but he took a moment to look at the map at the trailhead out of habit. With a push of the start button on his stopwatch, he started his journey up the well-groomed path.
Short sections of the lower trail were damp, almost mushy, but Brent was agile on his feet, darting left and right as needed to avoid stepping in any puddles or running water from the melting snow rolling down the path. The trees cast shadows on the trail. He noticed a young couple on their way back to the parking lot, both wearing backpacks and casual hiking attire. The woman, a pretty blonde, was leading the way, laughing and occasionally stopping to wait for her partner to catch up. It looked like they were having fun, and Brent felt a twinge of loneliness, wishing he had invited Tracy to run with him. She was tough and held her own in triathlons, even though she wasn't quite at Brent’s speed when it came to running. Still, she was good company on an easy run.
Before long, the trail dried out for stretches at a time. The higher he climbed, though, the shorter the stretches of dirt got. As he approached 10,000 feet, the trail became solid snowpack.
Despite the snow on the ground, the weather was mild enough so that Brent kept his long-sleeved T-shirt around his waist. His pace was comfortable but steady. It was early in the season, and he had plenty of time to get fit for a summer of racing. This run was just a step in the process of altitude acclimation. By the end of July, he hoped to be used to the altitude and would be running up some of the highest mountains in the state.
About a mile before the junction of the Chasm Lake Trail and the Longs Peak Trail, Brent saw what he assumed were the last two people on the trails that day, two older gentlemen dressed in hiking boots, cargo pants, and heavy jackets and both using walking poles. Moving to the side of the trail as Brent approached, they smiled and nodded. One of them, though jovial, threw out some words of caution, something about how Brent should be heading down the mountain, not up, at this time of day. Brent returned the smile and gave a quick nod and responded with a short, “Yup, I’ll be quick about it!” acknowledging the advisory.
Brent continued toward the lake. All was quiet around him; the only sound he could hear was that of his own breathing. While it wasn’t quite the runner’s high that people talk about, he was certainly in the zone, unaware of time and experiencing life in the moment, not thinking about anything but his surroundings and how his body was moving in his environment.  
Running, especially hill running, was all about rhythm. Brent took shorter, quicker strides on the ascents. Spectators watching him race in hill climbs often compared him to a deer or a mountain goat. His stride, while short, was still graceful, and he often surprised his competitors with his quick turnover on the hills, pulling away early and stretching his lead throughout the race. He had no fear when it came to leading a race. He didn’t mind pushing the pace and being a target for other runners who tried -- and usually failed -- to match his pace. There was no doubt that Brent was an extraordinary runner, and he loved it. He truly loved to run.
Having found his stride, Brent began to work harder, his breath quickening as he picked up the pace. He felt good. The harder he worked, the more he became internally focused. It was going to be a good workout for him. After passing the junction where the trail split but before reaching Columbine Falls, however, he encountered a large, steeply pitched snowfield. Though it looked challenging to traverse, he felt confident that he could get across it without any trouble. He glanced at his watch. He was making good time.
As he was about halfway across the wide, sharply sloping expanse of snow, one of Brent’s feet skidded toward the lower edge of the uneven trail, and he almost went down, staying upright thanks mainly to the chance flailing of his arms. The melting and hardening of the snowpack combined with an overlying layer of new snow had created some very uneven patches on the trail, and Brent -- deciding that his near-fall was a warning he’d be foolish not to heed -- resolved to slow his pace and exercise caution on this sketchy section. Being careful didn’t help when a few strides later, the snow gave way, and Brent was suddenly on his back and feeling himself tumbling down the steep snowfield, sliding and spinning helplessly until he slammed into a group of snow-covered rocks 50 feet below the trail.
For a few minutes, Brent lay still on his left side. His breathing was labored, but he didn’t know if it was because he was in shock or because he was badly injured. His entire right side was sore, and -- he saw as he pulled up his shirt on that side -- scraped and already bruising. When he got over the initial jolt, he took stock of where he hurt the most: his right ankle, hip and shoulder. He slowly rolled over onto his back, looking up into the cloudless sky. Knowing that sunset wouldn’t come for a long time comforted Brent in a small way, but he was no fool and knew the dangers of being injured alone on a mountain. As he sat up, he realized that his hat was nowhere to be found.
Attempting to stand caused tremendous pain in Brent’s ankle. He cried out, a sound that seemed to get lost in the immense mountainside. Realizing how tragic this situation could become, he became almost frantic and started yelling for help. His desperate pleas for assistance were met with silence, an overwhelming silence that made him feel immeasurably small and helpless. Suddenly the peaceful quiet he had enjoyed on his ascent seemed ominous, almost evil.

Brent knew that he had to get back to the trail. Because he was no longer running, he started to get cold. Fortunately, he still had his long-sleeved T-shirt tied around his waist, so he quickly untied it and, careful not to aggravate his already injured shoulder, slipped it on over the shirt he was wearing. Then he began to climb.

To find how how the story ends, purchase the book on Smashwords.