Roy made himself comfortable by the fireplace. “You should get on with sharing your findings on those Earth Runners.”
“You’re right,” I said, “Now’s a particularly good time, don’t you think?”
“Well,” Roy nodded, “anytime is a good time. Now is a very good time. I’d add it to your burgeoning holiday gift coverage.”
“You’re right! No time to lose! I mean, considering how many people are still not aware of Earthing, tapping into the earth’s healthy energy. Thomas Jefferson’s regular morning routine was to dunk his feet in ice-cold water. He knew his feet were portals to jump-starting his mind and body. I can’t help but think that, if Jefferson tried on a pair of Earth Runners, he’d quickly pick up on the craftsmanship and design and would wholeheartedly approve! And when it comes to Earthing, Jefferson would have been a big fan too.”
Whatever your interest or background, there is something for you in Christopher McDougall’s book, “Born to Run.” Forget about whether you even like sports, this is one of those books that encompasses more than its subject and is simply a pleasure to read. This 2009 New York Times Best Seller has reached many readers. But there’s still a legion of couch potatoes who would benefit from reading this book. I know I did!
McDougall is a former war correspondent and brings a no-nonsense approach to his work. This is one sharp and vigorous guy. So, when he turned 40 and his body began to ache and stumble, he set out, like a guy, to fix the problem. He wanted to run. But his doctor told him that his large frame was not suitable for running. Instinctively, McDougall knew the doctor was wrong. As if by chance, McDougall discovered the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. This is a tireless group of runners, of all ages, who run 150-plus miles at a time, cheerfully in bright colored robes and sandals. If there could be a more whimsical scene, McDougall had probably not come across it before.
To find the free-spirited Tarahumara would require entering an area just as fearsome as any war zone. The Copper Canyons have everything going against you: wild animals, intense heat, narrow gorges, rocky mountainous terrain, and a crazy maze-like environment sure to swallow you up. If a snake or a coyote doesn’t get you, then maybe a drug warlord will. But what if McDougall could find himself the ideal guide? Sure that was easy enough. He just had to find Caballo Blanco.
Caballo Blanco is painted to be somewhere between legend and ghost. He could be a fright to the unaccustomed and was so elusive as to cast doubt on his very existence. McDougall plays with the mystery and serves up a slice of detective story narrative as he relentlessly tracks down his only hope of true contact with the Tarahumara. Caballo Blanco featues prominently in this book. McDougall spends a great deal of effort in unveiling this mystery. But, even after countless attempts, Caballo remains an enigma. This makes sense as you continue to read. Caballo had been out in the Copper Canyons for far too long to ever be fully understood, labeled, and set on a shelf. What McDougall does find out, however, is exactly what he needs to know. McDougall does justice to the man in this book. Caballo Blanco passed away last year.
With great care and enthusiasm, McDougall metes out facts to make his case which involves a leap of faith back to nature. With the sensibility of a novelist, McDougall dove tails from one scene and character to another. He switches back in time and focuses on one subplot and makes his way back to advance the main plot. What he seeks is nothing less than the truth and that runs the gamut from running shoes to all of humanity. He starts out with the idea that he, along with the rest of us, have settled for less. Once he has made contact with the mystical Tarahumara, he is convinced that their joie de vivre is the key to getting his own joy of life back on track.
It’s a question of finding patterns and confirming facts. As he gets to know more ultrarunners, including legends like Scott Jurek, one thing is clear. The best runners are the happiest runners. They run because they love to run. And what is it about running? It seems to be something so basic, primal. More investigating, and McDougall finds compelling information to back up the case that we humans evolved from hunters running in packs. And when did our naked feet lose their capacity to run? Again, the facts bare out a case for bare feet. We are at our best when we run and when we are not impeded by added padding and support. It appears to be a fairly simple truth. But sometimes the easiest truth is the hardest to expose. McDougall knows that.
Simple myths can be hard to overcome. Like the myth that you reach a point when you’re too old to run. The fact is that the human body regains its peak running performance over time. By age 64, you will be back to your peak of age 19. And, thanks to Nike, we can still be swayed by our fear of injury. Nike is always ready to provide pseudo-scientific remedies of added padding and support. But there is absolutely no need to be swayed by all the hype. A simple shoe is more than adequate. The pros train barefoot and some even run barefoot. The essential takeaway from this book is that we never needed running shoes before Nike “invented” them. All that padding and support keeps your feet from landing properly and, ironically, leads to the very injuries you are trying to avoid. Here is a quote in the book by Olympic coach Arthur Lydiard:
“Those sideways flexings of the ankles begin only when people lace themselves into these running shoes because the construction of many of the shoes immediately alters the natural movement of the feet. We ran in canvas shoes. We didn’t get plantar fascia, we didn’t pronate or supinate, we might have lost a bit of skin from the rough canvas when we were running marathons, but, generally speaking, we didn’t have foot problems. Paying several hundred dollars for the latest in high-tech running shoes is no guarantee you’ll avoid any of these injuries and can even guarantee that you will suffer from them in one form or another.”
Perhaps Caballo Blanco will just have to remain an enigma. But McDougall learned what he needed to know. Despite the fact that Caballo’s choice of actually living in the Copper Canyons was far more poetic than practical, McDougall can understand why that would have been enough for Caballo. Along the way, McDougall learned to trust himself and develop a light running technique. In the process of writing his book, he got his life back. He can run. He can run as much as he wants and not have to answer to anyone. That seems to have been all that Caballo Blanco ever wanted.
You can visit Christopher McDougall at his website here.
Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924
“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.
From Meredith Clark’s “Residence,” a collection of poems:
The Inside pocket of his jacket.
Wool. The wind picked round
the owling boats. Found on the
wharf: a sheaf of black and white
landscapes, hand-tinted; flung in a
Meredith Clark enjoys working with small spaces, merging image to words, finding deeper meaning. In the above excerpt, we have an ambiguous image attached to a locale and to a poem. It is part of a collection of such arrangements on postcards creating a mysterious travelogue.
If you live in Seattle, you may have seen Meredith Clark at one of her street performances where she dutifully sits with a typewriter awaiting requests for a poem. That is one aspect of what she does and she finds these actions fascinating. She is always pleased to learn what the poem means to the recipient. She recounts one instance where the person had quite a palpable experience to the poem she wrote for him. It reminded him of something that was not literally in the poem but had managed to be drawn out nonetheless.
What resides between the said and the unsaid it what poetry can excavate.
Portrait of Meredith Clark during our conversation.
I met Meredith as a local coffee shop and we took the time to focus on the subject of creativity. What does it take to be creative? How can we all be creative? It was just a conversation with no expectations to find solutions.
For Meredith, creativity is a selective process, a matter of what to leave in and what to leave out. It was the study of photography that opened up the possibilities of writing. She had always seen herself as a writer but it wasn’t until graduate work that she truly saw how framing a subject for a photograph was analogous to the editing process in writing as well as finding a subject to write about in the first place. It is these considerations that have served her well ever since.
Conversation in a Café
So, you want to write but what do you write about? That’s where that photography analogy is so helpful. You concentrate on what is in the frame. You write about that. Well, not literally. But that’s what you can play off of. It frees you up. You are no longer attempting to write some stereotypical version of the Great American Novel. Instead, you’re getting to write in a deeper way. We chat about experimental writers that have helped pave the way to free up writers, going back to Donald Barthelme and his integrating words and images to the more recent trailblazing by Mark Z. Danielewski. Meredith recalls with delight a recent visit to Seattle by Danielewski. One member of the audience gleefully said that, since reading him, she feels she can now write anything!
Not everyone feels compelled to express themselves. Then you consider that we are not a nation, let alone a planet, of readers. Literacy rates are abysmal. The reading public is a relatively select group compared with everyone else. It’s a formidable minority with massive purchasing power but a minority all the same. Is it any surprise that most people are not in touch with their creative side? It is seen as a luxury, as something you shed away with childhood. It doesn’t have to be that way. In some respects, people like Meredith are role models even if she doesn’t seek that out.
We talk about how the internet has changed everything. That reminds Meredith of being a substitute teacher for a high school English class. She appreciated that the students were preparing for exams and suggested to them that they write out on paper an outline to help organize their thoughts. The class stared at her blankly. One student said that no one writes with a pen and paper anymore. What else do students not do anymore? Meredith believes that no one bothers to edit themselves anymore. “The internet,” she says, “takes away the ability to be deeply impressed by anything.”
You simply cannot appreciate one subject, while you have numerous others on a screen, in the same meaningful way when your attention isn’t compromised. And an image on a screen, of course, is never going to replace the real thing.
Those of us who are creative people are most sensitive to the pitfalls, distractions, and unforeseen factors that can derail a creative life. Meredith recalls an English professor relating his story of early success, being published in The Paris Review at age 18. It took him a decade to get over it, to recover his bearings and be able to write again. Just think of it, suddenly that aspiring writer has landed a major book deal, and he has no need for his day job. However, once he’s abruptly untethered himself from his routine, he finds he can’t write. No one said life would be easy, even when it seems to have done just that.
Meredith is at work on a memoir. You can find Meredith Clark’s “Residence” collection here. And you also read Meredith’s poem, “Land,” here.
Comics Grinder is a place for creativity and wellness. Comics Grinder is all about Creative Living! In that spirit, we present to you someone who is a great supporter of that mindset, Kathy J. and SHIFT: WHERE HEAD MEETS HEART.
Kathy J. is a good friend. She has provided some essential craniosacral therapy for me and has proven to be an inspiration, a fabulous morale booster. I am thrilled to have her as a backer of my recent Kickstarter campagin for my collection of comics, A NIGHT AT THE SORRENTO AND OTHER STORIES. That Kickstarter campaign was a success! Kathy chose as her reward, a video interview, which I am happy to share with you at Comics Grinder.
Yes, Comics Grinder is obviously more than one thing as it covers a wide range of topics, none the least being wellness and creativity. You can’t get very far without your health!
If you’re in the Seattle area, please do stop by and visit Kathy. She has got you covered regarding your health and beyond. Stop by and check out her site here.
The following provides news on Kathy’s latest workshop plus more:
From time to time, I share with you something that helps to keep the creative spark going. For me, this morning, something very special crossed my path and I decided I needed to share this: scotch eggs! I’d never heard of them before but I was intrigued and ordered one at my local grocer. Now, here I should explain that I live in a hip and young neighborhood and the closest grocer is an independent grocer that, well, keeps its demographic in mind so we get these surprises now then, like scotch eggs at the deli center.
I guessed that this was some sort of traditional item that I missed out on. It’s definitely been around and there’s plenty of recipes for it, fried and baked, you can read an excellent baked recipe here.
Overall, I highly recommend you try scotch eggs! I was prepared for the eggs to be gooey inside but it made sense that they were already boiled. The egg is covered and turned into a meatball and then fried or baked. It’s a perfect little meal in itself. If you happen to live in Seattle, and in the Fremont neighborhood in particular, then you should go get your own scotch eggs at the local Market Time. I don’t think they do this every morning. There are no signs one way or another. They happen to make great eggs benedict but you wouldn’t necessarily know that, since there are no signs. Anyway, I believe this is what they do for Sunday breakfast and you should go.