Marathon(s) update

Well, the writing marathon, NaNoWriMo, is finally over. I and my friends Zach and Margreet all won, which is to say, we completed the challenge of writing a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel.

Now, some friends have enquired about when they can read my work, is it public yet, is it “finished” yet, and so on. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a good friend about that:

… I’m discovering that the words “rough draft” seem to mean wildly different things depending on the author, the book, and to non-writers.

I’ve got friends asking me to post it online, as though this is something slightly less polished than the book I envision. NOTHING could be farther from the truth.

I tweeted that my rough draft is so rough, it makes the surface of Mars look like glass by comparison!

The main story arc is pretty much finished… needs to be fleshed out, and needs an epilogue… everything is about as sketchy as can be… Most of the minor characters still are named with XXX as a placeholder!

So, yeah, I pretty much finished a “rough draft” in the roughest, draftiest, most skeletal sense of the word, but yeah, there’s a heck of a lot more for me to discover!

2009 NaNoWriMo winner badgeOr to put it more concisely… you don’t even want to think about reading it in this state… I’m probably going to take many months to revise it. I do think it’s a good science-fiction story, and will be seeking to publish it eventually.

As for running, my eight weeks of preliminary conditioning are over, and I’m officially on the training program of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. Last night I jogged four miles. Sunday, I’ll do five. And on March 21st, I’ll do more than 26. It’s exciting, and I’ve got to say, endorphins are the best drug in the world! They make it worth it, even in spite of sores, rain, and slogging through mud.

These continuing projects, both turning the draft into a book, and turning myself into a marathoner are great challenges, but I’m already off to a great start, and I’m enjoying the heck out of them.

My Other Marathon

Besides the marathon I’ll be running in March 21, I’ve signed up for another one of sorts as well. This one starts in just three-and-a-half hours. It’s called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.

I’m not really sure which is the greater challenge … to build up to the point of running more than 26 miles, or to write a 50 kiloword first draft in 30 days. Well, actually, it’s got to be the latter. This will require a heck of a lot of discipline, every day or almost every day for the entire month. After work, writing will be my top priority. Fortunately, I’ve prepared myself a bit and feel (more or less) ready and definitely eager to take it on.

Inspirations I’m working with: The myths of Atlantis and Icarus, a setting in Mallorca and Barcelona, and the exciting possibilities of space and time.

In Training

I’m in training. For a marathon! Yeah, you read that right, and it still sounds as unbelievable to me as it does to anyone reading this who knows me.

Sure, I wrote earlier about starting a running program; I began running again this spring rather stupidly. I just started jogging, and tried way too quickly to extend my runs. I didn’t begin by getting my body to get used to the idea of moving first, by walking, then gradually adding jogging, and slowly, smartly building up my bones and muscles from those of Internet potato to jock wannabe.

And after I finished my 5k race in May, I slacked off, and stopped running again, although with geocaching as a hobby, I’ve been getting outside and moving a bit more than I used to.

images.jpgFast-forward to the present: Almost everyone on my team at work (yeah, fellow geeky Web developers and engineers!) has been reading either Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, or The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by Whitsett, Dolgener and Kole, or both.

The first book is about ultra-marathoning, and deals with the subject on two levels. First, it’s a brilliantly-written account of its practitioners, from the Tarahumara people of Mexico, to some of the most colorful characters in the the States that you’ll ever read about.

The second level is a examination of the science of running, which is no less interesting, and to me, was even more so. One mystery that McDougall was intent on solving, is why US distance running capability has been decreasing since the 70s.

Over the course of his investigation, with discussions ranging from sport science laboratories to casual conversations with extreme runners, a pattern emerged that running injuries exploded proportionately with the advent of running shoes, and a rapidly-growing segment of doctors, coaches, and runners are eschewing shoes for barefoot running or minimal footwear, such as Vibram FiveFingers.

The results (for many people at least) have been remarkable. Some people with debilitating running injuries have been quickly able to surpass their previous abilities, and there are coaches now who insist their athletes train barefoot to prevent injuries.

I had decided to order a pair of FiveFingers long before reading Born to Run, and the book only increased my interest. Last week, I received my VFFs and the feeling was amazing—exactly like being barefoot, but with protection from the glass, stickers, and pebbles that make city streets foot-hostile. Alas, my shoes were a size too small, but I’m looking forward to getting the right size later this week.

nonrunnerguide.jpgMeanwhile, I’m following the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. It’s from 1998, so naturally doesn’t have the latest and greatest information about footwear, but it seems a sane (though still scary) guide to get a non-runner like me to complete a marathon. The marathon-training program is 16 weeks long (about the length of a college semester, which is where this approach was developed originally). There’s also a more basic 10-week program to prep complete non-runners to have the strength and stamina for the training program. Needless to say, I’m in that preparatory phase.

All in all, this is pretty amazing stuff. More and more, we’re realizing that the corporate-controlled running shoe industry is slowing us down and killing our feet, that our God-given arches and natural pronation is the best shock absorption possible, and that what we’ve had all along is all we ever really needed.

footprint.jpgThis renewed attention to the bare foot makes me think of one in particular: the empty footprint. As Karen Armstrong wrote, the first symbol of Buddhism wasn’t the Buddha-image, but the Buddha’s footprint. That, to me, is a wonderful illustration of the impact of spirit and mind upon matter, more distinguished by what’s not there than what is there.

Back to Basics

In an earlier post, I wrote that most people learn to see the world from the ideas they’re taught, instead of “the undeniable aspects of their own experience.”

Yes, there are undeniable aspects of our experience. Do you want to explore what’s undeniable, what’s real, what’s unquestionable? Do you want to get past the crap that has been shoveled into your head since you were a child? Want to see the world, its wonders, and all the people in it afresh? Are you sure? Don’t answer too quickly. Courage is required.

Because when you learn to look at the world and not your thoughts about the world, it might be surprising. And when you learn to look at yourself instead of your thoughts about yourself, it might be more than surprising. It might even be frightening. Or not. But you won’t know until you look. Hence, the requirement of courage.

This has been known for millenia. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus cautions:

Whoever searches
must continue to search
until they find.
When they find,
they will be disturbed.
And being disturbed, they will marvel
and will reign over All.
—Thomas 2

Purpose

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m beginning to have a renewed sense of purpose after three-and-a-half years of not really having one. At that time, I had an momentary experience of nothingness, which I’ve called “the suck” or “the empty ​​​​holodeck.” It not only shattered my concepts of God, but also left me without a sense of purpose.

The experience was freeing in some ways: I felt free from being watched by an omnipresent eye in the sky, and it completely blew away what I call “the personal metaphor”—thinking of God as a “person” in some way, however abstract, with desires and feelings similar at some level to ours. Also gone was the assumption that the world was “real,” in the ultimate sense. The only thing left was that I still seem to be “here” (whatever that means), and that I still experience the appearance of a world around me. What I had in place of “God” and “the world” was a mystery: what causes the experience of there being a world? What does all this come from?

And though that was a bit disorienting, it was definitely freeing. It cleared my head by rendering almost every religious and philosophical debate moot, except for the few things that really matter, but which can’t be answered by the mind, anyway.

Religion was cleared away in a instant, with certainty, such that whenever I hear any traditional appeal to higher authority; “the Bible says…”, “the Church teaches…”, “God wants…”, I have to smile (or I have to remind myself to smile!) and remember that almost everyone naturally bases their fundamental assumptions on memes they’re taught, rather than the undeniable aspects of their own experience.

(On the other hand, don’t think I became an atheist. To me, the popular atheists of today have a pathological lack of curiosity and might as well be dead when it comes to investigating reality. Dismissing literalistic interpretations of sacred texts is child’s play, but where is the interest in the big questions? What causes the universe to appear? What caused the Big Bang?)

So how does this all relate to me losing my sense of purpose? Simple. I had found my purpose in my beliefs, and when my beliefs were gone, my purpose went, too. Hence, “the suck.” So for more than three years, I’ve been drifting in a sense. Now, that isn’t as bad as it might sound. I’ve generally been happy, only rarely depressed. But something has been missing; I’ve felt a lack of motivation, certainty, purpose. It felt a little bit like I was in a fog, because I couldn’t find my “purpose” or “destiny,” and had a feeling that I needed that to be really happy.

I’ve recently started seeing things a bit differently: that not having a predetermined purpose means freedom! There is nothing written anywhere in the cosmos that declares “Jon Zuck is to be such-and-such and do this or that.”

I am free to create and choose a purpose, follow it, change it, resist it, not have one, whatever, but I definitely feel more rooted and alive with purpose than without.

One thing that’s coming into focus as a part of my purpose now, is a desire to help improve the world where people are suffering. Years ago, I was active in Amnesty International as a “Freedom Writer,” petitioning dictators around the world for the release of prisoners of conscience. Then, for several years while I concentrated on the inner quest, I only supported Amnesty financially. Now, I’m wanting to be more active again in influencing this world I’m experiencing, and I’m getting a bit more active with Amnesty again.

A few updates

Sorry for my long absence. Really, I am.  A lot has been going on:

  • I lost Talbot in late April.  He was hit by a car, and I felt so bad about his death, that I really couldn’t write about it then.
  • I went to the US Esperanto Congress in St. Louis and had a wonderful time, and made some new friends.
  • I visited my Dad, and helped initiate him into the world of the Internet, the Mac and the iPhone.  In turn, he gave me an iPhone, and taught me a bit about riding motorcycles.
  • I’ve begun a new approach, (yes, again!) to my weight-loss goals.  I’m using The Gabriel Method and I Can Make You Thin together, listening to both CDs daily. This is quite a bit different from any other approach I’ve tried, as the focus is on re-training appetite itself and getting the body to want to be thin, shifting the burden from the conscious mind to the subconscious. If you like, you can follow my progress on my reviews at Amazon.com.
  • I haven’t actually been completely silent on the interWebs. I twitter.  If you’d like to follow me, I’m frimmin on Twitter. (Big surprise, huh?) However, don’t expect very exciting tweets from me.  I mostly use it as a public IM with friends.
  • I’ve taken up geocaching.  It’s cool that the information age is giving birth to some new hobbies that take you outdoors.
  • After 3½ years of spiritually floundering, I’m discovering a renewed sense of purpose. More about that in my next post.

Re-Centering

A good friend of mine told me that my mother’s death would change me. He was right.

I’ve found that I’m re-prioritizing things in my life. I’m wanting to integrate into my life more of the things that I’ve neglected and strike a better balance. One of those areas is the body. Seeing death up close has reminded me that this body only lasts a relatively short time under the best of circumstances, and I’ve not been giving mine the best. So in addition to my semi-vegan diet, I’m exercising more, and I’m currently in training for a 5k run in early May. (Man, have I got a long way to go!)

But things are already progressing well. I now can run 1600 meters (that’s a mile for my fellow Americans) without pausing or feeling exhausted, and I’m getting a little bit closer to getting back into shape every day.

I’ve also become aware of how much of my life has been spent sitting on my butt in front of computer screens. I really want to reduce that a bit. I’m not talking about changing my work, but I might be talking about changing my play. Parkour, anyone? Of course, I know I’m not ready for that yet. (Emphasis on yet.)

Her Passing

My mom passed away Sunday evening. She had been hanging on, despite the fact that all of us had individually encouraged her to let go. However, when all three of us–my brother, father and myself–did so together, and assured her that nothing, not even death, can break our bond to her, she left quickly.

My brother and father had to take a phone call in another room, while I sat by her bed, held her hand and sang to her. While I was singing The Sloop John B., she quietly stopped breathing.

I want to go home
Just let me go home,
I feel so broke up,
I wanna go home.

Please keep my family in your prayers.

Thanks.