1k/Wk, Fitness, Writing

If you talk to me about running, I’m probably going to get awkward.

When people try to talk to me about running or working out, I get nervous and awkward. I’m not really sure what to say. I’ve been exercising regularly since January, and I’ve lost over 40 pounds. I ran my first 5k in early July, and my wife is really proud of me, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when it comes up. But I have found myself feeling embarrassed to talk about it.

So I tell them some of the truths. One of the truths is that most people aren’t really interested in fitness unless they’re already into fitness. When someone has an interest that they’re passionate about, especially when it’s a new thing for them, there’s a tendency to want to talk about it endlessly. It’s new, it’s exciting, and you’re learning all these cool things that you want to share with people. But something I learned a while back is that most people really don’t care, they were just asking to be polite. And they’ll listen to be polite, but they’ll die a little inside as you go on about body weight workouts and interval training and what your personal record is and how that’s improved over the last few months and the plans you have to do better in your next race and the benefits of cross training and strength training and they just don’t care. Or they know more than you and you sound like a moron. Even your closest family and friends, unless they’re into the same thing, they don’t really care, they’re just being nice. So I don’t want to be That Guy who suddenly has gotten into fitness and is now trying to talk everyone’s ear off about it like they’re a born-again Christian and you, my friend, need to hear the Good Word and be Saved.

Or I’ll tell them a different truth, that it’s because when I was growing up, people who were into exercise and fitness were jocks, and jocks were a completely different species than me and my friends. In elementary school I was bigger than all the other kids, and I learned early on to be careful because of my size so I became reluctant to play too rough. I never had a competitive disposition anyway, and I would rather play superheroes than baseball. A little bit later I was a fat smart kid who was into science fiction and fantasy novels and comic books. I was big, so everyone assumed I’d play football, but I just wanted to read books. I did play football for one year, but I didn’t get it. Why do I want to smash into the other team and hurt them? Why is it so much different if we win or if they win? Why are you making me run up this hill so many times?! No one could explain the benefits of physical fitness to me in a way I’d understand, so I finished the season and that was that.

In high school, I discovered punk rock, and it was electrifying. I started forming bands with my friends and before you knew it we had our own little punk rock enclave in the middle of our small town Michigan high school. Punk rock was something that we could call our own, it was a tribe where we all fit in because none of us fit in anywhere else. Now there was a clear dividing line, it was Us vs Them, and Them was all the ignorant, narrow-minded jock and redneck assholes that, it seemed to us, comprised the majority of the rest of the student body.

(Looking back, it wasn’t all like that. Sure, there were assholes and we had conflicts, but most of the other people in school were scared, insecure kids like us, just trying to figure out who they were. But that’s maybe something for another day.)

Today, I’m 32 years old, and I feel distant and cut off from that fired up, idealistic punk rock kid that I used to see myself as. When I went off to college I quit the band I was in. The few new friends I made had different interests and weren’t as taken by the angry three chord anthems that spoke directly to my heart. I got out of school and, within a couple of years, settled into an office job, where I worked diligently until I got promoted to manager and developed a healthy drinking problem. I was smoking all the time and drinking most days, and I wasn’t happy with myself because I was just another fucking office drone doing a bullshit inconsequential job making money for somebody else and throwing my own cash down the bottomless whirlpool cesspit of the American Dream. And I drank myself stupid every night and every weekend so I wouldn’t have to think about what that punk rock kid would think about where I had gotten myself. And, blind stinking drunk, I wouldn’t have to do the hard work of digging myself out of that predicament.

But eventually I did. I quit drinking, and I quit smoking, and I quit that fucking job. I’m back at school now, hopefully for a career that will be more fulfilling. I’ve got a daughter, and I exercise 4-5 days a week, and I am working constantly, and I don’t know who I am right now. I’m in the process of redefining myself after pulling out of my alcoholic nosedive, but I feel like I have no identity. It’s coming back in bits and pieces, and I’m rediscovering old music and ideas that excited me before and I’m finding new music and ideas that speak to me now. But when I think of that punk rock kid who didn’t want to go to college and let his parents talk him into it, I can’t help but think that he’d be confused and disappointed in me right now. I can’t help but feel like I let him down, like I’m still betraying him because I’m becoming one of Them.

And that’s not all. Dig a little deeper, a harder truth. I did let him down. I let myself down. I abandoned pursuit of my dreams and wasted the better part of a decade chasing the bottom of one bottle after another. Hiding from reality and just drifting along with the flow of life from one thing to the next. I’m grateful for my family and my wife, because without their influence I could have ended up in a much worse situation. I’m eternally thankful that our marriage survived long enough for me to get sober, and now we have our daughter Molly and that’s just the best thing I could never have imagined before it happened. But I’m still disappointed in myself.

For me, fitness is linked with my sobriety and with my self-reinvention. When I work out, I have a lot of raw, personal conversations with myself.

“C’mon fat boy, keep going. You gonna quit now? One more set. You can do one more set, fat boy.”

“Don’t be weak. Don’t stop now, you’re not weak, you’re not going to keep being weak.”

“What, this is too hard for you? Would you rather have a pint of vodka and a pack of smokes? C’mon fat boy, one foot in front of the other.”

“You don’t have to be fast, you just don’t get to quit. You don’t get to quit, you fucking loser. You fucking loser. You fucking loser.”

I say a lot of mean, nasty things to myself while I’m working out, because I am not happy with a part of myself and I am trying to beat it into submission. I am trying to purge the weakness from myself and make myself stronger, faster, better. And yeah, I’m trying to punish myself for letting me down so fucking badly. Fitness has become a very personal, somewhat private pursuit for me. It’s something I’m proud of, but it’s also tied up with something I’m deeply ashamed of. So when someone asks me about running, I think about pushing myself and berating myself and calling myself names just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I think about gritting my teeth and telling my body to shut up and ignoring the ache in my muscles and dragging my legs made of lead and iron up and forward and down and up and forward and down and oh god it’ll be done any minute now, just keep going. I think about looking at myself in the mirror and being proud that I can see my progress and immediately being ashamed at my vanity. I think about how I gave up on pursuing my goals and drank myself stupid for years and how I do not want to give up again.

I think about my daughter, and how I’ll be damned if I’m going to let her down. Every kid should think their dad is a superhero, and I will be a goddamn superhero for her.

So when people try to talk to me about running or working out, I’ll just tell them “yeah, it’s been going good.”

1k/Wk, Writing

Raw Words – No Future To Speak Of

You wake up one day
And realize
All your heroes are fake
All your dreams are a lie
Pre-packaged and marketed
Aspirations to buy

Back in the day
Back when I was a youth
They said there’s no future
But that ain’t the truth
The future’s an endless paved plain
We trudge through
Heading into the gloom
Of our unremarkable tomb

But I’ll take a picture
So I can share the view
With all of my friends
That I never talk to

image

1k/Wk, Science Fiction, Writing

The Wreck of the Xavier

“Our name for them is difficult to translate,” Voorh said. “They are somewhat like…what do you call those things, they live in your oceans, and they do little besides swim and eat and reproduce, they are a perfect predator?”

“Ummm…sharks?” Henson said.

“Yes, sharks!” Voorh said, a smile breaking out on his damp gray face as the ship shuddered from an impact. Continue reading

1k/Wk, Science Fiction, short fiction, Writing

The Gravity Gun

When the Zhitht’laxon first made themselves known to the human beings of Earth, they were like gods among us. Two hundred years of science fiction had prepared us for the arrival of these benevolent visitors, and the news of first contact caused only a minimum amount of panic. They were to usher in a new Golden Age for the Earth, as they showed us the wonders of their technological achievements. The Zhitht left behind ambassadors and a diplomatic space station that defied our understanding of physics. They mentored the most brilliant among us to raise our primitive species from the muddy depths of our history. Continue reading

1k/Wk, Science Fiction

Weeks 11-12: Running Out of Steam

Français : sabu a american wrestling rampage 2...
Français : sabu a american wrestling rampage 2009 paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I don’t have any excuses for missing last week, or for woefully falling short of my goal for this week (so far, still 36 hours left!). The problem is that I’ve been trying to force myself to finish this current story, Ghosts of Dogshead (find the first part here!), but I’ve utterly lost where I was going with the story in the first place! The initial idea that I had got lost in the extra details I started putting into it, and the whole purpose of the story…shifted. I no longer have a clear idea of where it’s going or what I want to talk about with it, and as a result I’m not feeling inspired to work on it. So I am consigning it to the great pile of unfinished stories that I may return to one day, either to complete or pick their bones clean of ideas.

Here’s a final scene for now from our friends on Dogshead. I’ve had other ideas for that setting, if not these particular characters, so I’m sure this is not going to be the last that we see of Dogshead Colony. Next week, we go Kung Fu!

***

The centaur’s dome was sparsely decorated. Sabu stared out of its transparent shell at the blinking lights of Faraday, so much closer now than at his own dome. From here he could make out the fires from the stacks of the reclamation and processing factories on the outskirts of the small settlement, the dark hulking shapes of the buildings dwarfing the smaller homes and businesses in their shadows. He was lost in thought as music softly began to play in the background, a slow melody of pure tones.

“This planet is filled with ghosts,” the voice came from behind him and Sabu turned, startled. Victor stood by a branching sculpture that reminded Sabu of a tree bare of leaves. He was stroking it gently, and the musical tones responded to his touch. The instrument shimmered like flowing mercury, and the music continued as Victor drifted away from it.

“Do your people…” Sabu swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. “Do you believe in ghosts?” He tried to sound more incredulous than hopeful, and said a silent prayer that the alien was not familiar with human inflections.

“Ghosts, as your culture understands it, may be the wrong term. I speak of the essential memories of those that have come before us, the mark that they have left on the knowledge and institutions and people of a place.”

“Oh,” Sabu could not think of what else to say. The robes that covered Victor’s lower half betrayed little movement, and he seemed to float across the floor until he stood within two meters of Sabu, gazing into the night sky.

“We have been here for long ages,” Victor said. The voicebox translation made him sound like he was narrating an info-vid. “This planet is at the farthest frontier.”

“Of your empire?” Sabu asked.

“Nothing so formal as your conception of imperial government. We have a sphere of influence. One could hardly consider this planet to be under our influence. Until very recently, we held only a simple military-science outpost here.”

Military science?”

“It is a poor translation,” Victor seemed to glance sideways at Sabu, though without the visual cue of pupil movement it was difficult to tell. “We have institutions that combine functions that your people tend to keep separate.”

Sabu saw an opportunity to swing the conversation around to business, and sought to take advantage of it. “You certainly seem to have taken an interest in the mining concerns that we have established on Dogshead.”

“Indeed. We can make many uses of the material you dig up from the planet’s interior.”

“If these materials are valuable to you, why would you not have mined them for yourselves?”

“A limitation of time and resources. This is a fringe stellar orbital system. It has become of more interest now that your people are performing much of the work.”

“Well, we are happy to do the work for you,” Once he had said this, Sabu was unsure if that sounded awkward or sycophantic. He wished Alize were here. She was much better at these situations. The conversation paused while they both gazed up at the stars and the dark side of Dogshead’s moon, speckled with the lights of the penal colony there.

“Sabu Achettu, what do you think of when you stare at the night sky?” Victor said with an abruptness that caught Sabu off-guard.

“I think of what afterlife awaits us when we die so far from home,” Sabu answered, almost without thinking.

There was a quiet clattering sound from Victor that the voicebox did not translate, like hundreds of small sticks being dropped on the ground. The voicebox clicked and stated, “In our long ages of experience we have found no reliable evidence to support the existence of an afterlife.”

Sabu’s face burned red. “Of course, this is a matter of faith I speak of.”

“Faith. I have found it fascinating in my reading that there are those among your people who hold equally strong philosophies of faith and reason.”

“It seems a poor philosophy that does not hold hope for a life beyond this one,” Sabu said, embarrassed and slightly indignant. “What do you believe in, if not an afterlife?”

“The persistence of self amongst the culture,” Victor answered without hesitation. “We remain in the memories of others, the influence on culture we have created, the actions that we may inspire. There are those among us who believe that self/consciousness becomes freed from a singular point and spreads across the culture to persist from multiple points, where it may continue to observe and influence.”

Sabu stared at his host, the centaur, struck dumb by this turn in the conversation. He had been curious about the alien, but never expected such an interaction. Before he could respond, Victor turned to face him.

“Our absence is noticed among the other guests,” he said. “You have been a most enjoyable partner, Sabu Achettu.” With that, Victor floated away and descended the stairs out of the dome to rejoin the rest of the dinner party.

Sabu watched him leave, unsure what to do. He felt foolish for letting the conversation run to such topics when he knew that Alize was hoping to turn the evening to their advantage. He may have wasted their best opportunity. After a few moments, Sabu followed Victor down the stairs. He only hoped that Alize did not ask him about their meeting later.

***

Josh Fisher

Palatine, IL