Notes on the Leadville 100

It is 7:15 in Twin Lakes, Colorado. The sun hasn’t set as much as the mountains have hunched their shoulders over us, trying (like we were the ones on fire) to keep us close, away from the wind. From here, eye-level with grass and tired knees, Twin Lakes smell like sweet and broccoli. Among each other, in our layers (now in shadow), we wait and watch for runners running 100 miles from Leadville to Leadville. It is the rickety approach towards mortality, the pained threshold of the modern man. All of these bodies— the way they look so far from antiquity— make me realize how far we from a natural existence but—

Two weeks later. 

I expected the Leadville 100 to show me a return to a natural human state. As if this level of extremity would allow scaffolding like training and elite gear and scientifically-driven nutrition to fall away to be replaced with a raw instinctual capacity to survive. As if personhood would step away into animal body in the shape of its movement, like how a horse at a gallop doesn’t have limbs. 

Here, limbs are more limbs than they’ve been before, and awkward at that. This body— whatever they say— is not made for this movement. The way the hands flap or are brought in with a clench. The head that rides above, held in place, or is trotted absently, or kicked back. The feet in need of cover. And the body too. The arms the torso the shoulder, all so far from the ground. The ground that asks for bodies back, when at 88 miles a body collapses, breathes, moans, and stands again to walk another 12. 

Is the natural state the brink of death? Imagine the coyote, or the horse, or the bass— all the unfettered speed. All direction funneled, and energy made only for the concerted living. But I think of — even then— the horse’s heart attack in a field in Colorado Springs. How afraid it was of itself— how much it wanted to run from the predator at its chest. That, too, and the weakness and exhaustion. The horse clipping its own front feet bloody. The coyote running on a rabid limp. 

The erratic jump. Perhaps it is not grace that returns us to nature— not hardly— or only in poetry— the return of our bodies is in pain, or tolerance thereof. The return to the humanness of the body is bodiless. From my folded chair where I shook in a sleeping bag with a cup of buttery broth, it looked bodiless to me— for anyone aware of their decrepitude would not carry on. Or anyone angry at it, rather. It is the gentle, endorphine-fueled decision— “I must carry this body on.” 

Too, gorgeously, does that “must” develop in these minds. Unpredatored bodies, bodies not at risk, have released themselves of the successive choices of taking steps. Or if they have not, they’ve even more incredibly been faced with these hundreds of thousands of steps and thought again, “go on…”— and—again— for what?

This, perhaps will bring us back to what is natural— is it an ache for this type of pain? The victory of the mind? The displacement of the body’s authority? Is it the natural inclination to ignore pain? To having pain to ignore? Or— what other pains does this one heft off? Or dull? Destroy, even? Or is it the knowledge that the body comes back? Are these things our humanness must venture into? 

What must we venture into? Is there a threshold beyond this one— one more humbling or dissociative or numbing or ecstatic? (Does this race house all of those? Is this running body, too, the sensational interaction of these?)— that tumbles a human further into herself? Into the borders of capacity? Are we only human in our extremes? Is this how we must experience ourselves? Is it good to do so? Must the cheetah run itself to death to be a cheetah? That is, of course, its identifier, isn’t it? Top speed? 

I wonder again at why I cried. Men and women have unnecessarily endangered themselves for themselves. But that choice— is it the joy or the pain? Both? This. So vivid. So holy. The body rejoicing as it collapses. The legs that no longer run like legs—that can no longer step or stretch—the feet landing flat—the shoulders—the hands that grip friends on the last mile to keep going—and then release to rise in fists across the line, unmeditated, and shrivel, and drop, and fall into the crowd.

Is that it? The explosion of personhood? And we as a people are proud. We as a people are satisfied once again with humanness—not the distance, but the pain we can endure. That chipping away of our mortality by looking at it, clearer. By seeing surely what could kill us and hasn’t.

.

And a note on kindness after the race— It was a unique type. But simple. No runner with assumption. Not to prove a point. Not owed anything. The knowledge that this choice had been theirs, and the pain, and the cold. And, therefore, gratitude. Where crew (those of us who lined the trails and watched vividly through the night to recognize the height of a runner’s headlamp, or their gait) would grow ornery and delirious, organized and full of exhaustion and plans, the runners carried a kind resolution. We brought a support and, too, such a pitiable unknowing. The race was not ours. Of course. 

I’m not sure that I know anything new about me or anyone. I don’t know more about humanity, because I was not the human in the race— but I saw a joy that seems to have come at the ownership of pain and diminishment of it. Or the management of it. I saw, perhaps, that the human body is not lost to modern man. That we are not far from it.

How incredible—it is a human body— of trees, air, ants— we, too, standing in personhood of natural life. We— we who check our teeth in mirrors, we with non-physical resources— biologically so far from capable, and yet still real. Still alive at Mile 100 with feet on this shifted earth. 

Home from Brooklyn

It is an afternoon that feels like a morning. Even at 3pm or maybe 4, I’m saying good morning to everyone. The light agrees— It’s yellow. Objectively slantwise. I’m going home from Brooklyn. Pathetically— or understandably, or consequently, or randomly— I haven’t spent much time at all in Brooklyn since moving to the Upper West Side. Three times. I’ve been to Brooklyn three times. But every time feels like a transgressive vacation. I’m ashamed of how much I am excited by (for example) exposed brick and twinkle lights. Of broad outdoor seating. Of three-storied buildings. Of wood-paneled floors, pool, and red leather. I woke up this morning to sky.  And trees. Plants. These things are all things that happen in Manhattan. Yes. These things have largely been coopted by the forces of gentrification, idealization, and cultural white-washing. Yes. But I woke up to the sky and the sun on my back and oh how full my heart was. (It’s a feeling, perhaps, like pouring over Mrs. Dalloway. Of picking up Virginia again and again.)

And so from Brooklyn this morning that is an afternoon, I am making my way home. Stepping up onto the island from the Union Square Station, I reintroduce myself to Manhattan. I’ve seen her, now, from yet another angle. Like seeing your father from a distance makes you remember you have a father who is a person and who walks. From across the East River, New York is not the word for itself, nor is the Empire State Building a symbol of itself, but the skyline is something that holds itself up. I, idiotically, wonder if it could be getting on without me? Of course it could be. It always will. I am barely an appendage, let alone a cog. But nonetheless I step back up from below and reacquaint myself to it. I do this by, as I have found myself wont to do whenever I find myself in a new area of Manhattan, slipping into a bookstore, and then a coffeeshop, and then a park. My fingers go over titles and I remind myself that I’m a writer and entirely foreign to this city. I remember Anne of Avonlea and feel her coming back to me. 

I’ll tell you briefly about falling in love. There are loves you spot from far-off. You look across the East River, hear tell of Prospect Park, and you know right well that a first date with Brooklyn would go well. That none of your friends will be surprised that you and Brooklyn had a lot to talk about and that Brooklyn even paid for dinner. And then there are Manhattan loves. The ones you swore off pretty early, being just not the concrete type or too picky for the Manhattan bandwagon to reciprocate the nod you got from across the room when you first got on the Penn Station escalator. Brooklyn loves are (bear with me) like an ice tray: You know that you can easily enough pour yourself into the mold, slot into a freezer, and find a solid cube (I said bear with me) in the morning. You’ll stay in the freezer for a while, enjoying yourself, your mold, and your freezer. Then one day you’ll get dropped into lemonade and remember how brilliantly sour you can be and bid adieu to that ice tray. Now, with Manhattan love, there’s no pour, no freezer, no mold. There’s the living of unsimilized life until one day, books under arm in Union Square, you feel a drip. And another. And you realize you’re melting and Manhattan’s melting and you’re all goo and it’s not all that bad. 

This afternoon-morning, I feel the drip. It’s running under a linen jumpsuit down my back and pooling at the tie at my waistline. It’s also sweat. 

Here are things melt me on the way home: 

  The whistle on the subway, how vivid it is. (The petal, the bough—) 

– The frequency that my little mind reaches out to passersby with an address. Like a dog on a leash, I dash out with an unspoken thought like, “You look so happy today” to a quiet gay couple or to a woman in a risky, skin tone bodysuit: “Don’t worry, you look fantastic.Or a “fuck yes” to the t-shirt that says, “I don’t owe you anything,” beneath story-winding lipstick. 

– How tenderly I feel about my mind while I walk in the city. For so much around me, I feel myself facilitating observation: Robiny (Anne), I say, what do you think of that? What would you write of that? How could you be Virginia in this space? How’s that this way? Do you love this? Don’t you? How much this city somehow makes me a friend to myself and a necessary ally. 

– The wonderful moment walking past the park. I notice first the men playing basketball, how glad they are to be there. How good they are. Then I notice the men’s soccer game. First, I watch the ball-carrier across the pitch, then the overlapping run, the tap, the cross, and…. then in the foreground (like a whistle in the subway) I see the net I’m looking through, and the boy whose shoulder I watch the game over. Ten? Fourteen? Somebody’s little brother, or some neighborhood kid. I want to cry— the kid allowed to play with the big guys, but only in goal. His solemn, proud position. His useless, temporary spot. His incredible dignity in it. Simultaneously, I hear the request: “Can’t I come this time?” and the report: “I started out my career tagging along to play goal on 108th street…” 

– These things. These layerings, perhaps? These layerings of face over face, of my mind over cross streets, of fashion over story over park over life over life over life… These things do and require melting. This tight binding of worlds (to lend yet another metaphor, for Manhattan, too, is a layered knot of metaphors, syntax, and parentheticals) that doesn’t require (or merit) unknotting, but instead a tender tracing, and losing (yes…the losing is the most important part I think), of strands with the finger tips. 

I walk my last two blocks home in love. How ecstatic is this island. How entirely obvious. How intolerable. How tough on the tongue. And how intoxicating. 

City, Sleep; Hot Days Behind.

Some nights turn themselves over. A city— that sharp word, meant for big poems and accusations— sits. It leans onto its heels, rocks, and (slowly) flips a tanned arm upward and shows its soft skin. This happens infrequently in New York. Manhattan. The word itself is made of knuckles. I’m sure there are puppy-tummy cities out there, ones that gleam softly, smoothed by greenery or fleshed out by hospitality, but New York is not one of them. But even this city– this broken-nail city— turns over, and it happened last night. 

I knew it was happening from the light on my air conditioned walls. Cream, pink, and doughy. Familiar in its alien sense. Entirely of earth in its most planetary way. And it drew me outside. 

This had been the heat wave weekend. I don’t particularly want to talk about it (the thought makes me feel dehydrated), but it was enough to become the topic of the whole city. All together, Us of New York, uninterested in so many things this weekend. So many of us tired, uncomfortable, in need of shelter. Like God had taken us all and cupped us in big heavenly hands, then mashed us like bread. Awful and intimate and humble. But the heat wave gave us the cream and the pink of a glorious sunset. Last night, God unclasped his hands and lifted us up: look here, won’t you? 

There’s not much more to say than that sunset last night was the blush of a heat wave breaking. And as it changed, so was the periwinkle, so was the yellow of the street lamps. It was the reassertion of color, the reclamation of the eyes over the pores. And it shrouded everything. 

And everything stopped. It sat.

Nothing was not still in the light of the sunset. Nothing was not the light of the sunset itself. It was a sunset the Big Dipper could have dipped down into— all the way down to the Central Park Reservoir, skimming the surface, as even there the air would slosh into that dipper with a thick, swirling foam. You could breathe the sunset and feel it on your skin. You could see the buildings twitch their glowing foreheads against it. And, quietly, that underwater city— that drowned vie en rose— made me go soft myself. I leaned into New York’s touch, and let her thumb my cheek. I walked silent Central Park pathways like fingertips up a forearm. I considered loving this city in a real way.

A good city. Must be if God treats her like that. Must be… if she is, it seems, still earth. Still hurdling and drowning and floating. Still holding me bare stomach to bare stomach. Must be good if she too is tenderly yawning and stretching. If she’s sighing to herself and, widely and softly, falling asleep. 

Doomed

I’m doomed to live in only cold places on account of how many sweaters I have— Been given mostly. As I clean out my room or pack it I move windows of clothes open to reveal old or new or nice sweaters of varying wear and cleanliness. Three white sweaters, clean, have stayed in a row in this closet. At least I was self-aware enough not to wear them. Mom always said that clothes should never limit a day’s activities and that’s why she’s a good mom.

She’s also a good mom because she got me on coffee. That’s the one thing she’ll always pay for— Probably because it’s the one thing we’ll always have in common. Walking down cold Boston streets in some sweater or another, I’ll text her Mom. It’s urgent. and she’ll respond with an email from Starbucks, or Peet’s more recently, addressed to Princess or My needy daughter. She loves that stuff—Talking like I’m horribly spoiled. Not that I’m far from it. Not that I’d acknowledge it if I was. But to my defense: It’s the right kind of spoiled to have enough clothes to get everything dirty. Thank goodness I never had the little sister I asked for; the kid would look homeless with the tatters of hand-me-downs she’d get. Especially if I got them first from my older brother. Dad’s still sweetly under the impression that I’ll figure out how to be delicate soon enough— he sends me things with thin chains, recommended to him by a sales representative who looks around my age. The white sweaters were from him.

I unhook a bleached, fluffy Patagonia (an item clearly designed as a compromise to the all-outdoors-everything vibe sweated out by the Vermont natives in their magazines). It’s soft, and I’m an adult after all, so I fold it and place it on the sweater pile, placing it an inch now taller than the blue jeans/running leggings/sweatpants pile. The t-shirt pile has been consumed by the long-sleeved pile (which, to be honest, shares a fair amount of characteristics with the sweater pile).

They’re all starting to lean, anyways. I start to wonder why I even bother with these classifications: They’ll all be in a pile in Cambridge, just as they all were here. I’ll pretend to have a semblance of a system for the first week back at school, and then let everything stack into its native slouch on my desk chair. I’m wearing a new cowl-neck (a classic margin example of a warm fuzzy sweater that is too light for an under layer). The sleeves are too tight to roll up, and because the winter sun has brought my basement room to a boil, I decide to slip it off and place it on the sweater pile. The long-sleeved pile. The long-sleeved pile.

I like cold places, anyways. Places like Colorado and Massachusetts, where the weather is worth talking about and people learn about dressing in layers. That’s why that cowl-neck isn’t a sweater— you need layers to make it in to that puffy pile. But I’m thoroughly uninterested in packing, and a nice boy has put something or other in the microwave— or turned the microwave on, now that I think about it, because we forgot that there was pizza in there for breakfast.

I put on the fuzzy white sweater, knowing full well that it will be splattered with pizza sauce just yet, and leave the piles for later.

Summer Air in London

It’s true that the only real difference between living in the city and living in the country is whom one shares air with. Morning coffee is the same—albeit varying in its bitter—but the change is what clattering, tinkering, tittering, or mumbling the summer air pushes through the window. Air in the city has been breathed, or perhaps, sucked through cigarettes and emitted through exhaust pipes, pregnant with every decibel of hum and call. Country air has been breathed too, I supposed, but in that playful way that leaves and streams infuse, filter, fill, empty, and spin it. Even with skies and fields of lazy activity, country air sounds like one’s best conception of silence. This is why one is so surprised when one identifies (as everyone can) a taste of country air floating up from Brompton Street. It is that shocking coincidence of sweet air and birdsong that reminds busy people that summer can, too, land on London.

Roastery

I’m applying to creative writing classes. One asked me to write about a favorite place.

My home as of two years ago (and every summer before that) is Buena Vista, Colorado, a town of 3,000 people (when everyone’s home) located at the foot of the Collegiate Peaks. At the center of this mountainous, one-stoplight metropolis is one of my favorite places in the world: The Roastery Café. This corner café, owned by the baseball cap-wearing town mayor (you can’t make this stuff up), is the hub of activity and exchange within my little town. During my time away, I spent many days editing photos in my corner booth, and eventually grew used to the steady stream of visitors and waves from the various people of my town passing through for their daily coffee. Often, my interactions would be brief: Drew, the maintenance guy from the summer camp where my mom works, would say a quick, “Hi,” or a raft guide would ask to pet my dog. Sometimes, friends would sit down and begin long, caffeine-fueled discussions about families, religion, and worldviews. Though I could avoid my Trump-loving friends on Facebook, I couldn’t refuse them a seat across from me at the Roastery. I had to either censor what I say or own it, because private conversations became quickly public. In Social Studies 10, we finished the year off with the German philosopher Habermas, whose hope in society came from places like coffeehouses, where individuals could exchange ideas separately from political or religious settings. I take pride in living in a town where such a coffeehouse exists—where the baristas not only know my top five favorite drinks depending on the temperature and time of day, but also take the personal responsibility of making sure that the townspeople of Buena Vista are happy, cared-for, and safe. This warmth and sense of community has allowed us to develop relationships in a context most societies despise: with strangers in a public place.

Sucker-Punch

Even now, I know that nobody’s reading this. Perhaps that’s why I haven’t written in a while. Because my life wasn’t quite trivial enough to brush off in the French mysticism that surrounded this blog’s birth. I figured I’d write things that would be easily shrouded by the voices in my head; I couldn’t scream about the big things from the rooftops of an abandoned city. I mean, that, and that the people that I write about read this. Bold language favors carpet stains and finicky WiFi routers, not stuff that hurts people.

I’m here though. And I’ll have wanted to know what I felt tonight. And I’ll have wanted it to be buried in raw archives. Maybe artists just use art to hide their feelings from the passerby and show it to the thinker. Wonder, then, reader. What here is purely aesthetic?

Sucker-punched, guard down,
I’m hit after everything’s done
After I’ve told everyone I’m fine
After I’ve kept the right distances
And he’s picking up his pieces

And so comes the avalanche
In silent, secret, abstraction
A blinding cloud of white
Cut hair wet, tired body undressed,
Assassinated in a pocket of breath

Four years ago, I felt this before
When I held a pitchfork in the morning
And a Colorado summer’s floor fell through
A stiff breeze whispered me a name
Until I wilted and wept there in the shade

Fucking idiocy, this stuttering surrender
You got to hate me and hold me
In bruises from the fault lines.
I let good terms overturn me
And rolled away while the fire kept burning.