Wednesday, March 28, 2012

As I Write

"As I write I think about things. As I write I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my thinking down even deeper paths."

This quote was taken from a small book I just finished reading called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.

I feel exactly the same way. While I do not consider myself a writer, and have no aspirations of ever becoming a professional writer, I am a thinker who uses the medium of writing to explore my thoughts and to better understand myself and the world I live in. I write primarily because it is an aid to thinking. And by articulating what I think I know and assessing its merits it is an aid to understanding.

The inability to write clearly about something, reveals a deficiency of knowledge about it. To really get an accurate idea of what you know, what you think you know about any topic at all, it may be helpful to write down everything about it off the top of your head without consulting notes.

This is why I so enjoy writing in diary format with only minimal editing, because it gives you a more honest view of where you are in your life, in terms of self-knowledge and intellectual growth. Which is not to say that there are never any inaccuracies or mistakes, but when you write in this manner and see the written record of your thoughts of what you attest to believe and to experience, you can more easily see what needs to be changed, if anything at all.

It's been a long time since I've felt comfortable publishing on this blog whatever is written in the moment. That is, rather than planning and researching and rewriting and revising, I'd come to this blog and just start writing off the top of my head, without having any preconceived ideas about what I would write about, or censoring what I write about, but I would just write free flowing stream of consciousness diary entries of the moment about whatever came to mind. Whatever written down would just flow onward like a river, not sure where it's headed or what its purpose is, but just traveling as a way of life; each word, sentence, paragraph, and page is like a river, a snapshot of my thoughts passing through my mind at this one particular moment in time.

"What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" is the only book I've ever read by Murakami. It's very short and easy to read. I actually found it to be very refreshing after a couple of months of plowing through a few really long books. Why I thought "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" would be lighter reading than Dostoyevsky I have no idea, but its not and I may have to postpone finishing it another time. In any case, I needed a break, something light and inspirational, and this little book did the trick.

One thing that I have discovered, is that drinking copious amounts of beer on a daily basis is not conducive to running. Running hung-over feels like you are going to die if you push yourself any harder than the bare minimum. But the more that I walk, which is anywhere between one mile to five miles a day everyday, the more I am convinced of the necessity of becoming a runner, and not just a runner who runs daily but a long distance runner. Easier said than done, but I like to talk about it, so bare with me.

I've also come to the conclusion that increasing my walking distance will do absolutely nothing on its own to improve my running distance. That's what I had previously been thinking, that if I get into the regular habit of walking five miles a day, I should suddenly be able to run further than I had before. As if walking five miles is the same as running five miles. NOT! But the truth of the matter is that you only get better at running by running. Sure there are other cardiovascular exercises you can do to increase your overall fitness, but walking does not increase your heart rate to anywhere near the kind of levels needed to improve your cardiovascular endurance for running.

So even if I managed to walk ten miles a day everyday, without actually training for running, I would not be able to run ten miles. Just as I can easily walk four miles without losing my breath, I cannot at this time run the same four miles without stopping. Walking is easy, but it takes forever to get there. Sometimes its good to go slow, to take a leisurely stroll, but sometimes its also good to pick up your speed, and running long distances without training DOES NOT come effortlessly. Which is why I think it's smart to walk AND run, that there are times for going slow and times for going fast, but in order to have the strength to run further distances when the need does arise, you have to train for it, by running and gradually building up your endurance, otherwise you won't be able to run for very far.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What I'm Reading: March 2012

Here's a picture of what I have currently checked out from the library, followed by a list:

1. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T. E Lawrence.

2. The Valleys of Assassins, by Treya Stark.

3. Notes from Underground, by F. Dostoyevsky.

4. The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter.

5. Life Inc. How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back, by Douglas Rushkoff.

Only once before did I post a photograph here of the books I have checked out from the library and am in the middle of reading or plan to be reading soon. It was actually a pretty cool post that I stumbled upon recently while exploring the archives from two years ago, and coincidentally it was in March, and was the inspiration for this post.

If you haven't read it, or don't recall it, I suggest you take a look: What I'm Reading: March/April 2010. The picture was taken on the same desk, both by a window, but in different buildings; in the old one I was still living in a house, in a room with southern exposure; now I'm in an apartment where the window faces the west, with a big building blocking the view, restricting the natural air flow and light, creating much stagnate energy.

If you check out that post, you'll see ten books that I was reading at the time, and while I did read at least a couple of chapters of each book, I actually only completed two of them. You see I've had this long-term habit of checking out several books every time I go to the library, but only seem to read about two books for every ten I check out. I'm actually glad I took a picture of this, because I can vividly recall the moment I took this picture, and the time I spent with each book. Also for sure there are at least two books on that list (can you guess which ones?) that I will be returning to and reading in their entirety, but the rest were not read because I discovered that they did not offer the things I was looking for and would not be worth the time spent reading them.

Sometimes you check out a book having high expectations, but once you get it in your hands and start reading it, it just falls flat, doesn't interest you at all, or the authors presentation of it does not at all do the subject justice. Other times you persevere and find out that while the beginning wasn't so good, it got much better a hundred pages into it, and you are happy you stuck with it. But most of the time, if it doesn't interest you after a hundred pages, it probably isn't going to get much better, and would be better to just skim over it and move on to something else. Maybe it's just the wrong time to read it, and in a few years you'll come back to it with a renewed appreciation for it, but there is no point wasting your precious hours reading something that you are just not at all into.

Okay, so that's an explanation of my scattered reading habits. If I lose interest, I see no point in continuing. Lately I've been trying to force myself to, by being more selective of what I check out, only checking out a couple books at a time, instead of a dozen, and reading them cover to cover. The idea being to have more focused reading habits, setting goals and sticking to them. Well, I've done that with "The Idiot" by Dostoyesky. And the book I just finished reading "The Name of the Rose" by Umberto Eco. I also mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to focus on reading classic Russian literature, everything by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and yeah I'll do it, but those are some pretty huge books, not just long, but difficult, very dense, something that requires giving it a lot of time and deep thought, that it probably would take me all year to read them.

The thought of it makes me feel like a prisoner who's lost their freedom, like being shackled to books, with all the joy taken out of it. I hate that feeling. I will be reading them for sure, eventually, but in my own time. I have to skip around, expose myself to different books, different ideas, different authors, often obtained while randomly perusing the bookshelves with no clear objective in mind.

I've previously called this an undisciplined method of reading, but I realize now that doing so, checking out a lot of diverse material without feeling obligated to finish everything, and being more flexible in my reading, actually feeds my creativity, whereas being bound to a predetermined rigidly defined reading list, without room for variation or change, stifles my creativity. I cannot do that. So, I'm temporarily breaking my self-imposed pact of what I will read, and am changing course.


This butterfly was born in a glass jar and released outside on February 22, 2012. I've been collecting caterpillar cocoons for a few years now, storing them in a jar for observation and releasing them after their born.

The butterflies lay their eggs on the citrus trees outside, which become caterpillars, and those that survive (many don't, many are eaten, stepped on, or freeze to death) after a couple of months of living life as a caterpillar, go into a sort of hibernation, their body forms into a hardened shell, its protective chrysalis, where over the period of a few months, the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

Not all butterflies make it. They actually have to break through the shell themselves. Kind of like being buried alive in a wooden casket after being in a coma for a few months, and having to break your way through in complete darkness with no food or water or nobody around to help you out or tell you what to do.

The object above the butterfly to its right is the chrysalis it came out of.
So as you can probably imagine, in order to fit into that thing
it must have had its wings folded up pretty tight. 

Sometimes the butterfly lacks the strength to do this, it may have poorly developed wings, the result of stunted development or mutation, and it's unable to find its way out. But it absolutely must do it itself. You could say that the process of breaking through the cocoon chrysalis is all part of the necessary growth and maturation of becoming a fully formed butterfly. Its wings, and perhaps its intelligence and other senses, are strengthened by the process. It's a sort of butterfly vision quest, that nobody else can do for it. In other words if you break open the cocoon for it, even just a little bit, thinking you're helping it along, you're actually stunting its development, and the effect will often be that the butterfly, if it survives, will be unable to fly. 

I'm sure there's a lesson in this that we can apply to people as well. That sometimes when you help a person too much, it actually weakens them, making them overly dependent on your help, and robbing them of the necessary skills and strength they need to help themselves. Which is not to say that you shouldn't help anyone, but just that there are certain things that a person MUST learn to do themselves, and if anyone else does it for them, even if their intentions are good, it could really set them back. 

Outer wings. 
The more colorful patterns
 are on the inner side of the wings. 
It sat here on this branch for a couple of hours
before it finally left.