To Tri Again?

I don’t plan to bother you with this kind of thing often, but if no one minds, I’d like to use this public space to ask for the collective wisdom of my readers.

I am having a small dilemma that I need to resolve quickly–several weeks ago would have been the appropriate time, but here I am still stressing and stuck. 

When I did the triathlon in June, I met Mary and learned that she lives in my neighborhood.  A few weeks later, she was driving by and recognized me out walking the dog and stopped to chat.  We have since pointed out our respective houses to each other and spoken less than half a dozen times, but in that time I told her about the open water sprint triathlon I was considering doing October 3, she looked it up online, and the next time we saw each other, we agreed to do the race together. 

Yay!!  Training partner! 

Yay!! Race day buddy! 

But, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.  We haven’t exchanged contact info and unless we cross on the street, we don’t see each other.  We agreed to go look at the lake where the tri is taking place a few weekends ago, but the weekend came and went without us catching up with each other and actually setting a time.  So we haven’t visited the lake together.  Even worse, I haven’t visited any lake at all.  And worst of all, I haven’t even signed up for the race–which I was informed tonight in an email from the race directors is 78% full and closing this weekend.

The Whole, Big, Whiny List of Reasons Why I Don’t Want to Do the Race 

After the last triathlon concluded, I said to myself, “see, you CAN follow a training schedule!”  Then I said, “But if you don’t want to finish last in your next triathlon, you really need to rock on the bike–your true strength–and shore up the running–your biggest challenge.  So let’s create a NEW training schedule!”  And I did.  I created a beautiful, dare I say perfect, training schedule and posted it on the refrigerator so I could see where I was every day and proudly check off each workout as I completed it.

The problem with perfection is that it has no place in my real life, which this summer included: finally finding someone awesome to create the website I need for work, trying (in my weird way) to get geared up to publish the book, writing some, drawing some, trying to figure out how to keep an art gallery open, and trying to buy a new house.  It doesn’t sound that horrible until you take into account that the training schedule I created included three swims, three runs, and three bikes per week PLUS a 30 minute walk each day (I have to walk the dog, anyway, right?) PLUS five days of circuit training, even though most serious triathletes only lift weights in the off season.  If rocking at this triathlon were my only goal for the summer, I might have been able to approximate that schedule – but the truth is, the plan and I were both doomed to failure the moment I printed and posted it.

I did a few of the workouts for the first few weeks, then I got discouraged and busy with other more pressing things and I stopped going to the pool altogether.  I haven’t been on my bike for several weeks–even though the last two times I rode I was finding new gears and getting excited about my progress.  Running, oddly enough, has fared the best, maybe because I can do it in the dark before anyone is up to see me chugging along and because it requires the least amount of prep time.  But now I’ve been having problems with the knee I injured prior to the Big Ride, I know I need new shoes, and I’m reluctant to get back out there.

And since I’m whining, I may as well post ALL of my excuses: I need new shorts for the race–at the last triathlon I had to keep pulling my shorts up in the water!, as well as new running shoes; I haven’t been in open water since 2002 and without some practice and mental preparation I might seriously not survive the swim; and the weather has turned cold and the thought of doing a lake swim does not turn me on (although the water probably won’t be any colder than Seattle lake temps in the summer!).  And the really big one: if I enter the race, I probably will finish the race, but I will likely finish last–potentially by a much bigger margin than I did earlier this summer. 

So, to Sum Up:

Doing the race means spending at least $200 on race fees and gear three weeks before I’m going to close on a new house, potentially dying of panic-induced drowning in COLD open water, and (provided I live) holding up the award ceremony by half an hour as all other 299 participants wait for me to drag my butt to the finish line.

What I Could Do, if Mary Weren’t Part of the Equation:

I would skip the race, simplify my training schedule to something like swimming two mornings a week, doing two long bike rides a month, and walking five miles a day until I can get new running shoes, then transitioning into training for the half-marathon I’d like to do in March.

What I Could Do, Take 2:

Because Mary is part of the equation, I feel obligated to do the race.  I could sign up tomorrow, get out to a lake this weekend for some open water experience,  do a thirty mile ride on Saturday, buy a new pair of shoes (and plan on holding my shorts up while I swim?), and at the race try to get in the water in a middle wave so I’m not finishing every leg dead last.

What I’d REALLY Like to Do:

NOT sign up for the race but knock on Mary’s door and offer to be her training partner for the next 10 days–I’d be happy to do some open water swims or get out on the bike with her–and be her chauffeur and cheering section on race day.  Parking is two miles away from the race start, so she might really appreciate having someone drop off her and her gear so she doesn’t have to deal with shuttles.

The question that arises from that scenario, however, is: if I’m going to do all of those things (lake swims, bike rides, going to the race), why not race?  And I think the answer is that I just know I’m not trained, which means the race has a really good chance of being no fun at all.  Bottom line: I just don’t want to do it.


So, what do you think?  Do I power through, make good on my promise to Mary, lay out the cash for new gear and race fees, do my best, and suffer all the physical and emotional consequences of this summer’s poor time and expectation management?  Or, is it okay to ask Mary to do the race alone and offer to do everything short of crossing the starting line of the race to support her?



Internal Logic in a Made-up Landscape

A friend of mine, cxKLAW, posted this video link on an email list I participate in and I can’t get the performance out of my head.  You should watch it. Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Did you make it through the full piece or did you cut out early?

I found it mesmerizing, and when I did cut out early–I watched the first few minutes of it at work and needed to get back to doing actual work–I found it difficult to pull myself away.  I found myself asking, why is it so difficult to stop listening? and I’ve been turning that question over in my mind ever since.  It turns out, though, that some of the people on the email list did not share my fascination and had no trouble clicking away to something else.

So here’s my question for them and for anyone else who didn’t last through the whole piece: what would happen if you didn’t watch the video, but only listened to it as though it were a piece of music?  Would you find it engaging enough to listen to the entire piece?  Personally, I find Jaap Blonk’s face interesting–to me it almost appears that the recitation of this poem over the years has carved his face into its current form–but I could see how watching someone recite nonsense syllables for half an hour might bore some 21st Century Internet users accustomed to more visual stimulation.  I would bet, however, that without the visual signals saying “this is boring,” your ears might find the piece quite engaging.

Let me say that I know nothing of Dadaism and that until I clicked on the link I had never heard of the “Ursonate” or its creator, Kurt Schwitters, nor have I searched the Internet for other performances or writing about the poem.  I want to respond to it from my own experience, before I read about how others have experienced and analyzed it.

So, assuming I’m not the only person who finds it so, why does a thirty minute poem composed of made-up syllables hold one’s attention?  It’s the enjambment, of course!  Just kidding, I couldn’t help myself.  Enjambment is probably the only poetic device a nonsense poem can’t take advantage of.  It does, however, use many others, such as rhythm, repetition, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance.  All of these make the poem aurally interesting, but what allows it to hold our attention for such a long period of time is its consistencies.

Even though the poem is composed entirely of made-up syllables, there are rules.  The syllables have a consistent sound (with the exception of the face-pulling, neck vibrating, buzzing sounds near the end!), as though they all belong to the same, single foreign language we have yet to learn (rather than from a dozen different foreign languages), and the syllables are finite in number and most of them are repeated.  It would, in theory, be possible to spend 30 minutes performing a string of made-up sounds and syllables that do not repeat and that sound distinctly different from each other. This might be an interesting challenge for the performer, but human brains seek patterns in chaos and with no discernible patterns, listeners would quickly bore.  In the “Ursonate,” however, one senses movement and emotion, as though you are being told a graphic story in a language you do not understand.  Watching it for the first time, I felt like a toddler who hadn’t yet learned to speak, trying desperately to grasp the meaning in the animated face and voice before me.  If I truly were a toddler, I can even identify the places where I would have begun to cry in fear, where I might have been soothed, and where I would have been excited enough to “dance” to the rhythm.

Anything completely made-up that has enough internal structure to make me feel safe and keep me interested for a long period of time and that can return me to a pre-verbal state of participation is pretty spectacular.  How often do we as adults encounter something like that?

So, goody for me, I got to have this experience.  But where I think this really could get interesting is if it were to become a collaborative experience.  When I work with kids to help them get in touch with their creativity, one of the biggest challenges, and the biggest goals, is to get them to express a first response to a stimulus, without planning their response in advance or censoring themselves to express an “appropriate” response.  It’s about spontaneity here–not, necessarily, originality.  This freedom is difficult to achieve, and so really needs to be practiced.  And, here, even though no one asked for it, is a spontaneous list of how I think someone could use the “Ursonate” with people of any age to practice spontaneity and getting in touch with their creative impulses:

Synesthesia Activities: The goal here is to inspire movement in response to sound.  These activities could be done with any group of two or more.  Full body: The group “performs” (a portion) of the “Ursonate” syllable by syllable with one person speaking a single syllable or word and the others immediately moving their bodies, spontaneously and without coordination between group members, in response.  One challenge might be to come up with a novel movement for each successive repetition of the same syllable; another challenge might be to remember and repeat the same movement each time the same syllable is repeated–both of these options require “thought before movement,” however, so if your goal is to help others get in touch with their first responses, skip these.  Brush strokes: A similar activity would be to have the group draw or paint in response to each syllable. Instead of moving their entire bodies, the participants would make one stroke with the pen or paintbrush in response as each syllable was spoken.  If large canvases or pieces of paper were hung on walls for the participants to mark on, this activity could be a combination dance/painting activity as the actors would have freedom to make large movements with their bodies.

Acting/Storytelling/Dance: Two or more people could divide the poem into parts, to make it feel more like a conversation.  For a larger group, the words and sections of the “Ursonate” could be analyzed by the participants and rated in terms of “action” and emotional temperature, such as scary, soothing, questioning, answering, motivating, sluggish, sad.  The group could then divide up and assign “parts” to subgroups and perform the “Ursonate” as though it were a musical piece being performed by various instrument sections or a play with actors and a chorus.  The actors might also choose to pair movements with the lines they speak, playing up the story aspects or emphasizing the musicality through dance.

Musical Notes: Each participant could be assigned a syllable that they will speak or sing each time it appears in the poem. The trick will be keeping everyone together and getting each member to speak their syllable on time.  To increase the creativity value, the group could agree on emotional values of various sections of the poem, so that each time a member said her line, she would have to say it in a manner in keeping with that section, thereby exploring the different meanings or emotions that can be expressed by a single syllable.  This could make a fun game, and if it could be accomplished with a fairly good tempo, it might be useful in a larger discussion of poetry or music in demonstrating the internal structure and musical or poetic elements of the piece.

There, I think I’ve said all I have to say about the video, why the poem works, and how it would be fun to explore it further with a group.  Now I’m free to go exploring the Internet and see what other people have had to say on the subject.  (Oh, I should also point out that Jaap Blonk’s memory, voice, and facial expressions are all incredible!  And mention that I could see my friend Tad performing this, or better (worse?) yet, I could see him creating this…conversations he had with our roommate Jim in college could have fairly easily sparked such a piece!  There, NOW I’ve said all I have to say.)  Any broader comments on internal logic in a made-up landscape will have to wait for another post.