2015 in Review

It’s four days into 2016, so I’m due to offer some reflections on 2015. I’m grateful for so many wonderful memories I made over those 365 days. The year was significant for me in several ways, some of which I’ll be sharing here, some of which I’ll be sharing over at altarwork.com (where I’m now blogging every Friday). In the latter venue, I’ve already written about my most important day of the year.

But now, in lieu of a more cohesive post, I’ll share some random “tops” and “favorites” of the year.

Favorite New Album: Shockwave Supernova, by Joe Satriani

Other Favorite New Albums: Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson.

Love, Fear, and the Time Machine, by Riverside.

Helios / Erebus, by God Is An Astronaut.

A Head Full of Dreams, by Coldplay

Most Important Book: Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer

Favorite Book: The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

Other Favorite Books: Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.

Beyond the Bedroom Wall, by Larry Woiwode.

The Geography of Memory, by Jeanne Murray Walker

Love’s Labors, by Brent Newsom

Favorite Concert: The Choir (playing the full Circle Slide album)

Favorite Movie: The Peanuts Movie

Favorite Weekend Activity: playing keys and singing bgvs at Vista Community Church

Favorite “Athletic” Moments: running a 10k and two 5ks

Favorite Celebrity Meeting: Monty Colvin, bass player/vocalist in Galactic Cowboys, guitarist/vocalist for Crunchy.

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Favorite Interesting Experience: sitting in on a Sunday-school class taught by Oklahoma Poet Laureate, Benjamin Myers @OKPoetLaureate

Favorite Teaching Moment(s): My summer Religion and Literature course (with works by Bret Lott, Tania Runyan, Gina Ochsner, Brent Newsom, Addie Zierman, Larry Woiwode, Jeanne Murray Walker, and Benjamin Myers).

Fun Trip Destinations: Minneapolis, Galveston Island, Kansas City, Lake Michigan, rural Minnesota

Favorite Publication: “The North-Central Iowa Spring Break Blizzard Tour” (published in The Cresset)

Favorite Photo I Took: 

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I’m looking forward to a good 2016, filled with good books and music, lots of writing, good classes to teach, and supportive friends and family.

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On Early Mornings

With the exception of my teenage years and early college years, I’ve always had a preference for the early morning hours. When I began running (again) when I was first married, my wife and I would get up early to run on treadmills at a fitness center, rather than brave the sub-zero Northwestern Minnesota temperatures. Now, sleeping until 6:30 is a luxury; sleeping until 7 is an un-achievable feat, even if I’ve had a late night. (Part of that inability results from two young children, both of whom are early risers themselves.)

Over the years I’ve used those early-hours to train for marathons, for 10ks, for 5ks; to work on graduate coursework; to read; to work on various writing projects and assignments. Whether inside or outside the house during those dawn and pre-dawn times, I’ve found them to be some of the most fulfilling and productive minutes of my days. And for me as an introvert, those times alone are crucial to my emotional well-being.

Over a month ago after I returned from an academic conference, I decided to write for a half hour before breakfast, before I did anything else. Just roll out of bed at 6, everyone else still asleep, and slip into the home office. In this time span, I’ve established a wonderful writing rhythm, those 30 minutes to myself and my words a jump start to my day, whatever responsibilities await.

My brain is so much sharper at this hour than if I tried to write once my children are both asleep (ideally before 8). At that hour, I have little mental focus, all of it used up during my job as a professor. I’ve tried to write during space from 8-9 p.m., but I’ve found that what I can accomplish in that time, I can accomplish in a half hour in the early morning.

I did take this morning off, it being Thanksgiving, but of the many things for which I am grateful (my family, my friends, my job, my church, my home, etc.) writing and reading are two of the most precious. To be able to communicate and to be able to understand the ideas and stories of others are gifts I do not take for granted. And having done the former (I trust), I will now spend part of this rainy afternoon doing the latter.

 

On Slowing Down

This is not a post railing against the fast-paced and out-of-control world we live in, railing against everyone always on phones or obsessing over glowing rectangles. (Although goodness knows I love Neil Postman.) It is, rather, about my efforts learning to run more slowly to get myself faster.

I didn’t really enjoy running until I started dating, got engaged to, and eventually married, a runner. Living in Portland, Oregon, where I could run outside all year round surely increased my love for the activity.

But it hasn’t been until this year that I started learning how to run at different paces. Prior to this year, I would normally run at whatever pace, not considering it much (except running faster, and certainly never to run at a slower pace). To my uninformed and immature running brain, running slowly on purpose was a silly idea. And certainly, the idea that I could use slow runs to improve my speed (for races) felt counterintuitive at best, absurd at worst.

Yet, in January when I began training for a 10-K (my first race in nearly 6 years), I decided to “try” what the training plan referred to as “easy runs.” The explanation said that I needed to be able to speak in full sentences. Because I always run by myself, I had no idea what this would mean for me once I tried it. At first, it felt to my body as though I might as well have walked instead. How could this be running? It felt as though I were cheating somehow, in some way.

I’m six months into learning how to run “easy” (defined for me as close to 11:00/mile pace). Now I’m starting to believe in and experience the main reason for doing slow runs: to give my body a rest from and to prepare for harder workouts that I still enjoy more. Those 20-minute tempo runs (at race pace). Those 1/4 mile repeats (sometimes 6, sometimes 8) alternating running 1/4 mile with jogging a 1/4 mile.

I should mention that around that same time I started running slowly, I also decided to stop wearing my ear buds. Partly for safety, partly for something different. I still play music softly on my my iPhone speaker, listening to my go-to background ambient music, Hammock, on shuffle while the MapMyRun informs me every 1/4 mile of my overall pace, which on the “easy” days I try to sustain at that 11:00/mile pace.

It’s a learning process. But I am noticing more around me. Hearing more around me. So many birds singing, squawking, yammering. And I’m at a better pace to take it all in.

On Running

From 7th-10th grade, I ran the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races in track because the other two spring sports (golf and baseball) were beyond my ability. Which is not to say that I was a good runner those four years. Rather, I was average or below average. I never placed in junior-high meets. And in 9th and 10th grade, I earned a “point” maybe once or twice. I improved enough by my sophomore year–getting a 5:20 in the 1,600 meter–to earn the “Most-Improved Runner” trophy. Because I loved running so much, I didn’t even sign up for track my junior and senior years. During my track years, I never ran on the weekends, never ran in the summer. I ran at practice; I ran at meets. That was more than enough for me.

In college, I tried running a few times but never succeeded more than a time or two before giving up on any kind of regimen. If I were going to exercise, it was always, always, always basketball. Then two weeks left in my senior year, I started dating Amy (a girl who in junior high and high school ran both track and cross country). We started running together. (I couldn’t keep up with her.) A few months into our relationship, we trained for a 10-k and ran it together.

Two years later we were married, and in that time I began running more regularly. I was in my M.F.A. program and running offset the amount of time I spent reading and writing. This timespan was when my love for running developed, the physical activity (mostly on a treadmill because this was in Northwestern Minnesota) a way of enduring the weather.

Later still, we ran another 10-k in Astoria, Oregon, a year later ran in the Hood-to-Coast relay (the world’s largest relay race), and a year after that, ran the Portland marathon together. I wanted to run another marathon after that; Amy didn’t. So I did run two more marathons: Omaha, Nebraska, and Brookings, South Dakota.

I love running now. Why? It’s solitary. My mind can wander. I can work through a poem, a story, an essay. I can plan a class session. I can pray.

Why? I’m only competing against myself. It’s efficient calorie-burning.

Why? As with writing and teaching, when I’m running, I feel as though I’m doing what I’m called to do, grateful for the movement. Even though I will earn no “points.” Even though I will earn no “prizes” (only the finisher’s medals and shirts).

Why? There is a joy and delight that I cannot experience in any other way.

Those are reasons why my ideal day begins with a run.