What is love? Part 2

By | February 14, 2013

It’s Valentine’s Day.

I’m in Florida looking after my father as he recovers from a broken hip. My wife of 15 years, Carole Furr, is back home in Vermont, working part-time doing accounting for a local firm, looking after our three kitties, and trying to keep from going nuts during the long dark cold Vermont winter.

We spend most Valentine’s Days apart, thanks to my job which has me traveling three weeks out of every four, or sometimes even more often. I’d like to say that I find a way to make the day memorable somehow, every year, but the fact is, I don’t. Some years I order her flowers, some years I order her chocolates, and some years I take her at her word and order neither in order to save money. Sometimes we go out for a nice dinner when I get home at the end of the week, and sometimes, best intentions notwithstanding, we simply never get around to it.

Carole and I have been married for fifteen and a half years. They haven’t always been easy years. We sometimes don’t get along at all. Carole suffers from depression and some rogue form of ADHD, and she’s simply not always easy to stand. And for my part, I have a bad temper and sometimes get a lot angrier about her mood swings than is reasonable, or even sane. But I’m working very hard on that these days. And I think she’s putting in some effort toward being more considerate of my need for peace and quiet in the evenings when I actually am home. Bit by bit, a step forward and a step back and another step forward, we’re learning how to get along with each other. Maybe by the time we’ve been married 50 years we’ll actually be mature enough to be good partners to each other.

Do we love each other? Yes.

But do we always like each other? No.

But we’ve stuck with each other to this point, even though at times it seemed like insanity to do so.

In the end, you know why I stick with her and she with me?

I think it’s because we feel so comfortable being silly together.

I’ll spare you a long litany of examples (although I could post one if I was so inclined and not so tired) and simply give you a classic bit of Jay-and-Carole silliness:

Our old house in Essex Junction had a large kitchen with an open archway leading to the dining room. The dining room had a glass door leading to the back yard and another open archway leading to the living room. The living room in turn had open archways leading to the dining room and to the kitchen, and then a hallway leading to the bedrooms and such.

In other words, you could walk from the living room into the kitchen, bear left, walk through an archway into the dining room, bear left, walk through an archway, and be back in the living room. (I miss that kitchen. It was about five times larger than my current kitchen, although everything else about my current house is better in every way.)

We put the topography of our house to use in a particularly strange ritual about once or twice a month. Specifically, Carole would decide to chase me. I would run (slowly), howling in fear, from kitchen to dining room to living room and back again to the kitchen, looping around over and over as she gamely pursued me. She would chant “I’m gonna git ‘cha! I’m gonna git ‘cha!” I’d go “AAAAAAAAAAAAAH” and so on.

Reasonable enough, so far.

But what made the game really special was what happened after about five or six laps. Carole would suddenly turn around and suddenly she’d be in front of me as I came around the corner into the kitchen. And while I obviously could have reversed direction myself, that wasn’t the point. She’d raise her arms in the air and go “I’M GONNA GIT ‘CHA” and I’d run right into her and *pow*, she’d grab me.

And she’d hug me and I’d whimper pathetically.

But bit by bit, I’d relax and, in my gormless way, realize that this wasn’t so bad, and I’d return the hug.

All couples do that, right?

So if that’s not love, what is?

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What is love? Part 1

By | February 14, 2013

I am spending Valentine’s Day far from my sweetie.

This isn’t as unusual as it might be for some people. I work as a technical trainer for a very large Fortune 500 company and it’s often the case that I’m on a business trip on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes I send flowers, sometimes I send chocolates, and in any event, we often try to have a special meal out when I return.

But this week I’m not on a business trip. In fact, I was supposed to be at home this week; I expected to be in town all week long, resting up between road trips and getting in some serious running at the gym and, with any luck, having a romantic Valentine’s Day night out with Carole.

That all changed last Wednesday night, when my father, Keith Furr, tripped over his own loose sock on the hardwood floor of the hallway outside his bedroom at his house in Brooksville, Florida. Dad is 80, a widower, and had been planning on having a hip replacement soon anyway, but that fall fractured his right hip but good — the same one he’d been planning on having replaced. He lay in agony in the hallway for a while, somehow managed to drag himself back into his bedroom and onto his bed, and then finally was able to wake my sister Elizabeth up with his shouts. Elizabeth lives with him; she’s the oldest of my three siblings, and is disabled with mental health issues. She got word to my cousin Anne who lives across the street and who works with my family as driver, housecleaner, cook, and all-around superhero. And it was off to the hospital for Dad.

I got word as I was already in Illinois for a business trip. There was debate over whether Dad would even be healthy enough to survive surgery; among his many problems is a bad heart, a significantly blocked artery, and atrial fibrillation. A debate took place between his orthopedic surgeon and his cardiologist as to which surgery would take place first. In the end, they went with the hip replacement.

I knew that I needed to get down to Florida as soon as I could. For all I knew, Dad might not wake up from the anesthesia; if he did, he might be looking at months of rehab and/or hospitalization. I had vague notions of flying home, unpacking, repacking, and flying down here to Florida to spend the week with Dad at the hospital until he was well enough to transfer to rehab, then keeping him company in rehab until the weekend and then flying home to resume my work schedule. But life took another frustrating turn when my flight home from Illinois on Friday was cancelled outright; I couldn’t get home to Vermont because of a massive blizzard that hit the Northeast. The earliest a flight could get me home to Vermont would be Monday of this week.

Then the Good Fairy interceded: it turns out that I could alter my Chicago-to-Vermont flight to a Chicago-to-Tampa flight, basically at an even trade. No out of pocket on my part, and I could fly down as soon as my Illinois work assignment was over — essentially, Saturday morning. I arrived here in Florida with no return ticket; I wanted to wait to see when it would make sense for me to fly home. For that matter, my siblings in Calgary (AB) and Chapel Hill (NC) might decide to come down, so I figured I’d wait to see what their plans were.

And that’s how I came to spend the weekend, Saturday and Sunday and Monday, sitting calmly in my father’s hospital room in Brooksville, Florida, watching him sleep, serving as a go-between to make sure that he actually got fed (he kept getting left off the meal list and if I hadn’t been there, he’d have gone hungry), actually got looked after (he wasn’t functional enough to ring for a CNA when he’d wet himself, and I had to keep checking on him and summoning help), and so on, and doing my best to talk with him and keep his spirits up, despite the pain. Dad was very very loopy when I first got to Florida; he had been on an older form of anesthesia since had not had a week to wean himself off the Plavix he routinely takes, and if I understand correctly, that particular kind of anesthesia takes a long time to leave the system. That, and the narcotic painkillers he was on, left him unable to distinguish between dreams and reality. He didn’t know where he was; he was convinced that there had been a huge party at his house Wednesday night, which he was very cranky about, and that my sister Julie had been present (she’s still in North Carolina), and even though I politely, but firmly assured him that there had been no party, he kept going back to that belief.

Don’t even ask about the nightmares he’d had, which were equally “real” to him. I’d be sitting talking with him and he’d seem quite lucid, but then he’d begin talking about how “that trip to the cemetery” had taken so much out of him. I learned to recognized the signs of the false memories and could distinguish them from reality, but he would also treat his doctors, nurses, and CNAs to the same jarring tangents into horror.

We decided that it was best if he took no more narcotics and switched him to Tramadol for pain. He got some decent sleep and by Sunday afternoon, the second day I was there, he was almost back to normal, mentally.

All along we had been acting on the assumption that he would be in the hospital for five days, post-surgery, then transfer to an inpatient rehab facility. I arrived at the hospital bright and early at 8 am on Monday morning and no sooner had I walked in than Dad cheerily announced that his doctor said he could go home. Home home. Not to the rehab facility.

I had no idea if this was real or another delusion, so I went and found his nurse and got some clarification. He could go home if his physical therapist thought it was reasonable. I secretly hoped that his PT would persuade Dad that it wasn’t a good idea; I had a premonition that Dad would take home physical therapy a LOT less seriously than the intense, three-hours-per day PT he’d get at the inpatient rehab. I wasn’t alone in worrying about the prospect — the nursing supervisor for the floor and the case manager for the floor arrived mid-morning, looking alarmed at the prospect of Dad heading home as though he hadn’t just broken a hip and had emergency surgery. I could tell from Dad’s face that he desperately wanted to go home and not spend another night in a crummy hospital bed, no matter how nice. I equivocated and said that we would certainly listen to the advice of the PT and his own personal doctor, who would be coming by around noon.

You guessed it: the PT didn’t tell us “over my dead body”, and his doctor said “Yeah, okay, whatever.” And after about three hours of waiting for papers to sign and transport to arrive, we loaded Dad in a wheelchair and loaded the wheelchair in a van, and next thing you know, here we were at the house.

Dad’s going to be getting PT three times a week, A nursing visit three times a week. And a visit from a CNA three times a week. But so far, he’s not been super-dedicated about doing the exercises his PT assigns him. And when we get him up in his walker to move him to a chair, he just won’t listen when we beg him to stay inside the walker, not pushing it so far in front of him that he’s practically falling down. But he needs to be up and moving around and doing his exercises to get strong… and it’s incredibly hard to persuade someone who just feels defeated that there’s a reason to rise up and give it another try.

I sympathize tremendously. I’m not angry at him. I don’t fault him. He’s 80 and injured and weak. But willpower makes such a huge difference when fighting health issues, and I know he’s got will. The trick is trying to bring it to the surface.

But when he’s resting, and I’m waiting for the next occasion to help him, the minutes and hours sure do pile up… minutes and hours that fill, unasked, with melancholy thoughts.

I didn’t grow up in this house. Far from it. Mom and Dad retired to Brooksville in order to get away from the snowy, cold winters in Blacksburg, Virginia. But the house is full of possessions I did grow up with. And it’s full of memories of my mother, who passed away suddenly a year and a half ago.

It’s been very emotionally upsetting for me, hanging out at this house where a reminder of good times or bad lurks around every corner. And I’ve had a lot of time to ponder and mope as Dad’s needed someone to be here around the clock ever since we brought him home on Monday. When he’s sleeping, there’s not much I can do other than sit around waiting for him to call from the bedroom that he needs help. My cousin Anne has been a huge help, and she’ll continue to look after Dad after I fly home on Saturday, but she’s got a life of her own and when she’s not here, mostly I sit, do a little work-related email, and gloom.

I worry about my father. He had few friends and loved my mother very much. She was his life. And when she died, the ship of our family suddenly lacked a captain. While Dad was the breadwinner, Mom was the person who made sure things got done here at the house. Even when she wasn’t strong, when she was in her last years, she still made sure things didn’t get overlooked. Without her around, and with my father so terribly weak and frail …

I keep wanting to go around and “fix” things so they’ll be the way she would have wanted them. Books that I know no one will ever read again — they need to be straightened. Houseplants that she once looked after attentively — they need to be tended to, fertilized, transplanted, whatever. I want to pick things up, put them back the way she liked them.

I’m obviously suffering through some kind of denial. Though she’s been gone for a year and a half, I was able to push the thought of her demise away by focusing on work and my life back in Vermont. Back here in her house in Florida, the presence of my mother is everywhere. And I know that no matter what I do, nothing’s going to bring her back.

Dad is suffering from the same denial. He hasn’t gotten rid of anything of Mom’s. As you walk around, it’s almost as though he thinks she’ll be back. Her drawers are still full of her underwear and scarves and jewelry. Her closets are full of her clothes. Her rack of daily prescription medicines would probably still be on the dining table if Carole and I hadn’t taken it upon ourselves to dispose of them a couple of days after her memorial service.

I know that one of these days Dad is going to die. And I spent the first five days of this time down here dreading that like you would not believe. Not just because Dad will, ultimately, die, but also because it will be hard, HARD when the time comes to go through the house and dispose of all their things. A couple days ago, Cousin Anne informed me that Dad has altered his will putting the house in a trust for Elizabeth so she’ll continue to have a place to live after he dies, and that puts the date of us having to empty the house off for, I hope, MANY years. Dad hadn’t informed me of the change, but I wholeheartedly agree with the new plan.

I’m exhausted and wrung out, emotionally and physically. Dad’s having prostate issues and several times a day we’re having to go deal with the consequences. The poor man can’t get up to use the bathroom and a bedside urinal isn’t always easy to manage in the middle of the night when you’re in pain, disoriented, and sad. I’ve been sleeping on a sofa in the room next to Dad’s bedroom so that I can come running if he needs me in the middle of the night. The “sleep” I’ve been getting hasn’t been great; I come awake over and over again, listening and thinking “was that him calling for me? is there a problem?” only to find out that it’s just him mumbling in his sleep. It grieves me to see the man who was such a strong central figure in my life when I was a kid so foggy and frail and helpless.

Some people who know me well find it a bit incongruous that I’m down here at all. Dad was a hard man to have as a father. I was beaten up, physically and emotionally, for years. Dad never had a kind word to say about me from about the time I entered third grade until I finished graduate school, and even then, the praise came only rarely. Dad didn’t really start treating me with respect until I got a salaried position and began living a normal middle-class life. Until that happened, I’m sure he was waiting confidently for me to fail — he spent most of my childhood aggressively predicting failure in my every endeavor.

He mellowed a bit as he got older. But he’s still got the same problem that he’s always had: he’s not good at showing love. Except to Mom, and even then, he usually found a way of expressing it that allowed him plausible deniability. That he loved her is not in question. But he was never good at showing it, not when others were around. And he’s not good at showing it to his children, even today. He’s quick to criticize, quick to find fault, and the only defense is to show a quiet, unflappable competency.

But on the other hand, something pretty out of the ordinary happened the other day. The last day he was in the hospital before coming home, after a flurry of activity where I’d chased down the hospital catering crew to find out why, for the second time in five meals, he’d been skipped, chased down his nurse to find out why a promised pain pill had still not materialized after an hour, and helped him out of his chair back into bed (not an easy task), he looked at me and said “Thank you for all you’re doing to help me.”

I said “It’s no more than I should be doing — you looked after me when I was a baby and when I was a kid, now it’s my turn to look after you.”

And he replied, “Well, yeah, but …” and here his voice dropped to a barely audible mumble … “I was pretty rough on you at times.”

That is the closest he has ever come to admitting “I beat the hell out of you for most of your childhood.”

And I understand why people who know me, and know Dad, and know how we haven’t always gotten along (to say the least) find it odd that I’m down here. That I’m waiting on him hand and foot, talking with him to try to keep his brain engaged and lucid, lying half-awake all night waiting for him to call for help. That I’m going to such lengths to try to help him.

It’s not easy. But it is the right thing to do. When someone you love is in pain, you do what you have to do.

And there’s that word: “love”.

Love is a confusing, frustrating thing. It’s not an easy thing. We think of love in terms of “romantic love” more often than not, especially on today of all days. But love comes in many forms, and if it’s not love to change your father’s wet bedsheets three times a day with a smile on your face and without a word of complaint, then I don’t know what love is.

It does me no good to keep a record in my head of all the mean and angry things Dad did to me over the years. It would do me no good to hold a grudge and to say “Let him suffer; it’s no more than he deserves.” It would do me no good to sigh in exasperation and say “Oh, jeez, what now?”

I must simply remember: Dad is a human, like all the rest of us. He is not perfect. Nor am I. But we are all deserving of love. One day he will be gone and no amount of tidying or reorganizing his cluttered office will bring him back. And when that day comes, I will miss him. And I do not want to have on my conscience when that day comes that I did less than I could have.

I believe that Dad can regain his strength and live several more years, able to walk and function and enjoy life. I am optimistic that he’s going to get stronger and that he’ll be able to take care of himself and not be perpetually dependent on others to care for him. But even if my belief and optimism come to nothing, whether he prevails or whether he gives up, defeated, I still love him. With all his faults, he’s still my father.



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Superplagal cadence?

By | February 1, 2013

In music theory, a cadence is a “melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution” (thanks, Wikipedia; thanks, Harvard Dictionary of Music). The most basic cadence, also called authentic or standard cadence, ends in the chords V-I. (If you don’t know what that means, here’s some basic music theory: V refers to a triad built on the fifth degree of the scale, I to a a triad built on the first degree of the scale. You use Roman numerals to indicate a triad.) Wikipedia says that it is “virtually obligatory” to use V-I as the final cadence in a tonal work.

But there is another, specialized cadence called the plagal cadence. The plagal cadence is IV-I, also called the “Amen” cadence, because it is used for the “Amen” at the end of most hymns, and probably in some other works. To me, the plagal cadence has always felt even more final than the standard cadence, thanks to many, many years of going to church, begun early in childhood.

A few months ago, I watched “Phantom of the Opera” for the first time. I remember at some point hearing a sequence of chords that inspired in me a really profound sense of peace and resolution. I can’t remember when it was: at the end? Or during one of the songs, right before a singer began to sing? At any rate, I began thinking of it as a “super-plagal cadence.”

Thinking about it a few days later, I remembered one other place where I had heard a cadence like that: in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” It is the beginning of Mvt. 2, Largo, and takes 7 chords, before the appearance of the folk-song-like theme. I meant to look at Dvorak’s score sometime and figure out what the chords were. I’m going to do that soon, but wanted to make a note of the connection, as I saw it, first.

I’m not really sure there is anything “plagal” about these cadences. It’s just the way I thought of it, based on my emotional reaction to them. Does anyone know where I’ll find the passage I’m referring to in “Phantom”? I’m pretty sure I still have that recording on my DVR; I can find it in time, but I thought I’d “ask Dr. Internet” first.

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Modern banking: I still hate it

By | February 1, 2013

Jay and I have been pretty short on cash lately. This isn’t our fault; it’s because for quite a few months of last year, I worked for someone who *ahem* did not pay me. Not an illegal action; I was a contractor, and I took the job knowing that the company had cash-flow problems and that they might continue. But let’s just say that as the weeks passed, I inadvertently took on much more of the company’s risk than I intended to. At times, we spent as if we expected to collect that money really soon (well, we did… naive? who, us?) and as a result, we stretched our credit limits pretty far.

All this week, I have been trying to deal with a consequence of this: our bank overdraft was straining its limit. We didn’t have cash to cover it, but we did have various credit-card transfer offers on hand, from the credit cards that weren’t near their limits. So last Friday, I got on the phone with Citicard and ordered a balance transfer to pay down the overdraft. I know that Citi does everything electronically, so I figured it wouldn’t take long.

But surprise, surprise, even in the Check 21 age, when consumer checks have NO float, BANKS STILL HAVE LOOPHOLES TO MAKE THEIR PAYMENTS FLOAT. Citicard posted the transfer and started charging me interest on Monday, but as of today, Friday, TDBank still doesn’t know anything about the transfer. I talked to a banking customer-service representative at the TDBank call center: nothing. I called Citicard, for the second time this week, and got confirmation that the transfer had been made (and confirmed) on Monday. But what did “confirmed” mean? Apparently, it wasn’t a confirmation by TDBank. I still don’t know what it does mean. I finally made a three-way call and had a TDBank rep (from the loan center, no less, in Lewiston, Maine) talk to a Citicard rep. The previous Citi rep had told me that the payment was a “wire transfer”, a name which normally refers to a Fedwire, the only type of financial instrument that has NO float. But this one said that it was an “electronic transfer” or “EFT.” The two reps seemed to be speaking a secret language to each other, and having exchanged secret handshakes, they told me together that the transfer could take, oh, four? five? eight? business days to post.

So once again, the consumer (that’s me) gets screwed. I get a whole week (at least!) of paying interest to both banks for the same money. Furthermore, I am still not safe from maxing out my overdraft and bouncing every purchase that we make this weekend. (Because nowadays, it doesn’t matter what’s cleared; your available balance is reduced by all your pending transactions, and your available balance has to be at or above zero at the end of the day.) So I went down to the branch of TDBank with my checkbook from the credit union where we keep a few extra bucks socked away. I went to the counter to write and deposit a check, but realized at the last minute that it wouldn’t help, because TDBank, when it is clearing a check, puts a positive AND a negative into the pending-transactions list. So what would I do? I offered to go to the ATM and take out cash from my credit union, then give it to the teller. “Hang on a second,” he said, “maybe there’s something we can do.” He turned to the branch manager and described the situation, and she told him to cash the check, then deposit the cash. WHEW. I’m in good shape now. We have some cash to spend on the weekend (not much, but enough).

And it brought home to me something I once knew, but forgot: the only people you can trust in a bank are the people who work at a local branch. Thanks, TDBank of Richmond, Vermont.


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This is my Sick Face.

By | February 1, 2013


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The wisdom of using “shylock” as the Word of the Day at your coffeehouse

By | February 1, 2013

Carole and I stopped at the Starbucks in Williston, VT after my doctor’s appointment this morning; my throat was killing me and I was desperate for some hot tea. While we were waiting for our drinks with the other drones, I noticed with some amazement that this particular Starbucks had happily posted a “Word of the Day” on a little blackboard … and today’s Word was “shylock”.

I wish I’d thought to grab a picture with my Droid, but the definition that they gave was “a grasping, avaricious moneylender” or words to that effect.

I glanced at Carole and said “I’m not sure that’s really a … good word to use, given its anti-Semitic connotations, and the whole debate over the ‘Merchant of Venice’ and so on.”

Carole did a double-take over her own and said “Yeah. Huh. I wonder if they get the Word of the Day from corporate or something.”

The barista overheard us and said “No, we come up with those here.” Then she cheerily repeated the definition for us with the air of someone happy to have learned something and happy to share it with her customers. And when we repeated our doubts as to the propriety of using “shylock” as a word of the day, given the likelihood of causing offense among Jewish customers, she was surprised and confused. Apparently she wasn’t really familiar with Shakespeare’s play.

I tried to explain about the whole “contrasting the cruel, greedy nature of the Jew with the mercy of the Christian characters” and Carole chimed in with the “Yeah, and he was made to give up his religion and convert to Christianity and this was seen as a happy ending for the character.”

The barista said “Huh. Maybe we should take that down.” And she did so between drinks, sliding the little blackboard off the counter (where it had been positioned so every customer coming in would look right at it). While she was making my drink, though, I heard another employee ask what was up and the barista said “Apparently it’s antisemitic.”

I sort of suspect that the minute we left the store the little WOTD blackboard went right back up on the counter. But I’d also be surprised if no one else comments on it.

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Ponderings from the haze of cold medicine

By | January 31, 2013

I’ve had a cold all week, not a particularly awful one, but bad enough that I’d definitely prefer to be over it. It’s shifted to the “painful sore throat” phase, with a soupçon of aching pain in my inguinal lymph nodes (for those who skipped Intro to Anatomy, that’s the lymph nodes down in the groin). I’m at the point where ibuprofen taken every two hours isn’t really managing to arrest the pain, and I’m alternating between gargling Chloraseptic and drinking vats of hot beverages.

I had to teach in Dallas this week and just got home an hour ago. I’m more or less planning to crash tomorrow and take it as a sick day. I need the rest after what turned into a difficult class; I wasn’t very mentally focused because I felt so rotten all three days.

I had hoped to run in the first ever Montpelier Frostival 5k on Saturday morning. Right now, I’d say there’s just about zero chance of that. It’s supposed to be about 15 degrees and I doubt that wearing myself out in a road race would help my recovery from this cold at all.

I had a strange question pop into my head a couple of hours ago while I was trapped aboard a small regional jet packed with kids, to wit: If you committed some crime, and you were given the alternative between six months in traditional jail OR two weeks locked in solitary with either “Hotel California” or “Stairway to Heaven” playing continuously, 24 hours a day, which would you choose? Regular jail or “face the music”? And if you chose to endure the music, which tune would you choose? The 2500 back-to-back playings of “Stairway” or the the 3100 playings of “Hotel California”?

Comments below, please!

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My ever-dropping heart rate?

By | January 23, 2013

I vowed that I would run each day this week. I started on Saturday and have run four days in a row so far. Each run took place at the Sports and Fitness Edge gym in Essex Junction, Vermont on their 1/8 mile indoor track.

I was just under 30 minutes on Saturday, just over 30 minutes on Sunday, and just under 30 minutes on both Monday and Tuesday. But more notably, Monday’s run was my first-ever 5K distance run where I didn’t walk at all and I was able to follow that up last night (Tuesday) with another no-walking run. I feel like I’m getting stronger; I used to really start to gasp and ache if I didn’t stop and walk a half lap now and then. Last night, though I was certainly tiring, I could probably have kept on running at the end. When I completed my 25th lap I hadn’t hit the wall.

Interestingly, when I uploaded the data from my Garmin Forerunner 305 to my computer, I noticed that my average heart rate during my runs had dropped each day. Saturday: 160. Sunday: 153. Monday: 152. Tuesday: 147.

I don’t really know what it means that my heart rate is dropping each time — can one really improve in cardiovascular terms over such a short span of time? Still, I’m not complaining.

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By | January 21, 2013

I hate running.

I like the idea of running. When I visualize myself running, I have a mental image of me gliding effortlessly around a track. Not as fast as, say, Roger Bannister or Billy Mills or anyone like that, but not like some horribly out of shape weirdo at a fat camp, either.

But when I get my running gear on and head out on a trail or road or track, somehow that Runner Jay I had such a clear picture of is replaced by a “oh god, oh god, how many more laps before I can stop?” Jay.

Somehow I make it through to the end of my run each time without having a coronary or barfing on the track. I don’t generally go “oh, Christ, I hope no one was watching.” But I’m acutely aware each time of how far I still have to go before I feel like I’m where I want to be.

My preferred place to run is on a nice flat track. When the weather is nice, there’s a standard-length high school track about ten miles from my house (I drive ten miles to run three; yay, I’m an American!) and when it’s cold and icy and snowy out, I can go run at the indoor track at the gym Carole and I belong to; it’s a half-size track so I have to run 25 laps to get in a 5K distance.

I’ve run along trails and I’ve run along roads, but frankly, I really hate road running. Here in Vermont there are hardly ever sidewalks and the shoulders aren’t super-wide either, and the last thing someone who’s already pretty sheepish about running needs is cars honking dismissively as they go by. Road running has the other disadvantage of, well, hills. I don’t mind running down them but I absolutely hate running up them. Which just goes to show that I’ve got a long ways to go as a runner. I doubt that very many people love hills, but I doubt that most people hate them as much as I do. I know that ultimately I need to run on hills if I want to avoid total embarrassment when I’m running in an actual 5K road race, but … I hates them, I does.

I also hate running on a treadmill. I’ve done quite a bit of fast walking on a treadmill, but when I start a “run” on a treadmill, the words “oh, jeez, I must look like a total idiot compared to everyone else in here” come unbidden to mind every time. And that’s too bad, because as much as I travel, I’ve got little choice but to run on treadmills if I want to stay in shape and stay trained. I can’t run just on the weekends at home and then do nothing all week. When I go down to the hotel fitness center after work, I generally find two or three women running on treadmills with that effortless stride that says that if they didn’t get in a run they’d just feel lousy all evening. And I hate the idea of running next to them; even if they never even look at me, I just know that they’re mentally going “check out the lame-o on Treadmill 3.”

Do you have the idea that the mental game is where I’m really hurting myself? Because, yeah, that’s occurred to me as well. I need to avoid tearing myself down mentally and do a better job psyching myself up. The truth is, while I’ll never be in contention for top finisher in my age and sex classification at any real road race, I can generally expect to come in around 30 minutes, and that’s not awful. The more I train, the better my time gets; last year I had one race in the 28 minute range. Then life got ugly and complicated, and I stopped doing much running, and, of course, my time suffered.

This year I’m trying to run more. I ran twice this weekend and I plan to go running at the track each day this week… and I’m working hard on thinking positive, happy thoughts. If I can keep building up my stamina and my speed, I might actually be able to get down to the 27-minute range sometime late this winter and maybe even start competing in 10K distances instead of forever shackling myself to the 5K.

Why am I doing any of this? Well, even though the world doesn’t really need one more marginally-competent 45-year-old white male runner, I need something to challenge myself with, or I just get listless and depressed. I’ve shown that I can walk long, long distances with little or no difficulty, so running seems like the obvious next step. It’s something I can work on year-round, generally, and with any luck, it’ll help with my mood, my blood pressure, and my cholesterol.

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Welcome to the jungle

By | January 21, 2013

This is the first-ever post to our new WordPress blog.

For years — literally, since 1996 or so — Carole and I had a website hosted by Mindspring (and its successor, Earthlink). We never really did much with it other than host photos, and when sites like Facebook and Google came along and made it so much easier to host photos online, the need to maintain our own website for the purpose diminished markedly. Furthermore, the wonderful folks at Earthlink felt no need to tell us that the $80-a-month hosting plan that we signed up for in 1999 had been replaced by a $34.95-a-month plan, and we were too fat and happy to make inquiries until 2005 or so, when we wised up and switched.

Fast-forward to 2013. I knew that our legacy Furrs.org site was a clunky dinosaur, the kind of thing that gets mocked in this modern high-tech era. And I finally decided to bite the bullet and switch to a cheaper (much cheaper, frankly) plan with another provider and simply host a WordPress blog.

And that brings us here. Carole and I have our own Livejournals (mine is http://jayfurr.livejournal.com and Carole’s is http://caroleotter.livejournal.com) and I have my Komen 3-Day-oriented blog at http://www.thepinkhelmet.com, so this site will mostly just contain entries distilled from our Livejournals rather than being a new and trendy place to get the latest in otter/lemur-themed metasyntactic variables.

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