The shore of Lake Michigan, about a week ago.
I mostly gave up running for swimming a few years ago. I read the aches and pains and knew a change was in order to preserve these feet and knees. Like so many others, I’ve taken running back up these past few weeks to get outside and move around in the midst of the pandemic. Physical activity has long been also metaphorical for me, especially as a writer. One step at a time, one word at a time. There is no other possible way on the page or track.
Olympic long distance runner Alexi Pappas gets metaphorical with running in a recent piece she wrote about running during the coronavirus pandemic.
When we step outside to run during quarantine, we can visualize ourselves joining a community of runners, everyone taking their own routes but all sharing the same goal: to move our bodies outside and get through this challenging time together. That runner’s nod or wave when you pass someone going in the opposite direction is a simple way to make a human connection. It can mean just as much as a high five or hug. It makes us feel like we’re all teammates together, bonded by a shared goal. Which, in a way, we are. We’re all just out here running, trying to get through the pandemic as safely and sanely and swiftly as possible.
It’s a fine thought – joining a community – and I’m sure it applies to anyone taking a walk and not just a run. I’m sure it really applies to Pappas while writing the piece since at the moment she is stranded in Greece, unable to return to the United States. But the point I like most is where she talks about the need for control during stress – whether the stress is in your body while running or in your psyche while staying put inside during the pandemic.
Managing what’s in my control is critical, so that I have willpower left to handle what’s not in my control—it’s a fundamental tenet of my training strategy. Willpower is a measure of a person’s ability to make effective decisions, and it is a depletable resource. It’s best to not waste willpower on things we cannot influence.
In our world now, we can’t plan for a week from today—we don’t even know what tomorrow afternoon will look like. But I know I can at least lay my clothes out the night before, make breakfast in the morning and decide what time I am going to step out the door for my run. Committing to my daily run, no matter what, empowers me. It sounds small, but putting myself in the driver’s seat of my day, even in this small way, makes a profound impact on my ability to mentally withstand the stressful and ever-shifting world around me. It helps me stay on my own team.
There’s running, and there’s also “Runnin’” – the 1995 song by The Pharcyde produced by J Dilla. Across the original sample and The Pharcyde track, there’s an enigma around running. I can explain. The main sample for the track comes from “Saudade Vem Correndo” by Jazz Samba Encore! (Of course, I’m not telling you any secrets Whosampled hasn’t already.) The Portuguese title roughly translates in English to “longing comes running.” Correndo = running.
So we’ve got running in the title of the sample and in the title of The Pharcyde track. You might or might not know that running is in the hook and woven thematically through the trio’s verses. Fatlip raps about running from conflict in high school. Imani raps about not running from the stress of perceived fame. And so on. It’s a fair level of thematic unity for a group not exactly know for living in harmony with one another.
As a DJ, I used to run these tracks back to back, first dropping the Brazilian original and then blending into The Pharcyde. That’s kind of the formula, isn’t it? And I’d wonder: what gave Dilla the gumption to look up what the Portuguese title meant? Or did he already know some Portuguese? Or did he know enough Spanish to make out the Portuguese title? And thinking bigger, did he have the idea for the song formed in his mind and then pitch it to the group based on the sample?
Reading: Making my way through The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The opening takes a cue from the first lines of Ellison’s Invisible Man. Here are both openings, both anonymous narrators.
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind.
I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds.
You see it too, right?
Writing: Reframing a grant for a different potential funder. Not exactly exciting. Most definitely necessary.
Listening: I caught the Miles Davis: Birth of Cool short film on Netflix. That’s got me listening to Miles’ catalog while cooped up in the house.
Making: Found some time to chop another sample, make a beat, and put some cuts over it.