Friday, November 25, 2011

New Writing/Running Songs

I'm always looking for new songs to run and write to. I find if I find a song works well for one activity, it usually works well for the other. Here are a few recent additions to my play list. I should note that I'm usually just listening to the song, not watching the video. Although I must admit, the video to this first one is pretty nifty.

Lonely Boy - Black Keys

This song has been getting a lot of radio time, but so far I haven't grown weary of it. The song itself is upbeat, while the lyrics tend to be quite dark.

Pumped Up Kicks - Foster the People

And this song just demands that you crank up the volume, if only a little. The music video is not the official one. Somebody mashed up the song with scenes from the 1998 film, Pi.

Super Bon Bon - Soul Coughing

And finally, I'm really liking Neon Trees. They've got several songs I've added to my list, but for some reason, this one does it for me.

Animal - Neon Trees

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Devil in the Details

It seems like I get a hankering to get outdoors right as it's getting to cold to actually go outside. But this evening I decided it was warm enough to hike part way up the mountain and try to get a few pictures of the sunset. Sunsets are hit and miss, and since I'm not really a good photographer, I tend to miss, even when the sunset is a hit. Tonight, this is what I got.

Not bad, but nothing to scream about. It's a sunset. It's the sun. It's setting. Nifty.

I took a dozen or so of these. It was pretty simple. Just point the camera and click. They all looked fine. As I walked along the trail, I noticed some withered flowers. I got the idea to take a picture of them, up close. It was a little more difficult. I had to take off my backpack, sit or lie in the mud, and get the focus just right. I took a few pictures of the flowers, and put the sunset in the background. The result was a little different.

Again, I'm no photographer, but when I got back and threw all the photos on my computer, it was these pictures that caught my eye.

It got me thinking about writing (because lately writing is all I can seem to think about). There are a lot of cool stories out there. Epic stories. Stories with powerful messages. But what makes a story grand? It's not the big picture. It's the little ones. The details.

Consider J.R.R. Tolkien's epic masterpiece. It's a story of good, evil, courage, sacrifice, and everything in between. But how does it start? With tiny details. Small, but important.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

I can sense a world there. Tolkien doesn't paint a large picture. He paints a small one. With small details. But from those details we get swept along on an epic journey. One that is made up of small details.

Consider the first line of Michael Crichton's novel The Great Train Robbery:

Forty minutes out of London, passing through the rolling green fields and cherry orchards of Kent, the morning train of the South Eastern Railway attained its maximum speed of fifty-four miles and hour.

Nothing but details. But they hint at another world. A deep and rich world, one that the author has researched or imagined in great detail. I find myself wanting to read more of that world.

Sometimes in writers circles this focus on detail is described as "show, don't tell. I don't want the author to tell me the diner is a dump. I want to taste the flat Coke. I want to feel the sticky syrup on the faded plastic menus. I want to hear the flies buzzing every time the kitchen door opens. When I see the details, I get lost in the world.

I feel like story ideas are a dime a dozen. Anybody can imagine an epic journey, a wild adventure, or star-crossed lovers. But the devil is in the details. To write a good story, you must become intimate with the world you are trying to create. You must create dozens of scenes, filled with rich, vivid details.

The big picture is good, but the details are vital.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Snow Canyon Half Marathon

Two months ago I watched my wife finish the Top of Utah Half marathon. I was sidelined with some medical issues and hadn't run in almost a year. But watching her finish made me want to get training again. We signed up for the Snow Canyon Half marathon, and I started to run.

Today was the big day. Last night we traveled down to St. George, sat in the hot tub while a freezing rain pelted the tops of our head, and went to bed hoping that it would be warmer by the start of the race.

Race day came early. Doesn't it always? I want to find a race that starts at 2:00 in the afternoon--so I can sleep in.

We rode the bus to the starting line. The rain from last night had cleared, but there was snow on the ground. SNOW ON THE GROUND. Seriously? This is St. George. I thought it was in their city charter that they can only have sun. I stepped off the bus and pretty much felt like this.

Only colder. Much colder. I walked around, beating my shoulders, and stamping the ground with my feet, trying to regain the feeling in my legs and arms. At 8:30, the race began.

I had a jacket and gloves on. As soon as I began running, and as soon as the sun hit me, I went from feeling cold to feeling like this:

That's right. I'm a sissy. It was cold the whole race. But not an uncomfortable cold. In fact, all jesting aside, I think it was just about perfect. Running kept me warm, and the frigid breeze kept me cool. It was fantastic. And as far as the scenery . . . I can't think of a more beautiful run than Snow Canyon. If you drive through Snow Canyon, this is what you'd see:

And if you were to bike through Snow Canyon, you might see this:

And if you're me, and you're running through Snow Canyon, this is what you see:

That, and a pair of shoes hitting the pavement about a million times.

I've been having leg problems for about two weeks, but while my leg bothered me the whole race, I never had to stop. In fact, I felt pretty good. I think I slowed down a little toward the end, but for the most part I was pretty consistent. I don't have a watch, so I can't be certain.

I've only run in one other half-marathon, and I beat my previous time. So all in all I'm pretty pleased. It's by no means an impressive time. In fact, they were already starting to hand out the awards by the time I finished.

My time was 2:08:42 (I'm particularly pleased with the 42). That is an average of 9:49 per mile. I never would have guessed I could run sub 10 minute miles for that long.

The only downside to that time is that it's so close to 2 hours, now I've got to try to break the 2 hour barrier. I guess that will be the goal for the Ogden Half next spring.

I didn't bring a camera, so I don't have a shot at me at the end of the race. I more or less looked like this.

Okay, okay. Maybe more like this:

And now . . . nap time.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Distance

At some point in our lives we all set goals. And then after we set out after those goals, we wonder if we can achieve them.

I'm a fan of the band Cake. They've got a distinct style, and one that grows on me over time. They have a song call The Distance, and I find the lyrics beautifully capture the spirit of striving for a goal.

The song starts by describing a race.

Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
engines pumping and thumping in time.
the green light flashes, the flags go up.
churning and burning, they yearn for the cup.
they deftly maneuver and muscle for rank,
fuel burning fast on an empty tank.
reckless and wild, they pour through the turns.
their prowess is potent and secretly stern.
as they speed through the finish, the flags go down.
the fans get up and they get out of town.

So the race is over. There is a winner, but we don't know who it is. In this song, that's not important. Turn back to the arena to see the real message.

the arena is empty except for one man,
still driving and striving as fast as he can.
the sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
and long ago somebody left with the cup.
but he's driving and striving and hugging the turns.
and thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

The race is over. The man has lost, and yet still he drives on. We come to the chorus.

he's going the distance.
he's going for speed.
she's all alone
all alone in her time of need.
because he's racing and pacing and plotting the course,
he's fighting and biting and riding on his horse,
he's going the distance.

Winning isn't the important thing. By the end of the song we don't even know if this man finishes the race. Again, that's not important. What is important is the first line and the last line. He's going the distance. Going the distance doesn't mean that he's reached the goal--only that he's still working at it.

I love the second verse. It speaks to the doubt we all experience.

no trophy, no flowers, no flashbulbs, no wine,
he's haunted by something he cannot define.
bowel-shaking earthquakes of doubt and remorse,
assail him, impale him with monster-truck force.
in his mind, he's still driving, still making the grade.
she's hoping in time that her memories will fade.
cause he's racing and pacing and plotting the course,
he's fighting and biting and riding on his horse.
the sun has gone down and the moon has come up,
and long ago somebody left with the cup.
but he's striving and driving and hugging the turns.
and thinking of someone for whom he still burns.

We all set goals. Then we strive for those goals. Some goals are realized. Others seem to always be just beyond our reach. So, do we stop reaching, or do we go the distance?

You can listen to the song here.