Be Weird

I'm reading Christopher McDougall's new book Running With Sherman, his story of adopting an abused donkey and training it for ultra-running. It turns out there's a thing called burro racing in which person and animal run together over longer than marathon distances.

Weird, right?

That's just the sort of thing I encourage all of us to do. Maybe not running with a burro, but being weird. The world needs more weird and it needs it now.

Consider what's normal: Carrying a plastic and glass block, carrying on with it instead of with other people, and writing short messages on it all day and into the night to people you either know or don't know. Normal now is following the news twenty-four hours a day and thinking sports worthy of that same coverage. Normal is that orange turd bespoiling the White House.

When these things pass for normal, weird seems the only sensible choice. And being weird doesn't require that much.

Some ways that I'm weird:

  • writing with fountain pens and manual typewriters
  • playing records on a turntable
  • staying married and in love for over two decades
  • buying a house and living in it for eighteen years
  • running barefoot (on purpose on pavement)
  • writing a blog for no money
  • deleting Facebook and Twitter

I could go on.

Two of my friends don't drink, one is a vegan, and another runs or rides a bike to work because he doesn't like driving. My older daughter has never once eaten fast food and her sister won't usestyrofoam or plastic cups. Weirdos.

The weird things I do make me happy and help me feel I'm going the right way. How? Because normal is a road to ruin. That much is clear. And even if weird won't save us (though it saves me), it's a hell of a lot more fun.

Tools Of Mass Creation

In my inbox, another note about the Freewrite, a typewriter-like device meant only for writing. It's pretty cool and the Freewrite Traveler is cooler still, but both are too expensive for me given that I have fountain pens, typewriters, computers, and a phone. There are only so many tools I need. I still want the Freewrite Traveler, but I'll get over that.

Most writers I know are at least a little picky about tools. Partners in my writing group use Microsoft Word. A novelist friend likes Scrivener. When I'm really writing, I use Writer: The Internet Typewriter. I wish I had hundreds of readers who would buy full access to Writer on my recommendation. Fifty dollars for a lifetime subscription? Such a deal.

The Freewrite is advertised as a distraction-free writing tool while Writer runs in a web browser, host to all the distractions known to man and machine. I run Writer in full-screen mode and it's as distraction-free as any tool I own. All its best features are what it can't do. It has:

  • no spellcheck or grammar check
  • no right-click to research
  • no sharing or social media
  • no page numbering or page breaks
  • no way to see inserted graphics (until published)

It facilitates:

  • writing, word counting, editing, and revision
  • minor formatting (unseen until published)
  • cutting, copying, pasting, undoing, and redoing
  • moving the cursor, deleting, and backspacing

Basically, it's a quiet typewriter that doesn't need correction tape.

Austin Kleon has a cartoon I like about all this. Writing is a journey of the spirit and a self-awakening and all that other crap, and how we go about doing it doesn't really matter. Except it does. I really like Writer and one of the first things I ask creative people is to tell me about their tools.

What tools do you use?

Driving Home Alone

I don't miss commuting, but I'm all about the occasional long drive alone.

My daughter and I drove the New York State Thruway back to SUNY Brockport from Syracuse, talking, lapsing into silences, pointing out Teslas as they passed, and staring down the unwinding road ahead of us. Time on the road loosens her just enough to say things she might not otherwise. It's lovely.

After we unpacked her things in her room it was time for her swim practice. I said, "I guess I'll get going," hearing Dad's voice, the repeated rhythm of being a father. She didn't say anything or even nod, but there's almost imperceptible that sadly said, "I guess so." Then she half accepted my hug. "I love you," I said and went out the door.

In the stairwell I took in all the air I could hold, held it, then sighed it out of me, thinking, I am not going to cry.

I walked to my car, got in, pulled the seatbelt around me, chose music, and drove away. I was distracted enough I made one wrong turn, another, and then found my way to Main Street, out to 31, down 531 to 490, and back on the Thruway, east away from my girl.

It would have all been terrible, but the drive was lovely. Music played and I listened some, but mostly my mind drifted almost dangerously away from driving. I daydreamed like a child, sank into memory, told myself silent stories. Rather than think everything through, I drifted with feelings, the unfocused images and ideas carrying me further than the car ever could.

I thought, this could make a good piece of writing. I considered dictating to my phone, but no, it would wait. And so it has.

Nearly two hours later I exited the Thruway, traveled 690 East to Teall Ave., snuck down Lynch Avenue behind the concrete plant and abandoned green house succumbing to gravity, crossed Erie Boulevard to Westcott and home. I walked up the steps, unlocked the door, and called hello to the animals. The cats arrived first, then went off on their own. The dog yodeled and whinnied, her tail wagging her whole back end, her teeth bared in what we know as her horrible smile of ecstasy. It had been over four hours after all.

I miss my girl, but the drive cleared my mind and restored me. I'm ready to write. A blog post and then a note I'll seal in an envelope addressed to room in Brockport. The words come less like thoughts than like the lines on the road, the solid one down the side, the broken lines between the lanes, and the varied line of the horizon always ahead, ever out of reach, quietly pulling me forward toward tomorrow.

Without Numbers

Second day in a row, I went for a run without my watch. I have no idea if this will be a trend. I kept turning my left hand over to look at my wrist during the run. At the end of today's I almost pushed my right index finger to my left wrist but felt foolish enough to stop. Old habits. The watch keeps track of heart rate too and I've long run in a low heart-rate range. Going without the watch, I don't know what my heart rate was. I just ran by feel and felt good.

A guy this week ran a marathon in under two hours. First time that's been done, so far as we know. It's nice to know we have almost limitless potential. I just hope he didn't do better running through chemicals. That sort of thing happens when we get too caught up with numbers.

I'm listening to a record on the turntable. I don't know how many times I've played it and lack any way to tell mathematically, algorithmically which record, song, or artist I've heard most. Instead, I scan the spines and see what strikes my fancy. Right now it's Steely Dan's Greatest Hits and "Here At The Western World." How did that song not make it onto a regular album? I mean, really.

This month I've stayed off the scale. I know about what I weigh. No matter the number, I'm heavier than is healthy. The daily weigh in became, as it often does, a drag, so I stopped. Sitting here, I feel my belly over my belt. That's all the data I need at the moment.

This week I started a new writing notebook. It lacks page numbers and I haven't written any in. I begin notebooks wondering how long I'll take to finish them. Maybe there's a better way of thinking.

Our older daughter is home from college this weekend. I could count hours and minutes until I take her back (and we resume missing her daily presence), but I'll skip that.

Numbers are my habit and often my friend. Sometimes they get in the way and every relationship needs a break at least for a little while. I would tell you how long this break will last, but I've decided not to count.