This summer, I will:
1. Make more tie-dyes. If you want one, let me know.
2. Sit in the backyard, in the sunshine, listening to the Dead. Neighbors beware that 8/27/72 will be set to repeat.
3. Swim in the pond. If you want to join me, let me know.
4. Go to the beach. Target sells spray-on mineral sunscreen now. Thank me later.
5. Spend some down time with the wife and kids on an island off the coast of Maine, where there’s no internet unless you visit the library, no cell service, no television, and a lot less problems.
6. See family and friends near and far, both here and there.
7. Take photographs. Maybe paint and write.
8. Ignore the scoffers and the internet shamers.
9. Avoid commerce.
10. Not listen to the experts.
11. Drink my berry/kale/chia smoothies and do my barefoot running and yoga.
12. Create my own life. Do good not by politics but by being myself.
Winter is over. I mean, I just moved my snow shovel into the shed from its permanent place on the porch, so it has to be. Right?
I raked the crud out of my front lawn, straightened the stakes in my side yard that support my anemic rose bushes, swept the salt and sand off my sidewalk, filled the bird feeder. In the process I discovered the first green shoots of spring forcing their way upwards through the muck. So naturally my thoughts turned to summer and my annual struggles with wardrobe selection.
As I started my research on this post, I searched the internets for complementary images of men wearing shorts. I couldn’t really find any. Most of the pictures I found made the models wearing said shorts look about as sexy as partially-shaved albino gorillas. See above.
The great wit Fran Lebowitz, in a recent interview with Elle Magazine, lambasted the modern development of men wearing shorts in public. I was alerted to this article by my favorite podcart of all time, TBTL, of which I’ve posted about here and here. I have to say, after reading what she said, I kind of agree with her. The entire interview is worth a read, but I’ll just quote her here on the shorts issue:
“I have to say that one of the biggest changes in my lifetime, is the phenomenon of men wearing shorts. Men never wore shorts when I was young. There are few things I would rather see less, to tell you the truth. I’d just as soon see someone coming toward me with a hand grenade. This is one of the worst changes, by far. It’s disgusting. To have to sit next to grown men on the subway in the summer, and they’re wearing shorts? It’s repulsive. They look ridiculous, like children, and I can’t take them seriously. It’s like any other sort of revealing clothing, in that the people you’d most like to see them on aren’t wearing them. And if they are, it’s probably their job to wear them. My fashion advice, particularly to men wearing shorts: Ask yourself, ‘Could I make a living modeling these shorts?’ If the answer is no, then change your clothes. Put on a pair of pants.”
As a man who has for years unthinkingly worn shorts during the warmer months, I believe it’s time for a change. I’m going to try a little experiment this summer. I can’t guarantee success, but here goes: I’m only going to wear shorts when I’m: 1. exercising, 2. at the beach, or 3. home when no one is looking.
Living by these simple sartorial rules will make it so much easier to decide what to wear every day. I already have an extensive collection of pants, t-shirts, and low-cut Pumas. I won’t need to feel self-conscious about my pale legs. I’ll save on pedicures. I’ll never have to put away the “winter stuff” and dig out the “summer stuff.” Like Einstein and his daily white shirt and gray trousers, I won’t have to think about my wardrobe and can instead just concentrate on the fun things like playing the guitar, listening to early Sabbath, and writing inane blog posts. And since my legs do look like those of a partially-shaved albino gorilla, I’ll be saving everyone else a ton of grief.
Last point I’ll make: I’m supported in my decision by all the greats. I have a feeling that Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie never wore shorts unless they were in a swimming pool. And maybe not even then.
I’ll go with greatness. And go easy on everyone else’s eyes.
Tonight, I slid into the pond and threw my swim trunks up onto the rocks for the last time this summer. Not many people would go skinny-dipping at dusk when the mosquitos are still biting and the air temperature is sixty-three degrees. No one, in fact. I was alone.
As we hurtle once more around the sun and wonder where summer went, let us take a moment to honor those places that sustain our soul. For me, it’s this pond, this scared body of water that only becomes more special and more sacred the older I get. I’ve lived in Maine for almost twenty years and I’ve seen and experienced many amazing sights. But I always come back this place. So close, a ten-minute drive from my house. Over a bridge and yet light-years away from my workaday existence.
Here, I can be who I really am. I can shake off the dust of the world, and for about the time it takes a pot of pasta water to come to a boil, immerse myself in a silky, clean, clear slice of eternity. Like Thoreau at Walden Pond, I take a bath not just in water but in spirit. The green moss of the forest floor is my bath mat, the breeze rippling through the branches my opera. I saw a loon, heard its call. I saw a heron swoop down from the sky and land on a log a few yards away from me. I held a frog in my hands. I adopted a forgotten Swiss Army knife. I never found the mythical snapping turtle, the one that’s rumored to be as big as a Volkswagen. Thankfully, he never found me either.
To those of you who shared these special evenings with me, I thank you. To those who didn’t or couldn’t, perhaps I will see you here next summer?
We live in Maine, so we know what happens next. The leaves fall, the snow falls, the roads freeze, the snow piles up, we clear a path for the oil guy, we huddle together in living rooms and YMCAs and cafes and saunas, staying warm, living life close to the bone until the sun, instead of just blinding us, warms us again and allows us to find our special places once more.
Tonight, I drove home from the pond past dark, my wet towel drying on the back of my passenger seat. Music played softly on the radio. I saw the lights of the iron works as I crossed the bridge. I came home, made dinner, raised a toast to my special place, thought of the water on my skin, how it held me up, carried me through this summer, buoyed me. I gave thanks.
Tomorrow I’ll look for my fleece jacket, my wool socks. Tonight, I’m going to bed with the pond water in my ears and the bug spray still on my skin.
It’s been a long time since college, when I wrote my Marxist critique of It’s A Wonderful Life. I’ve been out of the film review game for some time, so I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the cinematic merits of Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s re-imagining of Michel Faber’s novel, a film that blew me away to the point I was almost in a coma afterwards. I haven’t felt this way about a movie since I saw Apocalypse Now for the first time. On that night, over thirty years ago, the film was shown in a large auditorium-style lecture hall, one where a 300-student Psych 101 class might meet. The lights dimmed. Right from the first scenes of exploding, Napalmed trees and helicopter blades whirring and morphing into Martin Sheen’s hotel-room ceiling fan while Jim Morrison sang, “This is the end…beautiful friend…the end…”, I was mesmerized. When the movie ended, I walked back to my dorm room in Eastman Hall in a daze. I couldn’t speak. People may have walked past and said hello, but I saw no one, spoke to no one. My roommate was away. I remember turning on my twinkly Christmas lights, putting some Doors on the stereo, and just staring into space for what seemed like hours. I didn’t move, I didn’t speak. Even for days after, I thought about little else.
Walking out of the Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland last Thursday on a foggy night, close to midnight, I felt the same way. My physical body, right down to the cellular level, had been irrevocably altered. As I walked back to my car, drunks shouted and spilled out of Old Port bars. I was an alien among humans. A stranger. While I watched a movie, Earth had been made new. I was discovering rain-soaked streets, buildings made of glass and steel, televisions flickering through bar windows, trees lit from behind by street lamps, as if for the first time. There was a deep silence to the world that I hadn’t noticed before. I drove the almost 45 minutes home with the radio off and the windows up, quiet in my pod. A few days later, I was working outside in some woods near my house. The wind whispered through the tall trees, and I thought I saw Scarlett Johansson’s alien moving through the undergrowth, a dark shape among darker shadows. But it was just some branches rustling.
Like thirty years ago, I haven’t been able to think of much else since. Talking about it seems futile. No one would understand anyway. Like any deeply personal reaction to Art, it would have to remain my little secret. And although I don’t have the vocabulary to discuss the theoretical aspects of this mesmerizing, truly visionary film or the hypnotic, cliché-busting, unexpected, typecast-smashing, insert-superlative-adjective-here performance of its star, as a man of a certain age in late period capitalist America, I do feel somewhat qualified to talk about one aspect of the film with some degree of competency: boobs.
Scarlett Johansson is our movie-actress version of Beyoncé: larger than life, reputation slightly out of proportion to talent, looks really great in clothes. An unobtainable Hollywood sexpot starlet, object of volcanic desire for men and women alike. Men want to possess her; women want to look like her. Or at least that’s the story we’ve been sold. Because here’s the thing. Johansson’s nudity in this film is almost completely asexual, almost anti-sexual. True, to the (also nude) men that she lures to their death, the alienized version of Scarlett is the slightly-out-of-reach ideal sexual partner. The genius of the film, and of Johansson’s performance, is that she takes this Hollywood fantasy, the one that she herself has been so adept at creating and cultivating these past years, and, like the poor men she seduces, completely and utterly sucks the marrow out of its false, bloated body. As the director said in an interview, “I think if people go there to get their rocks off, they’re better off going to see something else.”
The truth is Johansson’s naked body in this film looks rather, well, normal. If there even is such a thing as a “normal” human body. And that’s the other thing. There is no such thing as a normal or perfect human body. Anyone who has ever met a “movie star” in real life, as I have, will probably tell you, as I will, that they have way more wrinkles and much less hair than they do on screen. I’ve also been to quite a few clothing-optional beaches and have seen literally thousands of naked men and women. And let me tell you: there was nothing special about any of them. Beautiful and infinitely varied, yes. But none normal, none special, and none perfect.
Commerce and commerce alone has sexualized the human body. The only reason sex sells is because we let it. Men and women have bought into the fantasy of human perfection, but what Scarlett shows us, in her brave performance, is that the whole shebang is one fat lie. It’s the covering-up that seduces. The revealing holds no power. When we realize this, we will be free from the lies that constrain not only our physical bodies, but our emotional ones as well.
Once we realize that we are all flawed beings walking around on the surface of this rainy, stony earth in imperfect coats of flesh, we can truly become human. In and under our skin.
I’m eight days in to my 30-day barefoot running program and here are three things I’ve noticed.
1. When I eat less meat, I run better. As Chris McDougall explained, when our species was just starting out we did indeed need concentrated sources of high-quality protein to fuel the growth of our huge melon-heads. But now that we’re fully grown, do we need meat all the time and at every meal? The quick answer is no. Fear of protein lack, like fear of terrorism, has taken over our consciousness. I don’t know all the science. It’s all conflicting and conflicted anyway. All I know is: when I eat more nuts and seeds, more leafy greens, more fruits and berries, more green superfoods like spirulina and wheatgrass, more vegetable protein, and less dead animals, I feel like a gazelle.
2. I’m calmer. Running without music, as it’s necessary for me to do so I can really concentrate on my breathing and form, has turned my runs into moveable meditation sessions. I’m calm when I run and this serenity has stayed with me throughout my day. For example, yesterday afternoon I discovered a flood in my basement. I went downstairs to do some laundry and it looked like SeaWorld without the orcas. No problem! I found the offending pipe (there was a tiny hole in the cold-water feed that runs up to my kitchen sink), sealed it shut, and will call a plumber. So we don’t have cold water in our kitchen at the moment, but hey, who needs it? I’m a barefoot runner. It’s all good. See how easy that was?
3. I direct my mind to the soles of my feet. The barefoot running program I’m on doesn’t just concentrate on correct form. It also reintroduced me to the sensation of actually feeling my feet touch the ground. I’ve been walking barefoot, lightly jogging barefoot, and wearing my barefoot running shoes for longer runs. All these activities draw my attention to the soles of my feet. Highly padded shoes have made our feet weaker and put up a barrier between our bodies and nature. Modern running shoes are just a blip on the continuum of the history of human running. Our ancestors ran barefoot, or with simple, thin, homemade sandals. By learning barefoot running, I’m not only allowing my feet to tell my body what naturally feels right, I’m connecting with the ancients. In an old Zen story, two monks are arguing over a flag flapping in the wind. The first monk says the flag is moving. The second monk says the wind is moving. The Zen master, overhearing the argument, says it’s neither the flag nor the wind that is moving. It’s the mind that is moving.
Like my mind. Moving, down, down, touching earth.
- Don’t give a fuck.
- Learn proper form.
- Drink wheatgrass and/or other green foods.
- Go meatless.
- Grow long hair and/or a beard.
- Find the right shoes.
- Or no shoes.
- Leave your technology at home.
- Lose the Lycra.
- Run when you feel like it.
- Take naps.
- Drink a shit-ton of clean water.
- Get a roller. Not that kind of roller. The foam kind.
- Get naked.
- Down with coffee, up with green tea.
- Take a sauna.
- Find your drishti.
- Eat less, run more.
- Work less, run more.
- Maintain creative indifference.
- Maintain creative fidelity.
- It’s OK to walk.
- Think like a child.
- Stand up.
- Do something else.
- Lose your boss.
- Take your time.
- Relax. Breathe. Have fun. This is your Original State.
After a few days off, I’m now on day six of my 30-day plan to transition to a barefoot style of running. I say “style” because I’m not sure if my final goal will be to run with or without shoes. Merrell, the shoe company who created the program I’m using, calls it “bareform” running. I like this phrase better, but as my spellcheck proves, it’s not quite a real word.
I realized today that what I’m really aiming for is not so much finding a new style of running, but rather a reset to the running style all humans are innately born with. Watch a barefoot child run and you’ll see correct running form right in front of you. Chest open, shoulders back, feet landing under their center of gravity on the mid- or forefoot (NOT the heel!) and plenty of laughter.
Today I did some stretching, some posture resets, some barefoot walking. My training program only called for walking today, but I couldn’t help breaking into a few 30-second runs.
One of the keys to running this way is light, quick steps at a high cadence, about 180 total steps per minute. Some training programs recommend using a metronome to keep your paces light and quick. It makes sense if you think about it. The less time you spend with your feet on the ground, the quicker and nimbler you’ll be. You’ve heard of baby steps. But as I ran around the red gummy track today, I envisioned quick rabbit steps instead. Light, light, light.
I’ve also started reading John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy. I’ve always loved the look of Updike’s books, uniformly graphically designed to be canon-worthy. And the easy-reading Janson typeface most of his novels and short stories use is to me the only font that says “literature.”
I even drank some wheatgrass juice for the first time today. Not sure how running like a rabbit, reading about a Rabbit, and eating what a rabbit eats all ties together. But there it is.