No, I wouldn’t write about this again if it weren’t for a good reason. The reason being that I entered an essay contest by Geoff Roes to come up with a response to the seemingly unanswerable (he’s got that right) ‘what’s the meaning of life’ question for runners (probably that one too).
It obviously looks a bit weird to already post here what I just submitted to Geoff. The contest winner, entitled to a free entry to one of his week-long Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps (which sound like great fun), is only going to be announced end of this month. But I’m cocksure my contribution is not going to be considered. Don’t ask me why, an honest answer would hurt my ego.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing it and the contest’s restriction (350 words max) made it a flash fiction challenge; well not really fiction, more faction, but who cares apart from those making a living of contesting the labeling of others. I don’t but it did occur to me to coin my own for what I present to you down below: friction. That sounds about right for what I produce, not only the contribution below but in general . Friction between the topic and the asides, between fact and fiction, between seriousness and irony, sometimes cynicism, a taste of despair, and the salvation of beauty, humour, and flow. Between life and art.
Seems like a good moment to reintroduce an inspiration of mine, Teju Cole, who, among other things I admire, did this great project called small fates, twitter-length stories about ordinary people. Each tells a truth, a whole truth, but never the whole truth (but this is true of all storytelling). Details are suppressed, secondary characters vanish, sometimes the “important” aspect of the story is sidestepped in order to highlight a poignant detail…These small fates, even though they are not witty or especially ironic, they draw on a similar sort of response. There is the satisfaction of the epigram, and the ambiguity about why what happened should have happened at all…I think what all of these have in common, whether they are funny or not, is the closed circle of the story. Each small fate is complete in itself. It needs neither elaboration nor sequel.
Now I’m at it, let me use this to also share a conversation between Teju Cole and Michael Ondaatje The way these two guys go about discussing writing is very much the way I would like to be able to discuss running. They write because they are writers and that’s what writers do, and when they discuss, they discuss the work.
Anyways, this is what I submitted:
Why I run?
Why who run? Me? Who may that be then? And so I go out and hit the pavement. Yes pavement it is these days, no trails in Shanghai. And breath this metropolis’ unhealthy air, hoping for enlightenment. Now, we all know about that one don’t we? It’s not gonna happen, but it would be an answer. Best one I can could possibly come up with. But second best would be good enough. Some fun perspective, some unexpected twist, something catchy, finding its way into thought from the canyons of my mind. It occasionally happens so the hope is legit. Sure, it could happen anywhere, anytime, really. But as I talk running here, and it does happen while running too, I would have the start of a story. And I am a sucker for stories. As you are. Actually, I am this story, as you are yours. For as long as it lasts that is, which is normally not very long. Luckily. Suppose this one story would be all. That would really suck. A while back, going out meant hitting Himalayan trails. Usually with fresh air. Great running? Yes. Great stories? Not sure really, difficult to avoid cliché plots. Now, with trafficked smoggy streets as my track, the potential for interesting plots is better, but does the running compare? About 90 minutes into today’s run, waiting for the ferry across the Huangpu river to the old side of town, the one and only relevant thought that passes my inner censor during this particular run floats into consciousness: I run because I am a runner. The more I chew on it the more I like it. It’s circular. Good. It’s not about me, true for any runner. Good. It’s the shortest possible story I can tell about why I run. Great. Now that one is cracked the canyons go quiet and the city takes over again. As it always does. I wouldn’t run if it didn’t.
If you’ve made it all the way here, you will have realized that the only thing I’ve accomplished in this post by elaborating on the above contribution to Geoff’s essay contest is put any doubt about my ability to refrain from verbosity to rest. RIP.
As my aspirations are dead anyway and I can’t make it worse, let me end with a great piece of visual friction sound by Die Antwoord: