The Belly of the Beast
About running and not thinking
I went running a few days back without thinking about anything. Then a few days later I picked up a book called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It seemed to me that there was no way the title could be false, so I picked up the book and started reading. Sure enough, the book seems pretty true.
But when I went running those few days ago, I wasn't thinking about anything. Which is strange, because that's exactly what the book I just mentioned talks about. And that's what I want to talk about now.
I woke up and looked outside. The sky was grey. I could hear the ever-present traffic on Interstate 205. I put on my shorts and then my shoes. I went out the door and started running. I went straight for the belly of the beast, a dirty concrete bridge that crosses above I-205.
It's the kind of bridge you see when you drive along the interstate, and you wonder how people ever get there. You wonder even why they are there. Once in a while, you may see someone crossing the bridge. But you will never remember them, or maybe even notice that anyone was indeed crossing the bridge, as you pass by at breakneck speed below.
When a car drives on I-205 below Rocky Butte in Portland, just before the concrete bridge, they will pass by a sign that says "Welcome To Maywood Park." Next to the interstate, on the east side of the concrete bridge, is a small neighborhood with old houses and big trees. This is a town called Maywood Park. But it only became a town because back in the 60s, the people living there banded together to try and prevent the interstate from passing through their neighborhood. But their plan didn't work. And now the interstate can be heard in every house in the park as a dull roar that never ends. But not a beatiful roar produced by the ocean, it's a sound of people doing something that is necessary but that no one wants to do: drive the interstate below Rocky Butte to go from one place, to somewhere else.
When I crossed the bridge I looked down at all the cars rushing below, people on their way to work, or coming back from the night shift, or headed to school. People going a thousand places. I am kind of a misanthrope and when I see that many people at once on an interstate, I tend to feel really depressed. That's why I call this running route, "The Belly of the Beast."
As my route continues into the serene neighborhood of Maywood Park, everything suddenly changes. The roar of cars and scent of exhaust in the air fades slightly. Large trees offer solace and something other than utility and speed. I managed to think about almost nothing as I traced a path through the neighborhood.
I did collect impressions of the route, and the people, and how I felt. It felt good to challenge the "Belly" so early in the morning. To run straight to the thing I hated most, with a mind mostly empty of any thoughts. I wondered: maybe if I ran hard enough, I could run all the anger out of me into some kind of serene peace. A peace that felt more like Maywood Park than the Belly.
But, thoughts like these are ones I'm trying to get away from. I am trying to see the I-205 as just as good as Maywood Park. Trying to see them in even lighting rather than hating one and wanting the other. Even though it's impossible to do that, even though it's not even true, I think I have to. I am living here this winter, even though I don't like living in cities very much. And I have to find a way to contend with that. I have to find a way to accept the places my decisions lead me, even if they are less than perfect.
I'm trying to find a way to use every experience I have. I think this makes sense to do as an artist.
The I-205 serves as an important reminder that through the heart of beauty can run a disaster of angry sound and pollution. Even if we don't want it to, these things can just happen. So, it's important to hold onto what is beautiful, and to fight to save things worth saving. Even if it doesn't work out. Even if it's impossible, like how it's impossible to see the Interstate as beautiful (for me at least).
My experience shows very little in the large scheme of things. But, it has shown me that holding the tiller towards ideals might be worthwile. It's better to set the bar high and get half way then set the bar at half and only get a quarter way, if that makes sense.
And it's better for me to go running in the morning, with no thoughts in my mind, toward the Belly of the Beast than to sit inside and have bad thoughts about things. Even if it's not ideal, it's good enough.
I can still run, after all. Some don't have even that.
When I got home I felt warmed up. I sat on the porch and looked out at the clouds slowly infusing with light. Recently, I found out that I like to run to feel comfortable when it's uncomfortable outside. I like to be outside and comfortable, even when it's cold, or raining, or worse. It makes me feel really alive.
Just recently, I realized that running, like hiking and walking, can make me comfortable about life in general. It can help me deal with my problems, with the Belly of the Beast, and many things that I come across.
The book, WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING has turned out to be really true so far. Just like I thought it would be.
As for me, if I could say something really true, it might be this:
I really hope I can keep running forever.
And one day, if I can't run anymore, I'll walk.