Signal to Noise

Man, I’m losing sound and sight/Of those who can tell me wrong from right/When all things beautiful and bright/Sink in the night

August 10 is a difficult day. Some people remember 9/11, some people remember December 7. I remember August 10. August 10 is a day when some twist of fate demanded the destruction of all I had come to know and expect, demanded the destruction of me.

August 10 is the day we lost our daughter.

I so clearly remember that pain; seeing the ultrasound of our daughter, who had died only hours before, and seeing her in the flesh for the first time twelve hours later. I remember isolation, guilt, and despair. I remember greeting her into the world, and bidding her farewell in the very same breath. I remember when our loss was made real at a funeral home in Nashua, when we received Emma’s earthly remains three days later.

My life goes by in a blur. Every run, every day in class, friends and events and decisions…they are a blur. But August 10 is a day in which I find a perfect and traumatic clarity. It is a day when I am instantly rocketed back to that maternity room to relive it again in a sudden rush. In that moment, I am humbled, saddened, and despondent.

August 10, 2013 was different. It was a day that demanded my absolute resolve. I went to Mount Monadnock to hike, to head up the Pumpelly Trail beginning in Dublin, rising to the peak in a southerly direction over 4.5 long miles. I went to make what might be the most important decision I have ever made.

On August 2, I put in an application at another charter school in north central Massachusetts. At this point, I was desperate not to turn in my application to cash my retirement savings, but I felt I might not have a choice. My wife was paranoid, wondering when we might just lose everything. And then there was my daughter, Meredith, having the time of her life, being a baby, growing strong and sharp and smart, bright eyes in a beautiful face, wonderful words that mean nothing to us but everything to her, and so they mean everything to us. Meredith is the wonderful glue holding us together through an otherwise frightening time. I admit: I applied out of fear. And three hours later, my email blew up and my phone rang. The next day, I had an interview.

I got to the interview meeting people who, once again, knew me as a voice over the phone and a piece of paper. As we began, I noticed something. The questions I was getting weren’t questions: they were invitations to reflect on ‘my career’. Those words got thrown around a lot. ‘In your experience…’ got thrown around a lot, too. It’s like I was a professional, a teacher who had earned his stripes.

To them, I am a professional. It is an amazing feeling.

On my way home, I got a phone call from the principal offering me the job. The salary came in at a woefully low figure, and the school is 40 minutes from my house in New Hampshire. I know that I need to refuse deep in my heart, but I don’t want to. I have never felt like I did in that interview. Never. But I couldn’t see the job being economically feasible for us. We were drowning financially under the costs of our debts and Meredith’s care. How could we have made it work? I refused two days later. And upon my refusal, I got yet another call from the principal, asking me if there was a ‘number’ I was hoping to reach. These folks weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.

On Father’s Day a couple of years ago, my friend Tessa wrote that her father had taught her something: the courage to do what is right and to go where called. I don’t know what that calling looks like to everyone else, but I think it looks this way to me: when those who desire, require, or demand the presence of a person will not take ‘no’ for an answer. And that’s what I heard. I just needed time to understand it and accept it.

I hiked Monadnock that day searching for the affirmation that what I would give up by accepting the job, by opting to revive my career and take on an eighth year in the classroom, were things that would not go neglected. The cross country team I coached. The chance to go back to school for a Master’s degree. The chance to keep growing in the role of an online teacher. Will those things fall by the wayside, and perish? I don’t know for sure, but I knew after descending the mountain that day that accepting the job would be right. All of those things could die, but if my family dies, what do I have? I have a life led on paper.

I think what is most hard is knowing that there are things I have let go. I read somewhere that the word ‘sayonara’ does not mean ‘goodbye’, but that it means ‘because it must be so’. (Google says it’s Anne Morrow Lindbergh in North to the Orient, but who knows where she got that from.) Maybe this is so. Maybe this is the way things are meant to be. One more year a teacher, in this place, a home so far away from home.

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Wisdom from The Oatmeal

I am the Blerch.

Dopey Dave!

I’ve met plenty of people who have told me how impressed they are with my commitment to being Dopey.

But for every person who raves about my focus, there’s at least one or two others who want to know what the hell I’m thinking (or, alternatively, what the hell is wrong with me).

I’ll confess: I don’t always know the answer.

Honestly, I’m still not even 100% sure why this whole thing started in the first place.

Fortunately, The Oatmeal (a k a Matthew Inman) said it better than I could have said it myself.

Not all of these specific things apply to me, but to see a fellow runner try to explain the why as honestly and freely as he does was liberating and uplifting.

I encourage you all to click the image below, read through all six parts, and put yourselves in our running shoes for a…

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I Know I Am A Runner… #3

…when I beat myself up over walking.

Today a five-miler was on the docket, but I definitely needed to be up by 5 AM to make it a reasonable endeavor. The temperature was a LOW of 70° F, and with the humidity high in my part of New Hampshire, I would need every ounce of strength I had.

I woke up at 6:30, and didn’t find the Garmin until 7. Shit.

So, out I trot to do my run at 7:05, and I can already feel beads of sweat starting to coalesce on my forehead. The air is tepid, thick, and it is pissing me off. When my watch beeps to let me know it has connected to the Mother Ship, I begin to run, and I keep a constant mental reminder: you will go slower. You will go slower. You will go slower.

And I do, for the first mile. In fact, I go so slow during the first mile (7:34, which I know to some is NOT slow), that I feel the need to speed up during the second mile (7:14), which is a primarily uphill stretch. Not a good idea. At my turnaround, I had spent all of my energy on the hills getting there that I was zapped for the hills on the way back. (I also, apparently, forgot to remind myself that every uphill has a downhill, especially on an out-and-back.)

So, I get to a hill after mile 3 that absolutely demolishes my spirit and my stamina. I take a thirty PACE walk. Not seconds…but paces. My paces are less than a second long.

I had to walk one more time on a killer hill at mile 4, so I felt the need to speed through the rest of the run, blowing by a group of three ladies walking a dog and running right next to this rabid black lab that has ripped his owner’s lawn to shreds running around and barking at everyone. And the whole time during the last mile, I’m thinking this really sucks.

I look at my watch only to find that walking lost me FOUR SECONDS per mile. FOUR.

So, the lesson is this: some days, you just don’t have it in you, so don’t be ashamed to walk if you must. It happens. There’s always another run. 

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Living Frugally

The summer is already waning. We’re through that part of June around the solstice where the days are getting shorter, but aren’t noticeably shorter. The heat is still stifling when it’s here. In many ways, the summer is no different than any other summer I’ve ever lived.

But it is different in one pronounced way: I don’t have a full-time job yet. I have secured part-time work as an adjunct instructor in an online charter school, yet that work is not guaranteed to provide me a sustainable income (and I was warned that would be the case, to be fair). And while I have a few side projects here and there that will make me some money (work in the science apparatus industry and PD sessions, to name a few), I am essentially out of a job.

What to do, what to do…

It occurs to me that my path is pretty clear. I’m not too impressed with the status of the retirement fund I am invested in by obligation, so I am withdrawing that money in order to coast on it, making up the difference between my wife’s income and our bills. We need to unload our huge mortgage, find a place with low rent and low operating costs, and live as frugally as possible under the circumstances…whatever that happens to mean.

Now, I know what I think living frugally means right at the moment. In my mind, I picture the following:

  • Going without things I do not absolutely need at the moment;
  • Buying food that I intend to eat;
  • Eating that food before it spoils;
  • Paying our bills at their minimum, and no more;
  • Going nowhere that is absolutely necessary;
  • Blah, de blah, de blah.

This is what I mean. I think ‘frugal’, and I think the same things. Penny pinching, basically. But is it possible for us to live frugally AND live well? To eat the same food, see the same people, drink beer, go places, experience things? 

I am hoping the answer is yes. What do you think?

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Chased by the Bug Cloud

This morning I woke up and knew that I had to get in miles today. During the summer, I look at the thermometer and try to contain my sense of paranoia. I am ruled by the thermometer nowadays, more so than the clock, because I know that the thermometer contains a real sense of time. How far can I go? How long will it take me? Will I cry for mercy and turn back before I’m done? The temperature tells me these things.

This morning: 65.3 degrees Fahrenheit. A nice, calm temperature. Forty-five minutes to an hour should be no problem.

Strap on the Minimus, and out the door I go.

My run takes me through the woods and out onto East Main Street in Orange, MA. I turn around at a four-way intersection between four Main Streets, making a 6.6-mile out and back. This time, it wasn’t the heat, humidity, and the feeling of listlessness that eventually comes from sunlight and airheat.

Bugs. Everywhere, bugs.

The bugs came flying out of the woods at voracious speeds this morning, circling my head and making an occasional landing on my sleeve, my arm, or my head. Bugs buzzing beside my ears and my elbows. I looked back around mile 2 to find ten or twelve flies buzzing together in a gigantic cloud; it reminded me of the electrons in an atom, seemingly nowhere and everywhere, moving forward with one purpose but not a single one of them knowing where they are at any given time.

Bugs are my running curse. They are distracting, annoying, and they test my mental fortitude more so than any other element of my runs. Rather than keep an eye on the Garmin for my pace, I start to wish for dragonflies, birds, wind, cars…anything to put the bugs off course. And once I get to the highway, I feel free from that cloud, only to meet it again when I make my dart back into the woods. It’s not like winter running, when you can fight off the cold by simply…running. Bugs fly faster than you, and they make a point to prove it to you by circling, again…and again…and again.

I wish I had a remedy for this malady, but I don’t. I sweat off all the insect repellent I buy, DEET or not. Running faster doesn’t work and doesn’t help, especially in the heat. And the mental games I play when runs get tough (get to the next __________, make rhythms out of my breathing, etc.) don’t chase the bugs away. Instead, I simply end up flailing and waving my arms around, hoping I’ve killed one of the little fuckers. It’s quite a sight to see.

Thankfully, I ran in the door of the house where we’re staying, just as the cloud of bugs was getting thicker. I really need to run in a hamster ball.

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Two goats and a car – The Monty Hall problem

I can’t think of a single problem that boasts more teaching potential as the Monty Hall Problem. I LOVE this explanation!

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I Know I Am A Runner… #2

…because I am crazy enough to race in the heat.

Yesterday, I ran the 4 on the 4th Road Race in Keene, NH. The temperature at gun time was 76 degrees Fahrenheit, which, when combined with humidity and brutally unabashed sunlight, makes you feel like you’re running in a soup. It was pretty clear I was outclassed for this one: lots of men in their twenties, people with better running form and body form than me, people with watches that look like Game Boys…

…in other words, people that look like they are going to run faster than me.

I should have gone home, but I didn’t. Instead, I posted 27:36 on exactly four miles, which is a personal best for me. The race really did suck; I had to walk at the water stop so I didn’t snort it, and I had to keep my pace down on the back stretch, but I still did it, and I’d do it again.

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