I run to understand my body.
My first foray into successful athleticism, and I think it all has to do with my starting the practice of yoga, which sounds cheesy, which sounds like something my yoga instructor would say after she says something like, “trust yourself and your breath in this moment.” She will pause, following with, “Oh that sounds cheesy, doesn’t it…?” Because these things do sound cheesy, like when someone tells you finding religion brought them out of darkness, or when you hear that anything is possible if you try. These things are the bread and butter of earlier generations—inspiration and mindfulness, coming to terms with fundamental flaws—things the millennial mind is trained to immediately distrust, to dissect to disembodied parts that, on their own, expose their raw, visceral undercurrent: a problem with systems, the status quo, not a problem with self. Never trust what works for another because you are your own person. Standardization is the enemy.
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Most of my friends are much younger than I am. This is a new sensation for me; I grew up the oldest in my grade. I think these new friends are the ones who really helped me notice why and how I exercise. They are mostly Asian American, all with an unfair, carved from birth, leanness that, at once, makes my mouth water and my brow furrow. During their formative years, they used their celestial DNA to their advantage, participating and excelling in their middle- and high-school athletic programs, finding that their high metabolism was enough to unearth their preternatural athleticism.
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The spine unhinges when detached from the ligaments that bind it. How naturally a resting body lies on the damp earth, uninhibited. An alarming sense of reanimation, the way wisps of hair catch enthusiastically on the wind or an ant parades up a thigh thick with nutrients for the taking. Laced to the ground through a weave of decay – no longer human, just naked skin pulled tightly to bone. Such intimate moments – a disconnected arm, torn by a fox who slipped under the fence of the enclosure, grasping onward against the pull of time; the stomach of a fresh specimen, bloated with gas; a decomposing face blackened with sunburn.
These are the details of death. Within decomposition hides the incontrovertible fate of all humanity: if left to sit, we rot away to nothing but a cloying stain on the forest floor. We are picked apart and reused.
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Les Quais de Seine, Paris, July 9, 2014
It was an impossible year to be alive. The great forces at the wheel continued onward in unyielding procession; water fell from the sky, dried, and was carried up again into the clouds. Our tears were no longer among the water that the forces carried on, because we forgot how to use them correctly. Some still made it by, like when we would cut onions, or when we stubbed our toe on the radiator during a midnight trip to the icebox, or when we would laugh so hard at a comedy club that they would leak out and we were unsure why. Those went up with the water the same as always.
But when our loved ones died we no longer felt the tears cloying from the small space inside our heads, the well where such things are kept and extracted when needed. No longer were we moved to such extremes. This is because death had come to define our existence, little by little, year after year, since the internet had cast its hand in death’s favor. Each night, we would plug in to our hivemind and revisit the deaths of the day in unison, sending virtual candles to the ones we never knew and eulogizing the ones who stood and vague beacons on the outskirts of our periphery. Condolences thoughtlessly given to the families of the departed, and as a response – just a virtual thumbs up, no words necessary. No tears as our eyes glow by the light of the screen.
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The butterflies flitted throughout the conservatory like fleeting glimpses of perfection and fragility. Each time one of the tourists tried to hone their sights to just one, it leapt in a current of warm air and avoided the confrontation. The tourists drank the beautiful sights of the garden, heard the slapping of water over eroding stones, smelled the sugary-thick air and tried vigorously to capture one of these ever-flapping butterflies on film, to save in their photo albums (stored in the attic).
A small boy walked in the garden too, feeling differing feelings, seeing the same things. His hands, moist, clutched a camera like the crumbling edifice of a building. He attempted to capture, behind the flapping wings, a tangible truth, an unconventional beauty. A pedestal stood rusting in a corner of the conservatory. Resting on it, a neat array of orange slices provided the butterflies with a treat if they desired. That day, the boy noted, the oranges seemed unappealing to all but one—all of the butterflies found better food, the pedestals basked in sunlight, and all of the tourists followed. Sitting atop the oranges, a butterfly with half a wing seemed to call its attention to the boy and nobody else. Sweat clung to his face, and small particles dripped like warm rain to the floor as he pressed his finger to the camera—he hovered above the scene like aircraft. The butterfly fluttered its wing in alarm, trying to move, but couldn’t. So there it stayed, trapped in saccharine nectar, burnt into an image of light.