Running along the river in Philadelphia

In Which I Don’t Really Win Much But Am Still Happy: Tyranena Beer Run Half Marathon 2015

Post-Haunted Hustle with Kristi
Post-Haunted Hustle with Kristi

To preface this story, let me say that two weeks ago I did a local Middleton race called the Haunted Hustle. It wasn’t an “A” race, and though it was fun there didn’t seem to be much point in writing it up other than my friend/running companion, Kristi, getting to see her name in “print” here. Since it’s marginally relevant, I’ll just give the tl;dr version here: Hilly course, cool day, lots of costumes to look at, ran a 1:55:55.

That was, at the time, my fastest half of the season, although to be fair my other half was a trail race, and I also did a 20K in 1:50:xx, which is only about 4 seconds/mile slower. Anyway, since I’d signed up for the Tyranena race only two weeks later, my plan was to use the Haunted Hustle as a hard training run and then really race Tyranena hard, with the goal of running a faster time.

The races were only two weeks apart, so my training was unremarkable. The HH was on a Sunday; I ran 54.19 miles over the next week (October 26 to November 1), with one day off for swimming. That week included one day of dreadmill intervals and a 15-mile long run in the rain. The following week, November 2–7, I lifted legs on Monday, then hobbled through 8-milers Tuesday through Thursday and was completely off except aikido on Friday, for a total of 24.4 miles before the race. No taper, that’s me.

Running along the river in Philadelphia
This is getting dull; here’s a photo of where I went running in Philly a few weeks ago. Jealous?

Tyranena starts quite late—11:30. I got up early (well, okay, I got up at 7:30) to eat my pop tart, drink a small cup of coffee, and loiter around working on my novel until it was time to go pick up Kristi. Last year we hit real traffic on the beltline and it was very tense, so this year I actually left a bit early. And of course the beltline was empty. We arrived in Lake Mills, WI, about 40 minutes away, by 10:20 and picked up our packets, then stood around chatting for the next 40 minutes or so. At 11, I went out for a warm-up jog, just a mile out at a relaxed pace and then some telephone pole intervals on the way back. I got back with just enough time to find everyone, then jump in the line for the port-o-potties and lose them again. Oh well.

We took off at 11:30 and I fell pretty quickly into an 8:30 min/mi pace. Running with the crowd to break the wind, this definitely felt like a comfortable speed, and I decided to hold onto it as long as I could. A bit before the first mile marker, I bumped into Kristi again, but when she took off (aiming for a sub-1:50 race), I made the decision to let her go and try to stay with what I had. This proved to be a pretty good decision.

The hills on this course are all on the first half, with the biggest coming right around mile four. However, none of the hills is really too difficult; my Garmin clocked 248 ft of elevation gain, compared to 362 ft at the HH. Watching my watch on the uphills, my pace occasionally dipped as far as 8:45 or even 9:00 min/mi, but I always recovered on the downhill. At around mile 5.5, I took a gel, another big change from the HH when I didn’t have anything for the duration. I hit the 10k mark in 54:28, according to the chip, and the halfway point about two minutes later. Up through mile 8, everything went really well. Then I noticed the people I’d been pacing off were gradually moving away from me; I didn’t feel like I was slowing, but my watch was suddenly reading 9:00 for pace.

The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly
The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philly; I’m just including this because it’s cool.

At this point, I made a very conscious decision to push the pace, to leave everything I could behind and do my best to finish in under 1:50. I ran a few intervals using the trees along the path as markers, and gradually brought my pace back toward 8:30. Mile 8 seemed to last forever, but as I hit mile 9 at 1:17:xx, I did some mental math and realized that with 5K left to go, if I could just maintain my current pace I would finish under 1:50 comfortably.

Then, a few minutes later, I remembered that 9+3 is 12 and 9+4 is 13. So if I could run the next 4 miles at 8 minutes/mile, I would be done in 32 minutes. But what are the chances of that happening? Pretty much 0%. But if I ran strategically, it might be pretty close, so I decided to keep on it.

By mile 10, I was definitely beginning to feel the effects of a sustained 8:30 pace, especially in my right hip flexor. Every mile felt like I was making a bet with myself that I could sustain the pace I was running. If I had been smart, I would have brought another gel for this point in the race, but I didn’t really expect I would be doing as well as I was. Also, I didn’t have any other gels at home that morning. Tant pis.

I had a feeling that if I could hit a little better than an 8:30 pace for the actual last 5K, I would hit a sub-1:50. It was at this point that I fell back in with the group I’d been running with earlier and exchanged a few words with them, so I wasn’t looking at my watch and assumed later I just hadn’t been hitting the pace. But looking at my watch splits, I had this:

Mile Pace
10 8:15
11 8:06
12 8:27
13 7:57
.1 (.26 on my watch) 7:30

I ran a 1:51:40 officially, which is about 100 seconds over a 1:49:59—meaning that even if I’d managed 8-minute miles for 10 to 12, I still wouldn’t have made it.

Last year, I ran a 1:53:13 on the same course, so I improved by about a minute and a half. I also managed my goal of beating my HH time. Part of this involved running strategically rather than stupidly, which is what I usually do. The biggest change was to find a pack or at least a tall guy to draft behind when running into the wind. Normally the decrease in perceived exertion in this position makes me speed up and puts me back in the wind; by biding my time, I was able to conserve some energy I really needed. I also didn’t take off with Kristi, which allowed me to save energy I would have spent very early trying to keep up with her (she’s fast). I took a gel at a good moment, about 5.5 miles into the race, with 7.5 miles on my legs. And I reengaged with my race mentally when I started to slow down and actually pushed myself. So I’ll call that a success, even if I didn’t hit my time goal.

Post-Tyranena Selfie with Kristi and Alex
Post-Tyranena Selfie with Kristi and Alex

Em oi! #409: Impatient


I actually cannot tell if I named this comic “Impatient” or “Inpatient.” Both seem appropriate.

As you can see, I wrote this in early October, just a week or so after Bryan’s operation–this actually did sort of happen during the operation. But I got it uploaded only now because life kind of got away from me last month, a month during which I took care of Bryan, did one marathon and one half marathon, worked on my novel, and changed jobs, or rather job responsibilities, and went from working a kind of weird schedule that could vary from zero to eight hours or more per day depending on what work was available and needed doing to a more typical full-time work week.

Anyway, I’m hopeful that things will calm down a little more in November. Bryan is a lot more mobile and in less pain, my running schedule is calming down so I am less wiped out, and I am maybe getting the hang of some of my new responsibilities, so I am not lying in bed worrying that I will be retroactively fired or something most nights. I have a couple of scripts written that I am itching to get drawn. However, in order to get this stuff done, I may be a bit light on the various social media you typically see me on, so if you need me, drop me an email. (Note to relatives: Email means email, not voicemail. It is not impersonal to send an email. It is helpful.)

No other real news to report, other than since I last posted my novella came out in paperback and you should totally buy a copy. It i s currently held in the Yale library and in the Madison Public Library system and will shortly be available at several local bookstores such as A Room of One’s Own as soon as I can get my act together and drive them down there. Yiss. If you buy a copy and want it signed, or want a signed postcard, see the book tab above and follow the directions to send me an email.

I have a race report for the last two half marathons (I did one this past weekend as well), which I will try to upload tomorrow or Wednesday.

Let’s file this under P301 .L86 2015, for Philology. Linguistics–Language. Linguistic theory. Comparative grammar–Style. Composition. Rhetoric. Usage–General works.

mile 25 kiss

St. Paul or Bust: The Surprisingly Weird Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

This marathon, you guys. I don’t know what to say about it. It has been a tough couple of weeks for me. And so . . . this is my blog, let’s talk about it.


My training for this race was pretty consistent. I logged 208 miles in June, 221.5 miles in July, 253.8 miles in August, and 229.4 miles in September. My longest run was 23.5 miles, which was our running group’s trek out along the planet path from the Monona Terrace to Mount Horeb. That run happened August 29, and it was basically my last long run of the training session. I had an 18-mile run toward the beginning of August too, and a bunch of runs in the 15–16 mile range. There were some weekends where I meant to do 15/15 or 13/13 across Saturday/Sunday, and typically the second day’s run was not as long as planned. But then again, there were a lot of weeks where I took a random day off on a Tuesday or Wednesday to deal with aches and pains preemptively and then ran on Friday, so my legs typically weren’t as fresh going into the weekend as they might have been.

I also did some speedwork for this race. I did mostly 800s (working up to 10 x 800), 400s, or in the last two weeks, strides (15-second sprints with about 45–60 seconds of recovery). These were always as part of a run with warmup and cooldown on normal terrain, not on a track. My pace on these was usually around 8:00 min/mile plus or minus; in fact, the goal for each run was to do the intervals (not the strides) at 85% to 90% of max HR. I made this decision based on the strategies suggested by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Road Racing for Serious Runners. The book is more geared toward races up to the half marathon distance, but I do so little speedwork that it seemed like a good (and unintimidating) starting point. Eighty-five percent of max HR or 8:00 min/mi works out to be about a 5K race pace, which is slow enough that I’m not (or don’t seem to be) in danger of injuring myself doing it.

Finally, my running group was doing our long runs at close to race pace, often in the 8:50–9:20 min/mi range, which basically turned my long run into a long tempo run every week. This was quite helpful; I started out this training cycle just after the 50K feeling like a 9:20 was very fast, and finished able to do a half marathon distance run at an 8:48 min/mi pace, which required some pushing but felt generally comfortable. As a result, I decided my goal for the race—contingent on having a good taper—was going to be 3:55:xx.

Marathon Week

So on the 26th of September, I tested for 4th kyu in aikido. The last weeks prior to the test were for me filled with a lot of aikido classes, so I was feeling a bit bruised by the end of it and ready to taper. Then, on the 28th, Bryan had knee surgery.

The Knee Surgery Thing

Back in the spring, B had his knee scoped. I think the technical term is a knee arthroscopy. The idea was to get a good look at a small defect on the femoral articular cartilage that has prevented him from running for, at that point, a bit over a year. At the time, the ortho shaved down the edges of the defect, and B decided to see how it went. But after rehabbing it, he found that while he could do short sprints during a game of ultimate, he couldn’t really run farther than about a mile and a half with me (on grass-covered trails, specifically) without pain. And then a day came when he went to frisbee and ran too much and the pain didn’t stop for over a week. So he got put on the list for a cartilage transplant.

The thing about being on the list, besides the awesomeness of medical technology that this is an option and the creepiness of having someone else’s cells in your body, is that you don’t know when exactly they’re going to call and tell you it’s time to rock and roll. So B got the call two weeks before my marathon, and possibly because of the aikido test (plus a play we were going to that weekend), he scheduled the surgery they told him Monday the 28th was go day. I’m glad he was able to come to my test, which meant a lot to me, and able to enjoy the play, which would have been difficult if he’d had to try to manage APT on crutches. But it did leave us a rather slender window for him to recover enough for a four-hour car ride.

After the first surgery last spring, he was back on his feet almost right away. Not an exaggeration: We went out to dinner that evening, and I had to glare at him to get him to bring the crutches into the restaurant. The surgery itself was very non-invasive, and they encouraged him to get back to walking as soon as he could. The second surgery ended with a four or five inch incision down the front of his knee, and he’s now on crutches with orders not to put any weight on the affected limb for the first three weeks, with another three weeks of gradual buildup to follow. So not only was his mobility a good bit different, his pain levels were as well; after the first operation, I think he took a few Tylenol, whereas after the nerve block for this one wore off, he needed serious painkillers. And then he developed some other side effects that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that it was kind of an unpleasant week for him.

The thing about the running industry, such as it is and such as I interact with it, is that it is always telling people they have to make running a priority. Going out for a jog, being fit—if you want those things, you have to prioritize them. But the thing is, running is not really a priority for me in that sense. Running is a thing I do in order to stay sane and manage my stress levels, just like brushing my teeth is a thing I do because I have a horrible fear of my teeth falling out like in Tommyknockers to maintain dental hygiene. Race preparation, on the other hand, is something I have to prioritize or it doesn’t really happen.

Over the course of the week, watching B’s health/comfort levels wax and wane, it became clear to me that there was a serious question about whether or not he was going to be able to make the drive up. And I wasn’t ready to leave him to anyone else’s machinations; either we went together or I wasn’t going.[1] So it may be obvious here what I’m pointing at—my taper did not really happen, or not very well.

The Personal Becomes Political

Monday was also when the race organizers sent out an email informing us runners that a protest by the group Black Lives Matter was being planned to disrupt the race at mile 25. Apparently they (BLM) had first announced their plans on the 26th or so, but I wasn’t following the issue then.

At first, I was quite disappointed. After a really long, stressful summer, I had been really looking forward to going up to see my brother and his wife, hanging out, doing the race . . . it sort of belatedly dawned on me that this was a very privileged way to look at things—they’re ruining my relaxing vacation, my race, and so on, when what they’re asking for—justice for police brutality—is both an extremely reasonable thing to request and something that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to deal with. Which is to say, anyone in the BLM crowd would also like a relaxing vacation weekend, but they weren’t going to get it.

By, I guess, late Wednesday, I was reconciled to the fact that I would run twenty-five miles to where the protest was, symbolically turn off the course, and then jog back to my brother’s house about a block away. And then do, you know, another 1.2 miles on my own. But I wouldn’t be officially finishing. (I came to this decision in part because of discussions with a number of very smart friends and in part because I read some of the comments on the marathon’s Facebook page and realized which side of the issue I thought I wanted to be on. But also, to be honest, the whole thing also felt kind of secondary to the rest of the stuff that was going on in my life, like something I was watching from a distance.)

Thursday, the city of St. Paul and the marathon people announced that a deal had been struck and the race would not be obstructed. Instead, the protesters would be given 1) a meeting with the mayor, and 2) a place near the finish to hold their protest.


Pre-race selfie. It was cold. I was tired.

So, spoiler alert, B was able to make the drive up. Friday afternoon and all of Saturday were spent in Daniel and Claire’s most entertaining company, doing things like drinking Pimm’s and grapefruit soda, eating curry, and watching episodes of Sherlock. Then, Sunday morning, we got up early for the race.

Starting line crowd
The crowd at the starting line.

Well, the race was at 8:00; I got up at 5:00 because B got up at 5 to take some pain meds. So it goes. Daniel and Claire kindly dropped me off at a few blocks from the starting line around 7:40, just enough time for a quick warm up and a stop at the port-o-potty. Actually, the PoP I found was right where a bunch of the pros were lining up, so I got to pee within ten feet of the person who actually won the marathon.[2]

The beginning of the marathon was a bit of a problem. The race typically hosts about 8,500 people or so, and we were divided up into four corrals. However, as I jogged along the sidewalk, I could see pacer signs but no indication of where each corral started. I also noticed that the numbers of the runners in the corral I was passing (corral 1) were a different color than mine, which made me anxious that I’d accidentally stumbled into the 10-miler starting area instead.[3] Eventually I ducked in and a woman in a bright yellow vest told me to move back to the 2nd corral (where I was assigned to start).

The palatial estates around Lake of the Isles.

I had jogged about 0.27 miles at this point. For some reason, I decided to just hit lap on my watch rather than clearing it. This had a few unintended consequences. First, during the first mile plus, there were a lot of tall buildings that messed up the distance tracking of my watch; since the time was also off, I couldn’t rely on that to estimate my pace. Second, I didn’t realize that the corrals were going to be released as waves, with several minutes between each. So not only was my watch off from the time on the mile marker clocks by an unknown amount, our wave time was also. Basically, I was pretty lost.

The route starts out downhill for the first mile, then turns up as you run past the Walker art museum (a beautiful building; I’d love to see the collection there sometime) at mile 2. The best sign spotted during this section said “Keep running! . . . Unless you’re Donald Trump!” Then it’s on to circle three lakes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet from around the 5K mark. This part of the race is great—the houses ringing each lake are easily some of the priciest properties in the city, and there was a good crowd out to watch and cheer us on, too (and all of their dogs).[4] I felt very strong and relaxed through this section, and I was making pretty good time, clocking low 9s and even some high 8s (8:58, 8:46, 8:48). I came through the 5K in 28:xx and the 10K in 56:xx. Around mile 8, we left the first three lakes and entered a long, fairly flat part that went beneath some underpasses and eventually left us near Lake Nokomis around mile 11. I had originally thought I was going to see Daniel and Claire during this part of the race, so I stayed occupied looking for them in the crowds. Later I found out that they missed me in several places by only a few minutes. Crumbs.

Lake of the Isles or Lake Calhoun
Panorama around Lake of the Isles (or possibly Lake Calhoun).

I came through the half marathon point in what I thought, after considerable mental calculation, was about 1:58:xx. I was still moving well, and I knew if I could do the second half in that amount of time, I would wind up very close to my goal. At this point, I decided that I was going to take it easy until I reached Summit Avenue, and then really hammer it home on the last 10K. Just really leave it out on the course.

running mi 22ish
Approaching mile 22 or so. Photo by Claire.

Of course, there were some complications. Aren’t there always? Somewhere around mile 17, my left knee began to ache. At first I thought it might be my IT band, since jogging with Daniel the day before he’d mentioned his own ITB issues. I slowed considerably because of the pain, and the four hour pace group was suddenly right behind me. I managed to gap them briefly, only to be caught when I stopped to stretch. I told myself I’d catch them back up, but I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. Of course, the problem wasn’t my ITB—it was my hip.[5] So there wasn’t really anything I could do. I tried to just relax and enjoy the day, since I quickly came to the realization that my goal time was not going to be met. At one point, I saw a lady with an orange tabby cat on a leash. The cat was lying in the grass, looking pretty chilled out, all things considered. I shouted at her, “That’s a funny-looking dog.” She seemed confused and shouted back, “Thanks?”

running mi 22
Around mile 22. Photo by Claire.

Around mile 19, there was a considerable hill near the University of St. Thomas that I’d forgotten about. At the top of it, a friend from my running group, Julie, was spectating, and she jogged about a block with me. That gave me a big boost. Then I finally got to turn onto Summit, which was kind of a bummer because the first two or three miles are one gradual hill. I don’t remember noticing it last time, but this time it was both obvious and hard. But I got to see Daniel and Claire in there (I think around mile 22), so that was another exciting boost.

Summit Avenue is another really nice section of town with really expensive old houses to gawk at. As I recall from 2008, the stretch between miles 23 and 24 was the longest ever. Although I kept hitting the lap button on my watch when I passed a mile marker, it was never registering a mile when I got to the next one, so everything seemed interminable. I was also having quite a bit of pain in both knees by this point. Then I got to see not just Daniel and Claire at mile 25, but B as well—he’d managed to crutch down to see me hobble by. What a rush!

mile 25 kiss
Mile 25 meeting. Photo by Claire.

I did reflect, as I left him, that if the protest had gone off as planned, I would be stopping at that point. And, to be honest, I would have been totally okay with stopping. But I was so close.

As I approached the finish line, I remembered the protest again. I had planned to symbolically raise my hands in the “hands up” gesture as I ran past them to express my solidarity for the protesters, since I thought from what I’d heard from the race that it was unlikely they were going to give runners the option to exit the course.[6] But I didn’t actually see the protest. I did see, off to the left behind a chain-link fence, a bunch of people holding signs, but they were mostly white, and also standing in a circle facing inward, so I couldn’t really read any of the signs to determine what group they represented. And I was actually in some not-inconsiderable pain and very focused on just getting through to the finish line, so I decided not to stay and look around and just kept going.

I finished in 4:03:36, about eight minutes off my goal time. The first time I ran the TCM, in 2008, I finished in 4:41:10, so I’ve made considerable improvements in the last seven years. I’m not quite where I want to be/think I should be, but I’m somewhere other than where I started. And that’s sort of the idea, I guess.

The Aftermath

As I mentioned, I crossed the finish line with pain in both knees. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage. With B’s help, the joint got shifted back to its proper position, and I am now again pain-free. I have already been out and run a few times this week, with no noticeable problems other than my quads being tired. I also felt pretty beat up generally at the finish; I think I have done so many trail races lately that I had kind of forgotten how running so far on concrete makes you feel like you’ve been beaten. My next two races are on a combination of cement and gravel, so we’ll see how that affects me.

Post-race selfie.
Slightly crazed post-race selfie.

I also finished with some pretty bad chafing on my back—it seems the belt I was carrying my phone in bounced around a lot, to the point where I had several kind of ugly, bloody scrapes on the small of my back. Those are still healing—yesterday at aikido, I noticed the top piece of my hakama occasionally digging into them when I fell. Ow.

Other than those, life has been pretty decent. And B’s recovery has been going pretty well.

When I told the story of this race to a friend, she asked why I didn’t just stop when things started to hurt. I don’t really have a good answer. I guess I just didn’t feel like anything was bad enough to warrant stopping, so I didn’t. What kind of what would warrant stopping? I don’t know the answer to that either. I do know that I have one more big race (ultra) and a half scheduled for this year, and possibly a 5K or 10K on Thanksgiving, and then I’m going to take it a little easy for a while. Easy meaning nothing longer than a half, maybe doing some weird trail race distances that are, you know, 15K or whatever. Maybe doing some more swimming. I feel like I say that a lot after marathons. I guess time will tell if I actually mean it.

[1] Not to sound too noble. I was going to run 26.2 miles on Sunday regardless of where I was, but if I was at home, I was planning to do 5 x 5 mile loops with a break for an ice cream sandwich after each.
[2] Okay, that was one of the weirder sentences I’ve written.
[3] I found out later that the 10-mile race had already been won by the time we set out. The winner finished in about 56:xx. Holy cow.
[4] Best dog: a husky who, when he heard the crowd shout “Woo!,” started howling. Also spotted a small bear-like beasty (possibly a chow puppy) being held and bounced like a baby by its owner.
[5] My SI joint slips, and then one of my legs becomes longer than the other, putting pressure on my knees. I’ve started doing more plank/dead bugs/half bridges to try to prevent it, but it still happens.
[6] So for liability reasons, races don’t want you leaving the course without telling anyone. There have been cases of runners getting eaten by bears and so forth—of course, an unlikely outcome in a big city marathon, but still.

Em oi! #408: Kierkegaarding

You will probably have to click to embiggen, I’m afraid.

I am forced to begin this week’s lengthy and possibly unreadable commentary on the comic with an apology: I am somewhat misconstruing Kierkegaard here.

Here’s the deal: Kierkegaard wrote a book called The Concept of Anxiety, which is the basis for the ideas that form the underlying framework here, but in the book, Kierkegaard is actually not talking about how difficult your problems are. Instead, he was talking about the responses of different religions to the idea of original sin.[1] That is, he seems to be making an argument like this: 1) Original sin happened, but there were/are people who don’t know about it because they’re not Christian (pagans) or they’re Jewish (??). 2) These groups experience anxiety in different forms (turning outward, in the case of the pagans; turning inward, in the case of the Jews, which is more correct but still unable to come to any resolution, which can only be reached by Christians because Jesus. 3) The angst as freedom of choice is still in there.

If all this sounds a little weird, well–Kierkegaard was kind of a strange guy and his philosophy is a little bit aphoristic. And this is one of his most difficult books.

These anxiety-to-outside/inside relations were distilled by another fellow, Stephen Dunning[2], into the framework that underlies the first three panels (anxiety-in-itself, anxiety-for-itself, and anxiety-in-and-for-itself), and then further distilled by another writer (whose book I cannot name yet, since it hasn’t been published) into yet another form that I’ve adapted here.

In other words, this is based on some secondary materials that somewhat (in my mind) misconstrued the original argument. Le sigh.

Also, I hadn’t used these markers with this type of paper before, and I am disappointed by how it absorbed them. It doesn’t look really as nice in person; I had to do a lot of fixing, some of which is sadly visible. Tch.

I’m currently trying to taper for the Twin Cities Marathon, which is coming up in just over a week. But B is having knee surgery on Monday, so we’ll see how well that goes. My training has been pretty average, but consistent, including consistent speed work, and my ankles are holding up really well (knock on whatever), so I’m guardedly optimistic. If I can get a good taper and decent weather, I hope to hit sub-4. I’ve been running sub-2 hour half marathons in practice, so I have a feeling I can do it. If I don’t get a good taper, I’ll see what I can do. The goal is 3:55:xx, which requires an average somewhere between 8:50 and 9:00 minutes/mile (okay, 8:58 to be precise); of course, the fact that I can sustain that for 13.1 miles is rather meaningless when we’re looking at twice that distance.

Until then, I’m sort of swamped with work, but I will still try to have a new comic up next week as well.

For the nonce, let’s file this one under B4377 L86 2015, for (deep breath) Philosophy(General)–Modern (1450/1600-)–By region or country–Scandinavia–Denmark–By period–19th century–Individual philosophers–Kierkegaard, Søren, 1813-1855–Criticism and interpretation.

[1] Side note: He says, among other things, “Jewish anxiety is over the possibility of guilt, rather than ‘the positing of an actual [guilty] relation'” (Dunning, 153). This is clearly false; Jewish anxiety is over many things, but most of them involve the possibility of disappointing your mother and whether or not this tickle in the back of your throat is going to turn into pneumonia or not.

[2] See Stephen Northrup Dunning. Kierkegaard’s Dialectic of Inwardness: A Structural Analysis of the Theory of Stages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985. Retrieved from Google Books: Link

Em oi! #407: What Time Is It?

Hello, friends, and welcome back to another season of Em oi! I believe this is the ninth now, or it will be as soon as I learn how to draw again. So much has happened during my little sabbatical. I do appreciate everyone’s patience with my lack of comic production–during the more stressful parts of the summer, I wasn’t feeling especially funny, and the time off has helped a lot. The summer also included:

  • The death of my brother and sister-in-law’s awesome dog, Mac Z”L (pictured in Em oi! 367 and 370). I am sad that he had to go; he was a good dog.
  • The cat’s illness and recovery, alluded to here (note 1). As of this writing, she is still doing well (you may be able to see some pictures of her in the bar to the right).
  • I started to learn how to program computers.
  • I took up painting, because the stress from watching the election was getting to me and, as Bob Ross put it, I just wanted to be in a world where nothing bad happens. I am going to work harder at ignoring certain candidates for the next few months, I think.
  • My novella, The Joy of Fishes, will be released as a paperback on October 6th.
  • Pursuant to that, I hope to have a website up at fairly soon. It is mostly designed (thanks to B); I just have to write the text and transfer it over to the new domain.
  • And finally, I’m training for the Twin Cities Marathon on October 4th. Everything has been going well up to this point; my longest run, 23 miles, happened a few weeks ago, and I will be going on taper after this weekend. I am pretty ready to be tapering at this point, so I suppose that’s a good sign. I am hoping the weather will be good and I will go sub-4. TCM was my first marathon, completed SEVEN YEARS AGO.

Which brings us to this comic, because seven years ago this past September 6th, I went on my first date with B. A month later, only a day or two after the marathon, we went over to a local athletic club and got a joint membership, and he started teaching me to lift weights. So what is depicted in the comic has basically been my life ever since.

I guess I’m just lucky.

Maybe if I get some time I will write down my advice for weight lifting, because I have been doing it for a while now. Or maybe if you’re interested in that I’ll just let you google for it.

We’ll file this comic under GV546.3 L86 2015, for (are you ready?) Recreation. Leisure–Physical education and training–Gymnastics. Gymnastic exercises–Heavy exercises–Weight training. Weight lifting. Bodybuilding–Weight lifting–General works. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?


Starship Troopers, because why stop with the cheap scifi just when I’m hating myself?

Heinlein, Robert A. Starship Troopers. New York: Ace Books, 1987. First published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1959.

Not like a Cyberman at all.
Not like a Cyberman at all.

I have become enamored of reading bad science fiction late at night when I am feeling anxious for whatever reason. In this case, the cat’s health issues over the past month have certainly been a constant source of stomach-churning fun.[1]

Short story shorter, a few weeks ago I found a copy of Starship Troopers in the Alex P— Immemorial Wing of the library. I’d recently had a discussion with my youngest brother about politics in literature, so I decided to take a little look through it. So let’s summarize the plot!

Juan “Johnnie” Rico is an immigrant from the Phillipines (or the area formerly known as) to the US (or the area—you get the idea—the book isn’t super specific about world geography in a lot of ways) who grows up in luxury, the son of a rich businessman. He’s living in a futuristic society (post-20th century, date not specified but seems pretty far into the future, since there’s faster-than-light travel and various other gadgets) in which military or other civil service is a prerequisite for becoming a full citizen (of what is referred to as the Federation). Most people don’t bother—you can live a perfectly fine life without becoming a citizen; the main drawback is that you don’t get to vote. Still, come their 18th birthdays, Johnnie, his best friend Carl, and a girl in his class named Carmen all go down to the Army/Navy office and sign up. Carmen, who is very good at math and has good reflexes, goes to piloting school. Carl, who we are led to believe is pretty smart, winds up in R&D. And Johnnie, who has no particular skills other than being a pretty engrossing narrator, joins the M.I., or Mobile Infantry. They are basically like the normal infantry, except they have rocket-powered jumpsuits that allow them to bound over a lot of terrain relatively quickly. This turns out to be something of a blessing in disguise for him, as he is able to gain discipline, martial skills, insight into why a person might become a soldier and why it’s important that only those who have served have the vote, and other pressing societal issues. After a while, the Federation gets into a war with the bug people. Juan makes up with his estranged father, then goes to officer training school and winds up as a lieutenant leading his own platoon.

Heinlein writes about military life with a certain familiarity—he went to the naval training academy himself, though he was discharged in the 1930s with TB and never saw combat. Still, his descriptions of boot camp have a vividness to them that will be somewhat familiar to anyone who has taken part in physically demanding activities.[2] In fact, while the book is set in the future, it’s a future that smells a lot like the 1950s. We have air cars, yes, as well as faster-than-light ships and an elaborate body armor for soldiers that enables them to fly, but people still read newspapers and receive telegrams, fill out forms by hand and receive paper letters. Perhaps more striking, all the fighting is done by boots on the ground rather than, for example, drones.[3] Of course, the book would not have been as exciting had our hero been training to fly drones rather than fight himself.

Philosophically speaking, there are a few other interesting points to be made. In many ways, Rico functions as a cog in a machine, and he implies that everyone in the army functions in the same way. This is, on the one hand, bureaucracy taken to its natural extreme; on the other hand, it’s confusing to think of an army where everyone has to fight, including people who might otherwise have incredibly important skills that would dictate that they should be kept alive (like code breakers/linguists/etc.). Interestingly, despite having many friends die in training and combat, Rico never questions 1) the training he is receiving, 2) the war he is fighting, or 3) the overall necessity for war (he sees it as a biological necessity based on the availability of habitat). And for all his pro-MI rhetoric, Rico never really gets a triumph. He succeeds in a lot of things, including rescuing his Buck Sergeant[4], a man called Zim, from the bugs, but he is injured during the rescue and doesn’t really recall all of it, negating and distancing him from what would otherwise have been quite a victory. In this way, Heinlein sort of acknowledges, obliquely, that while war may be rationalized with a variety of pretty, noble tropes, its actual execution is quite a bit uglier, and much less noble.

This book does a good job of developing the world in which it’s set gradually; by the time you get to the end, you’ve gotten a fairly good idea of what life in it is like, but Heinlein doesn’t rush to dump information on you at the beginning. The book also features a fair amount of diversity in terms of race compared to most science fiction. And, at least compared to Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein’s treatment of women here is much less aggravating; yes, Rico repeatedly remarks at how pretty women are, but he’s unable to get off with anyone—in general because all the women he meets are way smarter than he is. He’s not bitter about this, which is refreshing, and the women, as I mentioned, are genuinely intelligent and good at their jobs (c.f. the constant parade of large-breasted bimbos in SiaSL).

My brother, mentioned mere paragraphs ago, reads this book as a satire. His reasons for this seem to be rooted in a few things about the book–for example, the way the the “bugs” are dehumanized/caricatured and some things about the way the bureaucracy functions, as well as the fact that later on, Heinlein commended the author of The Forever War, Joe Halderman, on having written such a good novel, and The Forever War is widely regarded as being about its author’s experience during the Vietnam War (in Vietnamee, Kháng chiến chống Mỹ). Having read the book, I’m not sure I believe him; Heinlein is a competent writer and a good storyteller, but I don’t know if he’s good enough to pull off that kind of unflinching satire.

I think that’s about all I have to say about this one. I’m told there’s a film version, but I looked at the plot, and it looked like the director didn’t actually read the book so much as steal the character names/title. Interestingly, there are a lot of articles suggesting that the film version is satire. So there’s that.

Next time: Something with women in it.

It's now her chair. Sometimes I get to share it.
It’s now her chair. Sometimes I get to share it.

[1] For those not following along on Facebook, the cat had an adenocarcinoma of the small intestine. She is currently doing well following a bowel resection, but the cancer isn’t really cured and will return, probably within the next six months. But there have been a few anxious nights, mostly because I’m still a hypochondriac.

[2] Like ultrarunning.

[3] Drones are weird, aren’t they? At any point in the last ten thousand years of human history right up to, oh, the mid-1990s, that war will always have to be fought by people was a reasonable assumption to make. Now the elimination of people from offensive combat could totally happen.

[4] Good luck figuring out the ranks discussed in the book. Lieutenant is higher than sergeant; that’s all I can tell you.