The wind blistered shores of the Hudson
Thousands of kilometres away
If not millions
An Easter moon’s light pricks my eyes open
In springtime Victoria
Thrashes me around at 4am
Illuminates the interplanetary space
Lays bare the simple facts
That everything is falling apart
Just as everything is being held together
By invisible fundamental forces
By math and physics
And any other human conception
I can settle my mind on
At 6 AM when
The first birds ease my grasp and let me sleep
I’ve been carrying you with me on my runs lately. A laminated photograph that Sophia made shortly after you passed away. This past weekend we traveled over some muddy trails in the woods of Goldstream park Sunday and Thetis Lake park Saturday. I think of you when I’m in the woods, hear frogs in the dimming day, or see trilliums or lilies or dogwood; when I hear the varied thrush’s plaintive call on a wet spring evening or when the sap starts to run and winter ends. A steady part of our relationship was sitting on a porch some place and talking about nature — trees, flowers, weather, climate, geology. So, my mind goes to you when I’m immersed in those places. Sometimes that talking was a mask over an underlying set of questions I’m not sure we ever really got to. The deeper, more difficult to answer ones. So, these exertions that I put myself through, killing off some cells to benefit the whole somehow is my imperfect solution and maybe I’m doing the same thing with myself. Glossing over the unfilled pits that lurk in my brain in increasing number and which are harder to avoid as I stumble around in the increasing darkness that is my life as I age. These runs are also the cure I could have hoped for you: a run without escaping fully. Without cleaving a life or lives. This post started as an aimless ramble and lo, I barked my shins on another obstacle. These stories and memories always begin so simply, and with such good intention, yet sometimes you never know where they are going to take you.
Will I look back on my life
And see a series of ragged breaths
Intermittent periods of fullness
Then vacuum; airtight seals?
And if I choose to reset the pace, then
What? What form does rhythmic gentleness
Or a long steady expansion take?
How do I make room for all of that air
In my self-crowded brain? In that
Shattered-mirror space? In that
inwardly looking black body in
Perfect thermal balance with
Itself steadily cooling, radiating
Its energy toward entropy, space,
Where even atoms do not touch.
This is a trace of my heart rate taken as I slept last night. The red line shows my heart rate in beats per minute. The time axis is time since start, but is close to clock time because I went to bed around midnight. When I realized a few months ago that I could do this I was fascinated by the potential of getting a very small glipse into something that takes up 1/3 of our time and is of immense importance. Sleep amazes me. Any departure from consciousness is amazing; from passing out, to sleep to death. Your conscious brain goes away, is unleashed somehow and the results are usually profound. But sleep is also routine. We cut our brains and bodies loose from our “selves” every night.
This particular trace is a good one. I started my monitor about 30 minutes before I hit the light. You can see that, immediately, my heart rate falls. The spike at 30 minutes is when I got up to close the blinds. Soon after, I was asleep and for the next hour my heart rate settled into slow, deep sleep. The stretch from 1:40 through 3:40 is the coolest. I think this is a natural rise out of stage 4 sleep up into REM and then a drop back down. You can “see” dreams happening around 2:50 and again after 3:00 (and throughout the night). Normally, my heart rate would fall to the upper 30s in beats per minute, but I’ve been running a lot this week, so my body has extra work to do at night to repair tissues. One sign of overtraining is a resting heart rate that stays high or higher than normal. I’m not over training, just normal fatigue. After 3:40 where I hit stage 4 sleep again (probably) there’s a subtle rise and then lots of dreaming until about 5:30. I always think that morning sleep is the best and here it is laid out in the data. A solid 50 minutes of very slow heart rate and dead calm. Then lots of tossing and turning into morning (I think this because the trace looses contact around then a couple of times).
This trend toward deepest sleep in the morning rings true to what I know about myself in the morning. The standard sleep cycle chart has the deepest sleep happening early in the night with a gradual transition to shallower cycles as the morning dawns. I, on the other hand, seem to gradually step down into deeper and deeper sleep reaching my deepest sleep in the morning when normal people are already waking up. I am NOT a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I stay up late and sleep late and I think this is why. My circadian rhythm wants me to be out cold at around 6 in the morning most mornings. The times I have to wake early to catch flights or what have you, I feel utterly broken. My brain is out repairing itself, it wants to be out and I’m making it do something else and put more wear on it. I start work at 10 and work until 6:30, this will always be so if I have any say in it.
Last night I got more sleep than I have in a long while. Last weekend was rough and this week I’ve been expressing a really bad habit of keeping myself awake with computer screens of one kind or another. As a result of the long sleep, I feel awesome today. Drank a spinache/blueberry/rice protein smoothie for breakfast outside on the sunny balcony of my funky motel room. Yeah, sleep! If you can find the time, be nice to your brain. (note that I will almost never take this advice)
the resolution of their cameras and screens got so high that they could see how atomic life can be
I’m beginning the process of training for a 50 mile race. This involves a lot of running, but also a lot of reading. Somewhere along the line I picked up a principle from Scott Jurek stating that each day in a training period should have a purpose. No flailing. My current schedule is based on running time and peaks at 14 hours of running 3 weeks before my race which doesn’t include the 30 mins of hip and core work every other day to keep things together. My life is as busy as anyone’s so there’s no room to flail in there. Rest days are for letting the body heal from exercise and to let the mind relax from the sometimes obsessive focus of training. Long run days are for building an aerobic base and practicing my systems for a long day on the trail. One midweek run a week is dedicated to building strength and maximal aerobic capacity. And so on.
Having purpose in mind should apply everywhere in my life. As I drift onto the internet on a work day, asking what the purpose of that activity is quickly reveals the error or internal dishonesty as I try to justify it. What is the purpose of purchasing that widget? What is the purpose of ordering the grease ball? I’m not saying that these things aren’t sometimes justified. Widgets can improve your life, sometimes you just NEED a grease ball. But being mindful and weighing your motivations is always useful (until waffling sets in).
The purpose of this post is to state, to myself and the three people who happen across this blog every month, my acknowledgement of the role that purpose needs to play in my life. Now back to work.
Over the past few days I seem to have moved past something. Sure, I was depressed for a few weeks, but I was also having trouble moving. Felt uncoordinated, like a poorly operated marionette. My joints ached and I dropped dishes. My brain seemed to be ignoring my left side completely — leg flapping around, foot slapping the ground when I walked. And then it cleared. Some time this weekend it all flooded back together. My ravenous appetite is gone, generally happy, played my guitar, joint aches passed. I’m staying on top of work (early days this week). And not feeling like I need to run away. All I can think is that my brain chemistry just shifted either spontaneously, or through more time with friends this weekend and last weekend and god knows what else — the lengthening days? Time on a boat? Sleep? A night in a fancy hotel in Vancouver? But the most striking thing is how my movement has changed. The jangling dopamine drought of light dystonia has been replaced by a much less clumsy me. none of these things are clinical. Again, a Dr. would kindly listen while ignoring me were I to tell them. But something changed. Hope it sticks around.