Friday, March 29, 2013

Fiction Archive: Thorns

This piece of flash fiction was originally published in The Writers Post Journal in March 2006. Sadly, the publication no longer exists (Yep, the published me more than once).
Poorly executed page scan of the publication.

Thorn, in the thumb, thin prick.  Blind pierce, but then blood, a slow bubble climbing into the air.  Jason sucks the digit, places the thumb in his mouth without thought, and leaches the metallic taste.  After a few seconds he removes it, glances at the surface, sees the sliver of punctured skin and the second wave of blood.  He offers one more vampiric suck before giving up and returning to the garden infestation of vines.
            Behind the wound, Jason can hear the voice of his father, a voice from his youthful days when yard work was slave labor and not for personal gain.  The words called to him, “Here, wear some gloves,” but Jason always offered the same froglike grunt of no.  Today, he considers buying gloves for the first time.  Internally, his mind already knows the answer, knows he will not—if only from the pattern of experience.  Better to feel the burn, the scratches, the destruction.
            Dropping to one knee for leverage, the moist ground kissing his skin, Jason grabs at the vines and feels the thorn defenses being raised, the men called out to the vine walls to attack the thick calluses of Jason’s palm, spears raised and digging in out of fear. “No, we won’t go,” the vines chant, “No take this.  Feel that.”
Anger welling, Jason digs in for battle, his knee sinking into the ground, his body lurching against the rows of vine pikemen assaulting his skin, and once again his father’s words, “Why don’t you put on some gloves?”
“No,” Jason says, “No.  I don’t need a crutch, I don’t need protection.”  Eyes shut, he pulls against the advice of his father, hears, feels the snapping, and falls backward vine in hand.  The shouting stops, his ears discern only his own panting.  His hands bleed in jagged streaks.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Newton Distance Review

While I meandered around the 2012 Wipro San Francisco Marathon expo, I came across a Newton Running booth. This was the first time I had seen them in the flesh, and while I find them at nearly every expo and at our local running stores now, I had yet to get a good look at their products. I had read about this shoe, I had heard great things about the shoe, and well both my wife and I were intrigued. Speaking for myself, I had run races of one mile road race to full marathon in minimalist shoes. I had dabbled in the Vibram Bikila for my shorter runs (always felt fast in these), regularly ran in the Nike Free Run + on the road, and the Merrell Trail Glove on the dirt, and I was looking for a shoe that might offer a tad more comfort than the Nike shoe for longer road based runs while maintaining the minimalist ideal.
Perhaps it was a case of I’m running a race tomorrow energy, but we stopped, through the
Men's 2012 Distance seen here.
shoes on, ran a few steps and both ended up in a pair (and two free hats, a pair of free socks, a water bottle, and a reusable bag). Since we both had worn and were wearing flexible, minimal shoes, they urged us to purchase the Distance, claiming it was lightweight, semi flexible (more on this later) and the most comparable shoe to what I was racing in the next day, the Nike Free Run + 2.

Initial Impressions:

  • A flashy set of shoes. Newton Running embraced the neon, bright colors revolution that we see in running shoes today, and they did so early. All of their shoes are bright, distinctive, and easy to spot.
  • The shoe was not extremely flexible. In order to be a natural running shoe, I feel that the shoe must bend and allow the foot to move the way it wants to. Not all shoes do this on day one, sometimes a few runs are needed, and that was my hope. Being a forefoot lander (this fact has always been true), I need the shoe to move.
  • I sized at a 12 at the direction of the Newton rep. I wear an 11.5 Nike and an 11 Skora, my primary shoe now. The fit was tight on the top of the foot, but the toes seemed to be loose. The heel, felt loose as well, the shoe didn’t seem to grasp as well as I hopped during the early miles. I question whether I should have sized at 11.5—perhaps I would have had a better, more accurate fit and thus a better experience.
  • The lugs on the bottom of the shoe feel odd, especially when walking around. I felt tall, but a tad unstable.
Running in them:
Upon returning to Florida, I set about trying the Newton Distance, incorporating it into my shoe rotation, trying them out mostly on concrete. My first post marathon run came in these shoes, thus initial results were hard to gauge with residual discomfort. That said, I used them around two times a week from August to November, running around 200 or so miles. I used them for speed and recovery, runs usually averaging 5-8 miles. Here are my thoughts.
First off, these are loud shoes. Since I had converted to a more minimal shoe, I had grown used to soft, controlled steps. These steps had vanished with the Newtons. I heard my feet—in fact I can now call Newtons out when I race by sound, a distinctive hollow clap. Sound aside, the shoes remained rigid—they never gained flex and always felt as if they were rejecting and not accepting my foot. The ground feel that is evident in the Nike Free, Merrell Trail Glove or Road Glove, and the Vibram, seemed distant, and thus kept me from taking these on a trail for fear of suffering a serious injury.
While the shoe advertised comfort, I never felt it; they seemed to react as a rigid platform that dispersed energy at their will. My legs, especially my upper shins and the top of my ankles would develop odd pains. While they could counter with the adage that this pain was due to strengthening, this pain was not strengthening pain—I had been running in minimal for quite some time. This pain reminded me of the standard shoes I had left behind when I grew tired of being hurt for no reason. They took my wife out of one training cycle, tendonitis in the upper ankle, and she shelved her pair after only about 40-50 miles.
While running in them I had to work to land on my forefoot. The lugs wore oddly, if at all, for I The Thunder Road Marathon in November. At times I felt fast in these shoes, at others I seemed to have an abject reaction, removing them in favor of finishing a run unshod or taking them off right upon my finish to cool down in my socks. While I try to run a couple miles a week at the end of runs without shoes, I had never before removed shoes out of distaste or the mental need.
Newton Distance at 200 miles
seemed to land more on my toes and then to struggle to bring the midfoot down since it was reluctant to bend. I always felt as if I was over striding in them, and as a result, I developed a pain in my left hip—a first in 19 years of running. The pain would come mid-run and be there for multiple days, almost preventing me from running
In the end, I have moved on from this pair. I gave them a try, but we were not a fit. I almost contacted the company to use their 30 day guarantee, but I didn’t out of principal—I had paid for them, so I kept them. Perhaps they will work for you, the masses seem to love them more and more, but I, at least for now, am not a believer.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales: A Book Review

Vegetables in the shape of hands—carrots that can and do resemble the appendage so much that the very thought of dicing them means that you eat a thumb or munch on a pinkie. A salad composed of one of man’s most innate fears: the loss of an appendage. Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales offers such a thought, one that stands close to the macabre, yet somehow comes across as so honest, so real that it cannot be horror. These tales offer the reader a first person glimpse into the lives of eleven characters as they navigate the difficulties of both modern day life and Japan. But this is not your typical short story collection, for each tale overlaps both transfixing and haunting the reader. Originally published in 1998 in Japan, Stephen Snyder thankfully brought it to the English language in 2013 through Picador, and while I was unable to find it at my local bookstore, Amazon has it at the ready.

Digging into the text, tale-by-tale the reader is drawn in by the subtle overlaps—each of these characters and their universes are not unique, are not separate, but actually coconspirators in the same game. A doctor’s mistress grows angry and threatens her lover while later a doctor’s wife goes in search of her husband’s mistress, searching for her marriage’s nemesis. These women seek to emasculate the men (or is it man) in an effort to remove the vein of passivity from their lives. A murder is described by the assailant in such a casual, blasé manner, that one would think it was not only a common but acceptable act, yet the very same crime divides a couple, breaking them into two as the boyfriend cannot handle the girlfriend’s intense interest in the crime’s media attention. It is at this moment that the reader self-reflects, questioning whether they two would do an interview, whether they would smatter social media with the event in order to seek their moment of fame.

Despite having an eerie tone at times, the collection rings with emotion. Mothers mourn the loss of children, staring at rotting birthday pastries in memoriam; writers guard their manuscripts with their lives, clinging to the loose papers as if they were crying children in need of love; tigers show human emotion as they cry out in their death; and the reader witnesses two separate, unique deaths at the hand of abandoned refrigerators—machines refitted into being makeshift coffins. Such events force the reader to consider central questions: do we believe in torture and what qualifies as such an act? Would we seek the affections of an illegitimate father in the wake of our mother’s untimely death and how would we deal with our investable rejection? Is a Zoo a place of joy or sadness, especially in dead of a snow filled winter?

Written with simple prose, the pages turn, the hours melt, and the reader is transported into a heartfelt, haunting visage of Japan. We may not fully understand the culture, yet we are given a taste, a tempting taste. Such temptation forces this closing thought: never before have I been so inspired to learn Japanese and submerge myself in this land’s culture, if and only if, I could read this text the way it was intended.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Published Fiction: Cow Dog and Swift

 This piece of flash fiction was originally published in The Writers Post Journal in October 2005. Sadly, the publication no longer exists.  
Update, This piece has been reprinted in Fiction Southeast.
Cow Dog and Swift

Screen Shot of the print page.
I often wonder the worth of food, the midday meal, the tiresome dinner, the dog in the backyard.  My wife May has fattened the beast up – a Great Dane exercised to extreme, made to be our cow.  The kid loves the cow dog, calls it Mabel, treasures gorging the thing.  She doesn’t understand our family predicament, but eats and eats and eats.  The kid eats beyond comprehension; so she must understand, I will force comprehension upon her.  Today is the dog’s day to become shredded beef and steak, to meet my long, curved knife; the kid will eat well, dine on the fine meat, burgeon on.  Eventually the kid’s turn on the chopping block will come.  We have read Jonathan Swift, treat his words as biblical – Swift was an honest, correct prophet.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Athlinks: A Race Compilation and Info Hub

A friend of mine just tossed this website my way a few days. There is not a lot to talk about other than give it a write up so that the avid racer has a chance to see their races in an organized manner (see the picture). Athlinks has scanned the computer databases. If you have run a race that reports computerized results they are here. If you don’t like a race, well tough, they have it listed, if you do like it boom, perfect record. Beyond the computerized scans, they allow to report unofficial races, perhaps a time you ran in a smaller, chip free race, a track club that runs together weekly, or for a virtual race. The standard social media settings are there, so you can share your results every which way (as if you don’t already).

On to the features I haven’t used: they are working to become an information hub for all things running—listing and linking your races to external sites, as well as doing the same thing with related expos and running clubs. They want you to treat this as a valuable location for both information and socialization. Take a look.