Saturday, January 24, 2015

Book Review: Stephen King’s From a Buick 8

Much like the novel’s title object, Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 sat on my shelf for many years. While I never stared at it and assumed the superintendents position as the book possits, it traveled through multiple moves without a glance. Typically a quick read, I tend to refer to King when I need a good novel, one that flows by without deep literary symbolism and interpretation. Something that can spark interest and excite while keeping the pages turning. While From a Buick 8 has merits, this book is a bit folksier than King’s typical works and driven more by theme than events, as in this text was not quite what I was expecting at the time.

Primarily written from the first person perspective of an aging Pennsylvania State Trooper named Sandy, the text follows the mysterious and strange events that surround a peculiar Buick the Troop branch took possession of in bizarre circumstances: the owner drove it into a gas station, asked for service, went to the bathroom, and never returned. While his absence is not the mystery the text presents, this car not only appears invulnerable to damage—one can scratch it and watch the paint regenerate—but also a source of great energy. It emits light quakes that flash waves of purple, transports strange creatures from another world, and is responsible for the disappearance of at least three individuals, including its owner. Furthering the oddities, the car is not built to spec and exists as more of a concept for its make year than the real thing—nothing about the machine seems to add up.

Typical of a Stephen King thriller, the car seems to breathe, seems to gnaw at the mind of the officers, and while standing as a beacon of interest for the men, it is linked to the worldly death of many officers, even if such occurrences exist more as hunches than anything else. Yet the narrative, which hovers around the hodgepodge recounting of Buick experiences to young Ned, the mourning son of a recently killed State Trooper who held an unhealthy fascination with the Buick, and while the tales do hold merit, the central narrative does not. Frankly, the narrative just kind of starts, plods along, and ends under the assumption that everything will be alright, a fact that is atypical of Stephen King’s creations.

While the tone is indicative of much of his later work, where redemption and life reflection tend to ooze to the top, King spends too much time in Sandy’s head offering too much cliché patter about the actions of Ned and the boy’s reception to their story. In the end, while the book is a decent read, it neither thrills nor fully enthralls. There is something here, something that rings home, but that something may not be worth the four-hundred pages.

Favorite Lines:

  • “I did, too. Sometimes there’s nothing to learn or no way to learn it, or no reason to even try. I saw a movie once where this fellow explained why he lit a candle in a church even though he wasn’t a very good Catholic anymore. ‘You don’t fuck around with the infinite,’ he said. Maybe that was the lesson we learned.”

Monday, January 12, 2015

B-Skips Demonstration

Recently I wrote on A-Skips, a great drill that can be used to work on knee drive. After mastering  A-Skips, consider starting B-Skips as well.

These are essentially the same thing with a twist: you hit a rhythmic high knees, but you then kick your leg out and bring it to the ground, scraping the toes back.

Here is Matthew executing the drill to perfection in slow motion (one must love the hat):

My video below isn't perfect, but it has the basic gist. My legs are not getting high enough (especially when bouncing off of my right leg which has a slight injury) and I was a bit timid to scrape the ground in my bare feet, but you need to with a bit of force. Once the slow motion kicks in you can get a better shot. Between the two shots you should be able to have the dynamics down.

What do these do for you? First you work on knee drive, much as with A-Skips, but then you work on your landing pattern, trying to get your landing under your hips. Next you engage the hamstrings a bit, getting the full flexor and extendor relationship in play.

Incorporate a couple 10-20 meter sets in before and after your runs, then think about it during the run, see if some of the cues you are learning can come into play. Helps with sprinting, forefoot landing, whole foot landing, as well transition from knee drive to landig.

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "“A Late Encounter with the Enemy"

“A Late Encounter with the Enemy” follows the interaction of Sally Poker, an aged woman about to graduate from a teacher’s college and her Civil War veteran grandfather General Sash. Focusing on pride, the story digs deep into the many facades that drive Southern Tradition. More than anything, the Old South lives through the collective focus on social perception and appearance. People dwell on the past, attaching themselves to both tradition and their lineage as if it is a form of nobility, a fact O’Connor never fails to spotlight.

Thus General Sash follows in a long line of O’Connor’s aged, southern males, men fixed in their racist, proper ways. These men stand above others and establish themselves through their self-importance and ability to not only be the best, but to also look the part: “he would be expected to sit on stage in his uniform …there wouldn’t be anything equal to him in his uniform” (134). The General, a man who eschews false teeth, because well, they make him look bad, isn’t even a general. A foot solider at best, over his hundred and four years he’d forgotten his rank and the war itself, leaving his pride to stand on the shoulders of false pretense, traits that O’Connor’s fiction seems to both bask in and treasure: “He had not actually been a general in that war. He had probably been a foot solider; he didn’t remember what he had been; in fact, he didn’t remember that war at all” (135). But he has his new uniform, his new title, his sword, and most importantly his ego.

Likewise, Sally Poker strives to be better than the rest. She is graduating at the age of sixty-two with a degree in education despite having a career in the field. She approaches graduation with a grand reluctance, ananger over having been forced to attend school in the first place: “For the past twenty summers, when she should have been resting, she had had to take a trunk in the burning heat to the state teacher’s college; and though when she returned in the fall, she always taught the in the exact same way she had been taught not to teach, this was a mild revenge that didn’t satisfy her sense of justice” (134-135). These words ring with the very same spite as the General’s, and while they detail anyone’s anti-tenure argument, they speak to the family tradition of haughty arrogance. This is the woman who regrets attending a gala because she forgot to put on her fancy shoes—forget the fact that her grandfather was crowned a fictional general at the Confederate Ball. This is a woman who turns her nose up at the system, but parades her symbol of excellence out at the system's celebration. Yet Sally can’t stand up to grandfather, once pretending to sleep in fear upon waking up to find him staring at her naked except for his general’s hat. Such an encounter would have shredded not only her respect, but the general’s, a deed that would crush both proud characters.

Sally needs him whole, for he is her trophy, her beacon of self-worth: “If he had died before Sally Poker’s graduation, she thought she would have died herself” (139). He exists to make her proud, a fact she again voices at the ceremony itself, unaware of the man’s true fate: “she glanced at the General and saw him sitting fixed and fierce, his eyes wide open, and she turned her head forward again and held it a perceptible degree higher” (144). He is her symbol in a symbolic event.

The graduation itself, is well, a graduation. People speak, clap, stand, walk, sit, and wait. No one has fun at these, not the speakers, not the teachers, not the graduates. This is not to say that the event is not dignified and important, but rather, that the event is about the pomp: the show. The General exists as a pawn in the game as he is put on display for all dignitaries. He should love it, yet he feels lost, and confused, a victim to his age and lack of comprehension on the world: “The figure was telling him something about history and the General made up his mind he wouldn’t listen, but the words kept seeping in through the little hole in his head” (142). History contorted, existence as well, the General cannot avoid his greatest advisory: time. Time degraded his brain, brought on confusion, and thus, through a symbolic hole he endures the torment of the graduation ceremony in his own way. Names barrage him, music assails him, and unable to control his facilities, too proud to ask for help and reach out beyond the pain, the General falls, passing away in the sea of black before him. His habit of life comes to an end as a useless symbol to his granddaughter’s misplaced pride.

Favorite Lines:

  • “Living had got be such a habit with him that he couldn’t conceive of any other condition” (134). So poignant and telling—these words show the reader so much about a character as he is just being introduced.
  • “The past and the future were the same thing to him, one forgotten and the other not remembered; he had no more notion of dying than a cat” (139). Here O’Connor confronts the malaise of life the General is living through, much the same as Old Dudley from The Geranium,and thus is set up for a fall.
  • “The graduates in their heavy robes looked as if the last beads of ignorance were being sweated out of them” (141).
Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop,” “The Turkey,” “The Train,” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A-Skips Demonstration

Quick post here on a common drill that can help you think about your running form. In both regular speed and slow motion, I have A-Skips for your visual pleasure. Basically, A-Skips are high knees, but with a rhythm.
Work to get the rhythm as well as the slight jump off the ground. Feel the toes lift. While I commonly have the runners I coach do these in shoes, I taped barefoot (because my shoes were caked in mud post trail run) in order to allow you to see the actual lift off the ground. 

So how do these translate? When running, work on getting the knees up. Unless you are a sprinter, you will never get them this high, but think about getting those legs up, pushing those thighs into the air, and in the process working on the generation of power.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Intrinsic Motivation: A Second Look

I’ve received a lot of positive feedback off of a recent post on Intrinsic Motivation and have been asked to expand on the points I discussed in more depth. Thus, I am going to start here with point one:

“Break each task down into segments that have achievable goals. Write 200 (or 2000) words a day to complete your novel. Break a five mile run into five pieces, so if you need to run it in 45 minutes, you have five goals there, each of nine minutes. Hit one, you feel better, hit another, confidence and motivation grows. One run turns into two, two a week, a week pushes you out.”

Quite often, we put the cart before the horse. We have goals, big ones, but we forget what is required to reach them. For whatever reason, humans think they can blink their eye and boom: they will have a novel or a three hour marathon. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I coach many athletes who have grand plans—they want to run marathons, they want to run them fast, and they want to reap rewards (race qualifications, medals, etc). But a marathon is the sum of many, many efforts. While elites may jump out there and shatter the world with awe, the truth is that their races are the sum of years or raining, and months of specific training for that race. A quick read of Running with the Kenyans details a lifetime of running behind such performances. Some are more gifted than others, but in general, these gifts need repeated exercising for success. Once serious, this lifetime of training comes in the form of training blocks divided into segments ranging from base to quality to tapper.

Each phase is further broken down into weeks of training, training concentrating on various efforts, distances and abilities. In terms of elite runners, days often include multiple training sessions (as many as three). Each has a goal, one might have pace, the other might be strength, the next recovery. The cart is never before the horse, for they the horse is being bred, raised, trained and the cart built from scratch before one ventures out.

I know I am prattling on here, but the point is, have goals. Tons of them. Have goals all over the place. Hit your daily mileage. If the goal is to run slow (yes, this is legitimate) then do it. If you are to run for two hours and no more, then do so. Within those two hours, make an effort to set goals. Maybe to hit your interval sequence or hit a specific mileage. All in all, these daily goals allow one to build to weekly ones, monthly ones, and ultimately your dream. If you fail, and you will, use said failure as motivation. Why did you fail? What went wrong? How can you get to where you need to be? Thus, through self-reflection, reset the path, and thus strive for the end result. Likewise, if you want to write a book, write one. Start with a daily word count, a ritual. It doesn't matter if the words suck, it matters if the words get written. You can and will edit them later. Stephen King, notorious for pumping works out, writes at least 2,000 words a day. He has goals, and he hits hit goals in order to succeed.

Do it, you know you want to.