Thursday, January 7, 2010
Catching a Glimpse
That last post had potential. But then I got sick of writing it, and it became one of those posts that just ends before it has really started.
Perhaps it's not that I got sick of writing it.
It's more that I began to feel it was becoming what I lovingly call Christmas Letter Bullshit.
Like you, I receive Christmas cards each year with the obligatory Christmas photo enclosed. I love these cards, though truthfully I don't know quite what to do with them, save through them away in bulk in about mid-February. I love them, though, because one can catch a glimpse of the sender's family life with that photo. The adults in these pictures don't reveal their aging quite so markedly as the kids. The kids change so dramatically from year to year that sometimes it's hard to recognize them. The adults change far less. It's only when you compare a photo from five years ago to the current Christmas picture that you really can see that aging takes place with them too-- slowly and inexorably.
But I digress. These pictures are always beautiful and cheerful, conveying the family's strength and happiness. There isn't longing or pain in these photos. At least not usually. A few years back we received a Christmas card from my husband's good college friend, whose wife was dying of cancer. She was in her early thirties and her children were very young at the time. The picture was of the two kids, a girl and a boy, riding a roller coaster with their arms in the air, screaming with fear and pleasure. The caption read, "It's been a hell of a year."
She died about nine months later.
I cried very hard when I received that Christmas card. It was an honest one--so much more honest than the saccharine pictures of health and strength and happiness I had received or sent out over the years.
Again, I digress. Or maybe I don't.
The problem I had with my previous post is that by encapsulating the last ten years I had to barely skim the surface of what they were for me. Additionally, I wanted to paint a picture of beauty-of strength-of health that others might envy. I have a loving, intelligent husband who supports my crazy obsessions; I have three beautiful children who were conceived, delivered and reared without pain or confusion or sadness. I began my running career "just because" after Lara, my third, was born--and I qualified for Boston on my first try because that is how lovely my life has been. I am competent, intelligent, strong and an athlete. And now look at me: healthy, strong, an Ironwoman, with a strong marriage and three gorgeous children.
In short, Christmas Letter Bullshit.
I must admit it's lovely to recreate the past by illustrating it with the most choice photos. I began to wonder, though, what would happen if I chose to post photos that illustrated a different reality? Not that there are many: generally we try to photograph the beautiful only, and make sure we trash the photos that reveal things we would rather NOT remember. But what if there were photos that I could post that showed more than just the beauty? What would the photos reveal? Can I even conjure them in my head now--or have I edited my past so thoroughly in my mind that I couldn't reach them if I tried?
I went on big ass dose of Zoloft after suffering from cripplingly --crash-my-car-into-a-tree-- depression just after my first was born. Where is the picture that shows you that?
Or where is the picture that captures how in the final year of this decade I completely broke down--quitting my job, nearly destroying the nest I had so carefully built, and working my body into oblivion so I could anesthetize it all?
Yep. I don't have one that shows that, either.
Why do we paint these perfect pictures of ourselves for others? Do we hope to be envied? Do we hope to convince ourselves of a perfection we want-- but can only have artificially-- in a picture? What would it be like if everyone highlighted in their Christmas letters how the last year really went down?
I am reading Lance Armstrong's Biograhpy--the first one--It's Not About the Bike: My journey Back to Life.
It's well written. Kudos to Sally Jenkins.
I still can't get over how it's possible that a gifted writer, like Jenkins, can take on a project like writing in the first person from the perspective of a MAN (a man with quite a bit of extra testosterone, I will add)--and NAIL IT--I mean really get it right and make Lance sound so wise and beautiful and strong--and then NOT be recognized for that achievement. It's criminal!! The book is well-loved, well-reviewed, and has sold so many copies--but who gets the credit here? Lance Armstrong! This just doesn't seem right to me. It is Jenkins' creation of Lance Armstrong that we love. It's what she did with that raw material--the Christmas letter she created--that we adore. Lance provided the raw material, but Jenkins shaped into something of consequence, and she deserves credit for that.
Sally Jenkins, In Armstrong's "voice", gets at why he choose to ride when he had cancer.
Why did I ride when I had cancer? Cycling is so hard, the suffering so intense, that it's absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a six-hour ride at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for a while you have a kind of hall pass, and don't have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue are absolute. There is an unthinking simplicity in something so hard, which is why there's probably some truth to the idea that all world-class athletes are actually running away from something. Once, someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. "Pleasure?" I said. "I don't understand the question." I didn't do it for the pleasure. I did it for the pain. (85)
I liked my last post. I liked the photos I chose. But my last post is a big half-truth.
I credit Sally Jenkins for summing up so clearly how I arrived where I--(and quite possibly you, if you're reading this and are as psycho about your running/swimming/biking as I am)--am today.
I will likely be somewhere else entirely come 2020.
But for now, that is the true Decade in Review.