I’ve always thought it something of a blessing to be moody. One spring day in the mid- 80s, as I headed out for a long run, I found myself quietly singing the words to The Pretender by Jackson Browne. I know them by heart, and their passionate call to consider the meaning of life, and work, and love.
“Caught between the longing for love, and the struggle for the legal tender…”
That mood of consideration lasted all 20 miles of that run. I sang the song over and over. I can still feel the depth of that voice in my head as I made a long, slow climb on a far country road. I was not in a funk, just a deep consideration of what I (and it) was all about.
I’m still figuring that out.
Sometimes that mood of considerate angst goes even deeper. And when it slinks up behind you before or during a hard or long workout, the temptation to complain about your circumstance can be great.
Over the years, I’ve learned to shut that complaining voice down. The sage advice from a roommate, “Cud, you just need to shut up and run,” has stuck with me lo these many years.
However, that means proceeding in silence, and sometimes people don’t understand that. So it’s even worse in some ways, to shut down the dialogue because it seems anti-social. I’ll admit that much. There’s nothing like a sullen downer in your presence to ruin a workout, or a life. That was the case the other night at Computrain. I got there late because of a late business call and a pair of forgotten bike shoes. Felt bad coming in when everyone was already rolling. And the February Blues were vexing me sorely. So I shut up and rode. It wasn’t pretty. So I apologize for that. To the world.
But I did ride well. And hit my numbers. So there’s a blessing to moodiness. You see? In some ways, it helps the concentration.
I also think it’s absurd to be expected to be all happy-laughy all the time.This has long been a theme of mine with a pair of workout buddies with whom I go way back. If you think there’s a way to fix what’s wrong during a workout, like actually working together while cycling in a windstorm rather than slogging on alone, then it’s a case for serious discussion. And it doesn’t hurt to even discuss the goal of a ride before you go out. But to go out and negotiate that by false pretexts, well that sucks. I know that cycling prides itself on the machismo side of things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss the desired pace of the day to some degree.
And by contrast, if you’re having a bad day and would rather be left alone for a time, so long as you can communicate that you’re fine and will make it home, none’s the harm.
But it’s often too late to apologize if you cut across the grain the wrong way. Which sucks because the whole reason we’re doing all this endurance stuff in the first place, if truth be told, is to work off the absurdities of life. Hours behind a desk. Cramped behind a steering wheel. Stuck in a work situation. A marriage. Whatever. Problems like these when seen from 30,000 feet never amount to much. But up close, these situations? They make us sad, or angry, or afraid. It’s absurd, isn’t it? We should all have to take a jet to work, I guess. So that we can see all the ants driving around in their little ant cars.
Yet I’ll still apologize here to anyone that I’ve offended over the years. Honestly, I’ve always had my rational reasons, questions about why or how the workout was composed, collaborative or technical issues that could be solved. Moodiness is never the right tool to handle those situations. Going way back to high school and through college, I can recall moments when in training or in competition I’ve wronged people in one way or the other. I still do it today. It doesn’t help or matter that I have my reasons, or anyone else. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle things.
Of course I’m not alone. These lyrics from Paul Simon are a confession of sorts on his own behalf.
Wrong again. Wrong again. Maybe I’m wrong again. I remember once in August 1993, I was wrong, and I could be wrong again. I remember one of my best friends turned enemy. So, I was wrong, and I could be wrong again. I remember once in a load-out, down in Birmingham. Yeah, but that didn’t feel like love. Sure don’t feel like, sure don’t feel like, sure don’t feel like love.
The singer is known to be a bit prickly at times. Perhaps it’s the inevitable product of creative forces within his head. Creative people see both the absurdities and realities in life. This dichotomy throws you right back in the center, where justice of one kind or another resides. Sometimes you can be totally right about a situation, and be deemed wrong because it does not fit the social situation at a moment. You are judged by that nonetheless.
Divides and conquerors
There’s a trait called Emotional Intelligence that gets a lot of play on sites like LinkedIn. In business, it counts greatly to get along with others. That’s pretty much the reason why most people succeed. That and a bit of knowledge takes you a long way.
It’s no different out there on the road, or sharing a lane in a pool. There is etiquette to follow. When roadies ride with triathletes, they cannot stand the manner in which the multisport people ride. It feels like chaos, all twitchy and self-absorbed. Their tri-bikes are low slung and designed for one thing, hunching down and riding along, alone.
This somewhat bitter fact is built into the sport.But for that reason, tri-bikes are not welcome among serious groups of road riders.
And yes, multisport athletes often ride in groups. At the start, anyway. Then quite often the ride breaks into smaller groups of ones, twos and threes. It’s just the way the sport works. Because most multisport riders evolve riding that way, there’s no real knowledge of how to ride any different. But it feels so wrong to any roadie accustomed to riding in pace lines and building speed through group effort.
There used to this same kind of divide between track runners and road racers in running. You simply did not race on the road until your track career was pretty much over. That’s not the case anymore, so the perception these days seems absurd. But it once existed. It took a decade or so for the stigmas of moving from one sport to the other break down. Runners like Frank Shorter had a lot to do with that.
We’re all susceptible to these seemingly passive perceptions that have some basis in reality. When another person doesn’t get what’s bugging us, it can be hard to describe what the problem really is.
One could argue that the United States is susceptible to this syndrome in the world. We’re still a young country by any measure. Yet we can’t imagine why other nations don’t love us for everything we do in the world. There’s a phrase to justify this attitude. It’s called American Exceptionalism, and it’s based on the idea that no matter what it does, America is always in the right.
But we all know that no one is always in the right. America may be a great place to live, but it’s also filled with a giant population of nutsacks with confused ideas of liberty and religion, whose ideas about deep subjects are ill-gotten, and secondhand. That all flows into our politics, and like a bunch of moody bastards and bitches, the nation is creeping again into its partisan quarters. The New Civil War is in full swing here, and there are no real Abraham Lincoln characters in sight. Just Donald Trump, who might as well be Donald Duck, for all the intellectual weight he represents.
Which is why it made me smile to be greeted during a recent painting session with the lyrics to the Jimmy Buffett song Banana Republics. He sings about people (especially Americans) who are out of sorts with the world. It’s an apparently common affliction, which is why there seem to be so many Parrotheads.
Some of them go for the sailing
Brought by the lure of the sea
Tryin’ to find what is ailing
Living in the land of the free
All of life is a search for meaning of one kind or another. But sometimes you run into a bulwark with your small boat (don’t take this literally, by the way…) and are left sitting there wondering, “How the hell did that happen? What was I thinking?”
The answer is simple: “You weren’t.”
Which is when it’s best to drop the oars, laugh a little and sing these lyrics out loud…
“Give me some words I can dance to, or a melody that rhymes…”
I guarantee you’ll feel better. It’s always worked for me. Sooner or later.