50 Years of Running: The Rain King gets no satisfaction

On March 20, 1984, the vernal equinox arrived with typically chilly March weather. But like a maple tree with its sap starting to run, I was eager to start using the fitness I’d built over the winter. After the freezing cold Shamrock Shuffle race on March 16, I turned attention to a half-marathon on March 24.

To my pleasant surprise, I ran a PR of 1:10:58. The splits told a story of solid fitness going into the spring racing season. 5:10 at the mile, 26:33 at the five-mile, 53:58 at ten miles and a finish under 1:11, but just barely. My stated goal at the start of the year was 1:10:15, so I was closing in. My other goals were mapped out in my running journal.

While my objective there were concrete, I’d grown frustrated with the back and forth business dealings of my former track and cross country coach. “Tired of Trent’s ongoing, pulling, tugging self. I’m tired of going against the odds. I want at least a few odds on my side. I’m going to find a job.”

He’d counseled me to stick with freelancing because it served his own objectives in part. My availability to train his One On One clients, and producing his marketing and education materials provided me some income, but not enough to call it a living.

I felt the strain. On March 15, I felt like the king of rain staring out the window at Clark Street and Lincoln Park beyond: “First sad rainy morning, spring on the verge. Rings of wetness joining together on the street. Whole lakes of vision out in the park. Naked tree branches must shine up close. Envisionment is my own salvation. Unmarried to any thought, however, I move into this day with a void in my head like a patch of snow on the beach. Oh, sand and snow, sand and snow. Will the others ever know?”

Later that day, I attended an artwork and illustration fair held by Scott Foresman, but it proved a total waste of time. “Stupid showing,” I wrote. “Stupid game. Numbers.”

Midwestern girls

Like a bolt from the blue, my downtown girlfriend sent me a nice note from her travels to New York, home office for the massive publisher where she was employed. In retrospect I wonder: Why didn’t I just ask her to help me find a job? I don’t know. I was blinded by other aspects of our relationship, the sex mainly, and possibly some stumbling block of pride. But I did visit her one day in the tall office building where she worked. “Like that girl, like that….girrrrrlll…” I wrote, quoting a popular song at the time. She was rejuvenating in her runner girl persona. I liked being around her in any circumstance.

“Every twenty years or so the earth renews itself in young maidens. You know what I mean? Her cheeks had the perfect form that belongs to the young; her hair was kinky gold. Her teeth were white and posted on every approach. She was all sweet corn and milk. Blessings on her hips. Blessings on her thighs. Blessings on her soft little fingers which were somewhat covered by the cuffs of her uniform. Blessings on that rough gold. A wonderful little thing; her attitude was that of a pal or playmate, as is common with Midwestern young women”
― Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

And then, as if to crush the remaining work pleasure I maintained in my artwork, my roommate and I received a visit from a couple we’d known from Luther College. She was in art classes with me, and always had a manneristic way of drawing that I did not particularly like. But since college she’d gone into painting, and her work still bore a sculptural feel that spread across the canvas like a piece of flattened cake. “She of the abstract expressionist bent,” I wrote about her.

During our afternoon visit, she lambasted my parochial interests in painting wildlife. I didn’t take the criticism kindly, and slapped back at her high-minded claims to a better mode of working. She’d been taking classes at a school in Minneapolis, and felt like she needed to demonstrate that she was producing work of a higher order. Of course, I knew that she was likely taking critical hits about her own work, so she had some redirected aggression to release, much like a blackbird wiping its beak on a branch when you stare at the creature too long. At first, I made an easy target for her frustrations and enabling boyfriend sort of went along with the whole spiel. Of him I wrote: “The verdant Renaissance supportive photographer.” But ultimately I told her to fuck off.

My own best critic

What they did not know is that I was my own best critic at the time. “And me, out to stud,” I wrote. “and lonely still, the insufferable, incurable gigolo part-time artist who wished only to make the whole damn mess look real to himself. I want to paint. I want to write. I want to love. I want to understand. I want to compete. I want to learn. I want to enjoy. I want to know.”

Little did I know that years later a literate friend of mine would recommend reading the Saul Bellow book “Henderson, the Rain King.” The main character had a perpetual voice in his head saying “I want, I want…” and so he ventured into the interior of Africa guided by a local. He won the leadership of a tribe only to realize he was now obligated to satisfy a hierarchy of women, and he found himself conflicted. And then, when a plague of frogs infested the only water source in the community, he used his ballistics experience from the British army to set up a massive dynamite charge to kill all the frogs. Only the veritable bomb blew up the dam that held the water back and that proved a greater tragedy than he could imagine.

At least, that’s what I remember about the book. And years after that, I heard a song by the group Counting Crows with lyrics that also echoed my life:

Hey I only want the same as anyone
Henderson is waiting for the sun
Oh, it seems night endlessly begins and ends
After all the dreaming I come home again

ON March 27 I continued writing in my journal…the ongoing rant of wonderment about life and circumstance. “If anyone ever reads this, you must think I’m crazy…

I recalled a slice of writing from Henderson the Rain King that applied well.

“I wish my dead days would quit bothering me and leave me alone. The bad stuff keeps coming back, and it’s the worst rhythm there is. The repetition of a man’s bad self, that’s the worst suffering that’s ever been known.”
― Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

On March 27 I observed

“I am like a crab in this city. Penniless, flawless, constrained to a nook in a red brick wall like a crustacean in coral. Anyway. Has anything changed? Wearing the shirt given me by a city woman I can probably never satisfy. I have been close to Linda but I can’t break through to that shining platter of comfort and love that she offers. I keep throwing up arms and reasons. I was a rail child yesterday, aimless, throwing rocks at birds, haggard and angry and thoughtless. Except for running, the consummate youthful escape, and running with international presidents, and my old high school coach, feeling strong tonight, and fearless, and driven, hard into the wet darkness. I can’t get no satisfaction. No satisfaction.

“Of course, in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness. But the pursuit of sanity can be a form of madness, too.”
― Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
This entry was posted in Christopher Cudworth, college, competition, fear, God, love, mental health, mental illness, sex, training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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