Back when I lived in Paoli, Pennsylvania (182-83) during a short stint with the marketing department at Van Kampen Merritt in Philadelphia, I joined a great group of runners through the Runner’s Edge running store. Most of those guys, the Crooke brothers Rich, Peter and John, and Dick Hayden, to name a few, were faster runners than me. They also knew how to train smarter, and I benefitted from running and racing with that team in many ways. Plus I’d never worn a green uniform of any kind, and the Nike nylon warmups and racing kit were a keen departure from the orange, black and white I’d worn at both Kaneland and St. Charles high schools, and the Luther College Norseman blue I’d worn during four years of racing in Division III cross country and track.
During some of the long runs with the Runner’s Edge guys, I hung near the back of the group so that I wouldn’t make the wrong impression of trying to push the pace. That’s because I’d made a fool of myself the first day I ran with them by taking off at 6:00 pace like we used to do at Luther. After building a “big lead” I glanced back in surprise to see that no one followed me. Circling back, I met up with the group again while asking, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” one of them replied. “What’s wrong with you? We’re running 7:30-8:00 pace for fifteen. Then at 18 miles we’ll pick it up, okay?”
What a lesson in training and life that was. Sometimes our presumptions about how to do things right are all wrong. Running with that group was great, and yet I still overtrained too often, running too many fast workouts back to back, and humming along at 6:00 pace during midweek runs. I’d get sick or hurt, and have to circle back to a more sane approach. Old habits die hard. Still, during that period I dropped my five-mile time to 25:30, my ten-mile time to 53:30, and my 10K to 31:59, the first time I broke 32:00.
That improvement all came down to that moment I circled back and accepted with humility the guidance of the group to get me on the proper training track.
Following that principle years later after the harsh debacle of trying to race ahead in my creative endeavors at Aspen Marketing, I probably got a bit ahead of myself, or worse, too inside my own head to see things clearly, or as they really were at the time. Those are symptoms of both anxiety and ADHD. But I didn’t really understand either of those mental health issues at the time.
When the year 1999 rolled around and I was laid off in a downsizing at Aspen Marketing, I was adrift and out of work with a family to feed, After taking stock on the situation, I circled back (at 42 years old) to my prior career in the newspaper industry. Things were still going strong in the print business up to that point. The Internet was stumbling along still making up its mind which way it wanted to go.
On the political front, the Clinton-Gore term in office was winding down and the Y2K phenomenon was starting to wind up. Some people were panicky. The Doomsday Preppers at the conservative church we attended started warning people to stock up for the coming apocalypse. There was a strong belief among some Christians that the Year 2000 was ripe for the Second Coming. As for that idea, I was cynical about the whole thing. As a guy that once jacked off five times in one day during my horny early 20s, I considered teasing the Second Comers… “What’s the big deal? Only the Second Coming? Even I could beat that!”
I thought better of that, but as it turned out, they were the whack jobs, not me. Y2K came and went without Jesus making a peep. Even the computer glitches predicted by the Code Busters working madly to add slashes and Os to save the world had to admit that things came off pretty smoothly.
A political cataclysm did come about as a result of the 2000 Presidential election. That’s when the politically dyspeptic George W. Bush (“I was a pilot!) and the terminally heartbroken Dick Cheney (the cardiac kid) conspired with Jeb Bush, the Bush Brother that worked to suppress minority voting in the state.* Then the Florida Supreme Court handed the election to two future war criminals whom far-right militaristic Christians welcomed as a sign that Armageddon could now be initiated in the Middle East.
Bush and Cheney also attacked environmental regulations, and I recalled too well how the likes of that bigoted despot Ronald Reagan behaved by handing James Watt the Secretary of the Interior job. Watt famously stated, “When the last tree falls, Jesus will come.” And I thought, “These fuckers never quit.”
So I decided to attack the misappropriated authority of the Christian religion at its source by penning an essay, “How the Earth Was Forgotten After Creation.” That work addressed the many ways that conservative Christianity gets the Bible wrong about the meaning of “dominion over the earth.” The essay was a hit when I read parts of it in public forums, so I took that foundational document and began writing an entire book that would come to be titled, “The Genesis Fix: How Biblical Literalism Affects Politics, Culture, and the Environment.”
That book would take seven years to complete because work and life and all its vagaries would enter the picture. But the love of writing was as strong as my love of running, so I also focused my work search in that area.
Back in 1994, I’d done a marketing project for the Daily Herald, the third-largest newspaper in Illinois behind the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, the two urban powerhouses. The DH was branded the Death Star by other suburban local newspapers because it had expanded to reach more than ninety communities across the Chicago suburbs. So I started tracking the paper to look for job opportunities, and decided to open the gates myself by volunteering to write a complimentary column for the Tri-Cities edition.
During the summer of 2000, while I was producing columns, the staff needed an extra volunteer to help paddle their entry in the Dragon Boat races during the Pride of the Fox River Fest, a big community festival in St. Charles. I wound up sitting next to one of the HR directors and struck up a conversation. She made note of my interest in joining the company and within a couple weeks received an invitation to apply for the position of Editorial Writer, and I interviewed a week or so later.
I wasn’t a traditional choice for the role because I didn’t come up through the ranks of journalists as most editorial and opinion writers do. Yet I’d published hundreds of articles in newspapers and magazines beginning in the early 1980s, so I got the job. Part of that was due to the advocacy of the Advertising Department leader Bob Strasser, who knew me from my days in ad sales and promotions for the Chronicle, a Daily Herald competitor.
So I was back in the newspaper game again and loved it. Circling back was a smart thing to do in many ways.