Your Occasional Stoic — You May Die Today

It is possible you may die today. Regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to die, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve you in evil. But if indeed the gods do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence? But they do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man’s power to enable him resist real evils. If after death there was anything evil, they would have provided man with the power to resist it. If it does not harm your character, how can it harm your life? Nature would not have overlooked such dangers through failing to recognize them nor is it possible that it has made so great a mistake, either through want of power or want of skill, that good and evil should happen indiscriminately to the good and the bad. But death certainly, and life, honor and dishonor, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men and bad,  as these are things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore, they are neither good nor evil.

  • Meditations, 2:11

marcus-aurelius

We all die. We all feel pleasure, and pain. These feelings are universal and therefore devoid of moral weight. It is what we do with them that creates our character. It is how we accept the inevitability of death, the temporary nature of pleasure (and pain) which gives us our philosophical bearings.

Do not try to avoid the ups and downs of life, try to navigate them, not let them set you adrift.

This is part of an ongoing project of idiosyncratic translations and annotations to Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. You can see the whole series at Your Occasional Stoic. 

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The BQ(Q) Joann Y

When I started this project years and years ago, many of the early respondents came from the great website Running Ahead. Very pleased to add another RAer to the story here. Thanks Joann for sharing your story!

Name

Joann Y

Sex:

Female

Age (at the time of first BQ):

43

Height:

5’5″

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

127

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

Chicago Marathon

Tell us a little about the race.

I hadn’t put in a ton of mileage, maybe 40-45 miles a week for the training cycle but I had been pretty consistent with an average of just about 40 miles a week for the two years preceding the marathon. I followed the Pfitz 18/55 plan. There were some hiccups (personal stuff, “injury”) along the way but I think I followed it pretty closely. I had a half marathon (1:44:23) three weeks before this race that went very well and gave me a lot of confidence that I had a chance to qualify. The race itself started out a little fast and I was worried that I had already ruined it with some fast miles at the start but I remembered my goal of staying relaxed and not using any extra energy for the first 15 miles. So I calmed myself. I off and on followed the 3:45 pace group but couldn’t make myself commit to staying with them. I spent a lot of the race calming myself. Making myself relax. I hit the half at 1:50:59. My goal was 3:42 (BQ would be 3:45). I was concerned that I couldn’t hold that pace for another half marathon as it already felt kind of hard. The last 10k was really hard and I mentally treated it as a 10k, putting in that kind of “effort”. Was able to hold on for 3:41:49 finish (9 second negative split second half). Very happy to stop running at the finish.

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?

4 years taking it seriously, otherwise, my whole life. I always considered myself a runner.

Did you run in college or high school?

Yes

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

Not more than 7000-8000 miles

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

2100

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

10

Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

Yes, Pfitz 18/55

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

No

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?

No.

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Yeah, just whatever speedwork was part of the canned plan. Strides, tempo runs at half marathon pace, marathon pace long runs, some VO2 max intervals at 5k pace.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

I said that I ran in high school, but that was just track. I never ran more than a mile or two at a time in high school and never really much more than 3-6 miles up until 4-5 years ago.

I hadn’t put in a ton of mileage, maybe 40-45 miles a week for the training cycle but I had been pretty consistent with an average of just about 40 miles a week for the two years preceding the marathon. Consistency over years is key, I think. Day after day, week after week, month after month. I never strapped myself too tightly to a goal of a BQ. I knew that it would take time and I knew I would get there if I took my time. The idea of consistency involves a lot of other things besides miles though. You have to set yourself up for success to reach consistency. You have to do the things that you need to do to be consistent. Stop drinking, roll out the calves/hamstrings/quads/IT band, eat better, stretch, go to bed early, run in the morning before work, run during work, run after work, run at night, bring running clothes to work just in case, run with a friend, run alone, run in a new location, run the same routes, take iron, drink lots of water to stay hydrated, walk around barefoot, get a massage, stop smoking, turn down nights out with friends, set goals, set stupid goals, streak, don’t streak. The point is not to try to do everything right. Don’t try to do all of the things right but look at your life and listen to your body and figure out what needs to be done that day or week to make the running happen. That’s all. Figure out how to make it happen. Then go do it. If you think you are prepared, then confidence will take you the rest of the way to the finish line.

Joanna rocking the Swamp singlet.

Joann rocking the Swamp singlet.

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The BQ(Q) – Shawn

Name

Shawn

Sex:

Male

Age (at the time of first BQ):

38

Height:

5’11”

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

170

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

Philly

 

Tell us a little about the race.

Trained using the Hanson plan with some mods. Trained for a 3:12 to get under the 3:15 qualifier. Hit 1:36:30 or so for the half. Wind was pretty strong miles 13-20 in our faces. At the turn at 20, felt amazing and knew I had it. Picked up the pace and ran 7:00 pace for the last 10K.

3:09:53

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?

5 years

Did you run in college or high school?

No

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

5500

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

1700

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

7

Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

Yes, Hanson

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

No

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?

Strength training before the plan

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Yes. Weekly track sessions and tempo

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

 

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Ahmed, My Old Bodega Guy

I was inspired by last night’s demonstration by Brooklyn’s Yemeni bodega owners and thought I’d share a little about my local guy, Ahmed from New Dubai Mart.

Ahmed and his brother left Yemen more than a decade ago, first working as laborers in Dubai to save up enough money to make the trip to the U.S. Sometime after getting here, they opened New Dubai Mart on my block (and eventually another store, in Crown Heights). They worked twelve hour shifts, Ahmed during the day, his brother at night. They sold what all bodegas sell. Sandwiches and toilet paper, beer and coffee.

They never closed.


One year, during a blizzard, when the governor had declared a state of emergency, I asked Ahmed what they were going to do. He looked at my confused. “We’ll be open,” he said, “My brother lives upstairs. If you need anything, just call. We’ll bring it over.”

That’s how it was.

Later, when my daughter was in the hospital, I told Ahmed what was going on, and he assured me it would all be alright. “We’re praying for her and your wife at the mosque”, he said, and I almost cried.

My parents were down a lot in those days and my dad struck up a friendship of sorts with Ahmed. Shooting the shit about basketball, kids, and life in Dubai.

That’s how he was, he’d talk to anyone.

To my son, he was “Mr. Ahmed”, always ready with a banana and a high five. Ahmed kept an eye out for him, reporting back to me when he’d seen him with our nanny. It calmed me to know that there was always someone on the block making sure things were ok.

But things are changing fast in Brooklyn, and gentrification caught up with Ahmed. His landlord (ironically also Yemeni) doubled his rent and they just couldn’t make a go of it. They still have the crown heights store, but they had to let go of the one on my block.

I was devastated.

When he was closing up his store, in the days before the inauguration, I gave Ahmed my business card, and told him if he needed anything, he could call. He hasn’t and I hope he won’t have to. But he was there for my family, and I’ll be there for his.

Now we go to another Bodega, a little farther away, run by another Yemini family. They don’t know my kids yet, and they haven’t met my parents, but they will.

I’ve given them my card already.

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In Defense of A Private Life

From his days as an artillery captain, Hamilton had kept a paybook with blank pages in the back, while on Washington’s staff, he filled up 112 pages with note from his extra-curricular reading. Hamilton fit the type of the self-improving autodidact, employing all his spare time to better himself […] thanks to his paybooks, we know he read a considerable amount of philosophy, including Bacon, Hobbes, Montaigne, and Cicero. He also perused histories of Greece, Prussia, and France. 

  • Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, Pg. 111

In times like these, it can feel absurd to do anything but fight. It isn’t the revolutionary war, but its pretty dire out there, and I, for one, find myself feeling guilty if I’m doing anything other than calling my representatives, or planning the next action. But Hamilton found time to read cicero,… and they still won.

And I remember the Bush years. I remember spending every night of my life in a meeting and every weekend at a demo. I remember the bonds I created with people during those years, many of whom continue to be my closest friends, but I also remember the exhaustion, the distance from family and friends not caught up in the struggle, the loss of time for reflection, for thought, for watching a game. I remember the personal projects forsaken, the professional opportunities missed, the time wasted spinning our wheels because we hadn’t taken the step back to reflect, to consider, to live.

This time, I am not going to let the Trump Administration dictate my life. I’m going to fight them, of course, but I won’t let them decide the course of my life. I’ll spend time with my kids, I’ll read books of no political import, I run, and I’ll write about these things on this stupid website because giving up on a personal life leads nowhere good.

Trust me on that.

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2016: My Year In Books

In 2016, I embarked on a project where I tried to match my reading to the demographics of the U.S.* I set out to read 52 books broken down like this:

  • 10 books (or ~17%) written by Latino writers
  • 7 books (or ~13 %) written by writers from Africa or of African descent
  • 3 books (or roughly 5%) written by writers from Asia or of Asian descent
  • 1 book (or roughly 1%) written by a Native American writer
  • 1 book (or roughly 1%) written by a writer from the pacific islands or of pacific island decent,

The rest of the books could (but certainly did not have to be) written by Caucasian writers.

Half of all books had to be written by women.

So, how’d I do? Pretty well, but not perfectly. I met the racial diversity goals, but, due to some faulty math along the way, I ended up reading slightly less than 50% female authors. I tried to hammer through and ended up reading a bit more than 52 books, but alas, the clock ran out at around 43% female writers.

Oh well, good effort, kid.

When I started this project, I knew it was problematic, but I thought it was worth giving it a try. Here’s what I learned:

The Good

For someone like me, who, when left to his own devices, will overwhelming read white men, setting up these rules forced me out of my comfort zone. I read books I’d never have known about before, seeking out Native American and Pacific Islander writers who would have forever been off my radar.

In seeking out these voices, I learned things I’d never have known otherwise, and that, to me, is one of the reasons for reading in the first place.

The Bad

I knew going into this that the project could tokenistic and limiting, and that really started to come through in the last quarter of the year when I was trying to figure out my reading plan to meet the goal. For example, I wanted to read Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James, a Jamaican writer, but reading another male writer was going to hurt my stats, so I decided to wait until this year.

How does that make sense?

It doesn’t.

For me, reading is about exploring and learning, and I enjoy being improvisational in my choices. Of course, if I’d read less white dudes in the beginning of the year, reading James wouldn’t have been a problem. But I’d back myself into a corner with my stupid rules and they felt, well, silly and counter productive.

Even if I had read less white men, many other voices didn’t make it into my reading. I made no concerted effort to read LGBT writers, for example, or writers with disabilities. I also painted with an absurdly large brush. I conflated the vastly different experiences of a Chilean poet and a Dominican novelist under the umbrella “Latino” which is pretty much the definition of reductionist.

I knew going in that the limitations would create an imperfect tool, and they did.  Still, I think it was worth the effort. I discovered quite a bit in terms of both new writers and the limits of this type of quota system.

What’s next?

I’m glad I did this project, but I won’t be doing it again. In 2017, I’m going to continue to prioritize diversity in my reading choice, but I’m moving away from this sort of quota system. I’m going to make an effort to read more women, and more people of color, and I’ll pay attention to the way things are shaking out, but I’m taking a break from rigid rules. We’ll see how it goes.

The Actual Books

Ok, enough ruminating. Onto what I actually read – 55 books, split pretty evenly between fiction and non-fiction. The books this year were a better than average group — there weren’t many stinkers in the lot.

Indeed, it’s hard to pick favorite, but I’ll try:

Best Nonfiction BookMalcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manny Marable.  A tough one. I loved One of Us and Just Mercy and in another year could have picked either of those. But Marable’s book is on another level. The scholarship, the reflection, the magnitude of the project, all of it combined to make an incredibly compelling read. This is not only the best book I read this year, but one of the best biographies I have ever read.

Best Fiction Book. Winter in the Blood. Equally hard to choose a favorite here. I could have chosen from among the many, many wonderful books I read this year including Family Life,  Too Like the Lightning, Distant Star, the Fifth Season  and People in the Trees, but I’m choosing Winter in the Blood, because it resonated with me so long after I closed it. It is beautifully written, and profoundly depressing, but buried among all the despair, there’s a hint of hope. I need hope right now, so it gets the nod.

Below is a complete list of the books with my annotation of whether I recommend it for the general reader, recommend it for the enthusiast interested in the subject matter, or if I think you shouldn’t bother at all.

Remember, I have no taste.

1. H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald – Recommended

 

2. One of Us: the Story of Anders Brevik and the Massacre in Norway, Asen Seierstad – Recommended

 

3. A Life Without Limits, Chrissie Wellington – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

4. Black Flags: The rise of Isis, Joby Warrick – Recommended

 

5. Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Re-invest Money, Nathaniel Popper – Recommended

 

6. Mythology, Edith Hamilton – Recommended

 

7. The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton – Not Recommended

 

8. Stesichorus: Complete Works (Loeb edition), Stesichorus – Not Recommended

 

9. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson – Recommended

 

10. Family Life, Akhil Sharma – Recommended

 

11. Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz – Recommended

 

12. Living With A Seal: 31 Days with the Toughest Man on the Planet, Jesse Itzler – Recommended

 

13. Red Doc >, Anne Carson – Recommended for the enthusiast

 

14. Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler– Recommended

 

15. The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction, Eric Cline – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

16. Shadow Divers: The True Story of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One Of the Last Mysteries of WWII, Robert Kurson – Recommended for the enthusiast

 

17. A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar – Recommended for the Enthusiast.

 

18. The Iliad, Homer (trans. Fagles) – Recommended

 

19. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge and Found Self-Help That Actually Works, Dan Harris – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

20. The Odyssey, Homer (trans. Fagles) – Recommended

 

21. The Aeneid, Virgil (trans. Fagels) – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

22. Find A Way, Diane Nyad – Recommended

 

23. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson – Recommended

 

24. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Sonia Shah – Recommended

 

25. A Cold Day in Paradise, Steve Hamilton – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

26. The Trojan Women, Hecuba, Andromache, Euripides (trans. Moorwood) – Recommended

 

27. The World of Odysseus, M.I. Finley – Recommended

 

28. The Beautiful Struggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates – Recommended

 

29. The Second Life of Nick Mason, Steve Hamilton – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

30. Infomacracy, Malka Older – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

31. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Manny Marable – Recommended

 

32. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin – Recommended

 

33. Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer – Recommended

 

34. Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, Matt Fitzgerald – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

35. 80/20 Running: Run Stronger and Race Faster by Training Slower, Matt Fitzgerald – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

36. The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana In A Female Punk Band, Michelle Cruz Gonzales – Recommended

 

37. Loquela, Carlos Labbe – Not Recommended

 

38. Winter In the Blood, James Walsh – Recommended

 

39. Straits of Mesinna, Samuel Delany – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

40. History of Buddhism, Robert Lopez – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

41. War and the Iliad, Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff – Recommended

 

42. Lost City Radio, Daniel Alarcon – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

43. Inferno, Patricia Mello – Not Recommended

 

44. Run or Die, Killian Jornet – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

45. Hillbilly Elegy: A Story of a Family and Culture in Crisis J.D. Vance – Recommended

 

46. Distant Star, Roberto Bolano – Recommended

 

47. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Pablo Neruda – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

48. Sudden Death, Alvaro Enrique – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

49. The Vegetarian, Han Kang – Recommended

 

50. The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin – Recommended

 

51. Shiner, Maggie Nelson – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

52. Bluets, Maggie Nelson – Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

53. Pond, Claire Louise Bennett _ Recommended for the Enthusiast

 

54. The People in the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara – Recommended

 

55. By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano – Recommended

*You can see my orginal post on what I planned to read in 2016 here. 

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The BQ(Q) Brad Lindeberg

Name

Brad Lindeberg

Sex:

Male

Age (at the time of first BQ):

28

Height:

5’5″

Weight (at the time of first BQ):

135 ish

At which marathon did you get your first BQ?

Lincoln, NE

Tell us a little about the race.

It was my second “born again” marathon after a long running hiatus from High School. I had run the San Francisco Marathon in July 2010 and was only a few minutes from a BQ. I targeted Lincoln, per a recommendation from my Uncle who ran Boston in the 80s. I arrived well prepared and the weather was perfect: high 40s with sun and little breeze. First half split was a bit fast but I ended with 03:05:47 – good enough for 2012 but 47 seconds too slow for ’13 and beyond. I hoped to re-qualify in Boston but 2012 was a hot year. I re-qualified in fall of 2014 and ran Boston again in 2016.

How long had you been running when you ran your first BQ?

About 2 years semi-structured

Did you run in college or high school?

Yes

What was your approximate lifetime mileage at the time of your first BQ?

No idea. Probably around 1-2,000

How many miles did you run in the year before your first BQ?

1000

Approximately how many races did you run in that year?

8

Did you follow a canned program? If so, which one? If not, can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy was?

no

Did you run with a running club or utilize a coach?

No

Did cross training play a role in your training? If so, how?

Yes. I was weight training my upper body and core. I also enjoy playing golf – walking 18 holes while carrying a bag.

Did speed work play a role or specific workouts play a role in your training? If so, how?

Yes. I ran some shorter distances fast and tune up races fast. I didn’t run too many long runs close to my goal pace.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with those of working towards a BQ?

Find a reputable plan/coach to keep you honest. Do plenty of cross training, strength training, and things that make you happy to avoid injury and burnout. Lastly, sleep as much as you can.

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