The last night of summer: reflections on art and training

The roar of crickets in Metro West Boston has been amazing lately

Walking home tonight (later than usual, Amy and girls at sheep farm in VT) after getting off the trolley was like tunneling through a cloud of cricket and frog calls. I think even with partial low-frequency hearing loss I wasn’t missing anything (thanks, cricket tenors!) and the sensation of surround sound was beyond anything yet achieved by Disney. I was reminded that when we lived outside Lisbon, where there weren’t any crickets or other night sounds audible over constant dog barking, the girls played a Highlights game online that had a cricket soundtrack and it really brought me back to life in the East Coast USA. I was grateful to walk home in low humidity and with no acorns underfoot. There is probably some anthropogenic climate change reason why their absence at this stage in August is bad, but for me acorns signal all the melancholy of fall and I can stand to have them hold off for a week or two more.

Like many other people in my age bracket, it seems, I am training for my first triathlon in a few weeks on Cape Cod. Some big pluses this summer from the training have included some very effective swim lessons, the first since I was about ten; working out much more regularly than I would have without the fear of the event looming; and (for the reader in Brasil who may not have seen me recently) honing my Vegan Adonis form like a big ‘ol tempeh shawarma turning on a lathe in the gyro truck. There is also the general mood smoothing that comes from working out and being more fit: but, as someone who has tended to prioritize reading and indoor creativity over the outdoors and working out, I wonder if the serenity blah blah of fitness is in fact complementary to the excitement/fulfillment of successfully pushing through creative blocks and getting that kind of work done. Could it be (putting his toe into the ocean of actually committing to athletic training) that working out in any semi-serious way is a siren song, diverting the mind/body/spirit’s energies from creative commitments?

That is probably BS. But what the whole vegan switch, tri training, AND modest reawakening of writing this past year have pointed to for me is that middle age might be the time when you have to adopt a life-as-training approach. The idea is that it is only through adopting rigorous schedules, tradeoffs against other activities, and setting deadlines etc. that one can stave off the real physical decline and looming psychological menaces that come with this time of life. So why don’t we all just start charting our every moment against calories expended, miles run, poems started, cubic meters of quinoa consumed?

I’ll stay in this cage long enough to look cute, but I’m not actually captive and will emerge before you finish that couplet

I know this isn’t spilling any secrets but I think that kids and parenting pose serious obstacles to this sort of self-imposed (and, indeed, self-gratifying) training. Maybe it’s our koala parenting style (as opposed to Tiger Parenting) but I definitely find the emotional swings, unpredictable awakenings after bedtime, and fears about the heat death of the planet and its impact on college education tend to carve out disproportionate space in my head. The oldest one is grateful for the times we’ve been able to do writing together, but in general she is finely attuned to the moment when I turn my attention inward (to possible creative inspiration) or outward (to sit down and write) in a way that diverts that limited attention from her. Same with the others–this is all logical and evolutionarily correct behavior. [NB I recently read the two great comic novel memoirs by Alison Bechdel, who did the Dykes to Watch Out For comix. In Fun Home particularly, she talks about how her mother’s escape into her music and dramatic pursuits was, painfully to her children, her greatest joy in a disturbed married life. I thought these two books were fabulous and not just because the second one, Are You My Mother?, features an appearance in comic form of Adrienne Rich.]

Look at the time! It’s 11:41PM EST and once again (Amy does this too) I am greedily slurping up potential writing time that rightfully belongs to the sleep component of my training regimen. When I think about righteously waking up at 4AM to write, like the manically productive and doomed Sylvia Plath pounding out Ariel before her kids woke up, I’m reminded that the real writers do actually make major sacrifices of time, health and personal interaction in order to commit themselves to the demon Muse. How does that pursuit combine with the race to get healthier physically before we get (or feel) deader? Reprobate late-night would-be artists want to know.

2 thoughts on “The last night of summer: reflections on art and training

  1. A timely post for all of us aging pseudo-adonises/ poets / painters/ musicians! Whether we mythologize the humor of the middle-age crisis with the red convertible + blonde, the anxiety is still there: what about our personal trajectories from the past, will they be forever truncated? To delve deeper into the pitiful psyche of the middle-aged male (the female middle-age psyche deserves another series of posts!) there’s also the myth of the man cave: A psychological projection turned into a late night lair filled with books, guitars, and the detritus of unfinished projects. A space both sacred and profane, one dare not enter without permission- “don’t mess up daddy’s things!” can apply to both children and spouses. The question remains however: will “daddy’s things” remain as exhumed archives, unnecessarily summoned ghosts of the past– or will they truly become new creative endeavors that have the potential to change the world?

    Fortunately, as the discovery channel tells us, when we get older we need less sleep. so maybe… hopefully the latter.

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