I lace-up my running shoes and pull on my Dri-Fit shirt.
I fold my bandanna and wrap it around my forehead, spiky hair popping out like the logo for Shock Top beer, sans the sun glasses, big ass smile and orange hue.
I pop-in my ear buds and I fire-up the new episode of WTF with Marc Maron, who’s telling us about Garry Shandling’s wake.
Somehow every time I am ruminating about things, what might be, or has been, it seems to come back to Los Angeles, the city itself, someone there or how those lives are lived.
I was there, again, just weeks ago, it was warm where Chicago was not, and I ran under those piercing blue skies, shrugging off my lingering flu, and dreading my need to return home and re-embrace the cold that would be waiting for me.
I was however ready to re-embrace work, and my creative life, balancing day job, and writing, travel, telecommuting and finding peace with how it all might work together.
Maybe I’ve gotten ahead of myself though.
What’s important now is that it’s spring again, I am home, it is sunny, I have been ruminating on work and life, and I’m thinking that today I will run far, further than I have been anyway.
There was this moment when I decided it was time to go beyond my usual one hour loop – out to the totem pole and back – and follow the path that wraps around the golf course in Lincoln Park, and back along the lake, and I’ve been running that path again and again.
But why stop there?
What about adding another loop on top of that loop?
What about continuing on to Montrose Harbor, running around Cricket Hill and adding another ten minutes?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as well, expanding outward, pushing myself further, exploring my limitations and the possibilities that might exist just beyond my grasp.
Why do I have time for this however?
I think I’m getting ahead of myself again.
So, let’s focus on Maron for a moment.
The tenor of the podcast so far is that of Shandling’s great desire, hence Maron’s great desire, to be happy on this earth, because what else is there, but that?
Which is why I should run, will run, do run.
It makes me happy.
So does the sun.
Again, it’s that time of year, and the fact is, the seasons affect my mood.
I don’t know when this started, or if it has always been a thing, but I do know that these days when the sun pierces the long grey Chicago skies, slices through my window and envelopes my desk or kitchen table, I smile, my happiness heightened and everything seems okay again.
It’s possible, that maybe I was always this way and I’m only realizing it now.
It’s also possible that maybe I’ve not been as happy as I thought I was, that I have been more beaten down than I allowed myself to acknowledge, suppressing these feelings, boxing them up during the long winter days and setting them aside until the sun would return to burn it all away.
I just don’t know.
What I do know, and what I’ve always known, is that I can lace up my running shoes, I can put on my bandanna, pop-in my ear buds, ruminate on Shandling and happiness and savor the sun beaming down on my pale face.
I head-up Dearborn, I cross into Lincoln Park and I encounter the Black-Crowned Night Herons who are making a home there.
They come to Lincoln Park during the spring to nest, hatch their chicks and move on, the twinning miracles of nature and birth evolving above our heads for months on end.
The city cut down the expanse of trees lining the path in the heart of the park which the Night Herons had flocked to in springs past.
Before they did this however, the city would fence off the trees in their entirety, and the big, gawky birds would have space to lumber around in and call their own.
I would have to run around the fencing and through the wet grass to get around them.
I would adapt to it, adjusting to this new reality, just as the Night Herons have done by choosing to cluster in a tiny thicket of trees near the entrance of the park, no longer free to roam, but unwilling, or unable, to move on from our neighborhood.
They have decided to make the best of the situation and take care of business.
This makes me happy too, though it isn’t all that makes me happy today.
My knee feels good, better than it has for years anyway, and my lower back as well.
I don’t know why this is the case, I’m thinner, not much, but it could make a difference.
Either way since I have to run, getting to do so mostly pain-free is a gift that has seemed too much to ask for in recent years.
This seems especially important right now as I move further into the park, nudging past what I’ve recently felt capable of, hopeful and fearful, but pushing.
This not being in pain, or not much pain, this is different too, and I’m sure I am jinxing it, but yes, this makes me happy as well.
Meanwhile, Maron is talking about Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, and their performance at Shandling’s wake, while also gearing-up for the actual interview with Rob Reiner.
I’m on the dirt path by the lagoon now, the sweat starting to trickle down my temples, my sideburns damp, the gaggles of geese, not ducks, looking at me, but leaving me alone.
One time when I was running along this same spot with then toddler Noah in the baby jogger I said, “Look at the ducks baby,” and another runner yelled, “They’re geese.”
It may be that I’m free associating as I give myself over to the enterprise that is the run. The mechanics of one step following another, neck, shoulders, hamstrings, calves loosening, thoughts flowing unencumbered by the day’s stressors. But I am reminded of another afternoon when a small group of goslings were following their mother and father across the path and as I drifted passed them, one of the parents came charging after me, wings flapping, beak open and primed to defend its charges.
It was scary, but it also made me smile in its moment of intense and relatable weirdness.
So, there is the sun, the non-pain, the geese and all of their concomitant memories, the idea that there will be long run, and there is me crossing Fullerton, sweat flowing, happy, Rob Reiner talking about his new movie.
This is good.
It may not be Los Angeles or the beach, and there may be no surfing, or burritos awaiting me at the end of the run, but I am out here, alive, and running, and there is goodness, just a different kind.
I pass the driving range and heading under Lake Shore Drive, deeper into the park, and I’m in it now, the run, and the moment.
What I am not doing is thinking about turning forty-eight, how I am once again weeks away from a birthday or what that means in a life now flying by me.
I am also not thinking about how I am not at work, not as I run along the golf course, still feeling good, just not wrapping around the end of it, or turning back and towards the lake, instead striding over to Cricket Hill as planned, step by step, knee good, as Rob Reiner reminisces about Norman Lear and All in the Family and being so young once, though not anymore.
I’m not young either, not really, nor am I in Los Angeles, even if I wish I could be there running along the beach again, everything making so much sense, the last time I remember feeling any real clarity.
Instead, I am loping around Cricket Hill, and the soccer players and the rugby games and the high-schoolers running laps, and it is still sunny and anything is still possible as I loop back around, along the backside of the golf course, and the lake.
I pass a family of raccoons, raccoons seem to be everywhere this spring, and today someone is feeding them and it seems like that must be a mistake, but what do I care about that as I cross into the woods and back onto the path.
I cannot care because I am escape and I am at the totem pole and there is just thirty minutes left in this run, an hour having passed just like that, and Rob Reiner is still in my head, talking about Spinal Tap and Stand By Me, and I am running and its getting dark, and I feel good, happy.
Why am I so focused on happy?
Because I’m not, not really, but I don’t want to forget all of that Los Angeles goodness, thinking about work, the space between work, building shit, traveling, and the need to force myself to say this is life, live it, enjoy it.
It’s just that’s it all fucked now.
There is a new boss.
He didn’t want telecommuting or any work from home, and I fought it, but I said fine. He didn’t want me to teach during the workday and I fought that too, but again, I said fine.
I tried to manage-up, to engage him, to be positive and forward thinking, strategic, things I’m so good at, but he ignored me, and then he told me there were redundancies, that I was the redundancy, and that I had to go, now, email shut-off, turn-in my elevator key and door card.
I am no longer wanted.
That’s how long I held that job.
I had three other bosses along the way, all of whom I found ways to strive under, and not just strive, but excel.
I don’t feel panicked, yet, and there is even relief, which I feel guilty about.
But I don’t know what comes next.
I spent so much time planning and thinking before all of this, trying to make sense of what ought to come next, I just didn’t figure anything out.
When I was in Los Angeles things seemed like they might just make sense for the first time in a long time.
There is work and there is the cool stuff – travel and writing, books and conferences – and it may not look just like I want it to, but I could embrace it anyway, and I could also do less while doing so, focusing on what works, and what makes me happy.
It seemed possible, all of it, instead I ended-up with nothing.
Yet, it is sunny, well it was, it’s dark now as I move past Fullerton again, and along the lake, my knees good, and my back, my birthday is looming.
I’m almost home, my long run coming to an end.
The house is empty, which is also nice, and also makes me happy.
But things need to be done too, there is no work for the first time in twenty years, and I have to make sense of it.
Still, someone will want me, something will break and the sun will shine.
I will be run.
I will be happy.
There will be work.
And things will make sense again.
Chicago, May 2016