Monday, December 22, 2008

against the darkness

the holiday season was always a special time for my grandparents, but not in the ways that have become so typical in our world.

sure, they followed the common formalities of christmas trees and ornaments and carols and cards and gifts and dinner and eggnog and fireplace stockings and crackling logs glowing long into the night--all the banal routines that often serve to make the season trite. and just like the usual fare, my grandparents did so as to excuse the right of everyone to be of good cheer, and to be gracious to one another, and to actually be kind and nice and gentle and decent human beings for at least one period every year.

they followed these traditions, knowing full well just how superficial they could be. in fact, they insisted on it, because they knew just how superficial they could be. performing them, my grandmother would say, was important, because it was what we did in upholding traditions that gave them meaning.

i asked her why we did this once. it was a late December evening and i was sitting by the fireplace. she was doing her customary holiday knitting and my grandfather was setting the record player for Bing Crosby's White Christmas.

she paused at my question, looked over her spectacles at me, and replied very quietly: "because we want you to have memories of these times."

and then she said enigmatically, "one day you will understand."

i didn't understand then, of course. i was too young. and stupid. and clueless. and ignorant of the world. and oblivious of any need to know any better.

all i did was follow my grandparents and went through the motions to uphold the traditions they associated with the holiday season.

including the one called Advent.

for those of you (of any faith) who don't know, Advent is the period of time preceding Christmas that marks the period of expectation for the birth of Christ. it's observed by some (although not all) Christian denominations, each of whom observe various intervals of time. for my grandparents, coming from Northern European (and hence Lutheran) stock, it was taken to cover the four weekends before Christmas, and essentially marked the duration of the entire holiday season. for the pious, Advent is taken as a way of preparing the self for God's arrival by gathering the soul and connecting it with the sacred, to remind ourselves of the reality of that which is greater than ourselves...and the promise of the truth that it was meant to be.

my grandparents, as it turned out, were pious. very much so. in keeping with the Advent tradition, they upheld the observance of vespers, which are the evening services meant for recollection, reflection, contemplation, meditation, and finally (and above all), prayer.

and so we'd bundle up, and drive to church, and stand in the chapel, and go through what always seemed at first to be just another service save for the fact that it was at night, replete with the liturgy known by rote sung with the same hymns given with the same sermons accompanied by the same prayers--going through formalities, the routines, that serve to make the season trite.

but then would come the moment when the liturgy would end. and the hymns would stop and the sermons would cease and the prayers would fade.

and then lights would be turned out. and then there would be darkness. and then there would be silence.

and then we'd be alone with our God.

and recollection, reflection, contemplation, meditation, and finally (and above all), prayer.


and somewhere, somehow, sometime, someway, a flame would rise.

and then from the flame a candle would be lit.

and then that candle would light another candle. and then that candle would light another. and then another. and another. until at last the fire from every candle arose, reflected off the faces of the people holding them, and the chapel would become aglow.

and in the chill of winter, in the blackness of the night, we'd stand together and know: this is what it means...this is what it means to bring light into the darkness. one candle at a time.

i asked my grandmother why we did this once. it was a late December evening, and the 3 of us were standing together, our candles joined close between our hands.

she paused at my question, looked over her spectacles at me, and replied very quietly: "because we want you to have memories of these times."

and then she said enigmatically, "one day you will understand."

she was right, of course.

i do know better now. i'm less ignorant, i have a clue, and am not so stupid, and no longer so young. i do understand. maybe not everything, but enough to know the meaning of the memories of the times with my grandparents; at least enough to know this:

you see, our world is not so pleasant. it's not always holiday time. there is no right to be of good cheer, nor to be gracious to one another, nor to be kind nor nice nor gentle nor decent human beings. and there are things that are not pious, nor sacred, nor even holy.

there are instead things that are very much profane. and some of them are very much sinister and brutal and malevolent and cruel. and they seek destruction at every turn, and strive to sound the knell of doom. for the sole purpose of bringing darkness to every corner of the earth, so that every soul may know despair.

but i know different.

because i know the reality of that which is greater than ourselves...and the promise of the truth that it was meant to be.

and now you do, too.

we are bringing light to the darkness.

one candle at a time.

o come o come emmanuel:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

winter (not) waking up


seems like every time the temperature heads south i suddenly find it virtually impossible to get out of bed in the morning. and it's not by choice--i'm not even hearing my morning alarm. if i actually could hear it, i'd be up and getting started. but right now, it's like i'm turning into mr. morning hibernator.

here in LA, there's been a cold snap that's taken night temperatures down into the 30s (Fahrenheit). doesn't sound like much to most of you in the Northern Hemisphere, but keep in mind this is Southern California, where we were wearing shorts and t-shirts well into November. this morning there was actually a sprinkle of snow in Pasadena, which i've never seen in my 15+ years of living in this city.

as a result, i've been curling under my blankets and getting comfortably warm every night. which is maybe the problem...getting comfortably warm makes it that much harder to face the shock of morning chill. especially considering that i've been avoiding using the apartment heating system (just trying to save some money).

thing is, i've got workouts to do. and i had some big ones planned this week. right now, it's been 3 straight days of sleeping through the morning alarm (didn't even hear it), and missing the morning workouts. and i can't make them up in the afternoon (traffic, grading, traffic, grading, traffic, grading, especially since it's the end of the semester/quarter and EVERYTHING is due NOW).

i'm starting to get that red alarm going off in my head--you know, that red alarm of paranoia and anxiety over losing conditioning and succumbing to laziness.

i don't have any races planned (off-season, dude). but still, i just can't stand the thought of getting out of shape. and i desperately want to avoid becoming anything resembling that dreaded image in my mind of a fat, slovenly, disgusting blubbery turd. i just need to get off my fat ass and EXERCISE.

i guess this is part of what they mean when they say sports is really about lifestyle--an active one. after awhile, it's not by choice, but really something obsessive-compulsive. it certainly seems that way to me.

all i know is:







Saturday, December 13, 2008

playlist: winter & christmas songs

i am writing this post with absolutely no point whatsoever.

as you can probably guess, this isn't typical for me. usually, i write things with a purpose, and try as much as possible to have something to say. if for no other reason that i want readers to feel like there's a value in reading my stuff.

but right now, for various reasons, all i can really think about is music. winter break music to be exact. and for no purpose, other than it's just winter and christmas (apologies to non-Christians out there...just substitute whatever holiday of your choice occurs around this time) and new year's, and my mind is wandering as it always does this season.

it's not music i consider extra-special. but just stuff that has a certain charm. i'd almost label it sweet. if nothing else, music that just makes me feel good, in a subdued, nostalgic, sentimental, innocent, hopeful sort of way. enough so that i thought maybe it'd be nice to share.

so here's what i've been listening to--and feel free to add yours to the list:

otis redding, merry christmas, baby:

otis redding, white christmas:

here's some older stuff for those of you who prefer the classic stuff:
bing crosby & marjorie reynolds, white christmas:

margaret whiting & johnny mercer, baby, it's cold outside:

nat king cole, the christmas song:

and here's some slightly more modern stuff, for those of you who prefer that:
david bowie & bing crosby, little drummer boy:

band aid, feed the world:

john legend, when it's cold outside:

happy holidays, folks. hope the best for you.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

recession proof

there was an article posted on Runner's Web regarding triathlon in the current economic crisis.

the link is here:
i'm putting the full text of the article at the end of this post. according to the credits it was originally posted at the USA Triathlon home page, but i wasn't able to locate it there.

according to this article the sport of triathlon is recession-proof, in the sense that it keeps growing (in terms of numbers of races and competitors).

which is funny, because it's counter-intuitive. you'd think that in times of tight economics, when people are struggling to make money and doing everything to find ways to save it, that people would shy away from activities involving money not related to immediate survival. triathlon isn't exactly cheap--factor the costs of race suit, wetsuit, swim gear, bike gear, bicycle (the big $$$), running shoes, food, race fees, and the miscellaneous random expenses of the sport (and never mind luxuries like coaching, massage, yoga, etc.). given this, you'd think triathlon would be among the many things people in financial distress (most of the world's population right now) would be avoiding, or not even thinking about.

but i guess i'm wrong.

you could argue that people are using equipment they already have. but a lot of money is not tied to equipment, and can all these new competitors entering all these new races really be working with gear they already have? i doubt it. sounds like a big assumption to me.

you could argue that maybe the economic crisis really isn't all that bad, and there are more people out there with more money to spend than the news would lead us to believe. but then how does that explain all the grim economic statistics, a lot of which are coming from pretty reputable sources? seems a reach to say that too.

you could argue that maybe people are just foolish, and that in the face of one of the worst recessions in recent history--domestic and global--people are oblivious and spendthrift, and expending money they don't have. this, given my impressions of so much of human nature, is something i can entirely believe.

in which case, i want to know: where is everybody getting the money for all this?

and can i have some?

Triathlon: Is Triathlon Recession Proof?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (December 9, 2008) -- With virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy reeling, it figures that an expensive participant sport fueled by discretionary income would feel the pinch.

That's not the case, at least not yet, according to an informal survey of race directors across the country. If anything, the boom the sport has experienced in recent years continues despite the economic downturn.

In fact, USA Triathlon, the national governing body for the sport, saw its list of sanctioned races grow from 2,340 to over 2,500 and its total annual membership soar from just over 100,000 to 115,000 over the past year.

In September, no less a source than The New York Times hinted that the sport was recession-proof, calling it "a luxury hobby that does not seem to lose its luster even in an economic downturn."

"In tough times, people need a diversion more than ever," says Jim Rainey, whose Georgia Multisports Productions stages nine races in the Peach State. "At $65 or $75, it's still a cheap day of entertainment."

Because of the triathlon boom in recent years, athletes in most parts of the country can find plenty of races within driving distance. Without hotel and transportation costs, expenses consist of entry fees and training costs. Those are significant, to be sure, but still relatively modest.

"If an athlete can get in the car and go and not incur hotel fees, they're still going to go," says Jack Weiss, whose Ironhead Race Productions stages events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. "But if they have to get on a plane where tickets have doubled in price and then pay for a hotel, they're going to think twice."

In the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, for instance, athletes can find at least one race virtually every weekend from mid-April through Halloween. Only the popular St. Anthony's Triathlon, which serves as a sort of national kickoff to the season, attracts a significant percentage of athletes from out of town.

"We continue to sell out fairly quickly," says Fred Rzymek, whose RPM Promotions company stages three triathlons and several other multi-sport events in the Tampa Bay area. "If anything, we're finding people are staying home and that has a positive impact on races locally."

Rainey staged a sold-out event in Georgia on Oct. 5 that followed on the heels of a tropical storm that sent gas prices up to $4.50 a gallon and yet he still had athletes trying to get in at the last minute. He figures he could have sold an additional 100 spots to the race, which he capped at 880.

Jeremey Davis, whose Set-Up Events stages races in the mid-Atlantic area, held a triathlon recently in the remote town of McCormick, S.C., on the border of South Carolina and Georgia, and attracted 115 college-aged athletes in a field of 600.

"You'd think if anyone wouldn't have money, it would be college athletes," Davis said. "It doesn't seem to be affecting anyone. Triathletes are a resilient group, I guess."

If any niche of the industry would be affected by the economy, it would seem to be Ironman and Ironman 70.3 races. With entry fees that average $475 for an Ironman and $225 for a 70.3, and located in destinations where athletes spend multiple days either out of desire or necessity, an Ironman is an expensive proposition even in robust economic times.

Still, even with Ironman there has been no indication that the economy has had an impact, says Blair LaHaye, spokesperson for World Triathlon Corp., the parent company of Ironman, which in September was purchased by Providence Partners.

Just as sports fans continue to pay escalating ticket costs for major events, Ironman triathletes seem unfazed by the costs, even as the number of full- distance and 70.3 races has exploded in recent years.

"In some respects, it's a recession-proof sport," says LaHaye, who attributes Ironman's increased entry fees to increased fuel costs and vendor fees. "We have been fortunate not to see a downturn based on the state of economy."

It helps that the Ironman competitors have an average income of $161,000, according to WTC research, and that triathletes in general have higher incomes on average than the general population. They're not immune to shifts in the economy, of course, just perhaps better equipped to deal with financial adversity.

Tim Yount, senior vice president of marketing and communications for USA Triathlon, believes the sport should be able to weather the economic storm.

"We have been fortunate over the past two decades to be able to survive several economic slumps," he says. "Our belief is that the sport is the outlet that many need to escape from the everyday stresses of life. People may be more selective in the races they do, drive more and fly less but overall do the same number of races."

Weiss wondered how the economy would impact the sport late in 2001 after the burst of the technology stock bubble and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. One of his friends dealt with the loss of a high-paying job by dedicating himself even more to training and racing.

"He figured since he had the equipment and suddenly had more time to train, he could use the downtime to see just how good he could be," Weiss said.

Though the up-front cost to entering the sport of triathlon is significant, with bike and equipment purchases and perhaps one-on-one swim lessons for those who need it, triathlon is relatively inexpensive compared to other sports. Unlike golfers, who must pay greens fees for every practice round, triathletes can go for a training ride or run for nothing more than the cost of wear and tear on equipment.

While the economy may not be having an effect on the number of athletes registering for races, the cost of staging events has never been greater. Fuel charges for everything from police and emergency vehicles to pizza delivery have increased. Those costs get passed along to race directors and ultimately to athletes in the form of higher race fees.

Athletes also tend to be more demanding during tougher economic times, expecting more out of races. High-end "tech" shirts that were seen as premium items just a few years ago now are all but expected at triathlons, as are more extensive post-race spreads.

If athletes are not letting the economy dictate their triathlon participation, it could be because an "investment" in a race fee or piece of triathlon equipment rarely leads to disappointment like a foray into the stock or housing markets. At a time when few investments seem safe, that's a comforting thought.

"We can give you something you can hold in your hand," says Weiss. "Part of the problem with the stock market is you're selling hype; it's air. In our sport, we give you a real shirt and a real event and real equipment. At times like these, people fee better spending their money on triathlon. If nothing else, it's an escape from reality."

-- by Pete Williams (Special to USA Triathlon)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

welcome to the club

you first learned about it a very long time and very many miles ago. from friends, from strangers, from stories, from rumors. you didn't know. all you knew was that it began as a glimmer that grew to a gleam and then to a glow, until one day you found it had become something that you just had to know.

you talked about it. you thought about it. you dreamed about it. you wondered what it would be like.

and more importantly, you wondered what it would mean.

you just had to know.

and so you began. despite your doubts. despite your fears. about yourself. about your life. about your world.

you began the distance, commencing in the darkness before the beginning of creation, as cold and as chilly as the spirit passing through the earth.

and it continued, over a course laid out across the land so vast it reached from one horizon to another, measured in numbers so inconceivable it struck awe to even attempt to comprehend it.

and it endured, from the break of dawn to the gathering of the dusk, in moments that passed as inevitably, indelibly, ineffably as the flickering of the mundane lost in the forever of eternity.

and it lasted, in toil in sweat in body in mind in exhaustion in suffering in passion so intense so great so overwhelming so powerful so unexpected so unknown so undescribable so unidentifiable that it became simply, singly, supremely, serenely profound, so much so that it reached the deepest secrets of the soul, and revealed nothing more nothing less nothing else than the truth that underlies all truths.

and that's when you realized that you know. in the way that only someone who's experienced it, lived it, became it could ever really know.

you know. in the way that only someone who's gone the distance and reached the finish could ever really know.

you know. in the way that only someone who realizes that it was all just another step into creation could ever really know.

you know.

you know what it means:

welcome to the club.