Exploring audio books on foot: part one

I originally decided to try out audio books for running and road trips. With the latter, I found even the most compelling story made me sleepy. When driving from Calgary to Winnipeg in one go (1325 km or about 13 hours with food breaks), I need peppy, bouncy, soulless pop music from the 90’s and 00’s to keep me alert and able. Slight clarification: it’s a completely different experience if me or my road trip mate are reading aloud. Perhaps I’m just wired to pay more attention to someone I can see. Anyhow…

runner with headphonesListening to an audio book while running took some experimentation. I began by downloading books I thought would be inspiring (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall), energizing (Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing), diverting (Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling), and comforting (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen). Some of these were favourites and some of these were new, but with every attempt I came closer to finding the type of book I knew would be effective in keeping me going over the building mileage in my marathon training.

Obviously Born to Run was going to be a good one. I’d read the paper version twice, but I think I enjoyed the story in my ear even more as I ran the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, pushing beyond my easy pace and playing with my running form as Fred Sanders (the narrator) explained how my body was made for this motion. Unfortunately, I can’t just listen to that book again and again. It’s only 11 hours… which sounds like a lot but isn’t when you’re averaging 25-30 miles a week. I’ve since downloaded Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running but haven’t taken it out on the roads or trails yet. I feel like it’s going to be atmospheric, and I think I’m waiting for the winter to experience Murakami’s phrasing in my mind.

Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me, even shorter at a paltry 5 hours, was a joy. I’ve come to think all memoirs/autobiographies/essays by comedians should be experienced as audio books. I’m sure it’s funny on paper, but funnier when Mindy Kaling is telling you her stories with her own timing, cadence, and inflections. The same goes for Amy Poehler’s Yes Please!, which has the added secret value of guest narrators like Patrick Stewart and Seth Meyers and moments of laughter and improvisation that you won’t find in the bound version. This category of badass-successful-feminist-female comedians definitely works for me. I get to feel powerful and feminine, entertained and empowered, and it’s the right amount of diversion and lightness for 3-6 mile recovery runs. Right now, Caitlin Moran is making me laugh and wince as she develops her first adult feelings about – of all people – Chevy Chase, and tries to find the right names for her “bathing suit areas” in How To Be A Woman. Her stories are embarrassing, not for their content, but for their familiarity.

I’m also trying to enjoy Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, but aside from the interest I have in the actual journey, and the appreciation I have of her story-worthy, atypical life, I don’t like her. I wish she’d hurry up and get her shit together. It’s not entertaining to me to listen to her cheat on her husband and do a lot of heroin. It’s physically painful to me to imagine not thinking about the weight of a hiking pack… or attempting to pack it… prior to embarking on this massive expedition. She’s an incomprehensible mix of determination and complete lack of foresight. But I think I could get over that if they’d chosen a different narrator. I’m sorry Bernadette Dunne. You are totally great at your job. I have no problem with you or your style at all. BUT you sound like you’re in your 50s, and Cheryl at the time of this journey was in her 20s. It’s distracting.

— To be continued —

Fringing my heart out

Hey all! Here are some simple reviews of the 24 Winnipeg Fringe Festival performances I’ve seen so far, as posted on Instagram in reverse chronological order:

And now to @uofwinnipeg (school 2 for the day) for science… or rather #ScientistTurnedComedian @timxlee at #WpgFringe. A stand-up act deserves a venue with beer, but there was something consistent about the academic setting from the PhD comedian. 3.5 endangered vaquita (look them up!) out of 5.

Back to school at @redrivercollege for #SexEd at #WpgFringe. I’ve been waiting for a show that has a deep-down, meaningful effect on me, and today I found it! @kipema is funny, honest, brave, and so genius. I’d like to be her new BFF so someone will finally do Disney karaoke with me. 5 Bulldog Balls out of 5.

Want to see talented people do weird, creative, and musical things that you never would have dreamed up? #FruitFliesLikeABanana by @thefourthwallensemble is your Fringe show. 4.5 “bloodlusty” oceanic tunes out of 5.

@peternchris deliver laughs, fights, and reconciliation (not to mention physicality, showmanship, puns, acting…) in the silly and delightful #PeterVsChris. 4 man slips out of 5.

#SwordPlayAPlayOfSwords by @sextrexcomedy is all action, nerdiness, and fun. 4 informative sound effects out of 5.

@soundandfurycomedy’s #DoctorWhom is an hour of relaxed goofiness from three performers who are quick, imaginative, and made to have an audience. 4 TARDIS onesies out of 5.

David Eliot’s #AMAZE has too many dad jokes and mediocre comedic timing, but the magic is great. 3 lemon nesting dolls out of 5.

#RapGuideToConsciousness was impressive, eye-opening, fun, and… cool 😎. Rap and neuroscience are strange and beautiful bedfellows. Look out @edfringe, @bababrinkman is coming for you. 5 panpsychic octopi out of 5.

#Josephine. What to say? Tymisha Harris is a goddess. Actually worth 10x the paltry ticket fee. This’ll get 5 erotic Jazz Age banana dances out of 5, but is really in a class of its own.

A tight show, fun audience participation, and solid acting make #FearForest a good choice at #WpgFringe. 3 park ranger manuals out of 5.

Happy I sugar-loaded on a @cake_ology ice cream sammie before #ThePlacesWeGo at #WpgFringe. It was 34 min (oddly), but so slow that it felt like an hour. If you’ve never seen shadow puppetry before, it was probably cool, but if you’ve seen awesome shadow puppetry before (lookin’ at you @mysticalpuppetcompany), #ThePlacesWeGo only deserves 2.5 chickadee sidekicks out of 5.

Honest and thankfully not awkward, #LaurenAndAmandaDoIt at #WpgFringe is a funny, sexy, and relaxed talk show. 4 Mona Lisa Moments out of 5. (Plus, I got to spin the BIG WHEEL!!)

#HotterThanPotter with the captivating @keithhbrown is a must-see at #WpgFringe. 5 coloured-in cakes out of 5.

If you’re interested in zombie philosophy, #MrFlubbersUndeadLegions at #WpgFringe is worth a view. But otherwise… this gets 2.5 paper mâché bananas out of 5.

#ComedyIsFunnyAgain is charming wittiness. 4 vaudeville ghosts out of 5.

@ottoandastrid #Eurosmash is predictably hilarious, loud, & physical. 4.5 bags of salt & vinegar chips out of 5.

#TheCanadaShow from @monstertheatre is as good as hoped… which is saying something. 4 drunk John A MacDonalds out of 5.

#TheInventorOfAllThings from Jem Rolls is how I wish all history was taught in schools (so much energy! So much intrigue!). 4 pompous physicists out of 5.

Missed out on my “planned” show, and wandered into #FlightThePlay instead. Simple storytelling and beautiful dancing make this a gorgeous 45 minutes. 5 tamed turtles out of 5.

#OliveCopperbottom at #WpgFringe! This Dickensian musical comedy is hilarious, and Penny Ashton is an awe-inspiring chameleon. 5 bawdy tavern songs out of 5. Even better than #PromiseAndPromiscuity

#SchrodingersCat at #WpgFringe was ridiculous, goofy, and entertaining. 3.5 Zeus bosons out of 5.

Me & the fam check out #DangerousMagic at #WpgFringe. A prop malfunction made the “big” trick a no-go, so gotta give this only 3 different sized ropes out of 5. But worth a see for the next audience!

Unfortunately, the best word to describe #YesterdayReImagined at #wpgfringe is… clunky. The actors might improve if they relax into the roles, but there’s nothing to be done about that script. 1.5 cheating husbands out of 5.

Punderful and pleasantly weird, #TheBalladOfFrankAllen by @weepingspoon gets 3.5 heavy metal mermaids out of 5.

The next creative renaissance

I watched the film “Genius” yesterday, which follows the relationship between famed editor (as much as an editor can be noticed) Maxwell Perkins and literary great Thomas Wolfe. I enjoyed the movie, more for Colin Firth’s overall performance and the sheer energy of Jude Law’s manic frenzy than for the story itself. The Hemingway and Fitzgerald cameos added a sprinkle of intrigue, though the script suffers a bit from introducing a gun and then never using it. That’s not a metaphor, by the way.

I was thinking about the art, music, architecture and literature being created in the generation of this movie. How big players like Hemingway and Picasso would gather in salons in Paris and drink and create and live an artist’s destructive, thrilling life. When will the next creative renaissance take place? Has it happened, and I missed it? Or is it happening now, in the craft beer markets of Portland or the or the El Sistema classrooms of Venezuela or the guerilla performances of Russian punk rock protesters?

Maxwell Perkins had the gift of recognizing the genius of writers who would resonate through a century, and the power of helping them succeed, but how many among us have the clarity and foresight to do the same with our contemporaries?

How’s that for a Monday morning musing.

Let the boring girls get lucky for once

buffy-homecomingI read an article recently on the topic of luck. More specifically, how we tend to under-represent the influence of luck on our own successes, tending to attribute them wholly to our own hard work and perseverance and downplaying the factors over which we have no control.

Then, when watching a dancing movie, High Strung, I was caught up in this topic again.

You see, dancing movies (and other similar feel-good sports or competition movies) often follow the tale of an underdog, overlooked because of socioeconomic factors or other constraining demographics, who gets the chance to have all of his/her dreams come true (and, of course, find love). How lucky the leads are.

But today I wasn’t focusing on the bitchy prima ballerina (why can’t the best dancer be nice for once… or at least vaguely polite), or the POC best friend (who could be amazing if she just tried a little harder and dropped her attitude/stopped partying), or even the innocent, girl-next-door beauty overwhelmed by the “big city” and the higher expectations of her demanding (but secretly supportive) teachers. No. Today I was thinking about the other dozen girls in that ballet class. The ones who’ve been at the ballet school for years, who are always on time for class, who are never kicked out of class, who don’t sleep with their choreographers or party on the eve of significant auditions, who choose healthy, supportive relationships, and who work hard every day for their dreams and thus have never needed a redemptive montage. You know. The unlucky girls.

Where are their moments in the spotlight? Where are their kisses on stage? Where are their contracts and scholarships and standing ovations?

Look, I know their stories are boring. But a part of me craves their successes instead. In the Buffy vs. Cordelia Homecoming episode, where there was a tie for homecoming queen, and **spoilers** neither Buffy nor Cordelia were the winners… that was somehow satisfying. Thinking, “those other girls must’ve run excellent campaigns; good for them.” It’s so believable. And hopeful.

Sometimes the hard-working actors in the background should win, whether or not we’re cheering for them. Let’s let the boring girls get lucky for once.

Writing on a theme

I tend to begin blindly. That is, I write and let the start of the story flow from the first passing whim. From there,  if I like what I’ve begun, I continue with a story more thoughtfully constructed–with characters and plot moving toward planned moments and, eventually, a conclusion.

If there is a theme in the writing that springs from this process, it is discovered rather than expressed. In some cases, this discovery is unwelcome. I find that I’m promoting a viewpoint in which I don’t believe, and I have to rethink the message. But that is all the work of editing. Rarely, if ever, have I begun writing with a theme (or a moral, or a message) in mind and let the story come out of that exploration. The reason, in all its patheticness, is probably that I’ve never had an issue, a position, a commitment to an idea unpopular, controversial or important enough to be the sole fuel of my writing. Until recently.

In the last few months, I’ve been thinking deeply about compassion. The power of it. The perceived weakness of it.

When I was growing up, I was frequently called “sensitive” and it had a meaning that carried the heavy deficiencies of fragility and naivety. My mother told me recently that her greatest fear for me – once my personality began to develop – was that I would be debilitated by my “sensitivity,” that I would be unable to function for my feeling for others, and that I would choose partners who were broken and bad for me, because I could see the good in them through the damage. What’s a parent to do when a child that should be happy for herself, hurts for others?

When I saw ugliness and injustice being imposed on those around me, I was not supposed to be appalled by it. My happiness was a condition of my calm, clean life. Others had less of everything – food, love, stability, comfort – so I had better be happy! (Like any loving beings, my parents wanted to give me all the good, and fix or shield me from all the bad. They wanted me to be blissful, and who could dare fault them for that?)

But I felt as much of the unfairness of my privilege as is possible, and I understood the inconsistency and horror of being told to feel blessed by the luck of my draw. Why must I always be joyful by comparison? Why shouldn’t I be devastated by the inequality of my lot, just because I had the more enviable share? Why should I be branded with the back-handed “sensitive,” when that emotional sensibility is a symptom of desirable traits like sincerity, empathy, and kindness?

There was a large part of me that went unacknowledged. A toughness, or rather, a resilience. People who cry (or should I say, women, particularly young women, who cry) don’t get the benefit of being believed strong. My family feared I would be crippled by my emotions, but emotions are not a weakness. Not necessarily. Emotions can provide drive and purpose, especially when born out of compassion. Compassion. There it is. The most powerful force in the world.

There is so much I want to say about compassion. How it is the most underrated and essential personality trait. How it differs starkly from “synonyms” like mercy and charity. How it could be the only thing besides religious bribery and familial guilt that makes someone into a good person…

And so, for the first time, I have a theme worth expressing in my writing.

Something new

I was away in Australia for a few weeks, readers. That was neato. I made some detailed notes, and I’m planning on trying my hand at travel writing in a more robust way now that I’ve gone somewhere of interest. 

In other news, I’m posting this while on the bus. Ain’t technology grand? Someone just walked on smelling deeply of skunk, which I find strange for February in a metropolitan area. Anyway…

I’m going to try something new tonight. I’m going to listen to an audiobook. I’ve been read to before by live humans, but this is something different. Why now, you ask? Well, I’m flagging in my running again and listening to mysteries is apparently a real boost. (I just haven’t been able to get into season 2 of “Zombies Run.”)

Wish me luck!

SL