The OF Blog

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Under (De)Construction…

 Not making any firm declarations just yet (I have a few work projects to complete this month first), but I am beginning to feel the urge to write commentaries and perhaps reviews after nearly five years of near-total silence.  I’m not expecting many (or any, really) to notice if/when I do, but I think it may be something that may act as a positive outlet for me.

We’ll see.  After all, I’m not exactly a spring chicken and in the era of Instagram and GoodReads, I may just be a proverbial dinosaur…

Friday, July 05, 2019

The scariest photo I could show a bibliophile

Yes, it's been over half a year since I last posted a blog entry here.  A lot has changed in the interim.  I'm still very busy at my teaching job, but I'm more at ease there ever since I began taking medication for depression and generalized anxiety.  I feel much more like my younger self, minus the increased exhaustion that comes with these medications.  I'm still running, but I had to take a few months off after I suffered a Grade III left ankle sprain/chip fracture while running a trail marathon in February.  Took me three months to admit that my ankle was messed up (I did manage to complete a 60K in early March at Land Between the Lakes, followed by a road marathon on March 17 in Atlanta where I aggravated both ankles) and to be diagnosed on May 15th with torn ligaments and a chip fracture in my left ankle.  Then in late May at work, I re-injured my left shoulder AC joint during a physical restraint of a student.  So yeah, the past 4-5 months have been torturous on my body, to say the least, but at least I'm now finally cleared to run and to train for my first 50 mile race on November 9th at Tunnel Hill, IL.

I'm also in the midst of a major personal change, in that sometime in September or October, I'll be moving closer to work and living in a larger city again.  Already got several furniture pieces paid for and most everything arranged minus a new TV and bed, but it'll be an adjustment.  By year's end, however, I do hope to get a dog and by springtime be training him/her to go on at least short trails with me.  I really do need a dog in  my life again, as it's been too long since the family dog had to be put down on Halloween 2018.

But with moving comes some sacrifices.  I am currently in the process of slowly trading/selling at least 75% of my book collection.  In a two bedroom apartment, I just don't need to possess over 2500 books, so for the past six weeks, I've been trading some of my books in at a local McKay's used bookstore.  Already received close to $700 for the majority of my leatherbound and Library of America editions (I once owned 211 of those, but by month's end, I'll own none).  Probably will be setting up an E-Bay account to sell certain rare, signed editions (Ligotti, PS Publishing editions of Miéville, Erikson, and others) for slightly under going rate, so if there are any in the US reading this who might be interested, feel free to leave a response here).

With luck, I'll be able to buy the rest of my furniture with the proceeds from my book sells and not have to dip into savings.  I would miss these books more if it weren't for the fact that with increasing age (I turn 45 in 12 days) my eyesight is becoming worse and I just can't read as fast or as long because of the blurriness that comes with my eyes becoming far-sighted as well as near-sighted.  Those poor, neglected Serbian reading squirrels!  Oh well, I have discovered a few new things that will keep me occupied (watching DVDs of hit dramas from the past decade is one, talking about them with a certain someone even better).

I'll still blog when I have the time and something to say, but for now though, it is a season of transition and for once I'm not as worried about the future as I had been for most of my 30s and early 40s.  Do feel free to say hey if we've talked before and share anything you remember from the nearly 14 years this blog has been around (it might spark some discussion, ya know!).  Or maybe you have a suggestion for me for a new dog (I'm thinking getting something like a dachshund or Jack Russell that I could take for 2-3 mile hikes in the evenings).  Whatever it might be, hope that this won't be the end here, because I really don't know if I could truly say so long and thanks for all the fish...

Sunday, December 09, 2018

So I just finished my first ultramarathon yesterday

I know I've been rather silent the past couple of years here, but I really haven't had much time for reading anything at all due to balancing a very demanding career with running on weekends.  Lately, I've been moving up in running weight class, progressing to running 18 half marathons, my first 3 road marathons and yesterday, my first ultramarathon of 50K (31.1 miles).  Running for hours at a time, especially when your body, even after losing over 120 lbs. in the past four years, takes a huge mental and physical toll and it certainly changes you as a person.

The readings I've done this year have largely been by ultramarathoners.  While I hope to talk more about them at length around the end of the year (after all, four are 2018 releases), I have to say that I've learned a lot about perseverance and realizing just how strong I can be in my weaknesses from reading those books and then enduring some of the same obstacles myself.

Yesterday's ultra, the Bellringer 50K, was not run in what most people would consider ideal conditions:  It had begun snowing about an hour or so before race time and while the road temps were just above freezing, it certainly made the trails at Montgomery Bell State Park rather slushy and treacherous at times.  I had 9.5 hours to finish and it took 9:25:25 to do so, thanks in large part to the support of several volunteers, including one who came out and ran/walked the final 4 miles with me, even if technically I had missed the time for the last cutoff by a few minutes.  I grew up going to the park several times and I knew the backstretch well (I train by running up the course's final descent to begin my 10 mile training sessions), so I was able to just make it.

However, the weather did take its toll.  I found myself suddenly confused the final km and I staggered to the end.  When I removed my thermal gloves, I saw that nearly the entirety of each finger was bone white due to the wetness and cold.  My speech was slurred and while I was able to ring the personal record bell (after all, it was my first 50K), I barely made it around the corner to my car and get a thermal blanket out of my trunk in order to warm up before driving the 10 miles home (idiot me forgot to bring a change of clothes since I live nearby).  Took me nearly 3 hours to get the shaking in my hands under control enough to at least approach normal body temperature (my feet were also numb but not anywhere near in as bad shape since I had more layers on there), so yeah, I probably had mild hypothermia.

Would I do it all over again, knowing the conditions?  Most certainly yes.  I'm already planning out at least four ultramarathons and 2-3 marathons to run in 2019 because there is something to be said about all but the most essential being stripped away until you are just left with the urge to fight on or to give up; nothing else really matters (except port-a-potties, electrolyte drinks, and M&Ms at aid stations) and that sense of having your true core exposed is an extremely powerful one.

So yeah, I plan on running road in Miami in late January, a nearby trail marathon in mid-February, my first 60K in early March, my second 50K in early April, another local road marathon in late April, and my first 50 miler on May 4, 2019.  I need to experience this stripping away of anxieties and self-doubts on the trails, as they assist with dealing with those quivering moments away from running.

And for those who like pictures, here's one of my ringing the titular bell after I crossed (I was 54/54 out of those who finished, but I think 2-3 dozen dropped beforehand or didn't show up, so I'm far from a last-place person):

Saturday, August 25, 2018

14 years

It's hard to believe that I started this blog back on August 25, 2004.  Back then, I saw it as an extension of the old wotmania Other Fantasy section and little did I know that I would cover a wide range of literary genres until I began to transition away from heavy reading/reviewing when I took my current job in December 2016.

Although I'm nowhere near as active (I really do need to buckle down and write a review sometime, right?), I'll probably keep this blog active for a long while, even if my postings might be reduced to a handful a year instead of hundreds.  For those who do see this and have followed me through all the twists and turns, thank you.  It's been a wild ride (especially considering I was in a bad car accident two days ago and was lucky to walk away from it - I got sideswiped at 45-50 mph and if the angle of the other car and been just a few inches over to the right, it could have been deadly) and perhaps there will be a day when I return to reviewing more often (if my eyesight will permit me - I'm becoming both near- and far-sighted, with astigmatism in my left eye compounding matters).  We shall see.  But until then, I shall continue to enjoy the good things (and people) who've come into my life over the past 20 months.  I am fortunate.  Hope all is well with you also.

Friday, March 23, 2018

I finished a book today!

Actually, I finished two!  While that might have sounded blasé back 4 years ago, when I read over 400 or any of the previous decade before that, I really haven't been able to read much the past nine months or so.  While I'm extremely busy at work (the two books I read are a re-read and a first time read of Lois Lowery's The Giver and Gathering Blue, the former being used in classroom assignments the past two weeks) still, the main culprit for my lack of reading has been a physical inability to stay focused on anything for long before headaches and dizzy spells would strike.  After months of tests ruled out the more obvious possible causes (vertigo, stroke, cancer), it turns out that my body was strangely (I say strangely because I'm outside in the sun more than the average professional in the US would be) deficient of vitamins B12 and D.  Ever since I started taking supplements almost a month ago, the symptoms have mostly faded, with maybe 1-2 minor spells the past three weeks.

But it's high past time that I reintegrate reading into my busy professional and social life.  So in addition to the two books I mentioned above (I'll finish Lowery's other two books in the Giver setting, The Messenger and Son, at work over the next week or so), I've begun reading the recently-released Library of America anthology, Reconstruction:  Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality, and hopefully if I just read a few minutes at a time 3-4 times/week, I may just be able to finish reading more than the 15 or so books that I read all of last year.

We'll see.  But it sure is good to be able to read near my old reading speed without feeling nauseous, dizzy, or mentally confused afterward.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

An anti-best of year list

Ever since I began this blog in August 2004, I would conclude the year by listing some sort of "best of 20--" list of books, etc. released in the US that year.  This year, however, I only completed 15 books, none of them 2017 releases (I abandoned R. Scott Bakker's The Unholy Consult about 80% in back in July due to lack of energy then and I never resumed reading it; I was saving Jeff VanderMeer's Borne for an uninterrupted weekend after my May vacation and somehow I never got back to it, despite loving the first pages that I've read and generally enjoying greatly VanderMeer's other works). 

What little I read was foreign language books from the previous century or two or individual poems lately that I would use to teach both English and expressive writing in my classroom (believe it or not, I've had several students express hope that we would use another poem or two for these daily morning writing exercises, as they enjoy discussing them without having to worry so much about identifying - yet - meter and verse patterns).  But having students take Yeats's "The Second Coming" and turn some of its hallowed lines inside out as they turned "the centre cannot hold/things fall apart" into a meditation on their struggles to make sense of their world (these are 12-15 year-olds I teach, mind you), that has reawakened my long-held love for poetry as being the most intimate of human arts.

Maybe 2018 will bring a renewed energy to read newer works, or just to complete any book-length works.  Maybe it won't; 2017 has taught me that I don't have to finish books in order to learn a lot from those few words that I do happen to read these days.  Maybe that's truly what was best about 2017 for me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

So I went silent for nearly four months...

No, I haven't forgotten about this blog.  Nor do I plan on shuttering it permanently, even if it seems that I've done so over the past year or two.  But the truth is that I really haven't had much at all to say about books or writing or anything of that sort this year because I just haven't had a desire to read novels.

Yes, I've only finished about 15 books so far this year and 2/3 of them were read while I had to proctor state exams this May.  There are a few reasons behind this:  teaching job taking up more and more of my concentration energy; trying to train when I can for distance events; personal life developments; and etc.  But for much of the past four months, I've dealt with something far more insidious and debilitating:  a reoccurrence of clinical depression, which I haven't had in nearly 15 years. 

It's hard to pinpoint what triggers any individual's depressive spells.  It could be a change in serotonin levels due to not being able to exercise as much during the hot summer nights.  Or two deaths weeks apart.  Or maybe it's due to me starting to get progressively worse vertigo-like spells, which are now combining with migraines (which I rarely had before the past year or so).  Or possibly just another bout of dealing with self-doubt, something that seems to creep up when I'm doing well in life, oddly enough.

Regardless of the cause(s), I've been dealing aggressively with it.  Discovered that medications are not a cure-all; I got sicker on some and symptoms were alleviated when I was removed from them.  Laughter seems to work best, that and getting closer to some awesome people, some that I somewhat lost touch with over the past quarter-century or so.  Religious faith is another cornerstone for me.  So far, based on the past two weeks, it seems the worst has passed.  Much more energy and focus has made me a better worker and human being.

But the effort required to enter recovery (and I consider mental health, like chemical addictions, to be where an afflicted individual will live in a perpetual state of recovery, perhaps pockmarked with occasional relapses; we are human, after all) still has left me with little time to read novels or prose (although I am finally starting to feel an urge to read some prose work).  However, my long-held love for poetry has remained strong and I have occasionally introduced some of my favorite poems as writing prompt/discussion pieces in my classroom.  Yeats, Angelou, Henley, and Hughes are recent ones.  I have quoted Beckett and the beginning to Ginsberg's "Howl," although even where I work, that would be considered off-limits for middle school students.  Hearing boys who suffer from various traumas and behavioral issues discussing how they relate to "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "The Second Coming" has been invigorating; their insights, informed by their situations, sometimes have surprising depth.

Perhaps I should just, for a time at least, write a few reflections on those poems that I've begun to re-read in my nascent recovery and share them here.  Perhaps.  In the meantime, here's proof at least that I have not yet sailed alone into the seas of madness.
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