Archive for April, 2011

29th April
written by Randy

It seems like the weather in Chicago has been ugly every day since I’ve been back from Poland. At first I was thinking “I’ll just wait until tomorrow to run,” but every tomorrow just brought more cold and rain and high winds.

Finally, I decided that putting it off was bordering on becoming a destructive pattern. I am committed to running 40km on October 16th. The distance won’t get any shorter and the date won’t change, and I am currently, without question, unable to complete that task. I have to train for this.

And so, yesterday I decided to get out and run, no matter what the weather. And it wasn’t pretty. It was cold, windy, and there was even a light rain. But I ran. I survived for just over 3km, mostly running with some walking mixed in.

My walking periods were shorter this time, and running periods longer, which means I’m recovering faster. I don’t know if that means I’m actually getting in better shape, or if it’s just because the air outside is less cold.

For almost the first full kilometer, my knees were in terrible pain. This is the very same knee pain that caused me to give up any hope of running when I’ve tried it over the last 10 years. But since I’m committed to a marathon, I couldn’t give up after 1km. And actually, I’m glad of that, because after pushing through it, my knees stopped hurting. I wonder if it’s just a case where they haven’t been used in this way and needed to get worked out a bit.

The second kilometer was actually pretty nice! Almost no pain, and very little walking. The wind was at my back, my knee pain had subsided, and I was off.  It felt really good!

However, by the beginning of the third kilometer, I noticed a new pain… one that I had also noticed at the end of my previous 3km run:  my jaw hurt. Terribly. The muscles at the corners of my mouth were in a lot of pain, and it reached up into my ears and down into my face, even making my teeth hurt.

There are a lot of variables to work out. Maybe that pain was related to the type of in-ear earphones I use with my iPod. Maybe it was a result of the cold and wind. Maybe I’m holding my mouth the wrong way or gritting my teeth. I’ll have to do several different running experiments to narrow down the root cause.

Raising the stakes

I’m also raising the stakes. As my running days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I’m also going to mix in some additional work on this challenge. On the off days (Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun), I will be working toward the targets of 100 pushups and 200 sit-ups so that, when this year ends, I should be able to do 100 pushups and 200 sit-ups, and then run for 40km.

I’ll try to give regular updates on my progress.

19th April
written by Randy

I’ve been home from Poland for about a week now, but other than my emotional story about the Polish people, I really haven’t told you about Poland.

First, I didn’t see as much of the country as I could have, or would have liked to. This is partly due to the fact that I don’t speak fluent Polish, so things didn’t move as smoothly or naturally for me as I would have like. But more importantly, it is largely due to the fact that, as I said before the trip, I couldn’t have made this trip at all without the offer of a place to stay.

I stayed in hotels in Warsaw and Krakow, but I also spent some time in a smaller city called Kielce, and here I was treated to real Polish life outside the two biggest cities. (If you’re keeping count, that’s three more cities, which puts me at 18 on my way to 20 this year.)

Kielce is a small city, directly on the route between Warsaw and Krakow. The main draw in Kielce is the college, so you might think of it as a “college town.” There is certainly no tourism draw, and with the exception of some of the students, very few people speak English, so it’s a good opportunity to pick up Polish quickly.

Food in Kielce was quite good — even at Pizza Hut where (unlike in the U.S.) everything was actually made with fresh ingredients and quite good. My favorite discovery was a little place called Pierogowa Chata, or “Pierogi Hut”, in which I ate the most delicious pierogi that I’ve ever had in my life.

Warsaw is big and beautiful, clean and efficient. It bears all the indications of an important city in old Europe, after having been blown to smithereens in World War II. It’s obvious that everything there is new: much newer, even, than most American cities. And shiny.

But unlike American cities, the European city-planning remains in tact. Warsaw has a sprawling subway system, a large network of trams, and plenty of buses. Pedestrians walk under the enormous streets, which is not only safer, but much more interesting thanks to the numerous shops in the spaces down below.

In the old part of town called Stare Miasto (literally, Old City) all the architecture has be reconstructed based on the old plans, presenting a beautiful, old European city without any of the decay, dirt, or graffiti.

Food in Warsaw was less impressive. Not only is most of the architecture big, modern, and western… they restaurants are, too. Those that I saw lacked all the charm (and flavor!) of the smaller, home-style places in a lesser-known city.

In Krakow, however, this wasn’t the case. In spite of being a big city and popular tourist destination, Krakow still retained the old charm. The architecture is more old and interesting, the streets winding, the food delicious.

Krakow has no subway, but there are buses and trams. Of course I walked everywhere with no problem, so transportation isn’t much of an issue… and in fact, I think part of the charm of a place like Krakow is the experience of walking around. (I wonder if I would still feel that way in winter.)

The main square (Rynek Głowny) in Krakow is, quite possibly, my favorite place I have ever been. It’s big, beautiful, welcoming. I could easily imagine living in Krakow and spending my evenings in the square. In fact, Krakow is the first city outside of the U.S. where I could imagine myself living one day.

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11th April
written by Randy

I’m starting to see a pattern developing. Travel is really affecting me. But when I travel to the sites of tragedies, I really grow. A lot.

Last winter, I traveled to several landmarks of American tragedies, all within a few days of each other, and I noticed that doing so had a profound effect on me. And I felt a strong connection in the Colosseum when I saw it in Rome, in February.

Well, I don’t think I can raise the stakes any higher. Today, I visited the site of history’s worst tragedy ever: Auschwitz. After this, it’s all downhill.

Walking around in Auschwitz feels like walking around in a summer camp. You’ve got the plain buildings, the dirt and gravel walkways, the barbed wire and watchtowers. Okay, so it’s a summer camp that doesn’t want you to leave…

For me, the profound moment was when I saw the hair. An entire room, filled with human hair. Everything else was a fact – a piece of history being recited. But seeing all that hair, suddenly I had a very tangible appreciation for the scale of the horrible thing that happened in that place.

The last thing you see on your tour at Auschwitz is a crematorium: the smallest one – a death-factory the Nazis thought was so insignificant that it wasn’t worth destroying. Then, you go to Birkenau, where all the style points disappear, and you learn about scales of quantity. Here are the ones they did destroy, but you can see their size, even in the rubble.

This entire experience was probably amplified by my visit to the museum in the old factory of Oskar Schindler yesterday. And even moreso by the memorials and reconstruction and monuments I saw in Warsaw last week.

Poland has been through hell. This country and its people know more about suffering than most of us in the US can ever imagine. And yet the people here are amazingly proud and upbeat. Jews or not, oppressed or not, these people are Poles and they’re proud of it.

Whether it’s the people I’ve met, who live in simple apartments with barely enough possessions to fill two suitcases, or the people I saw in photos in Auschwitz who packed everything they cared about into one suitcase… the theme has resonated with my own minimalism project this year.

Poles don’t derive their identity from their possessions. They don’t measure themselves by their jobs or their cars or their clothes. From the guy in the suit behind the hotel desk to the girl in the embarrassing uniform at the pierogi restaurant, everyone here walks proud. They love their family, they love their friends, and they love their land, their home, Poland.

After these two weeks, I’m finding myself surprisingly content with the simple fact that I’m alive. For 35 years, I’ve passionately chased hobbies, I’ve fed controversy, I’ve chased adventure, and I’ve done it all with a chip on my shoulder and an appetite for destruction. But today, at this moment, I don’t care.

Today, I’m just content – happy to be alive, and to have people I care about. Happy with my possessions that fit into two suitcases, and my right to travel to places like Auschwitz with a tour-guide rather than a gun in my back. And I’m happy that tomorrow I can go home, because I have something the millions of people in Auschwitz never got: a return ticket.

3rd April
written by Randy

The hot new fad is minimalism. It seems like everywhere I go, I’m meeting minimalists and talking about minimalism. It’s like a club, where people sit around quoting other people.

It’s become like a religion. A lifestyle choice so sacred that the world gets shaken up when a beloved minimalist blogger does an about face and says “fuck minimalism.”

But underneath it all — underneath the surface of practicality and frugality, after the acceptance of fitting into a group, beneath the glamour of elitism, beneath the obsession with counting possessions — there’s a truth to which most minimalists still seem blissfully ignorant…

Minimalism is bullshit.

That’s right. It’s a joke. A lie. It’s a load of crap.

Minimalism is a cargo cult. It’s literally someone taking something away from you and then making you pay them to give it back. Minimalism is bottled water.

You see, most minimalists decide to become minimalists to get unstressed, or to declutter, or to reduce debt. Most of them eventually want to travel. They want to see the world.

But you know what’s waiting out there for them when they finally do travel? What’s waiting out there is a world filled with minimalists. The rest of the world is all minimalists.

Think about that. There are approximately 7 billion people walking the face of this earth. Out of those people, approximately 400 million live in North America. A quick bit of math reveals that almost 95% of the world are already minimalists. Only they don’t call it minimalism, they just call it life.

People in Italy, Poland, Korea, Thailand… people in the rest of the world are online right now, seeing this wave of minimalist blogs swallow the internet, and they’re hating us. And rightly so! Who the fuck are we to wear some big badge of accomplishment for catching up to what everyone else already does, and has always done?

Minimalism isn’t a lifestyle. It isn’t a growing experience. And it damn sure isn’t a religion. Minimalism is nothing more than a correction: it’s a path to the solution for a problem we Americans created for ourselves.

Don’t stop. It needs to be done. Keep throwing out all that clutter. Keep reducing your wardrobe. Don’t stop donating books. Don’t stop selling the things you’re not using. It’s good that you’re doing it. It’s necessary.

But don’t think you’re special. You’re not special. Minimalism isn’t special. It’s not a badge, and it doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Minimalists are just Charlton Heston, unaware that the Planet of the Apes isn’t some other world, it’s earth, and in spite of what they may think, it is they who have been acting strange.

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