Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#313: Run-Walk-Run

Run-Walk-Run is what Jeff Galloway calls his technique for running injury-free, right from the start, no matter how old or how inexperienced a runner you may be. Here's Jeff explaining how it works.

 I have noticed a lot of people passing me in races using walk breaks, and I wanted to see how it would work for me. Today, I used this technique to run a 5K on the track at the gym. I didn't want my watch beeping every few seconds on a small indoor track, so I just decided to run a lap, then walk a lap. This turned out to be a ratio of about 30 seconds running to 1:00 walking. Honestly, I expected this to produce a much slower pace. I was surprised.

My PR at 3.11 miles (5K) is 42:30, an average speed of 4.4 mph, at 13:40/mi.
My run today was3.19 miles  in 47:31, an average speed of 4.0 mph at 14:51/mi.

So by walking half the distance instead of running, I slowed down by a little more than a minute per mile.I found that really surprising. That isn't nearly as much of a drop off as I would have guessed.

Here's how the run/walk segments broke down.

Duration: 0:15:48
Distance: 1.60 mi
Avg Speed: 6.08 mph
Pace: 9:53 min/mi
Duration: 0:31:43
Distance: 1.60 mi
Avg Speed: 3.03 mph
Pace: 19:49 min/mi

I felt great when I was done. I could have kept that pace up for a long time

Galloway has drills to help you increase your cadence (steps per minute) and recommends ways to increase your endurance by adjusting the run/walk ratio. His is a very gentle approach to running, sort of "No Pain, No Pain," and today's results encourage me to spend a few more weeks with him. If you want to know more, here's a link to his page on Amazon.

Dude... Seriously?
I'm training right now for this insane Krispy Kreme 5K Challenge next week. Runners in the "Competitor" class run 5K. Runners in the "Challenger" class run 2.5K, eat a DOZEN Krispy Kreme donuts, then run the final 2.5K. They have an hour to complete this hideous feat. I saw nothing in the rules about how long they actually have to keep their donuts down... but this doesn't seem like a finish line I'm gonna want to hang around and watch. The event benefits Habitat for Humanity, so that makes up for the perversity a little bit.  
Oh, I'll be forgoing the donuts, by the way. After going through chemo, I do not consider hurling breakfast to be recreation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

#312: The Legacy Trail

I had a good long run/walk yesterday: about 5 1/2 miles on the Legacy Trail here in Lexington. This bike path opened last summer... not a good time for me to go exploring, but I wanted to do a long run on Saturday and since that's not a good morning to be tying up a treadmill in our little gym for an hour, I decided to take in the first weekend of Spring.. I woke up and checked the temp. 36°. Sad. Putzed around the house a little, hoping for a miraculous heat wave. It didn't come. At about 11:00, with the cold unchanged, I pulled on some layers and headed out into the Bluegrass Tundra for a little jog.

It's about 3/4 of a mile from my house to the two-mile marker on the trail. I warmed up with an easy walk there, then started my run/walk intervals. Well, mostly walk intervals. When sweat turns to ice on your face, you really aren't too motivated to get wet in a hurry. I walked out to mile 4, then turned around and ran intervals back. I'm not sure I accomplished much in terms of training, but it was a beautiful trip, in an arctic sort of way.

When I finally got home, my hands were stiff and numb from the cold. Need to dig out a pair of those brown jersey work gloves. I'm sure there are some in the basement. Mrs P was understandably not interested in my chilly caresses, so I took off the wet clothes, slipped on some dry clothes, and went to the office to write. Sadly, my fingers would not bend far enough to type. Gloves. Definitely. I one-finger typed my way to MapMyRUN and calculated that I had traveled 5.56 miles. Not bad for a shivering fat man. Once I could feel my fingertips again, I hopped in for a hot shower and felt better. I don't think I ate very well, though. I was pretty exhausted for the rest of the day. Most of the to-do list got bumped to Monday.

The trail is lovely. I got on at the Northside Y on Louden Ave. The course is paved, so it's great for bikers, walkers, runners, and anyone who doesn't use a motor to get around. I imagine someone in a wheelchair would enjoy the trip, too. There are mileposts every 0.2 miles, and a stone pillar marking every mile. It's still new, so there is plenty of landscaping and fresh planting going on. There are a few hills, but not many, and not too steep. Some of the scenery was sort of industrial, past parking lots and along the highway and such, but one stretch in particular winds down into the woods along Cane Run Creek. It is really lovely. Can't wait to see spring come out down there.There's a lot more of the trail than I ran. It actually starts downtown, and continues north through farms all the way to the Kentucky Horse Park. I'm not ready to take on the whole 12 miles just yet, but I intend to explore all of it over the next few weeks.

You know... once it warms up a little.



Monday, March 21, 2011

#311: Spring is Here and Everybody Wants to Look Pretty

Saturday was my last race for about three weeks, so I decided to focus on the weight room this week. I warmed up with a half mile jog, then hit the dumbbells.

So I don't have big arms like
this dude. At least I have nipples.
I've been disappointed that my arms aren't big and sexy yet. This is vain and childish, I know, but when I'm flexing naked in the bathroom mirror (yes, I'm not ashamed to admit it,) I want those big bulbous triceps and hard, sinewy Popeye forearms. So I finally added curls and rope pulldowns to my routine. I did curls with dumbbells, and pulldowns with the cable machine. My arms don't look any different, but I promise you I can feel that something happened to them today.

Today, I concentrated on the upper body, by which I mean from the waist up. That includes lower back, abs and obliques (The cool "Tarzan muscles" on your sides.) It was a long workout, but I didn't take long breaks, so I got a lot done in the hour and a half I was in there. I'm starting to be able to lift heavier weights. Still not impressive, but at least not embarrassing. It's nice to see someone sit down at the Lat Pulldown machine and have to move the pin up for a change.

Tomorrow, I'll run. May even do it outside if it's as nice as it was today. Seventy five degrees, right now. Fantastic Yet, the gym was packed. I've never seen it so crowded. It was the first time the weight room felt too small to me. They were mostly slightly flabby young men who looked worried about this year's swimsuit season. I saw lots of faces I haven't seen there before, and lots of people lifting weights for the first time in a while. And I'm thinking, "Come on, people! It's beautiful out there! Why did you wait for a day like today to come inside and work out?" I thought it, but I didn't say it out loud. I'm not nearly macho enough to cop an attitude in the gym. And three months doesn't exactly make me an old timer, anyway. Fortunately, part timers usually only want to do bench presses anyway, so I just steered clear of the Smith machine and managed to avoid most of the crowd.
How not to teach manners to a newb.

Still, when a sweet young thing slaps her mat down on the floor right next to the bench where I'm struggling through dumbbell presses, and starts doing bored little crunches to the beat of whatever teen singer she's got on her iPod this week, it's hard not to drop 45 pounds on her mushy head, just to teach her some manners. But I resisted. Instead I resumed lifting weights directly above her, and when she saw what a big wuss I was, she skittered off to find a less dangerous place to scrunch.Once again, passive aggression wins the day.

Age has its privileges.


Grumpy Old Pennsy

Saturday, March 19, 2011

#310: Race to Read 5K

The Race to Read benefits
Reading Camps of the
Episcopal Diocese of
 It wasn’t a particularly impressive time for a 5K (3.11 miles,) but I’ll take it. I didn’t get hurt, I didn’t embarrass myself, and I finished much faster than I expected.

The 5K course at Coldstream Park is an old friend. I’ve trained there a couple of times, and raced there once before, straining both my Achilles tendons while trying to catch a couple of shapely coeds who were walking away from me when I pulled up lame. Mrs. P and Mum both agreed that it served me right. This time, I stuck to my own pace. I was tempted by neither tailwind nor tight shorts, and I finished strong.

Starting with the young'uns
 It was overcast and cold in the park at the start. It felt much colder than last week’s race, but then, we didn’t have the protection of all those buildings to keep the wind off of us. I didn’t get as much time to warm up as I should have had. Not that I could have gotten very warm anyway. Whether that caused my first mistake or not, I don’t know, but when the horn sounded, I was too far up in the pack. I set off with the speedy runners at a much faster pace than I was ready for. The start of the course is a gentle downhill slope that leads to the firs hill. That hill is not long, but it's steep and it almost put me out of the race before I had broken a sweat. I was gasping for air, so I stopped running and walked for a while, letting the speedy runners pull away so I could catch my breath and find my own pace. Once I started running again, a lot more people passed me, but I let the music on my iPod guide me. I was listing to Ali Akbar Khan playing traditional Indian music. Not the musak you hear in restaurants, but the real thing. It’s the perfect balance between contemplation and passion. I like the state of mind it helps me to find. Working hard without working hard. Give a click and hear what I mean.

After you clear that first climb, there’s a fairly long downhill run, probably about a third of a mile, (don’t follow my fractions too closely. I’m guessing.) By the time I turned the corner at the end of this slope, I was running pretty smoothly. The next mile is almost all up. There were moments when I actually thought that the directors had somehow laid out a course that only went up. The route is a loop, so I knew that there had to be a “down” somewhere, but at the mile and a half mark, you couldn’t have convinced me of it. That’s because just after I passed the 1 mile mark, the leaders flew by me running back the other way. This is always a moment that is both humbling and amazing to me. These men and women were running almost three times as fast as I was, and none of them looked as tired as I felt. About half-way up the hill, a man who looked to be about seventy cruised by looking just as strong as any of the young Turks ahead of him did. He gave me heart.

Where would Bluegrass runners
be without John's?
My first mile, in spite of the walk break, was 12:31. That is waaaaay too fast for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever run a mile that fast. I paid for it on the long hill. My second mile was 14:20. That’s about a minute slower than my last training run was last Wednesday. Right about then, I was passed by a young woman and a little girl. They were running together and encouraging one another. The little girl was using a technique that I’ve seen little kids use before in these races. You run run run as fast as you can, then when you’re tired, you walk for a while. When the grown-ups (or in this case, the big old Fat Man) finally catch up, you run run run again. Now “slow and steady” may work for turtles, but I’m telling you, these little hares consistently kick my butt. There’s a very influential running guru named Jeff Galloway who recommends running this way all the time. He’s been run/walk/running marathons like that for decades and claims he hasn’t had a running injury in thirty years. After watching these two ladies pull away into the horizon ahead of me, I think I’m going to take another look at his training methods.

Jake makes a friend.

The last quarter of a mile is the downhill version of that climb that nearly killed me in the first five minutes. I finished the third mile in 14:54, but I was feeling OK. Right after you pass that point, you turn out from behind some trees and you can see the finish line. People are cheering you on by the side of the road. You can see the big clock counting the seconds. The real runners are already long gone. Their cars actually passed me on the way out, but I don’t care. I feel like running. I press as hard as I can. I’m not jogging now, I’m running. This is the stride I have at night when I dream about running. When I crossed that line, I was almost sad that I had to stop.

Turning in my tag after the finish. That's how they know
they don't have to send the dogs out to find you.
  I listened for Mrs. P as I crossed, but I didn’t hear her. I told her to start looking for me at about 45:00. The clock read 42:30. I was two and a half minutes ahead of my target time. She was just putting Jake in the car and heading for the finish line when I came out of the trees. My camera crew missed my beautiful form at the end! She got a shot of me checking in with the race officials at the back of the finishing lane though. No matter. I remember. Trust me. I was beautiful.

The young lady behind me gave me a pat on the back. "You did a great job! My goal was to not lose sight of you, but you almost lost me in the last turn." I smiled and said something about how she should set more ambitious goals, but it made me feel good just the same. Although they practice a very solitary sport, I have found runners to be the kindest, most supportive people.

That? Why, yes. That is a
snot bubble. Thanks for asking.
 Where to go from here? My next major goal for the year is the Bluegrass 10,000 on the Fouth of July. That race is twice as long as this one was. To prepare, I’ll be running at least one 5K each month from now till then. Monday it’s back to the gym. More weight work. More intervals. More visits to the doc to try to get my blood pressure stabilized. Scans and blood tests and endoscopes. There’s still a long way to go. But it is so good to be on the road.



Thursday, March 17, 2011

#309: Tale of the Tape, Revised


Body Fat %

Lean Mass

Resting HR


L Biceps15.5161813.5(2)
R Biceps1616.51914(2)
L Forearm12.512.251311.5(1)
R Forearm131313.7512(1)
L Thigh29.5302627.5(2)
R Thigh30302628(2)
L Calf20.25202018(2.25)
R Calf20.5202018(2.5)

My friend Linda keeps pestering me to update the numbers on the Tale of the Tape which lives in the right margin there under the fun stuff, just before you get to the things I like on Amazon. I’ve been putting it off because it’s kind of a chore. I don’t know squat about html code, and adding columns to a chart is about as complicated a task as I can pull off in my ignorance.

This timetable starts three years ago. Before cancer. Before the nut house. Before unemployment. I was in terrible shape and I knew it. I couldn’t fit in a theatre seat, my pants were size 60, and the bottom button holes on my dress shirts were torn out where my gut had busted through them. Mrs P told me about a gym near where she worked. They were having one of those New Year’s Resolution specials. I decided to go for it. I joined the gym. I started blogging about it. I lost almost 50 lbs and got into the best shape of my adult life. Then in August, everything went to hell. You know the story.

So, skip ahead two years. We’ve been through a lot in the Pennsy house since 2008. I got depressed and quit going to the gym after I lost my job. As a result, I had gained the weight back by the time I got sick. I was back in the fat pants. I couldn’t climb stairs. I was on the highway to a heart attack when a detour took me through Cancerville. You know that story, too.

The numbers are a little distorted because they don’t account for all the time I spent getting fat again, and they don’t really follow what cancer did to my body, but there are a couple of things that stick out.
I’ve lost over a hundred pounds. That’s cool. But if you look at my lean body mass, you’ll see that I’ve lost almost 40 pounds of muscle since my peak in July ’08. That’s the cancer. Well, the cancer treatment, actually. All that time I spent in bed, feeding through a tube, my body was sort of eating itself. And not just the fat: it also ate the good parts.

The small changes are hard to evaluate. I can tell that my arms are less muscular than they were, but there’s been a lot of fat lost too, especially in my upper arms. My legs are a little hard to judge because I’ve been running a lot and working them pretty hard in the weight room. They still feel flabby to me, but I can also feel hard muscle building underneath. It isn’t surprising that my neck is shrinking. They cut a big chunk out of it. It doesn’t show in street clothes, but when I press weight over my head, there is definitely a hole where my neck and right shoulder meet.

The big changes are exciting, though. Thirteen inches lost in my waist. I’ve gone from size 60 last January to 46 now. The hips (butt) are a lot smaller. I can tell those two numbers are changing every time I put my hand in my pants pockets. We just sent a lot of giant pants to the Salvation Army. Some fat man is going to be very happy. Eight inches lost in my chest? Bye bye, man-boobs. They’re not exactly gone, but I think I could appear shirtless without getting an R rating any more. In spite of the lean body mass loss, I’m please that my body fat percentage is still shrinking. That will speed up as I start building more muscles.

Finally, I’m really glad about a couple of the “invisible” numbers. First there’s my resting heart rate. 64 is awfully good for me. Better than the 87 I started with. The BMI is sort of a bogus number based only on height and weight, but the insurance companies love it. The good news there is that I’m mearly “Class Two Obese.” What a happy day it is to discover you’re no longer “Morbidly Obese.” And just imagine how I’ll feel when I finally break under 30 and I’m just “Overweight.” Maybe I’ll buy a cake.

One of my favorite numbers isn’t on the chart at all. When I was admitted to the hospital for depression back in 2009, my blood pressure was 205/168. The nurse took it three times. “That’s pretty bad, huh?” I asked. She nodded. “I can’t explain why you aren’t having a heart attack right now!” The BP is now a cool 122/70, and the doc says if I keep working out, we’ll have to start tapering off the meds soon. Losing a couple of pills a day? That’s a number I’m going to like a lot.

There are lots of things the numbers don’t tell you. They don’t tell you how much weaker I am than I used to be. I checked out my old weight room routines and it’s hard to believe I could ever move that much iron. The numbers don’t tell you how great it feels to donate my fat clothes and put on shirts I haven’t been able to close around me for three years. And they don’t tell you how good it is to be alive. I don’t need a chart to show me that. Not anymore.

I hate that it took cancer to get me back on the right track, but I don’t intend to get back on the cardiac road anytime soon. The Fat Man will be running on a different path, I promise, and for a long, long time.



Monday, March 14, 2011

#308: Life Isn't Fair: So What Are You Gonna Do About It?

It was a joyful weekend in some ways. Mrs P and I spent some good time together. She cheered me on through the race, We went out to dinner for some fantastic Indian food. Sunday morning we got up early and drove down to Metcalfe county for church to hear our nephew preach and pray with the family. We got to play with our little grand niece, Kayla and contribute our share to the process of spoiling her beyond all redemption.

But it was not all happy times. We visited with Brother. He is one of "The Five": the group of our family and friends who were all diagnosed with cancer within a few weeks of one another. Two of us are gone now, our cousin's brain tumor is progressing quickly, and Brother's liver cancer is inoperable. Yesterday, we sat in his bedroom and talked about what he wanted to do next. The treatment the doctor at Vanderbilt recommends is brutal, especially on a man who has been getting chemo steadilly for almost 12 months. Brother is preparing to die.

It couldn't be less fair. Brother is a preacher and a man who has worked so hard, suffered so much all his life. No one deserves cancer, but no one could ever deserve it less. So we visit with him. We pray. We weep. And we ask "Why?" "Why would God allow this man, of all men, to suffer like this? Why didn't God protect him? Why did God give him cancer?" They aren't easy questions, but I think they're fair ones.

The trouble is, I think they miss the point. Did God make this happen? Let it happen? I don't think so. I think some things just happen. We get sick. Babies are born. Storms blow. The earth quakes. Trees blossom. Things happen. We want to ask "Why?" but to be honest, what difference does it make? What if we knew why innocent kids die of famine or why good people die of cancer? What would we do with that information? Nothing. We couldn't do anything with those answers. We can learn what causes a disease, and try to combat it, but we can never find any logic in it. Not even God's logic.

So what is the right question to ask? I think it's this... "What shall I do?" "My friend has cancer. What shall I do?" "Japan is in ruins. What shall I do?" "They're breaking the unions; the levees didn't hold; sick people can't afford health care, my neighbor lost his job. What shall I do?" Or how about this one... "I'm dying. What shall I do?"

It's one thing to say you can donate money or offer a ride or drop in for a visit. It's another thing entirely to think you're going to die... to know you're going to die... and then decide what you're going to do with the time you have left. That's a decision I was afraid I'd have to make, but thank God, I never did. I don't want to be that close to death again for a long time. Brother can feel the Old Man's breath on his neck, and he has to decide. There aren't a lot of people who can help you down that dark road.

During today's Morning Prayers, I thought of one. That's why the scripture reading jumped out at me so.

Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. ~ Hebrews 2:18.

Jesus suffered his whole life. Chased from his parents home before he was born. Driven out of Israel by Herod a few days after. Harrassed by the authorities. Rejected by his people. Betrayed by his friends. Tortured to death by foreign occupiers. And all he did was preach. Serve. Heal. No one deserved to suffer less. So why did he go through all that?

No reason. It's just something that happened. What matters is what he did about it. Love is what he did. Jesus kept on loving. He kept on preaching. He kept on healing. The writer to the Hebrews says that his suffering made him able to help others who suffered. My cancer gave me knowledge, experience, compassion that people who have never lived through it can never have. But, what am I going to do about that? Brother is suffering terribly and surrounded by people in pain. What is he going to do about it?

Brother and I will both die, someday. We know that. We know it a lot better than we did a year ago. But in the meantime, there are people to love. There are tears to be shared and burdens to be eased. It may well be that, like Jesus, when we are at our weakest, God is best able to use us to bring about the kingdom in this world. Paul knew plenty about suffering in his life, and here's what he had to say about it...

And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

No matter how weak we feel. No matter how defeated or lost or unfit to serve... God can work through us. As long as we have breath, we have a chance to minister to God's creation. As long as there is life in us, God has work for us to do. May it be so with Brother. May it be so with me. May we be a blessing to those who know us in life, and to those we leave behind. And, please, God, may that be so for all of us.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

#307: Shamrock Shuffle 3K

Pennsy checks his watch at the finish line.
A new personal best!
2011 Shamrock Shuffle 3K
Time: 0:24:05
Distance: 1.80 mi
Avg Speed: 4.48 mph
Pace: 13:23 min/mi

What a fantastic day. I ran much better than I expected. The crowd kind of pulled me along and while most were passing me, I still ran near my fastest pace. The weather, which is often miserable this time of year, was nearly perfect. Temps were in the low 50's, the sun was shining, and we even had a tail wind for some of the last quarter mile. Mrs P was there, cheering bravely in the cool morning air - much cooler for her than for me, even with my shorts. She wept as I crossed the finish line. I didn't weep. I was too tired to weep. But man, was I happy.

On the drive home, as I chugged my Gatorade, I told her how much I loved to make her proud of me. It's such a great feeling to see her smile as she hugs me after a race, or a show, or even when I do the dishes. She looked puzzled. "But, I've always been proud of you," she told me with the candor that only old friends can share. That's when I realized that I wasn't just trying to make her proud. I was trying to be proud of myself, too.

For so much of my life, I've been unsure, even ashamed of myself. Under achiever. Overweight. Hypocrite. Hypochondriac. They've all applied at one time or another, and I've tended to hang on to them, to see myself through those dirty lenses. But I'm learning that there's another way to look at Pennsy. I pray for mercy from God. I try to be gracious and forgiving to other people. Maybe I can give a little to myself, too. Sure, I sometimes fail to live up to my own standards, but I can often exceed them beyond my own hopes. When I was very young, I was so insecure that I learned to hide behind arrogance. As I grew older, and my ego cost me more and more friendships, I exchanged arrogance for shame. I learned to judge myself, to cling to my own shortcomings as a way to stay humble. But there is a kind of false pride in judgment, even when you judge yourself. I don't have the right to condemn anyone, not even me. That's a hard lesson to learn. I can't say that I've mastered it. But every now and then there are flashes.

I just love these things.

There is great reward in setting a goal, working hard to achieve it, then surpassing your own expectations. That's something that shame can't achieve. That's a place arrogance can't reach. It takes determination. It takes will. It doesn't make you better than anyone else. But it does make you better than you were before you tried. It's something to be proud of.

I still have a long way to go: many miles to gain and many pounds to lose. Tomorrow, it's back to the gym to get stronger and faster. But today, yeah, I'm proud. And there's nothing wrong with that. The Fat Man is running. Thanks be to God.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

#306: Closing Time

Actors' Guild of Lexington... the little theatre that could...
 There's something very special about the evening after you close a play. If you've ever tried to act for a living, you know the sensation of "Oh, my God. What am I gonna do now?" Since I am no longer a professional actor, I don't have to panic about my next gig... at least not from a financial point of view. But even when I was relying on my actor's paycheck to live, there was something more than just the end of a job going on when a play closed.

It's like a little death. You've spent weeks, maybe months giving birth to this little person who lives for a couple hours a night on stage. You get to know them. You fall in love with them. Then one Sunday afternoon, they're gone. You don't need that walk, that voice, those words any more. It's time to let go and move on.

I always grieve a little. I've been blessed to play some great roles in my life. Saying goodbye to someone like Prospero or Tevye isn't easy. I miss them. I'll miss Shelly Levene, too. He was such a tough, frightened guy with his own strange set of ethics. He always knew what was right. He just got a little lost trying to sort out what was wrong now and then. On a personal level, Shelly was my guide back to the stage, and for that, I am grateful.

You say goodbye to the company, too. You'll work with many of these actors again. Maybe all of them. The director may cast you in something else. The crew will turn up on other shows, in other theatres. But there's a chemistry, a community that will never exist again once the last chair is stacked and the last light is struck. You'll play again, but it will never be just like this again. That's a little sad, but it's also worth celebrating.

Ours is a temporal art. The theatre exists in time, not just in space. It appears out of nowhere, then it goes away. There's nothing left to frame or print or put in a glass case. No group of artists, no audience will ever share what we have shared during our brief time together. Look, I'm not naive. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes customers and performers are both glad to let the door slam behind them. But every now and then, you're glad you have a memory. You're glad you'll be able to look back and remember what it was like to walk and laugh and sing for a few hours in a world that came and went like the leaves of a sugar maple.

Glengarry Glen Ross was a beautiful tree for me. The company was a real dream team. Some of the finest actors in town, a great script, a director with terrific instincts for how to manage so unwieldy a combination of ego and talent. The crew performed flawlessly. The designers worked miracles with almost no budget, and the theatre staff were as friendly and professional as anyone could hope for. And the audiences... oh, those beautiful people out there in the dark. Every night was like making love, like dancing with a new partner. There were friends and supporters, lovers and strangers, and they all gathered hoping to be told a good story. For the most part, they seemed to feel like they got one. When acting is this much fun, you understand why they call us "players." Memorizing your lines -- that's work. But sharing a play with a theatre full of people -- that's the best kind of play I know.

So long, Shelly. You did a lot for me. More than Mr. Mamet could have ever imagined. Maybe we'll meet again one day. Maybe not. But whatever happens, I'll never forget you, old boy. You gave me back my heart.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

#305: Serenity

Big fish for another 24 hours...
 It's a rainy spring morning in the Bluegrass. (Thanks, groundhog, for the early respite.) My to do list if full of things that didn't get done this week, and I'm thinking the best thing to do might be to put them all off till Monday. In spite of Wednesday's high-diving exhibition, I'm still walking on air. Last night's performance was heavenly. The audience was with us right from the start. There's a feeling you get when the house is with you. They're breathing with you. They're laughing together. They aren't checking their watches or reading their programs or squeaking their chairs. One of the things I love about live theatre is the physical contact. The actors actually touch you with their voices. The same air that makes the sounds in their throats vibrates on your ears, your face, all of you. But when that tide flows in the other direction... when the actors feel the breath and life of the audience washing back over them... my God, but it's great to be in the theatre.

So, today I think I'll just drink in what's left of my small pond celebrity. Maybe sort some laundry. I need to go pick up my race bib for the Shamrock Shuffle next weekend. I really should run today, but it's nasty out and I don't feel like getting to the gym and I'm a big shot for another 24 hours and I can do whatever I want so there. Besides. I can't run till I sort some socks. I confess, I've been avoiding this chore. I actually stopped at the store on the way to the theatre last night and bought three pair of black socks for my costume so I wouldn't have to dig through that laundry basket again. Pathetic, I know, but even local celebrity is fleeting. I have to be prodigal while I still can. Come Monday, all excuses will expire.

Someone once said that there are really only two prayers: "Help me, help me, help me!" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" For the longest time, I thought that God wasn't hearing my cries for help. But now, all I can say is "Thank you," for the answered prayers that have fallen on me like the cold spring rain outside. Today, I am a very rich man.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

#304: A Little Scare

Cancer... the gift that keeps on giving. I went in to the Markey Center yesterday to pick up some paperwork. It was a request to extend my leave of absence from work. I felt a little funny about this. Most of the time I feel pretty good, like maybe I could try to go back for a few hours a week. I liked my job and the people I worked with, and I miss them.

So I'm sitting in the waiting room while Dee, the angel who calls herself my cancer nurse had the doctor sign the paper. I read a magazine. I chatted with the other patients and the ladies behind the desk. The door opened and Dee brought me the signed form. She handed it to me and told me that she would be seeing the play this weekend. I said I was looking forward to seeing her after the show. The next thing I heard was Alex, the triage nurse shouting, "Dee! Mr Johnson fell down." I was surprised to find myself on my back in the middle of the room. Actually, everybody was pretty surprised. They said I went down quite peacefully, like a tree in the forest. I hit one of the couches, knocking it a couple of feet across the floor,but judging from the ache in my shoulders, I hit it with my upper back, not my head. No cuts. No bruises. No harm done that I can tell. Dee made me sit for a long time. She brought me some juice. I wasn't clammy. My color was good. She took my blood pressure. It was 122/56. OK, so that's a problem. Once I had recovered and she was confident I was OK, Dee walked me to my car. I called my family doc and made an appointment for this morning. We'll have a long discussion about this. There are a lot of places I could have gone down where the corners aren't padded and the room isn't full of nurses. I don't want to find them. And I sure don't want to get up out of a chair on stage and find myself in the middle of a surprise intermission.

At this month's Head and Neck cancer support group, we talked about whether or not cancer "goes away." One of us had a conversation with a doctor who said something about "Well, you had cancer..." My friend stopped him and said, "No. The cells may be gone from my body, but cancer will always be a part of my life. I will always have cancer." I wasn't sure I agreed with him. I have used the phrase "I had cancer" a couple of times, and I liked the sound of it. I'd like to think that it has gone away. That I'm strong again. That I can go back to work. That I'm ready to get on my bike and win the Tour de France a couple of times. Heck, I ran three miles yesterday, and pretty close to my personal best at that distance. I'm back, baby.

And then, all of a sudden, without warning, I'm flat on my back on the floor of the cancer center, watching a nurse run across the room to see if I'm dead. I didn't even feel dizzy beforehand. I guess maybe I'm not ready to go back to work after all.

At least not yet. If nothing else, cancer teaches you patience. I know cancer will always be a part of my life. But I also know that I am going to get better. That's the hope that keeps me going. I'm not over it yet, but some day I will be. I can wait.


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