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On Being A Wounded Animal Devoured In The Voracious Maw Of Fancy Ideas

I like big fancy ideas that thwart common sense. My favorites come out of philosophies that try to kill themselves that are usually called post-something and Buddhism. Ideas like there being no ultimate distinction between self and other and further—kinda—that there, again ultimately, IS NO self; there’s no such thing. I like these radical ideas because if they were appropriated and expressed in practice, instead of verbalized in ever more refined and frustrating texts, we’d live in a completely different world. We wouldn’t need to force ourselves to be better or behave differently. We would actually be different and different actions would flow naturally from this new kind of being. What I mean to say is that it would kick ass.

As the sloppy nonsense in the preceding paragraph displays, these ideas thwart attempts to speak about them because the moment you do, you’re upholding what’s trying to come undone. The first word of this post is “I”. But that’s no proof against the ideas. It’s merely proof that we’re embedded in grammar. There’s some funky shit beneath the way you and me and the world of things arise in language.


I finished a 50K race last weekend but my body only showed up to run 28 miles. I had 3 miles to go and they were long ones. At the first hint of muscle fatigue, it set in quick and soon my quads, hams, and calves were all clenched up and cramped. I don’t know what you call that hinge on the back of your leg behind the knee but it felt like some sadistic fucker from a Cormac McCarthy novel slashed them both with a buck knife, spit a big gob of tobacco juice, and said I reckon that’ll make it hard to dance, pardner. Then he laughed at me and so did his friends. There was a dead rattlesnake in the road. I bet it was 5 feet long. Maybe 9.

I tried stretching to no avail. I tried my usual trick of telling myself to just fuck off and run but a louder fuck off replied with the idea that my ankle was broken. So I walked. And then I limped. And then I hobbled while considering the economics of crawling. People running by stopped to ask if I was okay, if I needed them to send help but I just flashed a faint smile and waved them along. Volunteers at the aid stations said “You don’t look so good.”

The race started at midnight and this 3 mile walk occurred in the haunting orange glow of the sun’s tentative emergence in the desert. I was a wounded animal mourning the cover of night. Daylight would expose me as easy prey. The desert in the morning has a way of making you feel like the last man on earth in a dreamy fake landscape. Surrealism copped its style from dawn in the Mojave. The finish line never came. And then it did.

I didn’t pump my fist with confident pride as I crossed the finish line. I had no exalted sense of relief. I didn’t have the satisfied sense that I had accomplished something hard after months of arduous training. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to imply that I felt the opposite of those things. I wasn’t disgusted with my performance. I didn’t feel like a failure. I was simply too crushed, ground to dust, to be the kind of thing that had such sophisticated relationships to itself. That’s not to say there’s no such thing as a cactus or a ghostly floating tumbleweed or miles and miles of deep beige sand.

If I was anything at all, I was faintly hungry. But not for food. I mean a more wide ranging hunger that animates the world and makes even stones yearn for more. If there is a self that abides, it consists only in this empty hunger that gets us down the road.

Reader Comments (24)


August 20, 2011 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterAworkinprogress

"...hunger that gets us down the road." Perfect.
I wish your legs didn't give out, but then you wouldn't have this story.

August 20, 2011 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterMisty

i keep trying to wrap my head around the whole IS NO self thing.

you're right. it would kick ass.

August 20, 2011 at 4:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterSlow Panic

I'm sorry, did you say something? All I can remember is 'I finished a 50K race last weekend'.

August 20, 2011 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered Commenterkate inglis

"The finish line never came. And then it did." I'm not sure why, but this REALLY speaks to me.

Of course, so does "he laughed at me and so did his friends," but that's just my low self-esteem talking. :)

August 20, 2011 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterBill

The last three miles are the hardest? So glad you finished. Congrats.

August 20, 2011 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered Commenteranymommy

"makes even stones yearn for more".


this is such sweet articulation here of many things i wish i could even get my thoughts around. so much.

i have been trying to learn to be grateful for this feeling. but the feeling is bottomless, and my gratitude isn't.

and yes, the desert is surreal beyond anywhere else. so much expanse just isn't comprehensible.

August 20, 2011 at 8:40 PM | Unregistered Commenteramy.leblanc

i'm quoting you in my thesis. just sayin'.

August 21, 2011 at 6:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterBon

I haven't been *exactly* on your street, but I've sure experienced the neighborhood...only I'm unable to write cool, descriptive pieces about stuff. My 85YO therapist is getting me hip to the NO SELF concept. I like it. Congratulations, again.

August 21, 2011 at 8:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterChrisy

I feel a little guilty because I just kept imagining how amazing these words would be if they were read over footage of you finishing this run. I mean you managed to make suffering romantic. I want to film your next race. Which means I need to get me one of those scooters, or a Little Rascal to roll along beside you from a safe distance. I promise not to cheer you on, or encourage you :)

So proud of you not just for finishing, but for laying it down on here in this way.

August 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterRyan

those last few miles sound like absolute hell, so i'm glad you were able to finish them. quitting and finding yourself surrounded by hell would've sucked.

August 21, 2011 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered Commenterthe muskrat

Sheesh, my feet (and body) hurt after standing in the studio for an afternoon. Mere snake fodder, me.

Kick ass writing...thanks for sharing.

August 21, 2011 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterClare

And the sky struggles to be born, all pink and liminal
Bleeding, half-alive, like an animal...

August 21, 2011 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered Commentersara

You're writing is beautiful and shocking. It's been said and will be said again.

On a different note, you've inspired me with your running. I was a 2-4 times a week runner between 5 and 10K. You got me to go for consecutive days. Started with 30. Did it and decided to give it a go again. Minimum 30 minutes or 5k a day whichever I manage. My feet have been hurting; though I think that has more to do with recent high heel acquisitions than the running. Occasionally, I lean my torso in to the run and tell myself to trust my legs. I think I picked that advice up here; you passed it on from your coach. My goal is nothing in the scheme of 50K race, but I thought you might find it interesting that you've touched someone from across an ocean (I imagine) and your thought of from pavements and trails in the UK and Spain.

August 21, 2011 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterellie

Your. Not You're. I should have proofread.

August 21, 2011 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered Commenterellie

Glorious and devastating.

August 21, 2011 at 4:02 PM | Unregistered Commentermarin

You made it. Well done x
I ran a half marathon last year - hardly in the same league, I know, but after, because I was sick, my body felt broken. My spirit was satisfied though, and it rarely is.

August 22, 2011 at 2:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterKaren (miscmum)

Did you ever read Arnold Lobel's book Mouse Soup to your kids? Your post reminds of his story Two Large Stones from that book.

Thank you for not romanticizing your runs. Reminds me to dissect my runs beyond the obvious either / or outcomes. Races are very gray and very blurry and very messy and why not because I started running to cope with a life that is very gray and very blurry and very messy.

Thank you.

August 22, 2011 at 2:28 AM | Unregistered Commenterkwrink

A friend of mine just did an ironman and her finish was very similar...she's been battling the demons ever since. She went in fierce and was ready to tell her body to just "shut the fuck up and swim/bike/run"...but her body had other plans in the last 5kms of the run....too bad no one told her about it. I'm going to send her this...thank you for putting it out there.

As for you...and your hunger....keep on keeping underlying hunger wakes us up each day....and sometimes that's enough to get by to the next big race...metaphorical or real. rock, alot...but I suspect you know that.

August 22, 2011 at 6:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

As someone who probably looks like I finished a 50k when I finish 3 miles, that is just an amazing achievement.

August 25, 2011 at 4:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterFairly Odd Mother

Congratulations on your completion. I now feel like a candy ass for hobbling my way through a 5K.

August 26, 2011 at 1:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterNancy {Spinning my Plates}

Glad you conquered another one. Hope you're doing well, and have your eye on another goal, big or small.

August 29, 2011 at 12:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterlisa


September 1, 2011 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterForgotten

The thing that tripped me out about Mexico was the acceptance of ordinary danger. There were no warning signs, no guardrails. This, for instance was the path to a popular tourist destination - you walked on top of that little ridge, which was covered with hot, slimy sulfur water. Sure, it was only about a 12 foot tumble you'd take down grater-textured rock, but you'll notice the lack of any kind of safety equipment or accommodation. I asked someone about it (after walking right next to a 30-foot-dropoff at Monte Alban) and they shrugged and said "We don't have so many lawyers here."

September 1, 2011 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterSuebob

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