I got a phone call at 8 AM Friday morning.

I was nervous when I realized who it was — it was the partner
of one of the people I was playing the concert with yesterday.
The last time I got a call from someone like that the day before
the concert, it was the wife of one of the performers saying he
had slipped on the ice and was flat on his back in bed and
couldn’t possibly get to and play a concert the next day.

So I was relieved when it turned out that this call was because
my friend wanted to borrow my crutches.

The story was actually somewhat alarming. She’s a fairly fit
person who climbs mountains and does folk dancing and ride a
bicycle for long distances. Two weeks before she’d been to a
folk dance weekend and danced 15 hours between Friday night and
Sunday afternoon and felt fine during and after.

For a couple of days before, her knee had been bothering her a
little, but then all of a sudden she went to leave work, and
pushed back the chair, and she couldn’t stand on her right

She was glad I didn’t mind loaning her the crutches. Until she
got them, she wasn’t able to move anywhere without assistance. So
she had to wake up her partner to go to the bathroom at night. I
said that was like having a dog, but she said the dog probably
didn’t whimper both to and from the bathroom. Actually it’s
probably easier with the human, because for the dog, you have to
put shoes and a coat on to take them out.

Anyway, I reminded her when she was being grateful that she
wouldn’t have thought to call me if she hadn’t been so helpful
during the six weeks I was on them — she regularly called to
see if I wanted to come to the supermarket with her, and went to
the pharmacy for me, and took me to visit Bonnie.

I was also glad I’d tested getting them out of the closet while I
was fit. They had enough ice skates and vacuum cleaners and
camping equipment in front of them that I wouldn’t have wanted to try
to do it standing on one foot. I’ll be more careful when I put
them back in the closet.

We don’t know quite what’s going to happen with my friend’s
knee. She’s had an x-ray, and it looks like torn cartilage or
maybe other junk in the joint. She has an appointment to see an
orthopedist next week.

Crutches aren’t so expensive that comfortably off people can’t just go buy
them, but they do take up enough space in a closet, and
reasonably fit people use them seldom enough, that it seems silly
for every household to have a pair. I think it’s something the
socialist model “From each according to his abilities; to each
according to his needs” should apply pretty well. So there
should probably just be a central supply depot that delivers a
pair when you need them, and then you bring them back there when
you don’t any more.

My rationale for keeping mine after the hip surgery instead of
donating them to one of the places that gives them free to poor
people, was that when you sprain your ankle, which I had been
doing every 3 or 4 years, people tell you it heals faster if you
use crutches and keep the weight off of it. I’d never tried that,
because of not having the crutches, but I was going to test it
out the next time my ankle gave out on me. It hasn’t given out
since the hip surgery. I hope that’s because the physical
therapy I got then, which focused more on balance than on
strengthening hip muscles, fixed the problem with my ankle, but
maybe it’s just having crutches in the closet makes it less
likely that you sprain your ankle. The same way carrying an
umbrella makes it less likely to rain hard.

New Year’s Resolutions

First, a couple of resolutions I’m not making:

  • It’s silly to claim you’re all of a sudden going to start
    working on something you’ve been doing no work on for years. So
    I’m not going to resolve to learn a language or run a
  • While there are lots of reasons why weighing 20 pounds less
    would be a good thing, I’m not going to resolve to lose weight.
    All the sensible things to do that lose weight have other good
    effects, and the obvious ones that work and aren’t sensible
    aren’t what you want to resolve to do. (E.g., I lost 15 pounds
    in the hospital with my hip surgery, but if I can, I want to
    avoid doing that again.)

So here are the things I’ve been working on some, but want to
work on more effectively in the New Year:

Cleaning out Bonnie’s house was an
experience I wouldn’t want to wish on *my* executrix, and
anyway, I enjoy being in my house more when it’s uncluttered and
reasonably free of dust, grime, and dog hair. I’ve made
progress on the public rooms in the last year, and I’m getting
better at doing the maintenance in small doses rather than
waiting until I’ve scheduled an hour or more. I have some ideas
for spending a little money on furniture that will contribute to
the uncluttered look in the living room, and I’m doing well on
throwing out a couple of things from the currently hopeless
rooms every Wednesday. So we’ll see if I make even more
progress this year.
I’ve probably gone backwards this year, because
the dog-walking is less aerobic with an elderly, arthritic dog
than with a young, vigorous one. So what I’m going to work on
is running more errands on foot by myself, and maybe figuring
out a yoga routine I can do with the hip restrictions that I
enjoy as much as I did the one I had before the arthritis made
me stop doing it.
I think I’ve made progress on making the blog
interesting over the last year. I’d like to be more consistent
about taking pictures to illustrate it, and maybe finding a
better focus.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

This book
is a memoir by the Japanese novelist Hideki Murakami
about the place long-distance running has in his life.

I’ve enjoyed a couple of his novels (
on the Shore
and Norwegian
) quite a bit, and I enjoyed this memoir too.

He took up running when he stopped running a
bar/restaurant/jazz club so that he could write full time.
Running the bar had been fairly active work, but sitting at the
desk and writing wasn’t. So he needed to do something and he
decided on running. He runs at least one marathon a year, and
has experimented with triathlons and ultra-marathons.

He often discusses the
relationship between running and writing novels:

Right now I’m aiming at increasing the distance I run, so speed is
less of an issue. As long as I can run a certain distance,
that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like
it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I
run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end
of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of
tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day
right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and
the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest
Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to
keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term
projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The
problem is getting the flywheel to spin at a set speed — and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage.

He also says things that resonate with me about the importance
of daily practice:

Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running
every day. These are practical, physical lessons. How much can I
push myself? How much rest is appropriate — and how much is too much? How far can I take something and still keep it decent and consistent? When does it become narrow-minded and inflexible? How much should I be aware of the world outside, and how much should I focus on my inner world? To what extent should I be confident in my abilities, and when should I start doubting myself? I know that if I hadn’t become a long-distance runner when I became a novelist, my work would have been vastly different. How different? Hard to say. But something would have definitely been different.

This is a bit how I feel about practicing musical instruments
every day.

There’s also a fair amount of discussion about how aging is
affecting his ability to run, and really good descriptions of
what the last couple of miles of a marathon feel like.

I have friends who run as an important part of their life, and
the way they discuss their times and their injuries isn’t
anything like as interesting as this book.

The Boston Marathon

The marathons I like are the ones where the winner runs across
the finish line looking like he or she isn’t even breathing

Of course, it’s more exciting when there’s more than one person
at the end and they have to sprint. Yesterday’s women’s race had
the first and second place runners separated by a second, and
the second place woman collapsed and had to be taken to the
hospital immediately afterwards. The TV announcer said, “She
gave it everything she had,” like that was a good thing. But in
my opinion, the point of sports is to produce a healthy mind in a
healthy body, and it can’t possibly be healthy to abuse your
body like that.

The only runner I’ve known personally who finished the Boston Marathon spent the
next few weeks on crutches — he’d sprained his ankle at
about mile 15 and finished anyway. I don’t think this is
healthy either.


I usually get a burst of energy for improving my exercise
habits sometime in April. Often it’s after watching the Boston
Marathon, but this year it happened a couple of weeks

I have occasionally been someone who goes to a gym and puts on
funny clothes and works out on a machine for 20 minutes to the
terrible music they play and then
does some yoga. This has always been when there was a gym in the
building I worked in and it was a way to take a break from my
job. I actively like rowing on a rowing machine, and would have
one if there was room in my Cambridge apartment, but there isn’t.

Now that I work at home, there’s a lot less incentive to put up
with the travel time to the gym and the clothes and the music.

I have a clothes rack in my bedroom that if unfolded correctly would be a
Nordic-trak ski machine. I’ve never really liked the noise it
makes, and while unfolding it and folding it back up doesn’t
take as long as getting to the YMCA would, it’s still a fair
amount of overhead.

Anyway, when I have had the aerobic exercise habit, I’ve been
just as obnoxious as other people about its benefits. One that
doesn’t get mentioned very often, but I’m pretty sure it’s true
for me, is that my hair grows longer.

None of this prevents me from getting out of the habit for
years at a time. Since my most common mode of exercise (when
I’m not taking breaks from work at a gym) is walking, I most
recently lost the habit when my hip arthritis got too bad, and
then I didn’t take it back up after the surgery in January of

Even with my April exercise energy, and even though my ability
to walk (at least on flat terrain) is roughly back where it was
before the arthritis and the surgery, I still haven’t been able
to get back to walking anything like aerobically because I do
most of my walking with the 12 year old dog, and his hips seem to be about
where mine were before the surgery.

I occasionally get an idea for how to do aerobic exercise that
doesn’t depend on equipment or going somewhere you don’t want to
go. I’ve done a certain amount of
dancing to my recorded music collection. A couple of years ago,
when the hip was getting bad, I decided you didn’t have to get out
of your chair if you waved your arms vigorously enough, and I did
some conducting to my recorded music collection. If you do yoga
standing poses with downward dog in between, it’s aerobic.

This year’s idea comes out of this article in the New York
Times. When I actually read it, I didn’t think anything except
that the typical office building stair well sounded even worse
than the gym as a place to exercise. But then a couple of weeks
ago, I realized that I have two flights of stairs in my own
apartment, and if I just go up and down them a few times at a
reasonable clip, that would be the exercise, without going
anywhere I don’t want to go or changing clothes or anything.

So I hum Souza marches and go up the stairs at that tempo.
When I get too out of breath to hum the march, I stop.
Sometimes I do this twice a day. I haven’t been doing it long
enough to grow my hair longer, but it does seem to be having the
normal short-term effects. A new one is that my fasting blood
sugar is much more reliably under control when I’ve done even a
short stair-climbing stint.