Kill your TV. This is a bumper sticker on the back of my pickup truck. I’m not trying to be cool. I’m not trying to set myself above the hoi polloi, the masses, with their Walking Dead and their Games of Thrones or whatever TV show is popular right now. I just don’t like TV. I’m not a sports-voyeur. I don’t watch sitcoms, reality shows, cop dramas or even news programs. When Netflix was new, I binge-watched a few shows. Six Feet Under, Lost, Arrested Development – and then I couldn’t find anything else to watch. So now I watch nothing at all. Except a little of the Olympics and some World Cup. And on rare occasions, a movie with my kids. So I probably average around ten hours of TV each year. For me, TV feels worse than wasted time.
My wife, Susan, and my kids don’t watch much TV either. Susan would like to watch a little, but she also wants to spend time with me, so we read. My kids watch their share of shows on Netflix but that’s about it. Other than as a passage to deliver the Internet, our cable package doesn’t get much of a workout.
The one show my family watches is Dancing with the Stars. The show’s been on for ten years, two seasons each year. But as a family, we’ve only tuned in for the last three seasons – three of twenty. And when I say we, I mean everybody but me. Two hours every Monday night. A chunk of time when I’m on my own. Usually I’m in the next room, reading or writing.
My family wants me to watch with them, but I won’t, I can’t. I find it agitating to spend hours in front of the TV. Even though when they watch their show, they interact. They argue over dancers, talk about the music, the costumes – they even discuss the commercials. Commercials are novel to us all because we see so few. When they watch Dancing with the Stars, they have fun.
Last Monday, as they watched, I was lonely. Edge-of-tears lonely. If that seems extreme, well, it is. I guess I’d say I was depressed, which is unusual. I have OCD; I have anxiety; I have Tourette’s Syndrome – but not depression. Monday was miserable day. My Tourette’s was in overdrive at work. My current tic, a sustained grunting noise in the back of my throat, was uncontrollable and omnipresent. My OCD was flaring – obsessed! Mostly with the Internet. Has anyone responded to the emails I never sent? I couldn’t concentrate, I was agitated and jumpy. And by the time I got home, it all settled into a murky stew. That edge-of-tears-lonely stew.
Later, going to bed, feeling disoriented and sick, I figured out why I was feeling so wrong. Because everything is going perfectly.
I’m a goal oriented person. I set a goal, and then I orient myself to achieving it. I mentioned my OCD. This is part of it. Planning, calculating, executing. My latest goal-list:
1. Run a mountainous 25K trail-run
2. Complete my book
3. Get a story accepted for publication in a magazine.
These are not fleeting whims. They’re long-term goals, years in the making. In the order I listed them: one year, three years and thirty years. And over the course of one week, I nailed all three – okay, I completed all three. My 25K trail-race, well-trained and well-run. I couldn’t be happier with my performance. My book, Fragments, two full years of writing, months of editing, it’s done and out for reviews. That magazine article? They contacted me. The editor read my blog; he thought I’d be a good fit. I sent in a piece, and it was immediately accepted. A print date in December.
I should be floating on a cloud. Celebrating in a bar. Basking in an aura of achievement. Not sitting alone in my house, a room away from my family, lonesome. But my goals comfort and sustain me. Motivate me. This is also part of my OCD. These goals occupy my mind. Keep me striving. And by coincidentally nailing them all at once, I left myself rudderless, adrift, and sad.
My depression didn’t last long, reality intervened. There’s still so much to do. My book is complete but not published, not marketed, not released. I need an author’s website to publicize my writing. One published magazine story is a start, but it isn’t even printed yet, and it isn’t Trail Runner or Runners’ World or Outside Magazine. These are the venues I’ve targeted. My body is still recovering from my trail-race, and I’m already plotting my next big running event – a dawn-to-dusk excursion on the Appalachian Trail in the coming spring. I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied.
It seems I’m only really happy when my plate is full. People always complain about being too busy. I suppose I do too, becoming overbooked with hobbies and commitments – too much going on to relax. But a break from the non-stop action is only rewarding if there’s something interesting waiting in the future. And as I thought about my goals, what I have and haven’t achieved, I stumbled onto that something, my thing. A quest to become a Bad-Ass Back-Woods Trail-Runner. And also, a Bad-Ass Back-Woods Trail-Running writer.
The idea came together naturally, without much thought or effort. That new website of mine, it’s done. It’s more focused on running than my previous projects. Running is even in my tag-line – Writing, Running, Other Stuff. The blog page will require frequent content updates to keep it fresh. A lot of time thinking and writing about running. This is intentional. Over the past two years, my writing has been heavily introspective. Deep and analytical, gaining insight into many of the problems that have plagued my adult life, mental illness, substance abuse, physical injuries. With the pending publication of my Fragments essays, I’m ready to move into lighter topics, my areas of interest. And to me, right now, nothing is more interesting than trail running.
For the next year, I’ll write about BABWTR – my one-year project to transform myself into a Bad-Ass Back-Woods Trail-Runner. The kind of guy who drives into the mountains, straps on a vest, and heads out alone for a multi-hour jog – unafraid of what nature may throw my way.
Twenty three years working in the government-contracting sector left me with the propensity to turn every phrase into an acronym. And then try to pronounce it. BABWTR – BabyWater? Fortunately, this one worked out well; I plan on keeping it around for a while. It’s fun to say: BabyWater!
A few rejected names:
Super Confident Ultra-Marathon Maximum Endurance Runner (SCUMMER)
Continuous Running And Perpetual Performance Improvement (CRAPPI)
BABWTR: There’s my plan to increase my stamina and my mileage. Remember that twelve hour jaunt up the Appalachian Trail next spring? That’s just a starting point. A chance to get a baseline, learn my capabilities. My goal is to begin running and racing in the “ultra” range – distances of thirty miles or more. Learning about Pennsylvania’s wild areas by foot. A chance to enjoy some solitude, to get lost in the woods.
But not literally lost, and my sense of direction sucks. I lack the ability to recognize any trails I’ve already run. Following directions in reverse strikes me as more complicated than Algebra. I rarely know which direction I’m heading, and I’m constantly making wrong turns.
Fortunately, my friend Blair is a back-woods specialist. A map & compass expert; a wilderness survival instructor; he’s first aid adept and certified. A post-millennium MacGyver, only much, much older. He is one of the best suited people in my community to teach me how to avoid getting injured or lost… and how to keep myself alive when I do. He’s offered to spend some time with me up in the mountains. He thinks I can learn.
And lastly, there’s my dream of writing for Trail Runner and Runners’ World. This isn’t an outrageous goal. Much of my writing is good enough – better than many of the articles and columns I see in those magazines. Most of this comes down to networking, bona fides, and cred. And this project might help me make the necessary connections, get attention from the proper crowd. I just haven’t figured out how yet. Or even why this is so important to me. But besides running ultras, navigating remote wooded trails with confidence, and learning to set my fractured ankle with chewing-gum and pine needles, my hope is that the Bad-Ass Back-Woods Trail Runner series will make Jeff Cann a name easily associated with trail-running literature.