Cityscape – Art in Running

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” – Jack Kerouac

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I’d been running the streets in center city Philadelphia with my friends at Back on My Feet for quite a while before I thought to photograph the murals I found at seemingly every turn. And then in November 2012 I got the idea to share the art that adorns the city with readers and posted The Art of Running, Part III – Cityscape. What followed was a series that now includes twenty posts about all types of art that makes up the urban Cityscape–sculptures, architecture, glass, murals and much more.IMG_5605

Fast forward two and a half years and I find myself Cityscape editor of the Schuylkill Valley Journal Online. Almost two decades after SVJ published their first edition in 1996, they launched an online journal in April 2015. The SVJ is part of the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center. The twists and turns along the journey of life.

photoThere is no better way to discover a new city, town or countryside than on foot. David Byrne of the Talking Heads makes a case in “Bicycle Diaries” that a two-wheeler is best. I wouldn’t disagree; whether two feet or two wheels, both keep you grounded. In fact, many of the photos I shoot are taken on jaunts around town on my two-wheeler. The point is to slow down and smell the fragrances, listen to the sounds, the music of dialect, and breathe in the culture that surrounds you. Another advantage is that tiny streets, narrow alleyways and obscure hideaways are more accessible on foot and bicycle than by any other mode of transportation.

I was born and raised in Philly, yet is wasn’t until my early morning runs that I was struck by the art that had surrounded me on the city streets my entire life. So I share the urban art of my hometown with you in the hope that you will notice and appreciate the beauty of art that make up your own Cityscape.

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Join the conversation at Schuylkill Valley Journal, and be sure to check out Cityscapes.

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Running in Paradise

“When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings. Hugging with mindfulness and concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness.” – Nhat HanhIMG_5404

Lace up for a run or a hike on St. John and you can be assured one thing–you will climb. Truth is that it’s a challenge to find a level half-mile on the island, but don’t let that deter you, the views are worth the work.

Early one morning I left my buddy’s villa and set out for a run through Cruz Bay and Chocolate Hole. Here I open a door for you to visit the tropical Caribbean paradise:

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Climb a hill through Chocolate Hole where people name their homes along streets with signs that make you smile.

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Tropical flora at every turn, spellbinding colors wherever you look, heavenly fragrances with every breath … IMG_5449

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80 year old man walking two dogs.

80-year-old man walking two dogs.

After reaching the crest overlooking the Caribbean, I started down the steep side of the hill and came upon a gentleman who looked easily to be in his 80s walking  two dogs.

He greeted me sounding chipper enough to stop me in my tracks. He smiled and in a British accent said, “Lovely morning.”

I agreed, and we went on to talk about the vitality of his aging dogs, and the need to keep moving. “That’s the trick,” he said, “Keep moving, body and mind. Not one without the other.”

IMG_5398St. John is enchanting from land and sea, whether in running shoes, a kayak, paddle board, or a Jeep. One afternoon I paddled into the cove and wove in and out of sailboats with names like Island Time and Chill that had sailed to St. John from Boston and North Carolina and St. Thomas.IMG_5435

IMG_5387We rented a Jeep Wrangler and toured from one end of the island to the other–Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, on over to Coral Bay and Hurricane Hole, to the end of Route 10 just past Haulover Bay. Along the way we encountered wildlife–donkeys, sheep, iguana, chameleon, and tropical birds galore–cuckoo, heron, hummingbird, egret, oystercatcher, warbler, pelicans dove into crystalline waters for dinner.

IMG_5444Back at Cruz Bay with running shoes laced, I stood at the top of a hill, panned across crystal blue Caribbean waters, St. Thomas in the distance, a rock-strewn dirt road below. I took a deep breath, extended my arms, Dave Matthews “Old Dirt Hill” lyrics echoing giddily in my mind, and I let go, “Screaming down that old dirt hill.” I sailed down, Caribbean breeze through matted hair patting my shoulders, sweat dripping through my beard and onto my chest, “First time without my training wheels,” and then the road skimmed the bay and my feet glided one in front of the other steadily as the road began to rise into the next winding, switchback hill, “Bring that beat back to me again.” Another challenge, another climb to the top.

FREEDOM! St. John Emancipation Commemorating 150 Years 1848-1998
FREEDOM!
St. John Emancipation
Commemorating 150 Years
1848-1998

 

 

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The Thrill is Gone

“I never wanted to be like other blues singers … I’ve never wanted to be like anyone other than myself.” – B. B. KingScreen Shot 2015-05-15 at 1.49.39 PM

B. B. King 

September 16, 1925 – May 14, 2015

Of the blues, B.B. once said, “It’s good for me when things are bad, and it’s good for me when things are good.” Ed Bradley asked him in an interview, “Do you think you will ever stop touring?” B.B. leaned back, folded his arms across his chest, smiled and said, “When the great man calls and they bury me in the ground.”

B. B. King

Legendary Blues Guitarist

 R I P

 

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The Art of Running, Part XX – Poetry in Motion

“Maxie taught Seamus the boxer’s stance and how to flow with an opponent’s punches. He bobbed and weaved like he was thirty years younger. Decades of beatings, abuse and addiction shed from him, and he transformed from a washed up has-been to a poet with bright red boxing gloves laced to his wrists.” — from Miracle on Federal Street

Dempsey and Firpo (1924) - George Bellows

Dempsey and Firpo (1924) – George Bellows

A non-poet sitting among a group of poets, I contemplate my place in the workshop. My teacher, an acclaimed poet, across from me, a playwright on one side, an admirer of Japanese poetry, and a musician/activists on the other.

I wonder: What is poetry? What is a poet?

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 8.26.17 AMMuhammad Ali was a poet in the ring who backed up his verse, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee / The hands can’t hit what the eye can’t see,” by leaving opponents sprawled on their back in the center of the ring. In fact, Ali had a poetic side that he demonstrated in July 1972 when he visited County Clare, Ireland, the birthplace of his great-grandfather, and recited poetry.

Or take Pele, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, a poet on the pitch whose elusiveness and grace left defenders diving at the space he occupied a second earlier. And who could deny that DaVinci, Beethoven, Michelangelo and Van Gogh were not poets in the mediums they mastered, the poetry expressed in their art and music. Poetry is in movement; it is in the heart, and in the soul.

There are times in the midst of a long, drenching run through the wilderness, I glide over rocks, jump over narrow streams, attack hills without a thought to exertion.

An hour behind,

an hour to go,

heart beats, mind wanders, 

I’m in the flow.

The Runner by Bucks County, PA artist Alex Cohen

The Runner by Bucks County, PA artist Alex Cohen

 

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Always Touch The Rock

“Treatment originates outside you; healing comes from within.” – Andrew Weil

Teddyuscung high on a trail

Teddyuscung sits high on a trail

I wrote my first poem for a poetry class the same place I write many of my stories, running through the wilderness. One of the woman sat listening as I read about my rollick along the trails of the Wissahickon, and when I finished, she asked, “Is your poem about Tedduscung?”

I didn’t know how to respond without sounding dumb, but took a chance and said, “The Indian?”

It turned out we were both talking about the sculpture on a cliff overlooking Wissahickon Valley Park. She went on to tell me a story about her son running away from home when he was a young boy and sleeping with Teddyuscung.

When I got home after class I did what any self-respecting poet would do–I Googled Teddy Uscum, and then Teddy Euscome, and then a dozen other variations of Teddy this and Teddy that, before I found Teddyuscung, a Lenape Indian Chief whose name means “as far as the wood’s edge.” Teddyuscung claimed to be King of the Delawares and emerged as the spokesman for the Indians of the Wyoming Valley where he lived.

Inscription on the bottom of sculpture

Inscription on the bottom of sculpture

When I researched further, I learned that it is local legend that this statue across from Forbidden Drive near Rex Avenue in Philadelphia is Teddyuscung. So I checked out the inscription on the bottom of the sculpture on my next run and found no evidence that it is in fact Teddyuscung. But urban legends are like folk tales, they are fun to tell and reveal something about ourselves.

There are many titles I can claim as my own–ex-welder, writer, author, distance runner. One title I can’t claim is poet. My poetry teacher told me that the title for my poem, “Discovery,” was ambiguous, could mean too many things. I learned that a poem title should speak to the poem, so I renamed it “Searching for Teddyuscung.” I have a lot to learn, but I’m getting it. The assignment was to write an outdoor poem with a surprise. I share with you my first poem, one I wrote while running the trails of the Wissahickon.

Searching for Teddyuscung

Up a slanted rock-strewn trail,

through thicket of green, burst

brilliant blue,

a lone oak splits

huge puffs of cotton,

Trail to the welcome unknown.

 

Around the bend

a towering rock,

Indian Rock

watches the valley below.

 

Touch the white rock,

always touch the rock.

 

Rustling leaves,

and then panting,

Black-splotched Dane,

Rembrandt!

climbs the trail.

 

Always a trail,

even where there are no trails.

Teddyuscung watching over Wissahickon Valley Park

Teddyuscung watching over Wissahickon Valley Park

Out on a ledge / off the trodden path / blaze your own trail / and take time to touch the rock / Always touch the rock.

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Twenty-Four Years to Boston Featured Spotlight Ad in PhillyFit

Twenty-four Years to Boston, the story about a blue-collar runner’s journey from the streets of Philadelphia to the Boston Marathon, is featured this month in a Spotlight Ad in PhillyFit Magazine’s website.

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Initially released in print, my memoir is now available as an eBook at Amazon Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble Nook Books.

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Funk

“If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angles.” – Tennessee WilliamsScreen Shot 2015-02-08 at 8.16.19 AM

How I run is how I write, and visa versa. When either my running or writing is off kilter, the other follows the same pattern. When the prose flow onto the page, I go for an afternoon or evening run that oftentimes exceeds my planned distance, at times stretching into the dark. And when I run like my feet no longer touch the ground my imagination is most fertile and stories appear out of thin air.

Neither are working particularly well at the moment. I am writing every day, and running most days, but both are sluggish, which sucks. I sat wondering why I’m struggling with my novel, and it hit me. The ultra marathon I ran less than two weeks ago sapped more from my body and spirit than I realized. I suppose I’m guilty of expecting to too much of my body too soon after a forty-mile drain, like an equestrian getting back on the horse instantly after a hard fall. My bad.

There are no magic formulas, no silver bullet, to getting yourself on track with your life when you are in a funk. There are no Five Steps, Seven Habits, or The Twelve Step programs that will help until you get up off your ass and take the first step. Books, classes or seminars will get you nowhere until you get up off your duff and go. It’s that simple.

So I’ve decided to switch horses–to the iron horse. I’m a cross-training advocate. I was in the best condition of my life a few years ago when I was cycling with a buddy who goes by the name of Dan-the-Bike. We’d take 40 and 50-mile jaunts on the steep hills in Bucks County, PA, and then I’d take a long run later in the day. Time to brush the dust of the bike and start cycling. Experience tells me that everything else will fall into place once I get going–the running and the writing.

It’s not alway easy, but when you get into a funk, get moving. That first step will build momentum to a second, and then a third. You will see results and your spirit will lift. Sometimes you might consider switching gears. If you are a runner, try cycling, stair-climbing, walking, even yoga. If you are a writer, try taking a class to push yourself, a workshop, or write poetry, even if you’re not a poet. The important thing is–work through it and bust the funk!Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 4.58.05 PM

 

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