On the Run in Rio

In 2011, I ran the Rio de Janeiro Marathon.

Sort of.

While this picture shows me running in the race, I wasn’t a registered runner. Instead, I was running alongside Rebecca, above in pink, as she knocked another marathon off of her ‘7 marathons on 7 continents’ challenge. We’d met the day before in line for Christ the Redeemer (or rather, she allowed us to cut the line and join her), and when she mentioned that she’d be doing a marathon the next day, I offered to tag along.

My own willingness to run surprised me, as just four months before, I had been sitting in a coffee shop in Pasadena, hiding from the rain, and as far removed as I could get from the running of the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon. I had been hurt training for it (though in retrospect, running 40 miles a week while sleeping three hours each weeknight wasn’t really laying the groundwork for success), and still felt hurt that I couldn’t be a part of it – especially because it was raining. Who doesn’t love running in the rain!? I’m sure I even called my family at one point during that angst-ridden winter and declared myself unfit to ever run a marathon, and I would never, ever try again.

Yet, here I was, in Brazil, offering to run a marathon, or at least, part of one. I had kept running after professing my disinterest in marathons. Maybe that consistency emboldened me. Maybe it was the possibility of Adventure. Whatever it was, she took me up on the offer, and we made a plan to meet around Mile 9, and jog together to the finish. That morning, my friend Chris and I positioned ourselves in wait, and waited.

And waited.

And, 30 minutes or so after we expected her, I ran upstream to find her. I found her around Mile 5, walk-running through a tweaked leg injury. Together, we made it along the rest of the course (including Mile 22, better known at the Copacabana Beach), and found Chris at the end, chasing a beer he’d just had with an ice cream bar. I stepped off the course after a total of about 25 miles, and Chris and I cheered her to the finish line.

Despite the spontaneous joy of the Rio race, I don’t have a great relationship with marathons. My record of completing the ones I sign up for is spotty. I’ve signed up for nine. The next one, this July in Santa Barbara, would be the eighth of those. The ninth is later this summer in Colorado.

I’ve completed three.

The most recent three that I didn’t complete – Catalina, Tamalpa Headlands, and Surfer’s Point – came at the tail end of busy periods in television. I convinced myself while signing up for each one that this race would be different, my schedule more forgiving, or, at the very least, that my scheduling skills were more refined. The results, and the DNSs (Did Not Starts), say otherwise.

Like LeBron’s finals record, my marathon appearance record is about to be 3-5 (as I’ve downgraded my July race to the half-marathon). Laying it out like that makes it harder to identify as a marathoner, while also making it far too easy to embrace being a runner, with the hope that each new race will bring with it a better outcome.

That optimism, the desire to keep going against solid evidence against my ability to train for and race long distances, often clouds my better judgment, as I can’t dispense with the foolhardy idea that I can do everything while sacrificing nothing.

Still, I remain hopeful. I’m scaling back the marathon ambitions for the next few months, allowing my body to heal over more manageable miles, and striving for consistency.

After all, it was that consistency that put me in a position to say yes to an impromptu marathon before. Maybe that’s the evidence worth looking at.

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Sharpies and Shoes: My College Muses

Given that I made three stop-motion animations solely about drawing on shoes, another animated short about a shoe stampede, and a short film about finding your true love called Sole Mates (surprise: it features shoes), it’s fair to say shoes were something of a muse during college.

So today I’m taking a look back at a series of stop-motion animations that feature Sharpies and Shoes that I made each year of college to see if there’s anything to be learned.

Sharpie Shoes 1 (2007): Frustrated by a gooey brownie stain you can see at 00:01, I lay down on my not-so-clean dorm room floor freshman year, and got a doodling. You can see how flimsy the camera stand was because it dips ever so slowly the more I press the shutter. Besides that dynamic error, the shot is static. The shoe isn’t stuffed with anything, so the tongue is flapping around. And yet, without this little adventure, would any of the others have come to be?

Sharpie Shoes 2 (2008): A major improvement in every conceivable sense. Well, except for actually planning out the art ahead of time. Despite not doing that, I remain impressed with how the visuals turned out. Different camera angles, rotating shoes, different pen thicknesses, and music… how much better could it get?!

Sharpie Shoes 3 (2009): Oh, how I’d grown as an artist by my junior year. Just before a spring break trip to Japan, I propped my shoes up on our apartment’s dining room table and set to work. I gave more thought to the composition of each individual shot (is that… depth of field?!), the sound design, and the art itself. Somehow, the shoe actually bears a passing resemblance to Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa.


Finally, my senior year. To make sure I went out with a bang, I put together what looks like a thesis film compared to the others. There are shoe extras, stunts, and, yep, still some sharpie animations. What’d you expect? I had to go 4 for 4.

So, without further ado, here is Stampede (2010): a story of dramatic rescues, angry mobs and stunning heroics.

(At least, that was the intention. Re-watching it now, I get maybe 70% of that ambitious storytelling. You be the judge.)

I feel a certain fondness for this progression; I also feel a reverence for the process. Each video leans so heavily on the one before it. Without the mistakes and the lessons of the first, the second wouldn’t have been as strong. Without the improvements of the second, the third wouldn’t have been as refined. Without all three, I would not have had the confidence to make a short film. Yet, finishing college with an animated short film about shoes wasn’t what I was thinking about the night I spilled dessert goop on my shoe.

So, while we can’t always see what we’re building up to, there are still so many reasons to keep building on what we’ve done.

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Finding Forever Homes for Adopted Dinosaurs

Royce Hall Dinosaur

In 2008, I had a room to myself at UCLA, and time on my hands. With that, my room became a production studio where I worked on animations, stop motion shoes, short films, scripts, projects and nonsense ideas, including an animated a 4-episode-long time travel series featuring Albert Einstein and short films about shoes and recycling (separate films, though, maybe there’s something cinematic about recycling shoes…). In short, it was a pretty productive year. Also, I went to class.

One of the sillier ideas I took on during that time was Adopt A Dino. Somehow (and this may have been related to a time-traveling Einstein) I ended up with a tube of plastic dinosaurs. Rather than risk stepping on them in the night, my friend Camille and I wrote index card-length adoption pleas for each of 30 different dinosaurs, took them out one morning around 5am, and placed them all around campus. On one side of the cards was the adoption please, and on the other, our Adopt-a-Dino e-mail address, just in case anyone wanted to send us their heart-warming stories of dinosaurs finding their forever homes.

Again, it’s a silly idea.

Our hope was to delight a person or two as they went about their day, be they a math student, law professor, coach or staff. We scattered these dinos across the graduate schools of business and law, both north and south campus, in front of the library, on Janss steps, and around the dorms.

Ultimately, we heard back from three dinosaurs (and their new families). The notes are below.

Dinosaur #1

The first photo is the one featured above came back without any note. It’s a dinosaur and Royce Hall. The sun is just rising. Some event is being set up. Likely, this Tyrannosaur is roaring along with the hourly bells. Though I don’t know about the home he found, I know he’s in good hands.

Royce Hall Dinosaur

Dinosaur #2

The second note came via a director at the UCLA Fusion Science & Technology Center:

Just wanted to let you know that I found a home today!
Some really big dude adopted me and brought me to his office. I love it here. Everything is green, just like me. And I have already made a lot of friends.
There’s an alligator, a fish, a frog and a bear. And so far, they all seem very nice and have made me feel very welcome.

Gotta go now. Time for me to explore more of my new home.

Mark (the dino)

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I couldn’t have dreamed of a better home. Big dudes, green things, and friends? That’s going to be tough to beat.

Dinosaur #3

Our little project was never any bigger an idea than scattering toy dinosaurs on a college campus, with biographies written in Sharpie on flimsy index cards. It’s a little project that we hoped might be a little fun for us, and a little silly to someone else. That anyone would indulge us by writing back was a nice surprise.

And then we got the third note.

Dear Whomever,

Just wanted to let you know what happened to the dino.

I teach writing at UCLA.  I had arranged for 33 4th grade students to come to campus today to interview my students about writing.

Last week, one of the 4th graders, a high-functioning autistic boy, flipped out, screaming he couldn’t, wouldn’t, absolutely no way go to UCLA!  When the 4th graders’ teacher told me Max wasn’t coming, I had to reassign my student who was going to interview him to join another 4th grader.  Yesterday I found out that Max had changed his mind.   He was coming to campus, but didn’t want to interview anyone, just wanted to go on the tour part of the visit.

On the way to campus I realized something horrible.  My students had decided that they would each get a little gift to give to the 4th graders.   Max, having no partner, would get no gift.  I felt terrible.   I had no time to run to the student store to get something.   I was trying to remember if there was anything in my office I could give him.  As I walked past the inverted fountain to my office in the Humanities building, still fretting about what to do, I saw something….

…a little dinosaur.  And Max had his gift.

When all the other kids walked out of their interviews holding their little stuffed bears, baseball caps, journals, t-shirts (and two 4th graders received footballs signed by the UCLA football team!), I handed Max his gift.

Thank you for brightening the day of a young boy who struggles so hard to get through life.

S.

Now, we had no way of knowing this would happen.

But we do know, as self-evident as it is, that it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t done anything.

I wish I could say this inspired me on a journey to start dozens and dozens of public arts projects, as I endeavored to brighten and uplift spirits young and old, in places near and far, for nine years and counting.

But it hasn’t.

Instead, this note reminds me that the little gestures, the ones you unknowingly make at the beginning or end of your day, in traffic or in class, with coworkers and with strangers, have unknowable impacts. And though they may be hit or miss, though you may only hear back about three of those 30 dinosaurs (I just have to believe that those other 27 found good homes…), some good will still come of it.

So, send those dinosaurs out there. You never know who needs one.

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