Never not surprised

It’s raining here in LA. The river outside of my apartment is threatening the limits of its embankments with milky rapids, a striking difference to the concrete-ensconced trickle we’re used to. In certain parts, it has flooded over and rendered the Glendale Narrows bike path unusable.

Earlier today, I ran through Griffith Park. Thanks to some flooding, several portions of the road were closed off to traffic and I got to luxuriate (I like to make airplane arms at least once a run) in the open space with a few other runners as we smiled, gliding through the drizzle, past the golf course, into some grey beyond.

That I can now run to Griffith Park, up into its mountains (hills?), and around its perimeter is not lost on me. I chose this apartment a year ago because it is a freeway overpass from one of the biggest parks in the country, from dirt trails to quiet, winding peaks a world away from always rush hour traffic. A year ago, I couldn’t run without pain. And yet, here I am now, a year later, running (there’s still pain, but that’s because we played pick-up basketball last week and I’ve aged terribly but also apparently I can still almost dunk so take that, 30s).

After a year of stops and starts, of attempting one run my last morning in Barcelona (while getting propositioned by a prostitute at dawn) in March and one run my last night in Montpellier (to find vending machines that sold what couldn’t be bought at closed drugstores) in April, of a few sweaty sunrise treadmill efforts while looking out over Kigali in July, and some barefoot runs along the Kenyan coast in August, it wasn’t until December that I felt I could do more than run once a week.

Now, a year later, though some things are back to the way they once were, they are also so different from a year ago.

I’m never not surprised by the difference a year makes.

A year ago, instead of the joys of cold rain and wind and Escalades plowing through deep ditches of water and covering me head-to-toe in my very own land tsunami, I sat in the shower for too long, letting the water cascade over me until it ran cold. I’d written a book, but the extra copies lay dormant in boxes, the momentum to promote it stopped cold. I got up for work every day and played San Holo and Droeloe as loud as the speakers in a 2004 Honda CRV allowed because that’s what I needed to stay up, and to get through it.

Here, now, a year later, things are different. Though the books remain in boxes, the showers are less dramatic. There’s less electronic music and more reggaeton. Before writing to you, I was working on a few letters in Spanish and French. One is to reach out to universities in Bogotá to see if they’re interested in some random American TV producer (hi!) sharing his experience and answering questions about television production. I’ll be in Colombia for a month, and I figure maybe I can be useful (I work for a talk show, so why not talk about talk shows, too?). The other letters are to vineyards and wineries throughout France for the summertime, because the memories I can’t shake from last year are the ones from Montpellier.

It is easy to think about Montpellier, the stone-lined alleyways, that clear night dance-walking home in the middle of the street after a midnight bus ride, those steps where we first got to know each other and snuck off that last night after escargots. I placed into a French class higher than I probably should have, but found in those moments that I could compensate by being eager and by speaking up, something I’d never really done in years of language classes before. Going to Montpellier was, put simply, a good decision.

But it’s never not surprising to to see the emotional, physical, and creative swings from year to year. To know that “This Too Shall Pass” applies equally to bad things and good ones. The strength I had to run 50 kilometers certainly passed. The creative momentum of publishing a book did, too. That I opened my cupboard to see a photo collage travel coffee mug only to realize the four ladies on it who were daily fixtures have all gone their separate ways. Those moments, of thinking about what was only a year ago, are what surprise me.

A year ago, I had the inklings to start up French, and through a few twists, that led to rekindling Spanish, too. When people hear I’m working with a tutor, they say something along the lines of “Hey! You’re learning Spanish! How fun for you!” Which, yes, it is fun. But I don’t think it takes into consideration that, aside from my on-and-off relationship with the guitar, there hasn’t been a more constant interest for me over the last 20 years. It certainly waned as television took the forefront, but it never went away. So the perspective from a year ago to now is certainly surprising, but maybe it’s time to stop cherry picking year points, and start seeing how things connect more broadly.

Griffith Park wasn’t always across the street. I used to run to it from my old apartment, logging 15 or 20 miles in one go. I’ve also run a trail marathon there. And yet, even though I’m hovering at the 5 and 6 mile mark, jogging alongside the ghosts of past multi-hour runs, the ghosts of a runners in different relationships and at different jobs (and one particularly annoying ghost from five years ago that could run 1:29 half-marathons), I’m running. I didn’t a year ago, but I am now. I picked this apartment in the hopes that I’d be able to run around Griffith as often as I wanted, but it wasn’t picked with the hopes of *finally* running at Griffith. It’s something I’ve done for years. Though those runs may not have happened in the first year, they’re happening now.

11 months ago, I said I was not my February. I was not a month that felt brutal and inconsistent and separated me from the things I felt defined me. In that vein, I need to be more generous about my years, too. While it’s a true a lot changes in a year, maybe it’s not attacking the rise and fall of each project or of total words written, but embracing that, year in and year out, there’s been creativity. Some years are filled with more miles, or more trips, or more work. But maybe it’s just as true I am not my last year, either, or at least I’m more than the start and end points.

Maybe instead of the jarring surprise of two points a year apart, it’s more about the pleasant appreciation of the time between and what we can do in a year and how far we’ve come.

Better yet, maybe it’s to know that as much as I tend to look back, there is still so much more to look forward to.

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