Last Saturday, I ran fifteen miles, the first five of which I ran alone. I listen to music when I run solo, and I chose the latest release by a band called Gorguts, titled Pleiades’ Dust, to be the soundtrack to the first leg. The record is a single 33-minute doomy, guttural, meandering death metal song, and, as such, was perhaps not the best choice for a run. It was like Pink Floyd music in the sense that, while it’s quite good, it doesn’t inspire me to greater athletic achievement so much as it makes me want to kill myself. It’s not happy music, and it didn’t do much to improve my mood, which was still wallowing in the struggles of my job.
After getting through the first five miles, and the half-hour ode to despondency that is the Gorguts record, I met up with a co-worker to run five more miles together. We took the opportunity to debrief our week at work, which was only slightly less full of despair than Pleiades’ Dust. However, the opportunity to talk to someone who’s having the same struggles offers a certain comfort. For the final five miles, another friend joined us, and we spent the time sharing anecdotes that were decidedly more mirth-filled and a good distraction from work worries. I was proud of myself running a full fifteen miles, but I was happier about being out there with friends. For the past year, I’ve logged a lot of runs with other people, and it’s taught me how lonely the solo miles can be. These days, I’d rather run five miles with a friend than a marathon by myself (with or without Gorguts’ collected works as a soundtrack).
On Sunday, in preparation for a family Fourth of July celebration, I spent ten hours smoking a brisket by myself. There is very little my family can do to assist in the barbecue process as the work involves a tremendous amount of sitting and fretting. If you haven’t had the pleasure of fretting over a nine-pound slab of cow chest, I encourage you to read this blog post about how to cook a brisket. It is illuminating and hilarious (and laced with profanity; you’ve been warned). To some extent, laboring over smoke and fire all day is a diversion from thinking about laboring at the office, and reaching the end of a ten-hour smoke with a beautiful “cuts-like-butter” brisket is a satisfying accomplishment, similar to finishing a fifteen mile run. The real satisfaction, though, is sharing the brisket with my family. Spending that much time preparing one meal would be meaningless without sharing it with others. I love brisket, but eating nine pounds of it by myself would be more depressing than a Gorguts record.
Next weekend, I am planning another barbecue-oriented event: an informal reunion of a few college friends. I will be grilling a variety of proteins for my freshman year dorm mates, and I’m hopeful they will be impressed with my charcoal cuisine prowess. When last we all spent time together, our dietary staples were more Top Ramen and canned soup than pulled pork and fajitas. In addition to currying favor, I’m planning to ask them how their respective career-thing is working out. It’s been 25 years since we graduated college, which, if you do the math, means 29 years since high school and, by further extrapolation, 30 years since we were, legally speaking, children unfettered by career worries. My dinner guests and I all started the journey towards a career together, and I wonder how it’s going for them. Do they stress, struggle, worry, and fret over politics and paychecks, too? Where did we all get it right or wrong along the way? When we made our grand plans as freshman – an apt label, is it not? – we had the same idea in mind: a happy life. None of us knew what that meant, of course, but we jumped into the adventure with fervor. 30 years after becoming adults, we’ve each been fretting, working, running, cooking, and listening to questionable music in our own way, and I need to test my thinking with them. That is, I think it’s not about the job, the finish line, the food, or the band; it’s about the people with whom you fret, work, run, eat, and listen to music. The people you serve, feed, and support. The ones who make you laugh and cry, the ones who help you up when you fall, and the ones who hold you close when you need it. That’s what I’m thinking.
I also think I need to get back to my party planning. I have the menu and decorations figured out, so I just need to pick out the background music. I should listen to some of Gorguts’ earlier stuff. Maybe it’s cheerier.