Monthly Archives: March 2015

Honey for the Bears

Honey for the Bears – Anthony Burgess

As a favor to a deceased friend and his widow, Paul and his wife Belinda agree to travel to the USSR on a holiday to carry on his friend’s black market dealings in drilon dresses. Even before Paul and Belinda set foot in the USSR, the whole scheme seems fraught with hazards. While still aboard the ship, Belinda develops a rash and overly friendly crew members become overly familiar with the couple and their suitcases. Although they clear customs easily enough. Paul immediately sets out to stow the dresses while Belinda recovers. His first journey to the hotel and back lands him with two police acquaintances that proceed to track him throughout his time in Leningrad, and he returns to the ship to discover his wife missing. While she convalesces in a Soviet hospital, Paul putters around Leningrad providing English lessons while peddling black market, capitalist goods, making both strategic alliances and enemies. When Belinda finally determines she will not leave the USSR with Paul, he sets out to finish his dealings with the drilon dresses, picks up another traveling companion, and embarks on what he supposes will be his final voyage from Leningrad.

“Honey for the Bears” by Anthony Burgess is an absurd misadventure of the meeting and mingling of societies and cultures, played out at the individual level between Paul and his various acquaintances, and at a broader level in the critiques of capitalism and communism. Burgess is skilled in exaggeration, describing Soviet characters that cycle quickly between the soaring joy and pride of the beauty of the USSR to an unsettled gloom that is both all-encompassing and vague because it has no clearly defined parameters. In addition to transgressing national and economic boundaries, Burgess’s characters also challenge social norms. While Paul sells dresses, he encounters more than one business partner that defies binary gender stereotypes, and both Paul and Belinda display latent and blatant queer behaviors. The series of mishaps and unfortunate (or sometimes fortunate) encounters that Paul experiences add comedy to the novel, and also emphasize the connections between the perceived dualities. Coming from a capitalist country to the communist USSR, he now lives a life that encompasses both. The severity of reality is lessened through impractical and unbelievable circumstances. By exaggerating the differences of polar opposites then uniting them in one story, Burgess tells a story that is comprehensive, vague, and worth further contemplation.

There were quite a few positive aspects of this book. The characters were funny, the plot was funny, the book overall is funny. Absurd, ridiculous, and silly would be good synonyms. I got hung up on a few details, though. Burgess jumps right into the story without giving much background, and it took me a while to figure out what was happening to who, and why I cared as the reader. Also, because the story is set in the USSR, Burgess often includes snippets of Russian and occasionally French (I think), which hinders the readability of the novel. But generally an excellent and enjoyable novel.

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Runners are People Too (AKA I’m No Superwoman)

I had a lovely conversation recently about running (although most of my conversations about running are lovely, so that’s not exactly a distinguishing description) with some friends who are preparing for upcoming running goals. Both of them have their first 5K in sight and were looking for some tips, wisdom, and motivation (which is where I come in, apparently). This conversation was particularly lovely because it gave me the opportunity to reminisce on the evolution of my running since my first ever attempt at running for exercise. What I was not expecting was that they seemed somewhat surprised that I had any stories of failure, frustration, or disgruntled-ness when it comes to running. Yes, I have some fabulous running stories to tell (which I will probably retell until the day I die), but what I hoped to convey to my friends was that these accomplishments didn’t happen because I’m infallible; they happened because I’m human and working hard in pursuit of something I love. I wanted to share some of my takeaways from the conversation.

Running is always wonderful and always hard
I could go on and on for eternity about the benefits of running. It helps me sleep better, eat healthier, drink more water and have more energy. When I run regularly, I feel more positive, alert, and better able to respond to whatever life throws at me. It’s a stress relief and miraculous solution to all life problems. It also sucks. It places continuous demands on physical, mental, and emotional stamina and can be brutally unforgiving when you try to exceed your limits. Seriously. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been smacked down by the hand of God. The beauty of running comes from the fine balance between the positive and the negative. Running is liberating and humbling, and exponentially more rewarding because it encompasses both the good and the bad.

Be gentle and forgiving with yourself
Training and training plans were other concerns that came up in the conversation. The internet is full of training plans and rigorous schedules that strictly delineate activity, rest ,and everything in between. Training plans may outline the ideal situation in which one prepares for a race, but training plans in no way reflect reality. I have not successfully completed a single training plan because I always end up taking time off due to illness, injury, icy roads (meaning, I wimp out because the weather is kinda gross), or some other complicating factor. Life happens, and it usually gets in the way of my best-laid plans. The only option is to adjust and move forward, whether that means moving in roughly the same direction or toward an entirely new goal. Training won’t happen according exactly to plan, and that’s OK. You can still run, you can still train, and you can still work toward your goals even if you miss a few days (or more!).

Figure out what brings you back
There will always be challenges to running. If nothing else, it is physically taxing on your body. When running is particularly unforgiving, it is important to figure out what will bring you back to running. If running sucks, it may not be in your best interest to slog through 20 torturous minutes. Sure, these experiences may be character-building, but they can also be passion-destroying. Like anything else in life, it may help to take some time off. Stay active with something else until you feel like you can return to running and try again. Decide for yourself what is unique about the experience and benefit of running that is worth your time, effort, and discomfort to achieve it. Even when I swear off running in a fit of sullen angst, I eventually find myself seeking the respite it provides.

Yes, running is particularly wonderful when the fates align for a perfect running experience, but those aren’t the only stories, or even most of the stories, I have to tell about running (I just tell those stories very thoroughly and frequently). Running also involves every step along the way that contributes to the perfect running experience. Some of those steps area really easy, but most of them are harder. I’d hazard a guess that this is a fairly universal experience.

running quote

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