Marathons, Baselines, and the High Ponytail
Art Camp 2014
by Jenny Doh
THE HIGH PONYTAIL
I’ve been here before. With Terri, and with many others who are in this room, to help us focus on the value of art and creativity. The value of art and creativity.
Since the last time I was here at art camp, I’ve aged. And so have you. We all have.
Another thing that has changed since I was here last is my hairstyle. Last time I spoke at art camp, my hair was short but now, after patiently growing it out for over a year, it is finally long enough to wear in a high ponytail. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll share with you that one of the many reasons why I love wearing it in a high ponytail is that it gives my face a natural lift! A natural facelift without having to go to a plastic surgeon! I love it. So most likely these days, when you've seen me, you’ve seen me wearing a high pony tail … but I also hope that I have the strength of character to occasionally let my hair down and to comfortably be with myself and with everyone else without the benefits of a high ponytail.
There are two books that I’ve recently read that I want to reference in this talk. One is The Great Gatsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald and the other is a piece of non-fiction written by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Aside from writing novels, Murakami has been an avid runner for many years. Since the time he was in his 30s, he started to run marathons and then eventually doing triatholons. By the way, a marathon is 26 miles in length. And Murakami was born in 1949 which makes him now 65 years old.
In his memoirs, he describes his running life with irresistible humility … he describes it as an activity that he was dedicated to … not to become a marathoner per se, but to be someone who decided to consistently do an activity that simply put, was suited for him and his personality.
He goes on to explain something that happened to his running. He says that he reached his peak in terms of speed in his late 40s, where he could run 26 miles in about 3 hours and 40 minutes. He says that even on his off days, it was inconceivable for him to not meet his baseline of coming in under the 4-hour mark for a 26-mile run. But he describes that as he was getting older, he was shocked to find that regardless of his consistency and dedication, the time it took for him to complete a 26-mile run started to consistently fall below the baseline.
He realized that though his efforts and sincerity remained steadfast, the effects that age was having on his body in terms of speed was beyond his sincerity and beyond his control. He could no longer beat the time that he could run as a 40-something person when he was now a 50-something person. With the change in season, a new baseline would need to emerge.
I’m not sure if any of us are marathon runners. I know that I’m not. But I do like to do things like running and boxing and other things that suit me, to stay in shape. My son likes to swim because that’s what suits him. My husband likes to run and bike and those activities suit him. And in my own universe of fitness, I do have goals that I set and try to beat. But like Murakami I have also realized as of late, as a woman in her late 40s rather than in her early 30s, that no matter how disciplined I am, there are certain baselines that I need to occasionally reformulate, as I recognize and accept the effects of time, aging, and gravity.
THE GREAT GATSY
After reading The Great Gatsby, I saw the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy. I thought both the book and the movie were great.
In the movie, there’s a scene where Gatsy has Daisy over to his home, so that he can show her that through lots of work over several years, he has made something of himself … a house, cars, clothes, parties, servants … fruits of labor that served as evidence that Gatsby is worthy of Daisy’s love. As they are soaking it all in, the married Daisy says to Gatsby that she wishes that they could run away. To which Gatsby responds with confused alarm … Run away?! No, we’re not gonna run away. This is what I’ve built for us. This is reality. I want us to stay. I want us to embrace all of this. I want you to declare that you love me. I want you to embrace what I’ve built and accept it as our destiny.
I won’t spoil the plotline for those who have yet to experience the entire story … but I want to segue from this scene between Gatsby and Daisy to the other big change aside from my ponytail that has happened to me since the last time I was here at art camp.
SISTER TO ONE BROTHER
When I was here at art camp last time, I was sister to two brothers. Today as I stand before you, I am sister to one brother. I have been very open and honest and public about the fact that last Thanksgiving I lost my brother Jinil to suicide.
When that happened, I was so struck with grief and found tears pouring out of me 24 hours a day that I was convinced that I would forever be a person who would be crying all the time. I was convinced that there would never be a day when my heart would not feel completely torn and completely broken.
I was convinced that even though the sun would rise, I would never again feel its warmth. Oh how I wished like Daisy to be able to run away.
If speed were the only measurement that Murakami the runner would use to value the act of running, he may have thrown in the towel and stopped the activity that so suits him because his declining speed would be evidence of running losing value to his life.
Thankfully, Murakami shares that though speed has been an interesting measurement, it has not been the primary reason that he values running. He values running because of how it makes him feel. Whether he runs a mile in 4 5 6 7 8 9 or 10 minutes, he does so not because of how many minutes it takes, but because he loves how it makes him feel, at any pace.
An interesting note that Murakami makes is about art. He points out that though activities like running require new baselines as humans age, there are certain activities like art with many examples of where the finest and most brilliant works are created by artists in their later life seasons. For example, Dostoyevsky wrote his two most profound novels including The Brothers Karamazov in the last few years of his life. Scarlatti wrote most of his piano sonatas during the ages of 57 and 62. Henri Matisse dazzled us with his masterful paper cutouts also during his later years, something he did when he could no longer keep up with the physical rigors of painting.
Perhaps all of this is so because it takes decades of running, walking, cycling swimming, cooking, singing, painting, paper cutting, soldering, wire wrapping or dollmaking for us to sincerely build up a beautiful patina of wisdom … a patina that can’t be hurried … a patina where we have the strength of character to give birth to new baselines of discovery where we honestly embrace all of the joys and tragedies of life.
In a year’s time, my grief for Jinil is still there but it looks very different. By embracing the sadness, I’ve also been able to embrace joy. By not running away and accepting the reality of my destiny and life season, including the highs and lows, I feel that every facet of my life has become enriched for the better.
I am excited to be here as together we share laughs as we pull our hair up if we want to, share tears and let it down when we want to, as we create beautiful art. But more importantly, as we continue to develop a strength of character and beautiful patina of wisdom from where we can honestly celebrate baselines from the past and accept the new and beautiful baselines that have yet to blossom in each of our lives.
Per the invitation of Terri Brush, I was honored to deliver this speech to Art Camp 13, October 25, 2014, in Lincoln City, Oregon.