Thursday, August 19, 2010


by J J Cohen

Someone asked me last night what I do to relax, and instead of the thousand smart ass remarks that came to mind (mock; translate obscure Latin; write monographs; serial kill), I answered run. My quickness to state this truth surprised me, mainly because it seems odd that something that makes me sleep deprived and at times in pain should be accounted a pleasure.

When my family is on its school-is-in-session schedule, I rise every other day at five, get on my gear, stretch, strap my iPod to my arm, and take off up, down, around and through my neighborhood. The sun is at best just inching towards the horizon. The streets hold a few early commuters and a scattering of delivery trucks. This is the only time of day during the summer when it might not feel like someone has dropped you in a humid oven. For forty-five minutes I lose myself in music and a dark, quietly transformed world, and on many days these are my only moments of true solitude.

For much of the summer I took a break from running. I knew that NCS Siena would mean late to bed and early to conference, so my running shoes stayed home. When I returned I ran once, but then we were off on our family vacation, a ship from Dover to Barcelona. Here I ran twice, and those moments of circling the deck with the sea at my side -- moments when I was also usually alone -- were so peaceful that they seem the journey's most calming. We're about to head to Maine to visit my family, our annual pilgrimage. I'll pack my gear and on several mornings I'll rise early and run a path that traces the Marginal Way, then cuts back through Perkins Cove and Ogunquit. I love this route because it's one that as I child I walked every year with my family. Running its circuit seems like encountering a me I remember from a very long time ago.

I've been doing a good deal of metaphorical running since I returned to DC: the CFP, poster, and details of the GW MEMSI objects conference; the drafts of the fellowship applications I'll file next month, in the hope that I can get a year of teaching and administrative release so that I can finally finish my stone book; the odds and ends of various publishing projects; the talks I'm giving in the fall, especially this one; a MEMSI annual report for the Powers That Be; and so on. I've also had some time with Alex and Katherine, who had no camp or other obligations last week. Alex mainly likes to "chillax" with his friends, but I convinced him to have lunch with me and hang out a few times. Katherine had a burst of creativity and started a store called "The KEC" (based on her nickname, which stands for Katherine Eleanor Cohen). She manufactured all kinds of products out of paper, from a de-electrocutor (a contraption that looks vaguely like a defibrillator made of paper plates; it removes the electricity if you get struck by lightning) to a comic book about Super Dog (who miscegenates in the end with Super Cat) and rockets that you blow with straws.

I worked on my syllabus yesterday and got my office in order for the start of classes. A good summer is coming to an end. I'll miss the openness that has come with the absence of a rigid schedule, but I'm also looking forward to being back. I miss running.

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