Archive for October, 2009
Years ago, during the dark period of my life, daily, morning runs were the only thing that kept me from falling into the abyss. Those early morning runs were a necessary not only to get me out of bed but give me the push I needed to make it through another day alone.
One January morning as I was getting dressed, I could feel the wind shake the house and listened as bits of snow and ice were thrown against the window. I knew it was going to be well below zero. I paused and thought about getting back under the covers for another hour or taking a hot shower. But inside I knew I had to run—even if only a couple miles—because I knew that staying home and doing nothing would be worse in the long run.
So I put on extra layers and headed out into the cold. Thirty minutes later I finished a four mile run. Even though I was chilled to the bone, I felt like I had just climbed Mt. Everest. There was something about enduring the elements that made feel like I could take on whatever life was going to throw at me.
Ever since then I’ve enjoyed running when the weather is less than perfect.
Especially the rain.
There’s something invigorating about having big drops of water splashing in my face and soaking my clothes. I love splashing through puddles as I run and feeling my hair stick to my face.
Part the reason is because rain in Utah is a rare treat. When it does rain, it comes in 10 minute or 15 minutes bursts before the sun returns. Seldom have I been able to do an entire run in a good rain.
So as soon as I saw the ran coming down last week, I quickly got into my running clothes and headed out the door, hoping that it would last for a mile or two.
By the end of the first mile there were still gray clouds everywhere and it showed no signs of letting up.
By the end of the second mile I was soaked and loving my run, happy that it was raining harder than it was when I started.
By the end of the third mile I looked to the west and could see the end of the storm.
So I picked up the pace, determined to finish the run before the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Seconds after finishing the fourth and final mile the rain stopped and the sun came out.
Breathless I pumped my fists in the air, grateful that I been able to enjoy 30 minutes of running in the rain and had another a chance to remind myself that whatever challenges I’m going through, I will overcome them.
October 20th, 2009
Even though I love history, I rarely read historical fiction. The reason? I’d rather read a well-written historical account of real people than a book about made up people living during past events. But when asked if I was interested in an advance reader’s copy of Am I not a Man? The Dred Scott Story I agreed to read and review it since I was curious to see if Utah Attorney General, Mark Shurtleff, could pull off a compelling account of a real people and events and put them into novelized form.
Much to my surprise, Shurtleff did a good job of weaving his research with his storytelling abilities. The result is a compelling read that tells the story of Dred Scott while examining the complex issue of slavery in the United States.
(For those who need of a quick history refresher, Dred Scott was slave who sued for his freedom. The result was the infamous Dred Scott v. Stanford decision where the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that persons of African descent could not be considered citizens of the United States under the U.S. Constitution.)
Am I not a Man? gives a detailed and fascinating account of the life of Scott and his fight for freedom and equality. What makes the book worth reading isn’t just learning about Scott’s undying desire to become a free man, but the human face Shurtleff puts on Scott, his family, his supporters, and his enemies. People are always complex creatures and Shurtleff does a good job of making Scott and others come alive in the book.
Shurtleff also does an excellent job of describing the complex issue of slavery and the strong emotions it evoked in people on both sides of the debate. After reading Am I not a Man? it’s easier to understand why the issue tore families apart and let to the costliest war the United States has ever fought.
Since Shurtleff is an attorney, he does a great job of unraveling the reasons behind the Supreme Court’s decision and examining the legal and political consequences—the biggest one being the election of our nation’s greatest president—Abraham Lincoln. But even when talking about reasons for the decision, Shrutleff is able to telling them in such a way that the reader is seldom, if ever, bored.
My only complaint with the book is I wanted to know how much literary license Shrutleff took some of the characters and certain incidents in the book. Shurtleff does go out of his way to say that the book is historical fiction and based upon real people and his own research and that some liberties had to be taken—just not how much. (So, Mark, if you ever read this, I’d love to sit down with you and talk about how you weaved this story together. It’s more to satiate my own curiosity about the writing process.)
Despite this one issue, I found the book to be a worthwhile read and would recommended it not only to those who enjoy historical fiction but also to those who enjoy stories of people with unconquerable spirits to fight injustice and inequality.
The lessons of Am I not a Man? are just as relevant today as they were during Scott’s life. Freedom is something that is easily taken away but not easily regained. The fight for freedom is difficult to obtain and often takes a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears to achieve. Scott’s story is a good reminder that freedom comes with a price and we should always be vigilant to protect it.
Four stars (out of five) for Am I not a Man? The Dred Scott Story by Mark Shurtleff.
UPDATE: The publisher is classifying Am I not a Man as an historical novel rather than historical fiction. The history is accurate but the literary license Shurtleff was in the dialogue.
October 14th, 2009
One of my earliest memories is attending a college football game with my dad. I was four or five at the time when he took me to Romney Stadium to watch Utah State take on BYU. I don’t remember who won but I do remember sitting near the top of the stadium watching a packed stadium of people enjoy the game. I also remember feeling really special that I could go to such a big event with my dad who was usually busy working to support a family and trying to finish his MFA.
As the years passed, my dad and I bonded a lot over football. There were Denver Broncos games that were watched fairly religiously every Sunday and a period of a few years when I was a teenager when he bought a family pass to Utah State games and most Saturdays would take the hour drive to Logan and watch most of their home games. Those were good times–even if Utah State fielded an awful team (and even worse schedule) year after year.
Though I don’t watch as much football as I did ten or even fifteen years ago, I still watch it and, recently, the two oldest boys have enjoyed watching it with me. After seeing their interest in the sport (or at least their interest in spending time with Dad), this weekend I took them up to Ogden so they could watch their first college football game and get some good bonding time with dad.
Taking 5- and 3-year-old boys to a game was somewhat of a gamble since I didn’t know if they’d have an attention span to sit through a three hour game. Unlike watching a game at home where they can sit on the couch for five minutes, go play with toys, and then come back to the couch, they wouldn’t have many entertainment options at the game.
On the other hand, if I was going to take them to a game, Weber State games are a great environment for kids to develop an interest in the game. Since Weber State plays in the football championship subdivision and has three Division I teams within a 90 minute drive of their stadium, most college football fans in the state don’t even know or care what the Wildcats are doing. The fans that do show up are passionate without being over-the-top about their team. And since the 15,000 seat stadium is usually half-full, there’s plenty of room for little kids to spread out and run around if they get restless. And since the stadium is small, there’s not a bad seat in the house so they’re always close to the action.
We showed up to the game 10 minutes before kickoff. I bought the boys some kettle corn and something to drink and we settled into the general admission seats just as the game started.
The boys were too busy munching kettle corn to pay much attention to the first few minutes of the game. But once the settled down, I was surprised by how much they actually watched the game. They learned to cheer when “the purple team” did something good and “the white team” messed up. By halftime the 5 year old was able to read the scoreboard. And in the third quarter, when the 3 year old got tired, he simply used Dad’s leg as a pillow for a quarter but kept his eyes on the field and would occasionally ask a question about what happened.
But they were both awake and active through the fourth quarter, and, in the end, they sat through the whole game. And even though Weber State lost, as we climbed in the van to go home both boys told me how much fun they had and asked if we could go to another game soon.
I told them there was another game in two weeks and, if they wanted, I’d take them to it.
The boys excitedly said “Yes!”
As I drove home and listened to the boys talk to each other and laugh, I realized that, as a dad, I couldn’t have asked for a better afternoon with my sons.
October 6th, 2009