Ben Tanzer, writer-editor of This Blog Will Change Your Life (with its ally This Zine Will Change Your Life) is also a published novelist whose most recent published work is a series of essays on running and thinking about writing stories while running and worrying about the rest of it--health, kids, time, etc.--yeah, while running. But in fact, the book will leave you feeling positive about Ben's life and perhaps even your own. At least, that's how it left me. It's called 99 Problems: essays about running and writing. (Be sure to follow that last link to learn more about the "pay what you want" publishing system and find cool links to the author and publisher's thoughts on producing this book.)
As it turns out, I found Ben's blog through another writer we've both connected with very recently, but Ben and I played on the same team in an Ultimate tournament in 1993, and we know many of the same frisbee players from the New York/New England scene of the late eighties and early nineties (particularly from the Stuyvesant/Bronx Science roots of that extended tree). This includes the ultimate of Ultimate legends Ben Usadi who organized the team for that spring club regionals years ago.
Anyway, I read all of 99 Problems the night I received it. It's in e-book format but short enough to be read in one sitting. Ben's writing style is clear and engaging, and his "I" in these essays is likeable and you want to see him successfully complete the stories he is dreaming up while running--or at least break the eight minute mile and move closer to where he was as a younger runner. I'd say that's one cool juxtaposition contained within these essays, that although Ben might be losing something as a runner, you get a strong sense he is gaining as a writer.
For me, I think it helps that we have the frisbee connection in our past, and that we are both reasonably new to being published writers, and we both have young children and full-time jobs to enjoy and also find as obstacles to our writing and exercising time. Although I played Ultimate for twenty years (local, recreational mostly), I was never a habitual runner, or an obsessive one like Ben, but I should say that these essays will encourage any one of us--who is perhaps, shall we say, less athletically inclined than we once were--to get out there and do something. So I did a short stack of push-ups in two of the past three days, something I'm certain I wouldn't have done if I weren't still under the spell of these essays. (If I had to guess, I could pull a twelve-minute mile if you gave me seven days to train for it.)
Memo to self: take long walk tomorrow.
Ben's essays get at some good questions. A chief one is where will any of us find the time to get stuff done? Lives fill up with jobs, kids, and clutter, and we're left desperate for a free hour to ourselves. At the same time, it sounds like Ben is getting his money's worth in this life--full-time job, kids, publications, a relationship of 20+ years if I understood correctly from the essays. Whew.
Another strange connection I share with the author is one I learned of while reading the essays. His father died in 2000, and my Dad died in 2001, and because I'm pretty sure he is a year older than me, we were the same age when our Dads died. What more, they both died of cancer. Maybe that connection was cooler when I was doing the math in my head when I read about his dead dad in the essays. It seems a little morbid right now. . . ;-) If I had to bet on one of us outliving our father, I'd put my big cash on Ben although, again, his essays are good at reminding me of why I want to get back in a more reasonable form of middle-aged out-of-shapedness.
Well, have no fear if it is just a tad nippy in your region. Ben has some good writing on running in the cold. If I'm not mistaken, most of the runs described in the essays take place during the winter of 2009-10.
Run, Alex, run.
Run, reader, run!
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