Scott Douglas’ Terse Bloviation

Third Date

Here’s a (really) short story, called Third Date, that I wrote on a plane. Let me know what you think, even, or especially, if it’s “stick with the how-to running stuff.”

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“And I said, ‘Spatial relations aren’t my forte.’ She said, ‘You know, it’s pronounced ‘fort.’ I said, ‘Yeah I know. But I didn’t know you knew. So I said ‘for-tay’ because I didn’t want you to think I’m a snob.’” John regretted telling the story before he’d finished it.

Meghan laughed. Or maybe she chuckled. John took a long draw from his beer glass. He wanted to take a longer drink but didn’t want to have to order another one too soon. Last Thursday Meghan had had two goblets of red wine. This time she was nursing an ale. Did she feel more relaxed with him, less in need of wheel greasing? Or was she starting to shut off the wild-girl side? John wished he’d ordered a martini, which he’d downgraded to wine, then beer, as Meghan ordered her drink.

“What about ‘formidable?’” Meghan asked.

“Hmmh? Sorry, what?”

“How do you say it? ‘ForMIDable’ or ‘FORmidable?’”

“I say ‘formiDABluh.’ Make people think I’m French.”

Meghan smiled a “hinh” and reached for the buzzing phone in her bag. “Sorry, forgot to turn it off,” she said while, it seemed to John, lingering over the screen longer than necessary.

“So you were saying your mom started doing yoga?” John said.

“Yeah, since Trump. She told me, ‘I can’t straighten out the country but I can straighten out my posture.’ I was like, ‘C’mon Mom, where’d you get that?’ She ignored me and showed me how much better she is doing Tree pose on her left foot.”

John had told himself to remember Meghan had texted about her mother doing yoga. He waited. Was that the end of the story?

Meghan pulled off two-thirds of the remaining hunk of bread, then stopped, hovering over the olive oil. “Sorry, that’s a lot.”

John flicked his fingers toward her, saying, “No, no, go ahead.” He liked this sign of her comfort. Or maybe she didn’t care if he thought she was a pig.

“So say you’re watching a movie,” Meghan said. “How far into it do you give it?”

“You mean before giving up?”

“Yeah. The beginning’s sorta there, you look at the progress bar and see you’re only like 15 percent through. What’s the point of no return?”

“Before you watch the rest no matter what?”

“Right.”

“Concorde fallacy,” John said.

“Humh?”

“Concorde fallacy. Sunk cost fallacy—you stick with something because you figure, ‘Well, I already invested this much time in it, now I can’t back out.’ So you’re bored halfway through a book but you finish it because otherwise it feels like you wasted your time. But really you should be willing to bail whenever, because otherwise you’re wasting your future time. Like when they were building the Concorde….”

“How we doin’ here?!” The waitress was suddenly beside the table, head leaning low between them. “Everyone okay on drinks?!”

“I’m good, thanks,” John said, thinking about the tequila shot he’d almost had at the bar before Meghan arrived.

“Can I have a gin and tonic?” Meghan said.

John’s eyes shot up. Meghan was settling in, loosening up, and in 20 minutes would be even looser. She downed the rest of her ale. John felt the warm rush he’d get from the martini he was about to order.

But the waitress was walking away. John said, “Excuse me,” but she kept going. If he’d been with Steve, one of them would have whistled or yelled, but he didn’t want to seem condescending or sexist.

“Excuse me,” John said. “I’m going to go to the little boys’ room before they bring out our food.” He would order at the bar on the way.

When John returned, Meghan was halfway through her gin and tonic. Her face had a new softness to it, her eyelids a little droopy.

“You know what I’m really bad at?” John said. “Those sinks in the bathrooms at airports, where there’s not a knob to turn to water on? I always think the one I’m at is broken. So I go to the next one and it doesn’t work either. But everyone else’s is. Sometimes I rub my hands under the faucet and it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. Or I’ll tap the nozzle, but that works like 25 percent of the time. Where did everyone else learn how to use these? It’s not like I’m going to ask the guy next to me what the trick is.”

“Hmmmmm,” Meghan said. A scene seemed to play behind her eyes. “Now I have to go.” She grabbed her bag and headed toward the bathrooms.

John thought about how they’d lingered outside the pub last Thursday. “Do you…?” Meghan had started. John had waited, then a guy had burst out the door on his phone, and the moment passed. They’d smiled at each other and said good night.

The waitress appeared with his martini. “Your guys’ dinners are ready as soon as your friend gets back,” she said.

John pursed his lips over the rim of the glass, took a long slurp, then pushed it away. He wanted the right balance between emboldened and thinking clearly. He also didn’t want Meghan to come back and see that he’d finished half a drink she didn’t know he’d ordered.

After a while, John speared one of the olives in his drink and nibbled it. The couple who’d sat down after them had started to eat. He pretended to need to stretch his neck and scanned the room. He pulled the martini toward him, lowered his head, sucked up as much as he could, and reached for his wallet.

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Book(s) Report, Part 1

For no compelling reason, I maintain a list of completed books every year. I give each a one-word review of no, meh, or yes, the criterion being if I’d recommend it to a friend with similarish tastes. NO and YES means emphatically so. Of the books I read in the first 49 weeks of 2018, here are the six that got a YES:

  • The True Deceiver, by Tove Jansson
  • The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau, by Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Bullshit Jobs, by David Graeber
  • The Overstory, by Richard Powers
  • The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, by Kristopher Jansman
  • The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers

A note on Richard Powers: I hadn’t heard of him until this year and the release of The Overstory. It was one of the most engrossing reading experiences of my life. I was psyched to see he has a huge back catalog. So I soon after read The Echo Maker, and was similarly enthralled.

Since then I’ve started two of his other novels, and stopped. Not because they’re bad, but because reading them in such close succession was simply too much, akin to going to a lavish, hours-long dinner four out of five nights. Sometimes you just want a big salad while watching a movie. I reshelved the two I started for when I’m hungry for something overwhelming.

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Running Is My Therapy Published!

Tuesday, April 17 was a landmark day for books written by William and Mary religion majors of the 1980s—it was publication day for James Comey and me. As my mother-in-law said, read my book to feel better after reading his.

Here’s the book’s Amazon page.

Write me if you’d like to have me as a podcast guest or otherwise talk about the book’s key topic of using running to manage mental health.

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Slate Article on Prescribing Exercise for Depression

One of the most interesting things I learned while writing Running Is My Therapy: In some countries, official medical guidelines count exercise as a first-line treatment for depression. It’s considered on a par with medication and therapy for initial treatment options. That, of course, is not the case in the United States. Why is the U.S. system behind others on this?

I was able to explore this topic in more depth for this Slate article.

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Words, Words, Words

Some updates on books:

1. In April The Experiment will publish Running is My Therapy. It’s the book I’ve wanted to write for years about the intersection of running and mental health, detailed via reported science, first-person narrative, interviews with experts and other runners’ experiences. (If that mix and the topic sound familiar, perhaps you remember my Runner’s World story on the subject that was published in November.) The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.

If you’re in a position to review the book, are interested in having me on your podcast, etc., write me and I’ll see that you get an advance copy.

2. I currently have the pleasure of spending lots of time with Meb Keflezighi as we work on a book about his marathon career. (Alas, that time is spent on the phone and laptop, not in person, although with the way the Maine winter is shaping up, I might have to show up at his San Diego home.) Meb retired from elite competition after November’s New York City Marathon, his 26th go at the distance. Our book, 26 Marathons, will tell the story of and lessons from each of Meb’s career marathons. I’ve learned a lot so far from our discussions; some of it even has to do with the book! 26 Marathons is scheduled to be published by Rodale in November.

3. Once Meb and I turn in our manuscript, I’ll keep collaborating with Olympic marathoners, as Pete Pfitzinger and I will start working in earnest this spring on the third edition of Advanced Marathoning. It will be published in 2019.

4. In the spring I’ll also start working on a book called What Happens When You Run, to be published by Velo Press. More on that later.

5. Finally, books written by others: I finished 35 books this year. (I don’t count books I read for work.) Continuing a development of middle age I still find interesting, given my previous penchant for non-fiction, 28 were fiction. My reading for pleasure takes place almost entirely after dinner. At that time, I usually want a well-constructed fictional world rather than insights on how the real world works.

That said, one of the three books that most stood out for the year was an essay collection. When I record having finished a book, I give it a one-word review of yes, no or meh, with the review being what I would say if someone with similar taste were to ask if I recommend it. Some get an all-caps YES or NO for emphasis. My three all-caps YES books for the year, starting with that essay collection, were:

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Once More Unto the Breach with Meb Keflezighi

I’m excited to announce that Meb Keflezighi and I will be working together on another book.

The new one will be called 26 Marathons, 26 Lessons. It will tell the story of each of Meb’s 26 career marathons (#26 will be New York City in November) and offer a use-at-home lesson from each. The book will come out in the fall of 2018 and, like Meb for Mortals, will be published by Rodale.

Unrelated book note: Four of the books I’ve read this year merit my all-caps “yes” review, meaning that while reading them I’m simultaneously immensely enjoying them, prematurely ruing having finished them, and eagerly imagining who first to recommend them to. The four are:

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Books Three-Parter

1. This book is now out. Of the eight books with my name on the cover, it’s the first that’s not about running. So that counts for something.

2. This month I’ll start working on a book about running and depression. (Write what you know, etc.) It’s slated for publication by The Experiment next year. This makes me happy, but hopefully not so much I lose touch with half of the book’s subject matter.

3. As for books by others, of the 46 I finished in 2016, there are four that I have been or will be urging on people with similar tastes:

The Invoice, by Jonas Karlsson.
Lazarus is Dead, by Richard Beard.
The Apostle Killer, by Richard Beard. (Called Acts of the Assassins when released.)
The Trespasser, by Tana French.

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Books Completed First Trimester of 2016

Here are the books I read to the end of in the first four months of the year. After each I’ve given a one-word recommendation to a hypothetical friend with somewhat similar taste. ALL CAPS means emphatically so. There are no “no” votes yet this year because I’m getting better about abandoning ship when warranted.

January (I was working less than usual)
The Art of Crash Landing—Melssia DeCarlo | Meh
The Mystic Poets: Hopkins—Gerard Manley Hopkins
 | YES
Slade House—David Mitchell | Yes
The Handmaid’s Tale—Margaret Atwood | Yes
Strange Fits of Passion—Anita Shreve | Meh
Ethan Frome—Edith Wharton | YES (I think this was my fourth reading)
The Weight of Water—Anita Shreve | Yes

February
A Short History of Women—Kate Walbert | Meh
Winter’s Bone—Daniel Woodrell | Yes
Gold Fame Citrus—Claire Vaye Watkins | Yes

March
The Obituary Writer—Ann Hood | Meh
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton—Edith Wharton | Yes
Summer—Edith Wharton | Meh
The Last Policeman—Ben Winters | Meh

April
Countdown City—Ben Winters | Meh
World of Trouble—Ben Winters | Meh
Frankenstein—Mary Shelley | Meh
Cheap—Ellen Ruppel Shell | Yes (And look, nonfiction!)

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Books Completed in 2015

Below is a list of books I finished reading this year. After each I’ve given a one-word read-it-or-not guidance to a hypothetical friend with similar tastes or interests. ALL CAPS means emphatically so. (The list doesn’t include books I started but abandoned; I can’t recall all of them, but they would obviously merit a “no.”)

When I maintained a similar list in 2012, it was split 50-50 between fiction and nonfiction. This year it’s more like 3-1 in favor of fiction. As my work has become increasingly just-the-facts straightforward, when I read at night for pleasure I’m much more interested in being transported to a well-crafted world than in being told how to think about topic X.

Each section is in chronological order of completion.

FICTION
The Natural—Bernard Malmoud | Yes
State of Wonder—Ann Patchett | No
Gould’s Book of Fish—Richard Flanagan | NO
Station Eleven—Emily St. John Mandel | No
The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac—Sharma Shields | YES
The Fahrenheit Twins—Michael Faber | Yes
The Crimson Petal and the White—Michael Faber | YES
Dog Gone It—Spencer Quinn | NO
The Box Garden—Carol Shields | Yes
The Keep—Jennifer Egan | No
The Stone Diaries—Carol Shields | YES
The Happiest People in the World—Brock Clarke | NO
Blue Angel—Francine Prose | YES
Unless—Carol Shields | Yes
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932—Francine Prose | No
Goldengrove—Francine Prose | No
Dressing Up for the Carnival—Carol Shields | Yes
36 Arguments for the Existence of God—Rebecca Newberger Goldstein | NO
Fludd—Hilary Mantel | Yes
Fates and Furies—Lauren Groff | NO
Larry’s Party—Carol Shields | Yes
A Place of Greater Safety—Hilary Mantel | Yes
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh—Michael Chabon | Yes

NONFICTION
Meb for Mortals—Meb Keflezighi with Scott Douglas | Yes (buy it, I don’t care if you read it)
Buddhism Without Beliefs—Stephen Batcheler | Yes
The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets—Simon Singh | No
On Writing—Stephen King | Yes
The Lobster Gangs of Maine—James Acheson | No
Teller of Tales (Arthur Conan Doyle bio)—Daniel Stashower | No
Poverty Creek Journal—Thomas Gardner | YES
Listening to Jazz—Jerry Coker | Yes

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Meb for Mortals Out April 7

For a variety of reasons, this is the book I’ve written or co-written that I’m most proud of.

I am fortunate to have now co-written books with three U.S. Olympic marathoners. The most satisfying aspect of each project has been liking and respecting my co-authors even more after working together.

Buy it here or here.

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