Tuesday, March 8, 2011

You shall know my velocity

One of my favorite books is You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers.  It's about two young men named Will and Hand who travel around the world in a frenzied attempt to give away $32,000 to those they deem worthier than themselves.  They are low on time, dogged by guilt, and succeed only in a series of anticlimactic encounters with cabbies, restaurateurs and random passersby.

Eggers employs a narrative gimmick here that I love.  Will often starts conversations with the people he meets and continues them in his head, projecting his own character traits in the voice of his new acquaintance.  Oftentimes it is merely a stranger on the street.

"It helped me work through problems, solving things, reaching conclusions final, edifying and even, occasionally, mutually agreeable.
-You, on the motorcycle.
-It's only a matter of time.
-I know."

I've been known to employ the same mindgame on long runs, usually in the middle of a horrific 24 miler, before my mind can concentrate on nothing more than putting one foot in front of the other, but after it has been baked in the 80 degree heat just a tad longer than is recommended.  The obese teenager outside of the 7-11:

-I wish I could do what you're doing.
-You can.
-Yeah right.
-I'm going to outlive you, you know.
-My Gammy says the same thing.
-That's a stupid name for a grandmother.

The woman who asks directions as I scream past:

-Some people need help.  You need to be more polite and stop.
-You need to be more polite and ask someone not in the middle of a workout.
-What are you running from anyway?
-I'm not running from anything.  I'm on a run.  I'm just headed back to the place where I started.
-Then how do you get anywhere?
-You're talking figuratively, aren't you?
-Yes, I am.

Towards the end of the book, Will comes to a sad realization.  "I couldn't think of anything I'd done in six months that brought me anywhere new... that I'd been taking air from the world and using it to a justifiable end."  I think about this a lot while running, trying to convince myself that the running I do matters, that the choices I make in life matter.  But sometimes I wonder.

The name of the book stems from the legend of a South American tribe forced from its land by the invading conquistadors.  The tribe isn't terribly put off by this inconvenience, as it is a semi-nomadic tribe, one curious about the lands beyond its borders.  They flee their village, but before they do so they carve a message in giant letters in the cliffs above: "YOU SHALL KNOW OUR VELOCITY!"

To the man walking his dog, the crowd of people waiting to get inside the restaurant, the people inside the gym, the people inside the coffeeshop, the fellow runners:

-You shall know my velocity!
-We'll see.

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