identity

Complete

©Erica Cirino. Linocut print “The Swing Tree,” 3/5. 2017.

©Erica Cirino. Linocut print “The Swing Tree,” 3/5. 2017.

There is no greater moment–no moment filled with more excitement and possibility–than the realization that you need nothing auxiliary to make you whole; the realization that you, yourself have the power to destroy and create; the realization that all you need and all you are lies inside of you; the realization that you are good: A sentient being with wisdom and knowledge, power and weakness, virtue and vice, empathy and jealousy, love and hate.

You are nothing more, you are nothing less. You are complete.

Originally posted to Medium on April 6, 2017. 

Who am I, if I cannot run?

“If I can’t run, much less get up and walk across the room to plug my iPhone into the wall, then who am I?”

I ask myself this question as I sit on my futon, propped up by pillows, legs extended out in front of me, the dwindling red battery on my cellular device an annoying reminder of my hopefully temporary immobility.

Diagnoses: A pelvic stress fracture and bilateral knee dislocations.

Wonderful, I know.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with major injuries—I’ve overcome some serious health problems growing up, as I've written about previously. Apparently, the problems just decided to flare up again now. I was doing great—training hard, winning races and feeling good—then, BAM. 

All I know is now I’m feeling completely and totally helpless, and it sucks. A lot.

My finish in an April cross-country 5-K, where I finished second overall female and first in my age group. Credit: Ed Grenzig

My finish in an April cross-country 5-K, where I finished second overall female and first in my age group. Credit: Ed Grenzig

“If I’m not a writer-artist-runner, then who am I?” 

Being a runner who has belonged to high school track and cross-country teams and is part of a running club, I know injury comes with the territory of repetitive stress exercise (e.g. running). And as I sit here, freshly injured, I can’t help but think about the concept of runners’ identity as runners. Is it the ability to run that makes us who we are, or is “runner” a state of mind?

Something tells me as I flex my sore knees and feel throbbing in my hip that it’s the latter, not the former. I’m at least three months out of what I would consider “training” at this point, but don’t think the sedentary days before me rob me of the runner piece of my identity.

I have experienced my fair share of runner’s highs, I have clocked tens of thousands of miles, and have worn out close to 50 pairs of sneakers and racing flats over the past 12 years. These are things I can’t forget, no matter how far I am from lacing up my sneakers and gliding out the door.

“If I’m not grateful, then who am I?”

Gratitude is something runners have but often forget. And it's something injured runners must never lose.

It can be tough. I know it. As I sit here pecking away at my keyboard I agonize in my head all the fitness I am losing. How I’m missing out on scoring points for my running club. How I can’t use my usual method of stress-relief (running) after a long day of writing. How I miss it.

But instead of driving myself crazy lamenting over what I’m missing, I focus on what I’m doing. My injuries have given me the opportunity to slow down and spend more time at my desk. So I feel a lot less rushed when it comes to meeting deadlines and pitching new stories. I’m home all day with the cat and the dog, who don’t seem to mind one bit.

Foosa the Alaskan Malamute, left, and Rocky the One-Eyed Cat, right. Good animals make for good company. Credit: Erica Cirino

Foosa the Alaskan Malamute, left, and Rocky the One-Eyed Cat, right. Good animals make for good company. Credit: Erica Cirino

Injury forces a runner to reevaluate their goals. I am no Olympian. I am fast, but not the fastest. There is no need for me to truly “compete.” When I can come back to running, there will be no more racing for me every weekend, as I had been doing. Instead, I’ll carefully pick and choose the races I want to compete in. I’ll be happy with a few easy runs a week.

Injured or well, slow or fast, a runner is a runner. It’s an identity that cannot be taken away.

“I am a runner.”

 

A Monday tradition & a search for childhood relics: Part II

It's incredible how much deep thinking can be accomplished on an early morning walk.

It's incredible how much deep thinking can be accomplished on an early morning walk.

This is Part II of a two-part blog post. In Part I, posted yesterday, I describe how listening to a rebroadcasted episode of This American Life, titled “Home Movies,” while walking my dog one morning prompted me to begin searching for, and trying to understand, my childhood relics.

With my family’s home movies destroyed in a mid-move mishap, I’m resolved to search for what tangible items may remain.

***** 

Instead of getting to work when we returned home, I rushed to my closet and pulled out a thick stack of CDs, each one carefully sealed in a square plastic case. Some were labeled and some were not. Identifiable were mix tapes from high school boyfriends, every album released by my favorite band, and a DVD of a championship high school cross-country race. The mysterious blank discs were, presumably, the laptop photos.

Because my new MacBook Pro doesn’t have a disc drive (thanks, planned obsolescence) I popped the mystery CDs, one-by-one, into my mom’s old desktop Mac. I copied the files from them to a spare USB drive, which I quickly plugged into my MacBook. Then I rapidly began pulling files from the drive into iPhoto. I carried out the whole operation quickly, as if I was running out of time. As if the universe and all its advancing technology was conspiring against me, trying to make it impossible for me to preserve my childhood.

On those mystery CDs were photos, and movies. The movies were not from my childhood per se, but my teenage years. And, besides one brief cameo made by my mother, they did not depict anyone in my family besides my brother. Instead of my father, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were high school friends.

Together we made improvisational comedies, news broadcasts, dramas and loud music videos made to loud punk bands like Green Day and Weezer. We made our own sound effects and special effects, put together cohesive costumes and used artsy camera angles to tell stories.

While watching myself act as a stuntwoman to execute one particularly epic and slightly dangerous special effect—riding a “flying carpet” (a doormat on top of a skateboard) down a short but steep hill—I can remember the tremendous effort it took to create those films. My friends, brother and I would hold filmmaking powwows in cloth beach chairs in the garage, snacking on pretzels and sipping Capri Suns. There we’d share ideas, hash out characters and plotlines.

Like a family sharing the same blood we worked together to solve logistical problems (i.e. how to make a flying carpet fly), applied decision-making skills to major decisions (such as should perform the most dangerous stunts) and resolved conflicts (usually who gets the lead part) peacefully by listening to each other’s point of view.

In the films, I appear both in front of and behind the camera. In the earliest film I’m fourteen, a high school freshman (discernable by the presence of silver braces on my teeth and varsity track sweatshirt), while in the most recent film I’m seventeen, a high school junior (I can tell by my amber highlights—a short-lived experiment in hair-dying). Save for the highlights, from freshman to junior year, I look almost exactly the same—the same wide, perceptive eyes...the same long runner legs...and even the same casually cool ripped-up jeans, track sweatshirts and concert tees.

I’ve stayed the same today. I even have the same jeans from ninth grade to prove it, and they still fit pretty well, thought today they have a lot more holes in them than they had in ’06.

I didn’t always possess such a distinctive and enduring sense of self. In fact, before I hit high school, my mom tells me I was timid, quiet. I remember keeping mostly to myself in elementary school. It was only when I hit high school, when my real family’s drama was becoming all too much, that I found myself. It was then I started running. It was then I started directing and starring in my own films.

After an uncontrollable childhood, having control as an athletic and artistic teen—and in each case being part of a functional “family” team—helped me realize who I was. It instilled in me the imperative values my real family failed to. It gave me the freedom to make creative decisions without worrying about what my family would think.

In Home Movies, Glass interviews Darren Stein and Adam Schell, childhood friends who, like my friends and brother, worked together to make movies during their teenage years. Stein, who has continued to create films as an adult, describes what is perhaps the crux of this sense of individuality I saw myself grow into as a teenage filmmaker.

“When you’re a kid,” said Stein,” “it comes straight from your id onto the film.”

Poring over my MacBook that Monday morning, I saw my id—my true uninhibited self, the person I am today. I wonder how long it would have taken me to find that person if I didn’t start making my own home movies.  


A still frame from a babysitting thriller (starring me and filmed by one of my friends) showcases my classic pensive-eye look. Also note slightly frizzed hair and cordless dinosaur phone...ah, the old days.

A still frame from a babysitting thriller (starring me and filmed by one of my friends) showcases my classic pensive-eye look. Also note slightly frizzed hair and cordless dinosaur phone...ah, the old days.

Lingering thoughts for you, my reader:

  • Would you rather be behind the camera or in front of it? 
  • What activities defined your identity in high school?
  • Do you have any "classic" mannerisms? One of mine is perfectly captured in this still frame.... ;)

 

A Monday tradition & a search for childhood relics: Part I

A Monday tradition & a search for childhood relics: Part I

My Monday mornings are, like most mornings, pretty routine: Roll out of bed around 6-6:30 or so, brush teeth, get dressed, pull on a pair of beat-up sneakers, pop in some ear-buds, switch on my iPod and head out the door for a long walk with my Alaskan malamute. When we return home, my head is clear, my dog is tired and it’s time to get to work.

Monday mornings stand out slightly because they’re my time to listen to the latest episode of This American Life, a weekly hour-long public radio show that investigates, well, aspects of “American life.” You’ve probably heard of it.

This two-part post is inspired by an episode of TAL that was rebroadcast last week: "Home Movies." It's all about searching for and understanding childhood relics.