Monday, October 25, 2010

The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis — Columbus Museum of Art

Cover of "The Book of Genesis Illustrated...Cover via AmazonWe were present at the Columbus Museum of Art on October 7, 2010, for the members only opening of "The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb's Book of Genesis."

If you are unfamiliar with the world of comic book and cartoon art, you may not know who Robert Crumb is, known professionally as R. Crumb. But if you have had any exposure at all to that medium, you will likely know who I'm talking about, because Crumb is among the most admired of all underground comic artists. If you've ever seen the one-page comic Keep on Truckin', which was plastered everywhere starting in 1968, or are familiar with "Fritz the Cat," then you have seen a miniscule portion of Crumb's prolific output.

Crumb is not for everybody. Some of his work is vulgar, even overtly pornographic. But above all, Crumb draws well, and his work is usually at least interesting in its meticulous attention to detail, and is at times innovative.

My first conscious exposure to Crumb was by means of the collaborations he did on "American Splendor" with Cleveland comic author Harvey Pekar, who did not draw himself, but simply wrote stories about his own life, and sketched what he wanted with stick figures, leaving the drawing to others.  Crumb was still unknown and living in Cleveland in the mid sixties, when they met and struck up a friendship based on mutual tastes in music. Pekar showed Crumb his ideas for cartoons, and Crumb offered to draw some of them for him, which led to success for Pekar — as successful as underground comic artists get — resulting even in the 2003 movie entitled "American Splendor," with Paul Giamatti playing Pekar.

Meanwhile, Crumb moved on to San Francisco, other work, including such jobs as popular album covers, and eventual fame in the late sixties scene of hippies and bands and all the rest — although Crumb himself was never a hippie, nor was he much like the people he hung out with and who admired him, which included notables such as Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead.
Sometime in the eighties Crumb and his wife, tired of the United States, moved to an unglamorous dwelling in the south of France, where they remain to this day. He's still hard at work.

Jump forward from the sixties several decades and most of a career, to the present. One day last year, before I was conscious of the name R. Crumb, I was browsing in the art book store at OSU's Wexner Center and stumbled upon an astonishing work: "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R.  Crumb" (That's the exact full title.) As a student of the Bible for now over forty years, I was eager to see what this was about. Expecting to encounter disrespectful, gross distortions created for laughs, I was surprised to see instead a work in Crumb's polished and unmodified cartooning style that seemed to be a faithful representation of the scriptural text, and including the text itself, though using a modern translation I am not familiar with. I thumbed through just a few pages before moving on, but the experience was memorable, and I wished I had more time to look at the book.

Which brings me to the primary subject of this article. On October 7, the Columbus Museum of art opened an exhibit of not just a sampling, but of all 207 of the original pages of this book, strung at comfortable reading level in a long, snaking sequence through a series of galleries. The originals are roughly 9x12 inches each (an eyeball guesstimate), and extraordinary to look at.

It was then that I learned that every word of Genesis is written on those pages, including the genealogies, looking much like rogues galleries, and that the artist, who says he believes that Genesis is a work of men rather than the word of God, nonetheless spent five years working on the project, giving the greatest care and respect to the subject matter.  It's the juxtaposition of the sacred text with R. Crumb's uncompromised and highly distinctive style that make the work special.

Decades ago I lost track of the number of times I'd read through Genesis (and the rest of the Bible, which, in contrast to Mr. Crumb, I do believe is the word of God). It's fair to say that I know what it says.

I found at this show that it's possible for someone familiar with the source material to cover the entire exhibit meaningfully, thereby "reading" the whole book of Genesis in about an hour and a half — which is exactly what Suzy and I did — with a short break in the middle to go hear a chorus performing on the grand staircase.

Imagine my amusement when I was jolted to see part of the narrative out of sequence. On one page I saw Rebekah nursing twins, and on the next she was pregnant. These things usually happen in the opposite order. That's when I discovered that they had hung up two pages in the wrong order: 89, 91, and 90. (The numbers are written in light pencil outside the printing border.)

We finished just in time to hear the last background lecture by the show's curator, who opened things up at the end for any questions. I asked whether she had been alerted to the incorrect sequence. She replied with considerable surprise that she didn't know, was grateful to find out about it, and wondered how I knew. I said I knew because I know the Bible, and saw the story was out of sequence, but it was easy enough to verify by looking at the page numbers.

Even though hundreds of people trooped through the showing, few were making it much further than halfway; it was crowded at the front, where an anatomically correct Adam and Eve are seen standing naked, and desolate by Jacob's deathbed prophecy, as if to indicate that sampling a few dozen pages was enough for most persons to get the idea. Because it was opening night, and because likely few people were reading in much detail, it's no surprise that this hadn't been reported, but if they failed to fix it, I'm sure someone else came along later and set them straight again, so presumably it is fixed by now.

If you live in Columbus, Ohio, be sure to get over to Columbus Museum of Art before January 16, 2011, when the exhibit closes.
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Daughters Are Good — Columbus Half Marathon 2010

Last spring our daughter Cyra-Lea wrote to ask if I'd be willing to pick out and run a half marathon with her this fall. I hadn't done that sort of running for several yearse. My last half marathon race was in February, 2004, my last full marathon was in May, 2005, and I haven't run anything but ultramarathons since then. But how could I say no? Not that I wanted to. I was delighted, and agreed to do it immediately. It would give me an excuse to try to get back to doing some real running.

Cyra-Lea and I have run together in the past. Her longest prior race was ten kilometers — either once or twice; the last time she was seventeen years old. She's twenty-eight now. Daughters are good!

It wasn't hard for us to determine that the best choice for a race would be the Nationwide Columbus Marathon and Half Marathon here in town on October 17, 2010 (today), which I had not run myself, but heard only good things about. We visited Cyra-Lea and her husband over the July 4th weekend, at which time we sat down at the computer and registered, engraving the decision in stone. We also worked out a twelve-week training plan for Cyra-Lea.

Cyra-Lea drove in from Charlestown, Indiana (near Louisville, Kentucky) by herself on Thursday. (Her husband is busy in school, so couldn't make it.) This gave us the opportunity to visit, drive the course that afternoon; on Friday to go for a walk and then to the expo, avoiding the weekend rush; and to have a relaxing Saturday.

Well — I did three and a half hours of leaf raking, and Cyra-Lea and Suzy spent about seven hours shopping, so it wasn't physically relaxing, but it wasn't stressful.

It's been a long time since I've had as much outright fun running a race as I did today. Over the years I've grown just a little bit cold toward certain features of mega-races: the large crowds, the high cost (especially when travel is rolled in), the crassly commercial sale of useless, cheesy memorabilia, and the vacuous hype are not my style. On the other hand, I certainly don't dislike the races themselves, and I advocate any sort of fitness activity that helps people live a healthier life style. But until a few months ago, given my own preference for ultramarathons (always much smaller), I figured my own experience with these races came an end long ago.

Now that I've experienced it, I'll give Columbus Marathon a solid five-star rating in every aspect of it that I witnessed, from the expo to the starting area, availability of parking, number of portajohns, pleasantness of the course (I'm familiar with most of the route that the marathoners run, too), timing, the website, aid stations, music on the course, crowd support, the finish, and food for finishers — all are superb. And all of it is practically in my own back yard.

This morning we were up at 5:00 a.m. sharp. Cyra-Lea was sleeping fitfully in the family room rather than the basement bedroom because as a nurse who works several night shifts a week her fractured sleep patterns are unlike those of most of us.

We had plenty of time to get ourselves out the door, and left by 6:05. It takes less than ten minutes to get downtown. (The start is less than five miles away; I could have walked to and from it, and might have considered if I'd been doing this alone.) The one big question was where I would park. I used to work downtown, and know the area well. We would have to come up Fourth Street, crossing Broad a block east of the race start. Surely it would be open at 6:15. To my relief, it was.

One amusing sight before the race was with some roads closed, the tangle of one-way streets downtown, and some signs up at the ends of some saying STREET CLOSED, watching confused drivers, many from out of town, wander the wrong direction on some of them, fishing around for parking places.

For me it was a no-brainer, as I knew exactly where to go. On Sunday parking meters are free. I used to park on weekends and holidays that I went to the office on a little one-way street called Pearl Alley, just 270 feet from where I used to work (all measurements in this report are according to Google Maps), a quarter mile from the center of Broad and High, the location of our place in the fourth corral, the one for slowpokes. Most parking spaces on the main streets were already taken, but all those in that block on Pearl Alley were still open. So I zipped in and we just sat and chatted in the car for a half hour before heading out to the start, just around the corner and up the street a couple of blocks.

Weather is something that no one can predict before signing up for a race. In mid-October it's possible to have the most glorious autumn weather imaginable. There is also every possibility for clouds, rain, and high temperatures in the forties. This year the weather could not have been more perfect if I had custom ordered it from a website called Weather-R-Us. It's has been brightly sunny all day, the temperature while waiting at the start was around 45, but completely comfortable for both of us, and ranged up to about 55 by the end of the race, with a high later in the day of 70.

We found a place to stand in our corral, but shortly after we arrived, Cyra-Lea wanted to visit a portapotty, so I followed, decided it would be stupid not to try it myself as long as I was there, and am glad I did, as it turned out to be a productive decision. After that I was definitely all set, and just wanted to get started.

The beginning is right in front of the Ohio Statehouse, at the corner of Broad and Third Street, a long block up from where we parked. The race began on time (7:30 a.m.), with the starting gun accompanied by fireworks that shot up the side of a bank. I was only a little bit worried when I realized they were shooting up the side of my bank. It was okay, because our deposits are insured.

As is customarily the case in these extravaganzas, we couldn't budge an inch for several minutes. I don't know exactly what time it was when we hit the timing mat. I was thinking 7:45, but it was apparently earlier than that. Either that, or we started a little later than I thought.

Music was everywhere on the course, and it was almost all well-played. The band at the start was especially good, as they began the race by playing Born to Run, followed by some song Cyra-Lea identified as being by the Beastie Boys. Throughout the race we were rarely more than a block out of hearing range from a live band, featuring everything from amplified soloists to a military brass band on the west side of the Statehouse on the return.

At this race I had two primary goals. Ideally, I wanted to finish one step behind Cyra-Lea. The second was to run the whole thing without walking. I accomplished the second, but at ten miles got separated from Cyra-Lea and finished before her.

Immediately upon crossing the timing mat, I started my watch. I did click mile splits when I saw the signs, all accompanied by prominent race clocks, but I never looked at my watch until I was done, because it didn't really matter. The three or four times I paid attention, I estimated my progress by subtracting ten or fifteen minutes from the displayed race time.

I knew this race would be slow. Not an event I had planned on doing myself, for me it marked a comeback from nearly two years of greatly reduced running, though I still did a great deal of walking during that period. And Cyra-Lea, who has inherited my genes, is no speedster either. Therefore, from the beginning I ran slowly, at times more slowly than is generally comfortable for me, in order to keep pace with Cyra-Lea.

Broad, which goes mostly east, but also angles slightly north, is — well — broad, which helped to minimize the problems with crowding in the early stages. We were able to utilize customary strategies so as to get around people: surging through holes, shifting left and right, etc. It wasn't hard at all despite the number of runners. But maybe that was because most runners were already ahead of us. For the first ten miles Cyra-Lea and I were either side by side or very close together.

The crowd support at this race, encouraged no doubt by the superb weather, was extraordinary. The spectators contributed to the excitement the whole way.
The best sign we saw on the first part of the course said:


The reference is to The Ohio State University Buckeyes football team's phenom quarterback. Until yesterday the Bucks were rated number one in the country. But last night they were thoroughly trounced by Wisconsin, and were not helped by a handful of poor (in my estimation questionable) runs by Pryor, a versatile athlete who rushes more often than most quarterbacks.

Eventually, we turned north on Parkview, in the swanky part of Bexley, and ran by the governor's mansion. Governor Ted Strickland was standing on his corner, accompanied by body guards, and cheering. I'd been expecting to see him, so ran close to the curb as we approached — not close enough to high five, as I had hoped, but I did manage to make eye contact and exchange a friendly greeting. It's likely that many runners, particularly out-of-staters, had no idea who that ordinary-looking man in the brimmed hat and windbreaker was.

Two blocks later we turned south on Drexel, to go 1.36 miles, all downhill, on a wide street with beautiful homes. Suzy was waiting on the corner of Drexel and Main in downtown Bexley, the nearest point on the course to our house (about a mile and a quarter away), a bit past the five-mile point, where we saw her long enough for her to try to snap a picture, but we mostly just waved and cheered and kept moving. We were doing well, and Cyra-Lea was clearly enjoying herself.

Once we got past the shops on Main, the short unattractive segment of the course followed. We turned north on Nelson for less than half a mile, then ran across the south end of Franklin Park.
At the six-mile aid station I was able to pat hands with Cheryl Link, whom I know from Dead Runners Society and Facebook, but had never met in person. Cheryl ran a half marathon herself yesterday, and now, in the spirit of the sport, was out giving generously of her time and effort to help other runners. Volunteer support at this race was extraordinary, for which runners should always be grateful; we couldn't do it without the volunteers.

The road south of beautiful Franklin Park is narrow, hillier than most places on the course, with a surface that is a bit rough, but after coming up the west side, we were back on Broad doubling back the other way (westerly) a little over a mile, then south and into residential neighborhoods to the southeast of downtown. This took us back to Third Street, a few blocks south of where we started, where we headed south again, over the highway, and then into German Village.

By this time I was leading Cyra-Lea by an average of fifteen to twenty-five yards, and kept looking back over my shoulder, as I slowed, several times to let her catch up, but never stopped running. She took a couple of short walking breaks.

Around mile nine she decided she was pretty much toast, but was determined to keep doing her best. I kept looking back, and even ran backwards up to twenty or thirty yards at a time at least three times, hoping she would push herself to keep as close as possible.

Just after the ten-mile marker I turned to run backwards, searched, and couldn't find Cyra-Lea. She'd been doing really well, and said she was fine, so I had to make a decision whether to hang back, or press forward. Confident that she would be okay, I picked up the pace with the intent of running as hard as I could, knowing that a negative split was a real possibility given the slowness of the first half. Although I don't have the exact numbers, I'm sure I was right.

After going around Schiller Park in German Village, we came out to High Street, the main north-south drag through Columbus, another wide street, and a straight shot from the turn for nearly two miles until the turnoff onto Nationwide Boulevard, which encloses a quarter-mile finishing chute in massive chain link fences. I was able to run hard on some downhill segments of High.

The last couple of blocks before that turn is a horribly steep uphill, but once on the straightaway after the turn, it's a screaming downhill to the end, and I sprinted it in as hard as I could, trying to pass one final big guy, who edged me out. (I have no idea what his start time was.)

The organization after the chute was carried out with the precision of a military operation. In fact, they had soldiers manning some of the food tables.

I stood and waited anxiously for Cyra-Lea, not knowing whether she'd blown up or remained fairly close. In fact, her finishing time was only 5:27 behind mine. I was thrilled when I saw her come through the crowd sooner than I expected, with a finisher's medal around her neck, upon which she announced, "I did it! I'm a half marathoner."

There was food in abundance. I took only a bottle of water and a smallish Krispy Kreme. Cyra-Lea grabbed a couple of things to eat later. (I have never eaten or drunk anything during a half marathon ever, so by that time needed water and a shot of sugar.)

We weren't with anyone, don't know hardly any runners in Columbus, and were planning on going out for late brunch, so we didn't hang out to socialize, party, or listen to the band playing in Arch Park. The walk to our car was less than half a mile, and getting out was as easy as could be, since by then everything we had to cross or travel on had opened up, and Sunday morning traffic was light. We got back home by 11:00 a.m., showered, and went out to enjoy a large meal at Bob Evans, a popular and folksy but not fancy Columbus-based family restaurant chain.

The results reporting for Columbus Marathon, supplied externally by a company called MTec Results, is among the best I've ever seen. For each runner looked up, a number of statistics are shown in an impressively laid out display, including, in addition to final chip time, also ten kilometer split time, average pace, overall place, gender place, and age group pace, all in three different formats. It also shows how many runners the displayed person passed from ten kilometers to finish in the overall category, and how many passed that runner. From a software point of view, given that with chip timing, runners are running asynchronously, it's an interestingly tricky problem.

For reference, my half marathon PR is 2:03 and change, run over twelve years ago. When I was running them regularly I typically came in between 2:15 and 2:17. Given that caveat, here's what the numbers tell me about today's half marathon. The percentages shown I calculated myself, as I do for every race I run, dividing my place by the total shown.

7925 (3224 men, 4701 women) ran the half marathon

Average finish: 2:10:33 (I think that's fast for an average!)

Lynn Newton: 2:43:31 (90.4%)
I placed 28 out of 37 runners in the M6569 Age Group (75.7%)
I placed 7165 out of 7925 runners overall (90.4%)
I placed 3055 out of 3222 Males (94.8%)

Cyra-Lea Drummond: 2:48:58
She placed 7366 out of 7925 runners overall (92.9%)
She placed 4270 out of 4701 Females (90.8%)
She placed 917 out of 977 runners in the F2529 Age Group (93.4%)

From those numbers, I can see that after I surged ahead of Cyra-Lea after the ten-mile point, I finished 201 runners ahead of her, by a margin of 5:27. I was delighted that the gap was that small, and given that her own goal was to go sub-3:00, she is pleased as well.

This afternoon we are two tired but happy puppies, having accomplished our mission with pleasure and aplomb.
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