November Project as an Anchor (Braden Engel, NPSF)

Some of the most amazing reads we have had on the November Project blogopshere are when the story comes from the Tribe members. When people get their chance to tell their personal story. Today we hear from Braden, who was presented with the Positivity Award at the #Sunrise6K this past Friday. One of our most deserved receivees. Here is his story…

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There’s a great scene in the movie Fargo (1996) in which Steve Buscemi’s character halts his junky car somewhere on the side of a snowy interstate and stumbles – bloody and briefcase in hand – through the knee-high snowdrift to the fence line. The briefcase is filled with cash and he’s come out here to hide it. Settling next to a fence post he begins digging a hole in the snow. In order to find this spot when he returns, however, he must know how to identify it. So he looks left down the fence line and sees it diminish and eventually vanish in the snowscape. He looks right and sees the exact same thing. No distinguishing features. No landmarks. Nothing particularly remarkable, in fact. Slowly the irony emerges, that in attempting to find a specific place he could return to, Buscemi’s character has come to a place that is the same as every other place in sight. It is at once every place and no place.

Having grown up in North Dakota and attended university in Fargo, I can testify to the eerie disorientation one feels when, on an overcast and cloudy winter day, the snow covered landscape merges with the off-white sky and the horizon is totally lost. Trust me, losing the horizon in total white is vacating. You float somewhere which could be anywhere.

It took moving to London to meet my American wife. Well, half-American wife. Amy’s parents are British and moved to the States in the 70s (imagine Amy as a child talking with an English accent!). I’ll never forget the night I met Amy. I was about to finish a graduate degree and she was about to start one at the same institution. A meet-up was arranged to welcome the new expats. From the moment I saw her I refused to talk to anyone else. I talked over people at the beer garden picnic table just to stay engaged with her. It must have been slightly annoying to the others, but I have never cared less about that in my life.

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I was training for the first race I had done since my illustrious middle school track and field career (between seventh and ninth grade I contributed a total of three points to my team, having tried everything from sprints to distance to shot put). In high school, football and baseball were my sports. In the fall I hit guys and in the spring I hit balls. But now I was about to run a half marathon through London and Amy seemed to like this about me, so I suddenly liked it more too. Amy and I have been pretty inseparable since then, but it hasn’t been easy; it’s hard to keep up with someone who’s been dubbed The Punisher! I can honestly say that my fitness level over the last quarter of my life is only as high as it is because I stubbornly try to keep up with Amy. I’ve been punished in more ways and to such extremes than you can hardly imagine. And I’d do them all again.

What seems like more than a few years ago now, Amy dragged me out of bed to go to this mysterious morning workout in San Francisco. Coming from Oakland, I was less than excited. We met at Kezar Stadium and I got punished – couldn’t move legs for days kind of punished. I remember four things from that workout: Amy’s passion, Laura’s energy, the fucking Kezar stairs, and Gil. Despite my pain and our commute, I went to this “November Project” the following Wednesday primarily for those four reasons.

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Amy and I have been asked to explain November Project to friends and family ever since. Of course we all have our own way to explain it, and indeed our own perceptions of its value. Mostly due to arguments with a close friend and colleague who is a cross fit coach, I find myself explaining the uniqueness of November Project as such: there’s the workout and there’s the community, and if in cross fit the workout takes priority and community grows out of it, at NP the community takes priority and the workout is bonus fun. I go to NP to laugh with my friends, many of whom I don’t get to see the rest of the week. There’s a workout? Sweet. May as well do it, since apparently I’m wearing workout gear.

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“Just show up” is not exclusive. Injured? Show up. Live across the bay? Show up. And why the fuck not. As far as I can tell, beyond some sore inner hammies, no bad has ever come from an NP workout. And with our crew, a neutral boring or “blah” isn’t really a possibility. Which means only good comes from NP. My life, when I leave NP, is better than it was the day before. Making your life and the lives of others better every day seems like a pretty great way to conduct oneself, and NP has become a foundation for this. That’s right, whether you realize it or not, NP has become an irreplaceable dimension of our lives.

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Wearing a ridiculous and somewhat revealing white onesie is just one expression of this. If you’ve seen me at cheer gangs you can probably tell how much fun I’m having, and I have no other way to explain this other than saying I find joy in lifting people’s spirits. And I don’t give a shit how embarrassing I have to be to do that. As for the Positivity Award, I can only assume this is some form of karma rewarding me for my calm and positive demeanor when, as I slept in my murphy bed in my studio apartment in Fargo, I awoke to a man standing over me, staring at me (you don’t lock your door in Fargo). After leaping out of bed, I was told by the man that he had a knife, only for him to then thank me repeatedly for not beating him up, and handing me the knife he just mentioned as I showed him out the door.

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Most of my friends in the Bay Area I have met through November Project. We’re family. I suspect many others feel the same about this. I also suspect many others have had times of their lives when they felt they were floating in nowhere, in some disorienting no-place not unlike Buscemi’s confused character. The value of November Project is that it is able to instantly clear that fog and anchor us to each other. At its best its power is damn near that of salvation. Family, community, unique and kindred and supportive. There is always a horizon line, always a sense of orientation, the vigor of being on the earth together. Together, we’re never lost in the empty white.

Except when the onesie comes out.

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