The Running Man 

Sex, Music, and Michael Heald's Nervous Apprehension

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PERFECT DAY PUBLISHING veers toward vanity press territory with publisher Michael Heald's essay collection, Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension. The 11 essays in Nervous Apprehension are, to various degrees, about Heald, and in the best of them, he dials in the perfect amount of self-awareness—just enough to feel intimate and clear, but not so much that things get navel-gazey or indulgent. Heald doesn't always hit that sweet spot, but when he does, it sucks you in: I read Nervous Apprehension in two sittings.

"This Is Part of Something Bigger Called Small" is the biggest essay in the book, a novella-length piece that follows the 5'4" Heald's freshman year at Wesleyan. The year is equal parts oblivious privilege and hyper-aware confusion: Heald gets plenty of chances to lose his virginity, but consistently sabotages them; Heald pushes himself to be a writer, but realizes too late that other people have things to say too. "Nothing happens. Everything happens. It's college," Heald writes, but it's college with an awareness of all of one's fuck-ups. Heald's descriptions are fantastic: One girl "has the look of someone who survived high school on a diet of mood stabilizers and Tori Amos," and, in the midst of a pickup basketball game, Heald realizes facing off against other men "feels archaic, the way it used to be before drugs and rock 'n' roll muddied up everyone's sense of masculinity."

Rock 'n' roll features prominently throughout, actually—the book's title is a line from Stephen Malkmus' Face the Truth, and one of its highlights is about Heald's short-lived, fanboyish fascination with MGMT. Other pieces tackle family, loneliness, and how to act like Ryan Gosling around girls, but some are offset by the sense that things aren't coming across quite as gracefully or profoundly as Heald thinks they are. (In that MGMT one, it remains frustratingly unclear why Heald refers to himself using the royal "we.")

It's the second-to-last piece in the book, "It Should Be Mathematical," that kills: Heald profiles distance runner Ian Dobson, and he approaches his subject with a perfect mix of sports nerdery, experience, and a need to figure out why it matters when people run around in tiny shorts. It's a powerful, personal look at how statistics and sweat shape lives, and it sits right in that sweet spot that's been coming and going throughout the book. It's too easy to say that it's in the running piece that Heald hits his stride, but there you go: There's where all the good chunks of Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension surely and confidently turn into something great.

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