I am struck by the parallels between writing and running. Every question a hopeful runner asks themselves,, is the same a hopeful writer asks.
“How do I get better/stronger/faster?”
“How often should I do it?”
“What do I need?”
“When am I a ‘real’ runner/writer?”
When doubt is winning the war, these turn into declarative statements,
“I’ll never be better/stronger/faster.
“I don’t have enough time to work on it.”
“I don’t have what I need.”
“I’ll never be a real runner/writer.”
This may not be news to anyone. For me it is a reminder. A reminder that running was and still is hard, and that I am capable of hard things.
In running, you just lace up your shoes and get to stepping. I know this because I did it. Less than 24 hours after I quit smoking, I started running.
Now, approaching 5 years later, it is those earliest runs I repeat in my head when I need encouragement. I still see myself, in those blue addidas running pants with the 3 white stripes down the side heading down into the weird part of my old neighborhood, the part where all the houses were dark brown wood duplexes, and there were no street lights. At 4 am, it was dark down there. That part, despite being all downhill, was often the hardest part, to this day, the first 3 to 5 minutes of nearly every run, still feels like a really bad idea.
The next long stretch of road was all flat, full of weird 4 way stops, and the house that was in the news, an elderly lady died there that summer, and no one knew for a very long time. Well, no one except her 47 cats. The entire house had to be demolished. For months, it was just a large dirt spot in between houses. A dirt spot that, I swear, still smelled like cat urine. It was here I got my rhythm, where I got my first inklings of what I thought a ‘real runner’ felt like. I have found little else in the world like the power of moving through t he world powered only by my own feet and brain, and maybe a little Rob Zombie. I remember running along this road, wondering if people would look out their windows as they started their coffee pot, see me, and think 'look at that crazy runner’. I hoped so.
The third stretch of these runs was my nemesis. The hill at E. Maple. Initially, I couldn’t run up even one quarter of it. That changed over time, with practice.
The last stretch, quite literally the home stretch, past the elementary school and the Getty-mart, down the street that ran right to my little condo and the visitors parking lot where I would cool down and stretch. Still alone, still in the dark.
Many more runs came after these first ones, many races too. Yet, it is these practice runs my mind returns to when I struggle with running, and now with writing.
I would quite staunchly defend myself to anyone who declared me not a ‘real runner’ because I can’t run a 7 or even 8 minute mile. I run, therefore I am a runner. The clock does not define me. It may define them, or maybe not them, but something in their world that is important to them. I can, now, let go of that. I have met those people, at races, on the trails, even in shoe stores, they can’t be bothered with so called recreational runners, they have splits to make consistent, or better, to make negative. They have qualifying times to meet; and other very important runner-things to do. I am wasting my time in their eyes. It’s good that I am not looking at myself through their eyes. I see them as dedicated, competent, passionate, and in love with the thing that running has become for them, and not so much the act of running itself. I could be wrong about this.
When I sit down to write, it becomes a lesson in truth-telling. Will I say what I really feel about something – or will I be cowed by the possibility of discovery, and what those that discover it will say, think, feel about me because of the words on the page.
My brother once wrote a poem, a poem that he said was a lesbian, and that poem fucked many other woman poems. He said it, just like that. He wrote it, it was published, and he gave, sold and distributed that book to friends, family, even our parents(!), students, and strangers. He had no fear of saying exactly what he meant, of being exactly who he was.
I think my question about writing isn’t when will I be a real writer, but when will I brave enough to expose the real me. When will I whip out my promiscuous poems (lesbian or otherwise) with pride and not fear?
The truth is I don’t know. So in the meantime, I will follow the path that made me a real runner.