Sunday, October 23, 2016

Running and Writing

I’ve never really identified as a runner.

There have been periods of my life when I have run. Four road races, ranging from 5Ks to Ten Milers, and in each case I made a point of running for weeks if not months in advance to get in good enough shape so I could achieve respectable times.

Throughout my college years, I typically ran on a weekly basis--my only meaningful, regular source of exercise.

But I’ve never been like my friends who will absent-mindedly run sixteen miles when they only meant to run twelve on a leisurely Saturday morning, and running has never come easily enough to me to consider it form of relaxation and a canvas for reflection the way I’ve heard it functions for some true runners.

By the time I lived in Oregon, I only ran for one purpose, though I did it at least two or three times per week.

I ran to catch the bus.

Hefting fifteen pounds of backpack, and more often clad in the dress shoes, khakis, and collared shirts I wore to teach, I made the absurd jog from my apartment at back of the complex to the edge of the parking lot where the bus picked up each day. I had timed myself. Walking at my normal pace, I could make the journey in about six-to-seven minutes. Running as fast as I could, I could get there in just over two. More often than not, I got out my door with only four or five minutes before my the online tracker on my iPhone told me the bus would arrive.

So, I ran.

And as I ran, I recalled advice I’d heard from friends about the emphasis of running to move you forward. How inexperienced runners, and particularly people who had done most of their formative running on treadmills, tended to have a bouncing gait, bobbing up and down with each step. Unnecessary vertical movement that not only looked silly but wasted both energy and time for not moving the runner forward.

On one such morning, as I focused on the length of my stride and remained steady and low, I thought of how the same principles might apply to writing.

Like many young writers, I'd heard the advice to get my butt in the chair and my pen to paper (or, my hands to the keyboards) to get to work. As Ann Lamott approves, shitty first drafts are a way of life. Revision is king. But the first step is simply to do the work.

And I thought of how I have espoused that philosophy. Aiming to write five hundred or a thousand words a day at different times and for different projects, and more importantly getting to work every day, whether I’m busy, sick, or on vacation.

I kept moving forward.

And I've dreamed of those days when pristine prose will simply arrive at their fingertips. When it will feel effortless. And those days do come, albeit few and far between, always the exception and not the rule. Thus, like an experienced poker player grinds his way through hands and waits to strike on a humdinger, and like a hunter doesn’t pull the trigger until she has a clean shot, and, indeed, like a runner doesn’t hit the ground too hard with each step or bounce too high, as a writer, I, too, remain patient and faithful. I wait. And I work.

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