Running: A Love Story

I started running eight months ago, not because I needed to lose weight or had gotten a diagnosis from the doctor, but because I turned 39 in February and was feeling a little lethargic. As a work-from-home mom of three teenagers, I spend a lot of time putting out fires while sitting at the computer or driving a kid to rehearsal. I knew I needed to do something to clear the cobwebs in my head and get my blood pumping, or I’d slip into middle age with declining energy and increasing girth. So when my sisters challenged me to train for a 10K this year, something I’d never considered before, I took them up on it. I ran my first race in April and I’m training for another one in the Fall. At this point, as far as running goes, I’m all in.

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But, as wonderful as running is (my sisters and I refer to it as “fun-pain”), it isn’t a panacea. In the last eight months, I’ve sustained personal loss and experienced struggles both in my job and in my parenting. Running, as great as it is, hasn’t solved my problems. But it’s helped me keep going.

When my beloved grandmother lost a protracted battle with pancreatic cancer this past Spring, I ran as tears slid underneath my sunglasses and dripped off my chin. I ran through anger and listlessness and fatigue. I ran like a bear was after me. I was surprised to find that, while I can’t outrun my sorrow, grieving while moving feels better to me than grieving standing still. I’ve discovered I like the wind to dry my tears.

fullsizeoutput_b47As well as being a homeschooling mom, I’m a writer whose current manuscript sits in a (seemingly endless) editing phase. I often fight frustration and, let’s be real, shall we? total despair as I try to coax what’s in my head to reappear on paper for the sixty-seventh time. Running does not give me “ideas” like it seems to for other writers. It does not untwist plot problems or unlock inspiration. On the other hand, the grit and consistency I’m developing in my runs seem to be helping me stay the course in my work, too. When I’m tempted to procrastinate, or to make excuses when I’m stuck in a literary quandary, I remember that I’ve learned to run when I feel like it—and when I don’t. This means I can work when I don’t feel like it, too. Feet on pavement, butt in chair. One kind of showing up helps the other.

 

fullsizeoutput_b4eHave I mentioned I’m a mom of three teenagers? Parenting is hard. Parenting wannabe adults is, arguably, hardest of all. I find myself short on patience and long on irritation, these days. Running does not produce in me a Zen-like serenity that remains unruffled in the face of my kids’ less adorable tendencies. It doesn’t offer ‘aha’ moments when I suddenly see where we all went wrong (see above). Then again, running gives me time to myself, to be quiet and breathe, to pound out adrenaline and fear, to pray. And it must be helping because, if we’ve all had a particularly trying day, or I get a certain look in my eye, my kids’ll say, “Hey, Mom. Maybe you should go for a run.”

And I do.

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How To Write A Book When You Don’t Have Time

[We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you something a little different].  This is an article I wrote for another website but since I have several writer-readers of the blog I thought I’d share it here.  I hope you enjoy it!

It’s a tired cliché but I’ll break an immutable law of good writing and use it anyway: Writing a book is like having a baby. I should know. I’ve done both. It might be more accurate to say that writing a book is like being in labor every, single day because pregnancy is mostly a passive state.

Writing a book, on the other hand, requires one to bear down and push, sometimes brutally. A writer is a warrior-mother, giving life to her ideas, and her enemies are Time, Distraction and Fear of Having Nothing to Say.  Of course, we writers do have things to say but they are buried back behind the mental furniture of our lives and we must rummage for these thoughts.

The writer-life is sometimes scary, often tedious, and we fear that one day we’ll wake up and be unable to do it once and for all. This is where the real work comes in, especially if our schedules have failed to be as conducive to the honing of our craft as we’d hoped.  It happens.

Others have written eloquently on the virtues of a maintaining a writing schedule as a way to increase productivity. I imagine they know more about writing than I do (in fact, I’m rather sure they do). As a mother who has three children at home during the day, however, I write less like a methodical monk and more like a ninja ready to take someone out.

I cannot fully rely on a set time to write each day nor can anyone promise me that I won’t be interrupted when I do. I can almost guarantee that each day will unfold somewhat different from what I’d envisioned, in fact. But I write anyway, sometimes in snippets, and with a determination much like the kind I felt when the nurse told me the baby’s head was “right there” and that it was time to push.

There’s no waiting around for inspiration in situations like these. You take a deep breath, position yourself, and get it done. Writing in short, intense bursts may not appeal to every writer but it can be beneficial for clearing mental cobwebs and outrunning one’s inner editor.

And speaking of that editor, I know there is a time for her.  Unfortunately, though, she’s the one who whispers that we aren’t real writers, that we have no clue what we’re talking about, that we’re crazy for thinking of trying to put words on paper. There is a time for her, but it’s when we’ve finished a project and not before.

Writing faster than the speed of thought can be the thing that allows a writer to outrun her. Not all writing from these sprints is good, of course. Some of it is, however, and those of us with less-than-ideal schedules can accomplish much when we write in short, frantic intervals. It’s how I wrote an 80,000-word novel, one hour-long stint at a time.

Grabbing a moment to write when a moment presents itself isn’t Zen. It’s schizophrenic, I admit. It’s a little slice of insanity reserved for moms and people with day jobs, and I’m always imagining that there will come a day when I become a fully mature writer. That will be the day when I have a set writing schedule, when I’m (mostly) peaceful inside, a day when I drink fair trade coffee in an office with built-in bookshelves.

I’ll wear tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses and I will have come from the gym so my thighs will be toned. I won’t be scratching ideas down in a $1.99 notebook with a number two pencil that day. My kids will have grown and made lives for themselves and my house will stay tidy for long stretches.

On that day my thoughts will unfurl in outline form and I will click away on my high-tech, silver Mac. Until then, I write. Oh, I write, pounding words out in powerful contractions. And somehow, I’m still getting it done, though it’s messy and there’s occasional screaming. The moral to this little story is to write when you can, write fast, write crazy, and edit later if you must. Above all, grab the moment when it comes, take a breath, and get it done.