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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The Other

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Tonight, I sink in memory foam

but I remember the mattress on which I used to ease myself in India–the thin, dirty one I came to love.

Other travelers, with their own obedient dreams, had slept on it before me, and so I didn’t mind resting my sooty, unsandaled feet on it at the end of a long day.

Now forced air hurries through my bedroom vents like an American promise, and I listen.

I do listen.

But I remember that wall-mounted AC that cost so much to run right before monsoon in that other life when the air swirled like steam in my lungs and I prayed earnest prayers about the electricity staying on all night.

That mattress, that AC, those prayers still live somewhere

though I soak in tubs of endless hot water now

and have cut off all my hair.

Grace

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I miss this blog. I can’t commit to it and I can’t abandon it, which everyone says is the worst thing if you’re a writer. Commit or let go. Don’t waste your time or, on second thought, waste it over here, in this way, on this platform. Post pictures.

I throw things away. It gives me pleasure to fill bags with things to toss, things to donate, things to pass on to friends. I like empty spaces where my eyes can rest and blur. I have a very few items I keep without secret plans of ridding the house of them one day: my grandmother’s diamond studs, my cello, the photo albums I’ve put together over the years, the journal I kept in college (written in German and full of foolish things).

I tried to toss the blog, but I couldn’t. There are things that persist past their evident usefulness, things that collect dust and grow obsolete, you know? But I find as I get older I’m less inclined to scoop every, single thing into a bag at the first sign it isn’t earning its keep. I tell myself I need a few curled up, uncategorized placeholders in my life, that it’s OK if I don’t come back to sit with them except once in a long while, and then only because I want to.

Further Up, Further In

psx_20160512_125110Recently, I went back and read the first post I ever published on this blog, and it reminded me why I started blogging in the first place. I’d just come back to the U.S. after living in India for three years. I was grieving. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be in this new/old culture. Writing helped me to bear witness to the confusion of repatriation and to the eventual clarity that time and distance gifted me.

After a while, cultural commentary/navel gazing snippets morphed into other kinds of posts, some about homeschooling, some about learning how to be a stay-at-home mom without losing myself completely. And then there were updates about the new global adventures I ended up on, ones I didn’t see coming.

But then I wrote a novel. And another one, and then one after that. I still blogged, but it felt different, like digging in a sandbox without a shovel. This summer I attended an enormous writers conference where I thought, This whole fiction writing thing isn’t beyond my reach after all. And I didn’t blog once.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…come further up, come further in!”

He gave these words to a noble character named Jewel, and he wasn’t talking about writing, but about Aslan’s Country. Still I resonate with them when I think about writing stories.

Which brings me to this: I’ve been thinking I need to step away from blogging. It’s been enormously helpful for me to write about what bubbled to the surface of my brain these last few years, but now my brain is full of fiction. I won’t delete this space, but it may gather dust. Or, who knows, I may come back to it one day when I need it most. But I suspect I’ll probably just keep writing–and living–stories.

Thanks for reading. It’s meant a lot.

A Better Burden

I’m on my second cup of coffee and it’s well before 7 a.m.  I’ve woken up at 5 without an alarm for the second morning in a row.  This is unusual.  My stomach flirts with the idea of rejecting the scalding black liquid I keep sending down into it because it wants to be asleep like my teenagers are, but I keep on sipping.

Being awake turns out to be what I need.  Now I can think in straight lines.  The breath of the box fan tethers my brain to the real, though, if I’m honest, the real isn’t strictly better than the dreams.

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The world has lost its mind, like I’m sometimes sure I’m losing mine, and this forces me to ponder Things That Matter. Should I have had another baby, I wonder, now that the kids are stretching toward adulthood like the potted ivy on my side table?  (There is nothing like housing a human in one’s core to realign everything).  But there’s the self-destructing world–that giant live coal that blisters our souls as we walk on it.  There’s us.

And that’s when I realize I’ve been tired for a long, long time.

I reach for my coffee mug, but this time my stomach is not playing around.  I need more than caffeine can offer anyway.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he says to me, to us.

I fill up my lungs, let the air out slow.  I close my rusted eyes and choose to believe Him again.

(This).

The Next Thing

This summer has been a doozy.  I lost a grandmother, rode the rails of the cancer train with another grandmother (still riding), had a grandfather fall and break his hip–and this while he suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s.  I’ve been on an extended family vacation, finished a manuscript, tried to sleep at night (and found myself unsuccessful).  I’ve done my level-best, along with millions of other Americans, to ignore our political candidates and their latest absurdities, but found myself horrified anyway when I peaked through my fingers.

All in a few weeks’ time.

DSC_0690This summer has been a doozy, yes, and I’m almost ready for it to be over, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.  Everything we go through, each day that passes, is, in its own mysterious way, a necessary part of the whole that makes up our lives.  Our experiences shape us and we shape them (which is what writing is, in the end, the shaping of events into stories we can tell until we begin to understand them a little).  God helps us with the shaping, and that’s a good thing since he’s the one who holds everything anyway.

Still, I look forward to the coolness of fall, the reassurance of routine.  I prepare to kiss summer goodbye this time without a hint of nostalgia.  It’s almost time and I’m ready.

 

 

Since Then

June was insane.  I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words).  During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).

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(Photo by my son, Ivan)

By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day.  Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time.  The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.

And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.

A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions.  There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent.  2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.

And then there’s this.  God is always good, even when life isn’t.