Leaps of Faith, and Other Stupid Ideas

Friends, I’m taking off tomorrow morning at 3 a.m. That’s three in the goddamn morning. All because, on a whim built by the impending doom of middle age, bouts of deep depression, and a general lack of self-preservation, I decided it would be a “fun” idea to sign up to fill a vacant spot on a random Ragnar Trail Relay team one short month ago.

I’m not sure if I was thinking it would count towards training inspiration, an escape from my day to day, or if it stemmed from some kind of deep-seated desire to find an adventurous death, but whatever the case—I’m soon to be on my way up the mountain, for a trying 30 hours and 15+ miles of no sleep, altitude climbs, rough single track, and hanging out in a sweaty tent with 7 other people I don’t really know. (They’re mostly comprised of lovely nurses and good-hearted runners, so I will be in capable hands, even if I try to die by wild animal attack.)

While I’m in some ways dreading the experience, there is a part of me that understands that this challenge, while unnecessary and possibly adding to my overall stress, is something of value.

My life of late has been…tumultuous. It’s been a rough day… since about 2020… and personal conflicts and their responding growth have come at a cost to the security I once felt with my place in the world. I’m in a state of upheaval and I honestly don’t know what next year, next month, or even next week will look like.

Sometimes, when we undergo these painful growth spurts it can feel that we’re a little lost in the world. As Paul Simon once sang. Nothing is different but everything has changed. Oceans and Mountains

Part of us is still lagging behind in our old ‘knowns’, part of us has been thrown into a blender of new and frightening possibilities. We are, as a species, not designed to stay stagnant. Challenges, hardships, changes, and losses are elements of the journey that test our ability to adapt and grow. If we don’t…we’re doomed to stay immobile an maybe what’s worse, risk living half a life. You should really watch this movie…

When you only get 76 years, 42 starts feeling like a decline to the end. A sharply steep trail, in the dead of night that only seems to drop faster, the farther we go down. Rocks slipping under our feet, scrub tearing at our ankles, and the out of control realization that nothing we do, really matters. We’re all headed to the bottom.

So the question then becomes, do we stay stagnant and let the gravity of life take us down the hill, a complacent body rolling over cactus and sharp stone? Or do we try to stand in the midst of the pull. Control the hill so the hill doesn’t control you?

Now, I’m a bit free-wheeling, and I’ll never tell you to try to control things in life outside of your power. The hill is there, you’re going down it. The path has rocks you can’t see until they’re tripping your toes, and falls that will scar and scare you. But you can control your legs, how you view those rocks, and perhaps most importantly, how you rise after you fall. (I prefer cursing, gritting my teeth, a bit of healthy anger, a good laugh at myself, and continuing on)

The thought occurs to me that one of the reasons I signed up for this crazy race…might have been to remind myself of how strong I am. Of how many mountains I have climbed, and how many falls I’ve survived. A good dose of suffering can sometimes bring out the heart that has been shuttered for too long. Maybe in every aching footstep, is a starlit night. Maybe in every scraped knee and bruised elbow, is a view you’d never have seen if you didn’t choose to fight your way up that hill. Maybe it’s not a good death I’m looking for, but a better life.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find it, on a dark starlit night, beneath a blazing sun, alone but still supported, on the long and distant trail. Find Your Heart

VerseDay 4-18-19

In observance of the Boston Marathon bombing that occurred 6 years ago Monday, I’m reposting a poem I wrote the day after.

Running on a dark highway, under speckled stars and the approaching dawn, I felt the legs of thousands of runners alongside me. The shrapnel of fear and terror, echoing thousands of miles away, gave rise to such indomitable hope and strength for so many.

runner

Runner

 

Today I ran.
Not out of fear,

not out of obligation to a scale or a time.

Today I ran to remember why we run,

to share the heavy hurt,

to find the solace that only comes in the gentle cadence of the body and road.

Today I ran for them,

For the hearts and soles that carry the world with them as they go.

just as I do.

Down pavement, and sidewalks, and dirt trails we fly

Down these paths to lighten the burdens of life.

Today I run with my countless brothers and sisters.

Those who came before me,

those paced beside me,

those still on their way.

For all of the tireless legs, the calloused feet, the hardened lungs and loosened smiles.

For those that find their peace and promise where feet connect to Earth.

I don’t have to know you, to know you.

You are me.

In the dark morning, pavement shining in just-stopped rain.
In the quick wedge of afternoon between meetings and bus drops.
In the long weekends when we find out what we really can do in the hours

and hours

of loving devotion.

With hope and in respect,

Today, I’ll carry your burden,

Until you’re back on your feet.

Today I ran.

Cross-Writing

Today was my official first run on an abbreviated 10-week marathon training plan. Okay, that’s a little fictitious. I’ve been running. I trained for and completed a 200-mile relay race last weekend, surpassing my hopes to not die by not only surviving but actually enjoying the whole thing. But this morning I dusted off the old chart and began to slowly start building the mileage I’d need to not die again in October for the Blue Sky Trail Marathon.

runnerIt got me to thinking about different types of runners. Some would have started training much sooner than this. Some are going to show up on race day with minimal miles and legs full of ego. Some have calculated calories to the numbers, selected precise nutrients per ingestion, and are weighing their shoe laces. Some are probably going to drink the night before and show up with four-year old sneakers and a day-old bagel with green chili cream cheese for fuel. The rest of us will fall along the spectrum between.

We’re all in the race, we’ve all got different reasons why, and different motivations to pursue that finish line.

In the same way, there are many types of writers in the world.

Those that dabble only when the muse traipses through their line of sight. Those that succumb completely to the words, to the exclusion of all else in their lives. The researching non-fiction gurus and the world-building sci-fi pros. The haiku aficionados and epic scribblers. The plotters and pantsers. The pious and the pornographic.

We cover all the bases.

penThe one thing we shouldn’t be as writers, no matter if we’re outlining or winging it, is stagnant. Yes, we need periods of repose  where we can recoup our mental losses and rest the neurons. Just like runners need a resting season, writers should take breaks as needed. This doesn’t mean we sit still. We are always, in some way, in training. And sometimes, the best way to train is to diversify the hours we spend at our art.

My suggestion for today’s post is to make a plan with your writing.

HEY! Come back! Hear me out…sheesh…pantsers!

When I say plan, I’m not suggesting you go investing your hours in spreadsheets and calendars. I’m saying expand your repertoire. It’s one of the best ways to grow as a writer.

If all a runner does are long, slow-paced runs, they will only develop a certain set of muscles. If all a runner trains at, are speed drills around a track, the same thing occurs. Unless you’re an olympian in a specific event this is a waste of your potential and a recipe for injury.

Balance, writer. That’s what I’m talking about.

If you are a novelist, take a break and work on a short story (you can even make it about a side character or your main character thrown into an alternate universe). If you’re a flash fiction genius, take a couple minutes to start plot building a novella or research a topic for a non-fiction essay.

If you spend your writing hours researching and plugging away at your non-fiction novel about the long line of Fredricks ruling the Kingdom of Prussia in the eighteenth century, try giving your brain a break and write a noir short story set in 1920’s Chicago. Or, *gasp*, try your hand at a little poetry.

writingStretching your brain is just as important as stretching your training plan to incorporate different activities.

Just like miles for runners, words for writers are not a waste. It doesn’t matter if they’re on paved or dirt roads, up hellacious hills, or on even city streets…the miles are the work and the work makes you stronger for the bigger tests ahead. Your words, your writing, grows stronger and better with every method you use to stretch it.

So get to it.

Go out and do ten fartleks of sonnets and a long-day of article submissions to Knitter’s Weekly.

Get uncomfortable.

Get better.

Two-A-Days

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Hey, ya’ll. If you know me, you know that I’m a runner. Sometimes more of a hobbled, panting jogger. Occasionally a hitch-in-her-giddyap mosey-er. Currently I’ve worked up to the ‘two-a-day’ portion of my training schedule for the 2018 Wild West Relay

Basically, this tortuous routine requires two runs within a ten-hour period. They say it will help the body learn how to run on tired legs and get over the mental barriers associated with that. I say, gushing sweat on a 98-degree afternoon, beet red, and looking like I just stroked out, that mental barriers are only half the issue.

I’ve been participating in relay races for the last 4 or 5 years and have captained the team for two of those. It’s one of those stupid, addictive things that once you agree to do it, you hate yourself.

From the nerves that strike even before you start, all the way until the last section of your race when your legs are throbbing and you’re sleep-deprived-drunk and everything and nothing is funny, and you’re pretty sure between the altitude, miles, and meals made of gels and power bars you might be hallucinating that there’s a raccoon pointing you in the direction of the next exchange…where was I? Oh yes.

You hate it.

You f#&king hate it! And why in the hell did I sign up for this goddamn thing again!?

Except there’s this sweaty group of misfits that welcomes you back into the van and gives you the roomiest seat after your leg, and feeds you bananas and homemade pasta salad and nods as you commiserate over all the shoulda’s you encountered over the miles.

 

Except there’s a group of total strangers that cheer you on as you come across every exchange, smiling, and clapping and honestly glad that you made it there…because runners (almost every single one I know) know what you go through on those miles and what it feels like when you feel like you can’t go another step. And they slap your shoulders and congratulate you and it gets to that you are disappointed when you walk into the grocery store and aren’t met by a group of moms cheering you on.

“Atta Girl! You made it and you’re dressed! Look at that, choosing fruit over cookies for the kids! You rock! You got this momma!”

Wouldn’t that be nice? We should start doing that…

Except that you stick around at the exchange to cheer on those tired, aching souls that are pushing themselves beyond boundaries and comfort zones. Those runners, those humans, striking out against every thought that tells them they can’t. That they shouldn’t, and getting to look them in the eye, smile and cheer and say, “You did! And you should! And you will!”

 

Except the stars. The countless masses, splashed over the night sky coming out of the expansive heaven of Wyoming plains and into the hills of Colorado, painted above you and reminding you of how small you are. And yet how beautiful an existence, to stand in awe while recognizing your own insignificance.

 

Except the cold beer at the finish. And the sleep you get in a real bed the first night after. And the way you have to Lamaze breath just to lower yourself onto the toilet for the next couple of days. And the medal hanging in the closet, and the smile that lasts for a good two weeks after…

 

So what can this insane process teach us about writing?

 

That it’s not all easy.

 

That it’s turbulent and painful. Merely signing up for it can cause panic, and self-doubt, and the desire to quit. That training for it, sacrificing other areas of our life to devote time to it, doing the hard editing, admitting to our faults in order to change them, and opening up dozens of rejection letters are the painful “two-a-days” that build our mental stamina for the road ahead.

That there are people, in your own circle, waiting back at the table for you with open arms (and maybe bananas, I don’t know… I’m not in your circle) able and ready to listen to your trials.

That there are people, not even in your immediate circle who are cheering you on to the finish line. Because, like many runners, writers know what it feels like to drudge through the pages, to cut out the organs of your favorite story, the elation of inspiration and the crushing self-doubt of the whole process.

That there will be an end product, and perfect or not, it will be yours. And that’s something, insignificant human speck. It’s something to have your voice put into pages.

 

If you’re a runner of any level and have considered a relay; Do it.

 

If you’re a want-to-be writer who hasn’t committed to it; DO IT.

 

Because the work is hard, and its dirty and painful…but the work is where you find the deeper level of strength that you haven’t met yet. Where feet hit the road and pens kiss paper, that’s where you discover yourself.

 

Get out there and do it.