Friday, November 21, 2014

Running and Writing

By Susan

This morning, I pulled on a reflective running jacket the color of a traffic cone, slipped the blue collar on my very excited dog, Lucy, and took off in my pink Mizunos for a quick 5K run in the fog.
I wore bright colors because of the heavy air. With the morning light dim and the atmosphere almost spooky, I wanted to stand out and be seen if I planned to make it home from my run in one piece. It was 7:15am and the teenagers zipped—so fast!— through my subdivision with sleep-filled eyes, hoping to beat the bell.
I didn't have time for this run today, I'd told myself. Too many errands. Too many people need me. Too many words to write and not enough time to wrestle them down and put them on a page. I'd been too busy to write lately. I'd been too busy to run. But it's time now. I run.
I good morning my neighbors bringing trash bags to the curb in housecoats. I smile past the elderly walking their elderly dogs, all seeming to frown at Lucy's youth and exuberance. I recognize the familiar runners and walkers on my route: Blinking Man, who runs with strobe lights, Knee Band Man who runs in braces, and Chinese Couple, who walk together and yet apart—she ten paces behind her spouse. We smile and nod, greet hello. I continue running.
The fog becomes humid in my lungs and the world feels soft and delicate and close around me. My footfalls remain steady and muted and my heart thumps as I breathe in and out. My dog looks back and smiles at me as if to say, faster! I feel fast today. I loop out and back and the sky brightens a bit and I am home. Thirty minutes to listen to the sound of my feet on pavement, to ponder the nature of the world inside my neighborhood, to inhale fog and exhale a cloud of breath, in and out, as though I am a steam machine: a locomotive.
Lucy, post-run writing assistant.
I thought about the words, too, as I ran—it's impossible not to. I write the narrative, sing the lyrics, compose the sentences as I go. It must be something in the rhythm of the run that makes it feel like writing, like the tap tap tap of keys. I think about the motives of my protagonist. I create new working titles for the novel and contemplate what metaphors I can extend. I need to train my body to run greater distances, I think, if I am to complete this novel. I need to run my way through the whole book, my smiling dog beside me, my neighbors grinning and nodding, as the world wakes up and my novel takes form.
As wonderful as this run came to be, I remind myself that it's my first run in nine days. A tight back, I remember. A cold front that made my joints ache. A holiday-busy schedule. All excuses. I remind myself how good I feel now, breathing with run-freshened lungs, and yet wonder: why delay? Why put it off when I love it so?
Just like words on the page, of course. We write for the joy of it, yet it breaks our hearts. I run for the same reason—it breaks my body in order to build it back up. Perhaps the heartbreak that arrives when I write is to make my prose stronger, too. I remind myself to remember to run, and to practice my writing with the same discipline. It's about putting one foot in front of the other.

Today, I run. And today, I write. Tomorrow is another day. Here's hoping for progress.

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