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Of Running and Writing, and Failing

A little over a year ago I started to run.
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We have a beautiful lake across the street from our home and my husband would take our daughters around it in the jogging stroller in the evenings.  I thought it would be fun to go with him every so often, so I gave running a try.

I’d say I’m in pretty good shape.  Before I added running to my exercise routine I was averaging four workouts a week.  I did a lot of step, interval, spin, always ending with ab work.  I was an aerobics instructor for Pete’s sake. But running was a different beast for me.  I went into it thinking Jesse and I would be able to have a nice conversation all the while enjoying the scenery.  What ended up happening that first time out came nowhere near my expectations.  I was huffing and puffing and trailing way behind Jesse and the girls.  I think I ran for maybe five minutes and then felt like my lungs would find a very Alien – like way to get out of my body if I didn’t stop ASAP.

So that first time out I walked and ran – mostly walked – my way around our little neighborhood body of water that at the time could’ve been Lake Superior as far as I was concerned. Did I get a good workout that day?  I don’t know; probably not.  I might’ve gotten my heart rate up for awhile, but I had a difficult time controlling by breathing, I was tense and using most of my energy trying not to fall over. It felt good to be outside, though.  Working out outside was something new for me, and while it was hard, that wasn’t enough for me to not enjoy aspects of the run.  I would be back at it again.

Eventually running has worked its way into my weekly exercise routine, and while I don’t know how far I run, I can do it without stopping for my goal time.  My breathing is now controlled, and after a bit I can feel my lungs opening up and my muscles loosen.  I love that feeling.

There’s always those first few minutes, though, when my body says, well, screams, “STOP IT!  STOP IT RIGHT NOW!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME?!”  That’s always a scary time for me.  I have to decide to do something that I don’t think I can do.

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Around the same time I began running, I started looking for a writer’s group.  I had the same sort of thought process I had with running: it seemed like it would be a nice thing to have a group of people that would want to share writing and improve on it.  Here’s what happened: I looked around the DC area for writer’s groups and when I found one that I thought I might be interested in joining, I contacted the group.  The group would write back, and ask for published clips.  I’d send some back and about a week later I’d get a message that read, “Thanks, but you’re writing isn’t a good fit for our group.”  This happened about four times.

I’m used to rejection.  I submit work all the time and get rejected, but this stung.  It’s hard not to begin thinking it’s not my writing; it’s me.  But I tried again.  I belong to a group of bloggers that read and write about Children’s Literature (many of them are authors, too).  I thought I’d post a messgae to this group asking if there were any locals looking to be in a writing group.  No replies.  Well, that’s not true.  I got a response from a woman who told me she had no idea what came over me to write this sort of messgae because it was completely off topic.  This group was for blogging about children’s literature; not looking for a writer’s group.  That one stung, too.  If my rejections from the other groups were bee stings, this was more like a yellow jacket sting.  Or perhaps a baby hornet.

Then I tried a different approach.  If no one wanted me in their writing group, I’d just create my own.  I created a document,  and put it up around the DC area.  Nobody bit.

Awhile after this last attempt, I was talking to a friend about my writing and she said, “You know what you should do? You should join a writer’s group!”

That’s when I started to cry.  “That’s what I’ve been trying to do!”  I put my head in my hands and mumbled, “I feel like such a failure.”

This whole time, though, I kept running and I kept writing.  And just as my body screams to me those first few moments I start to run, my brain screams things to my fingers as I begin to write.  “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP IT RIGHT NOW!  YOU CAN’T DO THIS!”

But there’s this other voice, too.  She’s pretty quiet, but she keeps me running and writing.  She’s say things like, “Just  put one foot in front of the other, Callie.  That’s all you have to do.” Or, “Tell the story.  Get it down, then you can walk away.”  I like this other voice. She doesn’t seem to know about my difficulty with running, or my writing rejections.

Or maybe she doesn’t care.  Maybe she just likes being ouside and listening to music on her MP3 player really loudly.  Maybe she likes arranging words on a piece of notebook paper and a BIC round stick blue ballpoint pen.  I think she likes the feeling of sweat sliding down her back, or the rush of figuring something out through words.

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This year Spring in DC came in starts and stops.  One day I’d be wearing flip flops and the next I’d have my winter jacket back on.  It was frustrating.  I wondered when it would be here, or if it would come at all.  Perhaps we’d just jump to the 101 degree weather I detest.  But one thing I learned was that after more than a year of running, I can do it in all kinds of weather.  Sometimes, it’s through the rain and the cold that my runs are the most joyful.

It reminds me of a poem a former student wrote about the sadness of winter.  “The world seems monotonous….the wind is biting,” she writes.

“But from the dead

Comes life

Flowers bloom

We become elated as the

Sun peeks through the clouds

And cuts through the grey

Colors arrive.

And if it were never cold

Would it matter if it were warm?

If not for winter

No one would love the spring

I love the promise of dead winter.”

The truth might be that I will never run long distances.  And I may never be counted among the likes of Katherine Paterson or Gary D. Schmidt.  But I think it’s good to try something, to change something, to put myself in a situation that is so enjoyable it’s worth it if I fail.  Because when this happens, I believe I haven’t failed at all.


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