I used to run. A lot. And in keeping with my penchant for extremes, my running exploded with a frenzied eagerness that bordered on insanity. A lap around the track quickly became two. Two became four. A mile turned into three, and then five, and before I knew it, I was running at least twelve miles a day, every day. I took breaks only on days when my legs were so stiff that I thought paralysis was imminent. I ran through pulled muscles, shin splints, fractured bones. I ran until I ended up in a cast. I ran when it was 112 degrees outside, when rain was coming down sideways, when roads were slick with ice. I ran to feel the air around me, to focus my thoughts, to chase angels, to escape demons. I ran like this for seven years. Because I wanted to. Because I had to.
But I wasn’t a runner. Not in the least. What I was was an addict, an obsessive compulsive who woke up itching to suck down an eight-miler, who ended her days with another hit, who freaked out when a treadmill wasn’t available on vacation, who became jittery and unpleasant when injury or illness made running impossible. I didn’t love running. I didn’t even like it. When I look back at my running days, I don’t remember euphoria or a feeling of accomplishment or even a brief moment of serenity. What I remember is ice baths, aching knees, enormous amounts of Aspercreme. And when I stopped running, I felt as if a period in my life had closed for good, as if I somehow knew that I wouldn’t again be reaching for a worn pair of Asics.
And I don’t miss it.
So, when I started writing, I wondered if my newest obsession would be a repeat of my youth, if I would tackle the craft with the same foolish urgency and recklessness and verve that only the undamaged dare. I questioned whether my nascent passion was already doomed to a finite shelf life, if it would follow the trajectory of so many passions I’d discarded when my interest waned in favor of the next Kilimanjaro. I worried that if I was capable of an all-out assault on whatever had captured my imagination, then I was incapable of seeing it through to completion. But I wrote anyway. And I wrote with the same urgency and recklessness and verve that the unmindful dare, wrote in the wee hours of the morning, in the still hours of the night. I wrote until an agent would have me, until a publisher signed me, until my book was on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. I wrote another novel afterwards, and then another, obsessed over them, wrote second and third versions of them. Half a million words in all, carefully chosen, and then re-chosen, made malleable and lyrical, monstrous and wonderful.
I tucked both works-in-progress into a drawer.
And then I stopped writing. Because life got in the way. Because my muses went on holiday. Because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say. Because I simply didn’t feel like writing anymore.
A year of silence. A year of quiet, of a sleeping laptop, of a mind devoid of characters and plots and dialogue. I wondered if my previous worry had come to fruition, if I’d climbed Kilimanjaro and was now looking toward Everest, if I was searching for an oasis, if I was lost in a desert. I wondered if my passion and love and obsession with words had waned, if it had come to a close, if I was damned to an incongruous series of preoccupations.
A year of this.
Until I realized that I miss writing. I miss it terribly.
Because I am a writer. In the most. Because what I remember about having written is not so much the endless hours of madness searching for the right word on the tip of my brain, nor the thankless nights of work when the rest of the world was asleep. What I remember is the euphoria of finding that right word, the serenity of dawn when I put to paper a world so alive to me that I almost forgot it was imaginary, the accomplishment of finishing a novel that brings a smile to me still. Because if running was a jacket that I’d worn until it shredded at the seams and found its way to the trash bin, then writing is a part of me that can’t be extricated from my being. It’s my central nervous system, my heart, my blood, my soul. It’s there even when laying fallow, even when I don’t know what to do with it.
This comforts me. It stills the gnawing anxiety that a long break means more than that, tempers the fear that opportunity has passed me by. It allows me to pull back and take a breath, realize that I have a lifetime to find my words, to improve my craft, to distill my thoughts, to understand my characters, to breathe life into them.
I’ve got some writing to do.