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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Gnome of What The Heck Am I Thinking?

When asked, “Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?” George Leigh Mallory famously responded, “Because it’s there.”

Now that’s just stupid.

Volcanoes are there. I don’t jump into them. Liver is there. I don’t eat it. Marathons are there. I don’t run them. Oh, wait . . .

My husband is a marathoner and a wicked-good one too, for a layman. His best time running the St. George Marathon is 2 hours and 49 minutes. I think that is mental. I used to ask him why in the name of St. Sebastian's Achilles tendon he wanted to murder himself like that. He said, in Mallory-esque fashion: “I need to know I can do it.”

My first response to that was, Dude. If your self-esteem is so bad you have to run 26.2 miles in less time than it takes me to eat a brownie sundae, you need a lot more than a marathon.

My second response was, Hmm. Wonder if I could do that. So I tried it. And holy hop-along, did it try me. Understand: I am not a runner. I do not love it. I am a dancer—or was in a former life. I get practicing until your feet bleed, and feeling music and movement flooding every cell of every muscle until you can’t not move. I do not get the unbearable monotony of pounding the same foot-pattern over and over again until your brain falls out, your chronometer beeps, and you say, “all done.” But, I signed up for the St. George and paid the entrance fee anyway.

Then came the pain. I got up at 5 in the morning and ran when my youngest had been up half the night with an ear infection. I ran at 12 in the afternoon in 102-degree heat when the getting up didn't happen. I ran in the rain, in the mud, up a canyon so full of snakes that I had to leap like a hurdler to avoid the diamond-backs in my path. I trained behind hordes of better runners, being dragged along by a patient husband, and wondering what I was doing it for. It became an obsession that had to be finished no matter what. My goals melted down and unified into one: Just cross the finish line before the little dude who picks up the orange cones. And you know what? I succeeded. Never even saw the guy. 

My experience was brutal, fabulous, and life changing. I hated it. I loved it. I learned that I can do hard things and finish impossible tasks. I can climb mountains--even when there is no mariachi band following me pounding out a samba. Even when George Mallory is not running along chanting “It’s there! It’s there!” Even when I’ve pushed myself so far past my own bounds that technique has dissolved and all I have left is heart.

Writing a novel is pretty much like this. People everywhere to help you along your way. Technique fading out until you’re just writing with heart. A constant questioning of your sanity, but a determination to finish. Just like running a marathon. George Mallory would approve.

8 comments:

Jo said...

This, my friend is one of the many reasons I love you. It doesn't matter if it is running a marathon, writing a novel, or facing whatever that next challenge might be; you find the humility, the grace and the determination to do it, no matter how hard it is. You inspire me and always have.

sleye1 said...

Having just trained for and completed my first marathon this year, I totally agree. As with the writing a novel (also a first this year...hmmm?), in the end it's just you and the finish line.

Janiel Miller said...

Jo, sweetie, you can just flip that around and apply it to yourself. :) You're the bomb. Or the bombette.

Janiel Miller said...

Good on you, Scott! Which marathon did you run? Nothing like it, eh? And I agree - I find both activities amazing, internal, and solitary. But I also find a lot of outside support for both, if I look for it.

indiana weaver said...

I will never, ever run a marathon. I did get a Ph.D though, and for me that experience was the academic equivalent of what you described.

I did it because it was there and to see if I could. And I could, and I did. And it completely changed my opinion of myself and what I am capable of.

Russo said...

Janiel, I loved this post and I needed to read it today. The last paragraph is my fave.

Janiel Miller said...

Robin, you are an amazing woman. A Ph.D. is more like running 4 or 5 marathons, I think. Plus you have a degree and a rockin' curriculum vitae. I've got a medal. I shine it a lot, though.

Janiel Miller said...

Russo - *hugs*