Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Little Deaths

For some reason, I haven’t written in my blog for several months. I have written several essays about Japan’s recent suffering and how its essential nature will allow it to eventually triumph. I submitted them to the Denver Post. Much to my delight, I received a phone call on a Thursday asking me to send in my photo because one of the columns would probably run in the Sunday paper, if the editor could “find the space”. She sounded very hopeful.

So was I, of course, because that’s what you are when a dream is about to come true, right? On Sunday morning, I sprinted in my bare feet across the frigid driveway to grab the paper. I spread it out on the kitchen table and looked through the op-ed section. Nothing. How about the regional section? The Arts? The Sports, for crying out loud?

You know the answer. Although the scenario is slightly akin to scurrying downstairs on Christmas morning to find an empty stocking and no presents under the tree, feeling sorry for myself doesn’t seem to matter much. After all, there are people on the other side of the world whose loved ones are still missing beneath a torrent of mud. So, my dream got a little dusty. Big deal.

Here’s the crux of the matter, though: Rejection really sucks. Like, literally. Even life’s little sorrows steal the breath right out of you sometimes. You know that the odds are against you and that failure looms large on the horizon. Somehow, magical thinking overtakes this logic and convinces you that the impossible is quite possible. You take the plunge with nary a thought to the psychic consequences.

It might be a comedy act floundering in front of a tough crowd or a boy getting turned down by his crush or an apology rebuffed…the fact remains that when you put your heart out there, the inevitable squashing of it smarts like hell. Your mind, of course, warned you. Justified, it immediately starts up that old 45 with the skip in it, the one that invariably gets stuck on the annoying refrain: “I Told You So, You Stupid Idiot”.

Poor heart. It dies a little for being so wrong. No one likes death, not even a miniscule amount of one. Deaths, including the petite variety, are scary because our logical brains inform us that the darkness is unknowable and permanent. Faced with this fact, the heart retrenches. It makes perfect sense for the mind to protect its dominion, especially the vulnerable bits.

Apparently, it also makes absolute sense to add more grease to an already raging fire of self-doubt, since I was thinking about this “fact” the other day while running. (“Running” is a loose term for what I do. Realistically, I jog phlegmatically.) I’ve been training for a 10K for the last three months. At this point, I’m running three 17 minute cycles with a minute rest in between which is the longest I’ve ever gone.

A few days ago, two minutes into the third interval, I quickly began to lose my will. My mind, perfectly dressed for the occasion and not the least out of breath, jogged up beside me and commenced its logical tirade, in a polite whisper at first:

“Excuse me, Nancy. It is Nancy, right? Do you remember me? We haven’t talked very often since the girls were born.”

“Uh, huh”, I panted in reply, “What do you want?”

“Um, yeah, I thought I should let you know that this is painful. Why don’t you just cut it out?”

“I know. This is crazy. I’m almost there, though,” I replied, my voice wavering with exhaustion.

Like a dog sizing up a tentative mailman, Brain sensed weakness and fear. His tone got a little more snippy and insistent.

“Nancy, come on now. Really. You are not an athlete. You’re closer to a writer and look where that’s gotten you. Why don’t you just be realistic?”

“I know, right? A 10K does seem like a bit much. I’m thinking 5K is more doable. But I really want to do this.”

Brain sighed deeply. “For Pete’s sake, the old dude walking behind you in the plaid shorts and black knee socks is practically lapping you. Your pace has dropped by a full minute and a half. Just stop and get some water and rest. What are you trying to prove?”

Slowing down further, I considered the reasoning. “You have a point. What will happen on race day? I don’t think I can do this. I’m going to get halfway done and have to walk. That will be beyond embarrassing.”

“Exactly!” exclaimed my brain. “Why don’t you just stop at that water fountain up there and take a long rest?”

I veered off the track and stopped. After a quick drink, I forced myself to start jogging again. Since I was now running practically at a standstill, Brain, who had been left regarding his fingernails at the fountain, caught up and passed me. Then, the little jerk turned around and starting jogging backwards--all the while lecturing me, with his hands on his hips (and not a drop of sweat on his condescending brow).

“Seriously, you gave it your best, kid. Really. You’re barely a jogger and definitely not a runner. You can finish the last 13 minutes some other day. It’s no big deal. Just quit. No one will know, except you and me.”

Beaten down and incredibly weak, I weighed my options. Obviously, it was time for something radical. I looked past the naysayer loping ahead of me, tilted my head to the ceiling and actually…prayed. This is strange because I don’t often feel comfortable petitioning God on my own behalf. I certainly don’t do it while I’m running. But here’s what I said, pleaded even:

“Oh, God. Just let me finish. I just want to finish today. I don’t care about the 10K. I just want to finish, TODAY. Please, God. Help me suffer just 13 more minutes. It’s just 13 stinking minutes of my life. People suffer all the time, for much longer and for much more important reasons. I can slow down even more. I simply can’t quit. I really want to quit. So bad. But I’ve done all this painful work and now I just want to finish these FU#&ING 13 LOUSY MINUTES!! OKAAAY?!”

About a minute later, a lightning bolt hit me. Not a hot smiting one, which would be expected (and, let’s face it, deserved)…but a cold one. My whole body lost warmth and went tingly. I started running faster. I could breathe. My legs felt light. As my mind became quiet, I picked up my pace. By the time I passed the five minute mark, I was running, incredibly, two and a half minutes faster than before.

My heart did a brief happy dance at the finish line…something akin to Elaine’s awkward display on Seinfeld. It was definitely more exuberant than skilled.

Brain might have called this miracle a “runner’s high”. I couldn’t find him, though, to ask what he thought. I have no idea what happened to him. He just faded away. I’ve run this interval set again since then. He popped his head around the corner of the track and yelled, “Hey, you. You suck”, and then wandered off somewhere, probably to get a pina colada protein shake at the juice bar. He loves those things. My guess is, he’ll be back in force when the intervals climb to two 30 minute cycles. Until then, I’m enjoying the peace from the arrogant little bugger.

This mini victory has started me thinking that I need to approach writing like I do running. I can’t quit when that logical voice starts its fire and brimstone sermon: “Nancy, decidedly, your cup does not overfloweth. You can’t even get published in the Denver Post. Therefore, you can’t even think about writing a book. What are you going to write about? Your credentials are an abomination. You didn’t graduate from Princeton or Stanford with a writing degree. There are thousands of real writers out there who can’t get published. Get over thyself!”

Oh, Brain, why don’t you get over yourself? My heart might be a tad timid but I now understand that you can be silenced. It will just take practice…and quite possibly some irreverent prayer. Maybe I will never become a “real” writer, but on account of these seemingly insignificant sufferings, I have learned some important personal “facts”:

Entrenchment is not an option. And, out of these little deaths, I will find life. I just have to keep running towards it.


Andrea said...

I was so ready to give you a "You can do it" speech...but you did it first lol! FYI - there is at least one person waiting patiently to buy your first published piece. Not because I personally know you, or because I think you're totally rad, but because I genuinely LOVE what you write. ~hugs~

Pat said...

Nancy, I have known you since you were a baby you are the daughter I never had. Of course you can write very eloquently! Just don't deprive us keep on going! I am waiting for your book! Love ya!!