Acts of Solitude, Or: Running Away My Blues

I planned on going to the gym after work today, but the weather’s been phenomenal lately. Low 80s, little to no humidity. Good running weather. I opted instead to make the very short – less than 1 mile – drive to a local greenway. I swapped my cube monkey uniform – buttoned shirt, slacks, brown slip-on shoes – and changed into my running wear. Again, perfect weather, and it certainly didn’t hurt that there were plenty of people running, walking, or bicycling on the greenway. Lots of people in two’s and three’s.

Except me.

Running, like writing, is an act of solitude. You can always have a running buddy, and you can always take part in a writer’s group, but ultimately, the act of running and the act of writing is something you can only achieve solo. That’s fine with me. When I run, I let my mind wander. I’ll recap the events of the day, or, more importantly, I’ll continue outlining my Work in Progress. When I’m running, whether it’s a 5K or 5 miles, I’m reviewing what I’ve written so far, trying to pinpoint what works so far, and what doesn’t. I logged just under 5 miles tonight. A lot of thinking taking place, and while I’m thinking, I’m ignoring the aches and pains. I have a high threshold for physical pain; my feet have been a mess lately, but I tough it out, and my mind won’t let me focus on the physical discomfort.

Haruki Murakami touched upon the similarities between running and writing in his memoir, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.” As memoirs go, there’s nothing juicy or salacious, considering what passes for “memoir” these days. What I took from Murakami’s memoir is that writing is a lot like running a race. You’re always tempted to come out of the blocks like gangbusters, but you’re best to remember that the finish line is a long way to go, so you’re better off pacing yourself. And, yes, there’s a lot of pain involved, so you better learn how to control the pain, how to tell the pain to fuck off and let me finish my race. And my writing. The pain will always be there. It’s how you handle that pain, i.e., the suffering, that defines you as either a runner or a writer, or, in his case, both.

His memoir opens with a prologue, containing what’s become one of my favorite quotes, and a daily reminder for me:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

When I’m running, I’m doing my best thinking, thinking that is clear and focused, not jumbled, not riddled with anxiety or depression.

Halfway through my run, this song comes on my iPod:

Immediately, I’m reminded not just of the meaning of the song – yeah, being depressed is a bitch, but at some point you’ve got to get your shit together and get past the pain of depression – but who introduced me to that song.

That person was part and parcel of the massive roller coaster I’ve ridden on throughout this year. The manic highs, when my creativity seemed to be at an all-time high, and the depressive lows, when I couldn’t bear to even consider writing again. I heard that song, and I thought of her, thinking of the conversation we had when I first heard this song.

I would have expected my run to come to a grinding halt, but no. I pushed through. I let myself think of her, but not the state of depression I’d slipped into recently. Even running became a chore when I was at my most depressed, wondering when the manic phase of my bipolarity would kick in again. But not this time. Tonight’s 5 mile run helped me out a great deal. I was able to put that relationship into its proper perspective, and not dwell so deeply on “what if?” and “when will it happen again?”

But there was other thinking to be done. Like me outlining my novel. And thinking about blogging about my run tonight.


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