On Saturday I will run the New York marathon. I should have ran it last year but Hurricane Sandy scuppered that. It was a hell of a disappointment and one which I couldn’t really voice because so many people had suffered much graver repercussions. I had raised $3500 for the charity The Hole in the Wall Gang; I had picked up my jersey and bib two days before with thousands of others whose excited chatter bounced off the high ceilings of the convention centre; my number was 43210.
I quietly moped about for a week, swore I wouldn’t run anymore and then got on with life. Others are still working to get their lives back.
Then I decided I would run again. This was unfinished business; the same as a shelved half-completed novel is unfinished business. You know what I’m talking about. It has to be done.
Many people have compared writing a novel to marathon running. Then may I compare the cancellation of it to seeing the only copy of your manuscript go up in flames? All that work for nothing. All those solitary hours on the job while everyone else was at brunch or drinking tequila or watching back-to-back reruns of Frasier. Getting up at the screech of dawn on summer Sundays to beat the heat, monitoring toilet trips and caffeine intake and niggly knees and black toenails and chafing.
And did I mention I get bored easily?
If I can shoot off in no particular direction, veering here and there, bouncing off street corners wherever takes my fancy, I can traverse whole continents like Forest Gump. Miles pass and I’m oblivious. But if I know my route, or worse still, have travelled it umpteen times before, or if I have to turn back and run the same stretch I’ve just run in order to get home, I’m ready to throw myself face down in traffic.
I don’t like to know too much about where I’m going. It’s also a problem when I write. An afternoon of stringing pretty words together, zigzagging here and there, and I’m happy, just breezing through.
But an afternoon figuring out the cohesive narrative of a story––the plot––and I squirm about in my seat and stare out the window, wondering what it would be like to live in a tree or train an elephant.
I follow a marathon training schedule that I got online, Round about week 9, I was struck by an unexpected bout of Runners Knee. It was my first experience of it. I was frozen on the couch. Forget stairs, stepping onto curbs was like scaling the Matterhorn. Putting one foot past the other wasn’t even guaranteed. I was uncomfortably aware of the inner workings of my legs, hitherto my most impressive limbs. They just got on with whatever I needed them to do.
Writer’s Block and Runner’s Knee are cousins. When you lurch to a halt mid-sentence and the next word won’t follow and you know it’s all been a trick and your brain has packed in on you. You know you will never finish, in fact, where were you going with it anyhow? You’re ready to bury your dreams. Other people live fulfilled lives and they don’t run marathon or write novels. They’re selfish pursuits, not serving anyone. If only they made knee-brace contraptions to stabilize the brain as it rattles about in our noggin, irritating and inflaming our poor nerves.
But in these recent weeks I’ve felt as loose-limbed as the Kenyans. I was born to do this. Runner’s knee? A minor hiccup. Just a test of my commitment. I’m trying not to OD on pasta, just as I had to wean myself off the chic little Petit Ecolier biscuits I became dependent on during the final draft of my novel, gaining ten pounds.
I’ve heard so much about how it feels crossing the Verrazano Bridge in that first mile with only the sound of everyone’s feet pounding around you to disturb the stillness of the morning. I hope that serenity is still in play as I cross the Queensboro Bridge somewhere around mile 15 or the Madison Avenue Bridge at mile 21. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: crossing the finish line will be the same as writing “The End” on my novel.
Mind you, I wrote and rewrote that for half a morning trying out a variety of fonts and sizes to see which one was worthiest. Don’t know if they’ll allow me multiple goes at the finish line. I’ll let you know…
As for that novel? You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.