Sunday, May 31, 2015
Sort of a silly way to start, but maybe the only way. Because the answer tells you why this piece has been kicking around in my head unwritten for so long, and why I'm still having such a hard time starting it.
You're reading this because I posted a link on Facebook. And I feel really, really silly writing about why I post things on Facebook. But, like it or not, Facebook is a substrate of my social life. Much as it frustrates me to say it, the act of sharing there is important. Even when I share something that seems fatuous or trivial... it's important.
That's not to say I fret about everything I post. People will either understand why my absurd remarks are important to me, or they won't. Either way, there's nothing I can do to change their reaction, and I accept that. This piece is about the exception to that rule: my posts about running.
Last summer, when I started using the Nike running app, I started posting my runs several times each week. I ran more regularly over the winter, and a few weeks ago I began a new training schedule that's got me running—and posting my run—every day. And I wonder what you must think.
This preoccupation might seem silly, but I have a good reason for it. I've noticed a trend during the last year or so: a waxing of social media crotchetiness that seems like the bitter, hyperthyroid offspring of "No one wants to hear about your workouts". Last year I read an entire article about how no one wants to hear about your vacation. It seems that to show pictures from a trip or a hike is tantamount to bragging, and no one who has ever viewed such pictures has felt anything but jealousy and rage. Someone actually took the time to draw out that sad bile and distill it into words, and he wasn't alone. Pick a topic, and there's someone ready to tell you that no one wants to hear you talk about it.
I find such paucity of spirit remarkable. I can understand someone saying "I don't want to hear about this." But no one wants to hear about it? That assertion seems statistically untenable. Even back in those sad days when I was hopelessly lost in social awkwardness, lacking even the most rudimentary grasp of why I didn't have a girlfriend, I didn't begrudge anyone else their relationship. Even when I was fat or injured, I never begrudged anyone their athleticism. And when I see evidence that some folk have more money than I, or are more together than I'll ever be, I don't begrudge them that. Yeah, sure, I get sad when I see people doing things I can't or just don't, but I don't wish ill on anyone. I don't presume to say "No one wants to hear about that." And I can't believe I'm alone.
So I post my runs, knowing that a few of you like to hear about them, and hoping that a few more of you care. But lately I've found myself yearning not just to post, but to share. I want you to know what those runs mean to me. Here goes.
On April 18th I joined my friend Benny on a nine-mile run. I'd never run that far before, so I was doubtful about whether I could do it. I had no idea how much a winter of consistent running had retooled my lungs and muscles. Those nine miles felt like nothing. I was so exhilarated that I decided to try ten miles the next day. The ten felt glorious, and I spent all the rest of that day in the most profound state of relaxation I'd ever experienced. I wasn't particularly tired; I didn't necessarily want to sleep. But you know when you're exhausted, and you lie down, and for one delicious moment you feel like you're melting into the bed? I felt that just standing up.
Those physical sensations mingled with pride in my accomplishment, and I reveled in that heady mix. Yet for all that, those feelings weren't just the culmination of a winter's worth of work. Were that the case, I wouldn't be posting my runs, and I wouldn't be writing this. No, this isn't about the previous six months. This is about the culmination of four years spent unraveling the fear and anger I'd been nursing since childhood.
I was fat before I knew the word fat. And the moment I hit kindergarten it was clear that I wasn't just a fat kid; I was the fattest kid. I had no physical coordination, no physical worth. I was good in school, but inept everywhere else. I grew up hating my body, and living in my head.
Long before puberty I knew no girl would ever want me. It went without saying. To even think otherwise—to think in any way highly of myself, for that matter—would have been to invite derision. So I got good at self-deprecating humor. To make the fat jokes before the bully could think of them felt like a victory. Preemptive attacks on myself showed them that I was smart enough to out-think them, and tough enough to handle anything they could dish out.
Can you hear the fear and anger? Can you feel the dualities, and the fervor with which I clutched them? I was a fat freak who would never be anything but a fat freak. And I built my sense of identity on that rock. I knew who I was, and I knew who The Other was. The jocks—those demons in my personal hell—they were who they were, and I was who I was, and never the twain shall meet. I was nothing like them, and never would be. Arrogance indistinguishable from self-loathing simmered in my skull for decades.
And then a few years ago I started to unravel it. That unraveling was the first step on a road that led me to that weekend when I ran the nine miles I didn't know I could, and ran ten miles the next day. And there I was, feeling... even now I despair of telling you true how it felt: the wonder of it, the liberation and humility.
I imagine we have all experienced the joy of accomplishing something we never thought we'd do, yes? Well, this was an order of magnitude beyond that. This wasn't just me doing something I never thought I'd do. This was me doing something I had specifically told myself I would never do. After decades of snarling at myself and at the demons that existed only in my head about who I was, who I wasn't, and the things I would never do... here I was, being a person I told myself I'd never be.
Have you ever felt a compassionate hand settle over yours and pull gently on your clenched fingers? Have you ever felt yourself release your grip on dualities you've clutched to your breast for decades? In that moment, that's what running meant to me. It was a blessing. It was a wire flensing away one more layer of my self-imposed limitations. It was grace.
When I share my runs with you, I am sharing those feelings, that overflowing of grace. Call it bragging, if you like; we live in a time when everyone jokes about bragging, and anything positive we say about ourselves falls into that bucket. But damn it, I'm not cynical enough to believe that there's no distinction between bragging, and sharing with an open heart an accomplishment that makes one feel glorious. We can aspire to at least enough generosity of spirit to see that distinction, yes?
So I'm going to keep operating under the assumption that any statement beginning with the words "No one wants to hear about your..." is incorrect. I'm going to keep posting my runs, and I'm going to keep hoping you understand what they mean to me. Because man, I know I didn't do anything to deserve this grace, and I feel too small to contain it all, so... I gotta spread it around.
I hope you do the same. I hope you share the stuff that feels too wonderful not to share, and I hope you have faith that I'll know it ain't just braggin'. I hope we can open our hearts that much. I hope we can help each other divest ourselves of dualities.