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Jenn: The Finish Line is in Westfield

Miranda wrote to me the other day and asked where I’ve been. I haven’t posted to this blog in several weeks, though I’ve logged on and lurked. I wrote back to her and said that I only write when I have some news and progress, and that though my students were getting their parts done, I hadn’t actually turned in a chapter since the 11 chapter flurry over spring break. Why would I write a post saying “I failed?” I mean, isn’t it obvious by my absence that I didn’t meet my goals?

The truth is, two things have gone on. One: I’ve temporarily exhausted my desire and probably my ability to write. I wrote like crazy, non-stop for months, and now I need a break. *Could* I keep going? Sure. Would it be forced and lackluster? Yes. And the other thing: It’s Spring.

Spring means road races, people! I used to be a good runner about three years ago. I have a line of trophies and medals in my office to attest to this fact. I once ran 8 marathons and an ultramarathon in 9 consecutive weeks. I ran until I was 9 months pregnant. I ran a 10K when my daughter was a few weeks old, my dad driving nearby with her in the car in case she got fussy. Running, like writing, is what I do. But for the past year or so, I’ve slogged along 5 miles to school and 5 miles home most days. Liking the trip, feeling like I’m somehow cheating the system by running AND commuting to work at the same time. But I haven’t raced in a while. I’m not on the EDGE, I’m traversing a distance in a routine.

So this weekend, I signed up for a 5K in Northampton MA, mostly so my daughter could run the kids fun run beforehand. I didn’t feel like racing when the gun went off, I hadn’t warmed up, and I started off fairly slowly. But then by the time the race was nearly over, I was in oxygen deficit, running all out, and loving/hating the feeling. I ended up winning my age group. Then I went out to lunch, went to a dog show, went to an alpaca show, had dinner with my friends Paul and Jeff, drank WAY too many Guiness’s, stayed out WAY too late, getting not one minute of sleep, then toeing the line at a 1/2 marathon in Westfield the next morning. The sky was gray, I was hungover, exhausted, happy, hungry, and bewildered – wondering what the heck I was doing there.

I don’t usually run to music, but I felt I needed my IPod to get through this race; I hadn’t run 13.1 miles in over a year. The race started off well, I got caught up in a pack of guys who were running the 5K and so I went out WAY too fast. The first 1/2 hour or so were up a mountain, and I listened to Eminem, Shannon, Rick James, Beck, Queen, etc. and cranked out some fast miles. Then it started to hurt. As I went up yet another incline, I thought, “Thank GOD I have my Ipod.” Then the Ipod died, leaving me with the sound of my mysery and lack of training for the next 8 excruciating miles. Oh, and this blog.

On the run, I realized that I was wrong to stay away because I haven’t written and turned in more chapters. Isn’t that a rather narrow mindset? Hasn’t a recurring theme recently been about balance? Why do I feel like a failure because (a) it’s finals time and I’m crazed at work, (b) I’ve taken my daughter to some really fun, cool things that she’s enjoyed immensely, (c) I’ve been reconnecting with old friends and having a blast with them, (d) I’ve taken my classes on four weekend field trips these past two months, (e) I’ve given four talks at meetings and conferences in the past two months, and (f) I’m back full force on the running circuit, and I now have a training plan, some goals for running, and tons or renewed love for the sport? Isn’t that called “balance?” Who wants to hear from a blogger only as she checks off the boxes towards the completion of her book?

That race in Westfield kicked my butt. I finished 5 minutes ahead of my goal time, so I’m happy, but I was also berating myself for getting so fat and out of shape. I watched my thighs flop up and down in places that they’ve never flopped before and said, “this is the price for too much writing.” Just as repetitive strain injuries are the price for too much running. SO the goal is, yes, to finish the book and well before the deadline, but also to write, to run, and to live life. I missed a due date from The Monday Page, but I won a trophy while the deadline slipped past.

But Brittany, with respect to your question, I know enough about my writing to know that nothing is EVER finished. I just get tired and say, “good enough.” There could ALWAYS be one more example, one fewer example, a more clear description of this, a shorter definition of that. At some point, I just let it go. I look at things I’ve published and said, “Oh MAN, that’s SO rough! WHY didn’t I spend some more time on it.” But back to the balance theme, I was just *done* mentally with the work. Because it was time to move on to something else.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow! This was a great post and so inspiring. Especially in light of the day I had today. At my 31 week appointment, it appears that my blood pressure is getting in the high range, I’m having irregular contractions (with a history of preterm labor and high blood pressure during pregnancy), and unexplained excruciating pains that prompted the doctor to order several different tests and an ultrasound later in the week.

    If there was ever a time I needed to stop pouring my life blood into my writing, it’s now. My new definition of failure is pushing myself too hard so that my pregnancy actually becomes seriously unhealthy. I clearly need to rest and sleep and find something else to do that won’t stress me out so much.

    Nina’s posts have inspired me. I have two Bucilla felt stockings that I need to do for the boys and I’ve been putting them off since before Christmas in order to get my book finished. I’m going to start work on them again and see if I can calm my body down.

    April 7, 2008
  2. Jenn, wow, you really made me miss running! Unfortunately I screwed up my knees in college and I can’t anymore, but for a long time I swam with the same results. I miss swimming too! However, I am walking now. It’s nice enough outside to do that, and good for me and my younger boy while the older one is in preschool. I too feel more balanced – glad you are as well!

    Brittany, that’s scary! I’ll be thinking of you in the next few weeks. Glad you are giving yourself a break and still being able to be creative. I hope you too achieve balance. Hugs!

    April 7, 2008
  3. God, Jenn, you are such a stud it really defies the imagination. Congrats on getting the season off with such a bang. I’m looking forward to getting back out there myself, after I take care of this little thing called labor and delivery.

    I’m so glad you decided to post regardless of checkmark status on the to-do list. We want to share process here, warts and all–not just the successes.

    I wonder why self-flagellation seems to be an inherent part of motherhood? Why do we have to beat ourselves up about everything? Why does it take a bolt of lightning to realize that hey, maybe I’m not making such a mess of things after all?

    Glad you pulled yourself out of that dead end, even temporarily.

    April 8, 2008
  4. congratulations for all those victories! Again, I am thinking that we are all here because we have similar personalities. Driving ourselves until we drop, and it all has to be perfect. Jenn, you have given very helpful advice when you say “it was time to move on to something else.” Could I ever get stuck in the perfectionism mode! Excellence is what we all strive for . . . . but we will never achieve ultimate perfection, so I guess it’s time to do my best, and give up the internal battle with my own expectations. You all are such an inspiration to me! Nina

    April 9, 2008

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