Thursday, July 7, 2011

When it rains, it pours.

Sometimes things happen in groups. The old saying "bad things come in threes," comes to mind. We, perhaps, remember the bad things more readily than the good. Do good things also come in threes? or fours? or pairs?

Currently, it seems like I'm having one of those groupings with all sorts of "bills" coming due at once. Not actual bills (well, those, too, and having those contributes to the sense of lots happening at once), but occasional costs, all happening to hit at once. I had to replace my computer last week (it was 4.5 years old), and the software. And then my backpack died (it was about 9 years old). And then my glasses broke (3 years old). Then the annual auto registration is also due this month. And I was hoping to take a short vacation (which would cost extra $$ over my normal expenditures).

And I was thinking about how such basically random events sometimes all happen at once, and then we maybe feel like everything is falling apart, when it just happens that it was a random grouping of events, each of which was individually basically certain.

It's not a sign of things breaking down. It's just random chance serving up a double helping of difficulty.

Of course, when the sun shines, things are good: just as there are confluences of negative events that make for occasional difficult weeks, there are confluences of things working right that make for weeks that go by easily. We don't necessarily notice those weeks, though. I clearly remember places in Tolkein's work where he says "but stories of good times are quickly told," I suppose that's at work here: the stories of good times are more easily told. This reminds me of the value of having some practice of stating what you're grateful for or what is good in your life: if you want to remember the good, sometimes you have to work for it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I write about when I write about what I think about when I'm running.

Among other things, I think of annoying extensions/alterations of Murakami's title (which itself is an adaptation of of a Raymond Chandler title).

What I was thinking, partly, was that I could nearly write a book out of the different thoughts that fill one run--to write them all would take at least as long as the hour or two that I was out running....but probably longer, because turning ideas into structured sentences isn't instantaneous. That assumes that I could even remember all the things that I thought about.

I spent a lot of today's run thinking about how thinking aversive thoughts can make things worse. By thinking about how difficult the thing is, the negative anticipation builds up. And this makes dealing with the thing worse. And how you don't want to remind people too strongly of the unpleasant aspects of things that they have to do.

Also considered were: the question of how soon to start exercise after an injury; what my friend was up to at the moment I passed her house; what route I was going to run; how the same group of people managed to get on the same public volleyball courts every week (you'd think sometimes some else would get there first)...there are too many people passed to wonder at every person's story.
I thought about writing, of course. I thought about how understanding other people's stories is the foundation for writing good fiction. I didn't think this then (or at least not as I remember): understanding other people's stories is the foundation of good communication, generally.

Part of what I thought about while running today was how one of the important tasks for the writer is to filter through all the possible ideas that could be talked about, and to stay focused on topic.

Friday, July 1, 2011

What I don't think about when I'm running

I was out for a walk today (about 10 miles, but not yet running after falling down--almost two weeks ago now--still sore).

I saw one runner overtake another, and both of them had a look on their face like the competition meant something. Even though they were just running on a bike path.

It started me thinking about Murakami again and how so much of his relationship to running is competitive. He talks about how important it is for him to beat a certain time when he runs a marathon; he talks about how important it is just to run in races; he talks about passing other runners enough that it's clear that he likes to pass other runners. Obviously he's not so consumed with competitive fire that he can't deal with the many better runners in the world, but still...

Personally, I don't run races, partly because the whole competitive pass you/pass me thing is distasteful. The first race I ever ran in (I ran because my friend's organization was having a fund-raiser), I remember gaining on some guy near the end of the race and the look on his face as he pushed to stay ahead of me. I was just out trying to run the right amount for my body--hard enough to be working hard, but not hard enough to really suffer.

In all the races I've run, my plan was only to finish without suffering; to take the run as if it were any other run--pace myself so that I get the right workout for me. I start off slow, and let my pace increase as I feel myself get into the groove. At the end I slow down, if the run is long enough--generally the slow down comes around mile nine, if I run that far. And I basically did the exact same thing in the races I ran, too.

I was wondering, however, about the parallel to writing. Murakami's book, of course, is all about the parallel between running and writing. Because I can see that there is a possible relevant parallel: Murakami's competitive, goal-driven attitude is gratified partly by the accomplishments--like completing and publishing a book. Me, I don't have that; I just enjoy the process--which maybe explains why I haven't completed several books: I'm not really concerned with the result, so much as with the process.

In this, I think I could learn from Murakami. There's something to be said for my laid-back, no-pressure writing attitude--I enjoy writing and do a fair amount. But balance is good: there's a lot of value in the bringing a project to completion, and one wants to have the drive that finishing takes.

I was talking with a writer yesterday who has been blocked, but who said, "I've been writing, and it seems like I'm making progress."
I responded "If you're writing; you're making progress. It's not about 'seeming.'"

In the light of this discussion, I see that there are two sides to this, and in a way we were both right. I was right from the perspective of the writing process and the writer's relationship to writing. If you haven't been writing at all, and you start to write, that's making progress in your writing practice. But if your writing doesn't ultimately move towards the complete work, submitted and accepted, then one essential dimension of progress is missing.