Friday, February 21, 2014

The Origins of (my)Self

Sometimes I use this blog as a way to write my way through ideas. Which isn't what blogs are for, I know: blogs are for complete thoughts, for recording life (however it is) the ups and downs, the daily experience. And I admit, in that respect I'm a shitty blogger: when the semester starts, I just don't have the time to record the little things, the daily stuff, the throwing-up-after-this, the I-kicked-ass-in-this. But because I'm also an essayist, I do write when I'm not blogging and I've found that the blog is the foundation, sometimes, for the more complicated ideas I pursue in my essays and longer writing projects.

One such project is the story of one of my ancestors who was a prizefighter. I've wanted to write about him for a long time but I don't know how. The problem, in part, is due to the fact I never met him: my mother's grandfather: he died when she was eight years old and so all my information about him comes second-hand at best, sometimes third-hand ( stories about stories.) But how do you write about a person you've never known? You don't know gestures, the way the man formed a sentence, a thought; the way he occupied a room or moved; trying to piece together a person from a few documents and photographs is the work of a fiction writer-- and I've learned (over the years) I'm not a fiction writer. Fiction writers construct a (probable) reality but offer readers an absolute truth; nonfiction writers use absolute truth to offer readers several probable realities. It's deductive vs. inductive reasoning and I've always loved exploring ideas rather than excluding them.

And so I wonder: why do I want to be an athlete? It's not an easy life and I'm not necessarily suited for that lifestyle. But this desire-- this drive-- is the thing that gets me out of bed at 5am most days, that makes me eat things that end in words like "gel" and "fuel"and that makes me turn down invitations to dinner (both because they are too late and because I can't afford them) and if I had to choose, I'd take a new pair of running shoes before a pair of stylish pumps.

I didn't grow up in a house filled with athletes. I didn't have a parent who ran or rode or swam. And so I wonder: where did this come from-- this desire to swim, to ride, to run until I outlast the competition? Is it some inherited memory from my prize-fighting great-grandfather (are memories things we inherit like eye color, height, or skin tone)--am I a fighter, too? Or, is it something else? Some result of the way I was raised? Some desire to prove myself, again and again, that I was not only OK but exceptional?

His life was tragic (he regretted one night in the ring for his entire life) and so I wonder if I've inherited that, too: will attention on all this training exclude other aspects of my life? My ability to marry a person, to have a family, to have a "career"? Or, is this the thing that will make me better at all of them?

I wish I had the answers. But in nonfiction, we get to ask questions, to ponder; but ultimately, the goal is rumination not certainty.  (I wish I was a fiction writer, sometimes. Or, now.)

Am I?

I don't know.

What I do know: I'm working as hard as I can to cross a finish line first. And perhaps that is the most important thing, for now.