Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Definitions & Chickens: Random Thoughts

I realized this morning that I haven’t blogged—or written much, really—lately and that is terribly depressing.  I get this feeling more and more these days, this sense that a part of my life is gone (a part which was very important to me) the part in which I swam through words and not a chlorinated pool. But, I wonder: how do you find the time for something like writing (which is a practice in and of itself) when you’re “grown up” and working an actual job-job (which borders on being truly the most awful thing you've ever done) and you (unwisely, perhaps) have decided to complete an Ironman triathlon?

Even as I write that, though, it’s not entirely true. I am beyond thrilled to finally do an Ironman and the hours I spend in the pool, on the saddle or on the road are ones that I not only enjoy, but live for. I don’t want to get rid of them or make myself have less of them, really.  

And yet, I can’t help but feel like a part of my life is gone. After all, I spent two years getting an MFA degree in creative writing, which essentially boils down to focusing on nothing other than writing for two solid years. When I was there, I wrote, thought about writing, revised, thought about writing some more and somehow, ended up with a book-length manuscript which has been a life-long dream for me. 

Maybe that time (in the MFA, writing like a crazy person) ruined me for the vigors of daily life—maybe it was an extravagance to write and re-write and to think deeply about something like language instead of doing the things most adults do: earn a living, buy a house, raise a family, etc, etc.

That, perhaps, is what I am feeling the loss of—or, I am feeling the loss of one kind of life or another. 

These days, I exist in limbo where I am not (quite) a writer, but not (quite) an athlete, either.  “Real” writers go to AWP Conferences and write every day and think deeply about words, about human consciousness and action (or, sometimes inaction). “Real” athletes are a part of teams who travel and compete and who win competitions. I’m not really doing either of those things right now. I’m not really even doing the “adult” thing very well: I don’t own a home or have a spouse or children. 

I do, however,  have chickens (the latest addition to my life) and I wonder if they, too, are a part of my attempt to define my life in this strange in-between place for which I don’t have a name. (And I have to admit: I love my chickens. Or, chicks, since they are still young and chirping. I love them enough to pile them into a box I put next to the sink so they can keep me company while I do the dishes; or they are my writing-partners, perching on my shoulders as I work on the Literary Arts & Wine website or, even, writing this blog. Biscuit, the little yellow chick, is chirping in my ear as I type and I can't help but smile at that.)

I wonder about these definitions, though. Are we ONLY what we do? It’s not like I don’t train and don’t compete; I try to swim, cycle and run my miles every week and I do have two events this month. But as I catch glimpses of myself in the mirror in locker rooms and in the restroom at work, I can’t help but notice I don’t have the physique of someone who is active. Healthy, yes, but I am not “chiseled”—and in a way, this makes me sad. In another way, though, I’ve gotten tired of being sad about it. Is this what it means to grow up? Is it reconciling sadness with acceptance?

I find myself less compelled to write, too; if I had a mirror at my desk at home, I might look at my own face and see something similar lacking in the expression starting back at me as I type words which appear on the blank, white screen.

 What does it mean to produce an essay—and why record the details of a life that are neither here nor there? A thirty-something woman who works a desk job, who loves two cats and three chickens, who dreams of warmer weather so that I can garden, who is sometimes too messy and who has a cluttered desk—really, is this the stuff of great storytelling?  I’m not even sure I know what that is, anymore.

I try to re-adjust my life—to look for ways to fit more into my days so that I can be both an athlete and writer. Run at my lunch breaks at work, devote Tuesday evenings to my work. But somehow these efforts—all of them—seem half-hearted and I want, desperately, to know that I am one thing or another.  Am I a cyclist, I wonder, as I sign up for another Double Century ride and hope to complete several this summer? Am I truly an Ironman? Could I become a runner again, I wonder, as I run my slow miles (but consistent miles) week after week?  And even if I was: what could I bring to the world in order to make it better?

What about my life has held any sort of meaning?

Facebook has this awful time-hop thing in which it resurrects one’s posts from year’s past. Day after day, I’m offered up my own banality—the repetitive “I ran such-and-such miles in such-and-such time” as if that was anything meaningful (or, it had been to myself, at the time. But now, with the years and all that has happened, I can’t help but shake my head at myself and my narrow definition of what it had meant to be happy.)  Posts outlining my various injuries, posts about my hope to return, to compete. I am an endless, mindless record of lost dreams, it seems.

And now there is this: the recognition that I am neither here nor there—not quite a writer, but not quite not-one, either. Do our actions define us, or was Sartre wrong about the existence preceding essence? Is one an athlete simply by acting like one? Is one a writer simply because one writes?
I wonder if there will come a day when my own image won’t be so painful, so vapid and vain. And I wonder, at that time, if I will finally have a definition in addition to my bike, my running shoes, my garden, my cats, and my chickens.

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