Saturday, May 30, 2015

It's been three years since the MFA...

This is such a random post that I'm not really even sure what prompted it. Maybe it was the quality of light on my run this morning, like a dawn I saw three years ago. Or,  maybe it was the smell of the run after work, the way the clouds rolled in from the Sierra Nevada, the way the air turned just slightly moist, with just the faintest hint of rain (the suggestion of newness, of rebirth.)  Was this the afternoon I ran alone along the Truckee River corridor, moving from Tahoe City to Squaw and I was caught in a rain storm and worried I would never compete again (yet another injury.) Or, was this later?  Was I living in the East Bay and training for the Olympic Trials by myself and I've gone out for some easy, after-class miles)? Or, is it neither of these, but some moment I've forgotten or that hasn't come to mind, yet? It's always hard to tell with the way the mind works, or mine works.

I ran from Woodchuck on the ditch trail headed West; an out-and-back that's approximately 8.75 miles if you stop at "hole-in-the-wall" (which I did) before heading back. And maybe it was the out-and-back route I chose-- or, maybe I should stop guessing-- when my mind wandered over the difference which exists between the person I was three years ago and who I am, today.

Three years ago (almost to the day), I expected that my writing career would be a reality and not some figment of my imagination; I also imagined that I would recover and still be a competitive long distance runner. After all, I'd entered the MFA program with the aspiration of becoming an elite long distance runner (at least the type who qualifies for the Olympic Trials) and then writing about what it took to get me there.

So, I don't think it's so strange that, three years ago, I went into something like a deep depression.  I wasn't a runner anymore or ever (I'd gotten injured several times and I although I would be able to run--physically-- competing was no longer a reality for me) and I graduated from the MFA, degree and thesis in-hand (but the writing life it fostered, too, ended). Everything which I used to define my life (the running, the writing) suddenly came to an end. I wouldn't know it at the time, but my relationship was (more or less) ending or had ended by then, too.

I read article after article about the cycles of depression MFA graduates go through, how it was normal to feel lost, displaced, worthless, uninspired and alone. To my own credit, thank God  I kept writing (even if what I was writing wasn't very good) and riding my bike and swimming with a local teams.  I remember returning from some of the longer, Saturday rides to lie face-up on my wooden deck to watch the canopy of old-growth oaks rustle in the fading light of dusk above me and wondering if my entire life would be a footnote to everything I did before I was 28 years old.

Am I depressed now? I laughed to myself, running, when this question arose. After all, three years later, I still do the things I do, I still swim and run and ride; I still write and send my work out and sometimes (so rarely, so luckily) I am published. I am the opposite of depressed.

Granted, racing holds a different meaning for me. Winning-- and receiving various accolades-- matter much less to me than the training which leads up to them. I love morning swims and runs and rides-- and the afternoon ones as well. I love the miles, I love the time I spend doing my miles, I love the time I spend in my mind, finding the words to describe the sights I see, the smells I smell, the sounds I hear and the people I know.

And, the people I know.

Maybe that is what has changed. If you asked me, now, to count my accomplishments in the past year, only a small part of them would be athletic ones. Instead, I find my joys in the moments I share with others: my parents, those I train with, my workmates.  Sitting with my mom on her back patio on mother's day as we watched the sun lower itself toward the Sweetwater range; watching the women I train with ride their first double century in Davis; and becoming a friend to Rich when I think he needed one.

I also value my writing time more than I ever thought I would. I don't have much of it-- but the hour I steal after work is precious to me-- moreso than I could have ever imagined an hour could be.

I realize this isn't a permanent state for me-- that I am a writer, an athlete and a person who continues to learn, grow and change. Maybe I didn't write a best seller (and maybe I never will) but with each passing year, I write a little more and I challenge myself with new training schedules and new events. What I am most struck by-- and grateful for-- are the many, many people I have come to know on this strange and interesting journey, some who have stayed on the path with me, and even those who have chosen their own lives separate from my own.

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