Today I offer thoughts on two unrelated topics: training for a half-marathon, and art journaling.
First topic: half-marathon training. With the New Year, I reluctantly set a goal to complete a half-marathon this spring. I write reluctantly, because it seemed like a barely achievable goal, especially as the weather has been unfriendly, and, living in the middle of nowhere, there’s no gym. This has been a big challenge since moving to New Hampshire: no gym. But I put a half-marathon goal out to the Universe, and, in an act of faith, made reservations at a hotel near the starting line for a New Hampshire half-marathon that I found on the web. It seemed doable. But this 13.1 was far enough away that I’d need to spend the night, and it was in April, which seemed overly ambitious.
So I kept thinking and asking the Universe, should I go, what should I do to make this work, am I overreaching again?
It wasn’t coming together easily.
A few days later, during my shopping trip for produce, the produce manager and I started chatting. I know these folks on a first name basis. I order massive amounts of organic produce the day before I go shopping, so I can get what I want and it’s all fresh. It’s a win-win, I get what I want, they get their sales numbers up, and I have helped shape their organic produce availability and sales since moving here.
So the manager and I were talking, and she told me she was marathon training, just laid it out there, out of the blue. I then told her that I had completed the Jimmy Fund (26.2 Boston Marathon route, at a snail’s pace, no qualifying time needed for entry) three times, and that I was looking to unleash my inner runner. It had been a long time, I said. And I didn’t really run the Boston Marathon route. I have the 26.2 bragging rights, but not as a runner proper. “I would like to complete a half-marathon, and do so well,” I told her.
I was full of trepidation.
She told me about a half-marathon closer than the one I had found on the web, and told me it was in May.
I came home, checked it out, and yes, it was doable. An extra month for training, and only an hour away by car.
But the ride was still an issue. Even with this new and much more doable half-marathon now in eyesight, I’ve been reserved about commitment, the fear of failure being stronger than the belief that I can do it.
Well, the voice in my head got a big squelch this past week, during a phone conversation with a friend. For some odd reason, I shared this goal with her, the first person I mentioned it to with some conviction. She said, “I’ll take you.” I was surprised, as she’s had major health issues, and getting up at 5 or so to make the race start at 8 a.m. was above and beyond any expectation. I held her offer lightly, thanked her, and thought ‘we shall see.’
I received an email from her the next day. She wrote that she had marked the day, and we were going. BAM. I wrote her back that we could wait and see how she was feeling come that week, and we’d see what happened.
“You are going. If this is your heart’s desire,” she wrote, “you will get there, one way or another. Car guaranteed.” BAM, again.
I got my confirmation, as though the universe looked down and said, “YO, lady, we’re doing this thing. We’re going to make it happen.” BAM.
Not surprisingly, the next day, we had sunshine, and I had my best training day in over 6 years.
Come race day, I realize that my friend’s health may keep her from giving me that ride. But I will get a ride, I know now for certain, thanks to my friend’s generous vote of confidence. What transpired was the power of belief, and I once again saw how the big cosmic wheels turn when one follows their heart, decides to express that thing that makes them feel alive, when one connects to their deepest self. Thanks to her, I got the confirmation I needed, wind in my sails, and a sense of yes, I will do this thing.
Second topic: art journaling. Or more precisely, play. I enrolled in an online art journal class, and this particular course is about visual journaling more than art journaling proper. Visual journaling conflates journal writing with visual media, and there’s no emphasis on finished products: you open wide, get messy, and let whatever will be on the page, and then move on. It’s raw creativity. It’s self-reflection. It’s spiritual. I stumbled on it by accident (more serendipity), as another goal this year was to sink into my art practice more deeply, let it unfold in more satisfying ways.
Fortuitously, the instructor’s designed a course that doesn’t cover technique: it’s all about playing and connecting with your spiritual inner child. I had no idea when I registered for this course that this was her skew.
This week’s lesson introduced the idea of play, and she asked us to think of times that life restricted our play, how circumstance trained playful creativity into perfectionism and performance.
Two memories came to mind: the first had to do with music. Before I appropriated the Columbia House records (“Magic Eyes” entry), a family friend had given me a gray plastic phonograph, and a sackful of 45’s. Tens and tens of children’s records. Some were red plastic, some were blue plastic, there were a couple of pink ones, most were black. I played them for hours and hours, there were so many, and they gave me unending musical enchantment.
One day, my mother came into my room, and saw them spread all over. I don’t remember her ever telling me to clean-up the records, but apparently she had, and when she saw them piled in chaos all over the floor, she went and got a shovel and shoveled the records into the garbage. “I’ve told you over and over about putting these away. If you can’t take care of your things, you don’t deserve them,” she told me. “You have to learn to take care of your things.”
Things, not people. In taking care of things, she completely forgot the child in front of her, the little girl who simply loved her records and was always going from on to another, not really concerned with putting them away.
There was a related incident, when I was even younger.
I had a book, “My Book Of Prayers.” There were two beautiful angels on the front, exquisite angels looking up at heaven, from this glossy, hard bound book. They reappeared inside the book’s paper pages. I remember wanting to be an angel, wanting to make something beautiful like that, and wanting to be one with them, so I took a crayon and tried to color the page, thinking that I could make something with these angels — this was a toddler’s emotional response to these angels, and somehow wanting to connect with them. I adored these angels, they were the most beautiful beings, and I just wanted to be close to them, feel them, be like them.
My mother took away the book when she saw the coloring, with the same argument. “If you can’t take care of your books, you can’t have them.”
She kept the book, and returned it to me when I was old enough to treat it properly. By then, I wasn’t interested. I later saw my art for what is was, a deluge of orange crayon haphazardly scrawled over the pages.
I saw the book through eyes that had been properly socialized, and the angels were simply pretty children’s prayer-book drawings, no longer Divine creatures promising something transcendent. Those were the feelings I had, when I took that orange crayon to my angels, perhaps my first taste of art’s power. I didn’t know that it was transcendence and the ineffable that touched me, but I can feel those feelings again, the yearning and the sense of beauty.
Life tried to reign in those feelings early on, the heart’s free play conscripted to stuff’s importance, as I suspect happens in varying degrees for many of us. Because we were poor, Mom took excessive care in valuing what we did have. Respect the little we have, don’t take it for granted.
I get it. Keep the stuff nice is a form of gratitude. But the play animating my child’s heart broke deep and wide, and I learned too early and too harshly to quiet that sensitive inner child, and those arbitrary ideas of right and wrong eventually made that little girl into a self-sabotaging rebel, because her heart would not be still. I came to understand that the messy enterprise of merging with music and angels needed to adhere to standards usually at odds with my heart’s visceral impulses, and I valued those visceral angels more.
It seems to me that the fear of failure, of reaching beyond my comfort zone and worrying about doing a half-marathon with “a good time,” and the creative fears I daily face, loom large for similar reasons.
I don’t need to finish the half-marathon with a “good time,” I need to feel the joy of two legs moving, enjoy a heart pumping, breathe the freedom of fresh air and sun, take pleasure in a life well spent, and live in wonder at the effortless unfolding of life’s circumstances.
Half-marathon. Writing. Art. Music. There are too many arbitrary ways of right and wrong that I am constantly unlearning, ways of being that keep me from using my orange crayon over life’s blank page, the only page that I am given.
So I am picking up the crayon box, reaching inside, and scrawling all over each day, learning to play more a little more freely and a little more deeply with every morning, play as though my life depended on it, because living this one wild and precious life does depend on it.
This is what I am telling myself, today: release judgement and dive into the dreams of my heart and its desires with crazy abandon. Failure is impossible, because as long as I am living, I am in life’s incandescent glory. Enjoy the day’s every pulsing moment, and all the miracles it brings. Messily merge with experience, believing that things come together, and that life is simply a beckoning by and to the angels.
This is what play returns to me: messiness, and in messiness my heart’s transcendence.
I train for the half-marathon, write everyday, and create art so that I can sustain my heart, lose myself in the moment’s beauty, and feel the angels, again.