January 13th, 2012

How to run for four hours without really noticing

I've blogged a lot over the years about writing and running. I started running seriously to train for my first 10K at the end of 2005, exactly the time I was writing Going Too Far--yes, that's why Meg is a runner, and yes, the park where I ran was decorated in tiles with the handprints of schoolchildren who were no longer children.

Running, even with music, makes me think. I'm so grateful that many of the plot twists and characters I've invented over the years came to me on a run. But eventually, if I run long enough, running is just running, and then I start to have disturbing metathoughts about my writing career, which makes me want to stop running and walk. Selling a novel is almost impossible. Maintaining a career as a novelist is harder still, if you think about it.

So I try not to think about it and just run. Writing a hundred novels, selling them all, and pleasing everyone may be impossible, but all I have to do right this second is write a proposal for Simon Pulse. Running a long way may be impossible, but all I have to do right now is put one foot in front of the other. A career in writing, even constructing a single worthy novel, isn't a sprint but a marathon. Something about that metaphor has kept me writing and running for another six years.

And now, in 2012, I have two and a half novels to write and a marathon to run. After finishing my first three half marathons last year, I have signed up for the Mercedes Marathon on February 12. It is hard. It's going to take me more than five hours, but I am going to make it.

Here's how. Thoughts of my books can get me through a three-mile run. Depressing metathoughts about my career can take me to eight. But last Sunday, faced with a 19-mile run, and having completely depleted the new alt-rock available on iTunes, I turned to The Moth.

I have blogged about The Moth before, too. It's a storytelling show originally based in New York, but now in many cities. My best friend from high school in a small town in Alabama, Catherine Burns, is the artistic director. She's helped them improve and expand to the point that they now have a radio show on NPR, The Moth Radio Hour, for which they won a Peabody Award recently. For Christmas Catherine gave me volumes 11 through 20 of The Moth Greatest Hits. For my 19-mile, 4-hour run, I listened to story after wonderful story. I always love hearing The Moth--better yet, the one time I was able to see it in person--but 4 hours of it is better still. The underlying theme is the vast variety of human experience, even humans who are all living in New York at the moment, and the empathy and kindness at their core.

If you're interested, here's Edgar Oliver, a legendary New York playwright who is a recurring character on the show Oddities on the Science Channel (and, after hearing him tell this story at a Moth traveling show in Atlanta, I met him again at Catherine's wedding, which makes him the most famous person I know):



Here is Neil Gaiman, in case you wanted some Neil Gaiman--and another thing that struck me about listening to a lot of Moth stories at once is how many of them have their background or are actually set when the storytellers are teenagers. As adults we discount the teenage years as frivolous and meaningless. As storytellers we know how formative and important they are.



Here's one of my favorites, which I've fawned over before, Steve from Blue's Clues.



A woman with cerebral palsy recounts her first romantic encounter.



This one starts slowly and ends with a bang.



The Moth's founder, George Dawes Green, tells the story of his family's antebellum mansion.



I was very affected by this story about parenting a 12-year-old in the age of texting, because my own son is 10.



Now, for this one, I did stop running because I was choking to death laughing so hard, and people around me thought I was in distress.



I'm posting this info as an aide to you if you're stuck at home or in the car or running 19 miles and need some great entertainment. You can order CDs from The Moth and download lots of these stories as podcasts from iTunes etc.

But I also wanted to say publicly how proud I am of my brilliant friend Catherine, who had the strength and courage it takes to pursue a career in the creative arts. It ain't easy. It's a marathon.