One day last week, with little fanfare, I began running again.
After months of…not running.
I’ve never been comfortable calling myself a “runner” so it’s hard to admit to myself and to others that I’ve begun again. (See: little fanfare.)
The same is true for my writing. I’ve been scribbling words in one form or another since the first time I held a crayon in my toddler hand and made lines in my baby book. (I don’t know how I learned this was a thing people do; perhaps from watching my mother.)
Many decades later, after completing several manuscripts and signing more than one contract to publish my work, I still labor to call myself a writer.
My kids have no problem with it. When asked what I do (in person or on forms) they answer easily. “She’s a writer.” Or sometimes “Author.” They don’t even stutter or blush. They don’t say just or well or only.
(Can you imagine?)
They’d probably also tell people I’m a runner while I leaned in to qualify:
“I barely run. Maybe four miles around the lake. Once or twice a month. And not since May.”
The same qualifiers attend my writing.
I imagine being asked about my current project at Thanksgiving and mumbling, “It’s coming along. Please pass the sweet potatoes.”
We humans are terribly quick to down-talk our dreams, not to mention our actual achievements. For fear of failure? For fear of success? What if someone thinks we’re bragging? Perhaps we avoid naming what we want, hoping to protect our hearts from breakage.
But such caution keeps our hearts from soaring. Our wishes, tethered to the ground, dry up like Langston Hughes’ raisin in the sun.
When I turned 40, I was fortunate to have the choice to trade my beloved teaching career for something I loved more: time with my family; time to write.
Unmoored then, unsure where to begin, I decided to train for a marathon and chronicle my travails in a hilarious memoir! Imagine it. Chapter after chapter of my bungled (and hilarious!) attempts to be the best mom, wife, author, runner, human.
I kept my plan a secret from everyone except my husband because I had opened up so many avenues of potential failure.
The thing is, I did complete the memoir and the marathon that inspired it. In the 18 months that followed, I ran two more marathons and wrote a YA manuscript.
My family was happy. I was happy. In terms of “going for my goals” I was killing it.
But I wasn’t speedy and I never ran more than three times a week, even in the height of my training. And I signed with an agent but I failed to sell my first two manuscripts.
I was terribly quick to point to other friends who were published or who ran better, stronger, faster.
I vowed not to run another marathon until I could finish in under four hours. Oh. And until I’d signed a book contract. That would make me a real runner. A real writer.
Years went by. (Yes, years.) The pages of my third work-in-progress came slow and hard. So did the miles.
By the time I heard the long-awaited, magical words (“We have read Letters for Scarlet and we love it. We are pleased to offer you a contract”) I had almost given up.
But not quite.
A friend (a runner who is better, stronger, faster) reminded me of my training vow:
“Now you can run another marathon,” she said. To her this was good news.
But I’m not a runner, I thought. I never was.
Hell. I’m barely a writer.
Why are we so afraid of saying who we are, what we want, what we’ve done, what we still hope to do?
Let’s stop that right now, shall we? I’ll go first. Or better yet, let’s go together.
Our dreams are waiting for us. Our hearts will survive the risk.
If you run, you’re a runner, no matter how slow.
If you write, you’re a writer, even if no one reads your words.
You can paint, sculpt, bake, sing, invent, build, perform magic tricks, play the trumpet, ride a unicycle, do stand up comedy, take a class, discover new planets, solve an equation, foster a child, adopt a pet, help someone in pain, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, walk away, or fall in love.
Do it for YOU not for anyone else.
Today. Without any fanfare.
To purchase Letters for Scarlet, go here.
To purchase Guest List, go here.