Category Archives: Symbiotic

Posts that relate to the connection between my running and my writing

When does the comeback begin?

Sitting at my keyboard and making words appear on the screen has been a rare event for me during recent months. Almost as exceptional have been the times I’ve laced up my running shoes and got out the door. If writer’s block or injury were behind this awkward, embarrassing separation from two activities that I purport to love … stop—I have to be honest with myself—love doesn’t cover it. Writing and running are two things that I have tried to use to define my existence. During these last few months without them, I have felt as though I am slowly losing substance—losing my place in the world.

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t been wallowing in a pit of despair while I waited for my own Fezzik and Inigo to rescue me. Hikes with my wife, visits with family, and caring for my grandson helped me maintain a framework as I struggled with the direction my life was taking and the cumulative effect of the dramatic changes it has undergone over the past three years.

I’ve made a few stabs at getting back on my feet, both writing-wise and running-wise. In the latter, attempts have been half-hearted and riddled with missteps. In the former, every renewed writing effort has died aborning.

After several unproductive bouts with my keyboard I have come to realize that I have been avoiding a deeper problem. This problem is both a dilemma and an obstacle that may be causing the dawdling uncertainty that plagues me.

Although Harvest of the Heart has been positively reviewed by everyone who has read it, it isn’t the novel I first envisioned. In the editing process, I followed the advice of others—which was, from one point of view, excellent advice—to make changes and cut elements that both shortened the book and simplified the plot. I fooled myself into believing they were the right moves.

At the time, I thought I saw a way forward for my main character, but that path just isn’t one I want to follow. This is a problem because  the clear path I desperately want to take will require, to some degree, trashing an already published novel and doing a major rewrite. That means no sequel this fall; the way things are, that wasn’t going to happen anyway. Following this path also means retracing my steps … a lot of work to get to where I had hoped to be almost a year ago.

So… when does the comeback begin?

I ran today. I wrote these words today. I made a decision today. Although the proof will come only with results, today seems as good as any for starting a comeback.

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The Morning Stretch #8

Today’s Morning Stretch … is a cheat, at least for me. Describe your last physical exercise. (Picking up your coffee cup doesn’t count!)

I went for a long run (thirteen miles) early this morning; the first predawn long distance run in a quite a while. I began at 5 am and the start was sluggish, but once my body woke up, I started feeling pretty good. A weak, but faithful moon was in the sky; a thin river of clouds lay above the eastern horizon. Just above the clouds, the moon looked like it was being slowly washed away.

As I ran down Spring Lakes Road, a brightly lit tractor-trailer would occasionally make its way down 287 in the distance. Through the darkness, they looked like cigar-shaped flying saucers skimming the ground. Rocks and ruts in the dirt road were bare shadows as a result of the weak light cast by the moon. That made my arrival at the shoulder of 287 all the more enjoyable; on the smooth, flat asphalt I could maintain a steady pace and it was easier on my ankles. My achilles  had warmed up by then and the minor pain disappeared. When a south-bound truck rumbled by, I watched my shadow grow in front of me until it flashed behind; and then I drafted in the truck’s wake. Gradually my pace increased.

I spent a while thinking about a short story I’ve just completed for a contest. As matter of fact, it needs to be post-marked today! The story is titled Moonlight Shepherd and is bound to be controversial, at least in some quarters. It is about a little girl who thinks she sees Jesus on the prairie under the bright moonlight. An opportunistic evangelist sees her as a chance to increase his market share. The result is both dramatic and thought-provoking.

I also dwelt momentarily on the slow sales of Harvest of the Heart. After a promising start, they are anemic at best. Of course, I’ve done no marketing of late, as I concentrate on writing, so I guess that is to be expected.

It was only in the last mile that the sky became light enough for me to see my watch. I was pleased that, in the last mile, it appeared I had dropped below my goal pace for the Boston Marathon, which is only four and a half weeks away.

My nanny duties were supposed to start at 7 am, but I couldn’t see my watch for most of the run, so I didn’t keep track of time or note the distance. As a result, I had to guess. I’d planned on doing twelve and getting close to 6:40 … in time for a shower. A slow early pace and the extra mile brought me home at 6:49. Luckily, Chaitan had just gone back to sleep and I had time for a shower and this post!

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Taking out the Garbage

This would be a good title for a post about writing, and getting rid of the extraneous junk that keeps a reader from getting into the flow of a story. But how could I write a post like that? I’m one of those who enjoy Neal Stephenson, despite the fact that some of his paragraphs are two pages long and filled with endless lists of … well … junk. It may be the challenge of wading through all that and staying with the story that makes me like him. I’m a sucker for challenges.

But this isn’t a post about writing, unless writing about methods for clearing the detritus out of your brain so you can write counts. Since the methods I used this morning were only marginally successful, I may not be qualified to pen that post either.

So, in the end, this is a post mostly about how I deal with … stuff. Of course, that sometimes includes running away from it.

Taking out the Garbage

That is what I set out to do on my run this morning. I wasn’t sure how far or long it would take and wasn’t fully prepared for how much I would find. It is surprising how much junk accumulates when you are distracted by the demands of life. My e-mail inbox, with its ever-expanding collection of spam and almost-spam, looks organized and spiffy in comparison. There was so much debris that twenty miles was not enough to jettison it all. Garbage remains and some of it may end up in this post … sorry.

It is no wonder that I am in the position of never being able to remember if I’ve put my deodorant on after my shower, as in every single time. I turn to put my shirt on and my shoulders slump because I CAN’T REMEMBER! Don’t worry, this always results in my putting deodorant on again, likely for the second time, but maybe the third–maybe I need to stop using the clear stick. This forgetfulness may be a sign of Alzheimer’s, but I would prefer to think it is because my head is too filled with bits and pieces–some pretty big pieces–of stuff I need to write down, or just let go.

I had only the wind and my jumbled thoughts as constant companions. It was a long, lonely run; more so since it was a result of my hurting the person I love most in the world, and her reaction to that hurt.

“Harvest of the Heart” went live on Amazon on December 13, exactly one month ago. Lately, I’ve been scrambling to get my next book “Running Scared” ready for publication, going back and forth with the editor, tweaking and hopefully perfecting what I think could be a great collection of short stories. I’ve also tried to regain some momentum in my writing of the sequel to HotH. Oh, and there is also the biography for which I’ve been collecting baseline information.

Additionally, I’ve been working a half-dozen social networks, doing interviews, setting up my physical launch, arranging a book-signing tour and Maryland launch, sending out books, and, always, looking for other marketing avenues. In other words, doing what I could to get sales. And you know what? I don’t really care about selling my book. The only reason I’m being a pseudo-spamming pain in the ass to friends on dailymile and Facebook, the only reason I’m in a radio studio at midnight for fifteen minutes of airtime, is to prove to my wife that I can earn a living with this writing obsession.

Because that is the bottom line. No matter how many stories are in my head, no matter how much I want to write, if I can’t pull my financial weight with my writing, I’m going to have to give it up. I know, from over thirty-five years of experience, that I will not be able to work a full-time job and continue writing in any manner that will be fruitful and satisfying.

Six times over the past year, I have been willing to do that–give up writing–in order to ease the financial worry that now rests on my wife’s shoulders. I’ve applied for six different jobs in the past eleven months; interviewed for three. For one, I was over-qualified and I’m certain the company didn’t think I would stay long enough for them too get their money’s worth out of me. The other two I applied for would have been challenging and rewarding, easing the sting of what I would give up to take it. I believe I gave my best at the interviews. I know I could have done those jobs as good or better than any other applicant. But I didn’t get them–and felt like a death row inmate who’d received a temporary stay of execution.

All the above is the backdrop for a major screw-up. My wife made the sweet gesture of purchasing her own copy of Harvest of the Heart through Amazon. It would be hers alone; she said it made her feel like a fan. After waiting patiently for it to arrive, she brought it down for me to autograph. I wanted the message in her book to be extra-special, so I set it aside, in a place that I thought would be safe, until I could get some quiet time to find just the right words.

In the frantic period leading up to my physical launch, I received a request from the Cheyenne Frontier Days to donate a copy of my book for a basket of books by Wyoming writers for a charity auction. You can see where this is going. My wife’s book is setting up on the kitchen counter, sealed in a padded envelope to mail out. It is signed “Thanks for supporting Cheyenne Frontier Days.”

This was a big mistake. I know that. And there is no way for me to undo it. “I’m sorry” wasn’t near enough. The sum of her reactions sent me out the door this morning for a run that had no planned end.

I ran out to the railroad track west of Rte. 287, hopping two fences on the way, and turned south. And just kept going. I had no business running fourteen miles, much less twenty; but, for a time, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get myself turned around. On the way out, I tried to shovel old stuff from my brain that I had no business holding onto. I was only partially successful; like moldy newspapers piled in the basement, some scraps were stuck to the floor. There was so much crap to go through, a point was reached where I could see myself not stopping at all. Like a character in one of my short stories I would just keep on running. Guilt wasn’t the only thing driving me; there was a lot of hurt, and confusion … and anger, too.

In the end, I was able to circle about and head home. Unfortunately, not all the mental garbage was left behind. On the way back, I picked up a twisted piece of iron from alongside the tracks with the intention of carrying it until I dropped the weight of rubbish that was cluttering my mind. The iron probably weighed between six and eight pounds. Picture me with eight miles to go, already dragging, and now carrying a big chunk of iron. For two miles, it went from hand to hand as I tried to maintain some semblance of decent running form. At the same time, I struggled to get my head straight.

After a bit, I found that I had adjusted enough that I thought I might make it all the way home lugging that rusted, heavy, ugly POS burden. Then it hit me–I was doing the same thing with the garbage in my head–finding a way to adjust, to carry it along. I tossed the weight and a lot of the garbage. Not all of it; there is more that still needs to go. But, like used motor oil, I’m going to have to find the right place.

So I dragged myself home. After 20.35 miles, I was exhausted, aching and dehydrated. For almost three hours after I finished, my eyesight was blurry because I was so dried out. I know the self-flagellation I put myself through doesn’t change anything and this public “mea culpa” isn’t even an attempt to do make the situation better.

Most of the challenges I get into are meant to prove something to myself. I’m not sure that this one proved much of anything except, I don’t know, that maybe I am sometimes dense and stubborn. Whether it accomplished anything at all remains to be seen. I decided when I started this blog that my writing for it was going to be unflinchingly honest. Even if it isn’t what makes for a popular blog.

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The Iceman Cometh

Like a boxer exhilarated by the battle he faces, I fought the weather with a fierce determination. A gust hit me in the face; I absorbed the punch and countered, driving my arms and moving forward. Mother Nature had six degrees, an unblemished record, and a stiff west wind in her corner. I had Under Armour and a spirit lifted by my approaching book launch in mine. The early rounds fell  in my favor, despite the slippery trail and the rock that caught my toe and sent me sprawling. I bounced back up, an embarrassed smile on my face– “No ref, I’m not hurt a bit.” I ignored the little twinge in my back and got back into the ring. By the middle rounds, Mom had me reeling. A steady barrage of frigid blows to my head and body made me question why I was in this fight at all. But then I summoned my inner Rocky. “Is that all youze got?” I held my head and took one on the chin … and laughed. I had become the Iceman; windy punches shattered against my hard, red face. As the fight drew near the end, it was clear there would be no winner. I was tired, but still standing. Mother Nature was unbowed, and still undefeated.

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Running With Scissors

So I’m running down Route 287 just before sunrise and there on the edge of the highway is a pair of nine-inch scissors with a red handle. They looked brand new, so I scooped them up, not thinking how I would look running down the road as all my neighbors were leaving for work. Once the steady stream of cars  started passing me on Spring Lakes Road, I could imagine the conversation inside the vehicles:

“Mommy look! That man is running with scissors!”

“This is too much!” Mommy says. “Running in the middle of the night–weird, but he’s from back east, what do you expect? Running when it’s minus 22 degrees–crazy, but he’s a writer, they’re all crazy. Running when the wind is 50 mph–insane, but it’s what that Selmer guy does. Now this! Running With Scissors! Totally unacceptable!”

I felt like I should send out an e-mail trying to explain, but I have a suspicion that my reputation is already set in cement and nothing I can say will change it.
I was pretty tired for this run but that was to be expected after the unplanned sort-of tempo run last night. Only nine hours, and no food, between the two runs. If I’d fallen from exhaustion onto the scissors, at least the neighbors could tell their kids, “See! That’s why you don’t run with scissors!”

While I was out on the run,  and before I found the scissors, I realized how incredibly busy I will be over the next four months … five months … oh geez, I’m not sure I’ll ever not be busy again. I think it was one thing that contributed to the tired feeling I had during the run.

“Avenging Angel”, the sequel to “Harvest of the Heart” is just screaming to get out of my head and onto paper. At some point, I have to get moving on the biography I want to write. Then there is the short story collection “Running Scared” that is in the editing phase and will require more work before it goes to the publisher. A book launch party next Thursday; a book tour and DC area launch on January 23; and, on top of it all, I have to train for Boston–I believe I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

This is starting to sound like a whole ‘nother post I need to write. I hope that camel has a strong back, because the straws are piling up.

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The sky reflects a troubled spirit

Once again my run turned into an introspective drama. As the day passed into night, the sky spoke to me while I made my through a prairie roiled by relentless wind. I take that back; spoke is too kind a word. Chastised is closer to the truth… berated might be better still.

I have felt out of sorts for the last couple of days and I have avoided trying to pinpoint why. Good things have been happening in my life; a happy new baby in the house, my health on an upswing and a book published. Even the not-so-good things have had silver linings.  Since the birth of my fifth grandchild, my daughter faced a health issue that has allowed me to play a contributing role in our household. I’ve felt needed after a year during which, as a wanna-be writer that wasn’t producing an income, I often didn’t.

I’m certain that my wife and daughter thought I was absorbed in reading books that I had received for Christmas. “Claiming Ground” and “The Hunger Games” I’ve just finished and I’m well into”The Passage”. They are captivating stories, which has helped keep me from facing the cause of a mild depression that is, inexcusably, lying just below the surface of my cheerful facade. The cause for said depression was also close to the surface — easy to reach if I only made the effort. Hence the reason I’ve been burying myself in the pages of one book after another.

But nature and my sub-conscious conspired this evening to force my hand.

Swirls of turbulent gray skittered across the sky, driven by a steadily increasing wind. High above me, an angry presence loomed – the tops of many of the clouds were painted a fierce red by a sun that was already beyond the western mountains. From the very start of my run, it was as though nature itself  was disturbed by and reflected my inner turmoil.

As I followed the narrow trail between rustling stalks of dried switchgrass and needle-and-thread, dodging the gust-driven tumble weeds, I felt buffeted by more than the wind. I was forced to admit the cause of my unsettled state, and that is doubt.

That every author has to face this insidious, tenacious creature doesn’t make it any easier for me. Right now it isn’t doubt about my writing ability, although I worry that will come hand-in-hand with the first negative review. What I doubt is my stamina and commitment for staying the course, for being willing to take my lumps and forge on. The promising early sales have ended and my naive hopes that “Harvest of the Heart” would take off and that sales would become self-sustaining have been dashed. Lots of hard marketing work remains that I, as a self-published author, will need to do myself if I want to succeed.

But I am eager to write, not sell. If I have to personally seek out and make every sale, I don’t know that I can do it. It is a little depressing that I’m feeling this way already. A lot of Indie authors would probably be overjoyed with the positive reviews and over eighty books sold in two weeks. But the truth is, I’m scared that, once my physical launch is over on January 12, that sales will fade away to nothing. How brave they are, the writers that absorb this type of disappointment for years, but stay the course and achieve ultimate success.

I’m not going to quit, I know that much; but I’m mad at myself for letting this doubt take the wind out of my sails; for zapping some of the energy that is needed to talk to bookstore owners and to keep working the social media in the hopes that sales will follow. I’ve been trying to wean myself from checking my sales statistics; I know I should ignore them since looking at them won’t change them… only marketing will do that.

Of course I am using running and this blog as a cheap substitute for a therapist. Running helps me think things through and writing it out helps me to work it out. I’ve set goals, and planned steps to reach them. Here is where I need to act as my own coach and say to myself, “Stop being such a wuss! Get out there and fight for your dreams!”

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Zapped by the Christmas Spirit

Zapped by the Christmas Spirit

In some years, the spirit of Christmas comes over me gradually. Around Thanksgiving, joy and goodwill accumulate in my heart at about the same rate as the pounds being added to my waistline. During the years of creeping Christmas, I am aware of the change in the same way I notice the extra weight. In the back of my mind, I know they both are growing; the increasingly warm, sweet glow from one lends me an air of contentment that I think is visible to the world; I know the world can see the increasing inches added to my belly. The knowledge that the wonder of the season will fade much faster than my holiday paunch is a bittersweet spice that adds an urgent but undefined taste to the succulent holiday meals, colorful wrappings, and bright lights.

There have been years that I never found that Christmas spirit at all. Work pressures, illness, financial issues; the reasons varied for why, on Christmas day, I would find myself dredging up memories of how that seasonal cheer felt, so that I could present a smiling face to family and friends. The result was like splashing a fresh coat of white paint over a dirty wall. I was certain the imperfections would bleed through; the stain of a forced gaiety more obvious as a result of the contrast with those whose spirit was heartfelt.

A big little reason for Christmas cheer

This year I kept expecting it to come early. Because of the presence of my newest grandchild in the house, early snowfall, the excitement of my book release, and the planned visit of my eldest son, I anticipated a long and jubilant immersion in an ocean of holiday cheer. Day after day, I patiently awaited the magnetic pull of Christmas.

And, day after day, it didn’t come. I did a ten-day fast just before Thanksgiving and afterward, stayed at a proper and consistent weight; that hasn’t changed despite the temptation of holiday treats. I wondered if my lack of Christmas spirit this season was somehow tied to my lack of a growing waistline.

Don’t get me wrong – the late fall and early winter has been among the most exciting, rewarding and joyful periods in my life. Still, until last night, that extra spark that could light my inner Christmas fire had yet to be kindled.

Then, during my run last night, it hit me like a lightning bolt out of a cold and perfectly clear night sky. The electric thrill pushed me in happy anticipation toward home, eager for the happy days ahead. My rushed and sappy Dailymile post was the result of an overdose of Christmas spirit…

White satin was rent and scattered along the shoulder of the road as I ran out into the chilled evening. An unexpected moisture hovered above the ground and tickled my face. Faint embers burned low upon the darkening horizon as the night sky became a blanket of black satin spread with millions of crystal shards. I whisked my way through a dim landscape, entranced by the narrow necklace of gems that sparkled across the northern fringe of the earth; city and sky decorated for the approaching season of joy. An early Merry Christmas to all my DM friends.

I call it the writer’s version of a sugar-rush. Such hyper-flowery prose would likely drive an editor crazy.

Yesterday, we trudged through snow to claim a fresh tree from the flanks of the Snowy Mountains. I danced with my six-week old grandson to the magical sounds of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra while my oldest son performed a different magic in the kitchen. Later in the evening, my wife and I went shopping for a few extra Christmas surprises; little things, but I believe thinking about the want and needs of others, and trying to fill them in any way possible, is part of what makes the season special.

In the wee hours of the morning, while the house absorbed a transcendent stillness from those who lay dreaming within, I sat alone on the sofa beneath the bare tree, reading a book while the crisp, eager, evergreen scent wafted around me, feeding my new-found spirit, and whispering “Merry Christmas”.

If this is your first visit to my blog, WELCOME! I hope you’ll snoop around some. And I would love to have you follow by using the button in the right column.

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