Showing posts with label The Vultures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Vultures. Show all posts

Friday, November 2, 2012

Getting Older: Identity and the Adjustment of Self-Perception

So, I just turned 35. It seems like an interesting point. This birthday, in conjunction with a few other things, has had me thinking lately.

I'm not young anymore. There are good things and bad things about this. The basic good is that I'm happy with my life. I have a career I love, a fantastic family full of crazy whippersnappers, and lovely online friends. The downside is the never particularly pleasant physical degrading that comes with getting older. I have a possibly serious (and at least very painful) internal problem (I won't bore you with the details). I also have a host of chronic joint injuries from an adventurous youth (and a clumsy adulthood). The result of these concerns is that it's hard to stay in shape; I basically can't do anything without some sort of unpleasant physical ramification. I'm jogging again, but we'll have to see how things hold up. Fingers crossed. Except some of those fingers are damaged and aching, too. :)

Needless to say, when I get up in the morning, I feel a little more like 85 than 35. The creaking you hear is not just the stairs...

And yet it's curious. Inside my head, I still feel young. I still feel a little like I'm 20. And often my ambitions and goals are based on this conception of myself as a 20-year-old.

This is normal. I think most people, even when they're elderly, have a self-conception of themselves as young, as the people they once were. The mirror can be a shock. Who is that person?

I think as children we learn about the world around us. As teenagers, we look inside and try to learn about ourselves, about who we are. As early adults, we've come to some conclusions; we have, in a sense, defined who we are. We've woven certain events, certain characteristics, abilities, and beliefs, into the fabric of who we are. They're now a part of how we perceive ourselves. When we think ME, these things are all included.

And yet sometimes these things change without us realizing it. And yet we still see ourselves in the same way. Svelte! Sometimes these delusions can be helpful. Optmism can be a beneficial thing. But sometimes these delusions, these mirrored refractions of what we once were, can be harmful. In the back of my head, I'm a teen or early 20-something. I was always an athlete growing up: a top-flight soccer player, and most other sports came very easily to me. And this natural ease with all things physical was part of how I conceived of myself. Athlete. Physically gifted.

Even now, my goals are subtly shaped by these conceptions. Earlier this year, I devised a goal to get back in shape and run a five-minute mile. I like ambition! I like difficult! But my body does not like ridiculous. My body does not like impossible.

There was a sudden conflict between my self-conception and my actual self. This five-minute-mile dream was still possible in the world of my self-conception, as my younger self could have done this. But my thirty-five-year-old self could not. There came a moment of realization, when all of this, which was chruning under the surface, suddenly became clear. The conscious realization of age, of the disparity between self and self-concept. I've realized that this younger me is gone (or partially gone -- transformed). And thinking it was not could be harmful.

My job is to accept the fact, it seems, that I am now 35, that I have a number of physical problems that will not be getting better; that will, in fact, be getting worse. This is simply a matter of physics, of the distribution of force over time.

So, I've been trying to come to grips with the new (old) me. The new me that is old(ish). It's not about despair, about giving up on your dreams, but about trying to understand what your dreams really are, what is reasonable; it is about trying to discern what you really want and expect out of life.

I don't need to be an athlete. I don't need to run a five-minute mile. Ambition is great, but it shouldn't kill you. What I want is some general health and fitness. I want to be around to play with my kids, to see them grow up. Grandbabies! I love babies.

The situation isn't quite so drastic for my intellectual ambitions. My brain, luckily, works much better than my body. But it has made me think a bit. Because some of my ambitions were the ambitions of that sleek, fast, young me, the one with lots of hair. What are my true ambitions in terms of writing now? How have they changed? What are my plans for pursuing these ambitions, if ambitions they still are?

I think 2013 will be a year for finding some of these answers. A year for looking into that mirror and figuring out who is looking out.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Things I Learned About Writing While Running 10km

1. Runner's cramps hurt more than writer's cramps, but don't usually last as long. And Gatorade is better for the former, though further testing may be required for a definitive answer.

2. Things are always chaotic at the beginning. So many things to trip over! The slalom can be effective, but it's like tacking an extra kilometre onto your book. All's good, though, if you can find a bit of space and hit your stride.

3. Pace is wonderful, but you can go too fast. People need a chance to breathe, and air is a wonderful thing. And don't set your pace by someone who's going half the distance.

4. Properly-fitted footwear is beneficial everywhere.

5. It's okay if someone else finishes before you, as long as you get to the finish line, too. Even if it's a couple pushing racing strollers. Okay, I have no idea what that means in terms of writing, but it was a little depressing when they passed me. (Though, really, they were awesome and made of some sort of newfangled metal alloy - their children were all shiny and made of melted-down gold medals)

6. Everyone has their own speed. Finding yours is the key.

7. Potholes are to be avoided. But, every now and again, the pothole is inevitable. Pain may be involved. But keep going. There are potholes along every route. Keep your eyes peeled. Tough it out.

8. Get it done. It doesn't have to look pretty. An ungainly gait is fine, as long as it gets you where you need to go.

9. Perseverence. Sometimes it's going to hurt. Sometimes it's going to hurt a lot. We all hit points where we say "Maybe this is enough. Maybe I'll just stop here. Enough is enough." But embrace the pain. The end is only going to be sweeter for having pushed through these doubts.

10. Trying to grab and drink those little cups of water from the water station while running and breathing heavily is much harder than it looks. Plus, also, messy. This also has nothing to do with writing. Um. Don't drink and write? Okay, don't drink and write. You heard it here first.

11. Run hard at the end. The crowd always likes a good closer.

12. Hot dogs make everything feel better. Trust me.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Writing with Sneakers

So the Rejectionist has a post about perseverence, and she uses a wonderful running metaphor to help make her point. I love running; I love writing. A confuence! I extended the metaphor a little (in comment 3 on that thread), and it got me thinking, not just about perseverence but about an act of sustained will.

Writing a novel is different than many acts of creation -- inspiration is important, and yet the process of writing a novel dwarfs any moment of inspiration. It takes a certain doggedness to complete a novel.

Is it any surprise that I'm a fan of extreme athletics? And by extreme I don't mean trying to ride a unicyle across a tightrope over Niagara Falls. By extreme, I mean extremely difficult. I'm fascinated by triathlons, marathons, the Tour de France. I've been watching the latter on tv. These crazy buggers spend three straight weeks racing this one event, riding hundreds of kilometres every day (thousands over the course of the whole race) through whatever conditions might arise on the roads - a brutal drought this year, as it happens. And they head up into the Alps and Pyrenees. On one day they rode up three mountains. Before they even got to the final climb. The last climb was the Col de Tourmalet. There were seven or eight kilometres of slow uphills... just to get to the bottom of the climb. The climb itself was 19 kilometres (12 miles) straight up a steep mountain. And they had to race it, the finish line at the top: to the winner go the spoils.

The sheer effort of this is mind-boggling, a ferocious act of will. Yet what struck me was not just the focus and determination of the riders on the day, as they struggled to pedal their bikes uphill against the weight of gravity and the request of physics in regards to round wheels (down, they want to go, down...). What struck me was what they all must have done to prepare for this. Only one man would win the race on the day (Andy Schleck), but they all had to get up the mountain. And this would be impossible without thousands of hours in the saddle, so to speak.

Is writing a novel much different? It's not a flash, a moment (even a long moment) of exerted will. It's a matter of sustained will. A slow accumulation, a build toward that final day of racing.

I run. There is something about it I find compelling. The difficulty of it. There are no easy steps, no breaks. A matter of sustained will. Each day, that act of will must put you on that road, and keep you on it. Yet it is the repetition of that act that's important. It's wonderful if I run four miles. But what if I don't go out again for a month? What did that four miles do for me? No, it's the ability to sustain that builds strength. Day after day, an accumulation of endurance and health. An accumulation of words on a single page, and then another, and another -- an accumulation of pages, of scenes and chapters.

You can't simply decide, out of the blue, to run a marathon in four hours. You would collapse. It is about moving from day to day with a goal in mind and in practice. It is about a sustained act of will.

The tramp of feet on cement. Step, step, Step, step, Step, step -- yes, I run with a bit of a limp. But that limp, that sense of the road, disappears when I get deep into a run -- and when I have trained, when my breathing, through long repetition, matches my stride. The road disappears beneath you. The sense of impact: Gone. You glide, you fly, you swim with every step. And yet that only comes with doggedness.

Writing is not so different. You must engage in the story through a sustained act of will, sinking yourself into it each day. Do it every day and sometimes the difficulty of each step, of each word, disappears. You lose yourself in the story. The world around you slips away, to be replaced by something strange and uniquely yours.

Will you win the race? Perhaps not, but the end will be in sight.