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The other day I tripped on a large tree root across the path. I stumbled first, an impressive number of feet really, six to ten, before I fell. At least I was closer to the ground by the time I landed, maybe only a foot away, and I was able to “drop” to the grass. (At least there was grass.) It wasn’t the worst crash I’ve ever had in my life but it was the first one since I’ve started running. It really shook me up.

I knew it would happen eventually. I’d heard stories about people falling while running. (Tales told around the campfire.) I’d even seen evidence. When I ran in the Pecos Mountains during the summer, one of the women I ran with fell and was completely scraped up: angry trail rash spread across one arm and both her legs. I was horrified. When would it happen to me?

I was determined never to fall. I’d been so careful. Always keeping my eyes on the path, watching for roots, for rocks, clumps of thick grass, holes underneath the grass, anything that might jeopardize my balance and send me sprawling onto the ground. I couldn’t afford a fall. I don’t need to hurt my hip/s, my knees, my back. My body just can’t sustain many more bang-ups at my age.

I made it six months.

It came out of nowhere: that root. Actually, I saw it, my mind registered that there was a big fat root. I run in that park all the time and know where the roots are exposed and reaching across the path. I am skilled at maneuvering over them like an obstacle course in boot camp. Most of the time, I think it’s a blast to run on uneven ground, cross county;  I dance over the web of roots. However, this day, I was not paying much attention to what I was doing, where I was placing my feet. This is different from being in a Zen state while running, somehow. I’m not sure how but I’ll get back to this. (I was tired, possibly even a little sick—could that be it?) Anyway, I was thinking about other things, something to do with the blog, most likely. What would I write about? What was I going to fix for dinner? I was not present; not in the moment. I saw it but the message from my brain to my foot was slow, apparently, and the foot just didn’t respond, did not lift up in time, or not enough, and my bad toe struck the tree root.

(My toe is “bad’ because it has had problems—an old fracture in the joint–not bad because it didn’t obey my brain’s command.) As it collided with the root, I felt a jolt of pain all the way up into my knee and hip. Somehow, after falling, I rolled (old volleyball training–muscle memory is an amazing thing) and ended up on my back, looking up into the trees. I was embarrassed when a couple strolling by asked me if I had fallen, asked me if I was okay. Bruised ego. I didn’t want to get up; more out of shame than the idea that I may find out I was really hurt.  I would just stay there on the grass, looking into the trees forever. Maybe I would turn invisible. Maybe they would buy the idea that I was just contemplating the foliage.  They didn’t. I stood, thanked them, said I was okay, and started limping down the trail. It wasn’t too bad. I was a little wobbly, afraid to go to fast. I felt a sharp pain in my foot but it subsided and I figured I could give it a go. I ran around the park one more time, this time utterly in the present, completely aware of the ground and every blade of grass that might trip me up. It was easy to focus after falling down.

Fear is good for focus. (Is that what I’m saying? Generally, fear paralyzes me, but maybe a healthy respect for pain is good for focus.) I’m not sure, but it was easy to place my attention on the path, on every step I made after being on such intimate terms with the ground, knowing now, I am not invincible. It occurred to me that maybe falling while running is a rite of passage; something all runners face at some time. I can say I’m really a runner now because I’ve met the earth.  Joking aside. I don’t know what “real” runners say about falling, but the point I’m trying to make is that I kept going. I fell down and it didn’t stop me. I survived. I may even be a bit better for it (at least more aware of where I’m putting my feet).

I’m choosing writing over dust bunnies, over putting on make-up, if it comes down to it. I’ve set my egg timer for twenty-one minutes and I’m going to write, then I’ll get ready for work. I’m sitting here at the computer in a damp sports bra and running shoes. I did take my cap and sunglasses off, but I just came in the door after stretching and cooling down. I wish I could tape-record my thoughts while running. There’s so much I think about and it all seems terribly deep and ponderous; I’m sure everyone would be awed at the wisdom and inspiration that springs to mind as I’m running. Maybe it has something to do with endorphins.

My morning routine these days: I get to the computer as fast as I can; after cooling down a bit; changing into something dry (usually); grabbing breakfast and a cup of coffee. Today, I’m eating steel cut oatmeal (already made but heated up in the microwave) with raisins and walnuts and some almond milk that I’m trying out (good stuff, low in calories, non-dairy). I want to write about everything—nutrition, because running has been changing the way I eat (except for those cookies I still find ways to slip in), and the path—the actual terrain I run on—(that one sounds deeply metaphorical, may have to go with it), and the people who block my path as I run.

People who block my path: Today it was a woman walking her dog on the trail in Hyder Park. It amazes me how people won’t get out of the way, won’t move (some of them). Of course, who am I to think they should move out of the trail and let me stay on it? I suppose I feel more significant somehow because, after all, I’m running. I am the one really exercising here—the one with purpose—look at me puffing away, you can see I’ve been running for a while and I’m very serious about the business of running, so get out of my way. After all, you are only walking your dog. Your dog does not need a trail.

Wow! Didn’t know that was in there.

It’s funny, some of the things people do. Some do move aside, other runners mostly. Runners seem to be aware of each other, glance when we pass one another; a look that suggests, “I’ll move over” and a nod to says, “thanks.” Runners are such nice people. Then there are the people with headphones, (runners and walkers) who don’t even know you are there and you just have to dart around. That’s a different breed entirely.

 People who get in my way, hmm; I thought I would write about one thing, but another is coming up. Maybe they aren’t in my way, maybe they just are. Maybe my path is supposed to go around them, into the grass, off the dirt trail, that is my path, the one that goes around. That’s a very Buddhist sounding idea; it makes me think of water. Water flowing around the rock, instead of complaining that the rock is in the way. I suppose I want the easiest path, nothing blocking me, no rocks to go around. I definitely have to think about this some more. Think of myself as water, or the journey as one that’s fluid and meanders here and there around obstacles. I think “obstacle” isn’t really the right word, either. Is a rock an obstacle to water when water can easily move around it? Aren’t there meditations on this, water flowing around rock for years, shaping it over time?

 My egg timer just went off: I have to shower and go meet eighteen different obstacles to my serenity today. Not a good attitude; I know. Maybe I need to see them as something that changes me while I change them, the exchange of energy, flowing around them, breaking off bits of old ideas and shaping their little minds (still not there yet).  Today, I will be water and obstacles in my way are rocks in a riverbed; I will flow around them like water. I am water. (Or am I the rock? I’m getting confused.) They can’t ruin my day by being there, they just are.

I flow.

Running today was not easy—feeling sluggish, a bit sad, but my body went into automatic at some point and I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was running, I was just moving above the ground. I like it when that happens; it’s like flying. I’ve used that analogy before with things—with riding a bike, with writing. Yes, sometimes writing feels that way. Like I’m soaring above the ground, zipping around, a kind of high. Although, writing is not always like that, writing is often just plodding away. Just like running is, those first seven to ten minutes—sometimes longer—before my body goes into automatic. I don’t like that, really, the word “automatic.” It makes me think of machines and robots when it’s more like a natural state, a zen state of writing, a zen state of running, where I’m in the moment, doing the thing and not thinking about doing it.

I was in that state today, floating over the sandy ditch bank, watching geese fly overhead in arrows, calling out in their funny way—I felt like I was soaring with them. But I’ve since landed. I’m feeling a little depressed, still, after getting a rejection “letter” (email, to be precise) from this small press I’d submitted my book to. Unhappy, but there’s a strange sense of freedom in their rejecting me. I think I would have been sorry had I gone with them. They are not respected; I think they put out a bit of pulpy stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with pulp–it has its place). I suppose I should be glad that my work does not fit in with their “needs” (whatever those are.) I do think my novel is a bit too literary for them, even though it may not be literary enough by MFA program standards. It is still too complex for the regular, strict-genre fare that this particular press puts out.

If that’s the way I feel , why did I submit to them and not do a thing (as far as writing goes) for three months while I waited for their reply? I was sure I would be picked up, to be honest. I thought that well of my novel, it was actually too good for them, they’d be happy to pick it up. What is wrong with this picture? First of all, I was definitely aiming too low. Secondly, I was afraid to go to a better press. There are very few presses that deal in my niche market and I’m afraid to be rejected by those that are more respected. This is difficult, writing about this. I’m afraid but I have to forge ahead, to walk though this fear and see what happens. I have not actually tried to publish this book. Sure, I submitted to a contest (one winner out of however many. I didn’t win—big surprise) and this “lowered expectations” press. That’s hardly a try and I really thought that they were likely to take my book because—look at the crap they sell—mine is much better. Whew, that kind of smarts! Maybe mine isn’t better. That’s the thought that keeps seeping into my gloominess, maybe I’m really not good enough—even for Bottom of the Barrel Books. Aaaaugh! The writer’s plight: always fighting with the magically morphing ego (now too big; now too small). I’m either the best or I’m the worst, never somewhere in-between.

All right then. Stop whimpering, dust yourself off. I need to look for a new publisher, rewrite my synopsis, get someone to edit it, try again. And again. And again. Who do I think I am, really, that I shouldn’t have to go through the many rejections that all writers, most writers, have to go through? This is hard to write about and I don’t know if I want this to be in the blog. Reflection on rejection, not very inspiring. I’m feeling about seven years old today. Feeling sorry for myself, wanting to give up, wanting to eat a bunch of junk. The run was good, but its effects are not as lasting as I’d hoped. I came home, escaped into a mystery novel, not wanting to deal with grading the stack of student essays, not wanting to deal with revamping my synopsis, working on that outline for another stupid press.

What would Julia do? (I’m speaking of the one and only Julia Cameron, of course.) In her book, the Artist’s Way she talks about letting yourself feel the pain of rejection, she says, “give yourself the dignity of admitting your artistic wounds.” I will allow myself to grieve a little bit; it really was a death of sorts, death of a dream (at least for the time being), even though my expectations may have been unrealistic. I know that in a day or two I will have healed and will move on in a new direction. Sometimes rejection is the best thing for me. It motivates me to look at something in a different way. It offers me perspective. I was limiting myself; I had not been taking risks, not really wanting to put in the effort, step out on a limb. I may even feel grateful for this rejection at some point in the future. Maybe. (September 12, 2010)

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