Observation

Other people’s words about … sadness

Why was she so sad? The unspoken question had dangled over the [therapist’s] beige couch and the framed degrees and the economy of Kleenex. He commanded a cache of Ohs and I sees in varying grades of volume and texture, knew when to prod and when to sink with her. Why was she so sad?

Ada was sad because she was sad because she was sad. She experienced extreme difficulty in reaching past the tautological.

From ‘Infinite Home
by Kathleen Alcott

Some time ago, for much the same reason as Ada in the passage above, I quit therapy. I had come to my therapist feeling sad; but years of therapy later, I still felt sad. It seemed to me at last that, whether my sadness was unique or universal or — like Ada’s — purely tautological, the time for exploring it was over.

In the years that have passed since then, I’ve learned that I feel better when I try to make peace with sadness than I do when I try to overcome it. There is much to be said for acceptance and for patience. And for seeing things through.

I took the pictures in today’s post on a day when I had just heard that I will be losing my job at the end of this year. I felt, that day, as though I had been cheated of something — of an income, yes, but also of something less tangible, some essential part of me that I couldn’t actually name. I felt anxious and old and vulnerable and as though I had failed. Most of all, I just felt sad.

What I saw

I couldn’t sit still with my sadness that day; I couldn’t see it through. So I did the only thing that seemed manageable to me in the moment: I took myself off for a run by the beach. I ran what seemed to me a long way, the furthest I’d ever run, in fact — although the distance didn’t matter, really. What mattered was that I was outside: moving, breathing deeply, looking around. Seeing. Sadness, I’ve found, stops me from seeing. But stepping outside returns my vision to me, at least for a while.

Losing a job — especially a job that you love, especially when you are nearing fifty — entails a specific kind of sadness, one that is wrapped up in grief and fear. Still, I’m curious. What do you do when you are sad?

Chasing clouds

It was the week of daffodils, and they were everywhere — outside everyone’s fences and shrubs, jubilant. It was that perfect running weather: cool and damp, still a little cloudy over the water.

From ‘Alternative Remedies for Loss’
by Joanna Cantor

The photos in today’s post come from a run I went on in early October, a muggy, warm, cloudy spring day, perfect for running, though different from the conditions Cantor describes above.

It was also the Monday of the October long weekend, as well as the first weekend of the school holidays, so the jetties at Semaphore and Largs Bay were jostling with people, and kids paddled and squealed in the water. Dogs dashed about on the shore, chasing balls.

This year, oddly, the usual swathes of variable groundsel flowers didn’t appear on the dunes around Taperoo and Largs Bay, though they did dot the dunes at Aldinga, further south. But the pigface plants blossomed as usual, their astonishing purple brightness undimmed by the cloudy sky above.

On the way home, I left the beach by a path I don’t usually take, and found this array of beach-thongs dotting the fence post, which brought a smile to my face:

Whatever your definition of perfect running weather, I’m pretty certain that any day on which you finish up your run with a smile comes close to perfect, regardless!

Chasing clouds

When the run does its work, I will become lost in its beating heart.
We run on.

From ‘Running with the Pack’
by Mark Rowlands

Today’s photos come from a run I went on in early September on a day when the first faint hint of spring was in the air.

The course I followed took me south along Aldinga Beach; then eastwards, into the Scrub; then north, along a grassy path that skirts the boundary of the Scrub, between the vineyards and the bushes.

At the end of that grassy path, an elderly couple were standing, leaning against the wooden fence. The man greeted me as I came closer, and called out, ‘Where have you come from? Where does this path lead to?’ And so I stopped to chat to them, describing how to get to the beach from where they were.

The last part of the run took me through the wetlands, which is where I pulled out my camera at last. The pictures show the landscape, but they don’t convey the sounds — frogs croaking, a hidden moorhen squawking wildly in amongst the reeds.

And they don’t convey the feeling of the sun on my skin, either: warm and sweet and new, the way the sun always feels in the first, early days of spring.

Out & about: enough

‘When you’re walking the view shifts and changes.
Walking’s a form of hope.’

from ‘The World Without Us
by Mireille Juchau

 

Some days, after work, I don’t have time to go for the kind of walk that the passage above, which I quote on this blog so often, describes: a long walk, a wandering walk, a wondering walk. Some days there just aren’t enough hours of daylight left — not for that kind of walk.

There might be a few moments, though — just enough moments to dash down the road and glimpse a dark swathe of clouds in the sky —

— or the branches of a sheoak tree silhouetted against cotton-pink clouds —

— or a sea turned opal.

Beacons to guide the ships home

The day I took the photos in this post was one of those days. All I had left of that day were those few moments — the last few moments of the day. So I told myself that they were enough, those few moments.

And for a few moments they were. They really were.

Chasing clouds

If I am thinking at all when I run, this is a sign of a run gone wrong — or, at least, of a run that has not yet gone right. The run does not yet have me in its grip. I am not yet in the heartbeat of the run; the rhythm of the run has not done its hypnotic work. On every long run that has gone right, there comes a point where thinking stops and thoughts begin.

From ‘Running with the Pack:
Thoughts from the Road on Meaning & Mortality’

by Mark Rowlands

I suspect — no, in fact, I know — that I don’t run far enough, or long enough, or hard enough to have experienced the same kind of long run to which Mark Rowlands is referring here. And yet, even on my kind of run — the kind of run when you run simply for the joy of the moment and nothing else — there comes a point when the rhythm of the run [begins to do] its hypnotic work for me.

That’s why I came back to running, twenty years after I stopped. I am a worrier, a thinker — no, an over-thinker. But I’m not when I run. For those twenty years when I stopped running, I couldn’t forget the sweet spot I used to find at some point during a run, when, as Rowland puts it, thinking stops and thoughts begin. And I couldn’t find it, either — not outside of running.

Elsewhere in his book, Rowlands has this to say about why he runs:

People sometimes assess the quality of their runs in terms of times, distances and also in more sophisticated ways: the AIs — the number, duration and intensity of the aerobic intervals they have inserted into the miles they have run; the TUT — the total uphill time and so on. But, as far as I am concerned, times, distances, AIs, TUTs — these are all just contingencies, incidentals. Every run has its own heartbeat; the years have taught me this. The heartbeat of the run is the essence of the run, what the run really is.

I’m with Rowlands here. I don’t do tech — either in my day-to-day life or while I’m out running. I don’t own a smartphone, or a fitbit, or a garmin. I don’t even own a pedometer. The only things I take with me when I go for a run are my (non-digital) watch and (sometimes, but not always) my camera. That’s it. I put my watch on my wrist, and I hold my camera in one hand, and then I go out and run. I know roughly how far I run, but only roughly, which is exactly how I like it.

Every run has its own heartbeat, Rowlands says, and then, without skipping a beat: the years have taught me this. Those words — heartbeat, the years, taught — have nothing to do with AIs or TUTs (neither of which I’d heard of, before I read Rowlands’s book), and everything to do with living. With learning. With growing.

Which are some of the other reasons that I run.

I took the photos you see in today’s post on a run one Sunday morning in late August. I ran northwards from home, in the opposite direction to the jetty that you will have seen pictured on other posts in my blog: beyond the breakwater and along the water’s edge by the yacht club and marina. As you can see, there was virtually no wind, though the air was brisk and cold.

It was a blue day — blue sky, blue water, blue paint on the boat ramps. Blue. Blue. Blue. My eyes felt wide open to the blue. I had promised myself that I would stop whenever I wanted to, whenever I saw something that struck my fancy, and that is what I did: I ran and stopped, ran and stopped, ran and stopped. I ran into the blue. I lost my rhythm and then found it again, several times, and it took me a while to figure out that this was my rhythm, on that morning, at least.

And I felt, as I often do when I’m out running, that I had found my heartbeat again: that I had heard it, and understood it, and honoured it.

That, too, is why I run.

Chasing clouds

Running affords the freedom of distance, coupled with the literary appeal of solitude. There’s a meditative cadence to the union of measured breaths and metered strides. Writers and runners both operate on linear planes,
and the running writer soon realises [that] the relationship between art and sport is a mutually beneficial one.’

From ‘Why Writers Run’
by Nick Ripatrazone
in The Atlantic

I’d heard about the connection between writing and running before — or at least about certain writers, like Joyce Carol Oates and Haruki Murakami, who run as well as write, and who believe that their running helps their writing. And I’d always understood the connection instinctively, though I don’t think I could have put it into words as Ripatrazone does (fairly baldly and glibly in some spots, it must be said) in his piece for The Atlantic, which I’ve quoted throughout this post.

Running, the argument goes, clears the mind. Writers stuck on a sentence should lace their sneakers and go for a jog, knowing that when they return, they will be a bit sweatier, more tired, but often more charged to run with their words. This is Ripatrazone’s advice, at any rate.

While I would quibble with any shoulds when it comes to either running or writing — what works for some people won’t work for others; and one person’s meditative jog is another person’s sweaty, heart-pounding, back-spasming nightmare — Ripatrazone also has this to say, which I love:

Writing exists in that odd mental space between imagination and intellect, between the organic and the planned. Runners must learn to accept the same paradoxes, to realise that each individual run has its own narrative,
with twists and turns and strains.’

I’ve been struggling for some time to articulate why writing became such a tortured process for me over the last couple of years, and, equally, why I turned to running around this time with such joy. I knew that when I ran I felt a sense of clarity that I don’t otherwise feel; but still, I didn’t think the two things were connected — especially since, not long after I began to run again regularly, I made the decision to stop writing altogether, at least for now.

Now, though, reading Ripatrazone’s words, I wonder if it was that odd mental space … between the organic and the planned that running creates in me that allowed me to stop writing.

The only way I can explain this is to tell the story behind the pictures in today’s post, which I took on a short, gentle run in late July, after a particularly torrid day at work. I’d got home just in time to change into my running clothes and make it onto the beach before the sun set. Once there, I ran in a northwesterly direction, with the sun ahead of me rather than at my back. And at the halfway point, at the breakwater, I stopped.

I stopped.

I stopped.

I took these photos, and I breathed in, and I felt the lowering sun on my skin, and I felt everything inside of me, finally, stop.

This, I think, is what running does for me: it allows me to stop. It brings me into a kind of stillness I don’t feel at any other time. Running, stopping, finding stillness: to say that these things are intimately connected with each other seems a contradiction in terms. But perhaps it’s not, because something shifted inside of me when I took up running again last year: I felt it almost immediately. That shift was what allowed me to stop writing, which was something — I see now — I had to do, in order to move forward in my life: and to move forward, also, in my writing (again, that contradiction in terms).

Perhaps, in the end, Ripatrazone puts it better than me — not in his clichéd injunction to writers to run in order to improve their writing, but in his description of the paradoxes that both writers and runners must face.

In any case, on the day that I’m speaking of, the day that I took these photos, once I had stopped for a while to breathe in, and to look about, and to rest, I knew that I was ready to move again. And so I ran home, with the sun sinking into the sea behind me and the air gradually chilling, and a sense of stillness all about me, and also inside of me.

Deep, deep inside.

Chasing clouds

‘It took me years to see that path and to find my pace.
When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever.’

From ‘The Long Run’
by Catriona Menzies-Pike

We’ve had an unusually dry, cold winter in South Australia this year — the driest, I heard recently, since the mid-1960s — and so the days in the last few weeks have been mostly clear and crisp. Global warming and environmental concerns aside, I love this weather.

And here’s a first — I have even grown to love the short days this year!

Sunrise, bird, tree.

Some mornings, I get up around 6 am, and go for a run before work, as the sun rises. Running before breakfast, I’ve discovered, is a completely different beast from running later in the day: sleepy and not yet well-fed, I run more slowly (which may not seem possible, but apparently is) but also somehow more smoothly. It is as though the calm of the night, the deep, rhythmic breathing of sleep, still hang over me. I feel light, buoyant, in my body and in my mind, as though I’m still moving through my dreams. My joints are loose and easy, and the exertion of the run seems somehow separate from me, not part of the dream I’m in.

Meanwhile, as I run along the esplanade path or by the shore, the sky grows rosy to the landward east; and the sea turns from silver, to grey, to blue, to the west; and the scent of the sand drifts up to me, filled with chill and damp; and sometimes a sliver of moon hangs above the tops of the pine trees lining the coast.

And I know that I’m awake. Alive. Grateful to be here.

Chasing clouds

‘It took me years to see that path and to find my pace.
When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever.’

From ‘The Long Run’
by Catriona Menzies-Pike

We recently spent a week in the caravan staying in our favourite spot, perched on the clifftops at Yorke Peninsula. It was mid-Autumn, and the weather, like the view, changed every day, sometimes every minute.

During one of the sunnier hours, I went for a run in the bushland that lies behind the dunes and cliffs. I took off my running shoes and ran barefoot along the winding sandy track that rises and dips through the scrubland. Despite the lack of rain in the previous months, the bushland here seemed to me quite lush (at least by South Australian standards).

I finished my run at the base of the highest dune, and then I trundled up to the top of the dune to look down on the beach and shoreline below.

It was a moment of silver seas and blue skies — a moment worth celebrating.

Chasing clouds

‘Some athletes love to talk about what a simple sport running is.
They say that all you need is a pair of sneakers.
That’s not true.
What you need is some freedom of movement
and the ability to see a clear path ahead of you.
It took me years to see that path and to find my pace.
When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever.’

From ‘The Long Run’
by Catriona Menzies-Pike

Around about a year ago, I wrote a post on this blog in response to lawyer-turned-long-distance-runner Robyn Arzón’s book Shut Up and Run. In that post, I wrote, in angry contradiction to Arzón, about the virtues of taking things slowly, of living humbly, of letting things unfold gently, whether or not your life is unfolding as you wish it would, or as you think it should. (You can read the post — which, by the way, I still stand by — in its entirety here.)

Here’s the thing about running, though, as an activity, as a practice: it lends itself to metaphors. That’s why so many runners, like Arzón and Menzies-Pike, write about it. Speed, distance, endurance, cadence, rhythm, pace — all of those things can be metaphors for something else: for life. It took me years to see that path and to find my pace, Menzies-Pike writes, of her running. And: When I finally got moving, I hoped I might be able to run forever.

Don’t tell me she’s not talking in metaphors.

As for me, I stopped mid-run — on a gorgeous, warm, still day last week; a day when all of coastal Adelaide seemed to be bathed in soft sunshine — to take the photos you see in today’s post. Afterwards, I put my camera away and lingered at the shore a while, before wandering back from the beach to the foreshore path and setting off again, back home.

Days like that — days of running beneath a soft blue sky, beside a silken blue sea — are days, simply, to be grateful for, days that feel as though they are unfolding as they should, or at least as you wish they would.

And so this post is the first in a new series on my blog entitled Chasing clouds. It is a companion series to my Out and about series, in essence. The theme in that series is walking; the theme in this one is running. Running, for me — like walking — is about wandering, about wondering. It is about chasing clouds.

Of course I’m using metaphors. Running, for me, is about hope.

Miracle

Other people’s words about … running

Soon, he is at the base of the mountains, his heart rate is at least 140, and the peaks tower over him like wild, hungry beasts. It is this moment in which Russ understands himself best. In which he could easily say, my name is Russ Fletcher, I am a man living a certain sort of life, and I am happy.This gasping moment is free of obligation, of expectation and that bruised yellow past. It is only Russ and his beating man’s heart, Russ and the cloud of his breath as it unfurls white in the cold morning, Russ and the burn, burn of his legs. The needle-prick attention of his mind, as it focuses on blazing extremities. Running, Russ is okay. Running, he moves forward.

From ‘Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka

I have a chequered history with running, but recently, I’ve taken up the habit on my own terms. Here’s how it goes: every day, either before or after work, I make the effort to stroll down the road to the beach, and then, once I’m on the sand, a few metres from the shore, I break into a run for a few minutes. Often, honestly, I run for only five minutes or so before slowing down, turning around and heading back home. I guess it’s as much about getting fresh air into my lungs, moving my limbs a little before or after sitting at a desk all day, feeling sand crumble beneath the soles of my feet, as it is about anything you might want to call ‘fitness’ or ‘athleticism’.

Occasionally, though — once or twice a week, if I’m lucky — I run for a longer time, for twenty minutes or so. I take my camera with me (so that I can stop along the way to take photos like the ones in this post) and go for a run through the Scrub, or beside the railway line, or along the foreshore path. No matter how slowly I run, or how heavy my legs seem to become, or how tired I was beforehand, or even, some days, how sub-par I felt before I set off, there is always a moment on these runs when I feel, like Russ in the passage above, that I understand [my]self best, a moment when I feel free of obligation, of expectation, of that bruised yellow past.

A couple of years ago, when I first took up running again after a lapse of twenty years, I hoped to run for much longer times, to run much further distances. That seemed to be what every other runner did, after all. And that’s what I wanted to be: a runner.

But running is like everything else in life: what works for other people isn’t necessarily what works for me. And over the last two or three years, I’ve learned — at first to my bitter (childish?) disappointment, and then, slowly, to my joy — that I can find a way to run on my own terms and still find pleasure in it. Still find release. Still find hope. And reason. And courage. And peace. And, like Russ, who runs when he’s both joyous (as in the first quote) and terribly sad (as in the next quote), freedom.

Russ runs. He takes off down the sterile … streets … All he can do now is push — move his body, sweat it out, keep inching forward. For now, he focuses on his own limbs and the miracle ways in which they serve him. The freedom of the open Colorado sky.

I thought at first, when I couldn’t run the distances I wanted to run, the distances I thought I should run, the way everyone else seemed to, that I was giving up. It took me a while to understand that finding a way to run that worked for me wasn’t so much about giving up as it was about learning to surrender.

Surrendering is not the same as giving up. I didn’t understand this before. I am glad that I am beginning to now.