I have a running theory that we don’t hate what we think we hate. Especially when we say we have a “love hate” relationship with something.
You see, I used to love running. But, I also used to hate running. I love hated running (and still kind of do). I loved running because I’d never felt so free. I hated it because I’d never felt so fat. I loved running because for once I could breath and run away from all my heavy burdens. I hated it because I couldn’t escape the tightness in my chest and the closing of my throat and the burning in my thighs.
While still a runner (and now a walker), the forest was my place.
These days I simply don’t run. I haven’t in more than 2 years now and it’s really catching up to me. I can’t make it around the block without puffing. If I thought I was out of shape as a kid… Hell, I can’t even go fast for any amount of time these days. All I can manage is a rather embarrassing attempt at the floating ease I once had. That said, I’m probably only 6 minutes slower than I ever was. When I’m watching John Oliver 6 minutes feels like nothing but when you really stop to think, 6 minutes is almost half a 5K. It is (or rather was) just over a mile. I could brush my teeth like 40 times in 6 minutes or try to do 100 pushups and fail.
The short of it is, while 6 minutes seems like nothing, it’s a chasm between me and my old self. My old, fast self, which for so long I so treasured. I’d never been really good at anything before I became good at running. Never before had people looked at me with awe and seen powerful potential. Recognition was and is, addictive. I loved that feeling of being special. So it’s all the more special that I’m fine without it now.
While I’m sad that today I’m a slower me, I’m so proud that I’m ok with being a slower me. I no longer eat before I go out to restaurants and fret over what to order, nor do I keep up with my feverish night time plank routines. I’ve learned to let go (and judging from my belly, probably a little too much). I’ve learned to enjoy long walks with friends and a good hamburger and delicious cake. More than that, in running, I learned to talk to that dark, squawking part of myself that says I’m never enough. That crow that hangs out on my shoulder pointing out all my failures, became a friend.
Even in picture form, crows give me a bit of a spook.
6 months ago, the crow and I had a falling out. While he’d agreed to let me relax a little when it came to running, he was not about to do the same when it came to writing. Suffice to say he was not excited when I enrolled in a nature writing course. My former crow friend showed up so strongly, so angrily that I didn’t recognize him. I mistook his fierce presence for a fierce angry hatred of all things writing. Whenever I sat down at the keyboard, my former bud would swoop down and ravage me with self-doubt. My hands would leave the keyboard as I swatted at his piercing talons, leaving stories half written.
While I wanted to write, more than anything I wanted to avoid the question the crow kept asking: “Are you good enough?” And the answer he kept giving: “No. Stop now or you will embarrass yourself.” When I wrote a piece about nature and alchemy and squirrel penis’s he about lost it. When I proceeded to read said piece in front of 30 of my classmates and publish it for mentors, he went apeshit. That is until we had the crowd in stitches. Amid the kind words after, my crow was eerily silent.
He’d been in my ear for so long that it was weird to have the bandwidth back. It didn’t last long as the next time I sat down to write, surely enough he was there. But, for the first time, I saw him shaken. His grating voice wavered.
Since returning to normal life after Oregon, I haven’t heard much from the crow master. Here in Michigan, I’ve built a world that keeps him at bay, a world where I simply do what I already know I’m good at. But as I’ve tried to live a better story, writing and loving and volunteering, we’ve come face to face once again. Only this time I didn’t recognize him. I’d worked so hard to avoid my inner critic, my squawking crow master, that I’d forgotten who he was.
Tragically, I mistook him for a hatred of writing. For the past few months I’ve been parroting the story that I hate to write when really I hate to face that damn crow. I hate to sit down at the keyboard and feel his beady eyes swing to me as his grating voice rises with desperate attempts to cut me down. I hate what my crow does to me, yet I’ve learned I badly want to write. I badly want my voice to be heard and my stories to be told. So I keep on writing and he keeps on squawking.
I’ve listened to my crow more and more as I gritted my teeth and put out piece after piece in the last few months. I’ve come to realize that he’s just as scared as I am. He’s scared that we’ll go back to the days when we were young and fat and had asthma. He wants to go back to my younger self, my 6 minute faster self who could run him away from all his worries. In an odd way, I would say my crow friend is worried for me, which is kind of sweet I guess. When we sit down to write, we don’t know what’s going to come bursting out and the crow is always rather hoping that what comes out is nothing, because that’s safe for us.
More and more I want to sit with my crow as I publish a piece, both of us scared at what might happen but learning to be hopeful in the face of uncertainty. As this crow and I keep walking our path, it’s got me wondering: What else have we kept bottled inside for fear of what will happen when we let it out?