I am not a writer (2008)

photo-36I am not a writer. I woke up to a full ashtray on the nightstand and the dogs pouncing on me to go out. Writing takes discipline. There are dishes in my sink and laundry on the floor. I have another job. Writers write.

The dogs pulled me back up the stairs after I took them out for another too short walk. My neighbor greeted me on the fourth floor of our walk up. He is eighty-seven, he told me. I didn’t know that, but I used to help him carry his single plastic bag of groceries up the stairs. He always greeted me with a smile and we talked about the weather. I haven’t seen him in about a year, and I had assumed the worst. He was smiling ear to ear today, glad to see me too. He told me he broke his back. Exercise saved his life, he said—boxing—and he threw a few shadow punches and showed me his dancing moves.

I ran one marathon, up a mountain, not because I was especially fit, but I was quitting smoking and I decided I needed to shut up about running a marathon and just do it, to make the quitting stick. It worked for five years. It was a small field of runners, only about 110 people. For all of them it seemed except me, this was a regular event. On a six mile stretch of relatively downhill single-track, I had enough wind to chat (a little) with the people running in front of me and behind me. The narrow trail and steady pace early in the race meant we weren’t thinking about passing or being passed. The trail was barely a trail in some places, but it was good, cutting down the canyon, crisscrossing the bed of a stream that was barely running, we leapt over rocks and felled tree trunks, picking the footing carefully. The sunlight was green and yellow, coming through sycamores, breaking out in blue when we broke through the cover of the trees to make a bend around the shoulder of a switchback. I think the endorphins were working. Five miles later on a uphill set of switchbacks, the steepest grade in the race with no shade and steep dropoffs, my hands would swell and the visual hallucinations would start. The shady canyon in the early miles would seem like a far off oasis.

I am not a writer, not a runner, not a swimmer. Six months after the marathon, I did the first of three sprint triathlons. Same logic, I had grown tired of saying I would do it someday and I wanted to shut myself up, the polyanna voice that kept making plans and talking about hope, training and smoking at the same time as years went by. The first race was in May, I had trained for the swim and the run, I didn’t even own a bike and borrowed one two days before the race. I didn’t have a wetsuit, the water temperature was probably in the low 60s. I didn’t get in the water before the race, I didn’t have time to warm up. I hit the water at the start, full of adrenaline and fear, in a huge pack, and immediately all the breath left my body. Halfway through, I was resorting to breast stroke, back stroke, side stroke, anything to stay afloat and keep moving forward. I came out of the water, like everyone else, in sucking mud that was knee deep, binding every step. My feet were wet and numb when I jammed on my running shoes and got on the bike.


I’m not sure what I am. I know I got passed up in mile one of that first marathon by a laughing 80 year old man. And he was waiting for me at the finish to congratulate me on finishing at all. I know I have a spot in NYC on November third. I have two big swims coming. I have an injury I hope isn’t more than bothersome. I don’t have to worry about ashtrays, hangovers, and bronchitis. I am boat crew for a person I recently met who is going to swim around the island of Manhattan in August. Swim, I said. Again. As in, he’s going to do it again.

I’m just going to do some stuff and see where it goes. Call it what you will. Call me what you will.

I’m writing.

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