Charley horses.

[E]very creative person, and I think probably every other person, faces resistance when trying to create something good…[R]esistance, a kind of feeling that comes against you when you point toward a distant horizon, is a sure sign that you are supposed to do the thing in the first place. The harder the resistance, the more important the task must be.

–Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

A couple months ago, my boyfriend Jack and I were in my apartment, standing at the kitchen sink and washing dishes when he turned to me and asked me if I would like to start running with him on Friday mornings.

I laughed.  But he was serious. “Wait–really?”

Truthfully, I didn’t always hate running. Ever since I was little, I had been the writer-type, scribbling new story ideas in my composition notebook, drawing characters and obsessing over the worlds I would build. But although I had absolutely no interest in sports (except for a brief, tragic week when I tried out for the girls’ volleyball team in seventh grade), I wasn’t bad at running. Back in middle school, I was actually pretty good at it. I wasn’t a track runner or anything, but I used to be able to run a decent mile time. In fact, when I was in eighth grade, I ran a mile in seven minutes flat–my best time ever, far below the qualifying time for the Presidential Award for Physical Fitness (humble-brag!).

But then, that day, only a few minutes after that sweet, sweaty triumph, I was heading to my locker when my leg seized up. It felt like an iron clamp had gripped my calf muscles and was slowly twisting them 360 degrees. I had no idea what was happening to my body. I fell down onto the ground, crying out in pain, my books spilling every which way only to be kicked down the hallway by the stampede of my classmates exiting the building. No one stopped to help me up until a few minutes later when a kindly librarian passed by and found me curled up in fetal position on the ground. She explained to me that I had just had a charley horse–severe cramping caused by powerful leg muscle contractions. After getting me ice and massaging my calf awkwardly as I whimpered, she helped me hobble to the office. My best friend Megan and her mom (who, in a kind turn of fate, happened to be the school nurse) wheeled me out of school that day in a wheelchair.

After the charley horse incident,  I pretty much decided that if I ever ran again, it would have to be for my life. I’d save myself that particular brand of humiliation.

Nevertheless, here I was, years later, standing at the sink, still the writer-non-athlete, wanting to be in better shape without any of the effort, lacking desire and athleticism and proper running shoes and excuses, but here this sweet man comes with a request to spend time with me in this way and I think, Okay, God, I got it: here’s my sign. 

So I told him, half-smiling, half-grimacing, with as much conviction as I could muster: “Uh…Okay.”

We started running that Friday, once a week. Even now, after running almost every week, it’s still hard for me to go without stopping. The first few times, I had to stop several times for breath, though it’s an extremely short course (I mean, it’s literally not even a mile and a half both ways) that starts from his dorm room and meanders alongside Lake Michigan until a particular stop sign, where we turn around. I am not pretty when it is over–or really, for 3/4 of the time I’m running. I am sweaty and red and gasping like I’m fighting someone trying to drown me in the Lake, though I always feel good about myself for having finished.

 

Jack and I have also started walking more, which has been helpful for me to build up stamina for our weekly run, since most of the time during the day I’m staring at a computer screen. A couple of weeks ago, we were walking together alongside Lake Michigan, when Jack turned to me and told me that, this summer, he wanted to write his first feature-length screenplay.

“That’s amazing!” I squeaked out.

Meanwhile, my stomach roiled. I, the Creative Writing major, hadn’t written anything in weeks. Months, even. I had started a bunch of blog posts and given up, and I couldn’t even remember the last time I had written fiction. Only days before, I had visibly cringed in a conversation where Jack (who majors in Radio/Television/Film, by the way) referred to me as “creative.” Could I even call myself that anymore?  I realized I had no creative goals of my own, except some vague notion to write a novel? memoir? of unknown content, someday in the distant future. But nothing real. Nothing tangible. I had been given opportunities, certainly. Three of my friends had even reached out to me recently, one asking me to enter a poetry contest with her, one encouraging me to take a novel-writing course,  the other telling me to go to a writer’s conference hosted by my alma mater and one of my old professors. But I couldn’t, because of my schedule and my finances. And though those were legitimate excuses for these particular events, I had a legion of others that were less satisfying.

I missed writing, and I knew that somewhere in there, I was good at it, I had something to say. God had shown that truth to me time and time again, through my readers’ encouragement, admission to Northwestern’s Creative Writing Sequence and the lessons I learned there, the novella I finished, the most insane and last-minute major change of all time, and even through randomly stumbling upon specific book passages that spoke to my soul as clearly as scripture. I knew I was a writer. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Somehow, somewhere down the line, I had charley-horsed again.

I had fallen down and stayed there. It don’t think it was one major humiliating event that made me stop writing, but maybe it was a bunch of little ones–seeing my acquaintances get their stories and poems published in this magazine, or get into this prestigious grad school, or get that publishing job in New York City, while I didn’t. Listening to those stupid, critical voices that Anne Lamott would instead so wisely turn into mice and let slip, one by one, into a jar, so as to silence them and keep writing. And of course, the deadliest, most insidious poisons: laziness and distraction. I had let my writing muscles and writing vision atrophy, waste away to practically nothing.

But yet again, on this particular walk beside Lake Michigan, I felt that God was giving me a sign that I couldn’t miss. Another little push, this time toward writing, toward trusting Him. Go on, get up. You are a writer. Write.

Isn’t it funny how humans can dread and desire something so much all at once?

Thankfully, desire won out. I suppose the vision of myself doing something I love, of writing something meaningful, of others being affected by my words, of revealing beauty and asking questions, of finally achieving a long-held goal and fulfilling what I truly think was put into me by God was more powerful than whatever had caused my creative self to constrict. Or maybe it was the cool factor. Time will tell.

Anyway, the point is, I got up. About two weeks ago, I became very good friends with Google Calendar and scheduled my life so that I made time for writing again (for two hours starting at 7 am almost every day). I emailed my old writing professors asking for suggestions for writing events throughout Chicago (your move, Juan and Sheila!). I took a free, week-long writing e-course called #WriteBoss, which got me to finally name my writing goals out loud and make them tangible: writing a literary magical-realism novel with strong female characters. I joined a Facebook group for writers so that I can bounce ideas off other writers. I downloaded novel-writing software onto my computer. I found a bunch of amazing writing podcasts. I bought several books on writing at the local Barnes & Noble to help me hone my craft. Most importantly, I wrote. I just put pen to paper and I wrote without stopping. And by God’s grace I liked what I put down.  So now I have a story idea. It’s a start.

The trick, now, is to not let my failures or my fears squeeze my writing muscles too tightly again. Fear of failure. Fear of being unoriginal. Fear of hard work. Fear of rejection. Fear of the loneliness that comes with the writing life. Fear of selling out. Fear of being inauthentic. Fear of hardship or sacrifice. Fear of the unknown. I can’t let these little voices stop me from doing what I think God has called me to do, no matter hard it is (not sure whether this sentence makes me want to roll my eyes, cry and throw up, or do a victory dance).

It’s a long journey ahead, for sure.

I imagine that writing a truly great novel will feel like running the Marathon des Sables in Morocco–the 156-mile-long ultra-marathon across the Sahara, dubbed “the toughest footrace on earth.” It’s harrowing terrain, blazing temperatures, and yet somehow that doesn’t prevent over a thousand people from running through this insane desert every year with all their supplies on their backs trying to get to the other side without dying (who would do this? for fun? seriously?). It requires extreme amounts of perseverance, proper training, dedication, and focus. It’s not a unique ambition by any means, but finishing the race is certainly an incredible and meaningful accomplishment.

I don’t know the road ahead for me as a writer, or as a person in general. I don’t know what my day job will look like. I don’t know where I’ll be–New York City? Chicago? Somewhere unexpected? But that’s alright, because I have some pretty sweet people running with me and cheering me on. I have stories inside of my soul to be written. And I have the Author who put them there as my Guide, forging a path ahead of me, working behind the scenes and fleshing out all the different plot lines and characters for the next chapter in my adventure.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

–Isaiah 40:31

 

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