I’m trying to awaken something. Stuck between stories, I turn to this. I try to remember that just a few months ago, I felt shut out of a lot of things. Now I’ve either gone through a few doors to meet what’s on the other side, or found other doors. In every room is a person, or several people. I’m reminded that nothing difficult can be done totally alone. I’m hit over the head with that reminder.
I think about the devotees in Sanjay Rawal’s beautiful film about running, 3100, as I look at the mileage going up on the treadmill at the gym. One one-hundredth of a mile every four or so seconds. I would rather watch this slow neon green progression than watch the TVs, which make me feel more tired and more uncertain, overstimulated and jerked around. I look at the clock on the wall under the four television screens: 5:25 pm. At this moment, I want to hop off the back of the moving treadmill and go home. Then, what feels like an instant later, it's 6:45. I look at the clock on the treadmill itself. It reads 99:36. For awhile during this run, I’d been wondering what the treadmill would do once the clock reached 99:59. There was no room on the screen for a fifth digit. I never found out. At 99:36, I said, No more, thank you, pressed off, stepped off.
Nothing about this felt heroic, and tricky human memory makes it hard for me to say whether it was fun while I was running, or just fun looking back. Mostly it felt insane and pointless. In the time I’d been on the treadmill tonight, nearly the entirety of The Notebook had played out on a screen in front of me. Trump had tweeted a few times, or else the cable news anchors were still fussing over the morning’s dispatches. Saturday. The gym was nearly empty, even though it’s New Year’s resolution season. Where was everyone? Not outside. It was 30 degrees out there. Maybe just eating meals, having lives, watching award season movies in the theater down the street.
From this flat and futuristic place, I’m preparing for a 31-mile run up and down the Marin Headlands. I simulate the course on treadmills. Sometimes on the weekends, I simulate the course in the Catskills. The first draft of my book ends with the main character running this race, or something like it. It’s a pat ending, too happy, ignorant of all the tricky issues brought up, and in some cases not resolved, in the preceding chapters. I could talk about those people forever. Their lives are complicated. They themselves pull new characters, new scenarios, out of their pockets without my even asking them to. It had to end somewhere. The finished thing had to be light enough to carry around, heavy enough to say: This is a world.
Running is reprieve from writing, and writing from running. It has always been this way. I used to think the progress of running was easier to measure. I could go out into the world every now and then and show what I’d been working on. With writing, it was never good enough to show beyond the walls of a workshop. The trick was to not give up. If I hadn’t been familiar with the pain of running for hours, maybe I would have.
—Brooklyn, NY, January 15, 2019