Last week, for the first time since winter began, I wrapped myself in layers, laced up my running shoes, and took to the streets in the darkness. When it's 13 degrees out and I can barely see through the scarf of my own breath, I tend to prefer the security of a treadmill. But the gym is packed these days, as it always is in the first few weeks of the new year, and I didn't relish the idea of running in a hot room under harsh fluorescent lights, on a machine coated in other people's sweat. Not that night, anyway.
Something drew me outdoors. Maybe it was the promise of near-perfect quiet, when houses are alight with people having dinner and the roads are empty.
Maybe it was the sky, an unusual watercolor swirl of black and navy that kept the stars a secret.
Or maybe it was frustration about my writing, and the constant fear that I will never be good enough, which had intensified last week.
I knew that I was being irrational, putting so much store by something that might not mean anything in the end. But I couldn't stop feeling upset, no matter how I scolded myself, and so I fixed it the only way I knew how.
I ran. Hard.
I ignored the burning in my lungs and tugged my headband tighter around my stinging ears, telling myself that the cold would be good for me. I've always preferred frosty winter evenings over the thick, sweltering nights of summer, and so I closed my eyes against the bitter wind and forced myself up the first hill.
So far, so good. I had been keeping up with my training throughout the winter, so I was barely out of breath at the top. I had learned, from foolishly running too hard and injuring myself last year, to stretch and to warm up properly, and my body thanked me for it as I turned down a dark street several blocks from home.
I thought about how a year ago, that hill might have seemed impossible, as did running in the dark on a cold winter night. Why can't writing be like that? Why can't you write relentlessly, every single day, and risk your health and your sanity and see something solid for your efforts? Who wouldn't be discouraged by training faithfully and getting absolutely nothing back?
I don't know how many times I've thought about giving up. I don't talk about it a lot, this constant struggle to keep going while blow after blow is delivered, carrot after carrot is offered and then snatched away. I've kept it close, this thought that maybe I should just write because I love it, and then put those books away on a high shelf, to save for my children one day.
It seemed so appropriate, I thought, to ponder these things while running again, after such a long period of waiting and healing. After all, I run because I love it, not because I would ever want to do a marathon. Maybe that's the secret. Maybe by wanting something too much, you lose sight of why you're even doing it in the first place.
So that's my goal for this year. To remember why I'm writing, even if it's taking me to one hill I can't seem to climb right now.