19 September 2013

Keeping it Real, an essay by Heather Lowery

I recently read John McCarthy’s essay “Going the Distance,” and it got me thinking about my own writing regiment. He compared running and writing, claiming the two are one, reliant on each other. And I don’t disagree. In fact, I completely agree with him.

I avoid running and working out about as much as I avoid writing. That probably sounds odd coming from the mouth of an athlete and writer. Shouldn’t athletes want to work out? Shouldn’t writers want to write? Of course. But, maybe I have reached the point where both feel like a job. Maybe I’m being a whiner, a wimp, a coward. I let life take over and push the important stuff to the side—my sanity.

When it comes time to work out, or write, I find that my to-do list has grown longer than a list. It fills the “Notes” section allotted in my schedule book, and overflows into the margins, and on post-its, and on more than one occasion, my hands. If, and when, all of those tasks are completed I still don’t have the desire to work my body or my mind. Before I know it, I’m searching for monotonous tasks. Let’s rearrange the shoes under the bed for the third time, because the first and second times obviously weren’t enough. How about going through the books on the shelves, pulling the loser titles and tossing them in a bin for donation. Pick up a book from said shelves and start reading it. After all, I have been told that you write what you read and reading is just as important as writing. Procrastination has never been a quality that I was willing to possess, but here it was, displaying itself for all to see. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t working out.

But what happens when the writing and the working out are forsaken? Completely? Well, you get me. A frazzled, twenty-something searching for what her life is missing. And the answer has been in front of her the whole time. Go work out. Clear your mind. Start writing.

I haven’t written—for real—in weeks. That’s the same amount of time since I last worked out. It’s starting to show on the scale and in my futile attempts to begin even the smallest journal entry. I didn’t fully realize, until I read McCarthy’s essay, just how much working out and writing are intertwined. You, or rather I, can’t have one without the other. Like essential nutrients, I crave both. I need both. I know, though, I can’t have either if I don’t make an effort to include them in my life.

Let’s be honest. My life isn’t all that busy. I’m not hopping on a plane every other day on business trips. I’m not going to conferences left and right. I don’t have a family to take care of. I have a cat and a dog. I don’t even have a boyfriend to bother me, or monopolize the time I do have. I coach middle school girls’ volleyball and I work for my dad. I pretty much have all the time in the world to write and finding the time to work out is easier than I allow it to be.

I shouldn’t have to schedule in time to do the things that keep me sane, but I do. I think, in a way, we’re all reluctant to do the things that make us work the hardest, but always lead to the greatest results. Like my mother, and probably someone far more famous, said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

That got me to thinking that maybe I don’t even have room to call myself an athlete or a writer. If I’m not working out can I really be called an athlete? If I’m not writing, can I be recognized as a writer? Both of these associations are rooted deeply to my soul. I am an athlete. I am a writer. I just need to get back to the basics. I need to soldier on—through the daily stresses, friends in ‘need,’ phone calls, and emails.

When I’m working out, or writing, it’s me against myself. Oddly, I always feel like I’m going to lose. But what I should really feel is that if I’m the only one in the game, I can’t lose. It’s me against me, and that always leads to a victory.  But sometimes failure is enough to scare away even the strongest competitor.

I have a fear of rejection. This fear spans all directions of my life—sports, relationships, employment, writing. If there is a chance that something might go wrong, more often than not, I have entertained the idea of it going not as planned. I frequently think of the ‘worst case scenario.’ I tell myself that if I can handle that, then anything else will be okay. The truth is, I can’t handle the worst case scenario. If, in any of the options, I lose, I want nothing to do with the whole situation.

But sometimes the answer is no. If there is one thing I learned growing up, it was that everything happens for a reason. Yet, how do you get a person who has poured their entire soul into a piece of work and gets a flimsy piece of paper basically saying, “It’s not good enough,” to feel better and keep going?

It’s not up to anyone else to fill that role. We are in control of our own feelings, our own happiness. The struggle comes from within. No one else can help with that. Sooner or later, we have to get back on the horse and carry on. Who cares if ten, a hundred, a thousand people say ‘no?’ I’m looking for one. Me. Do I like it? Am I proud of it, of myself? Worrying about anything else is a waste of time.

Heather Lowery, an intern with PQ, was a Division I rower for her alma mater, Robert Morris University, where she obtained bachelor's degree in communication with a concentration in applied journalism. She is pursuing her second master's degree in creative writing from Wilkes University. One of her feature articles, “A scholar of the land, shepherd of the shore,” a personal profile on an Irish farmer, was recently published in Sneem Parish News, an international magazine. Though an award-winning journalist, she has decided to take a break from news to focus on writing a memoir about her relationship with her father.

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