From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

From Pages to Pavement

There are certain conditions under which a body should probably not make major, life-changing decisions: when one is overtired, when one is drunk, and when one has just written “THE END” on one’s novel. I’m not saying nothing good ever came out of ideas born in an altered mental state, but 95% of the time it’s probably best to file them under Delusions of Grandeur and sleep it off.

I’m not the best at setting personal deadlines. My goal this year was to finish my novel–the novel I’d been working on for almost three years–before Millennicon in Cincinnati at the end of March. If I didn’t finish, I wouldn’t be able to hang out with John Scalzi, plain and simple. Not only did I finish the novel, but I had it done two weeks early. I was a double scoop of awesome with toffee chips. RAWK.

Now that the novel was finished, though, I needed to get back to Real Life. I suddenly realized I had to do all the things I had been putting off until I finished the novel…and I was hard pressed to remember what any of those things were. I should have made a list. One for sure, though, was to go back to the gym and hit the elliptical trainer. For fun, I made myself another goal: 100 miles walked/run/jogged/whatever before I met Wil Wheaton at Penguicon on May 1st. And I did! I walked the last 0.2 miles barefoot on my treadmill the night before I flew out. (I didn’t get to meet Wil Wheaton as it turns out, but that’s another story.)

But why should I stop there? There’s that song: And I would walk 500 miles… If I could do 100 miles in a month, I could do 500 by the end of summer. After all, I finished a novel. I could do anything!

I Tweeted about my 500 miles. The buzz got out. Less than a week later, I was stopped in the hallway at work by a friend in distribution. I needed to run in the 5K Corporate Challenge on the 4th of July, he said. I had until July. It was only a little over three miles. By July I could do that with my eyes closed, right?

Those of you already chuckling know that going ten miles on the elliptical trainer is nothing at all like running a mile on solid ground. You’re also laughing because you remembered where I live and what the temperature’s like during an average middle Tennessee summer. Undeniably, there’s also the fact that I’m built more like an elephant than a gazelle. (I may be a brick house, but last time I checked bricks didn’t float.)

But I said yes to the 5K, and I’m not giving up on my 500 miles. Because I am awesome, and I can do anything. The wellness center got a new treadmill that I’ve taken upon myself to break in. I put up a poster at work so everyone can track my progress (and pester me accordingly). I mapped out a route on the streets around my house, and last weekend I went for my first 7:00 am walk/run. Aside from “OMG, LEE, YOU ARE A FREAKING IMBECILE (repeat),” here are some of the thoughts I had on that run.

Do Something You Suck At. My friend Janet’s father read this article that said it was healthy to do things you know you’re going to suck at. Apparently, as we grow older, our brains get used to firing the same old chemicals down the same old pathways, and we forget everything else. Setting your sails into uncharted waters is the best thing you can do to keep your brain young.

Thing is, most of us writers are spoiled brats. We’ve all been doing this since we were old enough to hold a crayon. If it takes 10,000 hours to become professional at something, we should have been paid ten cents a word by the time we hit 8th grade. What we’re doing now isn’t anything new–we’re just honing the tool. Jumping completely out of that element and starting at the bottom rung of the ladder was more than a little shocking to my big fat ego. But if you know you’re going to suck at it, and you’re doing it on purpose, it makes it a whole lot easier to swallow. Plus, when one is really, really below average at something, even the tiniest improvement is a big deal. (The day I jogged straight to the end of the second verse of Green Day’s “She’s a Rebel” I was so incredibly proud of myself.)

Rules of the Road. We all learned these in elementary school, people. Apparently, those are some of those chemical pathways long forgotten. I know, I know…it doesn’t help that Murfreesboro roads may have sidewalks that run for less than a block in the middle of nowhere, or straight up to a six-lane intersection with no crosswalk. I’m not going to go over all the minutiae here, but keep in mind these two basic things: Pedestrians are not vehicle traffic. Bicycles are. On roads without sidewalks, pedestrians should walk facing traffic, so they know when to yield to motorists (and vice versa). Bicycles are considered vehicle traffic and should therefore ride with the flow traffic. Just because you live in Tennessee does not mean you can make it up as you go along.

Marking my Territory. I joke that I have more close friends in other states than I do in my own town, but it’s really true. My day job is in LaVergne and (when I’m not at conventions) I’m often spending time with friends in Nashville or Franklin. My house in Murfreesboro is the equivalent of a hotel room at Dragon*Con–I go there to sleep. So many of us are like that nowadays. We don’t know our neighbors. We take our kids to the mall for Halloween. Heck, if it wasn’t for the GPS on my iPhone, I probably wouldn’t know how to get home in the first place.

I mapped out a three-mile route around my ‘hood while in my car, but walking it was a very different experience. At first, I was actually a little bit scared…which was ridiculous! I live in a lovely old part of Murfreesboro–you can tell because there are actually old-growth, established trees and not a handful of Bradford Pears scattered around what used to be a hayfield like so many of the new subdivisions full of McMansions.

My route took me by a water tower, two elementary schools, and a fire station. There were two yard sales, two men mowing, and someone checking their mail. One yippee-dog ran inside his fence and barked like mad and I didn’t feel sorry at all for waking up its owners. One mile in, I no longer felt scared; I felt powerful. I felt possessive, even. The neighborhood had gone from being a mystery to being mine. World Domination, step one.

Smell the Summer. Yes, it was probably a stupid move to take up running in the summer in the South. I give myself full Ridiculous Obsession points. It might have been smarter to start in the spring…except for all the floral lovemeat permeating the airstreams. People have actually moved out of this area because of their allergies. Starting in Summer means I skipped all that and went straight to hot pavement, motorcycles, mown grass, and magnolias. There’s one giant magnolia tree that dips over the sidewalk and fills the air with its majestic scent. It marks the home stretch back to the house, and it makes me smile every time. I won’t get that on any elliptical machine.

I look forward to what new smells the year will bring to my streets. I look forward to cooler days and walking in the evenings. I look forward to walking with the friend I’ve just discovered has lived three blocks from me for the last five years. I look forward to the 5K that’s going to kick my butt in a couple of weeks, and I look forward to the 5K in September where I beat the tar out of my current time. It’s a long time away, but I even look forward to not sucking.

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