I don’t get out as often as I’d like these days. I edit for people. Usually, I wish I were writing. Then I work on my own stuff. Usually, I wish I were writing then too.
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I move from computer to computer, desk to bed and back, often with an olly olly oxen free of paper and pencil in between. Being a quirky shut-in is not a holy kafkaesque condition . Often it’s a result of guilt and determination: if, distracted by the million shiny voices pumped into my cell via the magic dust of technology, I fail to get as much work done as I’d like, I feel the guilt of a day wasted, and so remain tethered to the area, stubbornly adhering to the outdated theory that if one puts Artist and Medium in close proximity, something called Art will eventually be made.
I think zookeepers use the same methodology with pandas.
The determination part of that equation comes when I vehemently try to make the previous statement true, despite frequent failures.
When I do escape my chairs, I want to run. I want to exercise.
It may be a cliché, but it seems to me that writing happens very similarly as to how parents have described their baby’s poops to me: you’re either ready for it or you’re not; often it’s interesting what you see in there; generally, you don’t know where it came from; sometimes it just fills up what you're using to keep it in, making a mess; it's when you're not ready for it that it's messiest, and then that it goes everywhere.
Running reminds me that I am a robot made of meat and slime. If I have neglected my slime, it hates me.
Pulling the view three hundred feet into the air like Google maps.
I run at Quidi Vidi lake, a fifteen minute walk from my house. I began by the statue, dedicated to the people of the city in 2005, of a man rowing a boat, called ‘The Rower.’
A word of extrapolation here.
Quidi Vidi lake is in storied St. John’s, Newfoundland, home to the St. John’s Regatta, the oldest continuous sporting event (rowing) in North America. Also the only municipal holiday in North America that depends on the weather and changes dates. Townies – as the citizens of St. John’s are called, living in the only city in the province – play Regatta Roulette every August. Go out drinking the night before the scheduled holiday. Stay out late. If it rains the next day, strap on the shackles and head to work; if it’s sunny, you win Regatta Roulette, tie on a pillow.
In a city surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, five of the six chambers are loaded.
But don’t worry, it's been at least ten years since they last attacked, and then they only sent one chain-smoker with a ferocious scowl. Frenchie, we called him. He was a ferocious one, Frenchie. The battle was mightily fought.
A girl of about fourteen was sitting one of the benches facing the lake, her feet drawn up, her head tucked down into her hoody. I was a Tortured Soul™ when I was a teenager, and didn’t really think much of it.
I won’t say much about the run itself other than it was satisfying and heroic. In my head I picture myself as a tanned Adonis holding his head high. In reality ... ever watch a Bassett Hound running towards you at full gallop?
Get out of my way ... damn slow people.
That great moment came when I reached the point where I knew I couldn’t fail. Arms raised like Rocky.
In my head.
Twenty minutes after I’d struck out, I flapped past the statue of The Rower again. I even ran on an extra twenty or thirty feet for good measure. My slime was satisfied.
It’s true what they say, the eye of the tiger is the thrill of the fight.
I scattered the lake’s ducks and pigeons and seagulls before me near the boat launch.
I had the guts, I got the glory, I went the distance, I didn’t wanna stop.
Just a man and his will to survive.
The girl was still there on the bench, her head tucked into an arm, peeking out when people passed, or lingered. Right about here is where I began to be beleaguered by my brain soaking up the landscape like a dry sponge. Sorry, but almost everything to this point has been opening credits and popcorn.
I lingered by the ducks, and walked a ways around the pond, hanging over the rail of the bridge where the shallow rivermouth feeds brown water out into the deep. In the cold of the spring, my girlfriend and I would stand there whenever we brought bread. The ducks would come very close. She loved watching them, and I loved watching her be happy. I decided that I should come back soon with the heels of the loaves I had tucked away in my cupboards.
At heart, another excuse to get out of the house.
That’s when I realized, I really need to get back to my girlfriend.
I’m only thirty-four, and was already contemplating living like an old widower. All my life I’ve been secretly watching old men wandering through towns in afternoons, seemingly very interested in the dust of the gutters or the tacky frames of doorways. I’ve always thought them the saddest people in the land, sure that nobody but me was watching them.
Suddenly, I was contemplating early emulation, and realized how easy it is to fall into routines and escapism. Tired of seeing the inside of their homes, the feeble companionship of their TVs and radios, the old codgers went out into the world to feed themselves with different thoughts before they returned to their little kingdoms of boredom, happy to have seen the little flapping feet of the ducklings, the wary side-eyed glances from the mother-ducks.
Without even thinking about it, I was achieving the same ends by sequestering myself at home so I could cultivate and till the fertile fields of own mind. Isn’t that the ironical part about making literature? The old adage says: Write what you know! And also, in the same breath: Experience! Capital E there. You need to have things to write about. Go see things.
But, almost by necessity, writing is a practice which requires quiet and concentration, the orderly arrangement of thoughts, weeks and months of self-absorption and the fostering of embryonic ideas. No wonder so many writers write books about being writers. Right?
On second thought, perhaps I should have entitled this piece, “The Write Way.”
Of course, nothing indicates that those old guys I used to watch hadn’t had amazing lives either. That’s another sad fact, only realized as I loitered on the bridge, deciding to never again feed the ducks. Who knows what those men had lost.
I always picture a peppy cheerleader saying that. You can’t just jump right in and write without getting out to find the right things to write about, right? Unless you're religious and can write about rites. That’s the right shut-in sorta shindig. Of course, to be successful, you’d have to write about the right rites, amirite?
Either way, Boy, I can’t wait to see the missus again.
I’m not even going to try to describe the sound that twelve ducklings make when they charge down a walkway in unison. I don’t get out enough for that.
Right about here is where I realized I was a terrible person.
I looked across the way to see that the fourteen year old girl was still there with her head tucked down into her jacket. I also saw – though I rarely notice them, intent as I usually am on the lake – that she was sitting directly by the property boundary between the big Catholic graveyard and the walls of the provincial prison. I tagged that as interesting in a thematic sort of way.
Quick on the heels of that revelation, I had to contemplate the idea that I had passed that girl – not once – but twice, and it had never occurred to me to ask her if she was okay.
We don’t have much homelessness in our city, so that’s not a frontline thought, but for all I knew, she was hurt, or simply unhappy, and a hello might have helped. Hell, even if she were a Tortured Soul™, and was fishing for somebody to do just that, to inquire about her soul, there’d have been no harm in it.
That’s when I wished my girlfriend was around again. She’s unafraid to approach strangers and be kind.
Men around my age simply do not approach teenage girls. To do so is a breach of some kind of quiet code.
Then I thought, Well, fuck what other people think, I should be doing the right thing. I think we’re too careless and uncaring to people these days, and I try to generally spread common sense and kind words wherever I go, at the very least checking my own hostile tongues whenever they rise. To do so online in an anonymous fashion while shying away from it in the real world seems a fine line of hypocrisy.
But then I swung back the other way again. Nope. Grown men my age don’t approach young girls in public. That’s a fine line that’s drawn in our minds. If I were to walk up to her and inquire about the blackness of her soul, or to see if she had been in a fight or something – even if nobody else in the area saw – it’s likely that she herself would have thought I was a creep. No credit for not being a monster there.
We have a fear of lone men these days. We can’t be cowboys or saviours anymore, only dark menaces with dank basements in our souls. Even an act that, on the outside, appears to be as benevolent as flowers on a sunny day, is perceived as actually hiding a bubbling cauldron of base desires.
Women were allowed to approach her, I decided. Older women, especially. Older men were allowed, but would still merit being watched closely in case the basement door looked like opening.
I watched from afar, at least a hundred meters away across the lake. Anybody seeing me probably assumed I was leering at her. I wondered how many people, like me, would pass her by, and, in fact, I felt better when a lady leaned over her after only twenty or thirty seconds.
Proud of my victorious stink, if not my own humanity, I went to the store feeling that not all was lost with humanity in general, or at least the specific humanity in my neighborhood.
Cheeze was on sale, and I decided to experience what it would be like to buy two.
(Spoiler: It was awesome.)
I don't have a snappy ending, so I'll deliberately ruin my walk away into the sunset.