On Running, Writing, and Solitude
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
I often find myself craving solitude. The deep desire for nobody to want nothing from me is sincere. This is one reason I run—it allows me to be overwhelmingly, deliciously alone and selfish. Of course, I am also deeply afraid of nobody needing me, or worse, of nobody wanting me. It is irrevocably true that humans always want what we cannot have, and without the foresight to know that what we don’t have is never better than what we do, we are left chasing the ever-elusive “better.”
I recently booked a solo trip to Seattle in the hopes of finding something better, and it happened to fall during one of the largest snow storms to ever strike the pacific northwest. I ended up spending a weekend in San Francisco instead, a city where I know almost no one and where I had made zero plans. I felt undeniably alone, which may have been the point of booking a solo trip in the first place. It did feel empowering to tackle an unknown city by myself, but I found myself facing moments of abrasive loneliness.
The privilege of my situation is not lost on me—I bought myself a plane ticket, rented a car, got a room in a hostel, and went. There is astounding freedom in this. There is not, however, astounding freedom in being in a new city when deeply-seeded self-beliefs remain the same. There is almost no reason to write down something so obvious. Any external factors, no matter how seemingly large or small, are minutiae compared to internal factors. If I had a dollar for each time someone told me how loveable or loved I am, I would be a millionaire. There is privilege in this also. I have a good life full of good people who love me, so I feel guilt in my own self-dissatisfaction, for the impenetrable desire to find or be better. I have no real reason to dislike myself, but who does?
The best thing about running is that it erases my anxiety and fears about not being good enough. It is a temporary cure for a much deeper problem, and the exhilaration I experience during a run is addicting. Writing, especially this kind of self-reflective, introspective writing, has the exact opposite effect. I do not feel better. My flaws are insecurities are here, open and raw and visible in black letters on a white page. Nothing feels more vulnerable. Nothing feels less safe. This kind of writing makes me feel untethered, just like my solo trip to San Francisco. When traveling solo, or when writing introspectively, the artificial structure and control I feel over my life is erased. Nothing feels true anymore, which is not meant to be dark or depressing, but simply honest.
As I sat in a coffee shop in San Francisco's Chinatown district, fully realizing the extent of my own impermanence, I was able to clearly recognize the deeply burrowed nature of my flaws. I know that this sort of self-awareness is essential in fostering my ability to grow and build real connections with other real, hurt, flawed, imperfect people. This sort of self-awareness is also exhausting at times, deeply enlightening at others, and one reason why I will never run out of things to write about. Impermanence is lovely beyond words, if you really think about it.
My grandparents have huge, sprawling flower gardens. They are wild and lovely, despite our best intentions and attempts to tame them. When I was young, one of my summer jobs was helping them garden, and one of my favorite things to do was pluck the dead flowers from daylily heads. The life of a daylily is beautifully, brilliantly short. Within 24 hours of opening widely, sparking in the Midwestern sun, glowing yellow/orange/red/pink, they dissolve into bright, slimy mush. Plucking the dead flower heads wasn’t necessary, but it did give the new flowers a moment to shine, unobstructed by their dead counterparts.
As a young girl, I was fascinated by the idea of, like a daylily, living for only 24 hours. What would I do? Where would I go, who would I see? My imagination took me around the world to the most exotic, out of the way places, meeting the most interesting, foreign people. But of course, if I had only one day to live I would likely stay exactly where I am, with the people I love most, soaking up the same humid Midwestern sun that coaxed me into the living, breathing, running, writing human that I am.
One morning just a few weeks ago, I stopped for gas at a dingy Chevron on my way to work. The man behind the counter took one look at me and said in kind, broken English, “What is wrong today? You are usually smiling.” I answered truthfully, “I don’t know.” He replied, “Ahhh chica, you’ve got a bit of heaviness on your heart.” He wasn’t wrong, though I was shocked at his perceptiveness.
The heaviness of my heart is what compels me to write so frequently and unabashedly. Writing is the medium through which I can attempt to make feeble sense of my world, and that is a beautiful, pure kind of art. The heaviness of my heart dissolves a bit when I run, and the simplicity of this is almost (almost) too good to be true.