on oranges and grass

In response (sort of) to Jenna St. Hilaire, On Pushing Through Bricks

Life, as Douglas Adams taught us to say, is like an orange. It’s round. You can peel it. It has pips.

Life. Don’t talk to me about life.

This entry isn’t exactly a webpartee, because, as Jenna observes in her post, we pretty much agree right now. Except for the finer point of metaphor, perhaps.

So are Jenna and I agreeing to disagree? I don’t think so. I think we’re agreeing to agree more than we thought we agreed. Metaphor can be illuminating, so let me tease that out for a moment.

With her usual eloquence, Jenna compares the process of writing with a figure skater performing a triple axle: it looks fluid and inspired and simple, and it so isn’t. It can really, really, hurt if you don’t know what you’re doing. Then she ponders on—not, perhaps, why anyone would do it, but why (or how) anyone would try.

Sometimes I wonder why I claim to love writing, since it is far more work than fun. But then, some people love gardening, and that is also not fun. Some people love running, and that is downright miserable. And I’ve known a handful of people who loved mountain-climbing, which experienced Alpinist Wojciech Kurtyka has called "the art of suffering."

I’m not an ice skater, not remotely. My dad’s a lifelong gardener, and my wife loves a bit of garden, and I respect that. I write and I run. As a friend of marathoners, I wouldn’t say I run well. But I do run.

The first few months were miserable. You can’t breathe, for one thing. You can’t really run very far without having to walk, for another. Physically, you have a sensation like the musical experience of listening to someone almost play the violin. Even when it starts getting easier, it doesn’t really. Midway through your second time around the library, as you go past the fish shop for the second time and gulp the reek of exhaust and used frying oil…

Yeah. Don’t talk to me about life.

Now I love running. Not the thrill of having run, or being able to call myself a runner, but the act of running itself. I’ve been doing it consistently for over a year, now. I live somewhere I can run be the beach in the cold and rain (my preference to the heat and dry). And I realized not to long ago, that this is why I’d started running round the library a year ago.

Because this—not that—is the joy of running. The freedom and rhythm of body, breath, and movement. The ability to move effortlessly for even part of the time, the lightness of pace and rhythm. The subtle teasing sense when walking that you could start running if you wanted. The fluidity of movement. Everything I used to love about riding at speed on a bike, except it’s me doing it—actually me, not some contraption.

Yes, it’s real. It wasn’t when I started. It is now.

Oh, there’s still the moments of hating my life and the world in general. Especially in distance running where the point is to push yourself to run farther than you know you can run. But those moments don’t take away from the joy of running itself. I run in order to run, now. Not to have run.

To draw the metaphor to its application: writing can be awful. It  is hard work. There’s often the misery of composition that can only be endured for the hope of having written, of being a writer. But there’s also the sheer, fluid joy of writing—of words and sound and image and dream and wonder and beauty—of story and teller and hearer—of this and other worlds. That’s what writing can be. There’s pain and sweat and puke to get there. But there is a real place, not a mirage.

Jenna also talks about writing as growing a dandelion:

In perseverance we imitate the dandelion, which is possibly the most stubborn living thing in all of nature. Dandelions can get through bricks (or concrete sidewalks, anyway). A little pressure from underneath, in just the right place; the mortar cracks, the brick heaves up a little, and out comes the flower on the other side.

Of course, then the flower is still a dandelion.

Jenna stops abruptly, thinking that her analogy is broken. But I don’t think so. So the flower is a dandelion—really, what’s wrong with that? I mean, really? The dandelion may well be the folktale of the plant-world. It’s everywhere, everyone recognizes it, it’s impossible to root out, it’s simple and it’s beautiful.

Even weeds can open us to worlds of wonder (think: wildflower). As Pete Seeger taught us to sing—in praise of the Truth and the friends of the poor, no less:

God bless the grass
That reaches for the sun;
They pour the concrete over it
And think that it’s done.
It moves through the ground,
It reaches for the air,
And after a while,
It’s growing everywhere.
God bless the grass.

So sang the teller of the tale, and the telling of it.

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