Friday, September 3, 2010

She is not her body, and nothing but her body

I sing the body electric  (Walt Whitman)

Not only do I have a wicked sense of humor when I’m not being soooo serious (see previous post), but it also turns out when I am not just words and images floating in my own mind or on a virtual page, I have a body. Frankly, I have never understood people with passionate throbbing intelligence, but for all they care for, use and enjoy them, bodies that might as well be a plexiglass container for their brain. (Okay, I’m a Star Trek geek too, but that’s another post entirely). Physical exercise is just as important to me as its mental counterpart and can be just as creative. I can’t live without it. Or at least until recently.
a whole woman is a heavy burden…

I am a marathoner. To date, I have completed the 26.2 mile distance 18 times and three 50K courses. I’m no born athlete. I come from, and have mostly associated with, armchair travelers and sedentary intellectuals, and my ridiculously sluggish metabolism has kept me overweight much of my life. I started late, and slow, but between 2005 and 2009 I dropped almost 2 hours from my first finish time, not to mention 15 or 20 pounds. That first photo was my personal best, in Baltimore, last October. By April of this year I had four races already behind me for 2010, 8 more on the calendar, and was setting my sights on longer, faster and stronger performances for 2011 and beyond. I was doing everything right in terms of fitness, nutrition and necessary rest and recovery. Then my knee gave out halfway through a trail race at the Navarino Nature Preserve in Shiocton, Wisconsin, which I finished anyway on sheer stubborn determination (see grim resolve on face in photo above). After that, I stopped exercising, gained weight, and my body and I stopped speaking to each other, except for the occasional tearful argument.

this is how it feels to be all promise…

I need a challenge. Not the kind you struggle with and complain about and get to feel nobly frustrated and imprisoned by, but a real hard specific undertaking I can work towards and watch myself get closer to. What drives me to question and go beyond established limits in my art also makes mere marathons not enough when there are 50 and 100 milers out there to make myself into that version of me who can conquer them. The process of carving that new me out of the old me always feels like the living equivalent of Michelangelo’s unfinished Slaves statues. But unlike any other enterprise, including poetry and photography and many of my human engagements, training for marathons has always given me back exactly what I put into it. It doesn’t require any outside approval, acceptance, promotion or support, and the success you experience is equal to the effort you expend. Out on the roads and trails, it’s just me, one body, in motion. Animal. Pure. The prisoner released from the unformed stone. It feels so good it never even occurred to me that an injury could take away so quickly and completely what I relied upon to provide a natural high and also define who I am. Runners’ withdrawal is no myth; the associated depression is very real and can sneak up and swallow you whole if you let it.

one door opens another closes…

This is by way of thanking my traitorous bad knee – and job-related elbow tendonitis, and my new companion Sciatica (giving a whole new meaning to Whitman’s body electric), for the desperately dark and empty space that opened just in time to welcome this new challenge of going from a part-time dabbler and dreamer to a full-time working artist. There seems to be a great tradition of artists whose work benefitted from some sort of bodily crisis or obstacle that gave them no choice but to focus wholeheartedly on their artwork. There continues to be a fire in me to conceive a goal and apply myself to it, body and soul, and if that fire isn’t directed properly it consumes me from within. I believe this fire can one day be divided between the pursuits of an artist and those of an endurance athlete, but I have many months of physical therapy ahead before I can join those runners I envy when I see them passing by on the street, light and strong and free as gazelles, and then catch a glimpse of myself in a shop window as I roll myself up a hill like Sisyphus and his rock. For now, I have important work to do indoors, but I’ll be back out there soon. This week’s reading spotlight is a sample of some of the many running magazines I’ve let sit untouched all summer. I’m now especially looking for articles on how to re-motivate and come back from an injury, safely and stronger than ever. Stay tuned.

Where I'm going...


  1. it all sounds very heroic to me ... I like the idea if chanlange more than any other characteristic.
    I have a serious problem about any phisical exercise. I basicaly work out 2 or 3 months a year only for keeping my weight. This is a period of low brain activity for me , I focus so much on the exercises that forget art and all the life . My creativity falls. I can't find a balance.
    You are passionate for this ... I know that . hahha!! Maybe I should get less passionate for the activitys i do. That is the reason talking about phisical exercises in general scares me. Not saying that, I think it is about hormones , I get more violent and sexual when I am working out hard. I really don't like to wake up the beast in me . hahah!!
    but I like you passion for this . this post was very inspiring .

  2. Hah! Beast! I had the same reaction as you when I was working out hard last year! Fortunately I was able to direct all my hostility to running harder, and as for the extra sex...well, I got no complaints about that! I did not do any art at the time, though, it was all about physical activity...I am being greedy now, I want to have it all, the creative life of the mind and the active life of the body! Will this happen? Who knows? Thanks for your well, my friend.

  3. marathons are hard going, you obviously have strong determination to be able to complete those long distances. And to go on with an injured knee pheww. I bet you will be back out there running soon. These qualities translated into your art will be very valuable. enjoyed this post very much.


  4. So glad you enjoyed this, T. I saw in your profile you had back surgery in 2008 and that the recovery period opened the way for your blog activities, so I thought you might respond to this one! As for the determination...all I have to do is think of all the times I let myself be convinced I couldn't do or be something...and that pushes me to prove the naysayers wrong! Have a great week and thanks for stopping by!

  5. Good post, Gabriella..
    I can read from T, that he has an injured knee
    as well. You had opened with this post an old
    wound. I was a real sports woman, but....
    Have a great week!!

  6. Many thanks, Monika, always good to hear from you! I never intend to open old wounds, simply share the pain of my own! I hope it helps rather than hurts when someone can sympathize...

    You have a great week too, my dear!