Today is the 30th day. Somehow that seems impossible. The 15,000 challenge has become nearly 33,000 words and it seems like I’ve barely scratched the surface. So when I sat down today, I wanted some kind of summation of what I’ve gained, gleaned, gotten out of taking an hour (or two or three) each day to sit and write about what I do. If the goal was to force myself to think every day about why I make theater and what I want from it, what was the conclusion?
Throughout this month there was a story that kept coming up for me that I never found a way to fit in. I kept sensing that it belonged in the conversation somehow, but could never quite decide exactly what message this part of my history should proffer or in what larger topic or category it should fit. But since today is the last official day of this writing project, and I haven’t found room for it yet, it seems like there’s no choice but just to get it down and see what happens.
When I was 23 I learned to run. Or rather, at 23 I took up running because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.
I had, much to my chagrin, found myself rather suddenly and violently in the deep thickets of a very messy romantic entanglement.
The messy part, at least initially, wasn’t my fault.
I had met someone online and fallen very hard in a very short period of time. It was, in retrospect, a pretty standard infatuation, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt unspeakably new and inevitable all at once. It was like a melody I was humming every moment of every day. Lot of long emails, a date that started as coffee over a couple hours but went on for 12, a person’s new smell and taste. These things reminded me of my capacity to grow bigger and contain them.
I felt like I was really alive at a time in my life when there weren’t many things doing that. I was out of school, working on theater that wasn’t my own, working a job that wasn’t terribly challenging and wondering where all this would head. And then all this feeling just flew into every day. It became a kind of purpose.
This: wanting to cook someone dinner, striving to be the most spectacular version of myself, finding a way to speak about my life and experiences with interest and meaning, it was a palpable sense of physical closeness to someone, but also to the idea of seeing myself as the very best version possible. It felt like I was becoming. And that sense of drive gave me back the part of myself that I had been seeking. The part of me that can feel purpose like a tangible object, soft but strong and pliable, like velvet in your hands.
It was that violently blissful sense of self that shook off the drudge of “just living” and rocketed me back into a sense of possibility and get shit done-ness that I so desperately wanted and needed. And in that phase I started to imagine a life so big that it could contain everything that I wanted and needed and imagined for the future.
So when I found out that this thing that I had not only placed my eggs in but had made my basket had a fiancé in another state I just about lost my mind.
Just like that bliss before it, I was stuck with a new constant sensation: an inversion of that previous emotion that cut into my belly and my chest like a sharp knife. It was hard to believe that this feeling was so viscerally physical. I thought some days, “This is going to kill me.” I actually felt like I might die it hurt so bad.
One night at 3 am, in the midst of this tumult, I was thrashing around making myself miserable. My bed smelled like him. It was making me nauseous. I wanted to put this thing back together. I needed it to be fixable, not just to hold onto this person, but so that I didn’t need to let go of the version of myself I had found, the better, more infinite, version of me. I couldn’t breathe. And I knew that I literally couldn’t stay in my own skin for another second longer.
I stood up and said, “Stop it. This is all of this you are allowed. You need to go.”
So without knowing exactly what I was doing I put on my gym shoes and a hoodie and a hat and I stretched for a minute and went outside into the winter night and I set off running. I was not a runner. I did not “run” in that easy blithe endorphin-rushed way you think of in Nike commercials. It was awkward and painful and cold. And did I mention the crying? Just running and crying like this big nasty, snotty, wet train barreling down the streets of Philadelphia.
But it was also distracting. So wonderfully distracting that without knowing what path I took or retaining memory of how I did it, I managed to trek from my house at 6th and Washington all the way up to the Art Museum at the end of the Parkway. And I stood on the steps and the feeling started to rise again. I threw up. And then I took off again and ran home.
I ran a lot that year.
Though it was no fault of mine for finding myself in this situation, that I continued to stick around for another year to torture myself most definitely was. But I used the running as a way to distract enough from the present to hold onto that vision of myself as huge and massive and awesome. And I also used it to distract myself from the growing crap pile I was swimming in. Literally and figuratively, I got myself on the move after two years flailing around trying to find myself as an artist. I spun into a productive fervor of need and idea and creativity and hard ass work that launched me into the orbit I’m in today.
Which is why I am deeply conflicted about how to analyze myself in this context.
I read this now and it makes me feel weak and stupid. I hate that this is a part of my history. I wish it wasn’t part of who I am. I feel like I should be better than the person who took off running to try and escape. I wish often that I could have cut that longing off. That it doesn’t still bother me. That I could smooth that experience out enough so that the raw edges don’t still catch at me once in a while.
And there’s another part of me that still wishes that I had been amazing enough to make it turn out different. Because the truth is, I still want to believe that I could be awesome enough to do the impossible, so that I can recapture that feeling of being so incredibly full. There is a part of me that still wants to believe there is enough in me to grasp what I want and through sheer force of will reclaim it and that feeling of potential in its most potent form. There are times I wish I still had enough raw need and emotion and hurt to need to run and work and create in the blind panic I did then.
I wish both of those things at the same time.
I like to accomplish things. Hard things. I do not like the idea that I cannot achieve what I set my mind to. It is the reason the best of my works are the best of my works. It is the reason I can find myself in a moment in a process saying “I have no idea how to solve this. I have no idea where to find an idea where to solve this.” And yet each time, somehow, I found a way to do it.
The reason that year-long entanglement went on as long as it did was because I really believed that if I wanted something badly enough and was patient enough to wait it out then what I wanted would become what everyone wanted. But amazingly in that one case, it didn’t happen.
Which is why it still bothers me.
Which is why when I finally got close enough to see the giant STOP sign emerging, when I got so far away from the shoreline from what I wanted to happen that I couldn’t even write a map for how I might get to where I wanted to head, it didn’t get easier. There was not a comfort in finally forcing myself to move past it.
I still want to be awesome enough. For… what? I don’t know. But I still want to believe that there is work for me that is so fulfilling it can make me grow larger every day. That there is a life that vast. It is that need to reach that inspires me to do better. But the despair at the distance between infinity and myself is also the thing that started me writing here to you all in the first place. The thing that made me look around at certain amount of stasis in my career and the field in general and wonder if I can tolerate it when parts of it make me feel so small.
Hmmm. Is that a conclusion?
There’s still one part of the running story I left out:
One the way home from that first run to the Art Museum, I suppose from all the cold air and crying and deep breathing, I got a nosebleed. A gusher. I had assumed that people giving me the terrified wide berth on the streets were doing so because my ugly and obvious feelings were so ugly and obvious that they were scaring pedestrians.
In fact I was just covered in blood. All down my face and all over my hoodie, completely soaked through to my shirt.
And when I finally got home tasted iron on my lips and looked down my very first thought was not the sadness. It was, “Some day I’m going to write a story about this.”
There we are.
The need to achieve the impossible, to get that hit of ecstatic delight, is likely a race one can never win. That feeling is really an idea of perfection that helps us move forward. And it’s up to us to figure out how to negotiate it.
And I guess that’s all we can do.
PS – I’ll be back soon.
I have a feeling that I’ll still be writing here with fair regularity, though likely every couple days instead of every single day. (Who wants to read that much anyway?)
I’ll take a day or two and let you know when I get back.