Grace Runs a Marathon
How life moves and talks.
How do you visualize a life?
Often it appears to us as a straight line, at the beginning a birth and at the end a death. Branches jutting out of it to represent the milestones and markers as proof of something lived. A wedding, a child, loss of virginity maybe. Those big things you can think about as you get older, those possibilities waiting somewhere ahead which we understand to be the rest of our life. Sometimes it appears as family trees or timelines. We see it in memoriam, between the year born and the year died a long straight mark connecting two eras, meant to encapsulate a full range of lived experience, of places that this person was loved and cherished or seen and understood. It appears too when looking ahead. Our line of sight is focused in a singular direction creating a gaze that goes on and on, tethering us to the imagined future waiting just out of sight.
A month ago my friend Grace ran a marathon. Coincidentally, on our way to make a sign for her to see at the finish line, we happened to get to Williamsburg at the exact time she was running through it. Approaching Bedford ave we peered into the crowd looking for her. Before us were other onlookers doing the same, waiting for that momentary glance of the people they loved. Finally, through the crowd, we spotted Grace flagging her down. We ran into her arms. The three of us hugged with uncontrolled tears, standing on the street as people ran around us. We tried to speak, but found the words caught on our cries and all possibility of coherent speech fell to the back of our throats. We gave in, we hugged again, and Grace trudged on turning back once to wave goodbye as we yelled to each other. I couldn’t, in that moment, understand why I felt so overwhelmed. It was only later as we made the sign, telling the story to a friend that I said
“It wasn’t even happiness necessarily, but this feeling that life was moving on.”
There was something obvious about this fact and yet so difficult to remember. In the same way that in March of 2021 I wrote about my fear of turning 24 and time marching, now I stood at the edge of a race encapsulated by the fact that life was going on. They sound the same, but to me represent two different things, speak to two different parts of us. Life goes on because time marches. It’s easier in a sense to comprehend that time is passing us, moving from one minute to the next, season to season, newsletter to newsletter say. The passage of time is seen more readily and is also something to do with looking behind us acknowledging moments past. The concept of life moving on looks ahead, it understands that time is marching, but also knows time is our real experiences, our life being lived as it happens more than what can happen later. That each moment is something we are present for and can be fulfilling or offer us intimacy and closeness to ourselves or the world.
I had forgotten this aspect. In some ways, I was seeing my day-to-day as moments of transition. Meaning I was in an unreal part of life, a space, the flat vacant edge on a timeline between two moments where nothing really happens and isn’t really worth mentioning or focusing on. I’m living between two milestones, graduating college and getting my next job. In some ways it’s easy to go forth with each day applying for jobs glossy-eyed and disconnected from the fact that this was once a place I had imagined myself. This was once where I so badly wanted to be that when I looked ahead it was what I saw. Now, I was seeing this as a place in a constant transition out of, real estate for my next big change.
We see timelines and milestones and before we can even understand where we are or appreciate what it means to be in it we are dying to get out. We forget to process what we think as in between for what it is, periods of rest or times of celebration for the truly incredible things we do. Standing with Grace on the sideline was a reminder that yes, this is my life happening, and its unexpected beauty is often rich and deeply moving. That most parts of life are difficult to anticipate. How at 20 I wouldn’t have thought about anyone I know running a marathon and though it isn’t quite mundane it is just out of our line of sight and unexpected. It recalibrated me to see I was in a place where a year ago I was dying to go. I thought I would never get my degree or be able to apply for jobs, or even be able to stand on the streets without a mask on and see someone’s face recognize me, run to me. I should pause, I should see this with the full spectrum of gratitude I’d have offered it just one November ago.
That is the trouble with timelines or visuals of life. They present themselves with solid moments of celebration, rigid and unchanging singular points in time. They fail to anticipate the truly dynamic art of being here. The collaborative ways we enact on our lives and life enacts on us. Life is moving on. We so readily forget this or unintentionally see ourselves as what is in motion when the reality is less controlled. Life is constantly moving with us, around us, and we are in a continuous conversation with each other. When we go on a date we invite life to give a reply, to reveal to us if this date will be something we will continue on with or let go of. We make decisions based on what it says and how the direction life moves us in. There’s a give and take, no one is ever 100% in charge of our movement. We relinquish and reel in this power every moment and every day.
There’s something comforting in this image to me. I feel compelled to see my life more three-dimensionally. A living thing that moves and breathes, that changes, grows. Something that can be ravenous and something to nurture. In it, peaks and valleys, moments dear to us and moments of sorrow which build into great joy. This idea that there isn’t so much as space in-between but time spent building, arcing. More like a sound wave than a family tree, each individual moment and captured and recorded with appropriate values.
A week after the marathon I went to therapy and I talked a bit about healing. That’s something that often feels transitional too. Eventually, I said I felt further from where I wanted to go than the day I decided to work out what had wounded me. Before we concluded my therapist pointed out to me all the ways getting better presented itself in my life, even if it were true that being “healed” was some further point on my map of life. The way I had begun to recognize patterns in relationships and partners that hurt me, the way they no longer felt so elusive or desirable. How I had begun to open up to friends in times of distress, or at least realize after the fact my own isolation and could apologize, could bring them in. How in some ways, however small, I was opening up to the possibility of being close to people and vulnerable even though I still felt afraid of doing so. There was something beautiful about being here too even if it was hard, even if it still required mistakes and talking through. That even if somewhere you want to go feels so far ahead there is real progress to be seen where you are. That life does go on and when we remember this fact we can appreciate the movement we have made, the act of being here.
When we did finally see Grace at the end of her journey we laughed at the incapability of words between us. In some ways, it’s the perfect metaphor, the way you can be so far from the finish line and life will show up to give you something to propel you forward with. It will embrace you before sending you off. The way the conversation comes as a back and forth of understood gestures and appropriate reactions to what is standing right before you. The collaborative act of living. It pulls us to the now. It recharges us so when we do start heading forward we have the appropriate appreciation and gratitude for what has just passed. In fact, it is so precise that it gives you enough clarity to say what you had been trying to say the whole time. Where, just before heading out of sight, onto queens, on to Duane Reede to grab markers to make a sign for your dearest friend, you turn around for one more wave and to say the one thing that matters most of all:
“I love you!”
Thoughts and wisdom on being 17 in a small town, itching for a creative, busy life but at the same time having no idea how you want to spend your future, and how any of it is achievable? (Nc)
The life you want can happen right now. You can create and submit your work to publication without a degree, without even graduating high school. You’re allowed to be creative in a very real way. That is something I wish I knew when I was 17. Also, the wonderful thing about not knowing how to spend your future is the future will always be unknowable. All you can do is sit and say what is it I want to do right now. I still don’t really have a dream job I want, all I know is I want to write so every day I write. I don’t say that to discourage any coming into the self I just mean it’s okay if you don’t know and it’s okay to not worry about it. I never do. And lastly, you don’t have to know how it is achievable, this life you want, most of the time all it takes is believing that it can be for you. You’ll make your way there. Take it day by day instead. Where you end up will surprise you.
I just moved across the country and I'm feeling incredibly homesick. Any tips on building a new community? How do you make a new space feel like home? (Canicas)
I always find going to dinner alone makes me more comfortable with new places. For one thing dinner allows you the intimacy of talking to a waiter, which I often ask lots of questions about which wine will go nicely with which dish, but also it gets you out of your own head for a while. Plus now you’ve had a nice warm meal. I find when we let loneliness find us in our apartment or against our will we feel ashamed, but when we seek out being alone, like getting out of the house just to have dinner with ourselves, the illusion of choice makes us feel safer in our company. When it comes to community, the library is a great place to start. They have a lot of free programs for all interests and believe it or not many ages can be found in these places. And if you can afford to take a class in something you’re interested in, pottery for example or knitting, you’ll meet people consistently week after week and you’d be surprised how quick a connection can form. Stretch those hands out wide where you are. Somethings gotta catch.
Do you ever feel like you’re in a writing slump? If so how do you get of it? (A fellow writer :] )
All the time. I think I sometimes give the illusion I am constantly producing, but this isn’t true. I just happen to have so much written work that when I am in a writing slump I can pull out something old, edit it a bit to my new standard, and post it on the internet for the sake of “content.” I find slumps make us feel ashamed because there’s is this growing illusion of constantly pushing out work or having something to say. It’s okay to let your mind rest. A writing slump might honestly just be the universe telling us to go have experience. Or even to have experience and keep it just for you. I find that when I am in this place removing the external pressure and saying “I’m not going to write today,” often creates more creativity than sitting down and forcing myself to do something I clearly can’t in my right mind do. Let writing be a freedom for you. Go for a walk and don’t worry about having anything to say. It will pass. That much I know for sure.
how do you combat imposter syndrome in writing? every time I write I am terrified someone has done it before me, and I fear I will never be original. (italian impasta)
Sometimes when I go on twitter or tumblr (yes I do still use it), I’ll see a post where someone has compiled various forms of art which comment on loneliness, or talk about the feeling of holding hands, or even more specifically have the word kudzu in it. I used to be just as afraid as you but once I realized everyone I love has been writing about the same stuff as the people they loved I felt much better. It’s so rare to get an original take on anything and undeniably beautiful people can be so alike. The way throughout history, year after year, generation after generation, we remain fascinated by the feeling of someone’s hand in our own hand that we must write about it. That even if it has been written before we are willing to be vulnerable to the world and offer our perspective on its intimacy. I’m no Byron but I too am fascinated by the way lovers part ways.
how do I make mistakes and not feel like a horrible person? (Mimi )
Here is what I find so breathtaking about life: everyone we know and love is vulnerable to our existence. When we decide to exist alongside anyone else we are willingly saying, I understand you are imperfect, that it is possible for you to hurt me, but I trust if you do you will apologize. Mistakes are as part of life as love is. They are interwoven. I assure you good people make mistakes. In fact, I believe good people can be seen best in the wake of the mistakes they make. Don’t let the feeling that you are horrible overshadow that you were wrong and that’s okay. Forgive yourself, and trust the people around you to understand that part of love is deciding to risk being hurt or angry because they believe in love more. That they decided to be around you because they were willing to forgive you for the rest of your life.
“The weird little grumbly sounds you and your partner make to each other are their own strange poetry, and you have to try to approach those signifiers as rich, valuable, and funny. It’s not always easy. But the best definition of happiness is the ability to approach your life as this gorgeous, unfolding work of art that’s always changing, and never quite what you expect it to be, and then seeing that it’s more beautiful than anything that’s supposedly perfect and pristine.” Heather Harvelinsky in Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn
“The conditions of love are ones where we are trying to see each other more clearly than how we remember them.” November 25th, 2021 4:17 PM
“But he’s real. He lives. He changes. He isn’t and never will be precisely as I saw him. Untranslatable to pages no matter how often I try. And if he finds it I hope he isn’t angry.” November 20th, 2021 1:47 PM
The next time we speak 2021 will have fallen victim to time. How strange it is to recall just one year ago, writing about the unexpected fact that 2020 was ending. How, we knew it would one day pass, but also was unsure of its truly going. Now at the end of 2021, I feel this year was equally rewarding and unruly. There’s something more powerful here, a reminder of the progress that comes with time. How one year struck us with tragedy, with unforeseeable futures, only to be followed by something more digestible. Albeit still difficult, but easier to handle. I won’t miss 2021, not really. Great things happened, milestones, beautiful moments of now which moved me. It was full of love and I cherish it deeply, but just as I have done before and will do again I send it on its way with respect and gratitude. It came and did what it needed to do. I can’t fault it for that. There are moments I will miss, summer solstice, facing the great and powerful age of 24, the healing that happened. I’m fascinated mostly by the last part though. At the start of 2021 January’s newsletter theme was just that, healing. I could tell in some ways this year would involve my coming face to face with my own pain. I was afraid to say that then, but I knew my life hadn’t quite grown around my hurt. I also knew eventually it would and that in some ways it already had it was just difficult to see it in that particular light. Now, from this vantage point, I feel I understand a little better what it means to heal. I like the way this newsletter gives me space to contradict myself too. I thought 2021 would be the year I would see healing become healed, but now I’m not so sure. Instead, I think of it more as a thread of conversation I am having with life it can throw into times of now with randomness and resonation. It comes as a certain movement, reminds me of what’s been done, and will continue. I don’t know though, maybe next year I’ll feel differently. Only time will tell. See you next year.
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Here’s to Starbucks Fridays, my dear friend Grace, and the endearing continuous conversations we have with life.