Friday, March 18, 2011

The Elephant-less Living Room

Back in those palmy, buoyant, sixty- and seventy-miles-per-week, pre-hip-replacement times, running was as much a habit as it was an unalloyed pleasure.  Your favorite running shoe was the Etonic "Street Fighter."  You did,in fact, fight the street with all of its distractions, dips, thrusts, and pot holes.  You ran not for the sake of improving your time or lengthening your stride.  You ran for the sake of running, by most accounts unaware of the endorphins you were manufacturing although not by any means unaware of their effects on you.

When you ran, it was as though you were connected to an endless stream of Mozart chamber music, morphing as the miles piled up into Ravel and perhaps Delius or Dvorak.  If your tastes required jazz instead, it was the evocation of early bebop to the articulations of Bill Evans and Fred Hersh, drawing escape velocity from the concepts of Charlie Parker, John Birks Gillespie, and Miles Dewey Davis, undershot with the subtext vocal melancholy of Carmen McRae.

When you ran was as memorable as when you did not run, the former being the celebration of a process, whether you were good at it or not, the latter being the pained awareness of what was not there, the elephant in the living room and then the living room without the elephant.

In its own, personal intimacy, writing has the same reach and effect, but with this difference:  Writing is about competition.  The competition works within yourself and extends to others.  Writing is much about length of stride, time elapsed, splits, as it were.  It did not matter to you that you were a relative mediocrity in your running efforts.  It matters to you with each sentence, word, and syllable that you write, beyond the feel of it and the effect it has had on your life.

The hips you were born with have given way to titanium ball-and-socket contraptions; they function to the degree that you are as unaware of them as you once were of the hips you were issued at birth.  These allow you painless mobility, balance.  Poise.  They also make it improvident for you to run any considerable distance.  You may walk such considerable distances, but the results are not the same.  There are joys to be had,but no endorphins or their side effects, those brief moments when your thoughts write poetry to their surroundings.

There is no equivalent to not writing.  The act of not writing is the pain you experienced when cartilage was gone, leaving bone to scrape over its counterpart rather than glide; it is the pain of withdrawal from habit, the awareness of missing awareness, as though some conscientious employee or intransigent Republican had turned off a few senses to cut down on the expenses of running them; it is you as a traveler stranded in some inhospitable airport, it is the elephant-less living room. 

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