Thinking Makes It So: Why run?

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By Kelly LeVan

I was running along, overlooking White Rock Canyon, the Rio Grande sparkling at its vertiginous nadir, when a few words coming through my iPod stole my attention. Fiona Apple was singing in her beautiful, gloomy way about how we all want something similar to what we already have, even if we hate it. Amy Mann sings about this, too – “condemning the future to death so we can match the past.”

This happened at about mile eight in my loop. I’m training for a half-marathon to be held in Albuquerque next month – my longest race, by far – and these long runs burn my feet, strain my lungs, and leave me lots of time to spend in my own head. I occasionally gaze out over the canyon and experience the pure joy of living, but mostly, I listen to music and think about anything but my weird pains.

So I latched right on to the pop song. I also worked out most of a sestina, composed a letter and visualized a whole lineup of different bridesmaids’ dresses.

The lyrics have stayed with me, even after the post-workout waffles and a trip to Santa Fe to order wedding rings. It’s not that Apple or Mann are particularly deep – but their ideas make great examples of things we know but don’t act like we do.

I remember when people on the streets in Boston would ask for change, a friend of mine used to say, “Change comes from within.”

These aren’t exactly kind words to say to a person who can’t afford dinner and, even if they’re true, I don’t find them useful. I don’t think it matters where change comes from, but we’ve got to see where it goes – it hardly matters what we think; we’ve got to change what you do.

Too much emphasis on thinking allows us to keep doing whatever it is we normally do, even when we know you could do better.

I don’t mean to sound so didactic. I’m speaking to myself, of course, more than to anyone else. Writing, like running, encourages self-discourse.

In the interest of getting away from that, I’d like to share a few more words from other people.

“If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re going.” – Vaudeville actor “Professor” Irvin Corey.

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” – Author Flannery O’Connor.

OK, I can’t stop myself. This is one of very few places I get to converse about these kinds of topics with anyone other than myself. And right now, I need to talk like this.

I think O’Connor means, in part, that just because we can deal with an obligation we no longer enjoy or a lover who does horrible things doesn’t mean we should keep stomaching it or him or her. The truth doesn’t change just because he’s having a good day.

“All things must change to something new, to something strange.” – Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Change feels uncomfortable. I’ve made a few drastic choices in my life that have felt incredibly, awesomely right immediately, but they’re rare. More commonly, I make the choice and then get beat up by a long queue of doubts and insecurities. It’s hard to stick with a life-altering choice under these conditions, but the more I fight, eventually, the more certain I become.

“All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.” – Author James Thurber

While “doing” is all-important, deliberately doing is the best. Thoreau, the priest of deliberate living, might have built his own house and spent all his time recording natural and philosophical observations on a New England pond, but we don’t have to do that.

We just have to have some idea about why we’re training for a race, or planning to have children, or buying dining room furniture, or planning sunflower seeds in the garden. We don’t have to write essays explaining our every action; we just shouldn’t go through life at the mercy of everything but our own will.

And I think Thurber’s right in his underlying assumption that we are all running, and that this is the most important action to examine. The more we know about what drives us, the more we can recognize which of these forces are irrational and/or self-defeating – and the more we can choose a future that matches the ideals we all had as kids and not the sour mistakes we’ve already made as adults.

E-mail Kelly an invitation to your amateur philosophers bimonthly salon at laeditor@lamonitor.com.