And I sit with the memory of kings
With only words to criticize
As if I finally found the antidote for pain
Without knowing what that’s really like.
And our actor ends his love song
And all these lovers sit and stare.
If I don’t find peace in the valley
It’s ‘cause there wasn’t any there.
It’s been a while since I’ve sat and stared at this blank page. Part of that has to do with our schedule, but if I’m honest (and I’m trying to be more honest), I’ve been hiding from the blinking curser. It’s a good name for something that taunts you, the blinking curser. Since August we have filled our days with travel and adventure and all the logistics that come with it. As you may know, I recently ran the Cape Town Marathon. As a family we explored Namibia and met members of the San Tribe. Erin summited Kilimanjaro. And last month we travelled the sixteen hours home to the States. Seeing family and friends was refreshing. I didn’t know I needed to be home until I was there. In Pretoria our boys are growing into strong swimmers and starting to enjoy diving and playing under the water not just in it. For them going under water is no longer something to be feared, but rather something that is attractive. While they are getting confident in their own abilities, it’s always nice to resurface, take a deep breath, and feel the sunshine on your face. I enjoy experiencing the silence and other worldliness of being under water too. There’s something in the solitude of the unfamiliar depths, the pressure, and sensation of strength which appeals to me. But you can’t stay there, right? You need to breathe again. That’s what it’s like to go home. Resurfacing. A place where everything feels natural, where you can take a breath before going back down to explore the unfamiliar world and the unknown you.
I have also restarted my work on my graduate degree. I find the work filling my time, but less than fulfilling. I’m still undecided on a return to the classroom, which makes me wonder about the time and energy I put into my Hopkins classes. At some level I know I’m using the school work as a distraction from the real enterprise of writing. I’m good at the academic work and so rather than try and struggle with something I’m terrified of and that I’m not as good at, I fill the void with writing empty papers and conducting half-hearted research. The fact that I’m only three classes away from finishing the program doesn’t help.
The simple fact is that I’ve never written something I’ve been really satisfied with. And I recognize this problem. We are old friends. Of the thousands of races I’ve run, I can only tell you about one that left me completely satisfied. I’m not talking about good customer service satisfied. I mean that in those moments during and after, I was operating at my very limitations. I know on an elemental level that I could not have competed any more resolutely on that day. My muscles and bones and sinew were tested and resolved. I raced to the best of my ability and walked away feeling complete and wholly alive. Over thirty thousand miles and twenty-five years and there’s only one race where it all came together? Yes. I wonder if it’s that difficult to go to that place or if I’m just not that good at getting there? So, when I consider really writing, I struggle with thinking about how many pages and how many words it will take to find the just-right combination that will make me feel the same actualization? What if I can never put those words together? What will I miss or sacrifice while I try?
So I’ve been distracting myself with school and running and anything else I can think of. I’ve avoided the real work and the blinking curser for the last two months convincing myself that tomorrow the words will flow more voluntarily and there will be time to chase the dream of one day having a book on the shelf of Parnassus or the airport must-read mantel or Shakespeare & Co.
Back in Nashville I sat again in front of the class of 2019 for a morning. I’m sure they thought that I was talking to them about being good enough and embracing challenges and the struggle between head and heart and faith and reason. Those words certainly applied to them, but they came to me organically as if after a long growing season they were finally ripe enough to pick and examine.
I know I can replicate the successes I’ve had in the classroom. I know I can be an effective school leader. I know that I’m a really good stay-at-home dad. I know I can get a job in coaching or tech or travel and pay the bills. I know I can continue to run decent marathons and live in exotic lands and be a good me. But my god, I want to be a writer. I want to hurl fiery words out into a dark universe illuminating a path I didn’t know was there. I want to wield a hard language so that people look up from a page and softly say, “Damn.” I want to build worlds and lives out of the endless combination of twenty-six letters, and like D.N.A., I want them to be so vivid that I can’t see me in them anymore. I want to write a book that makes me feel like I did in that race all those years ago, unrepentant and unafraid and alive again.
And I don’t know if I can.
And that terrifies me.
Be good and keep in touch.