Monday, 8 November 2010

My Workouts Are My Work

My workouts are my work. I am a professional writer and artist, but my physical regime is as much part of my daily work as my mental one. And I hate the idea that part of what it means to be a writer is somehow non-physical. All the greatest writers would have balked at this – Hemingway, Kerouac. For them their physical experiences, are as much a part of their writing as their cerebral ones. In fact, they are one and the same thing. Body and mind are one. I know that when I come to embody the physical shape that I know that I am all about, I will eventually embody the precise and most powerful writing voice that I have been striving for in so long.

As I come to the midway point of my training regime, I am focusing my goal in this way. I realise that I am striving to unify the strategies of my body and mind. So, my goal for the next three weeks is to treat my physical workouts as part of my writing. Not as a distraction from it, or as something I have to get done before I can relax enough to write, but as an actual part of the writing process. It is not even preparation for writing. It IS writing.

Yesterday, I ran for an hour and most of this was round Hampstead Heath. It was the first day of that wintery cold, where each breath burns slightly. I tied my hoody up to keep the warmth in and trudged my way past hundreds of families, dogwalkers and tourists. It was more than worth it. When I came to the top of the heath I could see London in a perfect panorama. It was dusk, so there was a boiling autumnal sun hovering over the city’s futuristic silhouette. I was in a lot of pain, because after being sick for a week, your stomach is not exactly in perfect state of balance. My legs and groin were also stiff, and I had to work to make my breath appropriately long and relaxed enough for the whole run. I was out of practice, basically. All of this while having to dodge the Sunday evening crowds of Hampstead Heath.

But it was invigorating. I also ran down Tufnell Park Road and up Holloway Road on my way home, so I actually ended up going quite far in the space of an hour. I started off slow and awkward, but what I love about a long run, is that you can work up to your prime state. This is how I work, even in my writing. It takes me time. Very rarely can I jump straight into it, and very rarely still will doing so produce my best work. I need to build up a rhythm creatively and physically.

By the end of it, however, I feel unstoppable. I feel like Achilles the runner. When I am tiring, I always think back to this documentary I once saw of the bushmen of the Kalahari desert. They hunt by chasing down their pray over a period of eight hours. They run, chasing the beast, following it in a steady, concentrated pace, and in a state of meditation. The challenge is to become one with the animal, so that even if they lose the trail, they can predict its movements and directions. Running for this tribe of people is a matter of survival and is also a spiritual experience.

At the end of a long run, there is a sprint when the hunter goes in for the kill. His direction and focus are as sharp and one-pointed as the spear he carries.
This is the kind of “zone” I get into at the end of a run. I like to do a short sprint when I come to the end of a run, and imagine myself going in for the kill. I may start of the run feeling fragmented, stiff and low on energy, but, given the time to work at my own pace, I finish a run like it is a matter of life and death. It’s a true meditation.

For me, writing is exactly the same thing. I start off all over the place. Incoherent. Writing badly. But this part of the process. There is no point is trying to be perfect right off the bat. It’s almost impossible. What is most satisfying is the process of writing yourself into an optimal state of mind and productivity. It makes those 750 usable words that you finish with all the more crucial, and spiritually significant to your task.

Once the animal has been hunted and killed, the hunter rubs the sands of the earth on the body of the beast. He spends time with it, and prays for it, honouring him, like you would honour a brave enemy in battle. This frees the spirit of the animal, and demonstrates the human’s respect for nature and gratitude for her sacrifices, that he may survive another day.

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