Monday, August 4, 2014

Taking speed for granite

Whenever I work out on the elliptical, I watch HGTV, mostly  because it’s one of the few networks whose programming doesn’t annoy the crap out of me. That’s changing, though; lately every time someone raves about how a kitchen has granite countertops (or laments that it doesn’t), I want to throw a brick of granite through the screen. “The only reason these people think granite countertops are so great is because everyone else thinks granite countertops are so great!” I’ll shriek. “Have some originality, people! Get off the granite bandwagon!” The BF has heard me rail against granite countertops many times, and while he thinks it’s endearingly absurd that I’ve made this my battle, he’s sensible enough to figure that at least this battle is easily winnable. If we ever come into many thousands of dollars and decide to renovate the kitchen, granite is right out. Problem solved.

Everyone claims to disdain bandwagoneers of one sort or another, be they those who claim to love a particular baseball team or a particular musical group or a particular kitchen countertop material. Thing is, sometimes worse than the person who jumps on the bandwagon is the person who insists “I liked it before it had a bandwagon.” I have never liked granite, so I’m safe there, but in other areas, yeah, I’m that person. Jane Austen, for example. I read all six of her novels long before they made 97 movies of them starring Kiera Knightly. (Did women really wear that much eye make-up back then?) It irks me to no end that her books are adored for their love stories first and foremost, when in fact there are so many sharp insights into human nature—much of it bad—that are far more compelling. Take, for example, the part of Pride and Prejudice in which Mr. Bingley talks about how he is a very quick writer—so quick, he adds, that often times the things he writes don’t make much sense. Mr. Darcy calls him on this: this is a humble brag, says Darcy (more or less). People who do things quickly, no matter how sloppily, are really proud of that fact. Bingley was actually boasting about his fast writing skills, only adding the part about not making sense so he wouldn’t seem like a jerk. Yeah, that’s right, Jane Austen nailed the humble brag, centuries before that term even existed.

Indeed, we love speed. We live, as many a freshman composition paper’s opening line has informed us, in a fast-paced modern society. Funny thing about that, though: some things that may seem to be borne out of our desire for speed are really just accommodations to laziness. The drive-thru is almost always slower than parking, getting out, and going in, but my god, who the hell would actually get out of their car for a burger and fries? Still other things simply do not work well if done quickly. Writing, for instance, despite what Bingley might believe. While I would love to be a Joyce Carol “No subject too sensationalistic” Oates or a Stephen “Even my one-word titles will scare the crap out of you” King, I am not a quick or prolific writer. It took me years to get my first book finished, and even now when I do book readings I sometimes have the urge to “edit” what I’m reciting because I realize how I should have done it. Sometimes I actually do edit as I go. If anyone asks why my version is different from theirs, I’ll say, “Oh, you must have gotten yourself a reviewer’s copy. Hold on to that; it’s gonna be worth big bucks someday.”

Running, on the other hand, would seem to be almost entirely about speed. According to physics, you don’t actually burn off significantly more calories running a mile fast as running it slow, but there’s no point in running at all if you aren’t going to move faster than you would walking. Believe it or not, when I run, I want to feel my lungs burning, my heart pounding, my legs muscles straining—at least a little, anyway. And yet, it wasn’t too long ago that I disdained this aspect of running. It seemed absurd to think a trail runner is so much more “in tune” with nature than a road runner—after all, just how much nature can you really see at 9 minutes per mile? Even though I’m now a trail-running junkie, I will admit that if you really want to explore the natural world, hiking—going slowly—is the way to do it, not running. Taking your time, you are less likely to trip over the natural world as well.

Obviously, however, sometimes speed is a necessity—in running and in writing. Earlier in the year, I’d sent a publisher the manuscript for my second novel, noting that this was the first in a trilogy. Then came the waiting game. Three months later, I heard back: they were interested, but they wanted to see synopses of the other two novels as well as the first 50 pages of each. Great! I’d just, uh, have to, um, write all that.

I gave myself the weekend to get the writing done. I already had some of the second novel written, but not much, and I had nearly nothing of the third novel. In short, I ended up churning out about 60 pages in two days, which might not seem like a lot except that it is a lot, at least for me, especially considering I hadn’t touched either novel for most of the year. Fast writing does not tend to be good writing for me, yet I have to admit I felt a certain exhilaration I hadn’t experienced in a long time when I sat down and started going and didn’t stop until several hours—and several chapters—later. I finished my work and sent it off this morning. I am sure it is absolute crap, but it exists, anyway, and that’s probably the main thing my potential publisher wants to see. I’m not just someone who claims to be writing a trilogy—is there anyone on earth who doesn’t claim it?—but someone who actually is doing so, albeit in a sporadic, deadline-forced manner.

And of course my whole goal in running for the rest of this year is speed. I’m trying to qualify for Boston, and while I know a few runners who make such a goal look easy, in my case, in case you had any doubt, this is incredibly tough. Over the weekend I did a 10-mile trail run on Saturday at a relaxed pace and enjoyed it very much. On Sunday I did a 13-mile training run with a race-pace goal and hated quite a lot of it. Oy, but that was painful. There would be no Bingley-like bragging about that one, no sense of exhilaration and accomplishment like there was for my writing activities; there was only working and straining and still coming up just a bit short of the goal. The last mile was ghastly, and that mile represented less than the halfway point for the big show. In short, I’m afraid, very afraid, because as tough as that was, it’s only going to get tougher.

So yeah, sometimes speed is cool and sometimes it sucks. Guess that’s about what it comes down to. Also, if the granite bandwagon comes to town, don’t get on it. Or maybe send it my way while I’m struggling through a long run; I might just be tired enough to get on.


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