Tuesday, September 10, 2019

A novel run

A couple months ago, a friend who knows me pretty well asked what I was going to do next. By her observation and calculation, I tended create a new version of myself every few years, and I was due. We both laughed, but she was right, in more ways than either of us realized at the time. I had been fantasizing about a life on the road, just me and K and whatever animals we could feasibly transport, driving from one wild and scenic area to the next, camping, hiking, and staying blissfully offline. Such a tantalizing prospect! But then there were our jobs, and our house, and our families, and bills to pay, and about eighty billion other things that rendered the idea dismayingly unfeasible. Ah well.

So instead of hitting the dusty trail, I became a part-time high school English teacher. This was a last-minute hire for the school, which needed someone quickly after a sudden reshuffling of administration. Four days before the semester started, they hired me. I haven’t done substantial classroom teaching in a while, nor substantial high school teaching ever. I was, to put it mildly, apprehensive. Luckily, this school is by all accounts one of sweetly nerdy overachievers, and the literature class I would be teaching—19th century British novels—covered books I had read and enjoyed. Of course, I got a bit of a shock when I realized that even the 20th century was ancient history to these kids, and when I mentioned the Harry Potter books on the first day as a way of showing how books from 200 years ago have left their mark on the literature of today, one young lady piped up, “Oh yes, my mother read those!” Whatever. I’m fifty, kids, and I’m still trying stuff for the first time.

The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make concerns my drastic reduction in available time. If teaching were just teaching, this wouldn’t be a problem, but it never is; it’s a daily commute and office hours and paperwork and meetings and meetings and meetings. If I had normal hobbies that didn’t require running through the woods for many hours at a time, this wouldn’t be a problem. But I’ve got an ultra on the horizon, and fitting training in with my new gig has been tricky. This has led to some creative multi-tasking. Usually I prefer silence when I run—no music, no podcasts, not even much in the way of conversation if I’m running with someone, which usually is not the case. Silence is so rare in our noise-saturated world that I seek it out as much as possible. There is a unique introspective clarity that can come from hearing only your footfalls, your heart, your breath.

That’s lovely, of course, but impractical when that clarity is going to take up more than four hours away from that long queue of papers you have to grade and you need to prep classes for the following week, when the kids will be starting a book you haven’t read in a couple of decades. Cue creative multi-tasking. I have never done the audio book thing until now, but given that Jane Eyre’s copyright expired about a century ago and its MP3 version could be downloaded for free, I decided to let the poor orphan girl’s tale entertain me during my 24-mile run last Saturday.

Reader, I was enthralled.

My parents both read to me when I was a child, which is a hugely fortunate thing because, as with other people who had that privilege, it instilled a lifelong love of books in me—and a hitherto dormant love of hearing books read aloud. Despite the fact that the opening chapters of Brontë’s tale are even more painful to take in than that of poor Harry Potter sleeping in the closet and being denied access to his precious Hogwarts invitation, I was absolutely hooked. Miles and chapters passed. I’m not going to pretend they passed easily. Jane gets beaten, goes hungry, and is unfairly punished for, like, everything—and she hasn’t even made it to Thornwood yet. And on my end, 24 miles is 24 miles, and no matter what badass ultra runner you think you are, that’s never going to be easy. But I listened and ran, and the hours passed enjoyably.

You can reinvent yourself at any age, in big ways or small. You can try something you never thought you’d do, or bring back something you’d long forgotten. No, not always, but hey, maybe it’s been a while. Maybe it’s time to ask what you’re going to do next.


  1. I LOVE audiobooks. So glad you have found a joyful solution to s real problem.