I hike to drench myself in things outside of me; to push my body to extremes so that I can stop thinking and just feel. This must be what my mother means whenever she tells me to be present. On some of my favorite trails, the ground is cushioned with dead pine needles, like down in the softest blanket. Our east coast climate is wet and wild, and yesterday was no different.
This water is life itself—a nurturing, dangerous mother, sending hydration and plant life, and also ticks and floods.
All I could hear over the sound of my breathing and footsteps was birdsong. Their singing echoes throughout as in a high-domed theater, reaching every corner.
I was on this trail to make up for the 40 hours I spend at my desk job, and the 10 hours I spend driving to and from work every week. I was here to hike until I hurt—to cross still waters over a medley of carefully placed sticks, and to walk as quickly as possible over and down the sides of hills, and to hear birdsong, and if I did this long enough, I thought that thinking would stop; wanting something other than what I have would stop. Longing and loneliness would cease to matter.
A guy in my nonfiction graduate class a few years ago—Mickey—wrote an essay about he and a friend in the mountains, hiking and getting lost and scared, and trying to find their way out. It was a poetic story, and one I think back to often. Because he focused so intently on the body, on how their bodies ached, and the anxiety in their minds, that everything else fell away, like concerns about tomorrow's classes or frustrations with dumb things once said. What I took away from the piece was this: Sometimes, only pushing your body to extremes can get you out of your head.
Writing does the opposite. It pulls me into my mind, where I never suffer from writer's block, but always from writer's overload, where there are too many ideas to sift through. Sometimes I stress out over trying to decide whether to write a blog post or a story or just a journal entry. It's completely ridiculous, I know—but I want to do all these things so much that it really is a hard decision to make. Like a kid trying to decide between Chuck E. Cheese or the go-carts in Salisbury, where they used to have the most amazing course I've ever seen.
My work schedule has warped life itself. Sitting has become a punishment, making it so that whenever I am not at work, I don't want to sit. This is dangerous for a writer, because writing sort of generally involves sitting. If I need to get up and walk around every five minutes, then not a lot of writing is getting done. My employer is receiving the best hours of my day, and I am getting none.
On weekends, the first order of business is to make up for lost movement: Exercise, hike, jog, climb. Exhaust the body, while allowing ideas to sift. Then, sit down and let the subconscious flow. Work on organizing that flow the following day—directing energy toward a specific goal. What do you do to get focused (as a writer, or for other things)?