I’m so proud to host of this series of essays and bring you a different insight into the writing life every week. Each essay is truly inspiring and thoughtful and really bolsters my spirits. They’re all too special, really, not to be published more widely or in print, and today’s essay by Rebecca Freeman is no exception.
Rebecca’s post is a treasured insight into writing when you’re a mother, and also into the meditative practice of running. Once again I was reminded of all the reasons we write.
‘But I need to hold onto me, that thread of me which tugs at the story-loving long distance runner from my girlhood.’
Rebecca Freeman grew up in rural Western Australia and went to boarding school in Perth. She’s worked as a waitress, English tutor, cleaner, checkout chick, and teacher, and now she’s an editor, writer, and PhD student. Rebecca has published short stories and articles and is always working on some kind of writing project—it’s just the finishing which can be a bit of a challenge! She lives in Albany, Western Australia with her Handsome Sidekick, their four children and many pets.
It should come as no surprise that I—a bookish and rather nerdy child—was never particularly good at sports. I grew up in the 80s, when physical education consisted of the teacher deciding what we would play, and then casually leaving it up to the two sportiest children in the class to choose their teams. Needless to say, I was always, always one of the last to be picked. It’s not that I was so unpopular, but pragmatism dictated that I’d ruin their chances if they had me on their side. I was slow and kind of clumsy.
I was far better suited to making up stories—anything to do with words was fun. Spelling, daily diaries, silent reading, creative writing … It was all fantastic, and it meant I didn’t have to worry about being picked last. Who needed sport?
And then I discovered long distance running.
I was small for my age and I never won. But somehow, just finishing the race made the whole thing worthwhile. At last it didn’t matter if I came last! It really was a case of joining in to have fun. Running became my friend through high school, an overseas youth exchange, uni and my early working life. And all that time I kept writing, too. Letters, journals, poems, songs, short stories, dissertations. I wrote and I ran, and then I had children and I was too tired to do much of either. I gave birth to four babies in five-and-a-half years, and just managing to keep everyone clean and fed was the most I could demand of myself, and even that was a chore.
‘The writing came back to me, reminding me of my previous self, my pre-baby self, and oh, how I needed reminding!’
But I yearned to write again, and slowly, I began to get back into it, chronicling the day-to-day routine, breastfeeding babies with one hand while I wrote with the other. The writing came back to me, reminding me of my previous self, my pre-baby self, and oh, how I needed reminding! But the running? I wasn’t ready for that just yet. Not until I was getting regular sleep and that took years.
I don’t know that my writing suffered through my lack of exercise, but I do believe it improved once I was able to start it again. Not only did I get fitter, I also had time to think. I wrote in my head, imagined characters, scenarios. I can’t say that everything I thought about made it onto the page, but that didn’t matter. By being out on my own, I was free for a while.
Now, running continues to be my escape. When I leave the house to go for a run, I give myself permission to leave everyone behind. There is barely any other time in my week when I am completely alone, apart from when I run. Quite possibly, it’s the running I do every couple of days which keeps me from actually running away. I can mull over problems, or I can daydream. Whatever I choose to do with my mind while my feet thud rhythmically on the ground beneath me, the whole experience does me good.
‘Even though the act of writing must necessarily be one of solitude, the reading of it extends my hands into the world.’
But while I run to get away, the writing is what connects me. I’ve been lucky enough to have had encouragement from all corners when it comes to writing—from my family, my teachers, my friends. I’ve made up bedtime stories for my children and had them ask about the characters months later. Now and then, I attend a writers’ group, an oasis of other wordy nerds, and listening to their work and sharing mine is both enriching and exhilarating. Even though the act of writing must necessarily be one of solitude, the reading of it extends my hands into the world. Here I am! Talk to me, read with me, write with me. It is my way of making sense of the world, but also a way to be a part of it.
It’s taken time to get to where I’m comfortable calling myself a runner, and a writer. Long distance running literally is a marathon, not a sprint! And it’s the same with writing. It’s one foot, one word in front of the other, even when I’m tired and this hill seems never-ending. But the downhills, and the exhilaration of finishing … On those days, it seems too easy, as if the ability and time to run and write are some kind of gift. Which of course, they are. To do either, I need space and to feel safe, and to have someone—a teacher, a daycare worker, a Handsome Sidekick—to look after the children. None of these are something which should be taken for granted, although like everyone, I do.
Obviously, it’s not always easy to run or write in between work, study, family and all the other ‘shoulds’ and ‘wants’. But I need to hold onto me, that thread of me which tugs at the story-loving long distance runner from my girlhood, that long-ago me, before she even thought about adult- and parenthood. So it’s for her, and for my future me, that I still lace up my shoes, sharpen my pencil and make with the stories.
For any writer who would like to contribute to Writers in the Attic, consider this an invitation! The topic is fairly broad—anything to do with writing, your writing life or what writing means to you. 600-1000 words seems to be a good length.
I know the quality of the essays can look a little daunting, but please don’t let that deter you. I enjoy reading every essay I receive, so don’t be frightened to take the plunge!
I acknowledge the time and effort involved in writing these pieces by sending a small gift as a thank you.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact me here.