When I was in college, my fantastically athletic older brother would call me occasionally and somehow in the midst of our conversation he always ended up telling me that I should exercise more. I ignored him.
|This is my brother's idea of fun: volunteer galley slavery....I do not share his views!|
That doesn’t mean he was wrong, though. About the time I hit age thirteen, I also hit a very sedentary stage of my life. I went to a pretty intense private school, and I was very committed to my studies, so what I did was study, read, write and generally turn myself into a geek. I exercised very little, and my brother’s thought was that I probably didn’t get enough oxygen flow to my brain. He obviously wasn’t paying any attention to my almost impeccable GPA when he decided this.
However, though my grades stayed steady, I got rather plump for my height, lacked muscle tone and endurance, and felt dissatisfied with my appearance. The culmination came when I had to study for comprehensive exams at the end of my sophomore year in college. I had no time to cook or sleep, so I consumed more fast food and coke than was really good for me. I went home at the end of the year feeling the need for a change. I was ready to listen to my brother at last.
Ever since slimming down that summer, I’ve been more interested in exercise. Also, ironically, just after that I began my first novel. Perhaps my brother was right about the oxygen flow…
So what do I do? I walk a lot, because I enjoy it, and I like swimming and biking as well. However, like most things, exercise takes time, and time is a writer’s most precious commodity. The other factor which can dissuade me from getting out when I should is that I dislike purposeless activity. For example, I can never ever take up jogging, because I can’t understand the point of just running for running’s sake. When I exercise I want to accomplish something or go somewhere. The mere process isn’t what satisfies me.
That’s why I decided to make exercise work for me as a writer. Doing so resolves both my need for a goal, and my lack of time. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has just that need and just that lack, so I thought I would share my methods.
|Imagine writing in a cafe and seeing THIS!|
First of all, a tangent. I just want to say that I totally envy all you writers out there who live in big cities. I have visited New York, Paris and Athens, and all three cities are a perfect artistic environment. You can walk to a café or a park or a library or a museum, as near or far from your home as you want, park yourself there and write to your heart’s content. Along the way you catch sight of cultural monuments which inspire your creativity. You glimpse people and scenes and situations – new things every time you go out. Stories practically flow into you. Even though I wouldn’t want to live in a big city forever, I must say that I think it would be incredibly fruitful for me as a writer to reside in one for at least a little while. There would be a perfect combination of cultural background, fruitful activity, and writing material.
Anyway, since I do not live in a big city, but in a rather dreadful sleeper community between two small, mostly unremarkable cities, I have to find other means. My chief one is walking. Every day during the school year, I take a half hour walk at lunchtime to refresh my mind after a morning of clamoring students. It’s during these outings that I often work out major plot points, because my mind is free to wrestle with characters and timelines. Also, it’s less frustrating to think while moving than while staring at a computer screen on a desk. Walk to prevent writer’s block! That’s my motto. (Not really!)
|If I didn't go on walks, I wouldn't discover views like this!|
Besides this, any outing can open the eyes, even if I don't live in a fascinating city. For example, if I want to write authentically about the way grasses in farm fields wave like the sea under wind, then really I need to walk in a field while the wind is blowing. If we are supposed to make art out of our own lives and experiences, then we have to get out of the house and fill ourselves with as much as we can. I’ve written multiple poems about things I’ve seen while just strolling down the street in front of the school where I teach, which I’ve walked probably a thousand times. There’s something about the out-of-doors which awakens creative vision.
Now, in the summer, when I’m not teaching, I like to up the physical activity a notch. Last summer I house-sat for six weeks for a family who seriously lives on the side of a mountain, so I took advantage of that to go for a mini-hike almost every day. This summer I’m living at home (besides a few days of house-sitting), so I had to think of another plan.
One of my many, many interests besides writing, cooking, fashion, etc., etc., is sustainable living. Besides that, I also don’t get paid during the summer, so it feels good to use my car as little as possible and save gas money. Those two factors, combined with my desire to exercise with a goal and to write in a quiet place with internet service, produced an equation. The solution for that equation was…biking to the library! Self-powered, pollution-less transportation, no wasted gas money, three miles to cover one way, and at the end, a perfect writing environment. I’m loving it, I must admit.
Obviously other people who want to write (or otherwise pursue artistic endeavors) and exercise may not have a library close enough, but there is probably a café or some such pleasant spot within walking or biking range. On the way there, powered by your own legs, you can have time to think, and then when you arrive, you can write down whatever came to you. It’s an almost perfect scenario.
That’s why I hope you all can spend at least a bit of the summer like me: zooming past houses and shops, ideas and inspiration merrily streaming behind you as you go!