Last Saturday my daughter became an Iron Man.
We could talk about obsessions, healthy and unhealthy. We could talk about whether extreme training does more physical harm than good. We could talk about what problems she might be avoiding.
Let’s not. I’ve had those conversations with myself many times over the past year. Right now, I’d rather talk about what happened Saturday morning when I found out that Kelly had finished the swim, and something strange began to come over me.
I was on the faculty of an SCBWI conference that day. At first, I had trouble tracking Kelly’s progress on my iPhone; a young artist taught me how. By my mid-morning coffee break, Kelly was out of the water and a third of the way through the 114-mile bike ride. By my lunchtime, she was halfway through.
I worried most about the bike. It’s Kelly’s weakest event, and people get aggressive. They elbow you, they force you into potholes. Kelly had brand-new racing wheels; she wasn’t used to them and was technically too light for them. The bike shop guy had said, “With these wheels, you might pop off the bike.”
When I finished leading my afternoon workshop, there were two messages on my phone: one from John, my son-in-law, and one from my husband.
I called John first. “She’s running,” he said.
Running. Her event: the marathon!
I called my husband. I said, “Our daughter has gone to Mars.”
What I meant was that neither of us had ever remotely stretched ourselves that far, never pushed beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity into outer space. I mean, we’ve done some stuff. But nothing like this. What I meant was that a year ago Kelly couldn’t have begun to do an Iron Man. But bit by bit, by following her workout schedule every day, she had transformed herself into someone who maybe could.
Stephen King once said, “What problem would ten pages a day not solve?”
Truth is, with writing, it’s not just about page count. Creating something new is a delicate thing requiring patience and grace; it’s way more than iron will and discipline. And yet I wonder how much of finishing this book and then the next one is making up your mind to do something really hard and then settling into the daily work.
Turns out, the marathon part of the race was rougher than Kelly had anticipated. It was 90-plus degrees in Houston; she’d had stomach flu a couple of days before; she got a little disoriented. I didn’t know any of that yet. I tracked her on my phone from checkpoint to checkpoint; I saw that she was slowing down. At the conference, word of the race spread. Some people were pretty dubious about the whole enterprise; I get that. The most fervent supporter was a woman who had run her first marathon in her fifties. By the time Kelly headed into the last leg of the race, everyone at my dinner table was rooting for her; when she crossed the finish line the whole room cheered.
The fifty-something marathoner emailed me the next day. She’s training for a triathlon.
Lately I’ve been writing without a deadline, and some difficult personal stuff has put me off my writing schedule. But now it’s time to recommit.
Mars, it ain’t. But finishing the best novel I know how to write is really hard and also satisfying. I can be content with the moon.