Running and Thinking
I still own a textbook I used in college titled Writing and Thinking: A Handbook of Composition and Revision. The preface says the book is designed to help the college student, “ improve his ability to communicate.” The authors say most freshmen need extensive training in “thinking soundly,” implying that learning to think soundly will help you write better. It may even be impossible to write well unless you can “think soundly.”
It’s been a long time since I looked at that textbook that addresses grammar, punctuation, mechanics, spelling, diction, unity, clearness and emphasis. I know I’d never read the preface until today. I’ve done my share of writing, requiring thinking, hopefully sometimes sound. Over time I’ve decided that running may well be a better road to sound thinking--even coming up with bright ideas-- than a textbook.
Often when I’m running, an idea pops up and I wish I had a note pad and pencil dangling around my neck or tucked into a pocket where I could grab it and record my brilliant thought before it disappears. In an attempt to hang on to my ideas—which are sometimes as simple as remembering the list of things I need to do in the next couple of days, I’ve developed a mental filing system. I alphabetize the thoughts in my head, then ask my brain to remember, not each idea, but the letter with which each idea starts. So I arrive at my doorstep mumbling C, D, R, P. Then all I have to do is remember what each of those letters stands for! She’s nuts, you’re thinking. Probably.
There is something about the rhythm that develops over the course of a run that allows you to unhook from whatever’s churning around in your head. Often, I go out thinking, “I can only be gone for a certain number of minutes because….” And then after I’ve been running for a while, that project I thought I had to tackle by 10:30 can suddenly wait until 11 or so. How could it possibly matter?
I know running isn’t the only way to disconnect from the everyday, to allow the free flow of ideas, to encourage thinking—whether it be “sound,” kooky or just plain crazy off-the-wall stuff, but it is a way that works for me.
Now, I’m going for a run, and I’ll reserve the last few words here to let you know what great idea emerged—hopefully before too many miles have gone by.
It happened at mile three as I passed a ditch that a couple of weeks ago had been a raging torrent. Today the water was so still it was tinged with the green of stagnation. A little farther on, in open space west of town, the silence was deafening. No helicopters overhead, no heavy machinery rumbling by. Mother Nature was into Colorado blue sky and sunshine; calm for the moment. The current chaos, I realized, is man-made, far away in our national capitol, and there seems to be no blue sky in sight. Today I figured out that sometimes I write to earn myself a run and sometimes I run to help me “think soundly” as I write. Maybe Congress needs to go for a group run.