Recently, this little comic from the Oatmeal, titled “The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons why I run Long Distance” popped up on several friends’ newsfeeds.
It’s a very good piece, and if you are a runner yourself, or maybe a biker, or maybe a swimmer, or maybe just a person, or maybe even a cat of the internet, you should check it out. With the simplest of drawings, it captures very well the essence of an amateur runner.
I myself don’t run in the way that the narrator of this comic runs. I run when it’s nice outside, I run when I’m frustrated, I run when I’m angry, and I run when I’m lost. But I run very rarely, and never do I run fast enough, or long enough, to reach euphoria. My running is always solo, always complentative, and never has it silenced the noise in my head. Very often, it smoothes tangled knots out– if only by virtue of making myself feel healthy and sunkissed again.
Recently, I started dancing again. I’ve been dancing since I was five. When I was three, I watched my older sister’s ballet performance and begged my mom to be onstage, too. I love to move, and I love to dance, and in a way dance is a healing process– after 10 years of competitive gymnastics, I love the feeling of being onstage without having my every step marked by point deductions.
In a moment of sheer luck, I’ve discovered a rare gem: the Manhattan dance studio that is relatively affordable, air-conditioned, spacious, and most elusive of all, not filled with judgemental, competitive, rail-thin preprofessional teenagers waiting to eat me up.
The dancers at this studio are very talented. The instructor is friendly and experienced. But best of all, this class– twice a week, an hour-and-a-half each– whips the my ass. And it also whips my abs, and my arms, and my calves, and my thighs, and most importantly, my brain.
When I enter the studio directly after work, there’s a million thoughts running through my head. Is it bad that I left work before 7? Did I slack off too much today? Will I finish my summer project in time? Do I need a Ph.D? Am I ever going to be a good scientist? Is the world driven by chance or does it have a telos? Is it possible to be both intellectually conscious and happy?
But twenty minutes into class, I’m struggling just to breathe, as this killer warm-up asks me to do thirty more sit-ups, forty more crunches. Bass beats rivet off the ceiling, and sweat drips off my nose.
“I’ve always considered the question to be ‘Why am I alive? Why am I here? What’s the point of me? And to that I say: WHO CARES! FORGET THE WHY YOU ARE IN A RAGING FOREST FULL OF BEAUTY AND AGONY…THIS IS BETTER THAN THE WHY. I run because I seek that clarity”, says the little stick figure in the Oatmeal comic.
There is only one reason why I dance. I want, I crave, I need a better way to express myself. (Sometimes, I wish I could sing louder, clearer, just so I could belt it out like Christina Aguilera in Burlesque at the end of a long work day in my little-town-accidentally-sexy waitress outfit. And then become a professional performer with Cher.)
I’m not a great dancer, by any means. Sure, I can bust a few moves at a party. I’m relatively in shape, I’ve been dancing a long time, and most of all I Love it With All My Heart. I’m a slow learner, I’m a little off-beat, but by show time I’m giving it my all.
Sometimes, dancing makes me feel very small and adolescent again, while I watch the slim beautiful girls at Barnard and Columbia in my dance group rule the stage with their wonderful years of ballet training and their illuminating stage prescence. And when that happens, the voice of my fourteen-year-old self is telling me again that I’m not thin enough, not blonde enough, and just so damn awkward.
But goddamit, sometimes I like that. Sometimes it’s good to worry so much about things that my Computer Science classmates would find trivial, to feel small and nerdy and inadequate again, to feel the ruthless female competition of beauty and grace. Sometimes it’s good to want so much to be good at something that isn’t just a desk job.
It’s a struggle, and so much work, just to be able to express one-tenth of what I want to say in my movement. But in that moment when I’m finally on the beat, and not stumbling over my own feet, I never feel so much alive.