I am supposed to be training for a half-marathon. So far, this has included a lot of buying spandex, updating my playlist, and, occasionally, tooling around the neighborhood for a bit on Sunday mornings. On the course that I run when I get it together to run 3 miles, there’s a 1/2 mile uphill stretch about halfway through. The grade is subtle; you hardly notice it when you drive. It’s nothing I shouldn’t be able to do, but the sheer length of the stretch is just enough for me to talk myself into defeat.
The problem, of course, is that the top of the crest is just eternally over the horizon, so no matter how many steps forward you move, the top of the hill seems just as far away. It’s endless, and it’s demoralizing. It’s February, gray and unending and hopeless.
As I ran today, I thought about Joyce Sidman, the extraordinary poet, whom I happen to have had the privilege to hear speak yesterday at the Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference. She talked about her newest book, Winter Bees, and her poem about snakes hibernating. “I could write that poem because I can understand what that feels like, to have a hard time coming and to need to find the perfect place to hide away, to surround yourself with family and protect yourself from the coming cold,” she said.
That has been my instinct this winter. To go to ground, to grab my kids and husband close and shut out the rest of the world. Though what it is that has been so hard is invisible, even to me, I can sense the uphill deep in my reptilian brain and I long to flee.
Yuyi Morales, the extraordinary illustrator and author, also spoke . She’s a small woman, doll-like, and as she stood dwarfed by a Powerpoint of her first rough sketches, she looked out at us with big eyes. “To create anything, I have to start small and add little by little. It just seems impossible that I will be able to do it. But if I keep working, things start taking shape. And when the shape is ready, I go into paint,” she said, flipping through layers of sketch, until finally the rich, layered artwork of her many books appeared above her.
And maybe that’s the secret. Not to worry about the horizon, ever shifting, but to just take it sketch by sketch, inching up the hill, without the endpoint in mind.
Today it felt just a little bit easier to get up that hill. February has ended.
Bring on March.