simple gifts

Rituals of preparation… braiding up hair before a run, applying rosin to the bow before practicing, warming up the kettle before settling into a writing session. What richness we lend to the task ahead when we greet our intentions with respect. Even in the most routine activity, there is reverence to be found. The buds on a star magnolia protrude, nestled in green fuzz. My daughter once plucked one, and, thinking it a small and furry creature, kept it dutifully in a tea tin for months. I reached out and touched one at dawn, on my way home, caressing a promise of spring. Beneath the noise and distraction exist simple gifts. They wait for us in every moment.

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Image description: A blooming star magnolia plant in the sun.

intentions for running and writing

I was speaking with my dissertation chair yesterday, and she told me about a very interesting framework for writing. She spoke about the difference between generative writing and revision writing. Generative writing is when you cover new ground, put ink on paper, and charge ahead adding pages. Revision writing is when you go back and do, what I fondly think of as, reading in my Ken Burns voice and editing until the paragraphs sound both stoic and compelling. The point of this conversation was to show that setting an intention for the type of writing before sitting down to a session can be extremely helpful in the overall scheme of productivity. These opposing activities, the generative and the revision, brought me back to a reflection on running practice.

What does it mean to have generative or revision runs? I imagine generative runs as covering new terrain; a new route, for example, or a particular race undertaken for the first time. A generative intention is prospective; we construct an idea of what we would like to accomplish that is currently outside of our realm of experience. Revision runs, on the other hand, are the repeated and well-known routes. They are the loops through trails and neighborhoods that we know so well, we experience a sort of autopilot. The revision runs build upon previous experiential knowledge, in an iterative way, to create awareness of other dimensions of running. For example, on a generative run, one might not be as in tune with cadence or form. However, on a revision run, when the environment is less distracting to the mind, these more intricate technical details come into focus.

Like with academic writing, I believe running requires a balanced combination of the two types of practice. The key revelation for me yesterday, was the idea that we can use these concepts to frame our practice (whether it is writing or running) before heading out the door (or onto the page). This morning, I embraced a generative writing intention as I tackled a previously anemic section of my literature review. With the freedom to throw new material, without the confines of revision judgment, much progress was made. Tomorrow, I will circle back with a revision framework, with an eye on how each part is connected.

I find much in common between the process of my grounded theory study and my running practice. Both involve a fluid interplay between zooming in and zooming out; between holding the episodes as self-contained and valid experiences, while also relating them to a broader patchwork. Whether the goal is another chapter, or another dozen miles, it is only a small progression in a much larger story.