what are you running from?

I ran twice today. (Twice: as in the typical accepted English usage, to mean “two times.”) This is not normal behavior for most humans who are not sinewy cross-country athletes.

from the archives. no tights in august.

from the archives. no tights in august.

I’ve been pretty solidly back on the running wagon since my birthday — almost 8 weeks — partially because it’s an easy and rewarding habit to stick with once I get started, and also because I’ve told myself I want to be in the best shape of my life, now that I’m th-th-thirty. An admirable, if slightly absurd, goal. I mean, I was 18 once, people. I get it.

I’m antsy to take on another long race. It’s been almost 4 years since I ran the marathon in Chicago. (The Bass Pro half is Nov. 3. I’m thinking about doing it, but don’t tell anybody… In case I change my mind…) It’d be fun to try to beat my best time (2 hours 18 minutes 23 seconds), from my first half marathon, when I was 24.

I was 24 once, people.

So I ran twice today. Whether or not this habit leads to record-busting, new-decade feats of glory, today it just felt good.

With that “twice in one day” confession, there’s a voice in my head that asks, “yeah, well, what are you running from then?” (That’s probably not normal behavior for most humans, either…) But it’s a big reason why I run: to get away from the Negative Norma in my head (Nancy is on vacation, you see). The doubtful, self-critical, often quite loud voice.

I run to get away from that. 

And I run toward its opposite: Runner’s High. Which most definitely is a real thing. I felt it when I first started running for real in 2007. A surprising rush of happy, productive, creative energy. I felt it during my marathon in 2009. A quiet, peaceful connection to my place in the world and all living things.

It sounds like bullshit! I know! But it’s real. 

I felt it again tonight, walking back to my house. It’s quiet and dark on the streets of Rountree. Bright windows glow behind pretty porches. The chatter of night bugs drones below my iPod — I’m in a Girl Talk mood these days. Streetlights make the leaves sparkle. And I am all alone.

If you haven’t ever walked down the middle of a (non-busy, of course) street at night, you’ve got to do it sometime. At least once. Just feel yourself being there. Being anywhere is pretty neat, when you stop to think seriously about it. (Runner’s High helps you think seriously about things like that…things like your place in the world and how nice it is to be alive. Which, I know. Sounds like bullshit.) But it’s easier to appreciate just being, in the dark, under the stars, when all the voices are turned off.

Bonus: I’ve found that windmill arms can enhance the feelings of wellbeing, if you feel so inclined.

TIME is on my side

A few weeks ago, I was out for an evening of adventuring on Commercial Street with Jeff & Michelle Houghton and their baby, Elias, who is painfully cute and delightful. At dinner, Elias was discovering the thrills of drinking water from a grownup non-sippy glass (cue the heart-melting baby giggles), and Michelle asked me, “doesn’t this make you want to have one of these?!”

Boom. The room goes dark. A spotlight shines on me from above. Strangers at other tables put down their forks and turn their heads, awaiting my answer. Which is: …No.

The moment is not nearly so dramatic, of course, but it can feel that way. I get the same faint pit-in-my-stomach anxiety as when somebody asks me why I’m vegetarian—while they nibble on a burger. In both cases, I know what my answer is, but I’m careful not to offend. This one’s particularly tricky, because people in general are more invested in their babies than their beef. But…

I don’t want to have kids.

Let’s allow that statement to just hang there for a second. Does it make you feel uncomfortable, maybe? Do you want to shake your head and tell me with a smug smile that I’ll eventually change my mind? Once I find “the right guy” or the ol’ clock starts to tick or I finally grow up or whatever seismic shift is required to reverse a lifelong underlying feeling that tells me I do not want them.

I don’t need any help questioning this, by the way. Most everyone around me is having babies or wanting to have them. Even my own biology is betraying me lately: I get squishy around toddlers and feel emotional at baby showers. And I know my mind doesn’t make me feel this way; it’s my baby-making mechanisms, and they are kicking into high gear, now that 30 has arrived.

g9510.20_Childfree.Cover

So this week I was thrilled to discover that TIME magazine’s cover story a couple of weeks ago was “The Childfree Life.” (I even bought the one-month digital subscription so I could read the whole thing. For $2.99, it’s not a bad investment, if you’re curious.) It seemed to present the idea without negative connotation, which is a refreshing change of pace.

A common thread among those who are childless-by-choice seems to be either admitting you are selfish (“I couldn’t have kids; I’m just too self-centered!”) or being accused of selfishness by others. But what if it’s not that simple?

My college medical ethics class was the first time I was confronted with asking why someone would have kids. Even then I didn’t think I wanted them, but I also hadn’t felt that this was a legitimate choice I could make. Or at least I never thought you could ask “why?” about it. People had kids because people had kids; that’s why.

I remember feeling shocked to learn that people have kids for some very selfish reasons. It’s not always about making a family or taking the next natural step in adult life. It’s sometimes about ensuring you’ll have someone to take care of you in old age. Or trying to make up for your past mistakes by raising a kid and “getting it right this time.” Or having a kid so they can live out the dreams that you never could. Or having a kid so you fit in with everyone else around you.

Reducing the decision not to have kids to “selfishness” is as unfair as reducing the desire to have kids to any of those not-great reasons above.

What if, any time someone you know told you they’re having a baby, you responded by—instead of giving the usual congratulations—asking “why?” It seems silly, right? But to me, it makes more sense to ask someone why they DO want to have kids than why they don’t…

There’s not one particular reason why I don’t want to. I just don’t. And I think it’s actually an act of selflessness to go against the cultural grain, take the risk of being all alone in my 80s, and decide that “well, you’re just supposed to” is not a good enough reason for me to create another human being.

But then again maybe it’s not selfless at all, but it’s still a choice I get to make.

I recognize that there’s still a chance, albeit slim, that someday I will change my mind. That’s the great thing about minds, you get to change them if you want. (There’s a joke to be made about diapers; I can’t quite get there.) In the meantime, I get to keep being Aunt Sarah to the nieces and nephews in my life, both biological and honorary.

And if my mind never changes, I can still live a full and fulfilled life. I’ve heard new mothers talk about how they never knew what they were missing. And I believe them when they say they’ve never felt love like that before. But there are all sorts of ways to feel love in this life. My question is: If I never know, am I really missing it?

All dated up

Found this little postcard treasure in a closet downstairs at work. Just sitting all by its lonesome on top of some old sheets of photo slides. (I find myself doubting whether that’s what you’re even supposed to call those ancient artifacts…slides? That’s right, right?)

Postcards and slides. Like typewriters and cassette tapes, these once everyday objects have become oddities, forgotten completely or elevated as collectibles by weirdos like me who have affection for the past. This shift in value is curious to me. I keep my mom’s 1960s typewriter because I think it looks cool and vintage, but it used to be the thing she’d use to type her homework. Just a utilitarian object, unspecial and easy to ignore.

What are the things that I encounter every day that might someday find themselves on display in a vintage shop or museum? My rainbow of PaperMate felt-tip pens. A printer-slash-scanner-slash-copy machine. Beloved binder clips. Thumbtacks. Which of these will become things that my grandchildren don’t even recognize? (Well, mine would, because I would force them to. “You will sit down next to Grandma and listen to her talk about the good old days, while you watch these Fey-Fallon-era SNL reruns, and you will LIKE IT.”)

Haven't Written Because

So I found this old postcard, and I rescued it from its life of solitude on top of that basement closet filing cabinet, and now it lives on my wall, where it will make this weirdo very happy.

***

Outdated language lesson of the day: “Busted” was old-timey slang for “broke”… so “flat busted” does not mean what you think it means. And I can’t get google to give me a definitive answer for “all dated up,” but it seems to mean something along the lines of, to use modern meme-speak,  “has all the plans!”