“It was me and that train … coming up the river / like a long lost companion.”

The short version, which I meant to post last night, after soul-filling long weekend at Kindling Words, surrounded by the tribe of writers:

Just tell your stories. That’s all.

The long version, after a morning workout before heading home:

On the treadmill (a metaphoric piece of equipment if there ever was one) at the hotel, I found myself looking at all the numbers the machine insisted on displaying: heart rate, miles per hour, distance gone, calories burned. And I thought: How did we get here, to this place where simply walking or running isn’t enough, where what we do doesn’t count unless our heart rate reaches the right levels, or a sufficient number of calories are burned, or a sufficient distance is traveled, where the joy of movement is reduced to–not true mathematics, which has a joy and playfulness of its own–but to a simple and unforgiving arithmetic? An arithmetic that we extend to all the joys of life really, one that makes it seem reasonable to say: I burned 217 calories today, so I can safely eat a 216 calorie brownie.

As someone who spent many years as a business communicator alongside my fiction writing, I understand the need for measurable results sometimes. But as I walked and ran today, trying to ignore the numbers the treadmill insisted on showing me, I found myself wondering: what if we got away from this attachment to numbers, with their absolute sense of Enough and Not Enough? What if we measured walking and running by the feel of limbs moving, the joy of strength, the pleasure of seeing our neighborhoods and meeting our neighbors, of climbing a mountain, of reaching places we might not have reached? What if we measured food by the joy of tastes mingling on our tongues, the fullness of our bellies, and again, strength that we gain?

And then I thought about writing, because it’s so easy to get so attached to numbers and results there, too. Yet what if our writing were not about number of words written or the number of pages finished, but about the arc brought to the surface, the character deepened, the catch of breath as the plot turns just so, the wondrous moment when we learn something new about our stories, about ourselves? What if our stories were not about the numbers set out in contracts and royalty statements, but about the reader we connect with, the letter saying, you gave me something I needed, the knowledge that lives are being touched in ways we can’t even see, let alone measure in any straightforward way, just as our lives continue to be touched by the stories of others?

Of course, it’s not as if we don’t remember moving and writing are about these things–we do, much of the time. But there are also those moments when we forget, when the instinct to fall back on simple arithmetic rather than looking to something more wondrous and complex, gets in our way. When that happens, we risk forgetting why we’re doing this thing that we’re doing, whatever it may be, moving or writing or something else entirely.

We risk knowing where we are, but forgetting why we’re on the journey.

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