Thursday, March 14, 2013

What's your motivation?

It's sometimes disheartening to me that most people don't "get" great literature and poetry. I don't mean "get" in the cold, analytical, academic-sense. We academics have done more harm than good in terms of helping society as a whole gain a better appreciation for a poem or a play or a novel.  Many academics that study literature -as opposed to those who create it- focus on ever-narrower ways of interpreting and dissecting poetry and prose. Yes, knowing how to do a post-modern, feminist analysis of a piece of literature can increase appreciation among a certain literati-geek subset of people, but that sort of thing is only further off-putting for the average Joe.

The real, deep, value of literature and poetry lies in its unique ability to help us to make sense of ourselves and our interactions with others. Being human is a singular experience- we can never really know what is like to be someone else, but a poem, song, or novel can help bridge that gap to the "other".

I often turn to literature and poetry to help me understand the big questions in life.  Understanding what motivates me to participate in endurance sports month after month and year after year and now decade after decade is certainly one of those big questions.  Anyone that has followed my blog for a few years will have noticed a pattern that my more philosophical posts that try to get at the concept of "The Goal is the Journey" usually lead with (or contain) a quote from outside the sporting world.  That is the sense-making ability of literature in action. The question at hand: "What motivates you?" is fundamental to both success and longevity in sport.  I have many thoughtful answers to this question, but for today I will turn first to a poem I recently discovered and then share one of my own.

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

-Louise Erdrich

When a friend (Thanks Erica Charis!) first shared this poem, I left it open as a tab on my browser for a about two weeks. I would re-read it every day or so and it is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  This is an outstanding example of a poem that is accessible to anyone.  Erdrich is writing about a fundamental human problem: cutting through the clutter of daily life to find the authentic.  She writes:

Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.

This is the first part of the poem that made me stop and reflect on sport and the question of "What motivates you?"  There is something about sport -and endurance sport in particular- that can strip away all the problems, distractions, and excuses that fill up our days like nothing else can.  This sentiment is echoed later in the poem:

Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

If you replace the word "read" with "do" (academics, reader-response theory says I'm entitled to make this mental substitution!) then this could darn-well be a simple recipe for prioritizing your life, or discovering your real motivations. Endurance-based exercise, and in particular, really long and really hard endurance exercise strips away the insulation (read: crap) of daily life and returns me to the most basic of human needs: eating, drinking, breathing.  I've never appreciated a drink of water more than when I've been 8+ hours into an Ironman race on a hot day.  Sitting down after 9 or 10 hours of continual movement is a singular, exquisite, experience.

So that's a big part of what motivates me. A desire, a need, for truly authentic experiences.

I will leave off with a poem of my own that I wrote in college and dedicated to my XC/Track Coach, Paul Olsen.  It pales in comparison to Erdrich's but does say a little bit more about what motivates me.



A Runner

I kill myself
Everyday
Really though, I am only trying to live
Holding my body to the turning grindstone
I search
for the edge
for something greater
for me

Sometimes
I wish it would stop
I can’t. It won’t
The body craves the pain
Sparks shower from the stone
and I know
the edge

will never be sharp enough

-for Ols’

 



1 comment:

Eric Erspamer said...

Back in the Onamia days, Ols' included this in the camp book he used to lecture from when we headed up there to train. It's still on my wall today!

Eric
Class of '11