How do you describe four days in Oregon that redefined how you want to live and transformed your personal aspirations? Four days coached by the incomparable runner-writer Lauren Fleshman and mentored by the equally incredible writer-runner Marianne Elliott? Four days in the company of more than 30 strong and engaged women who arrived with a total commitment to the practice of running and writing and seeking deeper understanding? Someone, please tell me how, because more than a week later, I still am staring at a blank page trying to find a way to describe the experience and how much this group of runner-writer sisters have come to mean to me.
During one of our writing sessions, Marianne told the story of reading a remarkable piece of writing, perfection. Afterward, she learned that the author went through more than 100 drafts before it was final. I could make my way through 100 drafts of this post and still not capture everything that was the Wilder Retreat. So, in the spirit of Wilder, and the dozens of 10-minute exercises spent freely writing and writing and writing – unedited and unperfected – my solution to my problem is this: 10 minutes each for me to publicly play with the following prompts … “What frightened me most …” “The writing was …” “The running was …” “What I learned …”
This post may be messy. It also may be total crap. But it is honest and unfiltered. It is me. It is Wilder.
“What frightened me most …”
On reflection, maybe the better question is “what did not frighten me?” I worried that it was a mistake – did they really pick me? This quickly translated into worry that I could not and would not be able to hold my own with the other runner-writer-women on retreat. Questions revealing all of my insecurities swirled in my mind the night before I left for Oregon … what if I’m the oldest one there? What if I am the slowest one there? What am I getting into with a writing retreat? And, given the fact that I’ve never done it before, what makes me think that I can run on trails?
But the fundamental fear was this: What if I don’t fit in? I am an introvert and tend to be guarded by nature. It is just who I am. Would the women I met mistake these traits for something else? Or close me off because it seemed like I wasn’t open to letting them in? Those closest to me know that I am more than this, but in four short days could I step outside of my introverted self enough to really connect?
And while I am on the topic, why does all of the above sound like something I would have written in my diary before the start of Jr. High? Note to self: Grow up.
“The writing was …”
The writing was a jarring departure from my day-to-day practice. Most of my writing takes place in the context of my legal career. Arguments are written, vetted, edited, and edited again. The writing often is constrained by legal rule or tradition. It is good and challenging in its own right, but it always is accompanied by purpose – a goal and a desired, definable outcome.
Wilder writing is the opposite. One of our exercises was to think of a color, to go outside and quietly explore and observe where we found that color in our natural surrounds, and then come back and write about it for ten minutes. What is a lawyer supposed to do with that one? As it turned out, I actually had quite a lot to say about the color blue.
I was in another, unexplored world with my writing in Oregon. It was freeing and it was hard. Like it often is when you are painstakingly peeling back layers, it also felt uncomfortable. I am left craving so much more.
“The running was …”
The running was empowering. Coached by Lauren Fleshman, there were moments (say, as she chased us down on a mountain bike with a bullhorn running Predetor drills) when I just had to pause at the absurdity – it is me and not my 15-year old cross country runner who is being pushed by Fleshman. What IS this? Also, more please. Because it really feels good to push to your physical edge and live.
The anticipation of the ten-mile trail run kept me up at night. What if I got lost? What if I was injured? What if I could not keep up? Almost worst, what if I am two miles in and hate it and have to slug through eight more miles?
None of that happened.
I ran free. My feet pushed off of rocks, my body leapt over tree roots, my lungs breathed deeply, my calves were splattered with mud, and my eyes hungrily took in the changing landscape and the river meandering beside us. Running with a couple of the women on retreat, it felt more like we were eight years old laughing and running through a magical forest we invented, pigtails flying, without a single care. A smile, born from joy, did not leave my face for 10 miles. “Capture this moment” was my mantra.
Pure joy. As intended.
“What I learned …”
I learned that it is okay to admit your insecurities, and that in all likelihood you are not alone.
I overcame the paralyzing fear of reading unedited work to even a single person, and the power of a simple thank you in return.
And I came away with this:
Dare to be challenged.
Dare to be vulnerable.
Fiercely defend myself against the voices of my insecurities.
Say “fuck it” more.
Seize the opportunity to push beyond what is comfortable.
Laugh, cry, and love without reservation.