Last month, I went on vacation to the beach with my family. Half my family. There were twenty of us.
I have a big family.
Also, it was awesome.
Anyway, that first morning my mom came upstairs to the breakfast room and asked the table of us who were eating pancakes and sipping coffee and looking like people generally on vacation if any of us would be up for a walk on the beach.
I should backtrack a second.
When I was growing up, my parents’ idea of vacation was to do two mountain hikes a day. Also, my dad played soccer until I was in high school and he had to have back surgery. Also, my mom played softball until she broke her wrist sliding into home plate after an in-the-park homerun. I watched her do it.
Also, I am not athletic.
Let me backtrack even further: I used to at least be in decent-ish shape. I’d been a distance runner (it was the one sport I could do, even with my appalling lack of coordination), and even though I stopped running, I was pretty much in some sort of shape until Kid #2 was born. Not now. Today, in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d probably die first.
So anyway, back to that breakfast table… we all kind of grunted into our coffee, knowing what a walk from my mom meant (it means speed walking and arm pumping and her kicking your ass, which isn’t really my thing, if I’m being totally honest).
So we all grunted various versions of hell no, and then my mom leaned over and whispered in my ear, so nobody else could hear, “Are you scared you won’t keep up?”
Okay, actually, that’s a lie. What she really said was, “Is that your second plate of pancakes?” But I heard what she meant. So that first day, I pushed back my chair, saluted, and said, “I accept your challenge.”
And my aunts all kind of gave me this look, like, “You are such a sucker.”
But then I left them home with my two kids, and all I could think was, “You guys are a bunch of suckers.”
That first day, I kept up okay. We took our flip-flops off and speed-walked (really freaking fast, I might add) half in the water, half on the sand. My mom even patted my shoulder after and said, “You didn’t suck.”
Okay, actually she said, “I hate sand.” But you get the picture. I find the compliments where I can.
So, the second day, my mom issues this challenge, and my dad stands up and says, “I accept.” They both give me The Look, like they’re thinking, Is this seriously our kid? Where did we go wrong? I scrape the remaining eggs into my mouth, salute them again, take a really long time finding my flip-flops, and meet them out front.
My dad falls behind. Not far behind, but enough behind that if we were counting (which we totally were), he’d be the loser. So here’s the thing about my 64-year-old father. He can run. Which he starts to do. Right then. Yes, as my mom and I are realizing that he’s totally losing and is going to be the loser and ha ha ha aren’t we in better shape than him, he starts to freaking run. He blows by us both, and my mom curses under her breath (she does not run), and I think, you have got to be kidding me, and I start to run.
This is how it works in my family.
I have not run, honestly, except for the phone, since I graduated high school. I am 31. It’s not pretty.
So we leave my mom in the dust, and we’re running, and I’m thinking, Ugh, running hurts. Since when did running hurt? Oh crap, I’m out of shape.
My dad keeps giving me these sidelong glances, and I am giving them right back. We are dying. Both of us.
So obviously he says, “Faster?”
So I try.
I do not go any faster. My legs will not physically turn over any faster, so I say, “My legs will not physically turn over any faster.” And he grins. He leaves me in the freaking dust.
But at least I don’t lose.
Meanwhile, my mom steps on a sea urchin, thus putting an end to all morning challenges.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this recently. I’ve been a long-time-believer in mind-over-matter, back to the days when I actually ran distance. Mind over matter gets you to the finish line.
But that run on the beach was like this great cosmic message for me. You can mind-over-matter yourself to finish. But you can’t mind-over-matter yourself to get there any faster.
I guess I’ve been thinking about this as I throw out draft-after-draft and have finally found myself more than halfway through a draft that, I’m pretty sure, will stick. I can sit at the computer every day and hit a word count, but I can’t get to the heart of a story any faster.
But today, I am more done than not done. I can see the end. I can hear the last line, waiting to be written. In the meantime, I've just got to write everything between here and there.
(Also, for the record, even when I was in the best shape of my life, I never beat my dad in a race.)