I had a conversation with a dear friend some years ago, about the circular nature of time.
While he was probably trying to share the excitement over some concept of physics, what I mostly got from this conversation is that somehow, no matter how far we may go, we will always wind up back where we started.
This is not always a bad thing.
More, I like to think of it as a checkpoint. Not a question of being the same over and over again, but of acknowledging what is different this time around. Because no matter how many times you may circle, I have found that only rarely are you the same person who stepped through that checkpoint a month, a year, ten years ago.
And so we find ourselves here. Starting – or perhaps documenting the changes – this time around.
Well, we’re back to circles.
Fifteen years ago, I lived on the Devon coast, and I did not run. My father was an incredibly talented athlete and competitive to boot, and had pushed me to run as a kid and younger teen. Unlike my father, I was not talented, nor competitive. What I was, was creative, quiet, and silently crumbling under the pressure of school exams, family expectations, and the early stages of a depression I did not talk about for years. So I did not run. I wrote.
Ten years ago, I was a student in the big city, and I did not write. Well, mostly. I still didn’t run; well, again, mostly. Suddenly free of the pressure cooker of life in Devon, I was free of the need to channel everything onto the page, and occasionally went out for a short jog up and down the canal. Neither running nor writing were happening much, but I had grown. Through it all, my father was my rock and we were thick as thieves, sharing all my adventures and laughing over terrible jokes on the phone. I called him the Old Wolf, and everyone around us agreed it was exactly what he was.
Then, without warning, he was gone.
Despite knowing intellectually that he was old, he defied it at every turn. Still irreverent. Still a runner. Still a champion. He was so full of energy, such a towering larger-than-life figure, I think we somehow came to believe he would be there forever.
When he wasn’t, it was as if the earth had shifted its orbit. Time stopped moving properly. The world no longer made sense.
So I began running.
Small steps. Painful steps. But I ran.
And time began moving again.
Five years ago, I was rebuilding my life from scratch after a hellish break up. In a single roomed flat with no proper heating and a rodent problem. In the time passed I had grown; become a martial artist, found my competitive side, competed, strived, got stronger, gone after the grades and progressed one at a time. I had run, and found the joy in doing so. Without realising, I had become more like him month on month and year on year, and when I needed it most, that gave me the strength to do what I had to, and start over.
I was stronger, but I was mute, and I was crumbling still.
And that was when the words came back. Slowly, at first, and then all at once, spilling from me to paper, to keyboard, to scraps of receipts and draft text messages and anywhere I could put them down fast enough, and they had found me again. Right when I needed them most. When I couldn’t speak, I wrote, but this time around what I had written I shared. In pubs, at coffee shop open mics; I took the fear turning me to jelly and rode it until those spaces became home and the people I met became friends and I could not imagine life without it.
Circles. Cycles on cycles, spiralling out through the years, leading me, eventually here. A writer who runs. A runner who writes. No longer choosing between the broken pieces but gluing them together with footfalls and hillsides and metaphors and poems until finally, the answer was there.
Sometimes, you have to go back where you started to move forward.
2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Old Wolf’s death.
And so this is the year I go back. I left in pieces. I am returning whole.
2018 is the year I chose to cover the length of the South West Coast Path, which I grew up walking sections of with him, and which we had at one time planned to hike together. But I am going back as a runner – not a competitive runner like my father, not a talented runner, but a runner nonetheless.
This is my attempt to document the stories, the ups, downs and unexpected detours of the trail. To put into poems the things that only made sense on the run. To run the poems out of my legs until time starts moving like it makes sense again.
Sometimes, starting out is really just checking in. One poem, one run, at a time.