Have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way

The other night, my friend Bill told me I have to write another post because he’s sick of reading about mushrooms every time he clicks on this blog. While I’m flattered that anyone still bothers to come here after I’ve spent so much time away, the truth is, I’ve been feeling as if I’ve written myself out. I’ve finished a draft of “How to Cook a Moose” and am awaiting edits from my editor, and meanwhile, I’m working on a couple of personal essays that feel like the end of this autobiographical half-century-mark phase I’ve been in. I’m good and ready to dive into a new novel I’ve been mulling over, which I suspect my other editor will be happy to hear. I’m excited to leave my own life back on shore and head down into the depths of an imagined world.

One of the essay assignments I’m currently working on concerns the New Nordic Diet, which I’ve been following for a month now, except for a lovely hiatus when I went down to spend four days in Austin, Texas for the Kirkus Award party and panel. Down there, it was 90 degrees and sunny, and I ate barbecue and breakfast tacos and drank tequila with wild, happy abandon; the New Nordic diet advocates eating local food, in season, and when are breakfast tacos ever out of season? And they’re definitely local.

Back in Maine, I’ve been hewing closely to the diet again. I made a hearty moose stew with Maine buckwheat flour, red wine, duck fat, beef broth, and root vegetables; I’ve been eating plenty of late-fall greens and wild-caught salmon and oatmeal with blueberries, and no processed food whatsoever. This is the way I like to eat, anyway, so it’s certainly no hardship. And now that it’s suddenly dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, and the leaves are gone, and the air is chilly and grey, this northern way of eating feels instinctive and comforting. Of course, I haven’t lost any weight, even though I’ve been exercising a lot, but then again, I’m hardly starving myself. The diet doesn’t involve any calorie counting or restricted portions.

Yesterday, as I do fairly often these days, I ran more than five miles without stopping. I’m proud that I can do this. I’m not going to break any land-speed records, but I’m in it for increased stamina and wind. I plug along like the tortoise in the Aesop fable, like the little engine that could, watching Brendan spin off on his long, fast, cartoon roadrunner, 32-year-old legs, leaving me far behind. But then, a couple of miles later, I catch up to him when he’s done sprinting and stops to walk, and then I leave him behind in my slow-and-steady wake for the rest of my run. He’s a sprinter, a poet, a screenwriter; I am a distance runner, a novelist. To each his own style, to each his own pace.

These days, I’m recalling, as I run, what training for the New York marathon felt like more than 12 years ago. I remember how fit I was at 40, how fast I whipped myself into shape to run a sub-four hour marathon, having never run distance before. I was still young back then, and much faster, but I’m stronger now because of Pilates. I can feel my upper back and arms and core working as I charge up hills, feel my shoulder blades spreading like wings as I pump my elbows. My whole style of running has become more efficient and aerodynamic, now that my top half is as strong as my bottom half.

Running is a lot like writing novels: when you get tired, speed up. When you’re winded, slow down. Hydrate, underdress, and don’t think about how far you have to go, just focus on where you are now. Don’t try to go too fast, but push yourself. It may be a stretch, but the parallels are clear and unmistakable to me.

The reason I’m thinking this way is that I’m ready to disappear into a novel again. It’s a whole different way of writing from personal essays, autobiography, nonfiction. Instead of focusing on what’s around me and inside my head, my memories and sensory experience, it requires me to create and build and sustain a parallel life that’s tethered to my head like a balloon I climb up into every day and stay in for hours. Or maybe it’s a bathysphere, to continue my metaphor of submersion in water.

I haven’t written a novel for a number of years, but like running, it’s something my muscles know how to do instinctively because I’ve spent so many sustained months and years doing it. But even so, starting a new one is always hard, like starting distance running after a long time away from it. At the beginning of a novel, I get out of breath easily. I can’t seem to steady my pace. I overheat. I pull muscles and get cramps and often need to take a break. I feel flabby and uncoordinated. I watch faster runners whip by me.

The only trick I know is just to keep at it. As with running, there’s no other way: slow and steady, every day, rain or shine.

Breakfast of Nordic Champions

In a covered saucepan, cook ½ cup organic steel-cut oats in 1 cup of water and a pinch of salt. Add a dash of maple syrup and another of cinnamon. Stir a few times while it cooks, adding more water as necessary. When the oats are almost done, add ¾ cup wild low-bush blueberries and stir well and let simmer a few more minutes. When it’s hot, serve in a big bowl with a handful of chopped toasted almonds.


About Kate Christensen

eater, citizen, enthusiast, curmudgeon
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18 Responses to Have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way

  1. jilly w says:

    I’ve always been curious about strictly following the Nordic Diet! Also, I am inspired now to leave my work desk at 2 PM where I’ve been crunched over my laptop eating Godiva chocolates (no joke) and go for an afternoon jog. Also inspired to eat a moose. Thank you!

  2. Charlotte says:

    The dark! The dark! I’m not ready for 4:30 sunsets and yet, here they are. Sigh.

  3. Kate,

    I am a bookseller in Norwich Vermont and love reading your blog. I have sold all of your books for years and KNOW that there is a novel waiting to be born. I can’t wait to ask you to come to read from it for us in a few years.

    This is what I made for dinner tonight.
    Polenta with butternut squash/onions/ sausage/ whatever

    Start cooking the polenta, adding grated butternut squash after about 10 minutes. Meanwhile in a skillet, saute onions–the more the merrier. When you think the time is right, add cut up sausage links and cook very slowly. Tonight, I had some brussel sprouts sitting around and cooked and then added them to the onion mix.

    Add parmesean and butter to the finished polenta, pile into a bowl and cover with the onion mixture. Good and satisfying comfort food.

  4. This post is so timely. I hit the mid-century mark last year and recently took up running (Sept. 23, 2014 – it’s etched into my brain like a sobriety date). My first foray into running was 2 years ago and ended badly after just one week when I leapt over my dawdling Beagle, landed miserably, and sustained a rather serious knee injury.
    I’m six weeks into my second go. I can’t believe that I am doing this thing and that my body is changing in all the right and good ways. I am reading Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I was delighted to find your post and read about your take on running and writing. Thank you so much!

  5. Love your take on writing and running. Struggling with both right now but have to believe my muscles remember what to do and hope to increase my running and writing. Going out in the morning for a run with my group. Here’s hoping I come home and write for awhile.

  6. Howard, Gerald says:

    Your other editor is pleased to read this post.


  7. jules says:

    So glad to see you back. Your writing is delightful, and I always check for a new one post.

  8. timothynh says:

    See you on the other side of the novel…

  9. Tammy says:

    I make oatmeal the same way and I add honey and walnuts .. a yummy winter breakfast but it’s really never winter in Florida. I can relate the staying with a project such as writing .. I’m on day 92 with my paintings and I am seriously excited about forging through the hard days of making myself stick to the commitment of painting and writing every day .. my last two weeks of stories have sucked while closing the estate of my mother ..too much emotional physical exhaustion. But that is all coming to a close today and there will be no more going through STUFF. I’ve spent an entire year of my life doing that. I’m ready to paint the world …….. and i will …
    I’m sending you good writing vibes and mountains of imagination and stamina as you head into your novel.. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Reading, Writing and Running | where my feet are

  11. Bill says:

    So good to have your blog back to provide succor and nourishment as the days grow shorter and colder. Still harvesting greens from the garden, there’s a big bag waiting for you when you return from New Hampshire.

  12. Deb F says:

    Moose and oatmeal. Comfort food, indeed. I’ve never commented before but I’m echoing the sentiments of others – I’ve missed your posts. Welcome back.

  13. Evy says:

    I hope you pop in now and then to this place to feed your devoted blog readers even if its just a scrap! Love your blog and your writing!

  14. Holly says:

    I’m here all the time looking for new posts! You must have heard by now: even the way you write about daily life is enough to keep us coming back. I’m going to re-read Blue Plate Special this weekend because I’m remembering that it inspired me to write about my early food experiences, but that I haven’t started yet. Thanks for the inspiration!

  15. Naomi says:

    I’m with your friend Bill, have been hoping to see a new post from you. Thank you for your writing and running analogy. I found it helpful and encouraging as I’m hoping to pursue one of those activities and renew my acquaintance with the other. I recently made your fish soup recently twice and found your recipe made me more focused and present. Thank you.

  16. Ken from County Cork says:

    Can you write another post because I’m sick of reading about your friend Bill every time I click on this blog ! 😂

  17. Bill says:

    me too… fuck that guy Bill

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