Runner? Writer? Quaker?

Who, me? That name would not have occurred to me.

What makes me a runner?
What makes me a writer?
What makes me a Quaker?

I think I’ve hinted about it before, but I’ll make an official announcement now. I started running this fall. More specifically, I am in phase VI of the program outlined by the Contemplative Scholar on her blog this spring. This is a very new thing for me. I haven’t run this much since my 10th grade P.E. class, and Mrs. Howe would tell you I didn’t run much back then either.

It’s funny to me how much of a difference it makes to say “I’m going for a run” than “I’m going for a walk.” I started telling myself “my run” when I was up to about six minutes total (out of a 30 minute walk) just to practice saying it out loud. I’m up to a grand total of 12 minutes now, but it’s framed by 10 minutes of walking to warm up and 10 minutes to cool down, so I’m still walking more than I’m running. Nonetheless, it feels accurate to say I’m running now. But I don’t think of myself as a “runner.”

What difference does it make? If I run, then I’m a runner. Any first grader can tell you that. But I have no interest in claiming the identity of a runner. I don’t want to hang out with other runners. (Partly, I’m still afraid they’ll laugh at me.) I’m not going to start buying running magazines. I’m not interested in entering races or raising money by running a marathon. I’ll be happy, I think, just to get up to 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and stay there. Frankly, I’d rather swim, but pools cost money and right now I’m better off running outdoors for free. My husband now, he’s the runner in our family. Me, I just need some exercise.

The question of whether or not to call myself a writer has been a struggle this summer, since technically that’s the work I’m supposed to be doing these days. How many hours a day or a week do I have to put into it to legitimately call myself a writer? One of the non-Quaker bloggers I read, Kristin of (Un) Veilings wrote about this identity dilemma last week. Her point is that the act of writing makes her a writer. But still she wonders how to tell people you're a writer if you don’t have anything to show for it. Well, this month, I have overcome one hurdle. My first print article since I started focusing on writing has been published in Friends Journal. It’s called “A Convergence of Friends.” Much of the content was originally written for this blog, but I pulled it together for a fairly long article. (This issue also features a great article by Martin Kelley.)

(I did have an article published in Friends Bulletin a couple of years ago, which was my debut as a published author. It was also featured in my meeting’s newsletter and my son’s school newsletter. You can read it here. For those who are following along at home, I wrote it the same weekend I started reading Edna St. Vincent Millay.)

I’m still not quite sure how much I’m prepared to claim the identity of a writer. I haven’t done any work to develop it as a craft. I’ve never taken a writing class or workshop. I think blogging has served some of the same purposes as a writing group. I feel obliged to write more frequently and I know other people will read it. I enjoy the feedback I get from readers. [Hint, hint.] I’m fortunate that Chris M. is a skilled editor. (Really. He used to work for Random House and everything.) As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the main problem is that I have to carve out the time to focus on writing. I understand that discipline is a problem all writers have – suddenly so many other things seem so important and interesting… But I suspect this is especially true for mothers, not to let the housework or childcare or committee work expand to fill all my waking hours. Virginia Woolf wrote an essay about the need for A Room of One's Own. So far, I've got a table in the hallway of my own.

Quaker? Now there’s an identity I claim proudly. I recently left a comment that now strikes me as unfortunately smug about how I am a Quaker not because the history is so cool or because the people in it are so amazing but because God called me to be a Quaker and hasn’t let me go. If it were a crime to be a Quaker, the circumstantial evidence would all be against me. I have shelves full of Quaker books, subscriptions to Quaker magazines, and a calendar full of Quaker appointments, not to mention this blog. I spout Quaker jargon without even thinking about it. Waiting in front of the meetinghouse on a Sunday morning would be a fine place to come to arrest me.

But is that what makes me a Quaker? If I run, I am a runner, whether I look like it or not. If I write, I am a writer. Do I quake?

Do I really believe that we can know God’s will and do it? Do I listen and follow God’s direction?

Have I been brought off from notions and left at the feet of my Inner Teacher? Do I bring others there too?

What are the ways my life testifies to the Light of Christ within me?

Is my life noticeably simple? In dress, speech and manners? Is it centered aright?

Am I at peace with All? Do I utterly deny all fighting with outward weapons?

Do I have enough integrity? Is there a congruity between the ways I earn my living and manage my household? Do I tell the truth? When? Where? To whom? How forcefully?

Am I part of a Quaker community? How much of my life do I give over? How much do I include my children?

Do I consider myself equal to others? How do racism, class-ism and homophobia affect me and my reactions to people?

Am I living a sustainable life?

How? In what ways? Compared to what or who?

And finally, do I wish to be part of the Religious Society of Antiquarians or do I see Quakerism as a living, fire-breathing faith?


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Blogger kwattles said...

The questions you ask towards the end are good as queries, rather than as criteria according to which one might be classed as a Quaker or not-a-Quaker. So the style you chose would indicate Quakerish tendencies.

However, the last question isn't a query but a false dichotomy. Why does being Quaker have to be "of the moment," without honor to the insights and experience of our predecessors and their efforts to pass it along? (Or vice versa?)

10/03/2006 9:03 AM  
Blogger Paul L said...

Wonderful post, Robin. And so was your article in Friends Journal. I hope both spark more conversation.

This post reminds me of something I heard once (was it Andrew Weil??) that is an interesting take on identiy questions: There is no such thing as disease; there are only sick people.

"Disease" is the convenient, useful concept for caring for sick people who are sick in very similar ways, but too much focus on the disease can lead one to forget the sick person.

I wonder whether religious identity is similar: There is no such thing as "Quakerism"; there are only people who call themselves Quakers.

The point is that we need both: If you don't know anything about the disease -- its etiology, biology, treatment, etc. -- you may have nothing to offer the sick person (or, at least not what they want the most). So if Quakerism doesn't have some kind of generally accepted content, what does it have to offer the world?

On the other hand, if all you focus on is the disease, or the visible church, you will fail to see the person and begin to treat him or her as an "it" rather than "thou."

So keep on running, keep on writing, keep on Quaking, keep on being.

10/03/2006 1:10 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

I'm imagining the questions as the police interrogations of an accused Quaker: "Do you or do you not admit that you believe that you are hearing God right now? Do you deny that you have compelled your children to attend Quaker meetings?"

My point about the Religious Society of Antiquarians is that I fear that too often we describe our faith as decrepit rather than dynamic. We can value our past without being hung up on looking old-fashioned. A recent example for me was the preference of Friends for antiquated looking typefaces rather than modern designs. I don't mean that traditional forms of worship are outdated - they appeal to me greatly.

Another interesting facet of all this is that my running is the part of my life that I have the clearest goals and in which I am achieving the most regular feeling of success - yet it's the part of my identity that matters least to me. Oh well.

10/03/2006 9:25 PM  
Blogger Nancy A said...

Hey, I'm a Quaker and a writer and a runner too! But I have never thought of an identity in these concepts. They're more verbs than nouns: I Quake, write, and run. The "I am" of identity is just the "me" of me.

However, this gave me a great deal to think about in the context of Quaking, writing and running.

BTW make sure you have very, very good shoes for running. I ran on average shoes and have the plantar fasciitis to show for it. Running ain't cheap either!

10/04/2006 7:18 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

A further update on the running front: as of today, I finally ran for 30 minutes in a row! This was a big goal for me, and I feel great.

10/31/2006 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on reaching the 30 minute running goal!

And this whole post is great! I bookmarked it a long time ago intending to respond -- sorry to be so late!

I too think a lot about identity issues. Your reflections and questions (queries) are wonderful!

11/30/2006 10:24 PM  

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