My father was obsessed with Jim Fixx, the out-of-shape heavy smoker who, in mid-life, discovered the joys and running and became one of the early proponents of running as exercise in the 70s and 80s. That's not what my dad cared about. He cared about the fact that Fixx died of a heart attack at the age of 52, thus giving my dad a convenient (and implausible) excuse to never, ever exercise. Running didn't extend Jim Fixx's life, and that, as far as my dad was concerned, would have been the only benefit of running.

I'm a runner (when I'm not hobbling around on crutches, like I have been for the past month). I don't run to live longer, although that would be nice. I don't run because of any theoretical health benefits down the line, although I believe I'll get some health benefits out of it. I run because I feel better now, in the moment, when I run. I run because when I'm at my active best, every moment is inscribed with a new power and vitality that aren't available when I'm at my slovenly worst (and I know those times too).

I'm thinking about starting points and goals as I begin the impossible climb from writing for myself to trying to get a work published for the world to see.  At first I was frustrated, almost demoralized by the task ahead. But then I realized I was slipping into that unhealthy way of thinking, a mercenary instrumentalism that views things as good only insofar as they lead to desirable ends. If a goal is all there is, why write at all if the goal is a distant and improbable one? 

But the goal isn't the point (it's nice, but not the point). Wrangling thoughts onto a page is a better way for me to live now, in the moment.  As John Dewey said:

Such happiness as life is capable of comes from the full participation of all our powers in the endeavor to wrest from each changing situations of experience its own full and unique meaning.
For me that means mentally engaging with the themes of the world through commentary and storytelling (and a lot of running). It doesn't matter whether the resulting pages ever see the light of day. What matters is the striving, pushing against the obstacles of experience. Spinoza called this striving the conatus, and thought it to be the defining characteristic of humanity. Goals--pick one, any one--were just convenient excuses against which to exert our power, a conatus-machine devouring everything in its wake. That pretty much sounds like the writing life, for no sooner is a goal obtained than a new one--with a quickly approaching deadline--takes its place.

Obviously I'll become a famous author and the pages I write will be spread far and wide. That's a foregone conclusion (my goodness, I've started a blog; how could I possibly fail now!). Still, I'll choose Jim Fixx and run and write even if the running and the writing get me nowhere. Because nowhere is a fine place to be.


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    A former student and teacher of philosophy, I write a daily stock market/humor column for a major financial organization from my home base north of Austin, Texas. If I find any words lying around after deadline, I stuff them into a novel-in-progress. It turns out that these are usually the wrong words.


    May 2013