I’ve ridden my bike 12.2 miles daily for the past three years. The night before, I make sure my Airpods are charged, and I head out in the afternoon during the warmest temps of the day. I live in Arizona, where we had 85-degree weather this past winter. Regardless, my muscles curse the wind when it snarls and snaps. I do one of several things on my bike ride. If I’m in a Zoom meeting where I can use audio and don’t need my camera, I Zoom. If I’m not Zooming and zooming, I listen to writing podcasts such as “Let’s Talk Memoir,” “Longform,” or “Qwerty.” Or I listen to one of the many classes I signed up for but couldn’t attend in person, such as “The Writers Bridge,” classes from the Author’s Guild, or Jane Friedman. And I even take business meetings from my bike, praying the swishing sound isn’t a giveaway.
And if my head is spinning from being in too many writing classes, I listen to nothing. I pedal, my mind floating to all of my writing projects. I began writing essays in the past two years, so during my bike rides, I’m trying to figure out something about the many pieces I am embroiled in, such as Chinese Chorizo, the bra I’ve worn for 27 years, or My Unorthodox Life on Netflix. My mind also wanders to my 400k-word memoir (yes, you heard me right!) that I revise in my head. How can I cut the sucker down to 90k?
Besides riding a bicycle, I also run, walk the dog, lift weights, and do yoga. While all of these activities are wonderful, they are not relaxing. My mind doesn’t stop for a minute. Every exercise session is a writing session because I come up with a solution to a prickly problem I couldn’t have weaseled out of if I hadn’t hopped on a bike, grabbed a leash, or stuffed my feet into jogging shoes. Every waking hour of my life is consumed with writing.
I’m a single empty nester with two boys in their mid-20s who are doing wonderfully, and at this stage of my life, rather than worrying about them, I focus on writing 24 hours/day 7 days/week. I fall asleep thinking about writing. I wake up in the middle of the night pondering a dilemma. I hop out of bed at 3 am, ready to hit my computer, the coffee pot already humming. No matter how hard I try to calm my mind with exercise or meditation, I can’t. I have no boundaries.
The writing monster is always present, hatching new plans, assailing square footage in my brain.
I call my mom the OG of Pickleball, a racquet sport similar to Tennis, Ping-Pong, Racquetball, or Squash. She’s been playing for nine years and is one of the first to begin playing. Since she started, she’s been trying to get me to play, but I’ve always had an excuse—I run, mom. I prefer tennis. I don’t have time. Finally, last year I took her up on her offer. I took my first lesson. Since then, I’ve signed up for a ladder league on Tuesday nights when it’s chilly out, and the court lights give off a green monstrous glow. I also play Sunday evenings with my mom and my son, who I’ve recruited. At first, I couldn’t stand Pickleball. My mind couldn’t wander.
But now, I play Pickleball because my mind can’t wander. Pickleball is the only time I think about something other than writing. For 3-6 hours/week, a thought about an essay, my book, or an email I need to send doesn’t creep into my fidgety mind. My mind can only focus on one thing—the ball—getting the ball over the net, lobbing the ball, and striking my opponents’ feet with the ball. I’m thinking about my swift serve and keeping my feet out of the kitchen (not a real kitchen where you simmer soup but the name of the non-volley zone).
I’ve always giggled that my mom is such a competitive person. She plays to win. She was a women’s Racquetball player in the 80s when few women played and a female track runner in high school in the late 60s. But now, as I get older, I see my mom in myself. When I get on a Pickleball court, I also play to win. All of my angst and anger towards my writing life is released when I slam a ball, jump in the air to lunge for a ball, or run the net so fast to get a shot.
My mom plays three hours daily, at least six days a week. She just got back from a weeklong trip to Cancun, where all she did was play Pickleball. I’m nowhere close to her, but I can see myself edging up, making Pickleball a significant part of my daily life.
Writing has consumed my life and will continue to do so because it is my life. But my mind gets fatigued when I can’t shut it down, and we need a real break to produce our best work.
I will continue to cycle, run, walk, and weight lift because I love these activities, but recognizing that these aren’t natural breaks from writing, is essential.
So, what are you doing to shut down your mind? If you haven’t already, try a ball sport, like tennis, basketball, or volleyball, something that focuses you on anything other than writing.
And if anyone’s interested, I can begin a Pickleball for Writers support group. Just hit me up.
Dr. Tamara MC is a cult, child marriage, and human trafficking survivor/activist and cheerleads worldwide for girls and women to live free from gender-based violence. Her Ph.D. is in Applied Linguistics, and she researches how language is used to manipulate vulnerable populations. Tamara attended Columbia University for an MFA and has been honored with residencies/fellowships in places such as Bread Loaf, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Sewanee, Ragdale, Cave Canem, VONA, and VCCA. She’s published in prestigious outlets such as New York Magazine, Salon, The Independent, Food 52, Parents, and Thrillist. She is an empty-nesting mama to two sons in their mid-20s and a grandmamma to two feisty but adorable pups, a Boston Terrier and Australian Shepherd.