I'm not going to tell you to go run (or swim, hike, walk, or whatever). If you're on the couch, into a second beer, halfway through a bag of chips, and depressed, I'm sorry and will do you this favor: I won't tell you it all gets better when you get up and moving. Screw that. About all that's likely to do is piss you off.

There are good thinkers I read regularly. Leo Babauta is my favorite. Trigger warning: most of these are self-help people. Self-help is a laughable category, but sometimes I need someone to help me help myself. You know?

Most of this year those thinkers haven't gotten me to move far or often. At least physically. Mentally, I'm no longer in a terrible teaching job partly due to things I read. But physically it has been a different story.

I've been a runner for a while. Last year I ran thirty-five miles in loops run with a different friend or pair of friends. Last spring and summer I ran five or ten miles most every day to get ready for the big run. I was as motivated as I've ever been. Running was natural.

This year, not so much. I mean to run, but haven't made the time, haven't gotten into a routine, haven't set up a schedule. Not that I want a training plan. Even last year I didn't have any plan other than to run most every day. I'd head out the door, start my watch, then let my whim decide whether to turn right or left at the corner. I don't need a plan. I don't have goals. I just know I'm happier when I run.

Don't worry. I'm still not going to say that you will be happier if you run. Who the hell am I to decide that? And who wants to hear that crap? Not me.

I've meant to run. I've wanted to run. I just haven't run. And no amount of motivation has worked on me. Not the numbers on the scale, the aches in my potato body, or the understanding that running makes me feel better. None of it has worked.

But in the last seven days I've run four times.

My daughter joined her high school cross country team. She has friends on the team and needs the spirit of belonging to a team. She got the usual August mailing from the dance studio listing classes they'll allow her to take. Looking at it her face kind of fell. She likes dance but hasn't much enjoyed the dance school. It's a different kind of spirit. One that hasn't served her. She's going to run cross country in search of a different spirit. Last week she joined the team but her forms hadn't been processed.

"Coach says I should start running each day until I'm cleared to join the team. Will you go for a run with me?"

You bet your ass I will.

If you're feeling unmotivated and depressed, I'm sorry. I have no words of encouragement or life hacks. My solution involved my wife and I deciding to have a second child sixteen years ago. That might be longer planning than you're in for.

Still, nothing moves me more than my girl asking for time with her. She wants me to run with her? I'm in shorts and strapping on my sandals. Last year I ran thirty-five miles. If she asked me to go thirty-five today, I'd run until I couldn't any more. That's motivation.

Don't take this as advice, but if you're on the couch, maybe go see what your kid wants to do with you. Self-help turns out to be easy when it's not so much about the self.


I cannot quite conceive of how to write a book. I can imagine it but can't work out the nuts and bolts. My guess is that learning it requires doing it, like getting a mortgage to buy a house. I tried to read up on points and PMI, but didn't understand until my wife and I just bought a damn house and learned along the way. I'd like to think that just deciding to write a book I would learn how. Well, deciding and digging in.

It isn't like I haven't tried to write books. I wrote a pretty bad NaNoWriMo novel that has a few startlingly good moments. I drafted a hundred pages of a kind-of memoir. I planned out a book about writing Morning Pages and sketched another about good tools. I've made decisions and on occasion dug in. I've tried.

Except, I haven't really tried. Mostly I've come close to trying. I've thought about these books but haven't done the work over the long term. I'm not sure how to do that kind of work. Should I outline or let the book become what it needs to be? Is it too self-centered to write about myself? Fiction or non-fiction? Non-fiction for sure because I've seen how my "novel" turned out. Then again, I like some of that novel. Maybe fiction then? Under all this questioning, I stop.

Even if I do get going, I let other things interrupt (maybe to save myself from the risk of going forward) and I go down some sidetrack. The memoir went like that. I worked on it for a summer, but when school started I left it lying on the shelf for someday when I had time to get back to it. A year later I went back for a few pages, but had lost the feel. It seemed foreign to me or dead. I couldn't quite return.

I bet writing a book is all about returning. I've read that every book is a failure, but failures aren't full stops. They yield chances to return. I know a book comes from sitting down and writing, but it also springs from returning each time I wander away.

Return. Return. Return.

It reminds me of the carriage return on my old manual typewriter. The bell sounds near the end of the line and I throw the lever from left to right. New line. Return to typing. Return to writing. Return until the end of the line and return again until there is a book. It's so simple. Then why haven't I done it?

Returning often feels too difficult to attempt and so I put it off until later. Returning requires understanding, acceptance, a gentle touch with myself, and faith both in the process and my abilities.

I return to writing daily for Morning Pages, a blog entry, and other writing, but almost everything I write is done in a handful of sittings over the course of a day or two. A book requires returning to the same big idea daily for weeks, months, seasons, and years. Stephen King says he can write a book in a season. Good God. Dani Shapiro stays with a book for two to three years. Oh my. And George Saunders talked about the two years of revisions for his book. What? That kind of returning sounds otherworldly, superhuman, the works of the gods.

I'm easily distracted and interested in everything. I've been asked what my blog is about. It's about anything in which I have some interest. Last week it was writing about writing. Today it's how returning might make a book. Tomorrow it may be physical/emotional health. I want to write about it all. How could I stick to one thing and return to it again and again? Someone on the internet said the key is to have multiple projects going at once, but I can't get anything big done. Sigh. I just don't know.

When I first learned to cook I had trouble getting all the foods to the table at the same time. The rice would get dry or cold waiting for the chicken and the sauce would need ten minutes after the chicken was done. How do I time it all to come out together? Whoever was in the kitchen with me said, you'll figure it out in time. I was ten. I'm fifty now and, though there are the occasional screwups, I almost always get a full meal to the table, warm, ready to eat, and without much thought of how. It just works. I just make it happen.

I learn it by doing — making individual dishes into a meal, taking out a mortgage and buying a house, writing a book. I probably just need to try, return the next day, try, and return the day after that. Repeat as necessary. Faith and belief in the process and in myself will come along the way, right?

I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you. Speak up will you. Or just give me a push.