10-Year Challenge, Blogging, Buddhism, Coaching, Community, Confidence, Faith, Family, Fitness, German language, Gratitude, Growing up gay, Idealism, Identity, Living in Hawaii, Marathon training and running, Middle Age, Poetry, Teaching, Teenagers, Tess Gallagher
I have to admit: I gave in to the latest fad for 2019: The 10-Year Challenge!
For me — not that I was trying to raise the stakes — it was actually The 15-Year Challenge as that amount of time rushed past between the guy on the left running hard and fierce, and the far more mellow dude on the right pleasantly exhausted after a 20-mile training run.
I know, this could also be called The How Well (or Not So Well) Have I Aged Challenge!
My identity as a runner has been a constant for nearly 20 years. It’s nicely intertwined with my identity as a tennis player for 40 years, as a poet for even longer, as a practitioner of the German language most of his life to honor his maternal grandfather, as an openly gay man around the time I took up distance running seriously, and as a believer all his life of fate linked to faith.
I encouraged my students in German class and in my poetry workshop this week to enjoy discovering their identities, to redefine themselves if needed at different times in their lives, but to try to hold true to their identities as long-term commitments, to my mind, are usually beneficial as long as they can be translated into kind, creative contributions to communities that make the world better, be they running groups, gatherings of poets and artists, linguists who promote appreciation of different cultures, tennis players who can bring the sport as instructors to young people to give them confidence and joy.
Boy, is this getting a little serious!
I also have urged my students to have fun (and be safe) in exploring who they are and who they might become.
I was all of 17 when I applied to be accepted into classes and a workshop taught by Tess Gallagher when I went to college. I was a bit too serious when I studied creative writing with this remarkable poet. At that age and in that era, it’s certainly no surprise I was insecure and terrified of being a gay man. Tess and some my classmates urged to me to be less formal, to relax, to square my shoulders and be more confident, to try to have a little fun in finding my identity as a poet and as a person.
It took me decades of living in different countries and parts of the United States before I landed in Hawaii, the proud husband of a linguist and father of a stunning young girl who loves poetry in German and English!
I’m so grateful to Tess, my family, and many friends and teachers for all their patience and wisdom, for how kind they were to take notice of the Ugly Duckling I believed myself to be who has now run 24 marathons, published poetry, taught, played way too many tennis matches and — most important of all — learned to enjoy life.
While the runner on the right shown in the picture at the beginning of this post is a lot slower than the younger version of himself, I’m also a lot happier and more comfortable with who I’ve become.