I’m training for the NYC women’s only 1/2 marathon on April 25th. I’ve never done anything like this before. Until this training I’d never run more than 3 miles. It feels good to be in decent shape and amazing that no matter what happens on race day, I’ve already run 10 miles! The problem is, however, that like so many of the things I do, my interest level shifts almost immediately from casual to obsessive and suddenly my hobbies or diversions are just more responsibilities or commitments.

My life is pretty fragmented or piecemeal. I’m a mother, a wife, a writer. I’m also a labor doula, a professor, a student/apprentice (finishing an intensive, 2-year training to become a childbirth educator); I’m a runner, a blogger, a friend…

The good thing is that I’m NEVER bored (what would THAT feel like?) The bad thing is that I’m almost always overwhelmed. Also, it’s very unclear to me what is good for me and what I should let go of. Let’s assume that my primary “job” is writing. So, then, does regular exercise make me a better writer because it keeps me sane and healthy or does it make me a worse writer because it takes up so much time (and takes away from my writing time)? Or, let’s assume that my priority is my family—is my running good for them? Is my writing?

It’s clear to me that I’m doing too much. I’m anxious and strung out. I keep saying, “oh, as soon as this is over…” But I’ve been saying that for years. It’s less clear what to cut and what to keep. I’d like to keep the children and certainly won’t skip out of my students (the semester’s almost over anyway) and getting divorced seems like WAY more time and trouble than trying just a little bit now and then to be nice to my husband. But, everything else seems up for consideration. The problem of course is that I barely have time to figure out what to cut and what to keep.

I have an hour before I need to go and pick up my kids from daycare/school and was sitting here wondering if I should go running or write a new blog post when really I’d like to work on a poem I started weeks and weeks ago if I could even find that notebook. I’m a run behind and I haven’t even typed up the blog post I wrote longhand on the plane home from AWP. Then I remembered something that poet-writer-teacher-mother Julianna Baggott told me once (and she does so much it makes me feel whoozie). She said, don’t let motherhood steal your muse time. It’s true that being a mother (or a wife, teacher, doula, runner) takes TIME but the time in the shower, while nursing, or driving—Julianna said not to use that time too. Don’t think about whether or not you have cheerios when you’re in the shower, she said. (I do this ALL the time!)

So, I’m off to do a shortish run and I am NOT going to bring my iphone and fill my head with podcasts and music. I’m not going to spend my run worrying about whether or not I’m spending too much time running or rehashing the decision to say yes to blogging. I’m going to try to protect my muse time and see what happens. Maybe I’ll have something interesting to say when I get back and maybe I won’t.

After: The problem with running without my iphone is that without my runkeeper program I have no way of knowing how fast I’m going and how far. This was sort of the point: just go, just be, just think. But I found it difficult to enjoy the run and kept worrying that this run—unrecorded, measured—didn’t count. The cherry blossoms are beautiful on the bridal path right now. I had to reign in my regret at not being able to photograph them for this post. But that was the point, right?

I’ve wondered, from time to time, if I do these non-writing things in part to separate the desire for external recognition, for a sense of life-progress from my writing because writing isn’t very good for that and I don’t want to get caught up in publication or poetry productivity as a sign of success or failure. But, trying to run through the anxiety of not being locatable without my GPS and not being measured, I came back to one of the things that I’d written down about what I wanted my poetry to do: make me real to myself. Is the writing just another kind of GPS? In the past I’ve said that writing is my only respite from the machinations of my mind—a clean space. But maybe writing is just another way, for someone like me who feels, despite my many responsibilities and commitments that I’m not really real, not really here, not really locatable, trackable, even to myself, to make sure I am. Maybe I’ve signed up for all this stuff to make sure I show up?

Originally Published: April 17th, 2010

Poet and educator Rachel Zucker was born in New York and grew up in Greenwich Village, the daughter of novelist Benjamin Zucker and storyteller Diane Wolkstein. She earned her BA at Yale University and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.   Zucker’s expansive yet lyrical poems interrogate and deftly...