A ten minute writing exercise for a class I’m taking this semester, Ordinary Romanticism. The prompt: describe your ordinary.
The ordinary is the space in between steps, breaths, heartbeats—the inexplicable pause in flight as one hamstring stretches back, drawing bands of tendon across kneecap and retracting the foot in one long arc, the other thrusting forward, a transformation of flesh into energy, body translated across space. Running (every morning) begins in the gray fog of the Hudson, where I can barely detect outlines of old docks and a crane poised to rip rotting timber from the water. I live in Morningside Heights, close to Riverside Park and a few jogging paths, so I step outside and start running immediately, allowing the urban and the real to recede in my peripheral vision. When I am running, by the river, in January, my imagination flickers like a projector running scratched film. For an instant, I run along the Charles, another, a beach in South Carolina or Greece, or sometimes I return to the Cumberland—last summer, I injured my knee and could not run, only walk, past the Country Music Hall of Fame to the Cumberland Greenway. I enjoy revisiting that site of defeat and running past my tired and hurting, ancient, memorialized self.
If ordinary is defined in its negative term, that which is not extraordinary, then running is a paradox. It simultaneously celebrates an expression of the body extraordinary and frees the mind to fixate on nothingness. In The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Mishima describes the world as beautiful only in its reflexive state: as illuminated on a pond, in the moonlight, or reflective of the titular structure itself. Similarly, running and the ordinary are beautiful and coterminous because they capture the permanence of impermanence: the space in between the spokes, where the usefulness of the wheel can be found. And it is in the space between strides that the body and mind are, spiritually, in a state of ordinary perfection.