Being Bad

I get my best ideas when I’m running.

For the first couple miles…nothing. It takes me a while to find my groove. So I count my steps and listen to the sound of Lake Michigan crashing against the path.

And I run farther.

I watch the other runners and imagine what their morning has been like. We’re out here together, but we keep to ourselves. That’s how we like it.

And I keep going.

Then, a breakthrough. My music fades away. Everything is a blur. I’m running, but my mind is elsewhere. 

Now I’m working.

I’m mentally rehearsing or writing my next Thursday Thoughts. I’m memorizing a list or dreaming up new bits for the show. I’m more creative than I’ve ever been.

I don’t look at my phone on a run. E-mail and Twitter can wait. I turn on Do Not Disturb and nothing gets in the way.

I have to run far away from my condo to get in the right mind set. I need to leave the dull pounding of construction and traffic behind so I can free my mind. If nothing else, I need an escape from those Washington Post notification alerts, each more scary than the last, that warn of the impending deterioration of the very foundation of modern American democracy.

So I run.

Or at least I used to.

But sometime last year I woke up and I couldn’t walk. I could barely stand. It was all I could do to get moving, let alone head to the airport and fly to my next show.

I had suffered an extreme injury in both feet and I had to stop running altogether. As a result, my daily routine changed dramatically. I had to learn to work differently. It was rough.

My physical therapist broke the news to me: “Your feet aren’t really built for running.” He promised me we could change that but that it would take a long time.

He wasn’t lying.

I’ve been trying to get back out there off and on all year long. Sometimes it feels good, but most of the time it’s agonizing. I’m still in pain and my new orthotics aren’t quite right. And even worse, I lost all my progress. I’m a horrible runner now.

I miss the open air and the silent camaraderie of my fellow runners. I miss the moment when I stop counting my steps and start feeling creative.

I miss running.

In the past few days I’ve noticed some slight progress. Slowly I’m feeling more positive about my training again. Will this be the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for?

I hate being bad at something. Especially something I know I was decent at once before. But I’m learning to let go of my expectations and enjoy the process. I’m starting over but this time I’m able to approach it with more experience than I did before. I’m doing it the right way this time.

It occurred to me this week that to have a career in a creative field you must be able to be bad at many things. At least for a while.

When I was starting out onstage I had no mentor or guidebook. I just knew I wanted to be a performer. So I copied other performers, hoping I’d find my own voice somewhere in the process. 

I stole their jokes and their style and wore it like a loose glove. Eventually I dropped the jokes that didn’t fit me and made changes to the ones that did. I stopped trying to be someone else and started accentuating the things I’m good at. I was constantly aware of what was unique to me and what wasn’t.

I still am.

But slowly, my imitation has turned to emulation. But it took years of struggle to get there. I had to give myself permission to question and fail and rediscover and progress on my own terms.

And that’s what I’m trying to do with my running now. As hard as it is, I know that getting good starts with being bad.