I am a runner.

By mile 5 of the Oakland Half Marathon, a woman held up a sign that evoked as much truth as a shoddily constructed piece of poster board with faded Sharpie can possibly relay: “Any idiot can run,” the poster board claimed.  “But it takes a special kind of idiot to run a [half] marathon.”

I chuckled because deep laughter from the belly would have surely caused me to yak all over the woman and the sign.  At worst, such a feat would have elicited public embarrassment for both parties – at best, I could stand by my claim that a Sharpie and puke laden sign is a far more credible, legitimate text than anything produced by the State of Texas.

Runners may not be morons, per se, but the activity we choose to dedicate our lives can be construed as counterintuitive.  For example, at mile 5, I was given a substance called “Gu.”  One would suppose, in the state of California, that something called “Gu” would have put me in a mild, psychedelic trance whereby I would feel compelled to pick up a glow stick and contemplate how stupid running 5 miles is.  In fact, “Gu” is universal in any decent long-distance race that cares about your being alive by the time mile 13.1 or 26.2 hits.  It is a 100-calorie, energy goo (Yes, aren’t we clever, marketing department?) wrapped in the same package that astronauts open to suck their food.  Except, rather than heaving a chicken in our respective mouths, runners are forced to digest a substance with the consistency of silly putty.  I know this because I am a moron, once a child, who ate silly putty.  Alas, those days have been replaced with running long distances.

By mile 6, the cups of water cease to be clear and turn into a transparent red.  For decent human beings, it is the color of cherry kool-aid – for recent college graduates who had frugal social lives, it is the hue of a well-mixed jungle juice served in a dilapidated house.  By this time, the body loses so much fluid that water retaining electrolytes, diluted in liquid, become the supposed drink of choice.  In all honesty, I like it because it tastes like cherry kool-aid and not jungle juice served to me by a drunken boy in lobster patterned shorts leaning on a fence that is about to fall over.  This, of course, is personal preference as some individuals attest to necessity of electrolyte ridden sports drinks.

This charade of consuming booger-like gel packets and brah-mixed drinks continues until mile 9.  By this time, legs begin to cramp and the normal word to profanity ratio begins to tip in favor of the latter.  By mile 10, a Korean Bar-B-Que parked on the side of the road, emanating smells of deliciousness becomes the subject of a “FUCK YOU, I AM RUNNING A RACE.”  By mile 11, the entire race ceases to be about the runner ahead of you – it becomes a psychological game based on endurance and distance rather than time or competition.  Every person has an Emilio Estevez in the folds of their psyche – that voice of indeterminate Latino origin wielding a hockey stick who beckons you to continue running for various reasons.  It pervades the mind, deafens the seventh rotation of “Imma Be” by the Black Eyed Peas.  I continued in the heat, dehydration and cramps under the auspice of, I kid you not, my own privilege: “Running this last mile is not hard,” I told myself.  “You know what is hard? Being a refugee. Your parents were fucking refugees.  On a boat.  ON A BOAT.”  Emilio, it is difficult to argue with you.

The question so becomes, why subject the body to incredible pressure, to horrendous music, and to guilt that white people like to burden themselves with?  Why participate in what is supposedly stupid, counterintuitive, and requires an unnatural exertion of the body?  Why partake in an activity that demands an enormous amount of time, energy, and concentration – that necessitates a near daily investment for returns understood by few (even among fellow runners)?

A half-marathon is 13.1 miles – by mile 13, the finish line comes into view.  It is one of the few moments in my life in which I find generic, Arial bold font to be utterly gorgeous.  A crowd lining the sides of last tenth mile roars in raucous noise – in screams, in drums, in horns, in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”  Arms flail from the cluster of spectators, everyone is eager to high five the runners no matter the affiliation or the performance.  Someone screams, “Bob!” and you respond with a yell despite being named not Bob.  An empty stretcher rolls across the path during a gap between runners – it is humorous and ironic at mile 13 rather than onerous, terrifying, and possibly prophetic at mile 8.  To your peripheral vision on your right is a clock – it flashes the marathon time, the time of what could be.  On your left is half marathon split – the time that you had eagerly anticipated in both fear and excitement.  Imagine the euphoria of setting a goal that you perceived to be out of reach to the point of nearly recanting it minutes before start time – I saw a time that bested that goal by nearly 3 clock minutes or 5 chip minutes.

For many, running is not just a form of fitness.  It is not merely about burning calories, about passing time, or about finding a socially acceptable venue to play “Party in the USA.”  On a personal level, it is about trusting that this mind, this body, and these legs will take me the distance that I want to go – that when I say “13.1 miles” I will follow through and complete the 13.1 miles, that when I say “1:55:00,” I can somehow find the reserve of energy for “1:52:01.”  More often than not, I fall short.  I walk a hill.  I find an excuse to stretch.  I fumble with my iPod shuffle because Regina Spektor should be relegated to hipster make out sessions, rather than pacing.  These runs are infuriating and always end with a lament of how old and brittle I have become at 23.

Yet it is the few runs when everything aligns, when the fanciest of equipment and the extra electrolytes become irrelevant and secondary to will power, that reinforce the justification to continue the mileage.  Runners are special idiots that try hard, perhaps, because we are idiots.  At least this idiot is experiencing a wave of “runner’s high,” hinged on finally aligning thought and action – and avoided spewing Gu and electrolytes all over that woman.

I am wanting to be a writer.

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer.

I wanted it so badly that I wrote about being a writer.  I told other writers to write about my wanting to be a writer.  I convinced myself that now that said writer has written about my wanting to be a writer, I should go forth and write so that the writing of my becoming a writer would be not be rendered fiction.

In fact, when I graduated, my high school newspaper, the equivalent of a poorly constructed ink blot, profiled its top graduates.  Per the stereotype of immigrant communities who deeply care about their not living in a cardboard box, everyone wanted to be a doctor, an engineer, or a pharmacist.  This girl looked at the profile writer and told her to write about my being a writer.  I wanted to write films.  I wanted to write books.  I wanted to write articles.  I wanted to be the Vietnamese American version of Martin Scorsese, Amy Tan, and Katie Couric — except far less Catholic and questionably obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio, Asian and incapable of making metaphors to anything aside dragons, and irritating to the point of aneurysm.  And since no one knew what and where the hell a Georgetown University was, no one saw the irony in all of it.  Not even me.  Well, except my parents who told everyone that I wanted to go to law school and become, essentially, the Governor of Texas.

The writing life that I had dreamed, written, and asked other people to write about on my behalf was given to me in the form of my senior year.  I had proposed and was granted an entire year to eat, sleep, think, and shit writing in the form of a thesis.  And that I did, every day, for an entire academic year — and experienced the life of a self-important, unnecessarily tortured, highly caffeinated to the point of neuroses wordsmith.  It was, apparently, exactly what I wanted.

My entire life was scheduled around the construction of sentences.  On Mondays, I would walk to the Starbucks a few blocks away from my apartment and sit on the second floor with my standard glass of iced, black coffee with a shot of, “woe is me, I am an artist” espresso.  On a good Monday, I would produce two paragraphs worth of useable prose, to be cleaned by my life mentor/thesis advisor.  I would walk into my living room, glowing as if I had cured fucking cancer, and inform my roommates, that I had constructed 15 adequate sentences.  My roommates, all of whom were resolving African famine and war in their respective research papers, would look at me as if I were bat shit crazy.

On a bad Monday, I would feel compelled to write a poorly constructed letter to the Starbucks Corporation informing them that their adult contemporary rotation was God awful bullshit and that their repertoire (and my soul) could highly benefit from the musical styling’s of Mariah Carey circa “Always Be My Baby.”  I would leave the second floor, high strung from no-prose-progress, and would walk into my living room and play “Always Be My Baby.”  The world of writing, it seemed, was one of exceedingly high highs and insanely low lows.

I saw the world in writing — a world of heightened senses and an attention to peculiarities.  Mid-project, I experienced, processed, and saw everything in prose — when a leaf fell from a tree, I extrapolated some ridiculous life metaphor from it, immediately translated the appearance of the leaf into a series of adjective ridden, multiple clause descriptions.  The color, the shadow, the sway and swing of its fall, the way it looked in comparison to the backdrop (and its respective hue).  It was, by far, the most pretentious period of my life, yet the world is more beautiful when experience is liquidated into prose (as opposed to tripping on a pile of leaves and thinking, “God damn it, nature.  God damn it.”)

I cared, perhaps far too much.  I once sat with my thesis advisor for an hour and a half, thumbing through various hard covered references for the sake of rearranging the words of one sentence.  I would spend hours ignoring the reality around me because I was entirely in my head, reconstructing memories, envisioning the taste, the scent, and the noise of the truth I had supposedly witnessed and felt compelled to relay.  This was, perhaps, my biggest struggle — I thought so much of the past in my writing life, yet was attempting to balance it with forward thinking, future driven timeline of social justice work.  I was never in one temporal space.

It mattered so much that I hardly ate.  It mattered so much that I rarely ever slept, at least soundly.  It mattered so much that the off-white color of the library walls had a healthier, more radiant glow than I did.  It mattered so much that it has taken an entire year to recover.  But today, I sat down and I had an idea.

I think I am ready to write again.  After all, this writer is writing about my wanting to write.  I might as well.