Last week, Katie Arnold, author of the memoir Running Home, joined us for lunch at the studio to talk about her work. She answered questions about her experiences as an author and athlete and shared insight into the process of writing a memoir. After the Reading & Lunch, PWN’s resident blog writer and writing instructor Jennifer Gaites sat down with Allison Tevald, co-founder, program director, and writing instructor, to reflect on Katie’s talk and her memoir. Check out their follow-up discussion:
Jen: I was surprised to learn that Running Home is a book about grief, not just running—that the running was her process through the grief.
Allison: We’ve heard about processing grief through breath. It seems running is sort of a methodical (and accelerated?) way of expelling breath, while training the mind to quiet. Running and writing have both been proven to benefit mental health. I’m impressed with her devotion to both.
Jen: She definitely draws the parallel between running and writing. It takes tremendous discipline to practice both regularly and to push through discomfort. I’m interested in any story that explores that journey.
Allison: But the practice of running and writing are not exciting or dramatic. They don’t make for good stories unless bad things happen!
Jen: Well, she has two things working for her in that respect: she literally runs through hazardous and dramatic terrain, but she’s also exploring the landscape of grief … exterior and interior drama!
Allison: Katie said she keeps notebooks, as she calls them (not diaries, journals, etc.) without giving them the burden that the writing in them will become something. Just lets herself be present to life and records those moments.
Jen: She perused all of these notebooks and wrote about her grief until the story revealed itself to her. I think that all the work she does, the collecting of scenes and small explorations of daily events, is hugely important to her process.
Allison: One major takeaway for me was Katie’s telling of the story of her thinking memory vs. her feeling memory. How she accesses memories from her body in a way her brain can’t.
Jen: I’ve actually been a little obsessed with that since the talk. I loved thinking about where memory exists and her suggestion that it exists in our bodies—in our muscles and limbs, our senses.
Allison: I appreciated the different angle of accessing memories, and not relying on the old “sensory detail” method we preach. It was a refreshingly simple take.
Jen: She listens to her body in a very practiced and deliberate way. That’s where I think her running enhances her writing. I just kept asking myself, how we can encourage that for our students?
Allison: We’ve watched countless students have transportal experiences doing the “I Remember” writing exercise. Once, an adult outreach student was taken aback because she could suddenly smell her piano teacher, someone she hadn’t thought about in decades. Her writing about a piano lesson brought it all back, a memory she didn’t even known she had.
Jen: That is fascinating. The physical manifestation of memory is so powerful.
Allison: I usually assign my students a meditative act or non-writing activity that they think will fuel their writing, like running, walking, drawing, etc. But I’d like to find a way to stress or inspire this idea of permission or even duty to write, revise, and finish our stories.
Jen: So much comes back to giving ourselves permission. She was, in a way, very spiritual about the whole thing, no?
Allison: I kept thinking of the title of Joyce Carol Oates’s craft book: The Faith of a Writer. She definitely seemed to hold faith in the writing practice and the story that needs to be told emerging.
Jen: Which seems to square well with her running practice. She puts a lot of trust in herself that her body will get her where she wants to go. Same for her writing. She didn’t sit down to write every day with the expectation of putting together a story with a clear outcome; she set out to write what was on her mind or something she observed. That was enough. Her faith in that process and its importance was simple but also inspiring.
Allison: A common question of writers is, “What is your process?” What did you think of Katie’s answer about that?
Jen: I liked the emphasis she put on the daily habit of writing, specifically in longhand, which is another physical experience.
Allison: From tucking an index card into her sports bra before a run, to using voice to text in memos, to her seemingly strict daily schedule …
Jen: She talked about the specifics of her writing habits, but ultimately there was also a real feeling of “trusting the process” and allowing the story to move through her.
Allison: Yes! She even said that the title just “came to her” while on a run. It wasn’t yet a title, but just two words that she “wrote toward” for a while.
Jen: Has that ever happened to you?
Allison: Absolutely. I jot them down in a section of my notebook called “Snippets.”
Jen: The closest I’ve come to those fleeting inspirations is during the mundane and repetitive act of folding laundry [laughs]. But, I think any meditative activity, it doesn’t have to be running, can trigger those moments of clarity.
Allison: The key is capturing them. Well… then writing a whole book around them.