Different Beginnings – Health While Writing from Home

We’re talking about beginnings this week.  While I went on at length yesterday about ways to begin a story, let’s shift gears and talk about beginnings in life.

This isn’t strictly the first time I’ve spent a chunk of time at home writing.  When I was in graduate school, I had to write my doctoral dissertation.  This was after a period of years of doing lab work, and it had been a stressful few years for me.  Saying that graduate school is stressful (for any graduate student) is kind of like saying Noah took some pets for a trip in the rain.

When my advisor and my thesis committee agreed that my research was sufficiently completed that I could write and defend my thesis, I stopped going in to lab and wrote it up.  This was a roughly 200 page document of heavy scientific jargon, difficult ideas to learn, conceptualize, and summarize, and roughly five years worth of research to explain in detail.

I squirreled myself away in the spare bedroom of our house with my laptop, a box of Three Musketeers bars, and an IV drip of Coca-Cola.  Six weeks later, I emerged with a finished dissertation and an extra 30 pounds that had appeared from… somewhere.  Can’t imagine where.

In my planning and researching for this jump into full time writing, one of the tidbits I found was from author Mary Robinette Kowal in the Writing Excuses Podcast, who said that most writers either gain or lose 15 pounds.  Whether they gained or lost (and I am paraphrasing here to the extent of near misquoting) seemed to depend on if they were the type of writer who got so engrossed that they forgot to eat meals, or if part of their writing process was constant grazing and snacking, of a constant supply of glucose to the brain.  I am apparently on the side of constant glucose supply.  (See the IV of Coke, above).

Oddly enough, I have neither gained nor lost weight since quitting my job.  We have a Wii in the house, with the Wii Fit game, which is basically a glorified electronic scale that gives you cheery little guilt trips about how long it’s been since you exercised.  I’ve been periodically weighing myself with it, and in the seven or more months since I stopped going to lab, my weight hasn’t fluctuated so much as 2 pounds.  This includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.

Oddly enough though, it did jump up 15 pounds in mid-April last year, almost a year ago exactly.  What’s significant about that time, you ask?  Well, even though I didn’t tell my boss until mid-July that I was quitting, and I stayed in the lab for a month after that, it was actually mid-April that I quit.  So, apparently, it’s not the sitting at my computer bleeding all over the keyboard and sucking down sugar-soda that leads to me gaining weight, it’s rather the decision to be a writer, I guess.

So, what does all this have to do with beginnings, I can already hear you asking.  Honestly, I am guessing you started asking your screen that about 6 paragraphs ago.  Well, in honor of Spring, and of new beginnings, and of just being sick of being so darned sedentary, I’ve started running again.

Short version – I used to run, not much, not marathons or anything, but I had fun running.  I ran a few 5Ks back in high school.  I used to sneak out of my parent’s house nights for various reasons we won’t get into right now, but one of them was to just run around the neighborhood on a clear crisp night under the moonlight.

When you spend every day trying desperately to carve out the time and energy to do the thing your soul is crying out for, and barely succeeding, it’s hard to then try to carve out even more time to exercise and stay in shape.  And it takes a toll.

When I was commuting by a combination train and subway, I frequently got off the subway a few stops away to add extra walking to the commute that already had ~1.5 miles built into it.  When I commuted by car, I parked in the far side of parking lots halfway across campus, allowing me to work about half a mile of walking into the commute.  But I never had (or made) the time to run.  In both cases, I used to go on long lunchtime walkabouts.

So, I’ve started running again.  The snow has melted and the days are getting warmed (and longer).  I’m terribly out of shape and my quads are insanely sore.  But I’ve startd.

I’m starting easy.  I’ve begun a couch to 5K program.  It’s slow, it works you up from a standstill.  But it gets you there.  For the time being, a few days a week just after dropping the Kidlets off at school, before I settle in to write for the day, I’m heading out for a run.

Here’s hoping I stick with it enough to feel better.

A final note now in closing.  I’m throwing around discussion of 15 pounds here, 30 pounds there.  Please don’t make much of it.  I don’t put much stock in numbers.  Sure, with the height I’ve got and the frame I’m built on, I could stand to lose 30-40 pounds and not be underweight.  But that’s not my target.  I’m not looking to hit a number and stick with it.  This isn’t about dieting.  This is about me feeling better.  This is about getting up and being active.  This is about starting and sticking with something that helps me feel happy and comfortable in my own skin.  So, please, no recommendations of diets, of new healthy eating patterns, or gyms to join.  This isn’t that.  I just miss moving my legs.

Here I Go,



About Matthew Shean

Matthew Shean is the author of several forthcoming novels and myriad short stories. He received his Ph.D. from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY, and spent 20 years as a research scientist throughout the northeastern United States. He now lives in Long Island (against his will), with his loving family and disdainful cats.
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