What to do: Take small steps

Mal | Art Process and Creativity,Current Events,Here and Now | Tuesday, May 26th, 2009


This week, my city hosted a marathon.

Since I moved here, I have wanted to go downtown and be a spectator of the marathon — to vicariously experience the emotions and triumphs of the thousands of people who undertake this superhuman feat.

So, I woke early and watched the television coverage while I dressed — the starting line of the wheelchair race, the “elite” men and women duking it out to the finish line, the weather reports and sports commentary. But, this is not an essay about the starting line or the finish line. It’s about everything that comes in between.

Once I had my fill of enthusiastic starts and dramatic televised finishes, I grabbed my camera and bound for the train. I had chosen a viewing point for transportational convenience (closest to the metro that I am familiar with) so although I wasn’t sure exactly where I was along the route, I knew I could get some pictures and enjoy the feel of the event.

Mile 24

When I realized that I was standing at Mile 24, just 2 miles from the finish line, I was flooded with emotion.I stood and cheered and clapped. I yelled, “You’re almost there! You’ve done it!” for an hour or so. I comisserated with my fellow on-lookers and enjoyed the live band and generally marveled at the people in front of me who were still running — still plodding one foot in front of the other — in spite of the pain they must have been feeling.

But, I’m not really writing about the pain, either. What most impressed me was that 24 miles ago, the marathoners had started taking steps. That’s all. They just took one step, then another. Most of them in this non-elite group were alternating between running and walking, even sometimes stopping to stand still at the water stations. They ran over to the sidewalks to hug their families and friends. But, in general, they made a gradual eastward progress. They were still at this business of taking steps, long after the excitement and energy of the starting line had past.

And that’s what distinguished them from the spectators, besides their numbered bibs. They were actively moving toward their goal. They took one small step, then another step, until they were done.

Sure, there were a handful of “winners” yesterday who took home special medals and money awards. But, for the most part, thousands of runners were just trying to finish. They were fighting only against themselves and their environment. They weren’t looking to the right or to the left to see how anyone else was doing. They just kept taking one step, and then taking another step, in a solitary journey.

Marathon mosaic

They did this in spite of being older than those around them. They did it with a cause, from a wheelchair, and in spite of all distractions. They slowed down and looked back to see how far they had come, but they didn’t stop taking steps.

Marathon gadgetry

I love this lady. She has all of the fancy gadgets — a virtual Bat-belt of snacks, water, and stride measurers.  But guess what? Even she wouldn’t make it to the finish line without taking one small step at a time.

Last week, I was bemoaning the fact that in my current life circumstances, I can only squeeze in my moments of creativity between meetings, telephone calls, and other obligations. I wrote:

…let’s face it — some days it’s all I can do to make something other than a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dinner. Some days I am happy if I make my bed, wash my hair, tie my shoes. Some days, I feel extremely lucky to have sewn one bead, one green loop, one hexagon seam.

I’m not alone in this. Many of you out there are mothers of young children, caretakers of ailing parents, and working two (or three!) jobs to make ends meet. You have difficult marriage relationships, personal crises and illnesses of your own. With the exception of people like Arlee, who will be creating for 3 months at a summer residency with limited distractions, we don’t, for the most part, work under ideal circumstances. The message of hope that I took away from my experience at the marathon was this:

All you have to do is take one step, then another step.

Someday I will finish my hexagon project. Do you know why? Because I am dedicated to pulling it out for 10 minute spurts on the subway. Because I sew a seam here and there, whenever I get a chance. Because I work on it a little, then I work on it again. I enjoy the process, not just the completion.

This is how most of us fit creativity into our modern lives. For my part, I’m going to stop wishing for a miracle — for a millionaire to marry me and magically remove those limitations of time and space and money. I’m also going to stop looking around me to see just how fast everyone else is moving. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I can do today. And, if it’s just one small step, well shoot. Mile 24 awaits.

What small thing will you do today?


  1. today it’s just getting in the shower. or getting out the door. it’s 2pm and I’m still sitting here…
    You Just put ,one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the door! (I thinkthats from a Rudolph/frosty/etc christmas cartoon by Arthur rankin…
    😉 I can here it in my head… here i go!

    Comment by V — 26 May 2009 @ 11:13 am

  2. Very nice post! It’s a marathon, not a sprint . . . helps to know where you’re going, though; that’s where I often get stuck and find myself on some strange detours. I guess I’ll be the one crossing the finish line long after everyone else, but with some interesting stories from a few cul-de-sacs along the way.

    Comment by Lainie — 26 May 2009 @ 12:04 pm

  3. Terrific post today, thank you very much for the reminder! I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets flustered by entirely self-imposed deadlines. I, too, have a little hexagon project going, and I have to take a step backwards every once in awhile and remind myself that this is *handwork,* it’s supposed to be *relaxing* and that nobody expects it to be finished in record time. Lainie’s right – I’d rather take some interesting detours than be the first to cross the finish line.

    Comment by Sally — 26 May 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  4. Thank you again for sharing such an inspirational post. My thing is that I have done a blog post! After a little gap, that kept getting bigger the more I thought about it. I kept thinking, I have no photos, I have done nothing, I have made nothing, what is there to write? But, I realised I had done things, I did have some photos, I could string a few words together. Now, I feel better 🙂

    Comment by Sue — 26 May 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  5. i’m a little stuck today after pushing myself really hard for two days. so reading this is exactly what i needed. tomorrow, i’m going to get up and just start taking steps and you know what, i think i’ll get there just fine. 🙂

    thanks for another marvelous post…


    Comment by julochka — 26 May 2009 @ 2:28 pm

  6. I am also doing a hexagon quilt and have been doing it for some time now, I stumbled across your blog via flickr a few days ago and love your analogies, I hope this is the right word, but I like the word today anyway.

    Comment by jill cooper — 26 May 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  7. Today my steps will contain housecleaning, breadbaking, kids and hopefully making two blocks for my Soul Food. And I know tonight I will fall sound asleep knowing I did the best job I could do because I did my best and loved doing it.

    Comment by Elizabeth — 27 May 2009 @ 12:27 am

  8. This is not related to your question, but to running and creativity. You may have read it already, but I’m reading What I talk about when I talk about running, by Murakami, and I think you’ll like it. It’s about running but also about his writing process, very, very interesting!

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