I’ve been reading a lot of Sara Paretsky novels recently, specifically the V I Warshawski detective series. In fact, I’ve read nothing but these novels since summer. I devour them, often reading one a day (decadent, much?)and I’m beginning to experience a sense of loss, because I know there are few left; it is taking me longer and longer to search a new title out. Because I read them so quickly, I often forget the titles (a Kindle curse) and have to read the precis only to discover that I’ve already shared that particular journey with V I and Mr Contreras and Lotty and the dogs.
Why do I love V I? She’s a woman in her thirties and forties (she ages in real time) but she does all the things that only, and rarely at that, women in their early twenties do. She gets her ass kicked, gets right back up, and fights back, and fights dirty. She is unfettered by the things that women in their thirties are supposed to be concerned about; children, meeting the right man, washing the dishes, looking pretty. And she loves her mum. I cannot applaud her enough and she has given me inspiration from the first time I came across her.
And she runs every day. 5 miles at the least. I have tried to be a bit like her ever since. Not fighting crime and the patriarchy, but running as often as I can, which is an immense tribute from me, as I was not built for P.E. My mum was an early conspirator in the avoidance of sports. She was once uncovered in the gym horse, aged 12, smoking a woodbine, while her peers leapt gracelessly overhead. she never forgot the bollocking that was meted out to her and was therefore always happy to write me a note to get out of cross country or hockey or whatever godforsaken physical jerks we were ordered to undertake. Many a happy hour was spent holding the netball bibs on the sideline blissfully unaware of the venom boiling in the teacher, Mrs Marshall’s, perfectly toned stomach.
So when I say run, it’s more of a trot and instead of thinking about achieving that golden time or distance, I usually think about anything else. Or read a V I Warshawski novel. Another crime detective, Magnum PI once said that he did his best thinking when he was swimming and for some strange reason this is the only piece of notable advice I hold on to*. I can never remember anything worthy that Mark Twain, Jane Austen or Noam Chomsky said, but Magnum has lodged with me.
Because it is true! Something about engaging the body in one activity frees up the mind to do other things, even if it is just a little mental spring cleaning, better than any effort to relax or meditate may do. I am unlikely to solve any major intrigue, but I am likely to remember where the misplaced casserole dish is, or resolve to call a long-lost friend, or plot what to do with that unruly boy in my year 9 group. Or devise a wonderful plot twist for my own novel. Or whatever.
Like I say, I’m unlikely to break any records any time soon, but I will sort my life out a little bit during a 30 minute bluster on the treadmill. Mrs Marshall would be proud of me.
*Not entirely true. The other piece of advice that I recall on cue comes from Annie Lennox in a Smash Hits from the 1989. Always wear rubber gloves when doing any form of housework. Thanks, Annie!