I recently received a grant to travel around Italy next fall while I’m studying in Florence, take long runs to train for the Athens Marathon, and turn the whole experience into a multimedia creative project with a focus on poetry writing.
I’d love if you followed my adventure as I run and write my way through my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, all across Italy, and finally to those legendary 26.2 miles from Marathon, Greece to the finish line at Athens. I have no idea where my training runs will take me; I’m just going to set out with water bottle and notebook to see as much of Italy on foot as I can and leave the rest to the Greek gods to determine.
Huge thanks to Dr. Christine Marshall and Dr. Larry Ligo for the time they dedicated to helping me improve the idea for this project, their thoughtfulness in looking up poets and homemade bread recipes, and their friendship, and to Dr. Chris Alexander and Sarah Bennett, and the entire Dean Rusk International Studies Program for funding, running tips, and enthusiasm.
I can’t wait to get started!
Here’s my proposal:
According to legend, Greek courier Pheidippides covered 150 miles in two days and ran the final 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the news that Greece had emerged victorious over Persia. It is said he spoke only the words “We have won” and then collapsed dead from exhaustion. Thus the marathon was born, and each November, runners journey to Athens to run the original 26.2.
During my semester abroad in Florence, I plan to train for and run the Athens Marathon, set for Sunday, November 13, 2011. Training for a marathon calls for long runs of 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 miles, with shorter runs and cross-training in between. On the weekends, I plan to travel to a different city or town in Italy to take each of these long runs. The locations on my itinerary so far are Rome, Ravenna, Padua, Venice, Naples, and Cinque Terra. I would like to combine my runs, my exploration of the many regions of Italy, and my love of creative writing into one multifaceted project: a cultural journey, an internal search for present-mindedness, an extreme physical challenge, and a search for my creative voice through constant experimentation.
The purpose of the destination long runs is not just to train for the race, but to see both famous and obscure Italian locations on foot, at a slow pace, giving me the power to observe the rhythm of daily life as I could never do on a tour or class trip. I will be running with one partner, for the purposes of safety and companionship, and our group of two provides us with flexibility and spontaneity. Because of the unique perspective on Italy that my runs allow, I plan to turn the experience into a multimedia art project that responds to what I see, who I meet, what I discover on the street, what I smell and taste, the physical experience of training for a marathon, my challenges and successes, and all the unexpected elements that inevitably come with an open-ended plan. I would like to enter each city with nothing but a street map, my gear, and all my senses.
Cultural journey. I plan to run, not just for the marathon, but to experience the cities in a unique way and render some interpretation of them into my work. I am going to research the cities’ quite different histories and use interesting elements of their past to inform my response to them, as well as exploring Italy’s saturation with art. So my art project is going to respond to other works of art I see, Italian urban history, and any locals or tourists who I may meet. Just as I am pushing beyond my comfort zone of distance running, I hope to expand my creative responses from just writing to also include photography, sketching, painting, and more.
Internal search for present-mindedness. Running and creative writing, in my experience, go hand in hand. Both involve a heightening of the senses, a conscious awareness of my surroundings, and a meditative state in which I quiet my mind and focus on the task at hand. I would like to practice being calm and aware in each moment, and staying in the present without looking behind or planning ahead. The physical experience of running, when the runner just has to start and remain in each moment of the run until it’s finished, with no way to hurry the time and miles along, I hope will teach me to be mindful in other aspects of my life. To this end, I plan to research alternative forms of poetry that practice the “first word, best word” theory, such as Frank O’Hara’s “Lunch Poems”. I will try to write, or draw, or photograph some responses that stem entirely from the moment at hand, and not follow them up with edits and revisions.
Extreme physical challenge. Spending the weekends running for hours is not the usual practice of students on their semesters abroad. I know I will be pushing my body past its known limits and I look forward to channeling my mind’s response to those challenges into art forms. My art will be informed not only by pain, runner’s highs, exhaustion, and bursts of energy, but also by the way running makes me conscious of my deepest emotions and inspires revelations and alternate ways of looking at the world.
Search for creative voice. I’ve been working on this plan for a long time, knowing I wanted to train for the marathon and somehow turn the experience into an artistic response, not only to find out what kind of creative responses my runs and travels inspire, but also as a part of the larger goal of finding my creative voice. I will be immersing myself in a completely different city each weekend, but they all have the common thread that they’re Italian. The cities mirror the elements of my project: I’ll be using many kinds of media and one poem may not even resemble another, but they have the common thread that they stem from somewhere inside me. By responding over and over to a consistent element (the repetitive physical motion of runs) and a constantly changing element (a different city each week and a different view each moment) I hope to discover and cultivate a somewhat recognizable creative voice. I then plan to explore that voice for themes and reappearing images and interests, so that my writing may grow and I may enter my application for Honors Thesis in English with a stronger sense of myself as a writer.
For nearby destinations, I will take a train to each location in the early morning of a weekend day, have lunch and explore the area, entering any museums, interesting shops, and other places I find along the way, then I will run in the afternoon, eat a casual dinner and take a late train back to Florence. For farther journeys such as Naples, I will stay overnight to do more exploring, and travel home the next day.
Some possibilities for media: poetry, travelogue, short story, photography, sketch, voice recording, train ticket stub, found items, paper menu, watercolor, oil painting.
Sharing with the Davidson Community
When I return to campus, I would like to arrange a night in the 900 Room where I can present my art project, talk about my experiences, and read from some of my writing. As a part of that presentation, I plan to recruit other students with travel experiences from the semester, summer, or previous semesters to reflect on them and respond in some creative fashion, and to join me in presenting their work. This will be a part of a larger student-perpetuated movement to give Davidson’s artistic community more visibility around campus and also an opportunity for students to hear what their peers have been thinking about outside the classroom.