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Writing Block in China - Guest Blog by Morgan Sheehan-Bubla

Exercising in the Park - Picture by Fred Ranaudo
I’m a writer with an almost three year old. Lately I’ve been the mom of a sick almost three year old. I sometimes sit down to write, but mostly stare at the computer without doing much of anything before being pulled away by some sort of child emergency.

“Mommy! I is hitting dragons. You hit dragons too.”
“Help Mommy! I stuck!”
“Blanket is dirty, mommy! Help!”

A friend of mine recently confided that he tried to write while his five year old brushed his teeth. “How long does he brush his teeth?” I asked. “I have about 15 seconds,” he said.

I had more than 15 seconds. But I was stuck. I was frustrated that my son was sick all the time, and frustrated that the air quality here is so poor in China, and I was a little depressed.

My mom suggested taking a walk. I mentally scoffed. I don’t have time to take a walk, and to write, and to rescue my son when he’s fighting dragons.

Things got a little worse. Bad air, still sick, more depressed. I stayed stuck. Then last week at about six in the morning when I was sitting in our apartment on the 18th floor looking out at the beautiful forested mountain with a walking path that is right behind our building I recalled my mom’s suggestion. There were all these happy walking people. So I tossed on my shoes and went. My husband could help our son if any dragons showed up, as they so often do.

People are more active here. At six in the morning there were dozens of people walking and running on the mountain path. Some people walked backwards. Lots of people do what my husband likes to call ‘self slapping’ as they walk. I’ve been told it has something to do with qi. There’s a large group of women who do traditional dances to music played from a small scratchy boom box at a bend in the path. There are quite a few men who run up the mountain, self slapping or not, to shout from different overlooks and then run down the mountain again.

It is a beautiful walk. There are tall evergreens and slim eucalyptus, blooming wild gardenias and small vegetable gardens tucked into sunny places in the manicured park. Off the main path there are stone walkways wide enough for two people that wind away into the trees and make me feel for a moment that I am not in a city.

On these walks I get a great deal of enjoyment watching people as they watch me. Today I saw a woman jogging in a miniskirt, running shoes and an angora sweater. And do you know what? She looked great. If I was jogging in an angora sweater I would look hot and red and sweaty. I saw quite few self-slapping men wearing business clothes and dress shoes on their walk. Very few people wear special exercise clothes. I like to think it’s because exercise is a more integrated part of life here; it doesn’t exist separate from the daily routine. People exercise on their lunch breaks and tea breaks. Pregnant women come out in droves in the evening to walk. Grandparents take their grandchildren out with them to walk or ride bikes. And you can do any silly exercise related thing you like in public. Self slapping? Yes. Windmill your arms while you run? Absolutely. March backwards wearing jellies and pajamas? Of course. I could do Pheobe’s silly run from Friends and people wouldn’t bat an eye. They’d stare because I’m a tall, very white redhead and I stand out where ever I go in China, but not because I was doing my own brand of exercise.

After only two days of morning walks I wasn’t stuck in my writing. I wrote 5000 words in two days. Which may not seem like that much to the childless, but is pretty great for me. My son is still sick. I still need to rescue him from dragons. The air is even more terrible today than it was last week. But merely being in the trees for 45 minutes, walking up the mountain cleared my mind of all the junk that I was letting keep me from writing.

I even have more energy to fight dragons.
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