The Year That Was: 2013 Was a Productive, Hectic Year.
by Brad Windhauser
When I was in high school, I ran cross country. I wasn’t very good, in part because I lacked the slender frame that tends to lend itself to distance running success. I also didn’t apply myself all that well—or at least I wasn’t as dedicated as I could be: I enjoyed being in shape to the point where I could run five miles comfortably and feel great—that runner’s euphoria you might have heard about. My three-mile course record dropped below 20 minutes one time, and that was enough for me. Needless to say, this didn’t make me the most valued teammate.
But one quarter finals meet, I was a factor. Usually a meet was decided by the times of the first five or six runners. Since I was deep in the team roster (in terms of performance), my time rarely affected the outcome of the meet. This particular meet, however, our team was fairly evenly matched with another team, and once the various runner times were tabulated and points awarded as the race ran down, I could make a difference.
With ¾ of the course completed, I—along with a runner from the other team—trotted down the final slope. With just the last 600 meter leg of the course ahead of us, my coach yelled: “Brad, dig deep, you need to beat the Belmont runner.” Unsure of how much I had left to give, I hung with him as we navigated a small hill and rounded a bend. When we came around the last turn, which opened to the straight-finish (150 M or so), I dug deep, and blew past him. This was the only time being an 800m runner (an event I ran during track season) came in handy.
After the race, I was hunched over, taking deep breaths. My effort pulled the team ahead and we advanced. I suppose some spectators (or even teammates) were curious where this sudden spurt of energy came from—if I was always capable of it, why didn’t I pull it out more often?). No one asked. My coach approached, put his hand on my back. “You did it. How do you feel?”
“I gotta be honest, coach. Like shit.”
Sometimes a big effort taxes you beyond your limits and sometimes you don’t know what your limits are until you push them. You might not appreciate this soon after the particular task, but you will be able to look back and appreciate how more effort paid off big.
2013 was such a year for me.
I’ve been serious about writing for a while now. After all, I did a Masters in English and then and MFA. Because I was worn out from teaching and being a student, I merely plodded along with my writing. But because I was feeling that I still wasn’t where I wanted to be—in terms of skill or recognition—I knew I needed to double my efforts.
This was the year I really got serious, and I’m glad I did.
First, I needed a project that would satisfy a number of things. I wanted to tackle something big that would inform my work, provide me with ample writing material for a blog, and give my year structure. Thus: The Bible Project Blog. I read the Bible from start to finish, blogged about every book, and then chronicled my journey as a gay writer interacting with this ancient, important text. I wanted to find out why this book is so often used to justify bigotry towards gays.
141 posts later, this chapter of the project closes.
I’m not sure what’s next for this project, but I do know I’m taking a little break to gather my ideas. I will likely continue the blog in some form—perhaps read the Apocrypha and examine why certain Bible books were left out (not canonized) and some weren’t. I’m also considering ways to turn all this writing into a book.
This project also yielded another writing opportunity: my non-fiction essay about the experience. “The Bible Project” essay, which the Philadelphia Review of Books published in August.
I also published three book reviews for this journal—a door opened when they read my Bible Project Blog. Their particular approach to book reviews—they like them to be 2,000-3,000 words—compelled me to dig deeper about my impressions for what works and what doesn’t in a book. This then informed my approach to writing: why was I doing a particular thing, like POV choice? How was it informing the story?
I was also fortunate to have three of my short stories published. This summer, The Santa Fe Writer’s Project Journal, Ray’s Road Review, and Northern Liberties Review all published one of my short stories. Although these stories have been kicking around in my portfolio for a while, I’d like to think that part of the skills I’d honed on the Bible Project helped me revise them in fresh, more effective ways.
But of course, my dedication to my reading list might have also contributed. This year (at this point), I read 55 books plus the Bible. Consisting of a variety of genres, these books informed me about various approaches to story, character development, voice, structure, and story that continue to enhance my writing approach.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this year—although highly productive—didn’t take a lot out of me. But it was worth it, and for the first time in a number of years—maybe ever in my writing life—I can look back and say that there was nothing else I could have done. It really helps that I have an understanding partner who affords me so much support for my work.
Perhaps the best lesson I learned this year is that I know I can do it again.