• coachsarah

11/15/19 - Present Participle

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

The Morning Mantra is available on iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, Youtube, Soundcloud, Spotify, Youtube and pretty much anywhere podcasts can be found. Transcripts forthcoming on the blog at www.coachedandloved.com

Knock, knock.

Who's there?


To who?

Actually...it's to whom.

Hi! This is Coach Sarah, and this is the Morning Mantra!

*cue intro music*

Hi, my name is Sarah Axelrod. I'm a run coach and a lover of poetry, and a person who cares about your well-being. You don't have to be an athlete to be #coachedandloved, and if you need an anchor to hold onto as you move through a tough situation, you've come to the right place.

*music ends*

Today's mantra is: present participle.

I am a grammar nut, I am a comma nut, I am a verb-tense-worshipping, parallel-sentence-balancing, subordinate-clause-loving nut. I know that makes me sound like an asshole, and maybe I am, but I try very hard not to be. I’m not actually obsessed with policing other people’s language, but I am about listening to it and observing it, and sometimes that means reading things that weren’t made explicit but that are no less there. And I am definitely, definitely about controlling my own language, and I mean controlling in the sense of crafting, shaping, refining, over and over again. The reason is that the little things matter. The commas and the tenses and the sentence structure and the subordinate clauses: they matter and they speak, sometimes in ways we don’t even realize as they are forming in our heads.

One of my favorite podcasts is Still Processing from the New York Times, with hosts Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham. Last week, on their LAST EPISODE of the current season (and I am going to miss them like I always do!) they talked about the harm in the idea of “woke”. It’s one of those adjectives borne of a past participle - you are woke because you have woken. You did the thing, it’s in the past, and now you are it. And of course that’s not actually how combating injustice works, ever. The work, as they say, is never done, and the moment you are resting on your laurels and calling yourself done, you no longer qualify. There is no sticking a fork in it - and so what good is a word like woke when it stops being relevant the moment it leaves your lips?

Even Molly Huddle is always working on her base and she always will be as long as she runs. And while Mary Cain’s story has rocked the world of running since its publication a week ago, the work of fixing girls’ sports will be long and hard and there will likely be no finish line, to use the phrase of Lindy West in her recently published book, The Witches Are Coming. “The society this culture has created is well fortified,” writes Lindy. “A few creepy men losing their jobs, a few women managing to clamber to the top, thos ethings matter, but they don’t actually change how people think and behave on a large scale. … the hardest truth to swallow isn’t that this cultural moment … is not a finish line but that there may be no finish line at all. Maybe we will have to fight forever. So be it.”

I get how badly we want to be done with the fighting, because it’s tiring. I get how appealing it seems to be woke - because everything about that little word implies that once you are woke it is all over and you may now cease to worry about it. But I want to quote another kick ass woman to you now, and that’s Coach MK. In a video she filmed for our Runner, Interrupted group the other day, she said this: “narratives, once written, once recited, once shared, are incredibly difficult to rewrite, so I want you to think really long and hard about the narrative you’re creating around yourself...Take your self-talk seriously, take the things that you’re saying about yourself seriously. It MATTERS.”

Instead of rushing to be done, ask what am I doing?

I hate to say this to you, but this mantra is not about being done. Done is yet another adjective borne of a past participle: do, did, doing, done. I love a good DONE. I love it when another day is done and I can crawl into bed. I love finishing things because I AM NOT A QUITTER. And yet my commitment to getting it DONE, what is that doing for me exactly? My therapist would tell you that I never feel like anything I’ve done is enough. The healing of that particular facet of my life sure isn’t done.

But I have to tell you, it feels good to be doing it.

So, the mantra. It’s one thing to tell yourself to be in the moment, but being is a hard verb to pin down - I used to challenge my Italian students all the time to try and write with as few iterations of the verb “to be” as possible. That verb, I told them, isn’t doing a lot of heavy lifting - it’s the be all end all, it’s crucial for the functioning of the language, but when you’re writing to me you’re expressing, and that verb doesn’t express. Focus on what the sentence is doing. Get concrete with it. Find me a present participle to hang onto. What are you doing? What is the act that binds you to this moment, the work in progress that you are building day by day? Your cardiovascular base, your narrative around yourself, your understanding of the world and how it works? Instead of striving to be done, strive to be doing - because when you are doing, there is room for questioning and shifting and even for making mistakes and especially for learning. Find the present participle and hold on as you move through it.

*cue outro music*

You are Coached. You are Loooved, and you ARE winning at life. And if you need MOAR reasons to believe that, follow @morningmantrapod on Instagram.

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