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‘Song of Myself’: An essay on running


Photo by Tyler Erickson

The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.

We let technology guide us in many facets of our lives. We wake up to our smartphone alarms and go to bed staring at them, scrolling, usually knowing we are wasting precious time. Sometimes, possibly more than we would like to admit, we allow technology to dictate our thinking. Where should we go for vacation? Look it up. What do I want for dinner? Top 10 weeknight dinners. Should I keep my job? Take this quiz to see. Technology has removed our inner voice and supposedly made life easier because of it.

I was in this exact cycle when I decided to buy an alarm clock. Waking each morning scrolling on my phone, reading the urgent news from the eight hours I was asleep. Questioning things in my life I had never thought of before, because of an unaccredited article I clicked. I decided this cycle was not helpful to me so I decided to remove the phone from the bedside. A first step. Although learning to use an alarm clock again after 10 years had its own challenges, I felt proud of my new purchase. My phone plugged in, charging in the room over, I was back in control of my body’s wants and needs.

Then, today my phone alarm went off at 5 a.m. I awoke to a faint piano sound of the iPhone and forced myself up. Did I set an alarm on accident? Did I forget to shut something off? No. There were no alarms set. Possibly a glitch, or a ghost. Either way, I was out of bed. Time for a run.

Running has become another way I try to reset my body’s regular system. I have taken to leaving my phone in my pocket but running with no earbuds or music. Letting myself hear my breathing, my shoes hit the pavement and allowing my mind to wander, be fearful, and often become imaginative. In this listening, this connection to the self, we become free. Not just of technology, but of all constraints of life. When I run unplugged I could be running in 2021 or 1983. I know not what day it is or what time it is, only where the sun is in the sky and what the weather is like on my skin. I can tell the seasons and the rhythms of my neighborhood. Which houses are awake, which are sleeping, still dreaming in their beds. I am free to embrace the run, the surroundings. Here I think of Whitman in his Song of Myself,

The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

I too, find myself tending toward my surroundings, no matter if they are aware of me, I am aware of them and their part in my connection to myself. I feel a part of the lives and heartbeat of my town, and this becomes my urge forward. I often do not feel this until halfway through my run when I realize my joy. By disconnecting and listening to only the song of myself I become joyful in my movement. Joyful for my one job, my ability to move, and my understanding husband that turns the other way when I stir before the sun. Joy for the sound of my feet hitting the pavement, faster down the hills. Joy for knowing the smell of the field as I pass and the ability to remain in that morning feeling long after I have returned home. This ability to connect with the self, to listen to the joy within the body, is only something I can do when I am disconnected from the technology that tells me how far I’ve gone, what song will play next and when to stop. Without this connection, my body knows what it wants and becomes satisfied. I stop when I am full, not because I am told to.

Whether it was an act of the running gods that my iPhone found a glitch on this morning or the technology itself feeling upset at my abandonment, we must be aware of our own unset alarms going off inside us. The alarms that are telling us our needs are not being met when we look to technology for answers. Listen to your bodies, to the song of yourself, and you will find you hold the answers better than any man-made device could ever understand.

Haley Johannesen is a runner, writer and teacher. She lives on the eastside of Iowa City with her husband and two cats. This article was originally published in Little Village’s June 2022 issue.


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