As a coach, writer, and activist, Jena Schwartz believes that space and encouragement are powerful teaching tools, and that our creative and personal growth are inextricably tied to broader social issues. Jena’s writing prompts have helped writers of all genres strengthen their voices, and her own poetry and personal essays have been published widely. She graduated summa cum laude from Barnard College with a BA in Russian studies and holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. Learn more about her work and get in touch: www.jenaschwartz.com.
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Trigger warning: Eating disorders
In this episode, we talk about…
- Hating gym class as a kid and never being a “joiner”
- Jena’s preferred activity as a teen: walking to town and smoking cigarettes
- How attending all-girls/women institutions have impacted who Jena is
- Why she went for the first voluntary run of her life in a pair of Doc Martens (back when they were in style for the first time)
- How taking on the role of the “good girl” in her family of origin played a part in developing an eating disorder as a teenager
- The connections between feeling your truth and writing your truth
- What it means to be a “real runner”
- What it means to be a “real writer”
- Learning to let go of the “shoulds”
- The parallels between running and writing
- Musings on what we should do with our old journals
- Advice for going through a divorce
- The question that changed Jena’s life
It’s like, what’s the goal? I’m really healthy, so it’s been more important for me to learn how to let myself do less and be okay with it than to try to maintain some kind of pushing. I don’t want to push.
I decided to quit smoking. I was just like, I’m going to quit smoking. And I had so much energy pent up, because smoking was such an outlet or probably a suppression of all that energy, like a place to contain it. On a whim, I just went running one day in Riverside Park in my Doc Martens. I got the worst shin splints of my life. I didn’t even own a pair of sneakers at this point. That was how it started.
I remember writing in my journal about it, about being angry. And feeling blown off. It’s not that I really liked him either, but it was still kind of shitty. And there was some confluence of things in that moment, of connecting with my body, connecting with my anger, connecting with my voice—writing about it, something shifted for me.
I just felt done. I was just ready to be done. And I think a lot of things in my life have happened that way, where it seems like it’s all of a sudden, but it’s really been in the works for a long time.
Writing has also brought me into the body and the body has brought me into more truth on the page.
I think the writing and the body are just deeply connected, and when we’re living in a way where we’re not experiencing our bodies, it affects our access to what our truth is. Because the body holds all of it.
We all have a relationship with our bodies and that comes with its challenges.
At this point I do think I can own “runner.”
A runner is a person who goes for a run. It doesn’t have to be, “The runner is someone who wears a bib and trains and has all the gear and races,” and all that stuff. It can just be the experience of it.
A big part of my forties now has been around diving into the practice of letting go of the “shoulds” around it and having a lot more space for letting my body need what it needs.
There’s no big thing to it except repetition.
How do I want to love this body?
What are the other questions that are present here that aren’t being asked? Once there’s some space to explore those questions rather than having them be these straight jackets, you know, loosening all of that up, then you can begin to have room to find out what’s really going on.
I’m most interested in the definition of “writer” that is the most spacious and self-determined.
If you can kind of just keep going in that first mile, too often, that’s when you hit your stride.
That’s when you get into a rhythm. That’s when you start to remember why you liked it in the first place, you know? And I think something similar maybe can happen with writing, which is probably why I’m such a huge fan of writing practice.
I think the more we do those ten-minute free writes … it strengthens us for when we are going to sit down and write something longer.
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