Haniya Khalid

A little bit of everything

What I Talk About When I Talk About The People Who Talk About Running

“Walking unlocked me”

These were the words that resonated with me after I read Get Fit With Haruki Murakami: Why Mohsin Hamid Exercises, Then Writes, a culture piece in The Atlantic that voiced Mohsin Hamid’s adoption of Murakami’s extremely simple philosophy. As I read it again, I felt as though I was slipping into the back of the lecture hall of a class I hadn’t really registered for;  I was not prepared and I don’t have any of the materials — arguably not even the capacity to attempt a passing grade — but I will stay and listen anyway.

Running unlocks me, too. It does everything it promises to: clears the fog and oils the rusty ridges and grooves of the inner thought-piled conveyor belts of my mind. It tires me, it makes me quit the day in a happy, childlike resignation.

Having spent a large part of this weekend reading (admittedly too much time on Into The Gloss, no regrets) about different primers and moisturizers, I have to also say that the best makeup is running makeup, the best primer is the thin sheen of sweat, the pink rush in the runners’ cheeks and the bright determined eyes. Running made me respect my body and my health, appreciate my own well being from tip to toe; running became as much a part of my routine as walking or talking and therefore opened up a tiny, finite universe of sorts: a universe of activities, observations and if I was lucky, then ideas.

Running reminded me, for example, that even in the most liberal, familial neighbourhoods there will always be a couple of men staring you down every time you turn the corner on the cyclical soft path, their eyes boring into your skull, then lower and lower. And while I spent, weeks, even months, lowering my gaze, lowering my entire head as I ran past this generic variety of the masculine form, I only very recently realized that I could continue running with my chin up. That I could run with my head high and still ignore them, that I did not have to choose between my steady gait and their intrusiveness, that I could lock them out just as easily as they had entered.

Running became my favorite time to listen to music, and I sampled music I can barely listen to if I am not: David Guetta, Macklemore, the repetitive beats of Daft Punk, the 90s nostalgia of Semisonic, music from live Broadway performances, from old Shahrukh Khan films, it didn’t matter, as long as I kept going.

So tonight, as I took my water break after running exactly half of my planned distance, I pulled out my phone for the always (un)necessary social media peep session. And as I ran through the myriad of painful possibilities, the problems that both existed and the ones I had created for myself, I slumped onto a nearby park bench and hung my head low, between my knees. Drops of sweat mixed with tears, maybe, I’m not sure, and burned my sensitive eyes and I started to wipe my face, forehead and neck with the back of my hand. I had nothing to do.

So I stood up and started running, and I ran and I ran and I ran until the air seared my lungs, my legs wobbled and I was done. I took another drink of cool water and rested my head against the metal water cooler, the same kind we always drank out of in school by cupping our hands beneath the inconsistent trickle. I drove home, and let the hot shower beat down on my cold, tired muscles, and got ready for bed.

Walking, or running, had unlocked me.

So if I were to take anybody’s word on life, or walking, or writing, whose word better than Murakami and Hamid themselves? If it worked for them, surely it will work for me.


The Swimmer


Last night I went swimming after a very long time– a decade maybe (not counting trips to Wild Wadi with tourist cousins). It was night time, and I swam alone.

First of all, I should start this post by stating that there are two types of people in this world: those who wear underwear underneath their swimsuits, and those who view this to be a great redundancy. For the sake of maintaining a very necessary aura of mystery for any amateur writer, I will refrain from expressing which category I fall under.

As I sat at the edge of the pool, dipping my feet in the unheated water, I was amazed by just how long it has been since I have been underwater. I felt nervous and uncomfortable, and the water was cold, so I was hesitant to dive right in. Instead I sat there, slowly inching my way under, toe to ankle, calf to knee, watching my skin grow alien-like and pale under the brightly lit, chlorinated water. I sat there for a long time, half in and half out, unsure of why I was there to begin with.

And then I thought of all of the times I had been uncertain of outcomes but jumped right in anyway. I remembered three little girls playing on a tire swing, as my mom led me by my hand to “be their friend”. I remembered approaching a young hijab-clad student clutching a heavy Organic Chemistry textbook, alone and in desperate need of company and familiarity. I remember walking through the woods in the American suburbs, the moonlight illuminating a confused, narrow, and dark path. I remembered opening an old mailbox to find a battered copy of Leaves of Grass, and the opening words:

Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?

and how closely I kept these words with me, for so many years, even when the air and land changed, even when new faces replaced old.

I thought of all of those times I jumped in, thinking but not thinking, anxious but somewhat prepared. It was then I realized that I could either sit there forever (as Joe Newman would say, staring at my youth pressed into one glass/body of water), or I could just go. So I did.

It was cold, but it was not unbearable. I am starting to see that few things ever are.

So I swam, and it was very, very quiet. No music to distract me or drown out my thoughts, no people to strike up random conversations with, no long roads or complicated highways to carefully map my journey across. Just a blue rectangle, and me, and repeated turns around it. I thought of The Swimmer by John Cheever and how much I enjoyed reading it, how fascinatingly important Cheever made swimming pools for me. I thought of Trouble Will Find Me by The National, an album inspired by Cheever’s work, and my favorite album this year. I specifically thought of “Tunnel Vision” , a song to me that strikes up images of still blue water and southern Californian house parties (whatever those are?!) and starry skies. I thought of Piscine Patel and his Uncle and the Parisian art deco pools, the filthy water viscous with body excretions.

I thought about everything I was worried about, and how they could be simultaneously terrifying and meaningless. I thought of all the years of my childhood I spent swimming, never technically proficient but small and brave and agile. Throwing coins into the deep end and looking for them. Pretending to be a mermaid and laughing at the irony that Ariel wanted to have legs so if we wanted to be Ariel, we would want to become human again so the whole fantasy made no sense. I thought of swimming until my lungs burned and I was too tired to lift myself onto the concrete sides of the pool and had to be dragged out. And then for a few minutes– I thought of nothing at all. And it was great.