In keeping with the modernity of the production, Peter Holland - writing in the program's playbill - offered an interpretation of Hamlet's dilemma that seems tailored to today's psycho-analyzed, cosmopolitan, post-deconstructionist, alienated audience:
[Hamlet] approaches a paralysis of will that is the consequence of an impasse reached by his thinking: the more he is able to grasp his awareness of how he knows anything the less it seems possible to know anything at all. The process of knowing makes all truth only relative . . . . Confronted with the enormity of that crisis of truth, the only response is to "Let be," to accept the impossibilities of being human and the limits of knowing and to wait patiently for whatever comes.The quote to which Holland refers comes at the end of the play, when Horatio is exhorting Hamlet to listen to himself and decline to fight Laertes: "If your mind dislike any thing, obey it." Hamlet responds by dismissing his feeling of foreboding, saying - in essence - we're all going to die and we don't know when, so what does it matter if it's soon? "The readiness is all . . . Let be."
I don't know if Shakespeare ever ran a marathon. I doubt it.
Nor do I have any insight as to whether Peter Holland ever ran a marathon, but he has a goatee, so I think it's unlikely.
Nonetheless, both men seem intimately familiar with the modern marathoner's mindset. After months of single-minded physical labor, abstinence from late nights, booze and any semblance of vice, the marathoner surrenders to reality: the preparation is all you can do; after that, as my brother says, "anything can happen in a marathon."
In fact, the "anything" that happened to my brother during last Sunday's marathon in Prague, was a pretty damned impressive "anything." He ran 3:15:57, which is not the kind of fate one can complain about. Had my brother gone off to fight Laertes, the play would have had a different ending.
Not so with me. My legs all but shattered, and I staggered across the finish line 5 hours, 9 minutes, and 54 seconds after I started. I never ran slower in my life. Indeed, during training, I ran 22 and 23 miles in roughly four hours; but the race was nothing like training: blisters on my toes, leg muscle cramps, and an extended stretch of walking were all present during the race and noticeably absent during training. Had I been tapped to duel with Laertes, death would have arrived on the playwright's schedule.
While I've had enough exposure to truly rotten fates to refrain from describing mine as one about which I can complain, my situation is nonetheless dispiriting - all the more so because, from the outset, I saw running the marathon as a metaphor for how I live my life, a microcosm that reveals the whole. I became attracted to this idea last year, when I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and discovered that the key to reaching the peak was going slow and surrendering to the limitations imposed by the environment. I blogged about the inspiration I drew from my mountain experience to persevere in my writing.
Unfortunately, the take-away here is less upbeat. Months of planning and work, tireless effort, deprivation of socializing and fun, dieting, forswearing alcohol, money spent on clothes, shoes and supplements - not to mention all the acupuncturists, physiotherapists, chiropractors and masseuses who toiled to get my legs race-ready - resulted in a completely disastrous performance. Enthusiasm, willpower, investment of resources: all easily come to nothing.
I thought I'd already learned this truism the hard way. Six years of work, discipline and sacrifice to write novels have yielded (a) four novels on the shelf, as of yet unpublished and unread, and (b) a state of near bankruptcy. Rejection is the only constant, and my life is so unstable that I've come to feel for rejection a wry and perverted gratitude: it's the only thing I can rely on.
It also make me want to vomit. Not just vomit, but curl up in a ball on the curb and stay there. When your rock is rejection, maybe you're better off under the stone.
Of course, I'm not the first to feel this way. I refer to the aforementioned "paralysis of will that is the consequence of an impasse reached" when "the more [I am] able to grasp [an] awareness of how [I] know anything the less it seems possible to know anything at all. The process of knowing makes all truth only relative" - although I add, no less painful for being relative. "[T]he only response is to 'Let be,' to accept the impossibilities of being human and the limits of knowing and to wait patiently for whatever comes."
While I'm constitutionally constrained from waiting patiently - the best I can muster is waiting in a state of thinly-veiled neurosis and sincerely-felt misery - I take the larger point. "The readiness is all" because it's all we can control. The loss of control reduces us to paralysis - metaphorically, literally or, if we're really unlucky, both. Though being without control is an aspect of reality, living in that reality without being sabotaged by it requires a mental discipline of preferring, and prioritizing, what you can control.
That's our choice: lopsided or frozen.
And here, at last, is the metaphor I'll draw: even a lopsided runner (like myself, suffering from a biomechanical breakdown in her right leg) can finish a marathon.
(Images of Maya Alexandri and Talmon Alexandri running the Prague marathon on 8 May 2011 compiled by Maya Alexandri)