I've started a regimen of physical fitness. Ha! Just days ago Joseph invited me to a yoga class his friend was teaching.
"Jos, you know me. Do I seem to you like a yoga person?" I asked.
My body is what's inevitably going to let me down, after all—hardly the sort of thing I want to curl up and relax with. Under the best of circumstances it'll begin circumscribing my motions in a couple decades' time, fortress walls crumbling and opening nothing up, but rather blocking all the doors with fallen rubble. I've managed the business of having a body as someone trapped in a yard with a sleepy but presumably vicious dog: no sudden moves, and things will probably be okay. Avoid eye contact.
Of course, it makes no sense to say these things. My brain is body. My eyes, my ears, my tongue. But useless to deny the sense of separation, too. I relentlessly knock my hips and shoulders against doorframes I've passed through thousands of times, take steps that fail and trip me for no reason I can understand. What am I, to the section of my mind that runs my motions? A camera mounted on a broomstick? Or something smoothly limbless like a water-snake; but nothing I inhabit is calm water.
As I write my foot has fallen asleep. Without ticklishness I run my fingers down the sole. Curiously, it registers the chill of my hand, and nothing else. My circulation is poor, as forgetful of my extremities as my primary motor cortex. When I was very young and had not crawled out as far yet from my flesh I would say: my foot is dizzy. Limbs, nerves are brain.
I've groaned and rolled my eyes at the thought of "working out" for years. It certainly was not a punk rock thing to do, and later it seemed unrelated to the life of the mind. Sometimes I've gone for runs when my body's grown twitchy from too much sitting around. I overdo it immediately, which doesn't take much. To sprint is more fun. I bike about 20 miles on most weekdays, but that is simply how I get places; I like to move just fine, but I want the motions to get something done. I do not want to think about my form. Are there not enough labors to be undertaken in this world?, I sniff. Must we work so hard at useless things? (After which I generally turn back to reading the internet for another hour or two.)
It is a little bit more than my laziness speaking when I get nervous about these gyms and classes and machines and the people in them. One hears of the sense of accomplishment to be obtained from working out, and it is probably no more useless than most ways one could spend an hour's time. But nothing has really been pushed forward in the world, unless you are training for combat, perhaps, or to perform a demanding dance. That we spend hours running in place is too blockheadedly obvious a metaphor even to complete.
Heather brought home this Jillian Michaels DVD, is how I started my regimen of physical fitness; it was lying there, and I'd been sitting around working from home all day. So I began. "You want those abs!" Jillian Michaels says by way of encouragement as she gestures to her fellow demonstrators of fitness, and suddenly the video is some kind of QVC program, the viewer window-shopping for body parts which she will, hopefully, soon be able to afford. (Jillian has two fellow demonstrators, one supposedly more and one less advanced along the path of fitness, though the less-fit model's only visible difference is that she is five or six inches shorter than the other. And that does make her more relatable. Possibly she also cannot reach the top shelf of her kitchen cabinets.)
Shopping is a feeling, though this version is about as interesting to me as coupon-clipping. I can sprint, and, on the other hand, I can endure. Long bike rides, hikes up mountains, walks across town. These seem to be the natural rhythms of human movement. Something is darting past quickly and must be seized, or else it is staying put somewhere far away, and it will take a while to reach. The stuff in the middle is too vague to bother with; there are complicated calculations of pacing, budgeting. I am not so interested in becoming "shredded," as Jillian horrifyingly puts it. (She really isn't awful, and doesn't talk that much, but naturally my radar's tuned to certain wavelengths.) It'd be easier if I would simply agree that our goal is for me to lose twenty pounds in thirty days. But this is an instance in which you realize that you are dependent on certain figures who have extremely little in common with you, almost by definition of their profession: the dentist, the hairstylist, the banker. The woman on the workout DVD, who bosses me around while remaining cheerfully immune to my scoffing at her music choices.
It would be good to be stronger. And it is good to step out of my habit of only ever doing things I'm already pretty sure I'll be okay at, to be physically humbled in a different fashion than tripping on the sidewalk or dropping a glass. Because I started on a whim, I may have a chance of sticking with this thing—or at least get as far as I did a couple of weeks ago with National Novel Writing Month, which I also began impulsively, pounding out 26,000 words or so before losing hope of meeting the deadline. Which feels not so bad. It was good, then, to slip into a space mostly soundproofed against the hemming and hawing of the internal editor (though what lets me hope I'll finish the project is the anticipated pleasure of going back and fixing, improving). Its hesitant voice is also difficult to hear over Jillian's smooth encouragements, the bastardized synthetic '80s jazz that's never acknowledged by the women onscreen, the thump of jumping jacks. The unfamiliar-sounding bursts of breath that are emerging, somehow, from your lungs. They are forcing their way out on the wrong beat, Jillian keeps telling you, but eventually you may begin to bring them under your control.