Sunday, May 21, 2006

Conquering the Voice

Whenever I go to the gym for a run there is a period of time between when I quit working for the day and when I arrive, during which my mind engages in relatively unproductive thought. It provides ample time to dwell on negatives, as I rapidly begin to unravel for the day. Upon pulling into the parking lot, I'll turn off the car engine, put my head on the steering wheel, sigh deeply, wish I could take a nap, and as I review the facts of my life, a voice whispers into my ear all the reasons I should turn around and go back home.

In the span of a minute all the worries, the cares, the frustrations, the pain, and the crushing agony of day to day life envelop me and proceed to suck all the wanna out of me. I am reminded that no matter what it is that I choose to be doing at any given time, there is also something else that I could and should be doing; at that time running seems to be of comparative insignificance.

Then I remember that years ago I made a deliberate decision. As difficult as working out can be some days, I've promised myself to opt for minor discomfort on the road or track, daily muscle pain, and tiredness over doctor bills, continual day-to-day illness and early death.

There are no guarantees it will work out that way, but the odds for better physical and emotional health and enjoyment of life are far better for one who exercises faithfully than for one who does not. So far doing so has brought me nothing but benefits, so why should I stop or even pause?

"Get behind me, you curs├Ęd unmentionable orifice!" I say to the voice. Whereupon I drag my discouraged vessel of life from the car — between May and October stepping into oppressive heat — pull my gym bag from the trunk, and slowly drag my carcass toward the building, calulating ways I can cut today's workout short, usually with plans to make up the effort Tomorrow.

Anywhere from forty-five minutes to several hours later I reemerge from the building a different person. In most cases I have conquered the voice, I feel wonderful, and am ready to tackle whatever may come for the rest of the day.

Non-Utilitarian Apparel

There is a certain arbitrariness born of tradition regarding what is considered dressy attire. Utilitarian wear is not the first principle of design.

There is nothing intrinsically praiseworthy from a practical standpoint about tying a piece of cloth around one's neck that gets in the way. They don't call it a tie for nothing. It's a form of restraint. A necktie is a symbol of repression. Nor is there anything praiseworthy about wearing a coat either indoors or out in a city where the daily temperature often reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise, there is nothing commendable about women who wear high heels that throw their bodies out of alignment, forcing them to walk more slowly, and risking spinal and ankle injuries.

Men are considered to be "dignified" when they wear suits and neckties because this is what the business community wears. The implied assumption is that the business community is considered dignified, on the whole a group to be looked up to as a standards setter. The reality is much to the contrary; it is mostly those who strive to become a part of that community who narcissisticly confer that status upon themselves, and because they come to be the ruling class in society, impose it on others.

Jehovah's Witness men (of which I am one) are strongly urged to conform to this standard of appearance. Why we are required to imitate the appearance of greedy sleazebags who rule a class of individuals that God has promised to destroy is an amusing question that has never been adequately justified to my own satisfaction.

If we are to imitate a class of individuals, why not choose a class more worthy of the honor, such as college professors, or professionals?

The efforts we make in our widely known work of visiting people at their homes would certainly improve both in quality and quantity if, when engaged in the work, we would wear clothing that is appropriate to the conditions rather than that which causes people who already regard us as flakes to conclude that we are also unreasonable.

Such clothing can still be regarded as attractive rather than slovenly, in addition to being practical. In the hot months in Phoenix standard items of apparel might include dressy walking shoes rather than formal dress shoes, shorts rather than long pants, moisture wicking, short sleeve, collarless shirts, and hats for head protection. But that's not what we wear.

Nonetheless, the standards are what they are, and are unlikely to change.

Giving Awards

Mankind is inextricably addicted to the ceremonious giving of awards.

When I was a Boy Scout, our troop had a pancake making contest. I took it seriously, thinking the intent was to make the finest-looking stack of pancakes possible. Some of the other boys brought in pancakes that were weird colors and decorated with all manner of doodads.

I chose to submit a single buckwheat pancake, one which covered the entire plate, and was perfection in its evenly distributed dark brownness and texture. I arrived optimistic about my chances for first place, for as a pancake my entry exemplified perfection.

When they announced the awards, mine was the first to be mentioned: It won the title "Heavyweight Champion." I thought that was a might flippant for such a fine specimen of pancakehood, but I was initially gratified to receive the honor.

My delight was only momentary, however, as thereafter the scoutmaster began giving awards to the ones that looked like gangrenous organs, and those with flags attached. It didn't take long to realize that every pancake-maker was getting an award, which meant that my challenge had not been a contest at all, but simply an exercise in pancake making. I should have felt gratified by the knowledge that I'd done a good job of nurturing a useful skill. Instead I was ticked off.

At the same time I learned a lesson: The more awards you give out, the more it becomes like giving awards to nobody.

Whereas it's a fine thing to acknowledge another person's worthy accomplishments, the act of award giving is prone to becoming a shallow act of feel-good psychology, something akin to giving a hug. The Oscars are a prime example of that truth. Another is giving deeper and deeper awards to increasingly narrow age groups at races, something seen frequently at amateur sports events.

Not long ago a New Yorker cartoon illustrated my point. A little boy in a sports uniform walks in carrying an elaborately fancy trophy as tall as he is, and announces to his bewildered father: "We lost."

Since the best I've ever done in a race with more than 100 people in it is about the seventieth percentile of my age group, I've learned to live with this reality. I am unlikely ever to earn hardware, no matter how far down they go, until the day I manage to outlive all the other competition. But I would rather get an award that represents a significant accomplishment, something I earned, than one which seems more like an entitlement.