Bored and restless, he left the table in the cafe and walked to stretch his legs. He walked without thought under the trees, sometimes watching the traffic as he went or other pedestrians, but mostly looking inward, until he found himself at one of observation decks. It was empty. He stepped up to look out the windows.
Space seemed as empty as the observation deck. Readouts clicked, whirled, and blinked on panels of information presented in red, blue, green, and amber characters below the window. It all seemed too abstract for consideration. Three things remained concrete to him for now. One, he and his family had made it onto the Ark. Two, they’d left Earth behind. Three, he probably wouldn’t live to see the new world, but his son would.
Right now, those three things were all that mattered.
– “You ain’t nothin’ ‘less you got the look.”
– “Better work harder until you got the best.”
– “You don’t matter ’cause you’re not rich.“
– “Who the hell are you?”
There had been decisions before, but things change, so new decisions were reached and accepted. What had been important became meaningless as priorities sifted like sand dunes.
Others ran into him, exchanging greetings, but then, privately told one another, “He’s really changed,” “Yes, he let himself go.”
They saw it as a bad thing.
I’ve leveled out on my Fitbit activities and achievements. I’m averaging almost nine miles a day and twenty-three flights, which is where I’ve been for a while.
I’ve settled into this, but I looked at the whys and wherefores behind this leveling.
Weather (and smoke). We’re into summer. I love the weather, except, you know, it gets a little hot. This year is more comfortable in Ashland. We’re cruising along between the mid-eighties and the mid-nineties. Temperatures usually drop below sixty at night, so it gets cool. However, walking during the day is still a sweaty endeavor. I stay well-hydrated and push myself on some days, but after achieving ten miles, I think, “Again?” Then I permit myself to back off (see #3).
Smoke is also a factor. We’ve been fortunate this year in Ashland this year. Smoke from only one wildfire blanketed us for a few days. Last year, it was worse, with fires all around us smothering the valley. I toughed it out on many days, wearing masks when the pollution levels became a health hazard. This year, I asked, why? What am I proving, and to whom am I proving it? So when the smoke was demoralizing thick earlier this month, I curtailed walking outside and did other activities.
In all of this, I’ll share my inherent liability (for this) that I don’t like exercising at the gym. I’ve never gotten into that scene. My wife loves it, and that’s good for her. But being a stereotypical reclusive writer, I don’t go to the gym. When I was in the military, I ran a few miles a week, and played racquetball and handball three or four times a week. Once I went through a hernia and blew out a knee at the end of my military career, forcing me to moderate activities, I stopped doing those things. The end.
Time Management. There are finite hours available. More importantly, my energy levels are finite. Wrestling with where fitness piece fits into my life puzzle required priorities.
- Number one, my writing time.
- Personal commitments involving my spouse.
- Socializing with my wife and friends
- Exercising, yardwork, reading, and everything else.
My writing time is almost sacrosanct. I put it off a lot while I was in the military and then working as a civilian so that we could pay the bills. Not that I quit working, I’m pursuing my dream.
That fourth one, above, is a catchall. Yardwork must be done, in my mind. Otherwise, it bothers me. Sure, I can shrug it off for one day…a week…maybe two, but then it becomes an irritation. Besides that, with the fire threats of our area, keeping weeds down and everything trimmed back is precaution.
And I like to read. I want to read. I read. Sometimes it’s a choice: do I want to read, or walk? Well, am I doing yardwork? Cleaning the house? Washing the cars? Going shopping? What can I shuffle off for another day?
I Don’t Wanna Laziness. Sometimes I just tell myself, you deserve a break, Michael. You’re writing and doing all these things. You’re sixty-two years old, retired from two careers and working on a third. Chill for a while.
Yes, it’s a rationalization. I came to grudgingly accept it. Number one, I grew up believing you are your clean house, your neat yard, your shiny car, and your job and appearance. That’s how I was socialized. Those of you who grew up in America in the last century probably know what I’m talking about. Now I know that, no, all those things are mostly superficial. As with a lot of living and activities, there’s a balance to be found and kept.
Part of my rationalization was also recognition that I was getting a little obsessive about my Fitbit activities, trying to push myself to higher and higher levels to the detriment of other activities. I’d tell myself, you did sixty-five miles this week; do sixty-six next week. I also realized that house-cleaning, yardwork, and other chores are perpetual, never-ending activities. Cut the grass this week, and you’ll need to cut it again two weeks later. Vacuum now, and the floor will have things on it again tomorrow after people and cats go through the house (especially cats!).
So it goes.
One of last night’s dream seemed structured like a feature film.
It began with me becoming aware of a contest. I can’t tell you the details of the contest. They were vague and dreamy. But I entered the contest and was selected as one of the winners.
That thrilled me. As a prize, I was going to drive a Porsche 911 Cabrio. It wasn’t the current model, but a car that was part of a collector’s garage. I was happy and excited.
But the dream took a twist. Other people needed help. It wasn’t inconsequential help, but help they needed to survive. Although it meant that I would miss out on my prize, I did what I needed to do to help others. Yes, on the one hand, I regretted that I would miss out on my prize. On the other hand, come on, it’s a silly prize, compared to the larger picture of helping others who are fighting to survive. There wasn’t a question; it’s what needed to be done.
Smiling and happy, they thanked me after I helped them (I literally gave a number of people helping hands to climb out of muddy, swollen rivers.) When it was all over, I waved good-bye to them, satisfied with the result.
Taking another turn in the dream, though, a friend, Kevin, showed up. He said, “I called the guy and told him what you did and why you didn’t get your prize. He admired you, so he came up with another prize for you.” I was presented with the keys to an Arctic blue Porsche 911 Cabrio.
Oh, it was gorgeous. Although it was a cold day, with melting snow all over the place, it was sunny, and the car’s top was down. Kevin and I got into the car. I started it up and drove it carefully through puddles of slush and over patches of snow and ice.
Kevin said, “Come on. What are you doing? My grandma drives faster than this. Open it up.”
But I’d had a plan. I was getting to a place where I could turn and go up a hill onto a mountain road. Right as Kevin finished making his plaintive statements, I downshifted and mashed the throttle. As he was slammed back in his seat, he laughed and said, “Whoa, shit. This is more like it.”
Laughing, with the car’s engine in full song, I accelerated up the mountain road.
That was the dream’s ending.
I wasn’t satisfied with how things were going last month. I was in a tunnel, that tunnel shaped my life and attitude. There were no lights in my tunnel. Changes were needed to provide me a light to look to at the end of the tunnel. So, on a whim in August, unmentioned to anyone, I sought to make five changes.
- I quit drinking mochas every day.
- Priorities were re-evaluated and shifted.
- I re-balanced myself.
- Alcohol intake was reduced.
- I began drinking apple cider vinegar every morning.
My decision to stop drinking quad-shot mochas during my writing routine at the coffee shop freaked my barista buddies. I had to assure them, it wasn’t them, it was me. I didn’t explain why, though, just ordering black coffee. I’ve had two mochas since August 27, when I stopped, but they were of the weak Starbucks variety, which is more like mild hot chocolate than anything else, and were accepted when another bought them for me.
To re-evaluated priorities, I had to change how I approached blogging and my Fitbit activities. I’d become almost obsessive compulsive about establishing goals for them and following through. I had to remind myself, they’re not as important as other life matters. I blog far less. My daily Fitbit goals are met, but they’re the last item of focus.
Re-balancing myself required the biggest effort. I posted about it in The Resentful Writer.
I’m not and wasn’t a ‘big’ drinker. I liked having a glass of red wine in the evening. I stopped it. I haven’t had wine, except at one dinner, in three weeks. I reduced my beer intake. I enjoyed a beer when my wife and I went out to eat, so I took a pass a few times, and I forsook my Wednesday evenings spent having a beer with friends.
The apple cider vinegar was last. I think it’s the most drastic step. I’m frustrated with my digestive system. I’d recently read about the Kansas City Chiefs, an American pro football team. They like pickle juice as an electrolyte. A few days later, a friend told me that her late husband loved pickles, so she had a huge stash of pickles of different varieties, and she doesn’t like pickles. I told her about the Chiefs and pickle juice, and she reciprocated by remarking that people often come up with interesting remedies, such as apple cider vinegar. She couldn’t remember what people drink it for. I made a note to look it up later. The results I found enticed me to try it.
Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.
I caught myself in a neat trap. I set it, and walked myself into it. I’d been trapped in it for a few weeks before I realized what had happened.
To step back, I bought a Fitbit last January. I like it. I enjoy walking. Walking, like writing, helps me think. The Fitbit tracked my walking and gave me quantified results. That was beautiful. I had goals, and could stretch myself against those goals. Great.
Similar to playing video games, walking and measuring my progress and activities sucked me in. I play video games every day. They’re small, online games; I don’t let myself buy or enroll in more, because I know I’ll get sucked into them. It happened a long time ago with a computer game called “Empire.” The game with its attendant strategies and tactics sucked me in. Huge swaths of time and energy were lost to playing that game. It was an ugly lesson learned.
It was also an insight into myself. Like many people, I hunt validation about who I am, and my relative merits. They’re hard to come by in the modern world, especially when you’re in the military or working for a corporation. They like to give you “Atta-boys.” That’s a reward where they beam at you, and say, “Thanks. Well done!” Yes, it worked for a while, but as I realized the emptiness of those rewards, and the challenges became easier and easier, the rewards became meaningless for me. Winning video games became more rewarding in my schema, thus validating me.
Coping with myself and my tendencies, I began seeking things that can be tangibly measured to reward me. In turning to writing, I discovered, hey, I can achieve the same sort of satisfaction by writing one to two thousand words a day. That made me feel good about myself. Finishing a story made me feel better. Selling one made me feel great.
In the cascading process, I then went after another prize: writing a novel. Each step in the process was again a tangible reward, an objective achieved. From finishing a chapter to finishing a novel was a wonderful experience.
Selling it, however, was not easy. Dejected with the publishing process, I went the Amazon publishing route. The rewards fall miles short of my hopes and dreams. So….
Writing became less rewarding. Well, writing remains rewarding. I find writing novels to be akin to solving logic problems. They hold an inherent challenge and reward. But writing doesn’t provide me the validation from outside myself that I know I need. Being thin-skinned and insecure, I need huge quantities of validation.
Enter the Fitbit.
Just like that, I started increasing my goals and exceeding them. I stretched goals from ten thousand steps to fourteen thousand steps, from five miles to six, to seven, to eight.
Naturally, these goals absorbed time and energy, especially in these summer months when it’s ninety degrees or more. Reluctantly, I realized, I needed to draw back from the Fitbit and the walking goals, because they were distracting me from my writing goals and activities. Why, of course, was obvious: the Fitbit goals were tangible and reachable. Writing goals of writing novels, publishing them, and selling novels were tangible, but not easy reached. Not reaching them despite the efforts made became a depressing effort. Mad sequences of Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing,” kept streaming into my head. “Let’s break out the booze, and have a ball. If that’s all. There is.”
So, seizing myself by my metaphysical scruff, I drag myself away from Fitbit goals and re-prioritized. Whereas I had been targeting six to ten thousand steps before writing, I now write first, and then hunt the steps and miles.
Someday, I believe, or hope, that I’ll find something more, something that will finally quiet the desperation and disillusionment in me. Meanwhile, I’m going to avoid boozing, except for a few beers and wine, reduce my Fitbit goals, and keep on writing.