[This post courtesy of Keith Eaton, @Midcoaster, who first became obsessed with music when, in 1979, he sat in a darkened theater and watched Apocalypse Now. Nothing was ever quite the same after that opening sequence.]
A few weeks ago, it took everything I had in me to change my clothes and head to the elliptical for a run. Low clouds hung like gray gauze, and a drizzle was ruining the fresh snow. Such is the winter norm now on the New England coast. Classes were quiet, masks burying facial expressions. I muddled through the day and then dragged myself to the gym. Victory!
Some days, this is really difficult. After having had COVID following the New Year, getting back into this running routine has been even harder. The annoying bouts of asthma had become chronic, and the 'rona fatigue of which they speak is real. Plus, after these past two COVID school years focused on the day to day while being denied various annual benchmarks, I've had a difficult time mustering enthusiasm. It was a familiar feeling, too. Depression? Nah. Teacher burnout? Maybe. What about grief?
That word, grief, stuck in my craw as I randomly selected music from my iPod. Music wasn't even something I was "looking forward to"; this is just part of the running routine. Right? The iPod roulette landed on 10/20/21 Eugene's "Ruby Waves". It was a great choice. Trey's simple mortality lyrics, uniquely his own, produce a clear vision of his soul's travels after death. Our soul-spark becomes pinball energy and is reabsorbed into the whole, an "ocean of love."
The jam (much discussed) brought me into a serene space where body mechanics and conscious breathing fell away, and I was left to simply flow. That's when it came to me: grief. Since March of 2021, I have lost five people who were closely connected to me in one way or another. Three were friends from my incoming freshman class in college. I met them in the fall of 1985, and there was a large group of us who glommed onto one another, sharing a love of the Grateful Dead, punk, activism, and misfit culture. In many ways, our cheap beer and brick weed Frisbee lounge shenanigans seem like yesterday.
Little did we know that friendships seeded then would last a lifetime.
More recently, during a two week period in late-January and early-February, I lost an aunt and an uncle. While running, I considered how they were the last survivors of my extended family from the previous generation, save for my mother. The finality of that notion weighed heavily on me. Tinnitus. Headaches. Tooth grinding in sleep. Exhaustion. The recent loss of our high school athletic director's wife, the one who cheerily sold merch at every game, was also weighing on me. Grief. Grieve. It is intransitive and transitive. To grieve for. . . . It was something I hadn't had the energy to do.
"Lonely Trip", then, caught me off guard. On the audience recording, it's almost hard to hear amidst the din of room echo and chad chompin', but that song's message rang clear, too: "So while you're on this lonely trip / Keep a watch for other ships / And if by chance our vessels pass / Perhaps we'll meet at last." It's simple phrasing, but there's a deep well. It's Hemingway's Iceberg Theory: that little bit above the surface hides a deep ocean of emotion. And we are so often alone on our journeys, the song just seemed inevitable.
The repetitive motion, running, the muscle memory of locking into an athletic pattern, the breathing, all of it helped salve the open hole in me. Then, with another roll of the iPad dice, I landed on 12/30/18. OK, the roulette landed on Alumni Blues (let's be clear: degrees don't solve a damn thing), and I skipped ahead to "Everything's Right." This is straight-up 3.0 positivity, and it was just what I needed. Breathe. Move. Get into the zone. "I'm in prison without a crime / The sentence stretches on undefined." Hamlet had this prison problem, too, when he was in mourning for his father, steeped in grief.
Dejected, not trusting his childhood playmates Rosencrantz and Gildenstern, Hamlet acknowledges how, "I have of late–but wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth." He has even "forgone all / custom of exercises." When bantering about the benefits of seeing the bright side, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern question Hamlet's assessment of the world, and Denmark, as a prison. It is a metaphor of time and thinking they are not prepared to tackle. Yet Hamlet lends a helping hand, suggesting the world as prison, and how "there is nothing / either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" (Hamlet.II.ii). The trick, then, is to step outside the negative thinking.
"Happiness is how / rooted in the now." The running is hypnotic. The sweat is cleansing. The music is transportational. The music in good headphones? Call it infinity, "bounded in a nut shell" (Hamlet.II.ii). I've always known that this was the path I needed to take to heal, and yet I did not want to walk the path. This was the road to take, and yet it slipped away. "There are things that I forget." Yes, I'm learning, slowly, while "remembering to forget." Music helps that healing; get back on the treadmill, I tell myself. Or, in the words of Pigpen, "Get on that pony ride, now now. Get on that pony and ride."
OK, maybe it's not like Pigpen. "Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own." For a moment, though, room, elliptical, running shoes, facemask, floor, all trappings of the material world have slipped away, and I'm feeling better. Deep breathing, yes, I'm feeling better. Breathe. Still . . . even a good run has to end. Plasma reminded me.
"No matter how you slice your day / or dream of places far away / or try to set your world apart / You always end up where you start." On an elliptical, we literally go nowhere. That's OK, though. With a strong pulse, a streaming show, a little sunlight and air, I can remember the lessons I've learned. Even if "no one taught that to me yet," the body knows.
It's the remembering that's key. Walking out on stage must be like this, I think to myself, wiping down the Precor Crosstrainer. Some nights, it's a chore to walk down to the gym, students making a racket, random announcements on the PA. But the muscles know what to do, and once warmed up, they lead. The music helps, too.
The strain and effort doesn't always work. But sometimes, it clicks. That's when we transcend the moment. Mammal sweating water: music; homeostasis; essential needs.
And that's enough for me on a winter's night.
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that was cool to read
The body might be better off after exertion, but running for no reason can exasperate the brain: "Why are we doing this? Where are we going? This makes no sense! You fool!"
He concluded that they had no depression because they did everything for each other. Competition and self-reliance are trivial, nonproductive, illogical. Homo sapiens have an innate need to seek connection via a deep, mutual dependency. Industrial society has estranged us from this fundamental need to be an integral part of each other's lives. We need to live life with purpose to achieve the connections that relegate sadness to the back burner or abolish it altogether. Treadmills, rowing machines, free wieghts, jogging with no imperative - they're all useless activities that by their very nature are limited and unworthy of your time. Unfortunately, humans are now almost universally sedentary, living separately and struggling with incredible rates of depression.
I have no conclusion or recommendation other than the observation that we've painted ourselves into a corner and will be better off once we've spent all the fuel and let go of the false promises of progress and technology.
Sorry about the blog post as comment. I'll shut up for a while.
Have you ever tried walking backwards on the treadmill? It might help make your obstacles disappear.
Love and Light
Here is your post written in another manner:
People near a super fund site didn’t get cancer, a scientist thought it was because they ate vegetables. The study showed it’s because they didn’t live close enough to to be effected by the superfund site. ipso facto Eating vegetables is a waste of time and has no benefits.
The peer reviewed science on the benefits of exercise is overwhelming, and that is an understatement.
Keep climbing that hill.
Hopefully some day you can make it down to Atlanta and we can share Greenpeace stories.