This was written on the 21st of March, but the knowledge that it was rambling and non-coherent kept me from putting it up. Anyways, I guess it doesn’t really matter if I ramble, because anything I paste into my blog will get “published”. Enjoy.
I’m slowly being faced with my own mortality and it’s not making me any wiser. Unfortunately, up until this point I’ve looked at life while thinking I’m invincible, (I’ll give a backhanded shoutout here) like my friend Brad, who spent most of high school comparing himself to the Greek God Apollo. I think that my problem arose from a combination of factors: luck, confirmation bias, over-confidence, and stupidity. I’ve been hit by a car, got stuck upside down in a waterfall before letting myself go in a headfirst free fall, fallen off crevices, been held up at gun and knife point etc, etc. I’ve lived a charmed life, because the most I have to show for all my folly are a few scratches and a funny looking toe. What I just did in the preceding sentences was unjustified sensationalism of my life, because I’m sure most people could put together just as good, if not better highlight reels. The point of it however was to show the unfortunate way that my brain works, because you see, most people would learn from their experiences, but instead I glorify them in my own head, and they feed my problematic sense of invincibility.
I’m thinking about running a marathon either in the summer or fall, so lately I’ve started some tentative base training. Every Sunday I’ve been slowly inching my long runs up by fifteen minute increments, and last Sunday reached two hours. In the past, a slow two-hour run wouldn’t have been easy if it was my first of the year, but it also wouldn’t have been something I’d think twice about. Sunday morning it was a couple of degrees below-zero, but by the time I started my run, it was around twenty above. I timed myself for four thirty minute laps, because although not trying to push my pace, I didn’t want to have positive splits. The first lap was slow, creaky, and not fun, but normal and expected; the second lap felt slightly smoother; and the third lap felt light and fast. Then I hit a wall, and I hit it hard. This was on a medium distance easy run that I wouldn’t have thought twice about doing in high school. Hit the wall doesn’t even do it justice, I dogged the shit out of my last lap, tongue hanging out, eyes dead, form crapped, and it was all I could to maintain my lame pace.
It was a brush of mortality, and afterwords when my brain couldn’t function well enough to read, I passed out for two hours in the middle of the day. I narrowed my dismal performance to either getting worse at athletics or being affected by my diet of refined sugar, fat, and carbohydrates. Either way, I realized that I can’t just go out and easily run two hours anymore without paying attention to training and diet, and that’s kinda depressing. The silver lining was that I felt great the next day, so at least I know my suckage only lasts for a day or so.
The following day our village had a Nauriz celebration, a sort of combination of a Kazakh, Muslim, and pagan/equinox party. Our village square was filled with smoke from roasting meat, different tables of different ethnic foods, and tons and tons of people. Oh, and there was one outhouse, far out of the way, which was completely empty when I paid it a visit. I’m beginning to think that everyone in this country just holds it. It was a warm day with the sun shining hot on everyone mingling in the crowd, and I enjoyed just walking around and letting my senses get a workout for the first time in months. Hearing voices, feeling the warm sun, smelling the food and smoke, and appreciating all of the village women out in their nicest (and stylish) clothes.
In the middle of the square there was a huge pole with gifts at the top, about 7 or 8 meters above the ground. Guy after guy stripped to their underwear and attempted the pole, with about fifty percent of them getting halfway up before sliding back down, the other fifty percent being too dismal to comment on. After some prodding by my host-father, I found myself in my underwear with my arms and legs wrapped around the huge frozen pole. When I had two meters to go, the pole had narrowed so that I knew victory was within my grasp, and then I screwed the pooch. My gripped slipped just a fraction as I let my mind wander down to the hundreds of people that were looking at me in my underwear. I fell about four feet before catching myself, but that was enough to not only expend the necessary energy, but slice my arms, chest, and thighs up real good. More than anything though, I let it break my resolve, and after a few more minutes of struggling, I had to slide down in defeat.
Maybe because it was the second such moment in two days, but the loss hit me hard. Although everyone around me had nothing but congratulation, I don’t think they understood that for me, losing is losing, no matter how close you get to winning. I was prescribed a stogram (100g) of vodka for my injuries, and had a photo-shoot with some girls who managed to get past my counterpart and school director. I then tried my hand at a dead lift competition, did respectably, but got the shit kicked out of me by the guy that won, so wandered back to our school’s table to eat more meat and drink more vodka. The presents hanging down from the pole seemed to wink derisively at me though, so I decided that I needed to give it another go. Reason however, told me that I’d have a better chance with less alcohol in my blood, so I jogged over to the musical school to get in a session of piano playing while hopefully clearing my mind and sharpening my coordination. After 45 minutes I walked back to the school resolute and excited. I had chocolate in my pocket that was given to me by a pretty Armenian girl, and was rubbing it in my hands to increase stickiness.
I was heartbroken. I walked back just in time to see them take down the pole, and effectively wresting away my sense of self-worth. I’m working on being a more mature human being, but I can’t shake the instinct that my sense of self is inherently related to how hard I can hit, high I can climb, fast I can run. It’s ironic, because as each year passes, the immense respect that I have for athletes diminishes exponentially. Not that I don’t have any respect for athletes, just that I don’t have more respect for people who are athletes than people who aren’t, if anything, I wonder at motives and the amount of time on their hands.
But, like the hypocrite that I am, I went back home and did pushups until I felt like my liver was going to come out of my mouth before realizing that I was becoming what I so despise, that guy in the gym who’s there for some reason other than because he just enjoys being there. Someone vainly striving for a happiness that better-results, being stronger, and having less body fat will never give them. I gotta ease up on the ridiculous judgment, but I felt like it was pretty stupid for me to waste the rest of the afternoon doing pushups.
That idea of mortality is an interesting thing, because I think on some level that I live my life unconsciously under the impression that I’ll live forever, and that I’d live a very different life if I could convince myself every day that I’m going to die. Because when you think about it that way, there are no rules, only consequences, and every opportunity should be maximized in whatever way you as an individual sees fit. In trying to live my life as such, I’ve found myself with more caffeine in my blood, up earlier in the morning, running farther, teaching extra classes of fifth and third graders, going out to our “bar” with my host-brother, dancing more, and singing to myself as I walk in the streets. The thing though, is that none of this is new, fresh, or something that one couldn’t find in a self-help book, which makes me think of the sad nature of self-help books, because the second I see someone with one, I assume that their life is tanking.
I don’t know where I’m going with this one. I think that I’m off kilter partly due to Russian rap and hip hop that constantly invades every room of our house, or maybe it’s due to a comment that my dad made the other day. We were talking about life, and he said very simply that situations change, time changes, technology changes, but people don’t change. Although very basic, this idea challenged me on a deep level, and it resonated with me especially as I’ve lately been reading lots of classic fiction. Questions about the meaning of life, humanity’s relationship with civilization, and just the way that we seem to interact with and treat one another seem central to everything read. It’s so natural for me to place ideas of what is and what should be on individuals, and furthermore base ideas of what could be on individuals, but when thinking about civilization from the framework that individuals won’t change, but the institutions that we put in place will, I’m forced into a different, more complicated mindset.
As I read Therou, Homer, Dostoyevsky, Verne, Dickens, and more, it seems like all of those guys seem to be hammering away looking for the same basic truth. Sentiments are echoed in literature separated by centuries, and often make sense to me today. This simply complicated idea that people don’t change interests me, especially as I question what before I’ve taken for granted. It’s too easy to blindly accept and/or blindly reject the edicts, technologies, ideas, politics, and arts of today for a glorification of the past. For example, my initial opinion of social media sites are that they are superfluous and ridiculous at best, and degrading and dehumanizing at worst, but Niko, a good friend of mine recently talked to me about how these very sites have spawned effective disaster relief efforts. However things like this are often cited by the same people who cite the democratizing effect of the internet, basically what I’m getting at is that it’s easy to fall on one side or the other. And even if we recognize that technology can be both good and bad, it’s too…
And that’s where by brain turned off. Maybe some other time I’ll actually write a coherent essay on technology, but for now I’ll just copy paste this into my blog so that it seems like I write more.