Thursday, January 5, 2012

Some rough writing about Fitness

I wrote this during the summer. My ideas have substantially changed recently. I am starting to go to a writers guild twice a week and just trying to get into the habit. I will post a bunch of very rough draft, unedited stuff up here. If anything floats your boat, let me know you like it and I will go back and rework. This is way too long and pretty annoying to be often. If I were brush this up, I would completly delete the first half and start down at the body building stuff. I also gotta do alot of work on my adjetives, I'm quite repetitive.

When I signed up for housing my freshman year at Utah State University, I had the option to be put on a floor of the dormitory that housed people with similar interests. It seemed like a pretty logical idea. For some reason I had decided that I was going to be a Civil Engineering student, and it seemed that whoever the detached student planner was decided that this was the key interest to consider, putting all Engineering students on the same floor. This would have been strange enough, as the typical Engineering student is pretty introverted and the coursework would leave not time for any social interaction, only-there weren’t enough Engineering students to fill the whole floor. The planner then made a second incomprehensible decision: to fill the other half of the floor with Drama majors, the polar opposite of the bookish, restrained Engineers. So much for “unifying interests.”

Somehow, I was one of the few Engineering students rooming with a Drama student, as if my name came out at the bottom of the draft, where they were just trying to fill space. Stories about my roommate could fill pages on another occasion, but just to give you an idea; the guy was obsessed with anything and everything Disney. The walls on his side of the room were plastered with posters of different Disney films, his bed spread had a giant Mickey Mouse print on it, a huge Donald Duck towel hung from the towel rack by his closet. When I first walked into the room, I couldn’t help but think I was on some MTV program where they try to freak out new college students with an over the top actor portraying their new roommate. My roommate had not yet made an appearance and I was alone for about 10 minutes surveying the scene. I was curious about his music taste and browsed his CD rack. Aside from various Broadway recordings, he owned the soundtracks to various rides at Disneyland. Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, even the entire “It’s a Small World” song all its repetitive glory. The tracks were the minute long earworm sung by children in like 32 different languages. I know because I later had to ask him to turn it off while I was studying sometime around that track number. The screen saver that was flashing across his screen was a quote, something about believing that wishes can come true, by Jiminy Cricket. How old was this guy anyway?

When we finally met and had a casual conversation, two things were clear. One, Marshall was an incredibly nice guy. He was wearing a shirt with the abbreviation M.M. on the front on his first day of college. He told me he was interested in voice acting and that his ultimate goal would be to act in a full length animated feature for a Disney Film. I never came straight out and asked him why he was so obsessed with the company, but I came to appreciate the fact that he was into what he was into and that was that. He never asked me what the deal was with the Bruce Lee posters were about on my side of the room either.

The second thing that became clear is that as nice as he was, we weren’t ever going to be great friends. Conversation usually ran dry in a few minutes. I would try to tell him about the intricacies of a great 8-bar rap verse or he would try to explain the brilliance of the movie “Chicago”. There were very few things we could connect on. I like to think that I enjoy the arts as much as the next guy, but our tastes were just so wildly dissimilar. And it wasn’t just Marshall, most the guys on my floor really had little in common with me. Aside from the occasional game of Super Smash Brothers or Halo, and maybe once in a while a bit of shared hatred of our Floor Supervisors, none of us really connected on many levels. It was because of this that I accepted the invitation of a guy from the “Phys. Ed.” floor to play Ultimate Frisbee one Saturday.

There were way too many Physical Education Majors at Utah State that year, so much so in fact that they filled one floor completely and spilled into part of a second. Sometimes in my rare conversations with other Engineering students, we would joke about these guys. “How many Gym teachers does the world need?” That type of thing. But there was no denying that these guys were enjoying their college experience much more than we were. Girls didn’t talk about floor 3, they talked about floor 2. When one of us wandered down to the Phys Ed floor, we stood out like a sore thumb. Phys. Ed. Majors don’t wear glasses, usually walked around in shorts and flip flops, and definitely weren’t eating the grilled cheese at the Junction cafeteria like we were. These guys were active, and I didn’t know it was possible to be so smug about it until I met them. When someone would suggest going to see a movie, one of them would invariably frown and suggest hiking to the wind caves or playing racquetball or some nonsense like that. Never mind that it was 8:00 at night and you had just been studying all day, you would not be forgiven for not being full of all sorts of energy and excitement about life. No toleration for self-loathing around the 2nd floorers, you had to be filled with adrenaline at all times to really fit into the circle.

Fitting is what I wanted. I needed to feed off of their energy, their freedom, their access to the girls in the opposite tower. So when one of these guys took pity on me during class and asked if I wanted to go play Frisbee with him and some friends, I jumped at the chance to change my social destiny. I hadn’t done anything even remotely physically taxing for a good year or so, but in my mind I was just throwing a Frisbee, figured I could handle that. At least they weren’t inviting me to do mixed martial arts or something.

The morning of the game I woke up about ten minutes late and had to literally run out the door. I didn’t have time to go the cafeteria to grab breakfast, so I grabbed a Mt. Dew from underneath my bed, shot-gunned it, and sprinted out to the field, figuring it would give me plenty of energy. And the game began. Ultimate Frisbee has little to do with throwing a Frisbee, it turns out, and a lot to do with high speed sprinting. I’ve never been great at making difficult catches, so my only chance to impress anybody enough for that coveted second invite was to run so fast that I could be completely open. I did this as best as I could. My sisters used to tease me about sprinting with my fingers spread out equidistant from each other, so I did my best to keep this habit at bay. I caught a few passes, even made a couple of points, but soon, the Mt. Dew and lack of activity caught up to me and I found myself on my knees in the end zone, surrounded by all the aforementioned girls and the 2nd floor guys, yakking green liquid onto the grass over a series of violent heaves. I didn’t get that second invite.

This is one of the many famous occurrences of me throwing up after a short amount of physical activity. You can say whatever you thing will make me feel better; that I just pushed myself too hard too fast, that it would get easier over time, but the truth is that it’s pretty pathetic. A few summers ago I decided to take a girl on a date to hike a little mountain in Palmer, the Butte. The hike only takes about half an hour, but at 25 minutes my body shut down and I was throwing up weird mushroom soup just off the trail. I know for a fact that she has spread that story around a bit…I don’t blame her. Last month I tried to take another hike here in Logan with a friend and before we reached the top I was again reduced to the same pathetic state. Nowadays, I don’t feel like I’ve really done a good work out until I hit the nauseous stage.

My dilapidated condition has not really created the motivation to get in shape that I thought it would. On the contrary, I am more embittered than ever to the 2nd floor inhabitants of the world. For a time I concocted complex arguments about how science had it wrong; exercise is damaging to your health! My proofs were that I felt sick every time I attempted strenuous activity; that weightlifters actually are “tearing” their muscles, that people get “addicted” to running, and I would point to the amount of injury involved with sports. Of course I was smart enough to know that the logic behind all this was bogus, but it brought me joy to try to defend slothfulness. However, although a lot of my arguments are a bit tongue in cheek, I can’t deny that I still feel some disgust towards certain types of people who put fitness on a sort of pedestal.

I have a bizarre memory of sitting in a dark theater at the Mr. Chugiak competition in Eagle River when I was in Middle School. Mr. Chugiak was a high school body building competition. I was there because a friend of a friend of a friend was a competitor, and through that chain I was somehow recruited to be there to cheer for him. I had met the guy once or twice, he seemed alright. Body building competitions are probably the most surreal thing I’ve ever seen. The competitors come shuffling out one at a time, covered in greasy bronzer to pose for an audience and judges who clap at their bodies. There is a split second before each flex where the contestant gets this twinkle in his eye, as if the audience doesn’t know what he has in store for them. Then he flexes, and his out of proportion muscles bulge through their thin packaging a few centimeters. This seems to me wildly unimpressive, but the audience at these events roar and hoot like the body builder has just cured cancer. The most disturbing poses to watch in my opinion is when the body builder puts his back to the audience and flexes the muscles in his shoulders and back. As he moves his arms into different positions, the contours in the back transform and shift like. It’s almost machine like as the muscles slip into new spots to accommodate the pose. Even as an eighth grader, I realized that what I was seeing were the twisted leftovers from our evolutionary mating history, a strange ritual of selection. Growing up on a farm and showing livestock, it was almost all too familiar. Bodies are paraded in front of a few judges who in the end which one is the ideal example of the species. The guy that we went to see won the competition. He also happened to date one of the girls I had a crush on in high school.

Years later I watched my cousin, who was a pretty stout guy, prepare for Mr. Alaska or some type of similar competition. We worked on a train and for lunch he would take a piece of Sourdough bread, pile it with six pieces of ham, 6 pieces of turkey, 2 chicken breasts, and sprinkle a bunch of smoked salmon on the top. I was a bit grossed out by this daily ritual. “Protein,” he said. “I have to do it to be ready for competition. I don’t really like it, but I can’t fall behind”. It was weird to realize that even he was sucked into this weird cultish world of body building. What is the real motivation? Obviously the end goal is to have the musculature, but why do we want the musculature? We’re not going out on the Roman battlefields anymore, and even if he did get in a fight, doesn’t bulk get in the way with the way things go down these days? Body building competitions are all about appearance, and have very little to do with functionality. Until a body builder can explain what the real end goal is, I can’t think anything otherwise.

I don’t want to die of a heart attack when I’m fifty years old, and I don’t want my body’s inactivity to drag my mind and vitality down with it. I’m all for teaching our kids to be active, and hopefully someday my own children will get that message that I never did. I think exercise and eating healthy is important, and wish I had a bit more will power to be able to meet my own weight loss goals. I have pretty much stopped having playful arguments with my friends about “reasons why I don’t work out.” There are no good excuses. But I still have a problem with the extremity and downright preachyness of some of the fitness freaks and sports aficionados. I refuse to believe that these things come before family, or are even much more important than any other hobby somebody might have. I’m sure there are some good residual effects to these types of activities, but you also have to admit that much of the motivation behind it are just the “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” that come from the people surrounding you. It’s completely natural, don’t worry, we are programmed this way. It’s instinctual. We want people to look at us and give us the Grand Prize Ribbon. Just don’t pretend that it’s not at all about the glory. Admit that in the scheme of things obsessions with our body’s appearance is a strange vestigial behavior that hopefully someday we can shed off. Don’t try to guilt me into buying gym passes, exercise equipment, personal trainers, or diet pills by saying that if I don’t do it I’ll surely die an early death. Instead, try being honest and talk about how there is a certain bit of narccissm involved, and that I am less accepted by the human race if I don’t look a certain way. The cold hard facts are what have always motivated me.

I will survive longer than any of my ancestors precisely because there is no longer the need to be in peak physical condition. It’s a simple trade-off. In a civilized world, with no hand to hand battles having to be fought, I am more likely to survive no matter what condition I am in. Muscles are a commodity no longer needed, so why waste so much time in the pursuit? Today, survival takes brains, work ethic, and being able to write snide remarks about the strong safely from a computer in my locked house.

Physical Fitness by Calvin Smooth

1 comment:

Tina and Eric said...

This was so great and so hilarious! Loved the writing, love the song, and I even kinda liked the message too. I still can't believe you throw up when you workout!? That is crazy?! :)