147. Slowlier

I ran a 5K race last Friday night (June 7). I should say slogged 3.1 miles. (Slow jogging minus power = slogging. Picture a scared snail scooting out from under a streaming salt shaker. There you have it.) There was no running involved, just an absence of walking. Steady, solid, controlled, like ballet done in a full body cast. Survival slime surfing. I suppose that the future will be like this– no vivacious sprints left to rocket through. My slogging mantra involves spelling i-b-u-p-r-o-f-e-n over and over till I can swallow a few. “Ibu- Ibu- Ibuprofen!” Even the music I listen to is getting slower, I’ve noticed. Tom Waits, for instance, “God’s away on business”. The Grateful Dead. The  Band.  I’m  concerned that most groups I still listen to have at least one dead guy in them now. Could this be an omen of some sort? Well, of course. We all die one day.

I have to be okay with this devolution. I Just need to recalibrate and reset expectations. I’m not 20 years old any longer. Right?  But the mind is a funny thing. Until I see myself in the mirror, I can still think I’m 22 and fit, unpolluted, even vigorous. And then I look at the old guy staring back at me– saggy, as threateningly unthreatening as the Pillsbury dough boy making a Play Dough fist, soft as a half baked crescent roll. Damn! If I worked out four hours a day, maybe I could get into fighting shape and be pleased to see my muscled self each morning. Unlikely. Nowadays the morning ritual is like watching bread dough rise in a warm kitchen. Expansive, fluffy and yeasty, which are not manly terms, not since the Roman Empire when plump men with names like Julius ruled the world.

Slowly [post race], though, I’m feeling the strength and energy return to my 57 year old body and brain. First there was pain and sweat, a heartbeat that thumped aggressively against my chest and skull. I felt like a silver back gorilla chased by mercenary poachers with AK47’s. Those boys want to make Chinese ashtrays out of my hands and Sino- libido squid soup out of my spleen. An enlarged heart the size of a mature bullfrog was croaking in my throat. “Wharoop, wharoop, wharoop”. Yet another soup choice in Nanking. I admit that I was scared of a vascular meltdown. Those poachers seemed to be getting closer. But they aren’t poachers, just joggers on a late spring evening. Still, I was freaked out by their urgent and purposeful footsteps and possible menu choices.

Ahh, the summer tasks are waiting– garage to clean, fish pond to sparkle, garden to till, yard to wrestle down into submission, groundhogs to kill. Oh, and the cardio work of jogging around the three mile loop behind my house. As a younger guy I used to breeze around it on summer mornings, then do all of the above tasks, and have energy left over beyond the setting sun of a long summer day.  Now I set around noon and pray for darkness to cover my fallen, fatigued body. “Keep moving, folks. It’s just a dead dough boy. Go on home and take your meds, eat right, and above all else, exercise.”

Slowly I get up in the mornings if I have slept soundly. Slowly I move into the morning routine for work. Slowly I pace myself through shower, shave, dress, eat, brush teeth, primp, drive to work. No stress to speak of, but the internal motivation steadily releases thoughts and hormones of responsibility– keep plugging, Dude, push. Wake up more, get rhythm, get crispy, be crunchy. My brain has to be sharp to process the psychic cheese that my clients are thinking and feeling, as well as what they are not saying. Coffee helps but there must be more. The old adage about there being only the quick and the dead in jungle life comes to my consciousness; I’ve never been too quick, so I guess I’m glad I don’t live in a jungle. Still, I fear the poachers. They are everywhere, even breakfast joints. Espresso in the coffee makes for a Redeye. Solution.

Now, weeks later, I’m in the panhandle of Florida, taking the break that will reset my neck and spine better than any chiropractor ‘s manipulations ever could. It’s warm and humid Gulf Coast air that’s blowing across the summer sweat beads on my splotchy skin. Actually the rain came overnight and forced me to my daughter ‘s I-pad. Typing on glass is something I don’t expect to e’er master. You see? Ocular proof. There is only sight to guide me, none of the feel and typing Braille that my mind encoded decades ago. What is the message here? Keep in mind that I have edited the slop that I typed the first time. You can’t detach from your senses and expect sensible results.

I recall in my youth wanting to look at bikini clad girls and have them look at me. There was something like an electrical charge that passed along the sight lines back then. I’m sure it was hormonal energy pretending to be science. Anyway,I don’t seem to give off or attract that energy any longer. I’m not sure if this is sad or if being bound and chained to one’s libido is the sadder fate. In any event I am nonplussed by many square feet of tan female flesh. Almost as if I had a brain injury and could not recall what a spoon was used for. Now, I still understand the cognitive reality of bikini clad flesh; I just don’t have all the neural/ hormonal/electrical pathways firing off like pyrotechnics on a July 4 night. It’s all slowlier sliding away, an old song whose lyrics I still recall but without the passion and purpose attached. Is that sad? I’m not sure. I am sure that it’s a slowlier world these days. Just ask Jerry Garcia. No? Levon Helm? Can I get Tom Waits to testify?

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146. Integrity

It’s an old word that goes back to Latin, integer or whole. To have integrity is to be whole, sound, solid…without impairment.  In construction it’s used to describe structural strength or ability to carry a load. Less than whole is a fraction in math. In social terms we say others have integrity when they say and do what they mean.  Conversely, in psychological or spiritual terms we are fractured when we go against ourselves or God. We fractionalize ourselves in compulsions or sin. In other words we dis-integrate.

Compulsions call one nature against another. Let’s take a pornography compulsion, for example. You have a look at some porn when maybe you are 8 or 12 or 16. Whenever you do, a wedge is driven into your integrated psyche, like those copper wedges the Egyptians used to cut huge stone blocks for their pyramids. It did not seem possible that copper could hew out solid stone, but that’s what happened. Naturally one blow on the wedge would not be enough to fracture stone or you. But repeated blows and many wedges will result in something critical being carved into or out of your soul. The  wholeness resists the force of fracture for a while until the whole breaks. And there you have it: part of a mountainside goes into bondage to the Egyptians. The difference with addictions and compulsions is that you are simultaneously the slave and slave master, object and subject.

The double edge to these wedges is that they are pounded on in secrecy. A magazine or computer site is fixated upon and visited over and over. The new nude landscape becomes just as familiar as the jail cell is to its prisoner. Every inch is tattooed onto a lower part of your brain, down where survival impulses reside alongside trauma memories. It’s called the reptilian brain where our fight, freeze, or flight reactions arise. Addictions and compulsions operate like poison ivy or wisteria vines– they slither up and around legitimate survival instincts and squeeze. Over time the brain comes to believe that these add ons are just as important as the original equipment, maybe even more so. So, where food, water, air, and sex add up to survival,  gambling, shopping, work, porn, heroin, alcohol, cocaine, etc. somehow hold even power in the lower brain like petty tyrants.

I don’t recall the name of the bird that doesn’t build its own nest but lays eggs in another specie’s already constructed nest. When the host bird raises its chicks, this impostor’s chicks overpower the legitimate babies and push them out of the nest. There is a lack of transparency in this deal. Two agendas struggle in one nest. This is one way to look at compulsions or addictions– they are foreign eggs laid in your nest. If you feed and strengthen them, they will weaken or kill your children. That’s the first job of a tyrant, to weaken or kill his competitors. In nature we say it’s the survival of the fittest. Animals adapt or die. There is no morality involved. However, in human nature we’ve been caring for the sick and weak even before we laid claim to being civilized. Morality divides the world into good and bad. Integrity stands guard over the lines we draw in the moral sands.

If I spray painted a brick with gold leaf paint, it would pass as a gold brick but not as a brick of gold. It would work as a play prop, but this counterfeit brick would fail in chemistry analysis, x-ray inspection, and weight tests. At the end of the play it would still be a worthless clay brick under a pretty shell. Likewise integrity is thorough and runs through one’s core. It is not window dressing or a fashion statement. It passes all the tests as the genuine article. Not vinyl made to look like leather or rare veneer made to cover cheap plyboard. No, integrity is sterling if not perfect.

At the end of our lifetimes, will we be just a good shell who fooled the inspectors, or will we be found to have been solid, whole and sound? Sinless? No. Integrity does not have to be perfect, just good enough to stand up to the pressures imposed upon it. So, Blogoids, are you a person of integrity?