Mental Exercise

I joined a “fitness center” this week, which made my friends suspect I might have a “brain cloud.”  To put a finer point on it, if any one of my gym teachers could see me on the treadmill, they would blow a valve out of their fit little hearts.

I was the girl who would kindly let you go ahead of me in the batting line, or the kicking line, so that I never had to bat or kick.  I was the girl who was far, far out in the outfield, where no projectile would approach.  If a projectile were to approach, I would do what came naturally: duck and cover.

Knowing that I recently broke up with someone, it makes a little more sense that I would take up exercise.  Pounding out all that anger and nervous energy helps the heartbroken.  The recently dumped also need mood enhancement.  A touch of the runner’s high staves off the “why why why”s.  But to be honest… I was jogging a little in the fall.

I joined this “fitness center” (you see I’m not comfortable even with the terminology) because it adjoins a rehab center.  Half the crowd is busted up somehow, and a lot of them are elderly.  Not merely older.  Elderly.

So there was no intimidation factor for the clumsy, no-aim nerd girl.  I can walk free and easy, without a cane, which makes me the jock of the group.  I can jump up and zip along at 5.5 miles an hour.  Even 6.5.  And there’s no place for my whining about not being in great shape.  If an 80-year-old can totter down into the pool to water walk, well, I can’t feel bad about not being able to run an eight-minute mile.  She’s reminding me to be patient and easy on myself.

After I do my little jog of exactly 20 minutes because that’s how long it takes to become slightly healthier, I sit in the hot tub for 10 minutes because that’s how long one can sit in a hot tub without mummifying oneself upon reencountering the dry January air.  Yesterday, sitting steaming the crinks out of my brain, gazing at the swimmers splashing up and down the lanes, I thought: maybe it’s not that I don’t want to be intimidated.  Maybe I am obsessed with being better than everyone else.

I like to think I am not competitive, but this is only sometimes true.  I’m not competitive as long as I can come up with a reason that I secretly “win” in my own mind.  I “win” at exercising because I am young and healthy– although I’ve done nothing to earn youth, and not much to earn health, either.  (I ate a helping heap of volcano cake and cool whip when I got home.  It was delicious.)

The more I thought about it, the more examples of this kind of thinking popped up, like bubbles from the jets.  How often have I consoled myself about not having money by telling myself my job was more meaningful than someone else’s?  (As if I were the great judge of “meaning.”)  How often have I told myself that I’m not cheerfully friendly because I’m such an excellent listener one-on-one?  (As if intimacy is better than courtesy.)  That it’s okay to be late for work because I’m so darn focused  and clever when I get there?  (Completely betraying my uptight, Germanic heritage.)

These are ridiculous competitive thoughts.  It’s okay to not beat everyone, all the time, because you have a secret ace in the hole that makes you “better.”

But don’t worry: through the influence of warm water and another languid seven minutes, I decided this doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, or that my introspection makes me better than you.  I don’t know.  It may mean I’m a worse person, you know, all Hamlet-like.  That Hamlet was a real smarty-pants, covertly competitive type.

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