Day 99: The rowing machine has got my number

Seek roles with clear structure that allow you to be authentic and honest.


Det er noget fint og forstandigt ved tal.                      De véd hvad de vil og de gør, hvad de skal.

One pull. 9990 metres to go. Two pulls. 9980 metres to go. Five seconds, ten seconds, twenty seconds.

If this isn’t a clear structure, nothing is. I don’t get anything for free, every pull is demanding in exactly the same way. If this isn’t honest, then nothing is. I have nothing to distract me, nothing to make it easier or harder, it’s just me and the display and the numbers. And a number is a number is a number: 5 is 5, no matter what you say.

If this isn’t authentic, then nothing is: I am reduced to energy, I am nothing more than the force that pulls, there is nothing to be inauthentic or dishonest about. I pull, that’s all I do, that’s all I am.

In writing to people, a fortiorii in talking to people, there are always misunderstandings, or you become too self-conscious, or something doesn’t go as you want it to and you have no idea why.

In having a role in the world, someone is always bound to dislike you, or avoid you, or disagree with you. You do your best to be nice, only to discover much later that your nice and their nice weren’t overlapping. You give them room, they want proximity. You try to be funny, they feel insulted. You think before you talk, they talk before they think and wonder why you are so silent, are you mad at them?You do what they tell you to, they think you’re weak. You don’t do what they tell you to, they think you’re head-strong. You don’t do anything, you something, you do this, you do that — no matter what you do, someone is bound to find you less than authentic, less than honest, less than polite or nice or well-behaved. You do your best to be honest and authentic, to do and say exactly what you feel, and you insult everyone. You do your best not to insult, and everyone feels you’re being less than authentic, less than honest. Most of all you. A role with a clear structure? A structure which doesn’t lead to quarrels or arguments? A structure where everyone knows what to expect? Sports. For many years, basketball was my arena for that kind of structure: everyone knew the rules, everyone could agree upon what constituted a good move, a nice lay-up, great defence. The structure couldn’t be clearer.
But there always seemed to be someone who wanted to change the rules, or bend them, or just wanted to pick a fight with someone, anyone, just for the sake of it. And every time a game turned into a quarrel, the game itself lost some of its meaning to me. What’s the point of playing for fun when the fun is no longer there?And so I turned to individual sports. Running. Climbing. And rowing.Climbing is great for setting and attaining goals, running is great for being outdoors and the occasional runner’s high, but nothing beats rowing when it comes to simplicity (if you have a rowing machine, that is).

Both in running and climbing you must plan where to put your feet (and hands). In rowing you just pull. In running, you run up and down hills. In rowing, you just pull. In climbing, you must contort your body. In rowing you just row.

In running and climbing, you become one with the surface (at the best of times). In indoor rowing, there is no surface, and the only thing you can become one with? Numbers.

One pull. 9990 metres to go. Two pulls. 9980 metres to go. Five seconds, ten seconds, twenty seconds. Two minutes. Twenty minutes. I pull, but it’s becoming automatic. I don’t move, I stay on the same spot, and yet I move, back and forth, over and over. Nothing changes except the numbers on the display, and I catch myself staring at them, as if my mind is craving proof that my body’s efforts aren’t in vain.

You pull hard, the numbers change quickly. You ease up, and the numbers change a little less quickly. That’s all.

The more complex a role is, or a social setting, or a structure, the harder it is to be authentic and honest, no matter how hard you try. (Why, sometimes it’s almost impossible to be honest even to yourself.) And vice versa, the simpler, the easier.

There are more rewards and more fun when everything is complex. But there are times when as much simplicity as possible is what the doctor ordered.

Being reduced to numbers on a screen. Being reduced to a rower.

And thereby being as authentic and honest as one possible can be.



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