17 August 2021

The Pursuit of Happiness

When I stand on the top of the cliffs of the Welsh coast in the south, overlooking the sea, I think that I am only one or two steps, realistically, from falling to my death. This is a thing one thinks when you have kids, three of them, to watch out for. Several years ago in Dover, I was completely distracted by it the whole time, worried that one of them would wander off the edge. Now they are all older and have a sense of this themselves, so I spend less time worrying that they might fall, but instead, that in some moment of irrationality, I would throw myself off. Like I could just do it if I'm not careful, if I don't keep my wits about me. It's a part of that same pattern of thoughts, that everything I am experiencing isn't really real, that the world could just end suddenly. A friend tells me I need to stop blaming everything on pastors and my religious upbringing and this is true, I do need to stop doing that, I do need to take some responsibility, but the impending end of the world, I still blame my faith for that. There's a clear line you can draw from one feeling to another. 

When you come down from the cliffs, to the beach, the sense of impending death goes away, thankfully. The girls and Yoko all went out for swims at Church Doors, and I, in my strange, uncomfortable body, sat on the beach thinking about how all of this needs to be paid for, or how much work I had been putting off, or how tired I am. I went around the corner to pee in an alcove and an older man came out of nowhere and we were both embarrassed, but he assured me he had done the same thing, but higher up, in a cave. I went up that way, and then slipped and fell badly, landing awkwardly on my hand, on my thumb, and I limped back to the girls. I ended up dozing off on a rock and listening to the waves until everyone was ready to go and we walked back up to the car. The night came and went and came and went again and then we were home.

I can't seem to get my heart rate up even in what I think is an all-out sprint. It is not an all-out sprint my watch tells me when I finish, as it's been keeping tabs on all the things that you can't keep tabs on, me being a person with a body rather than a machine. It's hard to tell yourself to keep running, to run harder and harder when you are at your anaerobic threshold, but to get better, to improve, you need to push past that and the watch, it can't make you run harder. You have to sort that out for yourself, and as I come lumbering through the forest, past dogs on leads, I think that to myself. I need to run faster, I need to get my heart rate up. The watch will not be happy with me if I don't work harder. It will call this run average, rather than exceptional. This feels like an exceptional effort.

Of course, if I've learned anything, it's something about the uselessness of metrics. The watch, the app, you can follow them for only so long and then they stop working. This is true of all placebos, all the things you use to control your body and mind until they stop working, until the real you comes through again. The fat you, the angry you, the you that doesn't want to try any more for anything, to be a good person, to be a good husband or father, or a good runner, or a good worker, or happier. That you never seems to go away. Still though, evangelical and bloody minded, I keep trying something else. Some other magic that might overcome it. I've cracked the code, I'll say, I've figured it out. How many times can that same line come back, how many times can you keep trying. You fall asleep on the sofa, but wake up to try again. Let's try again.