What I Can’t Count in Words

I’ve been trying to work out every day. For me, working out looks like jogging on a treadmill for 45 minutes. I also target shoot with my bow and arrow once or twice a day, 100 shots at a time. I normally listen to music while I’m working out. I’ve experimented with a lot of different listening options: silence, audiobooks, Gregorian chant, dance music, electronica. So far, synth metal is my best bet both for jogging and for target practice. Nothing with lyrics, which distract me.

I can’t afford to be distracted, because when I’m doing something physical, I’m counting.

I tend to count out loud so that anyone around me can hear my progress. When I’m target shooting, I count upward. I’m counting the number of bullseyes I’ve hit out of the number of shots I’ve taken, so I will say out loud “Zero zero” before my first shot. This morning was forty-one one hundred.

When I’m jogging, I’m counting down. I jog for 45 minutes, and I will say right now, I hate it. Jogging doesn’t feel good or natural or like an accomplishment. It feels like a torture and the only way I can get through it is by distracting myself. I break each minute up into both 10-second and 15-second increments. There are 270 10-second increments in 45 minutes, and 180 15-second increments. Every minute, I will subtract 6 from the 10-second increments, but I only subtract from the 15-second increments every two and a half minutes (meaning it’s always a multiple of ten). This happens smoothly in my head without missing a beat of the music. When I get down to 30/20 (5 minutes), I start counting each increment down singly, so the pairings of numbers change more often and I have to be more mentally present. By the time I get to 0/0, I’m normally just as happy not to have messed up my counting as to have finished my workout.

When I’m counting, there is no room for anything else. I can’t think about that cramp in my left calf, or what I’m going to write later or whom I’ve got to call when I’m off the treadmill. There is a conversation in my mind every second of every day. Even when I’m sleeping I have dreams of such vividness that many of them get made into fiction that I inflict on other people. The conversations in my head are most insistent when I’m talking to someone else. And those conversations in my head are so distracting that if I don’t find a way to deflect them, they’ll deflect what I’m trying to do. I’ve walked off in the middle of target shooting or of jogging because I decided something else was more important. The only way I can stay present with a physically demanding task is to crowd out all those words with numbers.

I guess that’s why I love numbers. Because there is a limit to the number of words in the English language, but there is no limit to how high I can count. If I hit the aleph, there’s always another aleph beyond it. Both of those thoughts are comforting to me. That there are only so many words that I will ever have to learn to describe my experiences, real or imagined. That there is no limit at all to the number of experiences I could possibly have.

The Loss of a Close Friend

On Thursday when I left the house to pick my daughter up from school, I couldn’t find my iPod. I’d had it in the car the night before, but now I couldn’t lay hands to it. I couldn’t find it again when she and I left to go to karate. I came home and looked in my briefcase, my purse, my other purse, my backpack. I looked in the foot wells of the car, in the trunk, under the seats. I looked in that place in the kitchen where all the junk seems to accumulate, on the nightstand next to my bed, in the mess of books on the floor in front of the nightstand. I cleaned the desk in my office. I cleaned the stuff off the couch. I cleaned the stuff off the other couch.

Don’t get me wrong – my house is neither so big nor so messy that a thing as big as an iPod goes missing often. Yeah, I know that an iPod is only about the size of a deck of cards, but do you think that if you left a deck of cards somewhere in your house, you might never find it?

I looked in the onion bin, the potato drawer, the fridge, the silverware drawer, and the drawer in the pantry where we keep screws, tape, hooks, hinges and bits of string. I’ve looked under things, behind things, in things, between things.

In the meantime, I’ve got two audiobooks that I have to hear to prepare for an interview. There are a few podcasts I follow that I now miss. I’ve got a half-dozen audiobooks that I’m reading for non-school purposes. And then there’s the music. If I were stranded on a desert island, I could listen to music continuously for 20.4 days without hearing a duplicate. I’ve got 4.5 days of television shows (nearly all animation), and a whopping 138 days of books. Just over FIVE MONTHS of content.

I didn’t realize how much I depended on my iPod. Because I’m always reading a paper book while reading an ebook while listening to an audio book. Because I’m hooked on Lexicon Valley and SuperEgo and Judge John Hodgman. Because I am like the rest of the world in that I like to clean while listening to music. Because when I’m on a plane and I can’t write anymore, I can always watch more Clone Wars. Or re-watch.

I know from the painful and tragic experience of a family friend that you have to wait 7 years after someone’s disappearance to have them declared dead. How long should one wait before declaring a beloved life partner lost? Would I betray my old friend if I went out and picked up someone new and shiny? How stupid will I feel if I buy a new iPod and come home and the next time I sit on the couch, there it is, under my left butt cheek? In the meantime, I’m dragging my entire laptop around with me so that I can keep up with my schoolwork.

Lord knows what I’ll do when I mislay that.

UPDATE: Not 30 minutes after posting this, I found my iPod. It’s a 160Gb iPod classic in a thick silicone skin (I drop it a lot). The silicone means that not only does it not break when I drop it, but it sticks to things (like the time it stayed on the roof of my car during 48 hours and 100+ miles of driving). It had fallen between the mattress and footboard of my bed (it’s a big sleigh bed) and stuck there. Until I pulled all the linens off the bed and jiggled the mattress around. I knew that if I just bitched loudly enough about it being lost, it would hear me and get itself found again. This iPod and I, we’re like Sauron and the One Ring.

Soundtrack to My Childhood

I’ve finally purchased my own copy of the album that most shaped my childhood.

Rubber Soul was released in December of 1965, meaning that I have been hearing this music since the very first Christmas of my life.

There’s an interesting thing in the iTunes music store – each song on an album has a little popularity bar. I suppose it tracks how many times each song has been downloaded. The most popular song from Rubber Soul is In My Life, a song I have always found to be inexpressibly depressing. From the time I was a child, it said to me “You’ll never be the most important thing in my life. Everything I had before I met you is more important to me than you are.” Considering that I was the third of my parents’ children, it told me that they would always be more important to me than I was. This much later on, I don’t know that I’ve changed my mind about that.

The song Run For Your Life made me do exactly that. I have very clear memories of running in circles around the perimeter of our living room, which included a couch, a chair, at least one end table and a bean bag. Nobody ever told me to stop running, which means that I was a tiny person, not in danger of hurting the furniture by running on it. I would run along the furniture, shaking my mop of cornsilk hair as though trying to outrun the words “You’d better run for your life if you can, little girl.”

I also remember all the words to I’m Looking Through You, another less-popular number. “I thought I knew you. What did I know?” That single thought has fueled every interaction I’ve ever had with anyone in my entire life. It’s why the most stinging feeling I ever have in life is the knowledge that I misjudged a relationship. It hasn’t happened often to me, but it has happened.

The song that confused me was Wait. To be fair, a child of less than five has no context in which to put a song about lovers separated for a long time. “Wait ’til I come back to your side. We’ll forget the tears we cried.” I thought about that song so much in the years that followed our move from Connecticut to Arizona, a move we made without our father, who continued for years to send us pictures of him doing fun things in New England, smiling and having fun without us. It made me keenly aware that in this case, the “we” that was crying was only me, and maybe it’s petty of me, but I’ve never forgotten those tears.

It sounds like I’m a bitter person, still feeding off the pain of a bitter childhood, but that’s not true. I’ve built a life for myself that got me beyond the things that hurt me. Instead of spending a lot of time looking back at things that made life hard, I look forward to things I’m creating for myself. Rubber Soul isn’t just about my past. It’s also about all the aspirations I’ve had for myself since I was that tiny tow-headed kid. “The future still looks good. Have you got time to rectify all the things that you should?

I do. I am. I will.