Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pain

One of the most useful things I learned taking martial arts lessons as a kid was to differentiate between the dozen or so flavors of pain and discomfort.

You learn to place it on a scale in your head, dip your beak into it, swish it around and analyze the complexities like you're a coffee taster or one of those douchey people you always see when visiting a trendy brewery except hopefully sans the tight jeans and beard. You think a bit, spit it out and give the pain a rating:  discomfort, pain, injury. Serious, not serious, call an ambulance? You get the idea.

It's a useful habit to get into, particularly if you're the sort who likes to stay in shape. There's a big difference between an ache which comes from your body's inertia and the sort of ache arising from a developing injury. Discomfort at the most basic level is just resistance to change. Nobody likes change, at least right away. Getting up before the crack of dawn, lacing up tennis shoes and heading out into the cold darkness to get your three miles in isn't something any sane person looks forward to, after all.

Likewise, there are warning signs which it pays to learn and pay attention to. When you're trying a new exercise, you constantly have to ask yourself is this twinge I felt a muscle trying to make up its mind whether or not to tear? Was that creak in my back something I should probably notify a doctor about as soon as I stop throwing up? Or should I just suck it up and stick with it?

It helps to stay at a certain level of disconnect with your body, think of it sometimes as something separate from you. You're driving the bus, but you are not the bus. Not only does it give you a bit of distance and help you more objectively decide whether or not you should be worried about the fact that you just got tunnel vision after maxing out your deadlift or that final set of squats just gave you a nosebleed, but it also helps you tune out a bit during the necessary discomforts of training. The routine aches become more and more routine. You learn to switch off during the discomfort that you've learned over long years of practice aren't anything to worry about, really.

And so it is with pretty much any habit worth picking up. Writing is similar. Nobody wants to get up an hour before dawn every day, cut their morning shower short to make more time before work, drink the black bile of caffeinated death and then pound out two thousand words, all before the city around you wakes up.

You're hunched over your keyboard. The scope of your complete awareness is narrowed down to the flickering line of the cursor as you bang out word after word after word. You've just typed four paragraphs. Are they good? Are they the writerly equivalent of peeing your name in the snow? Who knows!

The moments when you feel good about your writing, the moments when you can tell that you're growing or getting better or doing something worthwhile never quite seem to happen when you're doing the work. They might happen afterwards. Maybe. And they definitely never happen beforehand when you're trying to get your ass out of your nice warm bed or when you're sitting in front of a blank screen.

But at some level, you know it's worth it to plod through the worse parts of the process when that voice at the back of your head tells you to stop and do something else that isn't quite so uncomfortable or scary. And much like that habit of working through pain that you pick up through repeated exercise, you dip your beak into the discomfort, swish it around in your mouth and then spit it out like a coffee-drinking hipster.

Laziness? Need more time to let the writing project brew? Nagging discomfort with where your project is going? Sore fingers, sore back, sore eyes? Feeling stressed out about something unrelated and taking it out on your writing? You become intimate with all the excuses and, hopefully, you push through anyway. And usually, after the first few words on the screen, it gets better. You switch off the inner voice that complains so much, or learn to focus past it and continue on.

Keeping at a bit of a disconnect from yourself is a good thing when doing anything like this. You have good days and bad days. It's more important sometimes just to put the miles in and do work.

Also, my coffee sucks beyond all belief this morning. It's the dregs of the bag, so the beans were all dried out. My coffeemaker seems to sense that I'm through with its quirks, its difficulty to clean and overall leakiness. It's not going down without a final blow, so it apparently decided to make a truly awful pot of coffee. Two and a half Mike-sized cups of poisonous bile. Either that or I'm just feeling really picky this morning

I'm replacing it with a Chemex, which just came in sans filters. Now I'm just waiting for the filters. I went with a Chemex for several reasons: it's got the Wendig stamp of approval for one, but I probably would have gone with it anyway. It's a simple design, which I appreciate as I grow older and more technophobic.

Nothing to break, really. Easy to clean. Excellent coffee, simple to use. I'd considered getting an Aeropress, but thought they looked cheap, plasticky and somewhat harder to clean, even if they are supposed to produce a (slightly) better cup of joe. French presses looked a bit more fiddly and hard to clean. So, Chemex it is.

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