The “E” Word

e word 2So there I was, cooking dinner. Somewhere in the house my four-year-old son was getting into mischief. Someone else was supposed to be watching him, but you know how four-year-olds can be. Sneaky.

For just an instant the lights dimmed, and then from behind me I saw flashing light. I turned around in the echo of a heartbeat (that’s a good title. It’s mine, so don’t steal it!) and saw my son facing the 220 volt outlet in the kitchen. A shower of sparks was falling down around him, and he just – sat down on the floor, like someone had removed his legs for a second. I was two steps away, and on the floor next to him before the above heartbeat-echo could even fade. He was conscious, but hurt.

One ER visit later, and we pieced everything together. While nobody was looking, he had grabbed a bobby pin – you know, for hair – and inserted it into the outlet. The doctor informed me it could have stopped his heart. Thankfully he just went home with a u-shaped third degree burn on his thumb and pointer finger. e word 3

The experience for him was painful and frightening, and he struggles to this day with electricity and fire – both of which seem to revive this memory. I feel bad for him, but at least he doesn’t have a need to become an electrician. In other words, he can avoid most exposure to this thing that gives him pain.

I, sadly, am no longer that lucky.

This past week I was instructed that something I hate to do, something that gives me zero pleasure and 100% pain is now something that I must do every single day. Each morning when I wake up, I must willingly inflict pain on myself – my entire body and my mind – or I may not live to inflict the same pain on myself the next day.

I want to wear this to the gym. They all need to know!

I want to wear this to the gym. They all need to know!

Now I do realize I am being a bit over-dramatic, but I’m trying to illustrate a point. I know I should be happy to have the chance to do this thing – that I am not already dead or past the point where it would help. And it’s not like I am diabetic or have some very serious health issue. But if I don’t hurt myself every day, I will.

Exercise.

It’s been the “E” word (like the “F” word) for 25 years. I hate it. Ugh. But in spite of becoming a vegan, and making a choice to reduce my portion size at every meal, I can no longer avoid it. Treadmill, vigorous walks, elliptical machine, bicycle – it doesn’t matter. I must find a way, or my health will begin to seriously decay. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of dying slowly and suffering for years. So, to avoid this suffering, I must make myself suffer. And I’ll likely live longer, so I’ll get to suffer the entire lengthened time.

bff-hate-exerciseI don’t wanna!

How do you convince your brain that touching a hot burner every day is in your own best interest? I don’t know. I think I’m more scared of the “E” word than I am of the alternative. And yet this revelation – nay, commandment! – by my doctor set off a whole inner journey. I began thinking of the terrible church I was raised in – and the anger I still hold towards Pastor and Mrs. Focht, who might never have intended it, but hurt me badly. I thought of how this meant I was “giving in” to conformity. I dwelt on how my least favorite word in the English language is ‘Tradition’. I thought “I might as well just cut my hair short and buy clothing at American Eagle.” e word

Wow! I had no idea how much baggage was attached to this one thought. I had no idea that my carb-addiction and my extra 50 pounds might be related to how people I perceived as conformist and traditional – people who held power over me – hurt me.

I had no idea that, lurking inside me – at least the child and teenaged me – was raw hatred, seething anger, and naked fear. Who could have guessed? My rejection of traditional society and norms makes more sense to me now, though there were many intellectual reasons for rejecting this broken Frankenstein’s Monster we call American Culture. Some of the roots have made more sense to me over the past few days.

I hate this gif

Click Me!

So what does this mean? For me personally, it means I’ll be facing a dragon I didn’t even know was sleeping inside me. I’ll be fine, I guess, in the long run, but I wasn’t expecting this in my mid-forties. It also means daily “E” word. Plek.

But I’m an optimist, and here’s the bright side: I have a clearer picture than I did a week ago of how deep and complex a person’s motivations can be. And as a writer, that’s going to come in handy. As I edit Bloodsun Rising for submission, at least two of my characters will beexercise-motivation1 viewed a little differently. Perhaps I’m going through this physical and mental challenge because they demanded it. Perhaps they knew they weren’t written well enough yet.

And for you, writing or creating in your own way – or even just dealing with others – learn a little from me and respect the depth and complexity of others, be they fictional or real.

Give them the chance to be deep and complex, or you might find yourself walking a treadmill at seven am.exercise

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2 thoughts on “The “E” Word

  1. Anthony says:

    A parable for encouragement:
    I wish I knew something back in my early twenties, that I know now. I hated the “a-word” and all its cognates. A burning frustration grew out of me whenever it was required. With much grumbling, I pushed through because I had to, and then I said good riddance when I said goodbye. I even disliked the people that thrived on it. And now that I think about it, I entered a field of study where it was acceptable to view it as superfluous (at best) or mind clouding (at worst). Interesting.

    The “a-word” was art and all its incarnations. Even fictional literature. Gasp!

    Now I regret it. Now it is something I very much enjoy. But I remain quite clumsy because of my early aversion. I often feel like a tribesman trying to use a remote control. My wife has frequently told me I actually have quite a natural knack for it. If only I had kept at it. Sigh.

    But my encouragement is that it can be something that grows on you Matt. Exercise, that is. I wouldn’t say I thrive on exercise sessions, but there are times I feel quite a high level of satisfaction afterward. Last side note. What if there was a fun activity that naturally brought exercise along with it? Although it might be equally anathema to you, humans invented this activity called “sport” that is a natural exerciser… just saying =)

  2. Thanks for the moral support, Anthony! It helps. And I’m glad you’ve come to appreciate art these days. Art, for me, is really a deep, heartfelt conversation with somebody I’ve never met, possibly someone long dead.
    And as far as the “sports” suggestion, here’s my problem: To play a sport, you have to actually care about winning. I don’t. So it’s a treadmill for me, whether I like it or not!
    Cheers!

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