Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2014/ Dumb Jock

Dumb Jock

I have never been jock material. I was the short, fat, unathletic kid who would get picked last for team sports. My parents enrolled me in soccer for a couple of years, but I wasn't much good. My only soccer skill was "shadowing" -- following one of the stronger opposing players around on the field and trying to prevent him from getting possession of the ball. I was inordinately proud of that skill as a child; I am pretty ashamed of it now.

I am a poor loser; I do not like team sports and I am no good at them. My happiest day in high school may well have been the last day of Grade 9 Phys.Ed class, when I knew for certain I would never have to take a Phys.Ed class ever again.

But somehow I have turned into a dumb jock. I am still short and fat and unathletic. I still hate team sports. I am still a poor loser. But I am also spending 1.5 - 2 hours almost every day getting exercise, which is time that eats into other pursuits. The people at the City Hall skating rink have begun to recognize me, because several times a week I show up for my grim Puritan skating regime: 100 laps without having any fun. In the summer I am on my bicycle, riding to Columbia Lake for halfhearted gardening or making pointless trips through the countryside. I will skate or cycle even if I am otherwise ill. If I don't get exercise for too many days in a row then my body complains.

I don't demonstrate any athletic skill while skating or cycling; I learn just enough to move at a basic level, and then I plateau. The only thing I have going for me is grim Puritan perseverance: not stopping once I have gotten started.

Regular exercise might sound like a good outcome, but it has downsides. For one thing, the exercise is probably not that helpful in keeping me healthy. It probably helps me cardiovascularly, but nothing I do exercises my upper body, so I am still flabby and weak. Exercise is also ineffective for losing weight: my hour-long skating workout burns a mere 300 calories, which I gain back by stuffing a single muffin down my throat. Exercising might be better than not exercising, but it is hard to argue that my methods of exercise are particularly effective.

And then there is the time factor. On my days off I am often only awake for six or eight hours; the rest of the time I am asleep, recovering from work hours. Taking two hours out of that time to exercise means I am strapped for time, which means I get the cooking and cleaning done and little else. I do not read much these days, and I certainly do not write. And communication -- whether written or verbal -- is becoming more and more difficult. Words and sentences no longer flow for me. I have to push them out, and they come out awkward and clunky. My vocabulary is diminished, and it is getting harder for me to pick the right word for a given context. At some point I expect it will get harder for me to distinguish correctly-spelled from incorrectly-spelled words. Maybe I could find writing time elsewhen in my life, but I feel the tradeoff most acutely when it comes to exercise: I am exercising more, and robbing myself of the hours it takes to practice writing.

As a result, I have gone dumb. I do not communicate well with strangers. I do not even communicate well with coworkers. My speech has become halting and awkward, as I search around for words I need to complete my sentences. I had an appointment with an endodontist yesterday that went disastrously, largely because I could not articulate my anxieties and assure the specialist that I was not on drugs.

Some part of me wants to be a hermit: never talking to others, and never being talked to. But I do not want to lose my communication skills, either, and I am suffering a great deal of distress because it I am tumbling down the slope fast. It is now trendy to proclaim that increased physical activity -- not crossword puzzles or other brain puzzles -- is the best way to retain mental acuity in seniors. Maybe that is true, but I also feel that if I want to retain my communication skills then I have to make time to practice them, and clearly I have been failing to do that for years and years.