29 April 2013

at the top

There was a time when I could remember the name of the game, and even one when I could pinpoint the location, if not the tree in question. That time has passed.

As I walked outside today, I briefly considered tree climbing. Not that I would climb a tree today, since a recent rain had dampened things considerably and I am wearing work clothes I would like to keep clean; but instead my tree climbing in general. Have I spent enough time and effort on my gym's climbing walls that I could, again, climb a tree.

I didn't ponder that for long, instead thinking back to my teenage years, when, once, I played a game outside that involved running and chasing and hiding and was probably a thinly-veiled variant of freeze tag just interesting enough to catch the fancy of teenagers. The group was divided in two, some manner of roles were doled out (one player was a code-keeper, and 'capturing' him or her would gain eventual victory points, or something), and then we were left to run out into the plains and woods to elude each other and score points somehow.

Within minutes I was alone, and decided to hide out in a tree. I climbed higher and higher, probably about two or three stories up, and was within an arm's reach of the treetop*. There I sat, surveying the park around me, occasionally seeing other teens running around in pursuit or otherwise, and even had a pair of them (I assumed from the other team, but did not climb down to check) hiding on lower branches of my tree without them noticing me.

Eventually dusk began falling, and it was apparent the game was over. I descended, and returned to base camp to find whether we had won or lost. Since I had myself not been captured, it was easy to consider this to be a victory for me if not for the team.

I forget if "we" won. At the time, I certainly thought I was triumphant.

Thinking about it today, though, I wonder if maybe I hadn't won that day, after all. Not whether my team was victorious -- that I've long since forgotten. Instead, did I lose by not engaging with the other players? I was a decent sprinter at the time (at least, when aided by adrenaline), and probably would have evaded capture in a chase, and had been just as beneficial to my team's success as to my own enjoyment (and, I suppose, done a little bit of exercise for fitness, too).

Was the "victory" of climbing so high worth the cost of not playing with the others? I'm not sure it was, anymore. But the win or loss is all in the telling of the tale.

* I briefly searched for a more "botanical" name for the top of a tree, almost settling on "capitulum", before finding a certain satisfaction in the apparent fact that there is no better word for "top of a tree" than "treetop".

26 March 2013

memory fault

This morning I sang along to Rammstein's "Heirate mich" for the first time in quite some time. I remember listening to it on a borrowed CD of the Lost highway soundtrack back in high school. I remember seeking out other music by Rammstein throughout college, scouring the globe (imported bootlegs) and even seeing them in concert*. I remember listening to it a lot, about a decade ago.

That said, I probably haven't listened to that song in over a year or more - not since trying to finally watch Lost highway, which I have yet to manage to do, yet I had no difficulty with the lyrics. Or at least, my phonetic parroting of them, since despite all the time I play games against them online, the language of the German people is not one I have mastered. Nevertheless, verse after verse it all came back to me, and I must say my drive was more enjoyable for it.

Less enjoyable is doing my own taxes, but not so terrible that I'd rather pay somebody else to do it. I bring this up because I'm stymied by a particular schedule that I have filled out, twice, in the last couple years. The forms don't change much, so I can't say they shouldn't look familiar to me. Yet, and I can't recall if this was the case last year, I am a little lost without last year's iterations of them in front of me. Once I read over my PDFs (or printouts) I should be fine, but until then I'd rather do other things than try to bumble my way through Schedule C again.

I did once look up the German lyrics of "Heirate mich", and probably have them in some CD's liner notes, but I don't think I ever used them as a reference to try to sing the song. It could perhaps be said that phonetically learning a song's lyrics in another language, and following convoluted directions and calculations to fill in a bunch of numbers, in a form are two completely different things. They probably tap into different portions of the brain, but I would think there would be a memory component of both.

So why is it so much easier for me to recall a decade-old, and rarely-heard, song that I can only understand in translation, than to type in a bunch of numbers connected to real money (and potential hassle from government employees) every spring?

For that matter, why do I need to look up my kids' social security numbers every year? I've had little difficulty memorizing credit card numbers, library card numbers, and even the occasional phone number that I almost never use, yet these very important numbers (that I almost never use) elude my recollection.

I suppose this is a case for memorization by rote. My library card numbers come to mind so quickly because I use them every week. Presumably back when I was a bigger fan of Rammstein I listened to the song, over and over, until the words were just as emblazoned in my head as the digits I type weekly now.

It's just a shame that there's no way to shortcut the process to "learn" something like filling out tax forms, without needing to do them more frequently.

* In Europe, and probably elsewhere outside of Chicago, Rammstein is known for a lively, pyrotechnics-fueled stage show. This sort of thing does not go over well, apparently, in a city that burned to the ground.

28 June 2012


Sometime a while ago I stopped paying so much attention to movie trailers. In fact, I more or less now ignore any available information (you might call it "hype" or "previews") prior to watching a great many of them, and believe me, it's less easy to do that in these days of social media and instant connectivity. I can think of at least three movies I paid good money to see (as opposed to the many, many, many I borrow from libraries or stream online) without knowing more than the very sketchiest background about them. This is unusual for me, since I usually expend a fair amount of effort into decisions about the things I buy, whether they be shoes or laptops or cars*.

Just today I watched Chronicle, on DVD. The movie was enjoyable enough, but I was surprised (and a little disappointed) to find the only special features included were a handful of trailers and previews, Prometheus among them.

I haven't watched that yet, and would prefer not to do so, despite hearing and reading interesting conversations about that film which most people have already seen (and formed an opinion regarding). While this does exclude me from no doubt enjoyable discussions and discourse about films, I don't think I'm missing out more than I gain from my (for lack of a better word) ignorance of movies before I watch them.

Two of the bigger, and more "recent" (I don't get to the cinema much these days) films I knew little to nothing about, were also two relatively successful blockbusters. Other than knowing from childhood that Iron man was a flawed hero (often mentioned as having a drinking problem) from comic books I didn't read, and knowing what his suit looked like, I didn't know anything about the film, but enjoyed it thoroughly. For most of its fans, watching the movie was more like the culmination of months of preview photo leaks, and canon arguments, and no doubt rumor mongering about star Robert Downey Jr's (Tony Stark-like) foibles on and off the set. Did they enjoy it more or less for having encountered that stuff? I don't know. The same goes for The Dark Knight, which I knew was about Batman, and I had seen did not carry over the logo from the (otherwise presumably dead) last iteration of the movie franchise. I still haven't watched Batman & Robin, and frankly have no intention of doing so, based on what I have heard about it. But when my father-in-law visited and wanted to watch it (apparently his wife didn't particularly want to see the film) I went with him anyway.

And wouldn't you know it, it was a great movie. Everything I saw was a surprise, down to the new Batmobile (I'd doodled the 90s version in many a school notebook) and all the other neat stuff. No doubt there were pages after pages and videos of the chases and other cool scenes, probably even in the trailer, but I hadn't seen any of it. And liked the movie all the same.

Prerelease movie content isn't always that easy to avoid. I block online ads, don't watch broadcast television or commercial radio, and I frequent movie discussion sites, but there are some times it's nearly unavoidable. I went to see John Carter recently, and actually closed my eyes (and considered humming too) to deliberately miss the trailers, one of which I believe was for The Avengers, which I won't be seeing for quite some time.

People have been discussing how good (or bad) John Carter was shaping up to be, and how well (or terribly) it came out, for a long time now, and I've opted out of reading most of those first because I've never read the old Burroughs novels, and thus have no major preconceptions of the stories or characters, and second because I'd rather not prejudge what some people have said is rather quite a fun movie.

And you know what? I liked it. When I get around to watching The Avengers I'll probably enjoy that too, but I'm in no hurry to see any of it before I actually sit down and watch it.

* The only other categorical exceptions are books and music. Typically I only buy a book well after I've already read it, and only then as, I suppose, some sort of trophy. Similarly the only time I buy an album anymore is well after I've already sampled it online (or borrowed it from the library) and know for certain that I like it. I buy so little music and so few books as a fraction of all the things I buy, so I wouldn't say they count.

3 May 2011

on the emotional treadmill

Around a month ago I renewed my gym membership, and I meant to write about it then.

Canny readers may realize that would put the original intended post date to be April Fool's Day, a day I thought would be somewhat accurate given how unlikely something about this would have seemed even to me not too long ago.

How I've managed to incorporate regular exercise (and some not so regular, too*) into my daily routine isn't really the focus of this, though, and at the risk of turning this into yet another rambling pile of nonsense going nowhere I'm not going to talk about that at all.

Instead, I intend to ramble on and on about a cancelled TV show I've been watching while walking and running on the treadmill. Thanks to wireless networking, while I exercise I can view streaming video, which is good because without some sort of distraction using a treadmill is really, really boring (I don't know about you, but whenever I'm on there I get the sense I'm getting nowhere).

So I've been working my way through the entire run of the American Life on Mars. I'd enjoyed the BBC series and had long been curious how successfully it might be translated across the pond. Only a few episodes remain (it only lasted one season) and so far I've rather enjoyed it.

A discussion about why good television shows such as this barely make it a season when poorly written, bland looking programming survives year after year is not something I'm interested in discussing, as such always ends with the wistful listing of shows cancelled before their time more than any sort of useful, actionable solution to the problem.

Life on Mars grabbed me from its first moments--I felt emotional investment with Sam and his plight almost from the beginning--and hasn't let go of me since. That said, I can but wonder if it is as much a result of good writing and production as it is of my viewing circumstances.

Namely that I am exclusively watching this show while I'm exercising. My understanding of physiology and psychology are limited to what I've read or overheard (and not managed to forget), but I believe I've heard that the mind can be tricked into "feeling" emotions if the body's already exhibiting characteristics of said emotions. Which is to say if you smile long enough, genuinely smiling, you can elevate your mood, though not necessarily to actual happiness. My hypothesis, then, is that the elevated heart rate, quicker breathing, and the rest of things that happen to me while running on the treadmill combined with the emotional beats in the show makes them pack that extra punch, so that triumphant moments trigger feelings of exuberance and the sad stuff hits me that little bit harder.

I have no real facts to back this up, other than when recently I read Jane McGonigal's Reality is broken which, among many topics, discusses the "dancer's high" which, probably much like the so-called "runner's high", is an endorphin release tied to some degree to physical exertion. While the dancer's high, as she describes it, correlates to synchronization in group activities, I suspect there might be something to it when I'm on the treadmill by myself or running next to somebody on the adjacent one.

It's all suspicion at this point, though, since I lack a proper test environment (I don't recall thinking the episodes I watched of The Larry Sanders show on the treadmill struck me as funnier as the ones I watched when sedentary, but I don't think that would count as a true control). Likewise I am reluctant to watch Life on Mars when not exercising as doing so would almost undoubtedly result in me finishing out the series in one fell swoop instead of a half hour here and there.

While it would be no doubt satisfying to watch it all through to the end, knowing I have more of it queued up to watch while I exercise helps me look forward to exercising that little bit more.

After all, despite me doing it almost every day now, exercise is still not something I really enjoy. I don't think we can ever truly change, and not liking exercising would not be out of character of me as I think of myself from years ago. As long as I keep distracting myself with quality entertainment, though, I'm finally getting myself into shape. And enjoying what I'm watching along the way, perhaps that little bit more.

* A topic for another post someday will be about my (nearly) nightly exercise with a sledgehammer. For now, check out (terribly named) Shovelglove.