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October 12, 2004


"We are finite, evanescent creatures. We really don't live very long. And much as we struggle for a global perspective, whether or not we feel peace depends on the questions, Do you love? Are you loved? Do you have good work? It's important to remember that no matter what happens, life is good. In the end, life is good. And all theory aside, probably the most compelling reason for anyone to become an activist, to struggle for change, is that working to support life, to support justice, to support love — which after all are the same thing — makes a good life even better."

— Tom Athanasiou, 12/1996

I've been thinking about Tom this month. A few years back, we were chatting about my working at both the Earth Island Journal and Faultline, and he asked "So you're editing two publications. Can I ask what you're doing for exercise?" It was a bit of a stumper. I was basically walking the dog, walking to BART.

I went out for a short afternoon walk yesterday, on a whim. When I tallied the mileage, my jaw dropped. Seven miles, about 1500 feet of elevation gain. That put me at 17 miles of hiking for the long weekend, 60 in the last month. That's not counting two dozen miles weekly on treadmills and ellipticals, or evening "not going to the gym" three-milers around the neighborhood. And I still mainly feel like I'm sitting around. But it feels good.

I haven't written much about my weight lately, but I've dropped fifteen pounds since August. That's without dieting, eating what I feel like eating - though with more exercise and more body awareness, my desire for fats and sugars has dropped substantially. I did buy the pint of Godiva double chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream this weekend, and where I'd earlier this year polish it off in one sitting, I've gotten about a fifth of the way through it in two sessions, stopping when I didn't want any more.

Siona has written compellingly of the politics of food and eating disorders and business as usual in the US. Though her emphasis is on anorexia, I recently heard a television program announcer echo Siona's criticism and label America an "obesogenic" society. Fast food, television, trans-fatty snack food, suburban sprawl, drive-thru everything, calling it "surfing" when you are in fact sitting on your ass in an office chair.

I see this linked intimately and intricately, on a personal level, with depression. It takes effort to get up and exercise when you haven't for a while. When you do, there's a wall: that first five miles of hiking uphill, or (insert your equivalent.) It's hard work. If you're like me, you get mad, and charge uphill at a rate guaranteed to max out your pulse... making it that much harder to get there. You give up, and then the next attempt in five or eight months is even harder. Feeling like you cannot effect change, in the world or in yourself... a certain recipe for participation in that most intangible of epidemics.

I've been lucky lately: getting out in the world is the closest thing I have to a religion. I have to fight that depressive cycle as much as anyone, along with living in a suburb (albeit one with hiking and paddling opportunities) and an ingrained paternal tradition of considering those who exercise mentally deficient. But I've got an ace in the hole: the Steller's jays and quail and long, exfoliating slopes are beginning to be as much a compulsion as beer and pork rinds ever were.

I should call Tom, see if he wants to go for a walk.

Posted by Chris Clarke at October 12, 2004 11:44 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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hmmm...our bodies, how they look and how they move evoke so many deep emotions. there is what we know versus what society tells us. i know it feels incredible to be more fit at the half century mark than i was in my twenties. i know i think of food as fuel for my activities. i also know how hard it is to reach fitness, and the motivation of stellers jays and views from mountain peaks. and i love tom's quote. it is good to have you back, chris.

Posted by: Anne at October 13, 2004 11:26 AM
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Pork rinds, eh? Shit, you're more Appalachian than I am!

Apropos of which, I'm wondering if the thin air out west doesn't spoil one, in a way. I know that the few times I've been out there, I've felt so much lighter and more free - almost able to leap tall buildings at a single bound! - without having to contend with this heavy humid air we have here.

Posted by: Dave at October 13, 2004 02:15 PM
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