Friday, March 12, 2010

Sledding Versus Sliding: Training For Mind And Body

In my last post (which is to say, my other post) I took a look at the fine line that separates rational and ridiculous behavior. At times I myself can be a highly functional individual, but I'm also plagued by a myriad of hang-ups and short circuits that impedes me from completing simple tasks like reviewing anything I've ever written in my appointment book, putting the milk back in the right appliance, or adhering to my own physiological directive to turn off the television and go to bed rather than pouring another Bushmills and watching six more DVR'd episodes of Robot Chicken.

It's not that I'm apathetic--in fact these shortcomings concern me greatly, which is why I spend a great many of my waking hours trying to figure out what, exactly, is my major malfunction. I would say that I'm depressed, but on the whole I've gotten past that, even though looking back I can certainly pinpoint specific times in my life when that was the case. For example:

- 11th grade: having moved with my family from the great metropolis of Boston to a tiny town in upstate New York with one blinking street light and no sidewalks, I fell into a deep, dark, intoxicating pit called Disintegration, and stayed there until spring.

- Shortly after college, entirely unsure of what I was doing with my life, lying on my bed in my apartment in Albany, listening to Radiohead's then-new OK Computer and breaking into tears, unsure if this was the best thing I had ever heard or if it was in fact killing me.

While these periods of darkness have ebbed and flowed over the years, I've trained my mind to better direct the tone and direction of the endless onslaught of thoughts; I'm now able to avoid sliding into those little oblivions, lest I have to encounter Robert Smith's sloppy clown-face ever again. So I'm not depressed, but there's still some kind of tangle of dendrites or something up there--maybe I'm the less dire sounding "depressive," or a victim of the difficult to diagnose Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or the new high-resolution version, ADHD.

However my ailments might be classified, it seems that all the thinking about what could be wrong with me is itself the problem. I believe the Buddha said something like "By our thoughts we create our world." (Or maybe he was just asking for directions--I wasn't paying that much attention.) But if I understand him right, he meant that if you spend a majority of your time trying to figure out what your defects are, you're just going to reinforce the notion that you are defective. If you instead contemplate making your fortune in oil, you may well end up a rich oil tycoon. In my case, I'm not sure how that could work, on account of my living in New York City, which affords little opportunity for drilling, and having no start-up capital to speak of. But, you see, that's exactly the kind of problem I could address, were I to make such tycoonery the focus of my thoughts. (You have to admit, Buddha's a pretty sharp character.)

Fortunately, as I said, at times I'm able to divert my endless train of thoughts away from the fields of fretting and into other, less neurotic lands--which is to say that I also obsess about other stuff besides myself. For instance, I'm still bemused, even baffled, about aspects of the Winter Olympics, which ended over a week ago in sunny Canada. I might have already moved on, but a few nights ago I saw an ad for an appearance on a talk show by the gold medal-winning U.S. Men's Bobsledding team. Bobsledding, you see, is at the very heart of my Olympical embafflement.

The Whistler Sliding Center

Even this is baffling. Shouldn't it be called a "Sledding Center"? I thought "sliding" is what you do when you FALL OFF YOUR SLED (as demonstrated by German bobsledder Romy Logsch, or American skier Lyndsay Vonn, who in different events illustrated the difference between world-class skiing and world-class falling down and sliding into the fence and breaking your thumb.

Now concerning the U.S. Men's Bobsledding Team, here's a summary of their achievement: they did some races, came in with the fastest time, and all 4 of them were awarded gold medals which apparently this year were made of over-baked Shrinky Dinks.

I'm very impressed by bobsledders, but I must say that while all Olympic gold medals appear equally hefty, not all gold medal-winning performances carry the same weight. I'm not convinced bobsledding requires anything like the effort of, say, speed skating. Unless you are the guy steering the sled, and thereby entrusted with getting yourself and all of your passengers (ahem) teammates safely to the end of the course with Autobahn-worthy speed, then your entire job is to run and push for 5 seconds.

And that’s it! Well, you have to remember to keep your head down, and also resist the urge to stick your hand out and weave it through the air currents, pretending it’s a real athlete like Charles Hamlin, deftly wending his way past his competitors. (For those not familiar with Hamlin, he’s the Canadian version of a U.S. short-track speed skater, which is to say less Asian and more hairy.)

Now, to be fair, and in the interest of not maligning an entire sport and its participants unnecessarily, let me state that I’m sure bobsledders train like crazy, because in order to win medals they have to run and push harder and faster for those 5 seconds than anybody else in the world. I should also point out that the annual bobsled training window is not as long as that of other sports. A speed skater can train even in the ice-defying temperatures of a tropical summer by trading his skates and iPod for a pair of Rollerblades, a Sony Discman and little cutoff denim shorts.

And to be completely fair, I should adimit that I am in fact entiretely ignorant of any facts pertaining to bobsledding, speed skating, or locating Canada on a map. Who’s to say? Maybe bobsledders keep themselves in top form throughout the warmer months by hiring themselves out as pallbearers.

Whatever the reality may be, there’s more to bobsledding than meets the eye. But still I’m not convinced that all four of those guys are doing enough to warrant the adornment of Olympic medals. I think the best solution would be to award them one medal, split up into wedges: little golden pizza slices! With the Olympic rings scattered across them like pepperoni.

Anyway, now that “The Games” have been over since about February, I’ve had time to cozy up with my DVR and watch all 90 hours of recorded coverage of curling, biathlon, skating (short track, long track, half track, ice dancing) and all the rest. Which means I can finally enjoy a full night's sleep. But first I'll probably catch up on the last three weeks of Robot Chicken.

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