Monday, April 19, 2010

It's All Downhill From Here

Current Reading: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Inspirational Quote: "If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." -- Henry Ford

Things have not been going smoothly. Work is not a place of happiness, home life with two teenagers is often volatile, and the writing has been difficult. Last Thursday, one too many stresses made me feel helpless and lost and on the edge of despair. My short vacation to get some alone time had not worked out at all the way I had needed it to, and so my urge to run screaming into the night was checked only by the knowledge that sunset was several hours away. To kill the time, I mounted my bicycle and set off for a tour of the Kingdom.

Ithaka is not a flat place. A few million years ago, it lay under an ice sheet of significant depth, and when the sheet retreated, it dropped debris it had scraped up in its long march south. We've got hills. In fact, there is only one direction out of Ithaka that is not sloped, and it is occupied by a river, which is even less hospitable for bicycling, being deep and fast and cold. The largest hill is one I climb in my car every morning on the way to work. Those of you who live near mountains will hardly consider it a hill. Those who live in the prairie will wonder why it's not called a mountain. It's tall and steep and on this day, with a headwind, I decided I was going to ride up it.

Once upon a time, Penelope lived in a house at the top of this hill, and a 17-year-old Ulysses lived by another river some twenty kilometers away. I didn't drive. I did, however, have a ten-speed bike, a gorilla's legs and a teenager's hormones and so riding twenty kilometers and climbing a 200-meter tall, 30-degree slope to visit the woman of my dreams was no biggie. At forty-four, however, and with Penelope comfortably waiting behind me in the home we share, I lacked both the youth and the motivation I had in those times.

All I had was my determination: a desire to do something I was pretty sure I couldn't do, but wanted to do. The difference between success and failure was going to be a matter of will alone.

Bicycle riding has always cleared my head. It's the kind of moving meditation that martial arts practitioners tell me I should be able to achieve while practicing to take out someone's appendix with the ball of my foot. All the necessary meditation aspects are there: breathing, clearing the mind. The clutter of existence falls away pretty easily when you need all your energy just to turn the pedal sprocket one more revolution. Thoughts come easily, but slip through my mind without leaving a ripple behind. It's a wonderful state, a relief from stress that has the added benefit of a cardio workout. And I sweat so much I smell like a wet goat.

My point in all this, and I do have one, is a particular thought which struck me on the way up when my legs were shaking and my lungs were burning.

I can do this.

It's a powerful set of words, a self-fulfilling prophesy. I can do this.

Mr. Ford had the right of it, and I saw it then spread out before me as clearly as I could see the valley below. I can do this. I don't need to know how it's all going to end. I don't need to hold back until the right moment. I can do this. And when I do, it will be the right moment. The ending will be what it needs to be.

We are not responsible for the outcome of our lives, only for our efforts. But to own any part of that outcome, we must make the effort. We have to ask, "What can I do about this?" Then we have to do those things, and find some contentment in the doing regardless of the outcome to which it leads.

It's no wonder so much philosophy and religion come to us from mountainous places. I think oxygen deprivation leads to deep thoughts. It also leads to hypoxia and unconsciousness, but nobody ever said enlightenment came without lumps.

Incidentally, the view at the top wasn't anything spectacular. I saw it every day through the windshield of my car on the way home. However, I did find a little road that I'd never been down before that led back in the direction of the Kingdom. Beautiful area. Lots of pine and oak. There was a tiny lake back there, bisected by the road, and some truly gorgeous houses. It was also mostly downhill, for which my legs were grateful.

So again, I set out to work, to live, to write, armed with a determination to see all things through if for no other reason than to see how they end.

I can do this.

Of course, one thing I couldn't do was move very quickly the next day without making some pathetic noise or other. But, if there's another truth in life it is this: there's a price to be paid for everything.


essygie said...

I know that uphill feeling so well, reading this made me smile :-)

Ulysses said...

Thanks, Essygie. My efforts have had a worthwhile outcome.

slcard said...

Hiya, Captain. So glad to read you're on the downward slope now. Those plateaus on the way to the top can be miserable. Just popping in to wish you a very happy 2nd bloggy anniversary. Thanks for the moments of thoughtfulness and the moments of laughs. It is appreciated.


slcard said...

Just found out about this. Thought you might be interested.

Ulysses said...

Thanks, S.L.!
2 years? Good Lord!

The Rejectionist said...


Ulysses said...

Oddly, coming as it does from General Kael, I find myself a little leery of this encouragement...

Thanks, Le R.

I have strength of the heart, and an embarrassing fondness for Rod Stewart tunes.

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