by Flynn Washburne, September 7, 2016
I "discovered" something interesting through my yoga practice recently. I've been at it for nearly five years and consider it one of the most worthwhile undertakings I've ever embarked on, but the benefits have been, as expected and intended, largely in the way of improved physical fitness, sharpened mental acuity, and an overall adjustment of attitude and outlook; I hadn't until now extracted any life lessons.
The core competencies of yoga are, of course, flexibility, strength, and balance, and there is a particular pose which requires a great deal of the latter two, and in fact runs the risk of incurring serious injury if one is lacking in those areas. I worked on it for years, progressing in small, incremental steps, but even once I'd gained the necessary ability and had successfully maintained the pose for an appreciable length of time, my success with it was sporadic. Some days I nailed it, others I bit the mat, and a positive correlation seemed to emerge relating my confidence to my success. It occurred to me then that belief in my strength and balance was at least as important, if not more so, than my actual strength and balance. Then I thought: perhaps this lesson could be widened to include other areas of my life. I had a brief moment of elation as I was bathed in a focused sunbeam and stirred by heraldic trumpets, but then it hit me and I said to myself, Well, Flynn, old sock, you've done it again. You've just discovered, through practical application, the most widely disseminated, oft-repeated platitude in the history of platitudes. Since the dawn of time, every teacher, guidance counselor, therapist, fortune cookie, inspirational poster, decorative ceramic frog, pizza box, bubble-gum wrapper, kitten meme, pop song, boxcar wino, urban mural, bathroom graffito, morning DJ, professional athlete, news anchor, tween star, motivational speaker and talking sea-creature has maintained that if you believe in yourself you can accomplish anything, and now you — at the age of 56 and pretty much wide-awake the whole time — are just now discovering it. Very good. What's next, are you going to go around doing stuff unto others in the general style of how you'd like stuff done to you, compress the concept into a pithy little aphorism imbuing it with the properties of a certain precious metal and needlepoint it onto a sampler?
Cripes. Sometimes I'm amazed that I'm even able to feed and dress myself.
I don't know, I might be more inclined to obey the dictates of laminated inspirational plaques and embossed T-shirts if they were a little less vague and a lot more specific. If an animated squirrel on the back of a cereal box tells me, "If you can believe it, you can achieve it!" I might think, Believe, huh? Belief is a little presumptuous. I'm just trying to amass decode, understand, and apply a shitload of sensory input, and belief requires either dependence on someone else's sense field or a fanciful reinterpretation of my own, which I'm not sure is existentially healthy. But if the message on a jauntily cocked trucker hat says, "The money is buried at 30’14" W, 56' 11"S, now that's what I call inspirational and a sentiment I can get behind. It speaks to me in a way that generalized aspirational hogwash doesn't, which is to say with the promise of a big cash payout.
It may be true that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life, in a way, as the sunset poster tells me, but it's also, and exactly as meaningfully, Thursday, and a million days since a million days ago, and the first day of the rest of the week, or however you want to frame it. But if the sign around the neck of a fuzzy plush dinosaur says, “Tomorrow is the last day at which you can buy Amalgamated Grease at 3 1/4 before the stock splits and everybody gets rich,” now we're talking practical, real-world, achievable ends.
Ice-cream castles are fine in theory and probably delicious, but they're hell to furnish and have very little resale value. Talking of ice cream, I would say that it's the closest thing we have to a universally loved anything. Some people might not eat it, because of dairy or sugar issues, but nobody doesn't like it. I have heard people express profound dislike for chocolate, sex, springtime, and the Beatles — things everyone should love — but never heard anyone say, "Ice cream? Eww, gross." It's the bomb and no mistake, and if you think a double-dip of rum raisin gets your pleasure centers firing, you should try it after an extended meth binge has extracted 9/10 of your life-force and left you a barely animate husk. Actually, no, you shouldn't try it under those conditions, nor in fact subject yourself to those conditions under any circumstances, but let me assure you that its gustatory splendor is significantly augmented. What is great becomes glorious.
If you're fortunate enough to have never experienced the singular agony of the post-crank-rodeo blues, and I'll give you a second to count your blessings, I'll try to capture it for you as simply and succinctly as possible. Imagine if an extremely large ape with hands the size of mattresses — think Kong or Mighty Joe Young — picked you up and wrung you out like a dirty dishrag, causing all the various hydrating and lubricating fluids in your body to excrete out of your pores, and stretched all your connective tissues out of shape so your bones rattled around like a gunnysack full of driftwood, then popped open your skull, removed your brain and replaced it with a fistful of wet kapok. That about sums it up, and if you're wondering who in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to that kind of torment, refer back to the phrase "right mind."
When in this pitiable condition, the sufferer naturally craves sustenance in order to curtail the erosive process actively eating away at his tissues, and I went straight for the ice cream every time. I guess it's all the fat and sugar, but it's the one thing that was able to get me feeling vaguely human again. Every cool, creamy, sweet, frosty, spoonful elicited an orgasmic moan, and I imagine if I'd ever had an unlimited supply, like one of those 5-gallon buckets from the ice cream parlor, I'd have literally eaten myself to death, but in another of those helpful karmic balancing situations with which life is rife, my finances would have similarly eroded and I'd only be able to afford a pint or so.
I was, after a three month stint at San Quentin for a parole violation and a week-long celebratory amphetamine spree, in a state of an hedonic doldrums and beginning to feel the siren song of Ben and Jerry. Wrung out, spun out, busted up and rusted shut, the diagnosis called for 50 units of Pistachio Pistachio, stat. I was a mere half a block from Colombi's, but it was 4:00 AM and I could either wait for two hours or make the trek to Safeway. I opted for the latter course and dragged myself painfully off the couch, an operation roughly analogous to a dinosaur trying to extract himself from a tar pit, but I somehow managed to get myself vertical and propel my sorry ass out the door.
It was a pleasant morning, at least, and after a couple of blocks I settled into a rhythm, the residuum of my failing energy reserves activated by the call of the frozen confection. I heard a voice in the distance: "Yo! Flynn!"
"I'm comng, Ben! I'm coming, Jerry!" I said, speeding up a little.
"Flynn! Hold up!" It wasn't Ben and Jerry after all but another tweaker coming down the street.
"Hey there, Biff," I said. "Thought you were an hallucination."
"Been there," he chuckled. "Let's go roll a bowl, I got some bombass shit." Now here was a pickle. On the one hand, I had the promise of the delicious healing balm of ice cream followed by hours of restorative slumber, and on the other an ill-advised, though tempting, continuation of the soul-corroding bodily abuse I somehow equated with pleasure. In an unprecedented come-from-behind victory, shocking the oddsmakers and spectators alike, good sense won out. "Appreciate the offer, dude, but I'm all in. I'm going to get some ice cream and go to bed."
"A-ight, dog, be cool," he said, and melted off into the night. The bright fluorescents of the grocery store threw both my paranoia and zombielike countenance into sharp relief and I pulled my hood up over my head, hissing like a Morlock as I made my way to the freezer case. Luckily, the store was mostly deserted. I made my selection, the dreamed-about B&J's Pistachio Pistachio, and started back, a definite anticipatory spring in my step. By the time I arrived at home, the ice cream had tempered to the perfect consistency and I dug the spoon in and took a heaping bite. "Oh, my GAWD,” I moaned. "Ohhh, man. Oh, yeah. Aaaaauuurghghaa…"
It wasn’t long before my spoon hit bottom as I diligently scraped up every last molecule of ice cream. Pump primed, I headed to the kitchen and polished of a loaf of stale bread, a half-jar of mayonnaise, seven pickles, a wobbly carrot, and a box of Rice-A-Roni before passing out and waking up 19 hours later refreshed and ready for further punishment.
As part of my plan to have some quality of life during my declining years, I've given up refined sugar entirely, and that includes ice cream. I haven't had any in years, nor have I engaged in the kind of behavior that elevates it to the status of medication. I miss it, but I definitely don't miss feeling like a dessicated, debased, squoze-out rag. My pleasures these days (and concomitantly, my pains) remain squarely within moderate, manageable limits and I'm just fine with that. As Moliere said, but I've yet to see on a T-shirt or hear from a helpful cartoon marmot, "Pure reason avoids extremes, and requires one to be wise in moderation." Wise words from a cheese-eating surrender monkey.