Robot Voices & Relevance

I have a love hate relationship with the running app robot voice on my phone. It gives me little updates on the five minute mark about my rate of speed and distance While this serves a purpose in the event that I am just casually observing it, that is not what I do. Instead I try to beat my previous record every single time that I go out. Which resulted in a painful hobble to beat the last 45 minute mark recently. The challenges are good, until they become demands. Then they become dangerous, then they become addictions, then they kill you. I’m not planning on running myself to death any time soon (not that I could, I would definitely black out well before death occurred), but I definitely had to take a break to avoid hurting myself further. This was not a problem that I had when I didn’t have the little robot woman telling me that I was a slow, old fuck up and to please go faster (that’s not what she says at all, but that is the way that updates sound to me). I also noticed the sunset a little bit more in the pre-running app days.

I talk about this to segue into how I am terrible at silence now. This is a new development as I used to be an incredibly unhealthy kung-fu master of silence, stillness, and bitter isolation. Now that I have loved and invested in people I realize that to a certain extent I was using the presence of others as form of personal validation. You show up because you like me. I must be a pretty good guy.  Again with the little robot running voice, 

“Good job Levi, people like you. You are important now. You beat your old record. Tiny digital gold star mark-thingy.”

I avoid silence and stillness now because it somehow seems unproductive and I end up thinking in really strange directions. In my instance, I think about irrelevance, mortality, the incredible speed at which life moves, and how difficult it is to love and to be loved in such a busy space. The reason that I don’t want to think is because it forces the conclusion that there really isn’t all that much that I can do about most of those questions. I am at the mercy of a world that is killing me, as I get older my body will try to kill me until it finally succeeds. These realizations crush me.

I think that this might be the point, or at least part of the point of stillness. To learn to be crushed, to be small, not to rise again and conquer, but to acknowledge limitations without needing to “fix” or remedy them. There is a peace that comes in being small. When you are allowed to be small your failures are allowed to be small with you. You allow space for bad or off days. To fall short is to simply be human and stillness gives you space where humanity is allowed back into the room and that godforsaken robot voice is shut off. Allowing for smallness allows for some otherness to be larger and more vital than I am. Nobody gives a shit if I ran 4 miles or 5 miles or if I got a little gold star. I didn’t start running to fix anything, I did it because I needed an endorphin rush that replaced cigarettes. It was only to keep depression from eating my heart with a spoon and chocolate sauce.

Last night, just to get out of the house I took a walk listening to truly tragic-sounding classical piano music. It sounds like masochism, but it gave me a place to put the emotions that I was feeling, and the space to allow those feelings room to breathe. To be lonely and to be sad is part of the spectrum of human experience and it is healthy to feel both of these things sometimes. As always Louie CK put it beautifully here: 

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away. Is the ability to just sit there…like this. That’s being a person. Right? Because underneath everything in your life, there’s that thing. That empty, forever empty…you know what I am talking about? Just to acknowledge. There is just this sadness that visits upon you. Life is tremendously sad, being in it. That’s why we text and drive. I look around and pretty much 100% of people are texting and driving. And everybody is murdering each other with cars, but people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own cause they don’t want to be alone for a second.”

Mono No Aware is a Japanese term for a sensitivity or a regard for the sadness surrounding passing of things. Life is temporary and 10 or 20 years down the road you just are not going to be the healthy individual that you are right now. While this might sound like terrible news. It only sounds that way if you were hoping to shape the trajectory of the earth with some strange accomplishment that makes you matter. Some digital gold badge to make you important.

But that just isn’t the shit that makes people matter to you is it? I think that the accomplishments of great figures are beautiful and inspiring and they matter to the shape of history, but I love my mom and my dad. I mean I really love them. I know them and love them and I cannot imagine the world without them. It seems like it might be this miserable place where I only have horrible robot voices to affirm my existence. One day they will die and I will have to face that and, shit…if that’s not tragic or the most painful thing that I can imagine I don’t know what is.

In order to make space where grace carries meaning I must allow the world to possess all of the pain that it can and will carry (not some watered-down hallmark-card version of it). I have to acknowledge that there is a time-limit on my relevance or productivity and that the robot voice does not in any way add or detract from my character. The relevance of grace becomes more apparent in that mournful silence and all of that pressure that you thought might kill you actually does…but then those fleeting beautiful, joyful moments feel more relevant and more deep. They look more like what they actually are and were all along. A gift that you didn’t do anything to earn. It’s just there like the sunset over the ocean when I desperately run past it driven by a robot voice.

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