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Mini-Feature: Art and Exercise
Tips for your mind and body, sans wokescolding
What is your lifestyle tip for readers this week?
This may be a scandal to some people but I advise physical exercise outside, as opposed to inside the gym. Too many gyms are zombie zones dominated by televisions and other machines to which the user must SUBMIT.
My inner hatred for reducing all qualities to quantities may make for an idiosyncratic or even counterproductive resistance toward rep-driven exercise. And I’m certainly not here to discourage the lifting of weights by any means necessary.
But in a digital world, exertion in “the wild,” working with nothing but the natural environment, whole-body instead of just-hands, is, let me tell you, indispensable to our health, sanity, and physical competence—to the human way, versus the machine way, of forming memories and remembering them.
Here is my lifestyle tip for the day. Sometimes, when you're feeling tired and find it hard to read or talk, the easiest thing to do is turn on the television and watch a film. And that's great, especially if it's a good movie. It's less great if you are just watching the show Friends, though I suppose a little self-flagellation always helps one draw closer to the Divine.
But better than the television or the internet is looking at art. I find this incredibly relaxing, while simultaneously intellectually stimulating. My specific "tip" is to go to a used book store and purchase, for probably something like five dollars, an oversized coffee table book by an artist or series of artists you think "looks cool". I don't care if its someone like Basquiat (not my taste) or Bruegel the Elder (yes!). The point is to relax your eyes and mind. To add a new habit of repose to your arsenal not involving a screen.
And if you don't "get" art, don't worry about it. Art critics in the New Yorker haven't understood it for years.
Sometimes I find myself doing a particular exercise and thinking “oh, this is dumb, I’ve made the weight too light, it’s too easy.” Not long ago, when I found myself thinking that, I would simply stop the exercise and add more weight. But then I had a breakthrough: now, when I think I’ve made an exercise too easy, I say to myself “okay then tough guy, keep going: let’s see you do twenty of them with perfect form.”
More often than not if I actually try that, I’ll crap out by about 15. There’s no limit to the exertion and results you can squeeze out of yourself if you commit to perfecting the motion, no matter how light the weight. This is particularly crucial to understand when so many of us have been deprived of gyms by lockdowns: push-ups and bodyweight exercises at home “too easy” for you? Great, let’s see you do a hundred of them. Now five hundred. Not so easy, huh?
And when you think about it, it’s remarkable that our first reaction to thinking “this is too easy” is to not do that thing, rather than to crush it at the highest level of excellence possible. I think this applies to more than lifting: you are in fact never too swol to lift light weights to failure, never too successful to neglect making your bed, never too smart to get away with forgetting the simple truths. What you will discover is: the basics are basics not because they’re easy, but because you never ever move beyond them—you just expand outwards from them. And if you think this observation is too simple, well then hey, great: let’s see you put it into practice.