rowing our way to oblivion

image by shaggy359 via flickr

I never realized what a cottage industry (macmansion industry?) there is on advice on how to do everything better.

There are a bazillion sites on every single thing we do, from breathing and eating, sleeping and making love, to working and writing and raising our kids (and making them, don’t forget that)… oh it is dizzying how many ways there are to do even the simplest task, and how many people who want to show us how.

Authorities are made overnight, their credentials unimportant, and they bombard us with more advice than a planet full of Jewish grandmothers could possibly offer, all in a flash, a click.

We spend so much time reading, watching, thinking, planning how to do things that we barely have time to just do them.

How we complicate our lives! And how roped into the hype we are that we don’t realize how the 99% also applies to the fact that only 1% of that advice is offered with purity and without an often not so veiled intent to deceive, to seduce us into buying or thinking or doing something not necessarily for our benefit.

One example is cooking. The way most Americans cook (if in fact they do–many have already given up) is pure insanity. We are led to believe that we need contraptions and packets and mixes and recipes, particular knives and pots and cutting boards in order to put something on the table. Most people seriously believe that they are incapable of cooking when it is the most natural, not to mention gratifying and beneficial, act of our daily lives.

As partners and lovers, spouses and friends we are fed so many guidelines of how to make our relationships work that we lose sight of the reason we were drawn to that person in the first place, how easy it was to just love and not stress out over how, or why, or how long.

As parents we are meant to feel inadequate from the get-go, loaded up with so many rules and scary tales and bottles of formula that we forget that we don’t need any of them at all. Alone with my spouse, family afar, I remember waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because I didn’t have a hooded bath towel for my soon-t0-be-born son, and how relieved I felt when my friend Barbara told me that all I needed was love, a dresser drawer and a breast and all the rest would be fine. I will never forget how I felt when my friend Peg told me that I was such a good mom when I didn’t feel like one at all. We are so often told that we are doing things wrong, and hardly ever that we are doing them right.

In fact the way we care for our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our relationships, pretty much everything about our lives has been compartmentalized into a series of dictates of what is best, what is right, shouted at us via tv and websites and youtube videos which eat away at our psyches and convince us that we need this or that product, this or that therapy, in order to do it right. In our pursuit of perfection we have made ourselves far more imperfect than ever before and, more than anything, we feel so inadequate, imperfect, intimidated.

This reminded me of Eduardo Galeano’s wonderfully recounted tale which he later published in his “Book of Embraces.” It often comes to mind when I think of the mind games we play with ourselves, and how we make the natural so damned unnatural…

- – – – -

Alastair Reid writes for the New Yorker but rarely goes to New York.

He prefers to live on a remote beach in the Dominican Republic. Christopher Columbus landed on this beach several centuries ago on one of his excursions to Japan, and nothing has changed since.

From time to time, the postman appears among the trees. The postman arrives staggering under his load. Alastair receives mountains of correspondence.

From the US he is bombarded with commercial offers, leaflets, catalogues, luxurious temptations from the consumer civilization that exhorts him to buy.

On one occasion he found in the mass of paper an advertisement for a rowing machine. Alastair showed it to his neighbours, the fisherpeople.

‘Indoors? They use it indoors?’

The fisherpeople couldn’t believe it:

‘Without water? They row without water?’

They couldn’t comprehend it:

‘And without fish? And without the sun? And without the sky?’

The fisherpeople told Alastair that they got up every night long before dawn and put out to sea and cast their nets as the sun rose over the horizon, and that this was their life and that this life pleased them, but that rowing was the one infernal aspect of the whole business.

Rowing is the one thing we hate,’ said the fishermen.

Then Alastair explained to them that the rowing machine was for exercise.

‘For what?’

‘Exercise.’

‘Ah. And exercise – what’s that?’

2 responses to “rowing our way to oblivion

  1. I love that story!

    You’re so right about this whole consumerist society. My 12 and 11 yr old come home and want something new every day. A bracelet, earphones, shoes that are suddenly all the rage.

    Its tiresome. When does it ever end?

    • I suppose it only stops when we die, and even then it just shifts, when they badger our survivors to buy the best container for our sorry bones. Eek. Just have to keep stepping back, whether it be in mind only or physically by getting away in order to remember, to keep perspective, to stay strong!

      With my kids it helped alot to travel so that they could actually live with those who didn’t have much, and see how much they really had.

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