For the longest period of time, I had been unable to execute certain actions to reform habits in my life. For example, I used to speed all of the time knowing that I would get caught eventually and have to pay another fine, take another driver’s retraining course, and raise my insurance premium some more. Without fail, it always ended up happening. I would be driving through a school zone, going 30, scanning the area, thinking, “How fast am-” and, there’s blues behind me.

Most of the time, these were situations where I wasn’t even intentionally speeding, just on auto-pilot, felt like a 40, was actually a 30, and by the time I looked down I was screwed. Three years ago, I was going down a road in the neighboring town heading to work and was pulled over. 40 in a 30. $100 ticket. Then, two years ago, I was going down the same road and pulled over. 40 in a 30. The cop, puzzled, handed back my identification and apologetically asked, “Nick, you got pulled over about 10 feet down the road doing the same speed exactly a year ago. What’s the reason for speeding?” I explained there wasn’t really any reason and that I always think it’s a 40 even though it’s a 30. He laughed and said because it was such a coincidence that it was the exact day and so close in distance, that he’d let me off this time. I was insanely grateful, as I had never got off any previous tickets (except maybe when I first started driving at 18).

I ended up meeting this cop another two times. The same cop. In very close proximity to the initial ticket. I started feeling like I was living in some odd alternate reality with the consistency of location and cop. On the third time, (because I had a previous driver’s retraining course) I would be required to take another driver’s retraining course and potentially lose my license. The cop suggested that I fight the ticket to avoid that happening because for some reason he had a lot of sympathy for me. I took his advice.

I didn’t know what I’d do to convince them that I couldn’t afford the ticket and so I figured I’d tell the truth: I’m an anxious air-head when driving. I always used to worry about the people behind me so I’d speed up as to not hinder their movement. I’d leave for appointments and work exactly on time or sometimes late and would try to beat the time by speeding. With all of these thoughts in mind, I decided I’d start trying to reform my behavior so by the time the court date came around I’d have some evidence that I cared.

So, first, I began allotting more time to traveling between anything. Next, I’d search for the speed limit sign of any road and begin repeatedly saying it in my head, “30 mph, 30 mph, 30 mph.” I’d say it three times, at least, because that’s the amount it usually takes for any human to remember something. Finally, I started specifically chanting, “30 mph” in my head the moment I left my house to go to work and when I left work to go home. I truly felt reformed by the time court came around. I began to plead my case and the District Attorney interrupted, looked at me, tilted her head, and said, “Well, it doesn’t look like you’ve done much to reform your behavior, based on your driving record…”

Even though it hurt, she was right. I drove like a complete idiot for most of my life. So, I owned up to it. I explained what I had done to reform my driving, such as chanting in my head “30 mph,” and allotting more time to travel between anything. She obliged and put me on probation. I felt so relieved. All I had to do was not get a speeding ticket until July (it was a 6 month probation). I ended up making it past probation, effectively not paying the ticket, and have continued good driving behavior since.

I decided I’d start applying the power of threes to every other aspect of my life, rather than just driving. The latest thing I’ve been chanting is “accelerate, accelerate, accelerate.”

accelerate

runner

I was jogging in the woods this morning which is atypical for me. 10 years ago (holy shit, I’m actually typing that) I was 17 and had just had my first knee surgery. It was a complete ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction operation that took me a year and a half to recover from.

In writing, “a year and a half,” is only thirteen letters and a fragment of a sentence. It’s five syllables. It’s nothing to a reader (most of the time) because you can breeze right over it – “Ah, ten years ago, mmm, a year and a half recovery, pretty average,” you might think. But, when you leave the doctor’s all drugged up doing daily tasks becomes dismal. A shower? What is usually a refreshing, quick way to start the day becomes an hour and a half ordeal of taping your knee so that your surgery bandages don’t get wet and setting up a chair to sit on while showering because standing is too dangerous. This always requires another human to help you along the way too, so something really personal becomes a shared activity.

Working became obsolete so I had to take some time off. The day would always begin with stretching my leg so that I could feel relaxed and comfortable. I’d pop a few painkillers, prop up my X-Box, and position some pillows for a pensive evening. The first day of kicking back with a banged up knee and nothing productive to do wasn’t so bad. The second day neither but… with each progressive day, the days began to feel longer. Seconds became minutes and minutes became hours. Soon – by the fourth, fifth, sixth day – I felt like I was losing my mind. Due to the difficulty, I hadn’t showered in a couple days. My skin felt itchy from painkillers, greasy from being unhygienic, and I wasn’t even past the first week.

That’s stagnancy. When all movement stops, time stretches, and boredom is abound. Two years ago, I had more knee surgery (MCL) and shoulder surgery (labrum, bicep tendon, and bone spurs).

But today, almost a full two years from my shoulder surgery and a few months past a year from my second knee surgery, I was jogging in the woods. What I thought about while running was the energy I put into running and the energy I received from running. Normally, running is pretty bad on your knees, but running in the snow softened my impact. I immediately thought of the jogger on the news (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98mBl9d0dew). But it really did, I felt it grip my feet as I jogged and my feet gripped back. However, when I’d take a moment to catch my breath and walk, I could feel my feet sink. Slowly, I’d pull my leg out of the clutch of the crystallized ice, then feel it sink deeper into a sullen, sink-hole of snow (“that’s stagnancy,” I thought). Overall, my knee felt good jogging in the snow. Then, I began to think about momentum.

Momentum, unlike stagnancy, is continual impetus. I thought about energy-in and energy-out. That, for example, all of the energy I put into the run would be returned to me after the run; I’d be breathing heavier, thinking deeper and clearer, and overall more awake. Time felt quick again. An hour and a half went by between heavy, asthmatic breaths and calm, contemplation by a lake without even thinking about it. And so I figured, these were the two modes of living; stagnancy and momentum. Stagnancy is easy to execute but slow. Momentum is hard to maintain but quick. Stagnancy has been a huge part of my life due to surgeries and setbacks, but I’m moving toward a momentous one.

slide

Today, (which yes, is Tuesday: my new day off. The site will remain Monday Musings though for the sake of alliteration) I drove to Great Brook Farm State Park. I have been since the fall just to take a walk, grab a coffee afterward, and write. As I was driving, I thought about topics I could write about, as I normally do. I thought about David Foster Wallace’s sentiments on worship:

“The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” – David Foster Wallace (This is Water)

Which immediately made me think about John Rochester’s remarks on thinking beyond what is directly in front of us is “thinking like an ass,”:

“But thoughts are given for action’s government;
Where action ceases, thought’s impertinent:
Our sphere of action is life’s happiness,
And he that thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.”

which is the importance of being present (not thinking like an ass). Also, this is what I think David Foster Wallace meant when he said, “The trick is keeping the truth upfront in daily consciousness,” as he later indicates that one of the hardest things to do is to always beware of the most obvious realities in our life and how hard it really is to do.

Then, I thought about Walter Pater’s thoughts in his Conclusion to the Renaissance on success in life,

“To burn always with this hard gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life. Failure is to form habits; for habit is relative to a stereotyped world; meantime it is only the roughness of the eye that makes any two persons, things, situations, seem alike.”

I parked my car, got out, and began the trek. I looked at the fluffy, freezing snow covering the ground and thought about the pros and cons of the walk. My boots and socks would be wet and uncomfortable. However, I’d be energized and introspective during the walk and that’d carry over while sipping coffee at the local cafe. I was planning on writing and I needed the energy and introspection, so the pros outweighed the cons. I began walking and admiring how the sun danced and illuminated miniature diamonds or mirrors on the snow-laden path. I listened closely to the chickens peeping in their roost and the calm crinkling of snow beneath my feet. Up ahead, I saw two women cross country skiing, “What geniuses…” I thought. Then, I saw another guy skiing around a bend that was perfectly groomed so that you could see as much nature and have the best route around the State Park as possible. I thought of how ridiculous I must have looked walking around while everybody was skiing. I couldn’t believe how everybody had the same idea — to come here and cross country ski during the winter. I’d never skied before but the idea of it now seemed greater than ever. Why walk? Skiing was a faster mode of travel and it allowed you to see the trails with such a different perspective. All of my thinking about the sounds, sights, and prospect of skiing was abruptly interrupted when a skier fell in front of me.

“You distracted me! I’m blaming you…” she said.
Still caught up in thought about how bright everybody was for skiing, I laughed, “You guys are geniuses for skiing!” referring to her and her mother.

I kept walking and noticed off into the distance a male skier sort of hovering around and constantly looking at me (or so I thought). Unsure why or what he would be doing, I dismissed the thought. Suddenly, though, he stopped on the trail ahead of me. Just stopped and stared directly at me. I again diverted the thought and instead figured he might be waiting for somebody. I kept walking and veered toward the side of the path and as I approached him I greeted.

“Hello,” I said.
“Look, I just have to let you know that you can’t be walking on these trails. These are skiing trails only,” the skier said. “You know, he pays money, this park is a State-run, State-funded park. He pays money to groom the trails and I pay money for a season long pass,” he continued. He went on about how I shouldn’t be on the trails and if I want to ski or snowshoe there is a rental center.

I apologized, thanked him, and asked the quickest way back. I felt stupid. We talked for a moment about the cost of skiing and my obliviousness. I walked on the unpaved portion of powdery snow back to my car. Upon reaching the parking lot, I saw a yellow and black caution sign, “GROOMED SKI TRAILS. CLOSED TO WALKING”20170110_130541

Then another… and another… three signs. Three signs were directly in front of me as I drove in that I completely missed while caught up in all of the abstract thought about presence and the importance of obvious realities by David Foster Wallace, John Rochester, and Walter Pater. Ironic.20170110_130615

las-vegas-welcome-sign

Traveling is incredible. Seeing new places prompts a multitude of thoughts in the brain. We recognize how fortunate we are for where we live. We recognize how fortunate we are for being in whichever particular place we traveled to. Yet, traveling cost money and time and so we are almost always met with a catch-22. In order to travel, we must have money. We must work to acquire money. Working takes time and thus we are bound to find a lot less time to travel and even while working long hours not as much money as we expected.

I’m going to suggest that there is a form of traveling that elicits all of the electric revelation we find at the Hustler’s Club in Las Vegas that is entirely free. Yeah, free.

There is an area outside of your house, in the center of town, that you have never seen. There is a state park that cost maximally a couple dollars to park that even if you’ve been down the trail a hundred times, you haven’t been down it today. It’s amazing how different a trail can be from day to day.

So, there we are, you can travel on a budget by not going to places that cost money. It’s a foreign concept today but it’s a revelation. Take a hike!