Friday, April 4, 2008

The hamster wheel

We've had 48 solid hours of rain, which the weather elves promise will end tonight. There's been no serious flooding hereabouts but everything is sodden, including the dogs, who have deposited a rich layer of topsoil on my kitchen floor. I'm debating whether to clean it up or just go ahead and plant some zucchini.

I got out and slogged through the mud for my walk yesterday morning, but it just didn't seem worth braving the downpour--not to mention the lightning--this morning, so I skipped it. I always think I won't miss the outing, but I always do. It's as if my body is addicted to that 90 minutes of motion, and if it doesn't happen I get horribly restless--"weaselly," as my brother would say.

I had to go up to Nashville for my violin lesson and I had some time to kill, so I thought I'd go over to the fancy mall and walk for a little while. Mall walking isn't exactly a trail hike, but I figured at least it'd be movement, and it wouldn't leave me looking like I'd been dunked in a pond. And after all, I am an aging female. I'm supposed to do lame stuff like mall walking. How bad could it be?

Ack. Pretty bad. The mall is a palace, and it wasn't crowded, but I lasted all of 30 minutes before I had to make a break for the parking lot. Honestly, I don't know how people can do that every day. It's not just that it's I-think-I-can-hear-my-brain-cells-dying dull, but it's physically unpleasant, too. The air is stale and doesn't move, so I began to feel uncomfortably hot almost immediately. My bruises from the fall haven't been bothering me on the trail, but stepping on the hard marble floor had them aching in no time. I tried to break up the monotony of walking by climbing up and down the escalators, but stepping onto a moving conveyor just made me feel even more like a hamster in a wheel.

I looked around at the other walkers. Some of them, mostly solo, were charging around purposefully, while others were ambling along in little groups and talking non-stop. None of them appeared to be having any more fun than I was. In fact, they all looked as if they couldn't wait to get their exercise done and flee. Most of them were past retirement age, and I doubt they had anyplace they urgently needed to be. They were just doing a chore, fulfilling an obligation to guard their health, and if there was any joy in it, it didn't show in their faces. They were grim.

This is supposed to be good for you? I don't see how.

It struck me as a perfect (and perfectly set) pantomime of the absurdity of a consumer society. We fill our time with joyless chores in order to buy a "better" life, or in this case, a longer one. We chase money to buy things that we have no time to enjoy, and that fill us with the anxiety of attachment to boot. In our pursuit, we lose the very thing we are pursuing. What a plush hell. Better that most other kinds of hell, of course, but hell all the same.

Interior con columnas, Amelia Peláez, 1951. Image from

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