Jennifer Michael Hecht's new post on exorcising gym guilt--"Gyms and Poets"--takes longer to get going than her (superb) anti-suicide manifesto, which Ideas adapted and published. But it is full of wisdom, and non-linearity is part of Hecht's writerly charm.
The "first step down the rabbit hole," she writes, "is to be so ever-lovin concerned about longevity. Next is to believe that food and exercise are what is different between those people over there, where no one dropped dead, and these people here, where Fred did."
Then she pulls out a dog-eared copy of "Discipline and Punish": "With training from Foucault and Freud, who both told me that bold claims sometimes actually mean their direct opposite, I came to believe, for instance, that gyms are occupying precisely the role they did in Ancient Sparta and in Fascist Germany. Being obsessed with bodies is actually a pretty rare thing in human history and we're in lousy company."
Finally, the "takeaway" (aimed at poets but easily universalized):
If you are a poet, you shouldn't freaking care about this. Only workout at the gym if you like it. You've been invited to the planet for a long yet short stay. Go make something you enjoy making. Next time you want to go somewhere leave enough time to walk there, or part of the way. Sweep your own leaves. Forget the weights. Unless you like it. In which case, knock yourself out. I'm just saying, the universe is vast and fine, and the universe of the mind is equally extensive and divine. What's in between is a little piece of meat that is admittedly easier to get your hands on than the universe or the inner life. But still. Feeling guilty for not going to the gym is ridiculous. You don't have to go there. Go there if you like it. But that place isn't what it says it is. If it doesn't feel right to you, that's because there's something a little wrong with it.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
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