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Saturday 7/23/22

This is an op-ed with which I could do nothing that is obviously better than other op-eds. So it becomes an entry here, and part of what is tantamount to a case.


Drop and give yourself twenty in the summer heat.

Some time ago, I was looking at myself in a mirror, and pondering my arms. They weren’t exactly noodles hanging at my sides, but it’s not as if the Hulk had anything to worry about in the strength department.

“Really?” I thought. “Surely there is something we can do about this.”

Right now, I pretty much do two things: I write, and I work out, so that I can write more, and take on all of the stress in the rest of my life without dropping dead. I’ve never been an upper body strength guy. In high school, I was lucky to manage a pull-up, to my embarrassment, but I’m very much a utilitarian fitness person as an adult. I don’t go to a gym. I do what I do outside, combining many things at once, and what I’ve learned has changed how I view matters that have ostensibly nothing to do with physical fitness.

Whether I’m on some epic twenty-mile ramble, walking to the museum, or between sets of the thousands of stairs I run daily, I now make a habit of dropping to the ground and answering to this voice in my head that says, “Give me twenty!”

What I love about push-ups is the focus involved, and the sense of accomplishment, especially in the parboiling heat. You’re down there parallel with the surface of the earth, and probably the last thing you expect is a fresh perspective beyond what you see with that blob of hardened gum next to your face.

But anything we do that’s worthwhile involves that regimental focus. Writers, for instance, think of writing as what you do when the muse summons you, which is the last thing writing is, whether you’re drafting a business letter or you’re Shakespeare. There’s a decision involved to create, produce, do your best job, move forward to the next.

With each push-up, mental discipline is at the forefront of my mind. Mental discipline is having a firm grip on your thoughts. Not letting important ones slip out of view. Summoning that which needs attention. You’re keeping those thoughts present, then tending to what they call you to do.

I have this friend who will do anything for someone. But it has to fall into his lap. He won’t be sitting there and think, “Hey, I really should take care of that thing that so and so needs help with.” If you knock on his door, he’s there for you. He’ll just never remember on his own.

We were talking about this recently, and he said, “I am that way, what should I do?” I told him to try push-ups. I didn’t necessarily mean actual push-ups, though I also did, because they’re an instructive model. See the set through. Drop and perform another ten, twenty, thirty. Observe your arms getting thicker. DM the Hulk. Remember. And stay on task.

I feel best when I do my sets in this sticky summer heat and humidity. My wet palms slide across the bricks of Boston so that I have to strain from crashing down. A push-up can be an act of creativity, and a reminder that we have more strength than we may think.

The mind says, “stack the reps.” That’s not just a physical thing. Any practice we get helps, and makes us better in other areas that don’t involve kissing the pavement. So drop and give yourself a workout in mental discipline before this summer is over. And be sure to keep that back straight.


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