I used to be an active person until one day I wasn’t. Inertia being what it is, a bad back, a handful of concussions, and sheer laziness have seen to it that it has been like this for a number of years now. On top of that, my day job is one that has me sitting on my butt virtually all day, and on top of that, I have a minimum thirty-minute commute to get my sedentary ass to my cushy sit-down job and back again nine hours later.
Then, about a year ago my wife started making a concerted effort to walk 10,000 steps a day. That, combined with some other dietary and lifestyle changes and she started to lose some weight. Looking down a belly that was starting to hang over my belt I decided that I would join her on her walks and for Father’s Day that year she bought be a fitness tracker like the one she had (a Jawbone Up!).
The game was now afoot.
If you’re not familiar with fitness trackers they are just step counters with an accompanying app on your phone. You set a daily target and it buzzes or flashes a light or gives you a virtual high five when you hit your goals. I have mine set for 10,000 steps a day, which is entirely arbitrary but works out to somewhere between 7.5 and 8km – which, if you’re counting, is a crapload more than one, which also happens to be my previous daily average for the last several years.
It’s amazing the difference gamification of something as simple as walking can have. At any point throughout my day I can fire up the app on my phone and get a screen that looks like this:
I pretty much ignore the calorie burn statistics, but I like the graph and stats immediately below it. That’s a screenshot from Saturday and you can see there was one big walk in the middle there. Most days I will have a couple spikes because I’ll get up from my desk twice a day and go for a walk at work, either on the treadmill in the gym or outside on the walking paths through the greenspace that snakes its way around my office.
The people at Jawbone also have a trend feature in the app and you can get graphs set to daily, weekly, or monthly time periods and take a look at how you’re doing. As you can see from my graph for the past seven months, once the weather started to get cold my monthly step count dropped significantly:
I expect to have better averages once the weather warms up again (soon!) and my wife and I will reintroduce our nightly post-dinner walks around our neighbourhood. Which brings me to another wonderful benefit of getting off the couch and leaving the house. You get to discover your neighbourhood and meet the people in it.
Since we started walking together around the neighbourhood we’ve been down just about every side street within a three or four kilometers of our house. We have also finally made our way into some local businesses while we were at it and supported members of our community.
The one thing that has amazed me more than anything else since I started walking was the fact that only a few thousand steps from my front door were not one but two fabulous wooded areas with walking paths (one dirt and one paved multi-purpose)! If we go on a long walk (more than 6,000 steps) and the ground is dry we’ll go through the woods. It is like entering a different world with beautiful, tall trees, small critters, and birds.
For the houses that border the wood, it is literally right in their backyard but for me and my wife, it’s pretty darn close and we had lived in this neighbourhood for almost seven years before we discovered them.
I will call this one “Harry Potter Wood”. Image courtesy Google Earth.
The one with the paved path. It’s about 1km start to finish. Image courtesy Google Earth
If you haven’t gathered by this point, I have been converted. Granted, I am not turning into a fitness freak or anything, but I feel healthier, I’ve lost a bit of flab and noticed a bit of muscle where there never used to be, I get to spend some quality time with my wife, support local business, and meet my neighbours. I have yet to identify a downside.
Plus, I get a congratulations notification on my phone when I reach 10,000 steps!
June 9, 2016. Yikes, it’s been almost two months. What happened? I used to do this all the time. Well, not all the time, but at least once a week. Hell, at one point I used to do this every Sunday. Life happened. Laziness happened. Fatigue happened. Self-doubt happened. Excuses happened. Too many of them to count and enough to feel shame and embarrassed over.
So why is now any different? Well, for starters I am alone. Not forever alone or anything dramatic like that, but temporarily a bachelor. For the next seven days, my wife has the kids (plus one exchange student) on a road trip and I am left home alone to work. The first evening was eventful, having eaten a dinner of ramen noodles and a chocolate milkshake. Hey, I walked the 2.5km to the store and back to get the shake so cut me some slack. I then watched the Blue Jays win in fine fashion over the reigning World Series Champions.
Today I rolled out of bed whenever and sat in front of the TV to watch the Olympics. I did manage to make a respectable omelet for brunch and even managed to shower and get dressed before 2pm. Realizing that I needed to get off my ass and do some walking (gotta get my 10,000 steps!) I decided that I’d do something different. With my mobile data plan in the shitter this month, I didn’t feel like paying premium overage charges to catch Pokémon. So, I put on my running shoes and I grabbed a book. I am currently reading Stephen King’s On Writing.
I walked out the door with my cheap giveaway sunglasses, and King’s book, and I started walking. I was in the section of the book titled “C.V.” It’s where King walks us through how he got to where he was; as a person and as a writer. If the subtitle to the book is “A memoir of the craft,” then this section of the book is the memoir of the man. As I am reading I get this feeling, this sense of awe and inspiration mixed with panic and self-doubt, that’s hard to describe. It consisted of two simultaneous and conflicting thoughts.
The first one came as I decided to stop along this quiet multi-purpose path. I was about halfway through my walk and I sat down on a park bench donated in the memory of someone long since departed. The thought went like this: I am not worthy of calling myself a writer because I have not suffered enough. Which I think is total bullshit, but in that moment it did cross my mind. Some truly great writers have suffered and there are definitely schools of thought out there that would assert that the greatness came from the suffering. King suffered. He had two kids, a shitty apartment in an asshole – sorry, armpit – of a town, a low paying job, and no telephone. He then sold the paperback rights to Carrie and, poof! It was like winning the lottery.
I mean, King has lived through some serious shit, man, but from an early age he wanted to be a writer and throughout all the tumultuous times he experienced he kept at it. Even when he thought there was no hope of ever “making it” he kept at it. Then, in the same heartbeat the first thought came, so did the second. King isn’t a writer because he suffered. King is a writer because he writes.
Stephen King is a writer because he writes.
By the time I got home inspiration struck and I needed to put this down on “paper”. I am a writer. Sure, I have a job that pays me a nice salary and gives me twenty days of paid vacation every year. Sure, I’m also a bevy of other things: a husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend. All these come with familial and social commitments as well. Sure, I’m middle aged and in desperate need of at least 10,000 steps a day to avoid catastrophic health problems. But… BUT… when I’m not fulfilling any of those obligations I do the only thing that I’ve ever felt compelled to do: I write.
It’s not always a lot. It’s not always shared. It’s not always submitted for publication. It’s almost always not done for money. But I do it. I write. And it doesn’t matter which way you look at it. Whether you say, “I write, therefore I am a writer,” or, “I am a writer, therefore I write,” it does not matter. There is no chicken and egg in this scenario. There is only breakfast.