Friday, April 8, 2011

Anything but cycling


"Anything but cycling," my girlfriend says as she sits down in front of the TV with me. I'm watching Tour of the Basque Country. "Look," she says, "they're on bikes. Again, on bikes. And again." I hand her the remote and she doesn't change the channel, just so she can keep on saying, "And again. [pause] And again."

At least in NASCAR, things explode when they crash.

On the coffee table is David Foster Wallace's unfinished novel The Pale King, a book about the virtue of boredom. Its characters work for the IRS, and their task is to sort forms--the ones you and I and our accountants are busy filling out right now.

Imagine if you did taxes all day, every day. Yep. If ever there was a subject not fit for fiction, taxes are it, but Wallace gave it a whirl in The Pale King.

The novel opens with Frank Bidart's line: "We fill pre-existing forms and when we fill them we change them and are changed." The discipline of form-filling, of forcing the mind to plod on amid absolutely tedious tasks, eventually brings freedom.

Wrote Wallace: "Bliss--a second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious--lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, boredom like you've never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like stepping from black and white in to color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom."

Unfortunately, Wallace himself did not escape the wash of boredom and ride it out to achieve bliss of a permanent kind; he hung himself on his porch before he'd finished writing his novel.

I'd like to tell my ladyfriend about all this (leaving out the suicide part, of course), about how watching cycling, if she does enough of it, will eventually lead to a kind "instant bliss in every atom," but I'm afraid I don't believe it myself.

Also floating around in my head is a recent study on kids with Tourette's, in which kids with Tourette's showed better motor and cognitive control than the rest of us. In fact, the more severe the Tourette's, the more motor and cognitive control the kid had developed. The struggle to exert control, it seems, develops control.

Of course, you still have Tourette's. You compensate: if you're blind and you struggle to see, your hearing may improve, but you won't ever be able to see.


For some, riding is a discipline; our bikes are the forms we fill--we "change them and are changed." Riding shapes our bodies and minds into something different--we hope better. And what was once boring, guys on bikes, becomes meaningful again and again and again.

1 comment:

Grayson said...

You need a new girlfriend.