My first foray into successful athleticism, and I think it all has to do with my starting the practice of yoga, which sounds cheesy, which sounds like something my yoga instructor would say after she says something like, “trust yourself and your breath in this moment.” She will pause, following with, “Oh that sounds cheesy, doesn’t it…?” Because these things do sound cheesy, like when someone tells you finding religion brought them out of darkness, or when you hear that anything is possible if you try. These things are the bread and butter of earlier generations—inspiration and mindfulness, coming to terms with fundamental flaws—things the millennial mind is trained to immediately distrust, to dissect to disembodied parts that, on their own, expose their raw, visceral undercurrent: a problem with systems, the status quo, not a problem with self. Never trust what works for another because you are your own person. Standardization is the enemy.
Most of my friends are much younger than I am. This is a new sensation for me; I grew up the oldest in my grade. I think these new friends are the ones who really helped me notice why and how I exercise. They are mostly Asian American, all with an unfair, carved from birth, leanness that, at once, makes my mouth water and my brow furrow. During their formative years, they used their celestial DNA to their advantage, participating and excelling in their middle- and high-school athletic programs, finding that their high metabolism was enough to unearth their preternatural athleticism.
It was an impossible year to be alive. The great forces at the wheel continued onward in unyielding procession; water fell from the sky, dried, and was carried up again into the clouds. Our tears were no longer among the water that the forces carried on, because we forgot how to use them correctly. Some still made it by, like when we would cut onions, or when we stubbed our toe on the radiator during a midnight trip to the icebox, or when we would laugh so hard at a comedy club that they would leak out and we were unsure why. Those went up with the water the same as always.
But when our loved ones died we no longer felt the tears cloying from the small space inside our heads, the well where such things are kept and extracted when needed. No longer were we moved to such extremes. This is because death had come to define our existence, little by little, year after year, since the internet had cast its hand in death’s favor. Each night, we would plug in to our hivemind and revisit the deaths of the day in unison, sending virtual candles to the ones we never knew and eulogizing the ones who stood and vague beacons on the outskirts of our periphery. Condolences thoughtlessly given to the families of the departed, and as a response – just a virtual thumbs up, no words necessary. No tears as our eyes glow by the light of the screen.
I’ve just thrown some spare euros into the receptacle at the mouth of the dock and am waiting impatiently, cleaning off the bottom of my shoe (gum) against a concrete slab that’s holding the ticket dispenser to the earth. But now I’m wondering if it’s even stuck, if I’m even grounded, or the city, for that matter—if we’re all just hovering on top of some idea, some clever thought by refugees. A floating city.
Venice is hot on the Canal Grande, a tiring hot, a boiling tar slick—even the ticket peels out of the dispenser in a slow, calculated way; I can almost hear the machine wheezing. Boats are passing on the canal as my attempt at nonchalance is growing thinner and thinner in the heat. Their dull motors shoot up a light spray of mist that evaporates before it reaches me from my perch, now at the edge of the dock, inside the roofed waterbus stop. The ticket is in my hand, held loosely, as if to show unimportance. I hadn’t once been checked on the vaporetto for any sort of papers, but there are signs posted everywhere in a translatable, warning-sign red: being caught without a ticket would result in a €47 fine. Probably best to play it safe. You didn’t want to be that guy—the guy who can’t even understand the bigliettaio and his syrupy-slow Italian. Just be silent, look straight ahead, and be happy you can pass for a real Italian with your golden skin tone. That’s all it takes.