I’m lying in bed next to Reservoir Mum. I have a book opened but turned over on the doona and I’m listening to the ensuite shower as it drips repetitively, every five seconds or so, almost motivated enough to get out of bed to stop it, but kind of enjoying it’s distracting, lobotomising pulse.
‘I want to try Chinese water torture just to see if it’s as bad as they say it is,’ I say.
‘Just a second,’ RM says, holding a finger up, concentrating, then tapping into the keyboard of her laptop. ‘What?’
‘Shit,’ I say. ‘I forgot to unplug the xBox.’
‘Tys and Maki will be up early playing on it then.’
‘I’m so sick of the xBox and the constant fights over it,’ I say. ‘And I’m sick of the iPads and the iPhones and the computers connected to the Internet leaking Youtube and Snapchat and blogs…and shit, the kids haven’t even discovered porn yet…I don’t think.’
‘We just have to keep taking all the devices at dinner time and hiding them in our room, and disconnecting the wi-fi when we go to bed—’
‘It’s a drain,’ I say. ‘It’s so repetitive. Why don’t we just try giving them a TV overdose by taping their foreheads to the plasma screen for twenty-four hours, kind of like the parenting of yesteryear, when parents who’d caught their kids smoking would make them inhale a whole pack of Marlboro 25’s in the hope of either teaching them a lesson or killing them.’
‘They’d probably love it being taped to the TV,’ RM says.
‘It would definitely take them longer to die that way.’
This morning before school, Reservoir Mum said to Archie, ‘You’re going to be as tall as Dad soon’ and as he walked around the bench to measure himself against me, looking at my head first (he’s still WAY off) he then took a step back, eyes moving from my left shoulder to my right shoulder, to say, in a measured, insightful way ‘But I need to get WIDER’ and while I’m slightly concerned that my life’s focus on lifting and strength may create some kind of body dimorphism inside his teenage psyche, I’m mostly positively moved by his response.
‘There are a lot of people in the world who would benefit from body dimorphism,’ I say.
‘Hang on,’ RM says, holding up a finger, working on her stats and wing-dings.
‘Bigarexia would be great for most of the men in the western world. If you look at the standard for the modern male – skinny-fat, toneless, arseless, complaining of joint and back soreness, turning their spines into a c-shape from all the sitting, softening into skeletal free Star Wars type characters because of their lack of exercise—’
‘Wait a sec,’ RM says, tapping, tapping. ‘What did you say?’
‘Have you noticed how many undertrained, overweight, hobbling humans there are in the world?’
‘Of course,’ she says. ‘They’re the majority of my patients.’
‘All I’m saying is that my love of lifting, building an awesome home gym in the garage – while mostly coming from my own selfish passion and goals – could possibly be paying for itself in ways that I never anticipated. Both Archie and Lewis are lifting now, even when I’m not there to guide them and push them. I can’t help but think that seeing my consistent effort in the gym is a positive influence.’
‘Of course,’ RM says, as I lift my book, put it down again, focus back on the drip-drip-drip of the shower. ‘It’s awesome.’
‘Because there may come a time when the boys feel that their lives are kind of mundane. When they’ll feel that the days are rolling into each other, that the mornings, the afternoons, the evenings, the nights are metronomic beats sounding out endlessly with such repetitiveness that the rhythm becomes a kind of ANTI-rhythm, so droll that they’re only passion, they’re most significant drive, is to distract themselves from it with Netflix, or Youtube, or Absolute Vodka.’
‘Uh, yeah,’ RM says.
‘And they could easily, eventually, from one micro-moment to the next so that’s it’s hardly perceptible, turn into those men – most of the men I see around every day – who are kind of hunched over, lacking muscularity, vagueness in their eyes, looking like they’ve totally given in to the unrelenting beat-down, the tick-tick-tick between sun-up and sundown. I mean, you can hate your life, that’s fine, and you can think there’s hardly anything to aim for, or to strive for – I think that happens to most people, at least in patches – but you don’t have to look like a half inflated cock-balloon while you’re at it.’
‘Cock-balloon,’ RM says, laughing in a rewarding way.
There’s a sudden vibration on the bedhead and I’m reaching for my phone, kind of mindlessly, but with a surge of mute excitement, and I don’t know how much time goes by, flicking my hand over the screen, before I realise that I’ve lost track of the water dripping, the fact that I’m lying in bed next to the one I love best, talking about my influence on my boys, but it’s enough time for me to feel a kind of disappointment. Yes, I have just tipped over 3000 followers on Instagram, but the dopamine rush from that has already been flushed out and 4000 seems so far away. 3100, 3500, 3800 just won’t cut it.
Just as I’m thinking that I should post a really funny photo, the silence attacks me like a sonic boom and I’m turning my phone off, reacquainting myself with the water dripping and the fingers tapping and vagueing out, a slave to my interior monologue which, tonight at least, is not altering me in a positive way.
I’m wondering if my recent focus on bodybuilding, as opposed to just striving to hit heavier and heavier weights, is coming from the same place as the desire to watch a Netflix series, or to search for Instagram likes, and the honest response comes to me after several minutes of attempted justification: of course it is.
I haven’t just been working out twice as hard in the home gym these past six months, I’ve also been looking at myself in the mirror THREE times as much, weighing myself at least twice a day, eating to get in at least 3000 calories, concentrating on getting better quality sleep.
At the same time I’ve been experimenting with clothes ranging in size from large to extra EXTRA large, to see what makes me look muscular enough to garner some respect but not so muscular that people will think I have my head so far up my arse that I’m in danger of turning inside out. This is a distraction. A distraction from what? I’m not entirely sure. But it’s motivated by the same thing that motivates the TV addict, the workaholic, the alcoholic, the sex addict, the Facebook addict.
When RM closes her laptop and rolls over to face me, sleepy eyed already, she puts her hand on my bicep in an almost prophetic way.
‘I’m addicted to lifting,’ I say.
‘Der,’ she says. ‘You’ve been addicted to lifting for thirty years.’
‘But for the past six months I’ve been more focussed than ever on how I look. I actually train my arms now. They’ve already grown an inch.’
‘That’s what I’m talking about,’ she says, a sleep-horny wink.
‘But here’s the thing. It’s come on the back of me getting less reward from my writing and feeling a bit nonplussed about life in general.’
‘It’s like I’m trying to fill a void,’ I say, stopping for a moment, correcting myself. ‘It’s like it’s distracting me, so that I don’t focus on the void at all. And now I’m wondering if everything I’ve ever done has been for that reason.’
RM has been working very hard, bless her, and that’s why her eyes are already threatening to close, but she continues to stroke my burgeoning bicep in such a gratifying way that I’m thinking we should get a ceiling-mounted mirror above our bed.
‘You just…need to talk like this sometime,’ she says, her words spaced either side of a yawn.
‘But, you know,’ I say. ‘There are so many other things, so many other distractions that are far worse than this, that can have more negative consequences. And I’m hoping that the boys, as they grow up around our home gym, with my daily training and focus on diet and getting stronger – without ever really being satisfied – becomes so normalised that they absorb it somehow. I hope that one day they find their own passion, one that will always be there for them to refocus on when they need it. I hope they find a passion that’s strong enough to distract them from…whatever it is…to keep them flying through the day with purpose, like an arrow towards a target.’
I’m not sure what RM heard because she’s asleep but it doesn’t matter, this thought process is just for me, and I’m lifting my book, earmarking the page, placing it on the bedhead behind me, glancing at the phone and then ignoring it.
After turning off the lamp and settling down, face up in the darkness, the dripping in the shower becomes a focus again and I know I have to get up, finally, and fix it.
There’s something of sadness in me as I settle back into bed. I’d like it to go away. I’m considering turning on the lamp and trying to read again, or reviewing my training log and tinkering with my training routine, or walking down to the living room to play with the kitten, or heading to the writing room to start a blog post, but then I take a deep breath and hold it.
Before I breathe out I’m aware of the silence outside me, how uncomfortable it is, and the thoughts begin again, metronomic, one after the other, but not necessarily connected to each other, culminating in this question – what will happen when all the loves in my life are taken away from me?
I can hear RM’s rhythmic breathing and I roll over, eyes closed, to focus on it. I’ve done this many times, with each member of my immediate family, whenever I’ve had a sleepless night.
In and out, rhythmic and slow, her face barely visible and the doubt is weakening, the darkness is wielding its melodramatic spell. I’m in love and I’m loved. This is the most powerful distraction, that’s what I’m thinking as I’m finally anticipating sleep.
This particular repetition is the most rewarding. It’s the remedy to the listless days and the days when the ego spikes. It covers the void with gratitude and gives me a sense of place. I have it as a focus to strengthen my resolve. Right now. This very moment. Whenever I feel a little hammered by the metronomic day to day, the undeniable anti-rhythm of life.