This blog has been “coming soon” for about six months now. I think it’s safe to say it did not come soon at all. But it's coming now, whether you like it or not. I guess it’s time to figure out what the hell the thing is going to be about.
I’ve been advised more times than I can count that a writer should write about what he knows. I don’t know much about much. Perhaps this little enterprise could become a memoir or a personal journal, but how much can one really say about watching Netflix and ordering delivery food?
I meant to ask that question sarcastically. I wanted you, the reader, to snicker a little bit and think to yourself, “Well, of course there’s nothing to say about Netflix and delivery food. That’s why this guy hasn’t written anything of substance for three paragraphs now.” Those were more or less my thoughts as I wrote the sentence. Then, as an aspiring writer who earned a college degree by writing long papers on questions which might have been answered in a sentence or two, I started to wonder whether the question I just asked could become the jumping off point for this blog.
Not to say I will describe the minute details I observed on my 17th run-through of The Office or compare and contrast Dominos and Papa Johns (both, by the way, cheap, flavorless, and better than anything else at 3am on a Sunday morning). Okay, maybe there will be the occasional parenthetical snippet in which I totally contradict myself and do exactly what I said I wasn’t going to do.
But it makes sense to me that this blog should aim to answer the question I’ve been asking myself for at least six months, if not 16 years, now: why do I consistently choose to lie in my bed studying the dirty handprints on my walls when there is sunlight and music and food and girls and a whole world beyond those walls? If my isolation and torpor do result from my own choice, why don’t I choose a different path? God knows the better part of myself would cancel my Netflix subscription and learn to cook in a heartbeat, if only I could get out of bed and take a shower first.
Say what you want about free will, but it is no secret that the human being’s power of choice can be compromised by inertia and habit. The most hyperbolic and fitting example of compromised will-power is that of a drug addict. After 20 years of shooting heroin, a person no longer chooses to pick up a needle. He picks up the needle in the same way that someone else might pick up a sandwich or a glass of water: out of a necessity ingrained in him at the cellular level. For a 20-year heroin addict, there is no option B.
Then again, from an objective perspective, option B seems obvious and prudent: stop pumping foreign substances into your bloodstream. The junky might recognize the logic and the prudence of option B, but the path from where he is to where he wants to be is no path at all. At best, the journey is half a step short of impossible. At worst, the path is invisible.
No, Netflix is not an opiate. Yes, I feel a little presumptuous about having mentioned heroin addiction in an article about my own sober, post-adolescent laziness. But the rhetorician in me is inclined to cite the most extreme of cases in support of my argument. Which is, just in case you have forgotten (I almost have), that free will becomes all but negligible when pitted against a deeply cultivated habit.
Not necessarily a drug habit. If one spends eight hours a day watching TV over the course of a year, it’s ridiculous to ask him to “choose” not to burrow under the covers and reach for the remote on day 366. Even if his girlfriend is lying next to him naked or his mother is making his favorite breakfast (oh, don’t start with the Freudian criticism), the impulse to hit the big red power button on his TV set will purr faintly in his ear. There may be times when he recognizes the absurdity of the impulse, but is still be unable to overcome the habit. He may turn the volume down during commercials and dream of some glorious option B, a world in which his mom has to leave her house to make him breakfast and his girlfriend does not have to be blown up. In fact, he may grow quite adept at dreaming every detail of this alternative Eden. Still, he is all but powerless to get there, even if he is lucky enough to have some hastily scrawled, indecipherable directions.
I should point out that inertia can be a positive force for self-improvement also. It seems absurd to drive through McDonald’s if you haven’t eaten there for five years. To lie on your couch watching The Price is Right seems an equally unappealing prospect if you have not turned on the TV all decade. It is hard to imagine not going to the gym if you’ve gone everyday for the last six months.
Inertia, habit, routine. Choose to call it whatever you like. Its effect, positive or negative, on our “choices” cannot be ignored. It creates ruts and blurs the footholds by which we might climb out of them. If we do find a foothold, inertia makes us wonder whether we’re strong enough to use it.
I believe earlier in this article I claimed free will was negligible in the face of inertia. I chose the wrong word. If something is negligible, it is so small or unimportant it is not worth considering. A single choice to go against the grain of inertia is small, arguably unimportant. But a choice is always worth considering. Consecutive single choices gain a momentum of their own. How does one create inertia in the first place, if not by conscious or subconscious choices?
Since I graduated college—actually, long before then—I’ve been telling myself that I need to establish a daily writing routine. But once the computer is open, it’s a lot easier to open up a web browser than a word processor. I hardly know where the icon for my word processor is. I have created an inertia that pushes my cursor toward safari without my hardly realizing it.
Today, though, I dragged a reluctant mouse to the Pages icon, opened a blank document, and started typing this. Moving that cursor did not feel like bench pressing the Packers’ offensive line. Actually, it felt a lot more like moving a mouse across a computer screen. Which really isn't that hard. The cursor is small, arguably unimportant. But certainly not negligible.
See you soon. Here’s to momentum.