In his book Ethics, Alain Badiou writes that the main ethical maxim is “keep going.” That speaks to me. It was on my mind tonight because of some knee problems and baby fussing.

I have chronic and slowly worsening knee pain. So far it’s just in the soft tissues, no permanent structural damage. I’m like a car with the alignment out of whack, stuff rubs on other stuff that it shouldn’t, with predictable problems. When I get enough of the right kind of exercise it’s not as big of a deal. Yoga helps. A motion control shoe that correct against overpronation helps somewhat though I think it deals with the symptoms rather than the causes. Work and family and such have me stretched pretty thin in terms of my ability to take up serious new commitments (I’ve dropped yoga and rock climbing, for instance, for the time being). I’ll eventually have a lifestyle that affords me the chance to do this kind of thing, but I don’t currently. Instead of long term correctives like the right exercises etc, I have a short term corrective that I got from the physical therapist: a foam roller. I lay on it, in a sort of sideways plank pose (if you know yoga), where my weight is on my arms a bit and mostly on my one foot. I sort of lay on my side with my chest pushed up, and the foam roller under one of my thighs so that my weight is largely concentrated on the roller and the point in my leg that’s making contact. I don’t know why this is so but the muscles in outside of my legs are not quite right, they’re too tight (my t-band, I think, but I’m not sure). This makes the roller really, really painful.

I lay on the roller and roll up or down my leg until I find a spot that’s really right and so a spot where it’s really painful to have the roller be at. Then I stay there. I count to sixty or so, by which point it usually has stopped hurting, unless it stops hurting first. Then I roll some more, to the next very painful spot. Repeat. As I do this I can feel something tighten, stretch, loosen immediately alongside my knee. If I do this regularly it gets easier and my knees don’t hurt much. If I don’t, and I often forget and so I don’t, my knees gradually get worse until they hurt enough that I can’t sleep much. Then I start doing the roller regularly.

Sometimes the roller hurts enough that after a while I decide to stop. This decision never feels like a decision, it feels like something I have to do, something that happens to me. “I can’t take it anymore.” Often this happens more on the right than the left side, when this gross feeling thing happens in my leg… I can feel a knot tighten and release in my leg, like something is moving inside my leg. When it happens it sort of feels like my leg is a sheet of paper or fabric that has bunched up or folded over itself then been pressed, like I’m folding a crease into the insides of my leg, then the crease uncreases suddenly. It hurts a lot and also feels gross, like wrong somehow.

When I’m on the roller, I count and I pay attention to my breath and I try to pick some point to stare at and focus. The silver lining to all this is that it can be head-clearing: it hurts enough that it’s hart to think about much. Lately I’ve been trying to remember how a yoga teacher of mine would always emphasize during hard poses that we should relax our jaws and smile and to loosen anything else that didn’t need to be engaged in a pose, rather than reflexively tightening everything because a few things have to be tightened. It’s not easy but I think it’s a good thing to do and will maximize the head clearing effect.

When I decide to get off of the roller because the pain is very high it rarely feels like a decision to stop, it feels like I just have to stop, or like I am stopping or have stopped through no real control of my own. That’s a strange experience. Other times I decide it’s been enough time. I’d like to think that the more I do this not only will my legs get better (so that I won’t have to do this anymore) but also I’ll get better at hanging in there, at recognizing that it’s a decision to stop or not and at making the decision to keep going. I’d like that ability to transfer beyond just this foam roller and my sore legs.

This was on my mind in part because my knees have been sore and in part because my daughter was very tired but resisting sleeping. My wife and I were trading off trying to get our daughter to relax enough to feel sleepy, and my wife went to look for something, I forget what. My wife handed the baby to me; she didn’t want to go to me. She sobbed for a bit as I held her. I always feel a bit silly but this genuinely hurts my feelings. I love my daughter very much. I can live with being her second favorite (I guess, I mean, it’s not like I have any choice) but crying and actively not wanting to come to me is a different matter. Of course she wasn’t really crying about me, she was just frustrated and wanted to nurse (and she does sometimes cry and want me instead of my wife), but it felt like rejection at the moment. I tried to treat this as analogous to my knee pain, just hanging in there, singing and rocking the baby anyway. After a bit she settled and got over her indignation at me for not being her mom, and she started to snuggle into me. Here there’s no real analogy to deciding to get off the roller, of course, but there’s a similar element here in that I can (and try to) orient toward letting stuff wash over me and passing through it rather than getting totally swept away by it. (On an up note, she was cracking up laughing a ton earlier as I was singing to her, she found one of the words in one of the songs totally hilarious and kept repeating it and would laugh harder when I would say it back to her.)