A friend draws a comic I like (and more importantly, that my older daughter likes). Occasionally small creatures called doldrums come around to sap the energy of people; cats drive off the doldrums and save the humans. (For a while my kid would play-act this, imagining herself a cat driving off doldrums, an image more accurate than she understands.) Doldrum levels have been pretty high lately for me. Today I looked up the definition of the term for the first time. The etymology of the word includes a reference to sea travel – the doldrums as becoming calmed at sea, no more winds to provide motor power, leaving you just floating. I started to write ‘floating aimlessly’, that’s the feeling but not the old term – doldrums in the ocean-going sense is loss of ability to make forward motion. Doldrums in the metaphorical sense is more loss of both direction and motive force, losing the map, compass, and goal as well as the energy to get… wherever. I could imagine this as a kind of greying out, like the Kansas scenes in the Wizard of Oz, turning colorless. I suppose the Wizard of Oz is another sort of metaphor here, Dorothy’s shoes, the ability to move is there all along, the feeling of being trapped is a matter of being trapped by that feeling itself. Another metaphor I often think about for this is exercise. The first 10 or so minutes of a run are mostly about shedding the impulse not to run. After outrunning that impulse the run gets good, I’m in motion and feeling good about being in motion. The urge to stop may occasionally catch up but it’s easier to keep in motion than it is to start moving. My bouldering partners and I have started ending our climbs with circuits where we do a hard route, a second hard route, then the first hard route again, with no rests between them other than the time it takes to walk the ten feet or so between climbs. We finish each route out of breath with muscles tired, and because we’re tired the climbs get sloppy – feet slipping, just grabbing whatever we can make contact with, no elegance of technique. The hardest moments are when I have to get back on the wall after my feet slip, and when I have to start the next climb after walking over. Starting the third climb is the worst. In a way it’s the rest that makes it hardest, because that means having to break out of rest and into motion again. That this is so hard is part of why I like climbing circuits. Well, “like” is the wrong word. After finishing a circuit and recovering I feel very satisfied in part because I feel good about having overcome my impulse away from activity. It feels good to defeat the doldrums. Unfortunately those wins are only ever episodes, and the next episode never feels like a guaranteed win, but in those later episodes I can still look back at the past episodes to remind myself that I can break into motion. Retaining or re-inventing that sense of possibility (the possibility of possibility?) is crucial.

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