Fly Swatting

For reasons near and dear, I enjoyed this narrative of a dad entering a standup-paddling race with his six-year-old:

As the starting horn blasts, we hang near the back of the pack to stay clear of the really gung-ho racers. But soon I realize most of these folks are pretty new to SUP. Like a cheetah in a herd of wildebeest, I’m off. My inner competitor is awakened.

I start stroking. And we start passing. I decide then and there I’m not going to let anyone pass us. Nobody.

“Shit. The guy with the kid just passed us,” I hear a pair of twenty-something guys laughing. “That’s not good.”

Others weren’t as chill about it. In particular, a fit brunette in her early 40s on a tricked-out SUP whines as we pass.

“That’s not fair. His kid is paddling too.”

She’s serious.

Oh really? I think to myself. Wanna borrow my 45 pounds of extra baggage?

I haven’t done any SUP racing (yet) but I can totally imagine this same scenario playing out in my life. The woman is healthy and wealthy and yet somehow believes she’s being disadvantaged.

Over the last few years I’ve been enrolling in fewer road races even though I’ve been running just as much or — especially in 2009, when I was training for the NYC Marathon — more so than ever. I think that as my running has become more internalized, more ingrained and inscribed — it’s not something I do, it’s something I can’t not do, if that makes any sense — I’ve begun to prize the solitude of it above all else. Just experiencing the mile I’m in is what I want. A few months back I blocked an account on Twitter — the feed of some big racing group — because its manic aphorisms were being retweeted into my timeline, stuff like, “If you didn’t come to win, go home,” and I was like, Oh fuck you. Block. I’ve encountered similar stuff in real life too, from people like the woman above to race officials — most often from race officials, in fact, who are usually school coaches too small-minded to divorce the act of running from competition. The only people who need to worry about winning are elites, and just because the majority of runners aren’t elites doesn’t mean we should cower at home in shame. You compete against yourself. That’s the beauty of running.

Last night Mrs. Kuhl and I watched Fight Club, which I hadn’t seen since its 1999 theatrical release. And just as before, I was enthralled by a film so existentialist it might as well beat you into the basement concrete with a copy of Existentialism and Human Emotions. Yet if you click over to Wikipedia and read the various critical interpretations of the movie, you’ll find nary a word about Sartre or Camus or inauthentic living. The closest you’ll find is a reference to Tyler Durden being a “Nietzschean Ubermensch” — which he is, although it’s clear the writer means it only in the physical sense of Brad Pitt’s six-pack.

Is there any of Nietzsche’s concepts so misunderstood as the Ubermensch? Maybe will-to-power. The Ubermensch has been distorted into a villain, into a Greek god, genetically sculpted yet callous to anything but his own wants. Whereas what Nietzsche intended was neither somatic nor carnal; rather the Ubermensch is that person who transcends the pettiness of others, who rises above social conformity to embrace his passions ideals, whether they’re running or paddling or veterinarian medicine or whatever. To exist and enjoy existence, like a father and son on a paddleboard, free of the moral judgments of those who desire to reduce you. “I see you wearied by poisonous flies,” spoke Zarathustra, “Before you they feel petty, and their baseness glows and smolders against you in invisible revenge… Flee, my friend, into your solitude and to where raw and bracing air flows. It is not your lot to be a swatter of flies.”

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