Many writer types, I think it can fairly be said, feel an unconscious resentment toward the fitter and well-adjusted, and have an intuitive sense that they are above these sorts of base activities. When I didn’t lift, it was in part because I still lived in the shadow of my predecessors, who articulated a strict dichotomy between the life of the mind and that of the body, and who adhered to a certain aesthetic vision of what it meant to be a writer—depressed, misanthropic, even sickly, crushed by the weight of seeing things as they really are. The physical body was merely the vessel for Brilliant Thoughts; and the only actually important thing was language.
Thus lifting, which is commonly thought of as the activity of the egotistical and vain, is in reality the opposite—it is a corrective for those things.
Humility, as the shape of the head seemed to suggest, is the first thing one learns in the gym, where one either humbles himself or gets humbled. It is not enough for one simply to imagine that he is strong, or delude himself into believing he is fit. Knowledge comes up against experience, and one has to adjust to make progress. One either learns how to lift properly—using light weights initially and asking others for help—or gets injured. In both cases, humility is the mechanism by which the lifter grows. This is why lifters level epithets like “ego lifter” at one another: humility, not pride, is the arch-virtue of the lifter.
It’s no wonder that people today are seeking a more embodied experience—and trying to learn the language of the body. When not kept in check, thought and language tend toward idiosyncratic, self-centered dreams. There is more to life than language; there is life beyond the text.
The simple truth is that I started lifting because it felt good, and I continued lifting because it continued to feel good. For my entire life, people had extolled the virtues of exercise, but I found them annoying. I didn’t want them to be right. My problems felt special, complex, philosophical. What would it mean if moving heavy weights like an ogre played a substantial role in solving so many of my problems that felt so complex, so personal?