Me & Masochism
Recently I’ve had to take a pause on running because of a minor fracture on the neck of my femur. It sucks. It’s also entirely my own fault. I’m such a masochist. For months, I consistently ran on that weakening leg with some unrelenting belief that this pain was all just “a part of the process.” That this pain is what will “make me stronger.” I shrink inwards as the “inspirational” text+image Tumblr reblogs reappear before me. The colorful, indiscriminate arrangement of fonts against the backdrop of some “profound” image. The original infographics. But nonetheless, still trying to communicate something to me; something I still have to keep reminding myself today.
Running is one of the most romanticized forms of masochism. Why would anyone let themselves go through such an excruciating process? And yet here I am running my femur to oblivion, stubborn with the conviction that “pain is power” and I’ll soon be on my way to even bigger lungs than I could ever dream of. Even if I wanted those kinds of lungs, it requires consistent sacrifice, a continual suffering onto my body. The cost is fixed, but I know that these bouts of short breath ultimately give me a greater capacity to breathe. In the end, I fractured my leg, and still tried running while I was awaiting my MRI scan & my doctor’s advice. I still wanted to hurt myself.
This is nothing new. When I was 7, I got in a motorcycle accident back in Indonesia. This, also, was entirely my fault. My uncle was riding too slow and so I asked if I could sit in front, and essentially be given access to the gas handles. I’m surprised I’m still here, able to write body intact. All I looked forward to at that age was adventure, even if it killed me: sneaking in my heat-trapped garage to play Pokémon, playing with my breath to induce unconsciousness, saying “oh my God” while living under a fundamentalist Christian household.
Now my masochism is much more refined: I don’t bike with a helmet, I do drugs, I go on dates. I risk physical, mental, and emotional safety in hopes to perhaps gain something new. Yet the unsettling reality is that sometimes, if not often, you instead gain nothing at all. Still, I make reckless decisions, putting all my chips forward, saying what’s on my mind. And this lived experience of mine has conditioned me to understand, parse, and approach life in certain ways. For one, I’m happily in New York because of a rather reckless decision to just leave Southern California with barely one and a half month’s worth of rent. I’m also contently in a career that happened because one night I wanted to try art despite having no art background at all. I always try to reflect on these truths whenever I have to make a big decision: like where to go for dinner. How else could I sustain myself when my decisions often return unwelcome outcomes?
It’s not that I’m actually a masochist finding pleasure in pain, but rather the continual tax I pay to Suffering in order to gamble towards a life I want. I ask a lot from Life: I ask it for a career, for more creative output, for 8 hours of sleep, for security, for happiness. The last two have been the most expensive for me, but for different reasons. With security, it’s about being in control of things: always insistently manipulating my surroundings to achieve the best outcome, ultimately costing me my sleep, peace of mind, friends. With happiness, it’s about settling only for perfect: essentially never being satisfied, leaving me exhausted for efforts misplaced. I used to think I was bad at life considering my losses, but it’s rather that the cost is high & incurred more frequently in order to live as I do. You would think by now I’d learn my lesson, and I have, but in a way different than just not gambling anymore.
Ava Huang: Joy comes from being alive. What someone else makes you feel is an emotion that you yourself generated, that you contained all the time. I’m someone who is often consumed by their emotions. It takes hold of me. And when it does, I need time to recalibrate, and to come back to composure. Even the shallowest of emotions move me, but move me nonetheless, powerful enough to continue my masochism. I used to desperately try and erase them, deny them, remove their association to me. But they are inextricably mine. Suffocating them suffocates me, because they are ultimately me. And denying myself my innate faculties of emotion is actually an especially dangerous thing.
Life is a masochistic endeavor. We seek from it sanctuary walking its thorny path, and sometimes never find it, but to find it at all requires us to keep on. Sometimes I want that deep-felt pain & suffering in order to force me back onto Reality’s path. Does that make me a masochist? Sanctuary, like love, is an unsurprisingly grueling endeavor, one that has no precedent for our own individual experiences. It’s lonely, dark. We have to experiment to see what works for us individually. But ultimately there is a destination and it can be reached. And if we get there, why would we try so hard to erase what we learned and experienced along the way?
Parfit: I cannot have the desires that are best for me without sometimes freely choosing to act in ways that will be worse for me. I never ask for suffering but I do ask for things that risk a lot of suffering, and I accept that. Curiously, my best ideas come from places of forlorn (I wrote this on a Monday at 2:48 AM). But I am not glorifying suffering for Suffering’s sake, rather acknowledging the ultimate cost of my autonomy & the reality I try to live in. Murakami: Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.
Last week on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper reported about the “post-acute COVID-19 Syndrome,” and how its victims experience, unfortunately, irreparable changes to their bodies after contracting the disease. One of the women he interviews is a runner like me (although a much more seasoned & trained one). The aftermath for her has made it difficult to walk just a few blocks. Do you think you’ll run again? Cooper asks. Yes, she insists.
I have to wait for my leg to heal, but I’m going to keep running. I’m going to keep hurting myself, going to keep making reckless decisions, going to keep breaking my own heart. I am always without hesitation going to keep taking these risks because ultimately it makes keeping on in life worth it. In running, your breathing becomes better when you work at a continuously difficult pace. Similarly, living becomes better when you work at the pace Reality thrusts upon you. And in Reality’s case, that pace is understandably much more difficult, but that still doesn’t inhibit me much. Murakami: I won’t care. As long as my body allows, I’ll keep on running.
Haruki Murakami & Philip Gabriel, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008).
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press, 1984), 38.
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