This is a part of the Other Folk project.
The shrill, incessant beeping of my alarm clock pierces its way through my eardrum and straight to the heart of my one-too-many-wines-last-night headache. It’s 6:20am on a Thursday morning. I sit on the edge of the bed and consider my options; my alarm clock is too cheap for a snooze option, so I could just roll over and go back to sleep.
The bed is deliciously warm, but I stand up, determined to brave the rock-hard coldness of the bathroom tiles and the sunrise-induced exuberance of the dog. I make it out the door on time.
I’m just about to celebrate making it through the first year of my PhD – the culmination of a near decade-long stint as a student of the arts. After almost ten years studying at various universities, I’ve met a lot of people from a lot of places with similar backgrounds and interests. Arts students have a reputation for being lazy, natural-born hedonists; brilliantly insightful Dionysian satyrs who both delight and despair in the absurdity of our constructed existence.
Contrary to this popular belief, being a student of the arts is hard work and its constituents frequently suffer from a build-up of stress that requires an outlet; an outlet that very often takes the form of staying up too late, drinking too much wine, and indulging in too much of the creamy deliciousness that is Camembert. I’m not exempt from this form of cathartic emancipation – and a mid-week 2am turn-in has become all too frequent since daylight savings kicked in – but I also have a dirty little secret.
I’m an arts student, but I work out. At the gym. Five days per week. And I go hard.
Between 7am and 8am on weekday mornings I delight in the absurdity that is the gym junkie stereotype. I understand what acronyms like HIIT and AMRAP mean, I can bench-press my body weight, I get a kick out of beating a PB, and – for that special hour only – I find a random trainer shouting slogans at me to be genuinely motivating. But once the workout is done and I’ve had a shower, I scurry to my office and hide my gym bag under my desk.
Because it’s a uni gym, my gym buddies (said without a hint of irony) are all predominantly students too. But I have never seen anyone from my cohort anywhere near the gym. When other gym-goers realise I’m an arts student, they look at me like I’m a unicorn; a mythical creature that only appears in the imagination. When fellow arts students discover that I have, at least once in my life, entered into an exercise-related building, they look at me like I’m a Yeti; believed to exist, but without any actual basis of proof.
If I was forced to, I think I would classify myself as a mermaid, or perhaps a chimera; a creature who’s whole is made up of wildly disparate and seemingly incongruous parts.
My foray into the life of a gym junkie was prompted by a fear of falling victim to the same blood pressure- and obesity-related health issues that run in my family. Nevertheless, I could never give up my boozy cheese and philosophy nights, even if it does mean that I sometimes feel a little seedy mid burpee. I’ll try anything exercise-related (except maybe cross-fit) at least once, but I’m having none of that juicing, paleo, or gluten free bullshit.
Of course, I’m being slightly fallacious and excessive – just because I don’t personally know any arts students who work out doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. But the two worlds do tend to act in opposition to each other.
In a collection I read recently, there was a quote attributed (sans reference, the arts student in me cried) to Jean-Paul Sartre: “Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal.”
Exercise forces you wholly into a bodily experience that seems to have no beginning or end. It denies mortality and conjures infinity. But even the most basic understanding and appreciation of the criticality of the arts reminds us constantly that anything we do only has meaning because living and dying occur in the same breath.
Even as I ramp up the speed on the treadmill and start to sprint, I can never quite forget that I’m running towards futility.
Kali Myers is a Perth-born Melbourne-based writer, PhD student, and sometimes-tweeter.
Read the last week’s Other Folk post: Life As A Trailing Spouse By Andrea Barton
Photo Credit: Dinosaurs in my soup!