Ghost Drives the Shell – 1000 Klicks on Nike+

Middle of the afternoon, I’m breaking into a server for a customer; just a quick admin password reset on the local SAM database. He’s a cool cat; lots of divergent interests but very organized. He keeps a spreadsheet to track the amount of time he spends on meditation breaks, as if quantifying the amount of reflective thought allows him to chart his progress towards Nirvana. Like some sort of Zen Candyland.

He has been practicing drawing ideogram-like horses with a single loopy pen-stroke. A flowing mane and big equine eyes, all without lifting the pen from the paper. It’s all about focus and lots of practice, he says. A stack of printer paper on his desk, covered with his practice doodles. He’s a CEO with oodles of disposable time. Clearly. But his unorthodox time-wasting behavior is only background noise for a very savvy business acumen, and I like that he has creative ways to solve problems. Alas, the server was beyond his ken, so I’m here doing a winpass -u with Trinity.

He excuses himself to do a 5-minute power meditation. As he looks inwards to his very core, I see his eyes move under his lids as if in a REM sleep. He’s unlocking the secret to life, probably. I, on the other hand, am on the clock, so I look inwards at the core of his server’s user database and search for the key to unlocking its secrets.

He’s peppy after meditating, as if wakened by a hypnotist’s command: “Now you awake, refreshed.” On his workstation, he shows me a Reuters video of the man with the world’s biggest feet. Something’s not right with the chap’s pituitary gland. He’s huge; like Andre the Giant huge. Skeletal structure unable to support the weight of the body. He’d be OK in a low gravity environment, but at 1-g, the length of his frame places too much stress on his bones. Teeters gingerly like a giraffe. Enormous feet and he’s not done growing. Walks with a cane. Shy eyes blinking out from a face with pronounced features, all peaks and valleys that, like the Himalayas, keep growing every year. He’s cheerful; accepting of his ever-expanding body.

To be trapped in such a shell, losing mobility and becoming more susceptible to Earth’s gravity with each passing year. How difficult it must be to free your sense of self from the claustrophobic hold of the flesh. Maybe you learn to want different things. I think of the face transplant test cases in the news, mangled visages replaced with a donated face. Do you become a different person if you no longer look like your old self? Then there’s the transformative experience of the traumatic injury. It’s not like Nick Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off, limited to the John Woo spectrum of emotion.

Password reset, my customer logs in to his server and shows me that he has built a spreadsheet of all his online, computer and network passwords. Very organized, I say. But why did he save it on a server that could lock him out, I ask. Surely that defeats the purpose. Because it is secure, he grins. The server is standalone so none of the domain admins at the parent office have creds to get in. And nobody at this office knows how to break in to it. But if I forget the password and need to get in, all I have to do is call you. It is horribly counterintuitive, but I can’t fault his Zen riddle-like logic. I normally do not have physical access to his server, but I can break into it if he lets me into his office. It’s like those nuclear launch systems that require two people to insert a key at the same time. As I leave his office, I hear the bells chime on his iPhone meditation app.

Back home after my evening run, I play Russian Roulette with the movie server, spin the dial till it lands on  Some Kind of Wonderful, which was one of the great 80s teen movies. An oeuvre from the Ringwald era, sans Molly Ringwald. Eric Stoltz at the prime of his teen idol status, with an inadvisable amount of black eyeliner for a ginger. Mary Stuart Masterson with fringed gloves, banging on a drum kit. The playlist is set to random, and Benny and Joon starts playing immediately after; wouldn’t it be great if it randomly selected for a Mary Stuart Masterson movie marathon? The song playing over the end credits is 500 Miles by the Proclaimers.

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

It’s an 80s pop song, sung with a strident Scots accent; more advertising jingle than teen anthem. It speaks of the desire to go the distance, for some higher purpose, to prove yourself worthy. I’m trying to adhere to this philosophy in every aspect of my life. The test of the gomjabbar; to prove to myself that I am human, not animal.

I hit 1000 km on Nike+ tonight. Not too shabby for a keyboard cowgirl who hadn’t run since high school. It has been a transformative goal. I can run 10 klicks a pop now, a fact that still makes me incredulous whenever I see it logged on my iPod. I’ve lost 30 lbs since January 2010. None of my clothes fit any more. The reflection in the mirror looks like a vaguely familiar acquaintance from high school that you run into at an airport and have to fumble for a name. “We used to be friends, a long time ago, but I haven’t thought of you lately at all,” sing the Dandy Warhols on my stereo.

I think the mind shapes the body, but there is a backfeed as well. The nature of the shell predisposes the ghost to certain choices. These days, I think about backpacking through China, maybe running on the Great Wall, whereas I once would have just browsed the Wikitravel article and maybe snuffled about the Great Firewall of China like a cyberspace Hun, looking for a chink in the wall.

Later, there’s another 80s movie on TV, Mask. Looks like the stars are aligning for retro movie night. Eric Stoltz as a teenager with disfiguring lionitis; Cher, the poster girl for plastic surgery, unironically cast as his sassy Mom. Predictably, he’s shunned at school until he wins them over with his charm and smarts. He’s not the sideshow attraction that the real-life Joseph Merrick was; he lacks a victim mentality, does not participate in his own ostracism. There is an element of the sardonic in the casting of Eric Stoltz in Mask. He’s good in the role. But one of the most famous handsome faces of the 80s under a latex mask, easily removed after a day of shooting? It’s like reading Beauty and the Beast or Pygmalion if you already know the ending. The real awfulness of existence watered down to a bad teen movie with a Cinderella makeover plot. Not everything is fixable. Not everything should be fixed.

Some of my oldest friends are faceless entities, the entire course of our friendships have been conducted online. They are handles and screen names, dictated by personal interests, puns or, simply, availability as dictated by the NickServ bot. These friendships predate even the avatars that are so prevalent on latter-day social networking sites. No information pertaining to our meatspace existence needs to be disclosed. No race, no age, no gender, maybe not even geographic location unless you count the public IP addresses that they use, easily spoofed. Just a ghost. Nowadays, everyone has a public photo album on Facebook. There’s nothing left to the imagination any more.

I think I like it better when we are faceless; a meritocracy where we are the sum of our thoughts and actions, not the skin we inhabit. If identity is fluid, you lose the idea of Us and Them. Maybe that is root of compassion – the ability to step outside your self.

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