Friday, June 22, 2018

Marching in Step

It’s no surprise that writing is a sedentary occupation. Ask any experienced writer how to progress, and the answer will be some version of “glue rear end to chair.” Writing muscles, like the physical kind, need constant exercise if they are to strengthen and refine enough to produce something worthwhile.

Now, my love of ballet kept me active for decades. Three two-hour classes per week and thirty minutes to an hour on the weekends put me in the “moderate activity” category despite the writing and editing. But three years ago, my teacher retired, and for various reasons, not least a vamped-up work schedule, I stopped taking class. I still exercised at least six days a week, but the two hours soon dropped closer to twenty minutes, and sometimes I didn’t even manage that. Then Sir Percy handed off his Apple Watch to me while he enjoyed a (temporary) upgrade.

I don’t consider myself a technophobe. I love mastering new software. I adopted the iPad on the day of its release (not before, as I wanted to verify that the hype had some basis in fact), and I still use it almost every day—mostly to read, often my own work, for which it’s invaluable. But I am a techno-skeptic, and not every device, in my view, needs to be superseded. For years I bought my watches at Target, for the princely sum of $30 apiece, kept each one until it required something more than a new battery, then replaced it. They kept time, which is all a watch needs to do. Similarly, I was perfectly happy with my 2013 smartphone, which let me call people, read e-mail, and amuse myself at the doctor’s and dentist’s offices with an e-book. I argued that I didn’t need an Apple Watch and the upgraded phone that went with it.

But I have to admit, after three months I’m hooked. I don’t use the watch (still less the phone) to do one-tenth of the tasks it can handle, but the ones I do use it for are great. I can decline all those annoying pretend-to-be-local spam calls without even answering them. I can set a kitchen timer with Siri (when she’s in the mood) and reset it with the press of an electronic button. And I have learned a lot about my own daily activity—better in some ways than I imagined, worse in others. For example, as a fidgety sort, I constantly run up and down the stairs, so it’s rare that the watch has to nag me to stand during the workday. I can put in two miles worth of steps without leaving my house. And with the exercise monitor counting calories, I’ve extended my ballet workouts to thirty minutes or more every day and include more floor work, which strengthens the core muscles. I also discovered that, contrary to opinions I’d read, ballet does raise my heart rate and is therefore aerobic, as well as including flexibility and resistance components. All that is useful to know.

The time I’m most likely to forget to stand or to breathe slowly, not surprisingly, is when I’m in the full flush of writing a new story—a time when, if not nagged by the watch, I could easily sit for four hours without moving anything but my fingers. So the little kick offered by the watch is helpful then, if not when I’m in the middle of a critique group meeting (the watch doesn’t distinguish). When I had to go to a funeral, I left it at home for fear of its beeping, although I’ve since learned to turn that off.

Now the watch is not infallible. The time I left the Workout app on for thirty-five minutes after I finished, it burbled happily the whole time and congratulated me on my longest workout yet. More annoying was when I forgot to start the app for the first seven minutes of one workout and the watch seemed oblivious to the fact that I was moving at a level it normally considers exercise. And since it mostly monitors wrist movement, it’s convinced that petting the cat (examples of perfect exercise subjects to the left) while sitting uses more calories than hauling a 65-gallon recycling bin (wheeled, admittedly) out to the street.

On the whole, though, the watch has provided a positive learning experience. The phone? It’s very nice, and it holds more books. I like that. It also has a slightly larger screen, which makes the hunt-and-peck of typing more tolerable. And it makes phone calls, which is, after all, the only thing a phone really needs to do. But its big plus is that without it, the watch wouldn’t work.

I could write more, but my digital master demands that I stand and move about for a minute. And there is that work schedule to placate, with lunchtime almost over. So I’ll just say that Sir Percy had better not hold out hope of seeing his watch again—not unless I score a royalty check big enough to replace it!

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