I’ve stopped running the dog in the morning. In the post-alarm silence of 5:15am, my knee hurts. I sound like my dad did ten years ago. Sometimes it’s one knee. Sometimes the other. A month ago, I used to bring my phone and count my steps and distance. Sometimes clock four miles in thirty minutes. Most days three. It became a goal. 

I conceptualized my morning run’s success or failure in terms of steps taken. The more the better. The same vicious paradigm controls my mentality in other ways. More = better, I mean. Where do we pull to unearth this deep rooted weed? Another example: Facebook likes as a metric for my self-worth. Aye, it’s ubiquitous.

A quick rant: This Austro-Hungarian economist dude named Polanyi says that a market society is impossible to achieve because people resist being turned into commodities. I hear that. When people are exposed to too much of the market—when markets quantify human capital beyond a certain point—people resist, and demand protection from excessive commodification. Yes, yes, I hear that too. 

Back to not running because of my gnarled knee. 5:15am used to mean leash dog, coffee later, quick, hurry no time for sniffing, fine pee if you have to, no time to pick up poop, leave the stick, drop it, drop it ….and then my knee started hurting. So lately I’ve been walking behind a pulling dog, whose probably wondering why we’re not hurrying. 

Maybe walking instead of running isn’t a big deal to you. But addicts rarely give up substance abuse without a substitute vice, or proxy addiction. Take my dad. Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the Monsanto tree. Gave up alcohol almost thirty years ago. Took up long distance running. Got injured. Took up the sweat lodge. Dissolved. Took up the black church. Collapsed. Took up cold water swimming. Still hooked. 

Alcohol gets replaced by physical activities so extreme they begin to carry spiritual import. As a recovering/recovered/semi-recovered (I never know how to brand myself in this area), I’m all about intense workouts. Gotta trigger dopamine and endorphin production somehow. 

Yesterday morning I was walking the dog, pockets empty of treats, so no incentive to “heel,” meaning it was all tug of war. And the thought tiptoed up on me, the way thoughts do when the lights are out, and the dog is hammering for a box of pizza next to rather than inside a neighbor’s trash can. The thought was this: I’m no less happy now not running than I was a few weeks ago huffing and puffing for four miles. In fact, I felt distinctly happier. At least during that window of thirty minutes. But also a teensy bit more at ease generally. For me, running four miles every morning wasn’t a manifestation of my inner desire to run. Instead it was a step-taking, calorie-burning chore I imposed on myself to avoid the dreaded condition of being fat. 

The ref lifts his hand in the air. A yellow card. The foul? Allowing perceived social image to devour personal preference. In no way have I freed myself from the custody cuffs of social norms. My knee just hurts every time I run. And because I do an hour of yoga four days a week, I’m okay with just walking. To be honest, during that hour of yoga, I work on knee mobility, range of motion, balance and flexibility. I’m still gunning for recovery. I’m still fully emotionally invested in the cultural commodity of a skinny self, for a inseparable combination of reasons relating to health and social image. 

Up next? I don’t know. Stay tuned.