Robert Mapplethorpe Didn’t Wear a Jockstrap?

Original Artwork by Leigh Peele

(Listen to the audio version of this on iTunes or Google Play.)

I found myself sitting on curbside bound couches that smelled of urine and bourbon explaining what I do for a living. I still can’t come up with a 10 second tagline to satisfy the question, “What do you do?” I don’t know. I really don’t have a clue what I do. I argue with people on the internet on a regular basis. I earn what entrepreneurs call a “passive income” on the internet. Too often I smell like whiskey but I’m really positive about it. There’s hardly a sport I’m not at least mediocre at, but I’d rather have my hands covered in blisters from my guitar or charcoal from my sketch pad. However, I have one hell of deadlift.

I don’t know what I do. I’m a writer, I think. I’m an artist, I think.

I know my age but I don’t feel it. I know my background and history but at times even I don’t believe it.

I don’t know.

I know Robert Mapplethorpe didn’t wear a jockstrap, at least not from what I found reading biographies, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, or watching the new HBO documentary special about his life. He grew up in Queens during the height of stickball so it’s possible he took part in that. I know he took graphic pictures of sex acts and lewd behavior. I know his work could equally inspire you to think and want to take a shower.

I remember reading Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries when I was 14 and thinking, “Holy shit, someone like me. They play sports but they don’t subscribe to this normality I don’t understand. They write poetry and get high—they challenge what they know and they are athletes.” It was the first time I had read about someone who had interest in things other than art and music who was also an athlete. Then I read Nick Hornby who litters his work with references of sports teams and athletics along with elitist quotes about Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde or musings of provincial life.

When I meet people and tell them my field of work, I usually receive a knee-jerk response and mixed review reaction. Fear of judgment with a dash of their judging me. As if I’m standing idly by measuring their body fat and contemplating their very life’s meaning. The truth is, I don’t care. I’m not good at my job because I’m so strict or judgmental. I’m good at my job because I’m stupendous at seeing people and being honest when asked questions. I have a good filter to ignore it in social situations, but when it comes to my job I can turn a magic knob and simply spit truth—at least the truth how I see it so it’s relative to nothing. I’ll honestly tell you if you’re wasting time or messing things up. I have great table manners but I certainly can give a candid toast.

Is that the rebel and artist in me?

I don’t know.

This brings me to an honest question—how much should we really care about our body and nutrition? What percentage of our time should it take up?

From a scientific angle, I could argue the importance of caring about your nutrition and physical ability if you want to live a long life, if that is your goal. I can tell you that I’m not sure longevity is my goal. I’m not sitting here playing Russian roulette but I’m not dreaming about being the world’s oldest person either. I don’t have a number, an ideal age…perhaps somewhere between done and burnt. I do know that I won’t be walking around hunched over, covered in boils, filled with collagen, or smelling like moth balls. I will age the way I want to age or not at all. Such is my right.

It’s also my desire to be an introspective person who cares about the combination of art, training, and liquor. I believe we can have such a combination. I believe we can have the dichotomy of deep introspection while working on our transverse abdominis. I believe I can eat pizza, overwork my kidneys processing alcohol, and be less winded walking up the stairs.

There is something about working toward improving your life, motivation, or mental health which brings forth either the image that you are a charlatan or you’re being led by charlatans. There is a notion that if you are working toward a better life, you have to focus only on that with every bite of food and every movement of the day. I can’t do that nor do I want to. I haven’t met many who want to live like that either.

There are two kinds of people in this world. People who understand how the close up of a slow-motion IV with a drop of blood in high exposure is art, and people who think, “What the hell are you talking about?” There has been a constant divide between the jock and art communities and, after slapstick and high school comedies in the 80’s, it became a truly irreparable rift.

There is something about staying in shape or taking care of yourself that seems to be the antithesis of creative art expression. It’s probably got something to do with drowning your sorrows in drugs and too many rotations of The Cure’s Disintegration. It jingles and jangles through the harsh realities of the world, realities it seems someone who works out never experiences—but they do.

Can you imagine Warhol or Mapplethorpe throwing a football through the streets of New York?

Can you imagine Jordan or Gretzky standing next to giant phallic-shaped bananas?

So, here we are.

I like to fill my days with more than just training and you like to fill your mouth with more than just protein and salad. Is that okay for us? I think so. I think the answer rests in the great vast middle we are always trying to achieve which will hopefully lead us to attain a life of enjoyment. My secret is not that I have learned how to love the things I don’t, but how to do the things I love. I can’t sit and analyze an entire discography or 1,000 pages of David Foster Wallace if I’m not alive and interested. I can’t hike and see the beauty at the top of the trail if I can’t breathe. I can’t dance if I have no flexibility. I can’t wear clothes and have style the way I want if I’m not the size I want to be. It’s about me and my needs—not assumptions. Personally, I don’t care to watch video after video of people doing squats much like I don’t like watching baseball—I’d much rather play it. I’m not a huge sports voyeur but that doesn’t mean I don’t like participating and I want to be physically able to do so.

Ability and desires. I think what it comes down to is our ability to grab for what we want, be it physically or intellectually. That is our goal. No one defines that for me but me and no one should define it for you but you.

You define what makes you a well-rounded and healthy person.
You define who your ultimate human being is.
It may have nothing to do with being lean, coordinated, or wearing a jockstrap.
It may have nothing to do with books, clothes, or your talents.
It may simply have to do with waking up every day and falling asleep feeling accomplished for something you’ve done.

That’s for you to decide.

That’s the point.

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