A manifesto for a more wondrous age.


This is Monochromatic Aberration, the newsletter of Ian J. Battaglia, a writer and photographer based out of Chicago. Click through to view this post on the blog mnchrm.co, and if you no longer want to receive these emails, feel free to click to unsubscribe link at the bottom. You can reply to this via the comment button, or by simply replying to this email.

I recently completed what I thought of as a sort of “intensive training program.” I’ve been thinking more and more about where I’m going as a person, what I want to accomplish, who I want to become, and the steps I need to take to get there. I guess I’ve always been thinking about this, but it feels ever more important. Last year, I tweeted out that I wanted to “hone my body, mind, and spirit;” (among a few other goals). To those ends, I started tracking everything I ate, and started working out in earnest.

I had become a runner in college. I think more than anything, I just wanted to be fit in some way, and felt if it was good enough for Murakami, it was good enough for me. I still haven’t run in any events (but hope to!), but I’ve kept up running over the years. I’ve seen my fitness and endurance improve and wane in different periods, and made conscious efforts to improve my form and ability beyond simply running (there was something almost Zen-like about how I started; I didn’t even have running shoes back then.)

But it wasn’t until last Summer that I did any weight training. It was mostly what I could do at home, with kettlebells and calisthenics, and an occasional session at a gym with a coach. But I decided I wanted to bulk up a bit, so in January this year, I took it even further and began powerlifting at a coached gym: three days a week, every week for months. I started eating a lot more (it's wild how much you have to eat to gain muscle mass), and watched my lifts slowly double, then pass my body weight, and continue to climb. This kept up for about half the year, only ending recently as it no longer fit my budget. I started a contract job at the same time, which coincidentally, is also ending. New endings, new beginnings.

It was a lot of fun, actually. But of course, not always. It was simple, but it was hard. Each session the weight went up. I wanted to train, I wanted to get stronger, and I did. But even for things you want to do, you don’t always want to do them. Of course writing is a perfect example, but there are weeks I don’t want to take a single photograph. I treated it like an ascetic practice. I was doing this job I didn’t especially want to do, and I went to the gym. That was it. Over the course of a few months, I missed two sessions (I think) due to illness; otherwise, I was there, lifting.

Of course, working and going to the gym voluntarily is hardly punishment, but during this time I was thinking to myself that I’d like to be the kind of person who could do anything for a couple of months. From the beginning, I knew this wouldn’t last forever; I tried to savor it while I could. For me, it started to become important to go especially on the days I didn’t want to. I wanted to lean in and embrace the discomfort. In baseball, they say if you want to be a starting pitcher, you might not always have your best stuff every day, but the good ones can go out there and get outs for their team anyways. I wanted to be like that. I set a timer between lifts. Once I went off, I grabbed the bar (and especially as my squat got heavier and heavier, my mental resistance went up!)

Honestly, I think we (as a people, as a society) have an issue with discomfort. We can’t handle it. We look at our phones while we wait at the coffee shop rather than sit and look out the window and think. I read a book recently where the character talks about how no matter what, after 23 seconds of silence between two people, someone will say something to fill the air. And not to go trad on you, but I do think this sort of thing in general is a problem. I think about Zen monks, who depending on the group might give a novice struggling with the meditation posture the advice to be uncomfortable. To sit with it.

I wrote about this a bit in the last newsletter, but I think the reality is that most things worth achieving require some level of effort, and yes, some discomfort. I think the ability to sit with something, push through when you don’t want to, and be diligent is a huge advantage. And it’s something I’m working on all the time. I’m not where I want to be, yet, but I’m hoping to get there.

I've always loved those scenes in shounen anime, where the hero character is at their limit and somehow finds another gear to push themselves into. The secret is, you too can experience this, basically every day. Go for a run, (slow is fine; actually better!) and when you think you can't go any farther, pick a spot a little ways up to run until. Then pick another spot a little farther, and so on. You're capable of so much more than you think, and willpower and mindset account for a huge amount of your abilities.

For now, I'm back to running, back to training on my own. I hope my weightlifting journey isn't at an end, but for now I'm back in another transition stage in my life. But I'm trying to keep what I learned about myself close.

The column I started writing at the Chicago Review of Books has kept up, with the second edition out late last month, and the third on the way shortly. It’s been super fun to talk to these translators, hear about their processes, and just explore the world of literature. Each has offered unique perspectives, and have had surprisingly different things to say!

I’m editing the third piece for the column right now, and it’s very funny, and very insightful. And no spoilers, but the column for August is going to be a banger, I think. Keep your eyes peeled for it! (I’ll share links here, too!)

That’s it for this time. Thanks for reading this far. If you really liked this, I’d appreciate it if you told a friend or shared it with someone! Our member count on the site is slowly climbing, and it’s really been heartening to hear everyone’s nice comments and see the community continue to grow.

Stay Strong,

From Chicago with love,

— I

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