Rock Your Way to Mental and Physical Health

An existentialist’s guide to self-helping your way through a crisis.

Illustration by Adam Larkum

March 18, 2020: The governor won’t let me go to the gym. I certainly understand the concern. There may be no other space where more people leave more of their fluids on shared objects. But exercise has come to feel essential to my well-being, especially once work projects started vaporizing amid the pandemic. The trip to the gym was my vent and escape. I can already feel the steam building as my sense of purpose wanes. I spent the evening on the couch watching TV wrapped in my beloved chocolate-brown fleece blanket. 

Illustration by Adam Larkum

April 4, 2020: At dinner, my wife suggested I was turning into a couch potato. It had been a beautiful sunny day outside, she noted. Indeed. I had to keep the blinds pulled all day to be able to watch The Matrix trilogy. 

April 15, 2020: Before showering for the first time in four days I discovered that my belly-button hole had gotten deeper. Apparently it gets deeper as you get fatter? I looked in the mirror. I looked like someone who authored manifestos in a mountain shack. I pulled a ball of lint the size of a marble from my belly button. It was made of chocolate-brown fleece fiber. I was beginning to fuse with my blanket. 

April 16, 2020: While eating breakfast, I read an advice column heralding the cathartic powers of outdoor DIY projects. I looked out the window toward the back of our acre lot. My eyes drifted toward the old rock pile. I had imagined countless landscaping projects based around rocks from that pile. Could this be my salvation? Could this be my new gym, but even better? A gym with purpose? I mean, you basically just move rock-sized weights around the gym, right? Why not build something in the process? 

April 17, 2020: I donned my work gloves at sunrise and pushed my wheelbarrow down to the rock pile. The Chevy-Suburban-sized mound of rocks was part of a stone wall carelessly bulldozed by the developers of this exurban neighborhood long ago. Once the wheelbarrow was full of boulders, I realized I didn’t know where to take them. I walked back to the house, sat down on the couch, and began pondering potential projects while watching the second episode of the third season of Breaking Bad.

April 26, 2020: Last night I reread the last several pages of Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus. On the cover of my edition is a drawing of the eternally cursed Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a mountain in Hades. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy,” Camus surmised in his closing thought. If I was going to haul around a dark absurdist take on things (always have) in a dark absurd time (this is a doozy), I needed to listen to Camus. I would work to embrace the grind. I had to imagine Bob happy.

Illustration by Adam Larkum

April 27, 2020: After finding another lint ball, I went outside and started building a rock wall along the back edge of our property. Then I stopped and started building little rock borders around our trees. I put a few of our prettiest boulders by the patio. My wife yelled out a few times suggesting I take a break, but I just kept going. I beautified our wellhead and septic tank risers with rocks. By the end of the day, no feature in our yard was unadorned by some number of rocks. 

May 1, 2020: This morning I moved some rocks up next to the house, then back down to the rock pile. I need a real project. This afternoon my wife agreed to let me build a second patio we didn’t need and would never use. I was ecstatic and worked until last light.  

May 7, 2020: I realized today that I’m full of crap. My rock hauling is not some philosophically weighty Sisyphean task. Sisyphus didn’t have the fresh air and sunshine and a pretty cool, nearly free patio taking shape. Since he was damned, I doubt he was allowed the endorphin rush of exercise. I’m having fun because I’m outside in spring exercising and being rewarded for it. Then I go inside and watch Netflix too long without guilt because I’ve earned it. This is heaven, not some COVID-19-induced hell.  

Illustration by Adam Larkum

May 18, 2020: The patio (twice the size of the one planned) is finished. All the projects are finished. The rock pile is gone. My work appears completed. Time to rewatch all of The Walking Dead.

May 20, 2020: I found myself driving country roads out along the Blue Ridge looking for suitable boulders to heist from the ditch for a new project. My wife chastised me when I told her I had almost started grabbing ditch rocks so I had rocks to move around the yard. We agreed that we would go buy more rocks tomorrow. Perhaps we’ll build a fire pit we won’t use, or a grotto we absolutely don’t need, or just make a new pile of rocks. No matter: As long as I’m able to push some rocks up a hill, I can imagine myself happy. 

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