Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Friday, February 5, 2010

Couch Potato Training--Part 2

For any of you who might be still in suspense, holding your breath to see if I made it through yesterday's workout, featuring two 8-minute jogs, the answer is yes.  After four and a half weeks of following the Couch Potato to 5K training program, my body is a bit leaner, the contours of my muscles a bit more defined, my edges somewhat sharper.  But four and a half weeks into the new, improved, 2010 me, I am becoming aware of some other vitally important muscles that need work.  And for this muscle group, the couch I am to have abandoned for the gym is a tried and true training zone.  I aspire to partial couch-potatohood.  provides this fascinating history of the term "couch potato:" 
Very few words have a birthday so precise, and so precisely known, as couch potato. It was on July 15, 1976, we are told, that couch potato came into being, uttered by Tom Iacino of Pasadena, California, during a telephone conversation. He was a member of a Southern California group humorously opposing the fads of exercise and healthy diet in favor of vegetating before the TV and eating junk food (1973). Because their lives centered on television--the boob tube (1966)--they called themselves boob tubers. Iacino apparently took the brilliant next step and substituted potato as a synonym for tuber. Thinking of where that potato sits to watch the tube, he came up with couch potato.
Or so the story goes, as told in the subsequent registration of Couch Potato as a trademark. In any case, when the new phrase reached the ears of Robert Armstrong, another member of the boobtubers, he drew a cartoon of a potato on a couch, formed a club called the Couch Potatoes, registered the trademark and began merchandising Couch Potato paraphernalia, from T shirts to dolls. He published a newsletter called The Tuber's Voice: The Couch Potato Newsletter and a book, Dr. Spudd's Etiquette for the Couch Potato.
If the story ended there, couch potato would have been as passing a fad as the "pet rock" (1975) of the same vintage. But since the 1970s the tube has grown more alluring and the couch potato culture more compelling, especially with the 1980s invention of the zapper (1985), or remote control. No longer a cartoon character, the couch potato is now one of us.
Somewhat more generically, Princeton University's wordnetweb gives us this stripped-down definition:  
an idler who spends much time on a couch (usually watching television).
As I have understood and used the term, the key element is physical (and perhaps mental) inactivity.  Television is optional.  And not all couch potatoes are overweight, or subsist largely on junk food.  

Danielle van Versendaal, in her article "On Mirror Neurons or Why it is Okay to be a Couch Potato," offers one of the few defenses of sitting around that isn't intentionally facetious.  She argues that watching sports, for example, can be almost as good as engaging in them, in terms of what's going on in our premotor cortex.  She doesn't address cardiovascular capacity or muscle strength, however.

But I am intrigued with the word "idler." reveals the language's ambivalence about this appellation.  Definitions for idle include:  "not used; out of action;" "lazy;" and "worthless, ineffective."  Synonyms for "idle" range from the enticing--"asleep," "at rest," "taking it easy," and "leisured"-- to the judgmental--"mothballed," "shiftless," "pointless," and "slothful."  Idler is defined as "lounger," with synonyms of "couch potato, drone, lazy bum, loafer, [and] slacker."  

This collection of meanings reflects our productivity-obsessed culture's uneasiness with ease.  Meanwhile, bookstores and libraries, talk shows and coffee house conversations are teeming with discussions of stress.  And in the midst of these conflicting messages, we are left to find our own resolution, and make our own resolutions, and struggle for balance.

For me, I have felt increasingly stressed as my balance has tipped to the overly active side.  A little more down time is called for.  Maybe even some television, a nap or two.  I need to log some hours on the couch.

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