The Pursuit of Pleasure
The Pursuit of Pleasure (In hard times)
The list of things that bring me pleasure includes an overpriced Japanese daily planner in a colour I like to convince myself exists solely in Japan; laughing until no sound comes out; whenever “The Sign” by Ace of Base comes on in a Home Depot; the nostalgic smell of suede; and quoting nineteenth-century writers to make sense of current affairs. In my vast experience with fun, folks who comment on the state of the world by quoting Dickens in particular are always the life and soul of the party. So please allow me the pleasure of pretending I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities by quoting the following famous emotional rollercoaster of a sentence: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” It says a lot about our own times that a novel about the French revolution feels relatable. Our world has been downright Dickensian lately, torn between moments of crisis and moments of revolutionary promise. And what we’ve learned is that there is great pleasure to be found in the in-between, in the moment, in the tear opening onto new potential and discoveries. With the spring of hope and renewal soon upon us, I hope this blog post inspires you to pursue those moments of pleasure whose meanings are rooted precisely in their ephemerality. Dickens’s world might have been hard and bleak, but it was also popping with champagne, sherry, and gin punch he took pleasure in sharing with no one.
What gives me even more pleasure than that Dickens quote is milking a blog post introduction for all it’s worth (the image of milking Dickens, on the other hand, hurts me in ways that require therapy.) When it comes to making connections between pleasure and running, Dickens is my foppish, gin-loving little muse with a curly comb-over crown, a mouthy moustachioed cow in a tiny waistcoat sitting on my shoulder, mumbling about the pleasures of foot racing in a Cockney accent. In addition to gin punch, adultery, and putting me to sleep with his novels, one of Dickens’s greatest pleasures in life was pedestrianism, the British equivalent of running: walking at a brisk yet gentlemanly pace, often while drinking champagne, which definitely explains the cheating, napping, and pickled eggs at pedestrian races. Dickens, a serious pedestrian, reportedly turned to the sport to alleviate the pain of writing. Many of the quotes out there attributed to Dickens on the topic of walking—“walk and be happy;” “if I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish”— highlight that what Dickens took seriously about pedestrianism were its pleasures. As this 1988 Sports Illustrated article on Dickens and his passion for walking rather seriously puts it “[his walks] were, in a sense, acts of self-preservation.” Dickens walked not only to live well, but so he could bare to live at all, inviting us to consider further the link between pleasure and endurance.
Look, I know what you’re thinking: isn’t a guy famous for writing about orphans, widows, misers, poverty, brutal factory work, and for literally inspiring an adjective that’s become synonymous with sadness kind of a predictable focal point for a blog post about running and pleasure? And of course you’re right; you’re always right. What DOESN’T scream fun-time athlete about Dickens in this picture? Look at all those quirky knick-knacks on his desk, probably walking trophies and an award for “jolliest chap in London.” Look at that library of leather-bound books, no doubt filled with knock-knock jokes or hollowed out to hide gin bottles. What about those slick party shoes, with that playful kitty heel? For me, the party is mostly all in the crossed legs and the left hand resting a little too forcefully on his thigh, like he’s physically restraining his body from running off and having criminal amounts of fun. We laugh—as we should because people take Dickens way too seriously—but what’s especially compelling about the idea of someone like Dickens finding such sustained pleasure in fitness is because it’s greatly unexpected from someone like him. He doesn’t line up with our ideals about fun and fitness. He’s not the person most would visualize to motivate them to run every day. But Dickens did practice British running every day. His daily walking regimen matched his daily writing schedule. To balance out the unbearably painful topics he explored in his fiction, Dickens focused on the things that made him happy in real life, walking and gin. And he did a lot of walking so he could indulge in extra gin, which I’m sure we can all relate to. As runners know, pain and pleasure are closely related. Pain often leads to pleasure and pleasure to pain. The pursuit of pleasure isn’t a frivolous escape; it’s an indispensable sensation for a full life.
What would it mean to shift our thinking about running from a hard, often painful sport to a pursuit of pleasure instead? What potential might this change of perspective unlock for the sport and its adherents? What if simply feeling good was the goal and what if feeling good was about self-preservation? All the aches and pains, those that come with running and with life in general, only highlight the importance of taking pleasure in those moments on the pavement or on the track; those dips in between pain and pleasure when you can tune in with your body, make a commitment to yourself by feeling good. By virtue of those pains and aches, running highlights the resilience of pleasure and the social vitality of its pursuit. Pleasure isn’t egotistical but a momentary detachment from your ego by getting out of your head. Through running, pleasure can be indulged but also moderated and managed; it can teach us to crave pleasure when it matters most, in those moments of pain; to find pleasure in being part of a community; and to make space to love ourselves.
As Dickens famously wrote in Martin Chuzzlewit, “if you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” Just kidding—that was Ru Paul. Who the hell gonna know what Dickens wrote in Martin Chuzzlewit; nobody’s ever read it. See, even Dickens, the Boz man himself, had some flops—some bad runs at writing, if you will. But did he let that get in the way of feeling himself? No, he refueled on mutton and hydrated on gin and banged out The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In the very next year. Was it a critical success? Obviously not. But look at that title! Where did Dickens get the confidence to come up with at title like that? From running (and a lot of gin). Bad titles were obviously one of Dicken’s guilty pleasures. C’mon, Chuzzlewit? Chuzzle wit. Try saying that out loud. It feels wrong in the mouth. But did Dickens care about that? No because the trade-off for a neurotic running regimen is the ability to embrace and indulge in all your guilty pleasures, whether that’s gin, sweets, or bad literary titles. Whether you’re training for a pedestrian race or a marathon, you’re investing a lot of time in your body and health. You’re taking care of business, that body business. You have every right, nay, the duty, to enjoy that body after all that work, to enjoy yourself, and pursue pleasure without guilt, whatever pleasure looks like to you. Maybe you get pleasure from salads, that’s fine, you do you, you weirdo. You’re not perfect, and neither is the pursuit of pleasure. The rewards of fitness and health look different for everybody. For some, it’s just about feeling good in your clothes and body, regardless of trends and cultural standards; it's about releasing the sexy Dickens inside of you. For others, running is a pleasure in itself, its own instant gratification. I don’t know who those people are, but I’m told they exist.
Whether you’re running for instant or long-term pleasure, shouldn’t your running gear reflect how much fun you’re having being the pleasure seeker that you are? For its next chapter, PRAISE has designed a new line of garments that are a pleasure to wear and will not only maximize your pleasure but the pleasure of anyone who sees you running by. Be the pop of colour in their slow-moving life. That beam of bright matcha boosting everyone’s mood? That’s you. That ray of raspberry warming up everyone’s day? Oh hey that’s you. That flash of brown sugar sweetening a bitter cold morning? Yep, you again. PRAISE’s newest drop is one pleasure you don’t have to be guilty about.
It's in hard times that’s it’s especially important to remind ourselves that it’s okay to play, to have fun, and pursue what gives us pleasure. As a guy with a lot of cats once wrote, April is the cruellest month, because colour and life seemingly spring from the still frozen ground. Is “The Waste Land” actually about the start of the outdoor running season? Sure, why not. It gives me pleasure to think so.
Written by Jess Elkaim in collaboration with the designers and creators behind PRAISE ENDURANCE.