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Every now and then I catch myself obsessing over numbers. It’s a bit like driving and realizing that you’ve been watching your speedometer and fuel indicator so closely that you haven’t been looking where you’re actually going. I’ve gotten better and better about snapping back to reality, taking in the bigger picture. But there are still moments when I have the sensation of being reduced entirely to numbers.

Grade point average. Midterm. Final. Bus schedule. Checking account balance. Money spent. Hours slept. Miles run. Minutes, seconds, sprints, splits. Beats per minute. Calories eaten. Calories burned. Resistance. Sets. Reps. Pounds. Ounces. Inches. Cups. Teaspoons. Grams. Servings. Body mass index. Height. Waist size. Dress size. As if somehow all of it gets computed in a formula for the coefficient of success, or self worth. It is a disturbing feeling.

Yesterday it was almost 56 degrees outside, which is a miracle for Chicago in February. In celebration, I did something daring, which I had not yet done in Chicago: I went running outside. It was fun.

But it was also a strange experience for someone used to the computerized precision of a gym. I had no music. No television screen in front of my face. No way to know how far I had gone or how fast I was going, or how hard I was working. No computation involved. Just the clock on my phone, stashed in my pocket, the sound of my (labored) breathing, feet hitting concrete (or mud, or ice, or enormous puddles), and the maze of children, dogs, couples, cars, scaffolding, stoplights… I passed a park and saw children jumping in puddles and playing on swings. That feeling of being outside, being active and alive, and happy—how do you quantify that?

What a surreal experience, to be engaged with one’s environment, fully aware of one’s self in that space and that moment. To have to pay such careful attention to where one is going, rather than watch numbers drift by on a screen.

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