Don’t Speak

Tennis and I were driving back from trip to Toyama a couple prefectures over (our mission: to visit the largest mall in ura nihon) the other night when I noticed her leaning over in the passenger’s seat rubbing her calves.

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“What’s wrong?” I inquired, trying to keep my eyes on the road. The darkness was starting to turn ethereal and milky, the way it does when your mind fights to stay awake and your eyelids droop towards shuttering, mesmerized by highway hypnosis and seduced by exhaustion. In the background, “3000 miles away” by Signal Runners was pounding a coursing beat into the back of my head.

“My legs really hurt” she replied, a grimace on her face.

“I’ll turn on the heat then” I say, reaching over to flip the dull gray plastic lever. A tiny bit of crust gives way and I feel the slippery tactile friction loosen through the smooth, worn fingerpads of the my gloves. As I draw my hand back towards the wheel, I wonder briefly how on earth crust got on the heater switch of my dashboard. I flick my wrist and it flies off into the wet cold chasm surrounding the accelerator pedals.

She mumbles her thanks and after a few minutes, I glance over to see how she’s doing.

“Are you feeling better?” I ask.

“Yes, thank you.” She reaches down to give her legs one more satisfied pat.

I open my mouth to speak, and then for a brief second there is the gap into silence and I hear my words in my head before my throat moves to utter them.

Yeah, the cold will make your legs cramp up like that, so you know, it’s always good to turn on the heat like that to help them relax.

I pause and consider my potential words. Something like that sounds really good on the surface. But is it really true? I don’t know of any studies that suggest that the moderately cold temperature of a car might make a person’s legs cramp up. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone’s legs cramping up just from being out on a moderately “cold” winter day.

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I definitely have no basis for wanting to say that “it is always good” to turn on the heat to help cramped legs relax. I’ve never had a leg cramp in the car before and I sure haven’t ever turned on the car heater to help them unclench. In fact, I doubt very much whether the car heater could change the temperature to such a degree as to actually have any effect at all on someone’s muscle cramps.

And even if there were studies out there, and even if it turned out car heaters could help leg cramps, it’s important to note that I have never read them. I have no logical, empirical or scientific basis to say any of the things I wanted to say. So why was I about to spout what momentary consideration reveals to be frivolous drivel?

The answer is simply that it sounds good. On the surface, the statement “the cold will always make your legs cramp up and turning on the car heater will help them” sounds right. I mean, “the cold” seems like a plausible culprit for a leg cramp, and it’s only “logical” than turning on a car heater would help “undo” the damage. But it’s all smoke and mirrors, vague suggestions of what we want to think is the truth with no regard for the way things actually are. In short, it’s bizarre quasi-”wisdom” based predicated entirely on our made-up world paradigms with no basis in reality. In a word: bullshit.

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When I was a child, nothing made me angrier than when my mother (or insert other random middle aged relative) would spout some idiotic “old wives tale” drivel with all solemnity, completely oblivious to the fact that anyone with a brain could clearly tell they were full of shit. As a child, still firmly grounded in the middle of your educational career and lacking the burden of decades of memories crowding your brain, it’s easy to pick nonsense like this out. You wondered how on earth these people who supposedly went to college could stand there and tell you things that were blatantly false if you only took a second or two to look. And it took all you could not to call them on their bullshit, pluck a card from the bottom of that fragile paradigm of misconceptions they had built and cause the whole house to come tumbling down.

But sitting here, in the drivers seat, hands firmly wrapped around the steering wheel and eyes intently locked on the road, attention slightly diverted, I realized something. This is where it starts – a few years out of college, starting to lose the ever critical eye and omnipresent analytical mindset you spent four years cultivating, let down your guard for a few moments and suddenly you start letting little bits of drivel like this pass through your filters.

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But it doesn’t stop there – insidious to a fault, this type of nonsense is self-replicating. The next time somebody complains about a cramps, you invariably bring up the “cold makes your legs cramp up” line, no doubt followed by a recommendation to set your legs in front of a heater or something, echoed out verbatim, unaware that your so-called “advice” had its genesis right here and now, in a thoughtless space filler for conversation, unthinking confabulation existing solely in your mind with no basis in reality whatsoever. But once you start repeating it, you start to believe it and in a few years, you’ve fallen down down down all the way along that slippery slope into mediocrity and middle age. And your paradigm is built, and now you too are that person you used to disdain as a child, repeating bullshit you invented as if it was sage wisdom, unable to assess the veracity of supposed “fact” and having long lost the ability to process information critically.

Teetering on the edge of this mawing precipice, I see the bareness of middle age irrelevance stretching out before me, frightening and black. The slope is slippery and seductive and only through constant vigilance can we hope to postpone our inevitable tumble. I swallow a deep breath of the dry, artificially warmed over air. I focus and with a notable silence, my intended words fall from my mind and my tongue presses against the palate of my mouth in preparation for the reconsidered rejoinder.

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“That’s good. Are you gonna be okay?”


And with that the conversation trails off into the pounding beats of the song, nearing the break now, and I return my eyes and attentions to the road being swallowed up by the darkness ahead, and inhaled by the car behind. But my thoughts tumble with a somewhat ominous dissatisfaction in the back of my mind. Sure, I feel happy that I caught this particular bit of imaginary middle aged bullshit before I said it, happy that I postponed that tumble into irrelevancy and slippery sloped slide into mediocrity. Happy that I am still able to critically assess what I say before I say it.

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But what about the next one? And the one after that? And after that? I can’t catch them all, and the knowledge weighs heavily on my mind. When we’re young we can afford the luxury of constant self analysis and the comforting confines of reality, but the older we get, the more we have to accept the fact that an increasing amount of our world paradigm will be predicated not on fact, but on fictions we have unwittingly invented throughout our lives. I feel that disconnect from reality is endemic to the modern middle age condition and we can only hope to ameliorate its more vulgar excesses – however, we can never truly hold it off. One day we will open our mouths to speak something we swear is true, and it will be our children standing across from us, rolling their eyes and heaving an exasperated sigh at our ignorance and irrelevance.

When my time comes, I wonder if I’ll be able to recognize that sigh when I hear it?

Now listening to: “Signal Reactor – 3000 Miles Away”

“Already tried & tested track on Judge Jule’s BBC Radio 1 Show, SignalRunners debut track on Five AM is the perfect reminder that summer is only just around the corner. SignalRunners are a transatlantic duo, comprising members Alan Nimmo (Scotland) and Andrew Bayer (USA). Having released on labels including Somatic Sense and remixed artists like David Forbes, Marky Sherry and Filo & Peri, they now joining the Five AM collective.

From: review of “3000 Miles Away”

Official website:


7 Reactions

  1. idlebloo

    it’s all true i tell you. if it’s cold, muscles start a shiver in an attempt to warm up, but they get stuck on the contraction phase of the shiver because it’s too cold to relax the muscle again. this causes a build up of lactic acid, resulting in the cramp. aii.

  2. Michaelpanda

    Yeah, but sweetie, while that might be true if we’re stuck outside in the middle of a snowstorm or a really really cold toyama day, that doesn’t really apply if you’re sitting in an only moderately cool car (it was well above freezing). Muscles were definitely not getting stuck in the contraction phase (that would have made for some funny facial expressions, no doubt). Plus I think there is a big difference between the direct application of heat (like from a heat pad to a cramped thigh) and the half-hearted warming effort put out by my much beloved, but quite old Honda Civic’s heater.
    Anyway, my point is that we can sometimes make stuff up we have no way of verifying or reason for saying and if we’re not careful, we incorporate it into our world paradigm as scientific truth, rather than the inventive fiction it really is (or unverified fact at best).

  3. momolo

    You know, it’s not all bullshit. That’s why we have heatpacks and stuff, and fewer coldpack.
    In any case, at least your conviction in seat warmers made her cramp go away. Ah, the power of pursuasion!
    Oh Panda! I read the entirety of your misadventure with Angry Geezer. TERRIBLE! I feel so bad…yet wickedly delicious with the awesome payback that you devised. HAHAHAHAHA. I need to go share that story now. :D

  4. Andrew

    > that doesn’t really apply if you’re sitting
    > in an only moderately cool car.
    Sure it does, because lack of activity brings about an over all cooling of the body which is further aggravated by cool condtions.
    Hypothermia sets in when a person loses as little as 3F of core body heat.
    (MERCK Medical info)
    Hypothermia results from prolonged exposure to any temperature when body heat loss is greater than heat production. Hypothermia is most common during cold weather, but it may occur on a summer day or in warm climates if metabolic and exertional heat (shivering) cannot sustain core temperature.
    There are several types of Hypothermia. What you describe sounds like: Subacute hypothermia–it occurs most commonly by remaining in a cold environment for an extended period of time.
    One of the symtoms is: Increased muscle tone
    or tightening of the muscle which would cause pain.
    for an explanation. Also see
    Since treatment for hypothermia is to increase a person’s core body temperature it would infact be correct to assume and state that turning on the car’s heater would make you feel better, and it would be the correct thing to do as well.
    Hope you are well.

  5. moritheil

    Because it always happens that we have impressions of things that we consequently believe. And we sometimes realize – as you did – how ill-founded our “common sense” beliefs might be if left unexamined.