Thursday, April 06, 2006

Follow

The line is the quickest way around the track. When you are going slowly you can stay in the middle of the track, but as you speed up you need to enter the corners on the outside, swoop down to the apex in the middle of the corner, and then accelerate out of the corner as your momentum takes you to the edge of the track. If you turn in too early then your apex will be too early and you won't be able to accelerate out of the corner without running off the track. The line is defines where you'll start to brake for the corner, where you'll start to turn, when you'll stop braking, when you'll start accelerating, where you'll apex and where you'll stop turning. Between the end of the corner and the next braking point you simply connect the dots while holding the throttle wide open. Ever track has an ideal line that will allow you to get around the track as quickly as possible.

The racers that find the line quickly are running up front and winning races. Many racers find the line, some just get close, and others never find it. Local racers often have an advantage over visitors because they know the tricks of the track. For example, the pavement on the ideal line may be rippled from heavy braking forcing you to run wider or tighter. Tracks often have patches and pavement sections with different levels of available grip. Locals know where they can push it and where they should reign it in. They know about that invisible bump right in the middle of turn 6 that will send you wobbling down the next straight at 150 mph. Locals also may know where water or oil bubbles up onto the track surface when it gets hot. Locals sometimes embarrass visiting professionals because they know where the fastest line really is. Ultimately, there is usually one line around the track that is faster than all of the rest and if you want to win you have to find it.

The line has one small problem. Only one racer can be at any given point on the line at any point in time. It has something to do with two physical objects being unable to occupy the same space at the same time. Quantum mechanics aside, if you are behind another rider and want to get in front then you have to get off the line. If you follow, you'll never be able to pass and your speed around the track will be limited by the person you are following.

If the racer in front of you is faster then following can be an advantage. You can see where he pulls away from you and where you close the gap. If you can stay with him long enough you may be able to improve to his level. But, if all you do is follow then you'll never be faster than him. If you ever go to the races pay attention during practice. You'll see racers pushing hard all by themselves. Then you'll see them dip into the pits to wait for someone to follow. You'll see fast riders on a flying lap suddenly slow up when they realize that they are being tailed. It is a delicate game of cat and mouse where everyone is trying to learn from everyone else without giving anything up in the process.

Following can be hypnotic. Races are too often uneventful processions with everyone screaming around at the limit and unable to execute a pass. If you look closely, the followers never get off the line. They will close right up on the rear wheel and then have to back off. They know they are near the limit and that venturing off the line may send them tumbling or may let the rider behind them to come by. So they are satisfied to ride the line and hope for someone up ahead to make a mistake.

But some racers are special. What makes them so special? They aren't satisfied with following. When trapped behind another rider they constantly probe. They venture off the line while braking, try to brake a little later, try to stick a wheel in and make a pass. If they get everything right they slide up alongside their opponent, force him wide, and take the line away. Both have to slow down because neither is on the fastest line, but once past they can get back on the line and try to pull away. When they get it wrong the consequences may be as simple as having to tuck back in behind. Or they may make the pass but run wide in the corner and let the other ride back past. Worse still they may make it past and then crash because they are going too fast in the corner. And worst, and most humiliating, they may crash into the rider they are passing and take both out of the race. But champions aren't content to follow and venture off the line and make it work. The rest try and crash or just never try.

The landscape of life is more complex than any race track. Yet some people claim to know the ideal line and beckon us to follow them. Straight is the way and narrow is the gate. Hold to the rod. Follow the prophet. Do it my way and God will love you and you'll be happy. Pay me 10% of your income and the windows of heaven will be opened and you'll never want. Keep my commandments and you'll be happy. Depression is the result of sin. Don't think; when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done. Obedience is the highest law. Follow, follow, follow.

What line are you on? Is it the best one? Have you learned from the locals? Are you stuck in a rut following another person's line? Is your line adapted to your abilities and weaknesses? In life, is there a best line that everyonen should follow? Even if there is, are you content to follow or do you need to take calculated risks and deviate from the line so you can get ahead?

I think that in real life the best line is unique to each person. The track of life is shaped by our own individuality. We each have different talents, preferences, likes, and dislikes. I love women and you may dig guys. You like a quiet night curled up with a romantic novel. I dream of racing along at the ragged edge with my knee on the ground and my heart in my throat. We're all different and it would be suprising if what works for me works for you. So, how can we be happy and fulfilled by following someone else's idea of the perfect line? Pray, pay, and obey. Magnify your calling. Have more kids. Serve a mission. Praise Jesus. Give thanks. I have no doubt that this works for some people. My parents seem genuinely happy researching the vital statistics of corpses so they can perform vicarious Mormon rituals for them in the temple. I'd rather shoot myself first.

I spent the first 40 years of my life trying to follow someone elses idea of the perfect life. It didn't make me happy; I wasn't getting the promised results. So now I'm exploring new lines, trying to find the one that works best for me. I've walked away from a controlling, dishonest cult disguised as a church. I stopped taking advice from men who condemn dishonesty and then turn around and brazenly lie. I turned my back on being a corporate lackey and struck out on my own. I've tried beverages that were previously forbidden. I enjoy sexual practices that some deem impure and unholy. Some of it works. Some of it doesn't. But I'm pretty sure that I'll learn more and come out ahead by finding the line that works for me instead of following the line chosen by someone else.

weekly anamnesis

3 comments:

Joseph's Left One said...

Wow, very nicely done.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Quite a meditative and informative piece. Very good. ;-)

Sideon said...

Great writing, Bull. I enjoyed this very much.