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The illusion of control

I have an old hot pink iPod Nano, just a little bit larger than a stick of Trident gum. I like to take it running because it is so small and light. I don’t have much freedom to select what I want to listen to on it other than setting it up with songs that I like. It has one slide button control with three settings – off, shuffle songs, and play songs in order.

The earbuds that I use with it have a long narrow vertical control button. Hit the top, the volume increases; hit the bottom, it decreases; hit the center once, you pause; hit the center twice, and you fast forward to the next track.

I prefer to keep the Nano on shuffle, because I like to hear a variety of music, especially because I never know what I’m going to be in the mood to hear when I run. But the control button is key. If I need energy and a slow, dragging song comes up, or if I am in the mood for Hiatus Kaiyote and I get Nickel Creek or vice versa, I can double-click and see what comes up. It’s like rolling a pair of dice – every time there’s a new possibility.

Except when, due to children borrowing or my own absentmindedness, I can’t find those earbuds. Which happened recently. Then, not having any time to waste (having sandwiched a 30-minute run into exactly 30 minutes available in my day), I grabbed some other random earbuds and dashed out.

They worked just fine until five minutes down the road a song came up that I didn’t feel like listening to. I kept my eyes on the road and tried to find the control button – no dice. These older earbuds don’t have one.

I was unreasonably mad about this, stewing in the gap between expectation and reality as I pushed myself to keep running, listening to something terribly slow and quiet that was not helping me at all. If I wanted to get my run in, though, I had to keep going no matter what random song came my way. So I did. Maybe I ran more slowly or more erratically. Maybe I didn’t get as good of a workout as I had hoped, or have much fun in the process. Maybe only two songs out of the ten or so that played over the half hour were the least bit energizing. But I got my workout and got home.

I have control over so little, actually. I just happen to live in a world that surrounds me with ideas and systems and gadgets and resources that make me think I can control and make choices in nearly every situation. Thirty minutes with a basic set of earbuds and no control over music selection is not anyone’s idea of a real problem. However, it was an opportunity to work out my coping muscles as well as my legs. Maybe if we can accept the little things we cannot control, we will be more able to roll with the real punches.

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