Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tyranny of the Short-Shorts

The Terror of the short-shorts....
As I unpacked my gym back today I realized that-- once again-- I'd gotten my workout attire wrong. Monday, I'd unintentionally packed two shirts and no shorts. Luckily, I'd worn leggings that day... but still. Spinning indoors in leggings is no fun. I now know from personal experience.

Today, though,  I had the opposite problem: I'd packed a top and shorts [insert sigh of relief] but the sigh was quickly interrupted by the realization I'd packed the short-shorts. 

Let me explain: short-shorts are a pair of black Lululemon shorts with an inseam no more than 5" (think: band aid) and probably less that I'd bought right before my series of unfortunate injuries last year, back when I was running approximately 60-70 miles a week-- and back when I was (somewhat) leaner. Though I'm back on my feet now, I'm no where NEAR that kind of mileage (let's not even talk about intensity); and well, I have to be frank: my body's changed. 

How could it not? I swam 4,200 yards on Wednesday's workout and felt fantastic; since May, I've ridden my bike at least 65-100 miles each Saturday which doesn't count the rides I do on my own during the week. Before the time change, there were weeks when I was on my bike for 240-280 miles. My body has adapted to the water and the bike: muscles I didn't have once have now spouted and flourished. And then, there's the added layer I accumulated last spring when I decided to re-write and re-structure my entire master's thesis. Unfortunately, writing muscles aren't ones you can exactly see and have, in fact, the opposite effect on physique as, say, an exercise routine.

I was humiliated when I realized my mistake. I had three options: I could pack up, go home and work on my writing; I could wear my jeans in the spin class or I could grin, and "bare" it-- just wear the damn things and spin. 

So, I walked out the locker room with my tan line from my cycling shorts a good... 5" from where these shorts ended. I'm sure it looked awful. I know it looked awful. Every mirror in the place was like a torture device and the worst was to come since the spin room is 270-degrees of mirror. I hung my head low using my orange foam roller, lower still when I did my 3x15 eccentric heel drops to stretch and strengthen my calves. 

Out of nowhere, though, this woman, stretching behind me asks me: "What do you do?"

And I turn around because I'm expecting her to ask about my foam roller (I get that a lot-- orange is a pretty loud color) and expect to answer questions about where I bought the roller, how much it costs and if it really works better than the crappy black ones they supply at the gym. Or, I'm hoping that, anyway, dreading the other question that comes up about the nasty scar on my hip from a cycling accident that you can see-- and only see-- when I've got on the short-shorts. 

Instead, though, she asks: "Did you get those legs just by working out?"

I blink a few times. I probably looked down at my legs which look, simply, huge to me these days. (Did she mean the tan lines, I wondered?) It took a second or five for me to realize she was asking a serious question. 

For nearly my whole life, I've chased athletics so that I could at least inhabit the identity of "athlete" in lieu of what I thought-- for a long time-- was my only other alternative: fat person. 


Ugly girl. 

But there, in the middle of a 24-Hour Fitness gym a woman was asking me about my body, how I got it. Where it came from. And then, as if she were an angel, she said: 

"I'm so happy to see women who are strong in their bodies." 

Did I actually smile? I said, only, that I run a little, swim and bike a lot. 

Just like that, she nodded and stepped off her mat and left. 

But the exchange left me wondering: why is it that an athletic body is only as good as it looks? Or, is that only me talking? Why are we-- or I-- so afraid of such a small thing--- literally small in this case-- as shorts, when really our goals are so much more important? 

Dare I say: bigger?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

On Smallness

Slightly small-- what am I saying?-- I live in a shoebox and my life resembles its container.

There are phantom-figures here, the what-might-have-beens of past lives that flicker by in the darkness that pools in shadows beyond my lamp’s reach.   Don’t be morose, my mom would say, if she was here, so I’ll focus on the things that can be seen in the dying lightbulb’s light. The light. The what-is. Not the what’s -not.

A chair, colored fire engine red before a black desk. Two drawers filled with scotch tape, stray staples, a tangle of cords and a near-empty checkbook. There’s a beige love seat-- one and a half people wide that’s set at a diagonal facing a television whose conception pre-dated the digital age by a solid decade that is never used. Stacks of books piled into bookcases that form an “L” corralling the space I prefer to think of as the living room. The bed, the dresser, the rod where I hang the rest of the clothes- that’s invisible now, all cast in shadow by the bookshelf in front of it. 

I know, though, that cracks of light peek through, like little dappled stars between the bent spines and pages of the books I’ve read again and again.  In the kitchen-- or the cupboard, anyway- rest mismatched china from sets my parents had when married, then divorced. Mugs don’t match, either. One from Las Vegas. Two for Christmas that get used at all times of the year.Coffee maker that works half the time, and a wine opener that dangles from a naked nail on the wall. A cat who occupies the red chair when I’m not sitting on it. 

A single life, I might call it.  

I live in a room that stands alone, apart, unattached from other rooms. It’s an unusual  thing, to live in an unattached room. Studio apartments are part of an apartment building, after all. Studios are rooms attached to hallways, stacked on top ( or below) of other rooms and hallways.

Houses are conglomerates of rooms. Some configured around the living room, the room of a life, presented when guests happen by. Family-rooms, kitchens and mud-rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms and closets. All these rooms that have a structural attachment. The roof would fall down if one room were removed at random. A gaping hole would let the rain and snow, the wind, the sun-- the elements homes hide us from. The structure would eventually crumple, weakened without that cavity within which we place the stuffs of life.  Furniture. Books. Towels. Our bodies.

It fits together: Lives and rooms.

When you have one room, these rules just don’t apply. 

And so, I wonder: what is a room that is just a room, all on its own? And what does that say about my life?

Monday, November 5, 2012

When Writing is like my life

Do you ever have those weeks? You know the ones when everything goes wrong, somehow?  Or, not everything, but all the little things you count on to make life bearable when the BIG THINGS go wrong.  I mean, somehow it's OK if you car stops working if the toaster still toasts your bread. Or, you can handle those student loan letters just because you have a Timex watch that gives you not only the time of day, but also the date, the amount of time it took you to run seven miles that morning AND it just so happens to have an alarm that wakes you up precisely 8 minutes before the coffee maker starts to brew, which gives you twelve minutes of snooze time.

This was the week when all of those little things broke.

It began with the toaster. Once, my reliable morning compadre, it refused to toast anymore. Lightning strikes within (in lieu of striking workers, perhaps) announced it would warm bread no more. On a Thursday morning at 5:30 am, of course.

Then came the Timex. The plastic wrist-band miraculously disintegrated overnight to reveal, Friday morning, that it would no longer be a watch, but at best, a pocket-watch for all those who swim/bike/run with ample pockets.

I refuse to be upset about these things. It's hard to be, in fact, because these days there are so many OTHER things to get pissed off about. Toasters and Timex watches are small fry. There's student loans, for one. My latest lovely-life-detail: the letters that come en masse every day, reminding me of what a piece of scum I am for pursing an advance degree.

But I still run and swim and cycle. I'm stubborn that way.

I don't run fast, though. I wish I could. Maybe that would be the thing to make me feel better. But me and running-- well, I just don't "have it" anymore. I'm slow. So slow. I went to the gym tonight after work (since it was dark by the time I left the office and there was no way to run or bike outside) and ran a mere 4 miles before the 60 minute spin class. I swear everyone was looking at me, thinking: Look how slow that girl is running!  And she's fat!!

But I did it. I ran those stupid-awful-treadmill-slow miles and then took that spin class and sweat so much the instructor nearly slipped and fell on his ass when he tried to come over to "motivate" me.

Here is where I find myself: no toaster and no timex. I guess with my writing it's the same: no publications. Just words. Nothing that's fit to measure, in other words, or fit to consume (who likes cold, sliced bread? It's so much better toasted.) But I'm still going to do all those things I do, comfort or not.

I'm still going to run and swim and cycle no matter how slow or fat I am.

And I'm still going to write and submit those essays to journals no matter how many more rejections I get.

I'm an endurance athlete, after all. Perhaps it's time I become an endurance-writer.