breath like water

Okay so. I did not sports as a child. I was (still am, maybe?) afraid of every kind of ball, not coordinated, super awkward, not good at following rules as far as outs and penalties and fouls, and just in general was Not About Them. My mother was not about to have a sedentary child, no matter how much I loved to read and no matter how talented I was at piano, so I was required to do ballet folklórico all school year and swim team in the summers. I think I’m actually a very good swimmer in the technical sense, but in the practical sense I had an undiagnosed (misdiagnosed as asthma) breathing condition, so I was not fast, and as we grew up together, a lot of the kids on the team got mean and I got bullied, so hooray! I quit when I was 16.

But I do really, really love swimming.

I accidentally fell into being a children’s swim instructor, even. I hate what it does to my hair and my skin, and I hate having to take my contacts out, but when I force myself in the water, I am actually really, really happy. Actually, that’s sort of what my YA WIP is about, but that’s neither here nor there.

So when I saw Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab pop up on my Netgalley–a brown girl! Swimming!–I was intrigued. To be honest, it’s only recently that I started finding something to enjoy and respect about romance as a genre anyway, and it’s really not my taste in YA literature for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here, but the description was still enough for me to give it a try:

Susannah Ramos has always loved the water. A swimmer whose early talent made her a world champion, Susannah was poised for greatness in a sport that demands so much of its young. But an inexplicable slowdown has put her Olympic dream in jeopardy, and Susannah is fighting to keep her career afloat when two important people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training strategy, and a charming fellow swimmer named Harry Matthews.

As Susannah begins her long and painful climb back to the top, her friendship with Harry blossoms into passionate and supportive love. But Harry is facing challenges of his own, and even as their bond draws them closer together, other forces work to tear them apart. As she struggles to balance her needs with those of the people who matter most to her, Susannah will learn the cost–and the beauty–of trying to achieve something extraordinary.

Anna Jarzab, Breath Like Water

Susannah is an elite swimmer poised for college athletics, the Olympics, or both. I have never been an elite anything, and I can’t say I can identify with what her training experience is, but what I can identify with is having your body betray you when you think it should be doing what it could always do, and with not being able to fully comprehend how and why it’s not the same as other people’s. I can also identify with having cruel male teachers and supportive female ones. One of the major threads in this book has to do with her two coaches–first, the one who has been her coach all along but is now losing interest in her as she fails to live up to his standards and has the audacity to have non-swimming interests like friendship and romance, and second, the new assistant coach Beth, who sees something in Susannah that Susannah isn’t quite ready to recognize until she realizes that Beth’s methods are making her a better swimmer and healthier person. I don’t think enough YA focuses on teens’ relationships with adults (especially non-predatory sexual ones and non-parental ones), which seems weird if the point is Teenagers, but adults are a major part of teens’ lives, and I really like how Jarzab explores both positive and negative relationships with adults and their consequences in Susannah’s life, also both positive and negative.

One thing I’ve found as an adult is that, to my surprise, I can value sports and physical activity even when having no interest in participating in them. It’s fun to make fun of sportsball and talk about how Superb Owls are better than the Super Bowl, but it’s also unfair, because we all have the right to like whatever we like, and especially right now when everything in the world is terrible, we shouldn’t begrudge anyone a pastime unless its Naziism or Confederate Pride. This is a chicken-and-egg situation wherein I don’t know if I found fitness because I was finally able to recognize that it goes beyond team sports and competition or if I realized that and then went out and found a gym, but either way, it turns out that I can enjoy watching the Olympics and the World Cup and wearing my Arizona gear during March Madness, and I am allowed to not actually care about the overall standings of different teams and to check out when a game is not actively happening. All at the same time! In learning to love the forms of fitness that have changed my life and my body, I’ve also learned that I can respect other people’s love of sports because it appeals to parts of their brains and bodies. Doing Pilates makes me hyper-aware of every part of my body and has made me realize that athletes must feel similarly when it comes to elite training in their particular sport.

Jarzab does a great job describing swim practices and training and the excruciating pain Susannah experiences during an injury; you can feel it and find joy in the discipline of it all. (Honestly, it makes me a little embarrassed of the quality of my two sports novels, but they’re already published and unchangeable, so whatever.) I’m not really a woo person or Aerobics Barbie kind of cheery, #goodvibesonly fitness person; I am someone who likes fitness in the ways that athletes like Susannah like their sport. Serious work is something I find joy in. I don’t really like fun. Ask anyone who’s known me since high school; they will confirm that. “Fun” in the conventional sense is not something I enjoy.

So anyway, that’s what appeals to me in Breath Like Water. It’s not serious in a drudgery sort of way, but it’s serious in the sense that it’s a disciplined text about a disciplined person, and the wins and losses, in and out of the pool, are earned and feel real. Susannah and Harry’s relationship is believable, and as a girl who never had a date to prom or a boyfriend to walk to her to biology class and is obviously still bitter about it, I appreciate that it doesn’t feel like a romance that’s too easy. Escapism’s not really my jam, which is why I don’t like many YA romances. This one’s not that.

Breath Like Water released yesterday from HarperCollins, and I appreciate the review copy they sent me! Check your library or yoink it from Amazon | my store on bookshop, the place for indie bookstores

review: prose hair

I’ve been trying to do a better job at shopping at places other than Amazon, and at smaller businesses altogether. That is along with my general commitment to be more eco-conscious, especially given the city I live in, which doesn’t actually recycle its recycling, just takes it to the dump. I tend to take my cans and number 1 plastic to an actual recycling company, and I cry about the other plastics and glass that I end up hoarding and then having to trash because this is America and we make it exceedingly difficult to even attempt to rectify the major climate damage we do simply by living here.

The other great thing about patronizing local and small businesses is that their products necessarily and rightfully cost more than stuff at discount mass retailers like Target and Amazon. I make minimum wage, hi, so what this does is force me to be more mindful and discerning about the purchases I make overall. When I choose those stores and businesses, I’m not just choosing to avoid big boxes and internet giants, I’m also choosing not to overspend in general. That’s a good thing.

The label makes you feel extra special.

Okay, so that’s my soapbox. Anyway, I also have sensitive hair, due in part to its being curly and fine, and also because I have nutrient malabsorption and a terrible immune system, which means my hair is the last place to receive any vitamins and minerals I take in, whether from food or supplements. So I try to be as clean as I can with hair products.

Enter Prose, a company that does custom hair products based on your profile, taking into account everything from texture to scalp health to your zipcode and its specific allergens and pollution levels (I know, right!?). They ask about your diet and allergies to make sure nothing will trigger anything bad in you, whether emotionally, politically, or physiologically. I have some allergies not listed on their options, and when I emailed about it, they were very clear about what they could and could not take out and said they would make manual notes on things that I wasn’t able to put in their survey but wanted to avoid (oats, in my case).

My hair’s looking nice a day after the mask!

You’ll notice up to now I haven’t even talked about the product itself–it’s great. I currently buy the pre-shampoo mask and the conditioner. I skip the shampoo just because in general, I only shampoo once or twice a week, so I have a backlog of samples to take care of, and like I said, I make minimum wage. I’ve also not tried the oil yet, which is a newer product in their line. I’m sure it’s great, though. I try to use the mask once a week and make it part of my post-swim lesson routine. I hang out in the pool with a six-year-old for an hour, then I go home, quickly rinse my body and wet my hair, scoop out some globs of mask, and then run a bath and sit with the mask in for about thirty minutes while I read a book. Then rinse, shampoo, condition, and out. If I’m running short of time, I’ll do the mask and maybe skip the shampoo and conditioner until tomorrow, and even then, my hair is the softest it’s ever been in my entire life (unless you count when it’s soft because it’s so dry and I’ve finger-combed it to within an inch of its life, which I do when I’m anxious and I worry that maybe I have trichotillomania, but mental illnesses that I have are another blog post entirely). Masks are nothing new, but in my experience, it’s rare to have one that’s so refreshing that my hair still feels light and soft afterwards, not heavy with remnants of oil and lotion. Good stuff. Since I started using Prose, I’ve barely needed to touch my leave-in conditioner, even on days I don’t condition in the shower at all. And I use less gel and oil when I’m styling than I did in the past.

This stuff is not cheap, but it’s worth it. As if the quality weren’t enough, they have such great customer service that I actually tell people about it apropos of nothing, even when I’m not talking about my hair. Once I was charged twice, and before I could even notice it myself, I had an email from them telling me there had been an error and they would be refunding my card. They answer every question on their Instagram feed. They respond to emails very quickly. Once they sent me a little package with a set of branded, empty travel-sized bottles so I could put my product in them when I went out of town. And their ads have a lot of diverse models on them. All of these things make me even happier to spend nearly my entire beauty budget on hair stuff.

I was not paid or even asked to write this review. I just really like them, and I think not only do good companies deserve good reviews, but as a woman of color and person with lots of ingredient restrictions, I like helping my fellow of-colors and ingredient-restricted friends out.

Get $10 off your first purchase of shampoo, conditioner, and mask (or any combination thereof!) by clicking here.

fitness for bibliophiles: circe

It is a common saying that women are delicate creatures, flowers, eggs, anything that may be crushed in a moment’s carelessness. If I had ever believed it, I no longer did.

–Circe, by Madeline Miller

My usual retort to any cis woman when she tells me that she doesn’t want to lift heavy weights because she doesn’t want to bulk up goes something like this: “Are you eating 200 grams of protein a day and taking testosterone supplements? Cause if you’re not, lifting some weights is not going to bulk you up.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true. Generally speaking, if you are genetically female, you are not designed to get substantially bulky without outside help. Lifting twenty pounds instead of two will not change that, though it will make you stronger.

There are two important things in fitness, and you don’t exactly get them at the same time: muscular strength and muscular endurance. Strength is what you can lift, right? Endurance is how often or for how long you can lift it. Want to increase your strength? Go high weight, low rep. Want to increase your endurance? Go low weight, high rep. Want to be fit? Do both.

Low weight, high rep is how many workouts marketed to women are designed: LA Fitness’ Body Works Plus Abs program, barre classes, and Pound are some examples. They trade on the fear that women have about bulking up, which is too bad, because they could just market themselves as muscular endurance classes without the fear-mongering. They are fantastic for that! But at some point you also have to work on more sustained and heavier exercises if you want to get stronger. Lifting heavy weight to failure in, say, six reps will do wonders for your overall strength, while lifting light weights to failure in, say, 32 reps, will help you with your stamina.

Please do both. Please.

There’s nothing new or interesting about saying that women are shamed a lot when it comes to fitness. We are told not to do things that will make us bulk up, even though that’s not how science works anyway, and we’re told we’re always inadequate but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to “improve” every day, and and and. But if there’s one thing I can impart to you (and assume about you), it’s that you should not be afraid of lifting heavier weights (and you probably aren’t doing a lot of it). That doesn’t literally mean you have to go bench press 200 pounds, though feel free if you want to. It could also mean doing slow bodyweight exercises, throwing some pushups into your routine, strapping on or setting up some resistance bands to push and pull. But don’t speed through everything with two pounds.

The goddess Circe doesn’t give any fucks about society’s wishes for her, though in our human defense, we don’t have centuries upon centuries to unlearn harmful body messages, and she did. Though this book starts out kind of boring, essentially just giving us summaries of all the major Greek myths, it gradually turns into this really fantastic feminist tale, and I’m so glad I stuck with the initial boring bits to get to the amazing rest of it all. Highly recommend.

Get the book @ iTunes | iBooks | Amazon | IndieBound | your library

review: the p.volve method

Earlier this year, I saw an ad for a really interesting piece of workout equipment. It was your average squeezy ball, it seemed, but it also had a band around it, so it was both a resistance loop and a ball in one! It looked awesome, I meant to bookmark it, I forgot, end of story.

Then I came across it again, and this time I actually followed it back to the website. I thought about buying it, then remembered I had other bills to pay, and I gave up on the idea. But I kept on thinking about it, and while I really, really do not have extra money right now, I realized that if you think about a potential impulse buy for days afterward, it’s not an impulse buy, it’s something you really want. So I figured I could cut costs elsewhere and buy this thing, which I learned is called the p.ball, and it is genius for precisely the reasons I mentioned: it’s both a ball to squeeze and a band to press, so you can get an adductor and abductor workout without constantly switching equipment.

I happened to purchase it on a day when they had a pretty good deal going on–I could get a free two months of streaming workouts, plus for essentially the price of shipping, I could also get another piece of equipment called the p.band, and then shipping was free! Also, they have student and educator discounts, which says something about what the company values, even if there are some problematic things they value as well (more on that later). #allidoiswin

So you could totally just buy the equipment and be done with it, but the streaming was free, so I figured why not learn the actual method, since it’s touted as the workout for Victoria’s Secret Angels. I’m really glad I watched the introductory videos, and honestly, even though I started this back in May and it’s August now, I would still like to go back and watch those videos again, because it’s rather complex, even if it seems simple. The basis of it all is the p.sit, which is less than a squat and allows you to keep the exercise in your glutes, not your quads. I’m very quad-dominant from all my indoor cycling, and my glutes and hamstrings are weak no matter how much I try to work them out, so this was great for me. The theory goes that if you sit back just a little bit, you can keep the emphasis in your glutes. Since we are a sitting culture, we all tend to have weak glutes and hamstrings even if we aren’t cyclists, and our hips tend to be pretty closed, so this method is designed to counteract all that. The idea is “pre-hab,” not exercise to the point of pain. While they would never say so, it’s kind of the same principle as Pilates in that way: let’s learn to move and use our body in a way that keeps it injury-free and less injury-prone. It’s amazing how quickly you feel the difference between the sit and the squat. Already I’m noticing a difference in both the appearance and feel of my glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

Here’s the bad: while the website will tout (for good reason) the benefit to all bodies as far as activating often-forgotten muscles and keeping you free from injury, the images and phrasing are what you’d expect from lots of trendy workouts: thigh gaps, slim white women, gender essentialism, and nonsense terminology like “toning.”

They definitely have work to do in that respect. I spend a lot of time in their Facebook group, so I know I’m not the only person who doesn’t like that messaging and who wishes there were more “real” people (bigger bodies, people of color, nonbinary people). It’s a pretty young company; not all the workouts on the streaming site are equally good as far as instructional and video quality; and there are 100% without a doubt a lot of women promoting it who were skinny and thigh gappy af long before they met P., the creator of the method. But there are other people like me who haven’t even been doing it that long but already feel the difference and, in my flattering experience (currently in the honeymoon stage of my, like, third real relationship ever? in almost 31 years?), gets your boyfriend slapping your ass and going, “you been working out, baby?”

But if you can look through and past the crappy parts of the message, the workout really is dope.

I often talk about how the thing that kept me doing Pilates was how cerebral it is. I’m quirky and brainy, not spiritual in the slightest, and not white, granola, evangelical, or “Buddhist” enough to be about iNsPiRaTiOnAl shit. With Pilates, you have to think about a hundred things at once and be really, really in tune with your body. It’s super hard, and you can’t half-ass it or you’ll hurt. That’s true of p.volve, too. No matter how in shape you are, you absolutely have to watch some of the beginner videos (even if they are frustratingly slow) so that you can get an idea of what you’re supposed to do and feel. I can always tell if I’m tired or half-assing it, because then I hurt immediately while doing it and have to reset before I continue. That sounds scary, but I think it’s good, because I’m often multitasking, and it’s a good reminder that our brains really aren’t as good as that as we think they are. If you don’t stay engaged with what you’re doing in p.volve, you’re not doing p.volve correctly. My brain is firing just as much as my muscle fibers. While I technically started in May, I then went to Italy for three weeks and didn’t work out at all aside from taking a bazillion steps a day, so I’m considering my real start date to be mid-June. That’s only 14 workouts (because I was also teaching at that time and doing lots of other stuff), and it took only like four to start to see some muscle definition that I haven’t seen before, even though I’ve been working out for years. Do I think I will only do p.volve? Nah. For one thing, Pilates has given me core strength that surpasses what p.volve has offered me thus far. But p.volve has given me tiny muscle activation that other workouts haven’t provided, so I like it for that–and for aesthetics, tbh. I’m still only human and only a cis woman in the western world, so it’s hard to fully turn off my ingrained drive to lose weight and look “better,” no matter how much I know that’s ridiculous.

The reason I’m posting this review today is because it’s the last day to sign up for their August Transform Challenge. Challenges are silly, I know, but gameifying and metrics are the things I’ve found are most likely to keep me on task with whatever task I’m trying to accomplish. And since at the moment I’m not teaching Pilates in any regularly scheduled classes, I’m mostly working out at home and using my own equipment. Thankfully, for all that the marketing is problematic, this challenge is not marketed as having to do with weight loss or even body measurements, though I am personally doing both of those things. You have the option of submitting a before/after photo, but you don’t have to submit any numbers of any kind if you’re uncomfortable doing so. The challenge is consistency: you complete 18 workouts in 30 days (even though August hath 31…). Any workout on the site, any length you choose (20 minutes or more), any days of the week you wish. If you do that, you get a free month of streaming plus discounted equipment. And bragging rights.

You can sign up now and do the equipment-free workouts until whatever equipment you order arrives….or just do them equipment-free for whatever time until you’re convinced, then buy it. Whatever. I will say that the p.ball and p.band are unlike anything you can buy anywhere else. I’m still not fully over a sprained wrist, and the thing I like about the band is that it has resistance but doesn’t require wrist flexion or extension–the tube is attached to the glove in such a way that you don’t have to grip it at all. Like, I said, this guy’s a genius even if he is a little too obsessed with thigh gaps. Ankle and hand weights are easy to find anywhere, ankle bands with cuffs slightly harder to find but not impossible, and there are inexpensive plastic slantboards in the world–however, I have learned that my cheap slantboard is a lot slipperier than a heavy wooden one would be, so if you have the budget (don’t forget the student/educator discount!), that is a purchase I would recommend making from them or from Amazon. But the p.ball and p.band are definitely the most unique items. With those and my Pilates wheel, I feel really happy with my at-home workouts, and I have always hated working out at home. I think I’ll be sticking with this for awhile.

So. Feel like joining me in the August Transform Challenge? Click here.

You are clicking affiliate links to the p.volve site. That means you pay the same price that you would if you found the site on your own, but I receive a small commission if you buy items or purchase a membership. Thank you for helping me survive on a grad student income!

fitness for bibliophiles: freshwater

“I can see you change,” he told us, his eyes narrowed in interest. “Your body language. How you talk. Your eyes. You’re not always the same person, are you?”
Freshwater, by Akwaeke Emezi

It took a really long time for me to get into a workout routine. My entire life, all the physical activity I did was dictated by others–PE in elementary school and eighth grade, ballet folklórico because my sister did it, swim team because Tucson is hot and what else are you going to do, riding my bike because it gave me independence and it’s how I met up with my friends around the neighborhood. I did not like team sports because I was afraid of the ball and uncoordinated. (As opposed to now, when I am still afraid of the ball but slightly more coordinated.) And given I was being treated for a condition I didn’t have (asthma) instead of a breathing condition I did have (vocal cord dysfunction), it was difficult and embarrassing to engage in physical activity.

It wasn’t until I was about 26 that I liked exercise, and it was even longer before I developed a solid routine and regimen–a diet, so to speak, of exercise. And just because I have one doesn’t mean it’s never going to change. I’m a librarian by training, even though I don’t work in a library anymore, and one of our guiding philosophies is that if you don’t like to read, you just haven’t found the right book yet. If you don’t like exercise yet, buy a bunch of Groupons, join classpass, find studios and gyms in your area that offer a free first class, or sign up for free trials of streaming fitness services and go wild! Just as the best book to read is the book you want to read, the best type of workout is the one you actually want to do. So with trial and error, you’ll find something.

But don’t stop there. The theory of muscle confusion is pretty much debunked at this point, but variance does lead to better fitness outcomes. It can be something as simple as increasing the weight you’re lifting, adding more reps, or doing interval training. For me, though, I’m less and less interested in traditional cardio machines, and I can’t do a lot of traditional weightlifting after multiple arm and wrist injuries, so that’s not going to work for me. What does work for me is keeping about four different modalities going. Right now that’s Pilates, indoor cycling, p.volve, and aqua fitness. That allows me to use different muscles in different ways, accommodate my injuries and limitations, and not overtrain. I’ve done overtraining and it was the worst. For the most part, I’m doing these things two, one, two, and one time a week, and I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time.

Ada is a protagonist whose selves are splintered. She is more than one person, and those different people process different events, happy and sad, exhilarating and traumatic, at different times. This book is heart-shattering and vindicating to read, from the college angst to the meditations on mental illness. As someone who lives with mental illness, though not those that Ada has (and are they just illnesses? Magic realism complicates that notion), I totally loved this book.

I’m not always the same person. I’m not always in the same mood. I don’t always have the same physical, mental, or emotional needs. So how could I always need the same workout?

Get the book @ iTunes | iBooks | Amazon | IndieBound | yr library