the olympics bring me joy

I started writing this post during the Olympics, but since I blog about twice a decade now, of course I didn’t finish it in time, thus it is now also about other things I’ve been watching because it’s already fucking August. Anyway, it’s mostly about the Olympics and therefore #onbrand for this blog that barely exists, but it’s also just about other stuff.

Even though I hated participating sports my entire life, even though I was never really quite on top of who was playing in the World Series or Super Bowl, I’ve always been super into the Olympics. Summer more than winter, of course, and I can’t imagine any non-athlete disagreeing with that, but really, I get excited about them both. I remember at the 2004 Games in Athens, watching the Opening Ceremonies, I got this idea that perhaps I would want a career in the IOC. This makes no sense, aside from the fact that I was going through a phase at that point where I really loved the idea of an international career in the UN or similar, because it seemed very glamorous. I had absolutely no idea what exactly I would do in the IOC, but that’s beside the point, because I also didn’t know what exactly I would be qualified to do in the UN, because teenagers don’t really understand what jobs look like.

My favorite thing at the Opening Ceremony was the dancing pictograms–absolutely brilliant–just enough whimsy without being cutesy or mOdErN dAnCe floofy.

Anyway, while I am not a sentimental person and don’t really like having feelings that people can see in public, I find the Olympics weirdly wholesome and heartwarming, and when I turn off the part of my brain that knows Games absolutely decimate host cities and are awful for the environment and the economy, I like that it’s one of those things that is mainly positive. It’s kind of like Instagram, where yes, if you’re a celebrity, you probably get a lot of nasty comments, but for regular people, it’s a very Whitman-certified celebrate thyself kind of place—you ate a yummy sandwich? Happy for you! New puppy? Great! You did a handstand? Rock on! Read a good book? Sweet! Literally everything is worth being excited about. And the Olympics feels that way as well, at least from my position as a spectator with absolutely no stakes in the event.

I have precisely zero desire to know whether it is very ugly when you’re there in the dirt, because what I see from where I’m sitting is a bunch of super talented people who, yes, are competing against each other for glory for their country (which is gross on the basis of nationalism), but consistently high five and hug (though !!!! pandemic!!!) their competitors at the end of a race. My guess is it’s such an exciting achievement to be there, not to mention such a unique and exclusive experience, it feels like you’re part of a team made up of everyone there, not just Amurica rah rah, but what do I know. I’ll pass on any of that nonsense, so I don’t want to know.

Perhaps my enjoyment is based in how the fandom is inter, not intra? When you’re in your own country, you have ugly fan rivalries between this state and that state, this college and that college. In the Olympics, you’re all cheering for the same team. Again, my politics say this is gross because the nation of my birth, the glorious USA, is garbage in a million ways, but my personal enjoyment is what counts here, so stay with me.

I did not grow up with cable TV (we upgraded to a TV with a remote control in the middle of the ’98 Nagano Games—I remember this specifically because Olympics—so my childhood was a bunch of bunny ears and dials and a cart the TV lived on that was often in a closet), so it’s not like I could watch all events all day. Then when I became an adult in the late ‘00s, I didn’t own a TV, so my TV was my computer, and streaming without buffering delays, to say nothing of live events syndicated online, and were but a glint in the eye of tech bros.

So I don’t know if it’s ongoing pandemic malaise, grad school fatigue, chronic anxiety, and fibromyalgia that are making me respond positively to literally anything that seems a bit optimistic, or if it’s just because I’m a TV head who now lives alone, works from home, and gets free cable at her new house, but I have been watching TONS of events and far more sports than I would usually see.

What’s more, I’m far more tuned in than I’ve been in the past. When I was a kid being forced to try sports, it was just because that’s what you do, or maybe because my mom just wanted me to be healthy, or maybe because it’s a healthy, prosocial activity that helps you develop as a youth, who knows? What it wasn’t about was, like, discipline or getting to know your body or learning the nuance of the sport. I suppose that’s because I wasn’t being pushed into serious teams, but whatever. It’s a shame, but it’s in the past, and I can’t exactly go back and pinpoint how much of it was not being pushed to be disciplined and how much was me resisting that.

It’s amazing how much more compelling and engaging watching the Olympics is now that I’ve had so much education in movement and biomechanics.

As a Pilates teacher, those 500 hours of training (the longest certification in the fitness industry!) felt wholly insufficient for doing my job–they are the tip of the iceberg, and I am bad at remembering details and scientific names of bones and muscles, even if I know what they are and what they’re doing, and also imposter syndrome is real, so I will never feel good enough. As a Pilates student, however, that 500 hours of training was incredible, and possibly the best thing about the experience was learning how to visualize my own movement and feel movements inside my body while watching them on other people. That is not at all to say I understand how to perform Olympic sports, but it does mean watching the athletes and listening to the commentary is so much richer now because I can follow the action better. I can better appreciate the work that goes into performing a dive or a jump or a vault rather than just being awed by it. I guess it’s like learning the magician’s trick, but to me it makes it more magical to understand how it happens, not less.

Last summer, while I was feeling miserable and completely out of sorts biomechanically and proprioceptively, I started watching American Ninja Warrior and am wholly obsessed now (though this season sucks). I watched it obsessively and made it through all the back seasons very quickly, and I think it was a sort of aspirational activity because I wanted my own strength and fitness back, and it was also soothing because it gave me the opportunity to do that visualizing movement when I couldn’t actually feel any movement or sense of space in my own body. This summer I’m finally moving again, but I still haven’t taught a spin class in 18 months and may never again, and I’m a far cry from what I once was. My shorts and pants still don’t fit, my muscles are fired up by physical therapy standards but certainly not by fitness standards, and while I’ve moved on from perpetual pain to pain roughly two days a week, that’s still two days more than normal humans have. So watching the Olympics last month brought me similar feelings of wistful relief–wistful because I feel like I still can’t do anything, and relief because I was able to engage in athletic activity mentally. It feels icky to admit to feeling any sort of joy in anything in this hellscape or in this personality of mine, but there you go.

Photo by Dose Juice on unsplash https://unsplash.com/@dosejuice?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText

green drink

This spring and summer, during the worst of my knee injury and depression, I wasn’t really eating. Partly it’s because I rarely even got out of bed, partly it’s because I’m bad at remembering to eat ever, and partly it’s because it really hurt to stand still and let all that pressure from gravity hit my knee, which meant most cooking was out of the question.

I already knew this, but it’s easy to forget when you’re in the throes of multiple existential crises and a tough semester of teaching that coffee and a bowl of cereal a day puts your body into survival mode (and my body is still somewhat in there as far as holding onto weight and fat is concerned, but I’m working on it. For some of us, eating is a process, and it’s not easy), but I couldn’t really do much about it because of my inability to stand up. I started looking around for delivery meal services or some other solution. The problem is I was mostly unemployed and they’re expensive, plus a lot of them are meal kits, not premaid meals, or they don’t accommodate my allergies and other dietary needs.

Then I was like, Ooh! Green juice!

Green juice is a pseudoscience racket, let me tell you. First of all, unless you have a serious medical problem, you do not need any consumable to help you “detox.” You have a liver and kidneys. They were designed to filter toxins out of your body. Juice cleanses do not detox you. They starve you and maybe help you if you’re getting ready for a colonoscopy, but detox has nothing to do with it, and you’re not even getting much in the way of nutrients because all the fiber is gone, there are no skins or stalks, and everything has been filtered out, and yadda yadda yadda. So I was looking at different smoothie services, but the same problems abound when it comes to my dietary needs, and I actually have some solid smoothie recipes and ingredients that I like a lot, so why pay someone to do it worse?

What I don’t have is a multi-hundred-dollar vitamix (my osterizer is my friend, but it cannot demolish a carrot or apple or other bulky things) or the ability to go and buy twenty pounds of produce each week, nor the mental energy required to try to make up some perfect fresh-squeezed “juice” recipe. I know myself well enough to know that if I had tried, I would have ended up with a bunch of stuff that tasted really nasty, a bunch of wilting greens in my fridge, and nothing in my belly. And at that point I was basically going to get scurvy, because I was depressed and eating fucking nothing. So, like, anything helps, but also fuck all this woo nonsense about juice cleanses.

So what’s a girl to do?

Finally, after spending way too much time surfing, I came across an option that seemed like a fairly reasonable price, that hadn’t skimmed out all the fiber, and that seemed by the ingredients list to taste good: Chef V. There are two flavors, both of which taste good, so you can order one of each or just choose one flavor (I ultimately settled on tropical). It gets delivered to you every week like clockwork, and you drink it first thing in the morning (or anytime you like) before you do anything else. I legit enjoy how it tastes, and I also like what I see in it: separation. If the jug is sitting there in your fridge, the heavy greens fall to the bottom, so you have to shake the jug before you pour some out. That is the different between green drink and green juice–I can actually tell that mine came from vegetables, because I can see them. It’s not a massive amount of fiber, but it gets your day started, and it was a huge gamechanger for me because of where I was at. All of a sudden I was starting my day with something hydrating instead of my usual nothing or coffee, I was pooping better, and it meant that even if I did nothing for the rest of the day but cry and eat a single bowl of cereal, I still had something good in my body to start to work my way back to health.

Literally no one asked me to write this review, not even an automated message from Chef V. I just sincerely enjoy it and am really grateful for the sustenance it gave me and continues to give me. I have no intention of unsubscribing at this point. In the hellscape that is 2020, I think it’s pretty great that I’m able to keep any habit going at all!

Every morning I fill my small blender bottle full of Chef V, which is the perfect portion size (about a pint) and has the added bonus of being great at shaking and mixing the ingredients anytime they settle. Customer service is excellent, and they’ve only made one error in the five or so months that I’ve been with them. They’re certified organic, if that’s something that is important to you. Ignore the nonsense messaging about cleansing and just aim for the health benefits of, you know, fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be as happy as I am.

I’m not any sort of official affiliate for them, but if you want to use my customer referral link, you get half off your first order!

fitness for bibliophiles: the downstairs girl

At least we have a home. It’s dry, warm, and rent-free, one of the perks of living secretly in someone else’s basement. As long as you have a home, you have a place to plan and dream.

The Downstairs Girl, by Stacey Lee

Can you go up and down undetected? Can you keep your upper body still while moving your lower body? Can you lift yourself out of a lunge without needing assistance from a barre or yanking on your hip?

You should be able to. Or you should want to be able to.

The Downstairs Girl is one of my favorite reads from 2019, which should not have surprised me, because it’s rare that I don’t love a Stacey Lee book. It’s feminist historical fiction about someone who’s not just a white girl, and it’s also about secret identities and murky family secrets. I’m not someone who reads a lot of adventure or survival novels, as that’s something I prefer in my movies, but I’m always down for a Stacey Lee survival adventure. This isn’t a survival novel in the desert island sense, but it is a bit thrilling and deals with social survival when you’re part of a disenfranchised class of people. Jo Kuan, the protagonist, has to constantly traverse Atlanta’s social and metropolitan systems, and she’s pretty much always at a disadvantage. She is adept at slipping out of sight when she needs to, but she also finds strength and learns to stand tall.

Ballet lunges, or elevator lunges, or scooters, or any other name you know them by, are a great exercise because you can work on your stability and control, and even if they are a quad-centric exercise, you have to do a lot of stabilization with the abs, and if your hips aren’t in good shape, your form will be off and then your hips will hurt more as a result. Hooray! I love it when an exercise uses more than a single muscle group.

If you have access to a ballet barre at home or at your gym, where you are MOST DEFINITELY WEARING A MASK, RIGHT?, use it. Otherwise, you’ve got a counter or a high-back chair at home. If all of those are inaccessible, you’ll have to do it without, which actually makes it harder-easier, by which I mean harder to perform but easier in the sense that you won’t be able to cheat, so your body will learn proper form right away.

You’ll see in the video that I’m using a home ballet barre and sliders, but if sliders/gliders are something you don’t have available at home, small towels or washcloths work fine on tile/wood/cement, and paper plates work fine on carpet. Now, here’s how you do the thing:

Feet on sliders, facing your “barre,” with about four feet of space behind you. Underhanded, light grip on your support. Raise the heel on your right foot so just the toes are on the slider. Now begin to bend your left knee, and as you do so, push the right slider back behind you as you lengthen your right leg. Your left thigh is what’s initiating the movement, so it’s what’s responsible for your right leg sliding back. Your upper body should be still and straight, so if someone couldn’t see below your waist, they would think you were going straight up and down like in an elevator. You’re going as low as you can, but what determines the “as you can” is not literally how deeply you can bend your knee but how deeply you can bend it without needing tons of assistance to stand up again. As you bring your right leg back in, you should be driving your weight into your left thigh as you slowly straighten it back up to stand tall. Repeat on the other side. Do each side 2-8 times, depending on your fitness level and comfort.

What not to do: Many people hold onto the barre for dear life as they bring the moving leg in and use it to help them pull themselves up. When you strangle the barre, you’re forcing your back into an uncomfortable position and yanking your hips, which is terrible because then you’ll be in pain, and it’s also terrible because you’re supposed to be working on your legs, not your hips or lumbar region. This is not something that should or even can be done quickly if it’s going to be correct. Try aiming for a 4-count in each direction.

Bonus burn: keep the left leg bent as you rapidly (1- or 2-count) scoot the right knee in and out, 4-12 reps. Again, no yanking on your support system, and think about holding your abs in as a way to keep your balance, not forcing your hips to do it. The point is increased strength, not pain.

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body talk

Embarrassingly late to the blog tour here (my b), but I want to tell you about a book that is really meaningful to me. I was excited no matter what, because its editor is Kelly Jensen, whose previous two anthologies were fantastic [disclosure that I contributed to the second one, (Don’t) Call Me Crazy]. But given the topic of this new one, it’s also super relevant to my blog and my interests, so if you’re a subscriber onhere, I assume it’s super relevant to your interests, too.

Click image for Amazon, click here to buy on Bookshop

Body Talk collects the words of 37 contributors talking about anatomy, both literally and more figuratively. They cover everything: body hair, periods, clothes, hormones, gender presentation, perceptions of fatness, obesity, curves… There are also some FAQs, and the whole thing is beautiful designed and with two colors throughout.

I think what I like about this book best is that it’s about radical body understanding more than body positivity. Body positivity is cool as fuck and something we should all aim for sometimes, but it’s not exactly attainable, and if you sit in that place all the time, it can be toxic. Body knowledge, body questioning, body acceptance? A bit more in the realm of possibility. To be honest, I kind of hate my body right now–hate what it looks like, hate how little it can do as it continues to need coddling–six months post-car accident, no less–hate that after so much work to control and understand it, I feel lost inside it now. I’ve been working my way through Body Talk slowly, because it’s emotionally exhausting to have it affect me and to try to take on some of the feelings of the contributors, but it’s absolutely a journey worth taking on.

excruciatingly humbling

I’m at almost five months since my injury, fourteen days since I was discharged from physical therapy. They discharged me because of diminishing returns and my knowledge of how to move my own body, plus this is America and the copays were adding up. So that’s great, but I’ve gotten used to being sedentary again, so it’s hard to put that back into my routine again….which is silly, because it’s the eleventy-thousandth day of Covidember, so I have no routine or plans 90% of the time. But almost half a year is a long time.

It’s funny, because even after building a community of online and in-person fitness professionals as mentors and friends, I feel very alone with this. I’m well aware that I am not alone and that tons of people have been in accidents, but it’s quarantine and since nobody ever settled on a 100% certain diagnosis (fat pad impingement was the most likely), it feels like so many other health things in my life: “gosh, that sucks; hope you feel better but there’s nothing we can or choose to do [the former is PT, the latter is every other medical professional I’ve seen for every other issue].” I didn’t go to the hospital after my accident because EMTs recommended against it because of covid, and that also means all my other care and imaging was done way later than what would be advisable. But what’s shocking to me is that I came out of it with no cast, no wheelchair, etc., and yet in almost half a year I’m still busted. This is excruciatingly humbling: what state would I be in right now if I had had those things?

Let it be known that everybody at the PT office told me repeatedly that those facts are irrelevant and that casts and wheelchairs don’t necessarily mean a worse injury than what I sustained, and everybody is different, and blah blah blah. I don’t care.

It’s shitty. I’m used to being in charge of my body, and I’m used to using exercise endorphins as one of the cocktail of drugs I take to manage my psychiatric illnesses, so this sucks.

I so love trying creative and wild fitness equipment, pushing myself, trying things I’ve seen on Instagram. This experience of being bad at everything, coupled with having most of my fitness equipment in a storage unit and gyms closed, means I’ve found myself going through the manuals and videos I haven’t touched much since I learned how to teach them to beginners. So weirdly, this has turned out to be a sort of forced professional development/recertification.

My mom tried to drag me to mat Pilates a couple times while I was in college and grad school, and I hated it. Even once I learned to love reformers and exo chairs, it wasn’t until I started my own certification process that I learned to respect mat. It’s assumed that it’s easier because it’s what’s offered at most gyms, but that’s not really the case. To do mat Pilates well, you have to imagine you’re on the reformer and then be the reformer yourself, which means it’s actually harder than reformer. So I really miss the reformer, to say the least. Continuing the exercises from my physical therapy and slowly incorporating Pilates, which is absolutely the perfect modality to go to while transitioning out of PT, is humbling as fuck.

I’m looking at my knee right now and I have fresh edema and bruising, so that’s what I get for trying.

I really don’t mean to kvetch so much. My point here is that it’s clear that this is going to be a very long road, and aside from blogging and advising, my fitness career may be over, or at the very least postponed for much longer than I expected.