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.

not literally me

7 > 5 > 7

Contrary to what you learned in first grade, you do not have five senses.

You have seven.

Sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, yes. But there are two others. It makes a fair bit of sense not to teach them formally as concepts to elementary schoolers (though a good PreK-12 education system really should tacitly engage them), but if you’re an adult and you still don’t know, it’s time to learn a bit more about how your body actually works. I promise you’ll thank me.

Your remaining two senses are proprioception–your sense of where you are in space–and balance (I really hope you know what that one is, even if you didn’t know it’s a Sense just like the five you’ve always known). If you see dead people, that’s eight.

Unlike, say, hearing impairment, which you can’t cure even if you can treat it, senses six and seven are well within your grasp as far as honing and improving them. *I realize there are disabilities that may make that untrue, but for argument’s sake, we’ll assume I’m speaking about people who don’t have physical impairments or Meniere’s disease

Techniques for balance are simple: just work on your balance. Stand on one leg, then stand on the other. Repeat. Play around with uneven surfaces, like BOSU trainers. Hop. You get the idea.

Proprioception? Time for a personal story.

Around midnight between March 17 and March 18, my life lowkey began to break down, like lighting the string of a stick of dynamite. Fast forward 16 hours later. It was just drizzling and trying to rain, and I was t-boned by an SUV. I spun around once or twice, who knows, and goodbye to my beloved late grandfather’s car. I was disoriented, terrified, and full disclosure, based on the awful evening before and the fact that I have chronic depression and bipolar disorder II, my first thought when I stopped spinning was please, can I just be dead so I won’t have to deal with any of this shit, and when I was dismayed to find that I still inhabited this mortal coil (*swoons dramatically*), I realized that my knee was on fire because it had smashed into the dashboard or steering column. A random woman from an office nearby came out, and she was the one who calmly talked to me and called 911, and when this pandemic comes to an end in 2035, I fully intend to bring flowers or chocolate to that entire office complex and walk into every suite and ask for Tammy until I find her so I can say thanks.

Anyway, the next week was when the dynamite exploded, and as I hobbled around my parents’ house–which, unlike the house I was living in, does not have stairs–I went through a romantic breakup that wasn’t just violently (figuratively, not physically) traumatic but also humiliating, and it was compounded by the fact that I then had to hobble up and down the stairs, packing and carrying boxes and moving out of the house.

Honestly, even though that was mid-March and it’s now mid-July, I just cannot even with retelling the whole story, plus it’s none of your business and you don’t care, and it’s not the point of this blog post, which I swear will circle back to proprioception in a hot second.

So my knee. Fucking destroyed, even though according to imaging, it was just fine aside from hella bruising, and externally it was literally hot to the touch for at least 10 weeks, which ???? who knew that was a thing!? Time for physical therapy, which has thus been my twice weekly social engagement during a period that has otherwise been responsibly socially distant.

Even though Hannah means “graceful,” I was not active as a child or particularly beautiful to watch at dance performances, so it was not until my late twenties that I gave a fuck about proprioception beyond pedantic, Jeopardy-style teaching moments and pop science books about neurology. And I have worked so. Damn. Hard. on it since then. Pilates was a big part of it, because it’s incredibly cerebral (and different from yoga; please stop assuming they are the same), but this is work I’ve done by paying attention to where my left leg is while I drive, what my posture is like when I use my computer, etc.

My fucked knee totally fucked me over in the proprioception department, and it’s not only an assault on my sense of self but just shitty because of how it has set me back in my fitness (career-wise and personally), which is unbearably, excruciatingly humbling.

I’m supposed to graduate from physical therapy this week, which will make it about three and a half months of rehabilitation for an injury that felt absolutely destroying but involved no casts, wheelchairs, hospital stays, or the like, which just makes it worse because I feel like a failure at being forcibly but temporarily disabled.

The perpetual pain, which had me pondering what a future might look like if I became a PhD version of Dr. House, has subsided. I’m allowed to progress to workouts that resemble the ones I was doing before (the low-impact ones; it feels like it’ll be ten thousand years before I can teach a cycling class or go to a boxing class again), but there’s a set of problems here:

First, my cardiovascular stamina is kaput. Even low-impact workouts, if you do them right, should amp up your heartrate, but given four months of very little engagement of my heart and veins (though I suppose crying jags and screaming at the emotionally abusive narcissist I no longer plan on marrying counts as raising my blood pressure), I can’t do those low-impact workouts for anywhere near as long as I used to.

Second, balance? lmaoooo You’d expect the injured leg (my left) to be awful at it, but it turns out, injury to one knee impacts even the “good” side! I’ve gotten a bit better since, say, week 9 of therapy, but holy shit, man. Even as a high schooler who did basically nothing in the way of exercise, I had great ankles and balance and once stood on tiptoe for about fifteen minutes straight for an aggressively obnoxious team building exercise that involved cramming a bunch of high school juniors onto one tiny rug because that teaches you how to get along or some shit. Miss me with those. When one side of your body is shit, both sides of your body are shit.

Third (I told you I’d circle back!), I feel as if I have no proprioception anymore. I have had seven senses since my mom taught me about them in primary school, and all of a sudden, I had five again.

Rehabilitative exercises at the physical therapist’s or “workouts” at home; it doesn’t matter. After years and years of putting in the work, I can no longer feel where my spine is or where my hips are or what position my neck is in. To be clear, I do not mean that in a neuropathy sense. I mean that in the proprioceptive sense. I cannot mechanically set myself up for exercises and movements. Everything feels wonky, so I’m not able to tell what is properly wonky and what is bad form wonky. I don’t know where I am physically, and with the pandemic stress and personal life stress, it’s not just humbling but terrifying. I’m starting from scratch and I fucking hate it.

A friend who is a physical therapist (but not mine for this injury) calls these people “motor morons,” which is a term I will not adopt when I speak out loud but is really apt–when you don’t have mental awareness of balance and proprioception, your motor skills are not refined. You might think you do a perfect deadlift or be totally at home on the soccer field, but unless you have spent at least some time cognitively connecting with these concepts, not just physically, you are a motor moron. I promise that’s the last time I’ll use that problematic phrase.

You absolutely should not feel ashamed, but you should definitely feel motivated to work on this.

There is something incredibly empowering about knowing how to feel your spine, your hip bones, your shoulders, and your ankles. It seems really granola to tune out your airpods and stop talking to your lifting buddy in order to think about those things while you do a leg press, but once you get over the Lululemon Karen-ness of it all, it’s dope af.

I’ll write another post and do a video about how you can do that, but in the meantime, take a hot minute to lie on the floor, preferably carpet or hardwood with a yoga mat, not uneven tile, and, like, move those body parts one by one and see what it feels like. Then remember that next time you do whatever workout it is that you do.

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 folkl√≥rico 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.