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!

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.

review: the first 20 minutes

Okay, I get it. You are maybe not a weirdo like me and thus do not want to read stuff that is super heavy on the exercise science. BUT you are also a person who respects the scientific process. Awesome! The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer is a book you’ll want to pick up. Here’s why:

First, take a look at the author’s qualifications. Gretchen Reynolds is a long-time columnist for The New York Times, arguably the most respected newspaper in the country. Reporters, as you might know, are trained (at least we hope) in doing their homework, fact checking (or, at least, sending someone else to fact check), and coming at things from multiple perspectives. People who take time on things are usually more convincing people than those who do not. Good author? Check. Extra points because she’s chatty and super engaging and occasionally funny.

The book is organized as a glorified FAQ to exercise, basically. That makes it incredibly readable, even if you, unlike me, do not like reading science books cover to cover. You can skip around to chapters that interest you and learn, in very easy prose, summaries on the latest studies in exercise science so that you know that HIIT is actually worthwhile and produces results, that running actually does NOT ruin your knees, and that regular engagement in fitness will indeed keep you from aging before your time.

If this book has a flaw, it’s that Reynolds does have the underlying assumption that the only reason anyone cares about fitness is because they care about weight loss. She often ends sections with a bit of self-deprecating snark, which I can absolutely appreciate, but that snark holds some derision about fat people and fatness. She doesn’t really get down to a lot of the whole “skinny fat” or HAES movement.

But if you have questions about random fitness things and don’t want to have to flip through every back issue of SELF to see if they were answered? This book. This book. Good stuff. Definitely pick up the paperback for keeps and make notes in it.

Get the book @ iTunes | iBooks | Amazon | IndieBound

review: the bulletproof diet

A couple years ago, you might have noticed (if you live in a fancy major city) that buttered coffee became a thing. It seemed to crop up right around the time that I decided to use butter in basically all my cooking, so it was perfect.

So I decided to get the book by the guy who started the craze, and of course he’s from Silicon Valley, because they all are, and I lived there for two years. He pontificates ad nauseum about biohacking and tells the reader over and over how smart he is for having figured this stuff out.

If I compare it to other, more researched books I’ve read before, I can definitely see the value in some of the stuff he talks about. Obviously, like everybody, he talks about the dangers of too much sugar and how it can really zap your energy and make you die young. Like, of course. And there’s some other science I can somewhat buy based on the citations. Mold and other trace amounts of bad things certainly sounds like something to avoid. And there have been studies proving that organic foods do retain more of their nutrients than pesticide- and antibiotic-filled foods.

I’ve now made a version of buttered coffee, just without Asprey’s beloved MCT oil, since I don’t tolerate coconut very well and also because it’s about a billion dollars. Buttered coffee does taste pretty delicious, and at least in my experience, the time in my life that I’ve put on more muscle and become more cardiovascularly fit is the same time of my life that I’ve upped my butter intake by probably 300%, so I’m fine with it. Butter is great, and it makes everything taste great. I highly recommend that you try making buttered coffee, even without Asprey’s special oil (which, conveniently, you can only buy from him if you want the exact, perfect type), since a human diet that is the perfect human diet is actually not truly perfect if you can only achieve it through a proprietary, manufactured thing that wasn’t in existence until three years ago.

Another thing I don’t like is that Asprey claims that exercise is a waste of your time. I’ve been seeing more studies that say that diet helps you lose weight more than exercise, so if you want to lose weight and want to focus on your diet, go for it. I’m not you, so I don’t care. But exercise has about a million benefits beyond weight loss, so to say it’s irrelevant to health strikes me as unsound advice. Especially since he’s claiming that his diet is the perfect, One True Human Diet, and humans for centuries have had to do physical labor just to get by in life, and it’s as we’ve become more sedentary that we’ve developed more chronic disease, so let’s ring the bullshit bell there.

Anyway, the real problem with this book is that it’s a book at all, not that everything in it is a lie. Asprey suffers from a severe case of white male privilege, and his constant patting himself on the back for figuring everything out is insufferable, not to mention his classic, Silicon Valley forgetfulness that most human beings in the United States, not to mention the planet, have money to burn and a lifestyle where they’re welcome to focus on “health” because somebody else is cleaning their house and watching their children. If you want to read it, go for it, and there are links for you below, but your better bet is probably just spending half an hour on his website, downloading a few things.

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