Tales from the Gym, #1

A man trains at the Kachalka outdoor gym on the banks of river Dniper in Kiev

The day that I cancelled my gym membership – a good 15 years ago – was one of the most joyous days of my life. My daughter insists that every single time she goes to a gym – any gym in any city – she walks through the front door and has an immediate sense that something really, really good is going to happen. I love my daughter passionately; but this strikes me as very nearly psychotic.

My ex-husband and I joined our local gym towing along an infant. We dutifully went three times a week, doing a prescribed combination of strength training and cardio. Now that I am facing down my 60th birthday later this year, this strikes me as hilarious and disheartening. A high point of each week is my Sunday, wherein I putatively help my kids out by “babysitting” my adored foster grandson, and thereby get a strong dose of the miraculous wonder that comprises the world of a two-year-old. However, going out of my way to locate any additional exercise on these days is a preposterous idea. Taking care of him for a six-hour stretch is my workout, and I spend much of the day hoping I will have enough remaining strength to carry him up the long flight of stairs that ends my stint. In fact, when I first began taking care of him, I came home early Sunday evening, sat in my favorite chair with my Sunday paper, and was absolutely sure that I was dying. Terminally ill. A goner. There could be no other possible explanation for the level of my exhaustion, the depth of which was awesome and terrifying. Must. Get. Food. Important. To. Brush. Teeth.

Through sheer force of will I remained nearly-awake until 9:00.

The thought of doing anything on Sunday evening – even though I was invariably back home no later than six o’clock – was entirely out of the question. And to think there was a time when I did this all day long, every day, and sought out MORE exercise!?

For the ensuing 15 years since I gleefully snipped my old gym membership card into little teeny pieces, I have been a runner, of sorts. But a vast array of medical appointments involving all kids of thumping noises, radioactive dyes, extraordinarily unnatural body positions, little cameras being put in little orifices – you get the idea – have resulted in me having a high degree of technology to verify that I am in excellent health. Except for one thing: a significant amount of “wear and tear” degeneration, strange bone growth, and good old-fashioned arthritis, that sprawls through my back and hips.

My running days are over.

Two weeks ago, I joined a gym. Watch for the stories to prove it.

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Summer Solstice

Today I have been working on a section of the new novel that revolves around a baby’s birth, and it has reminded me of the miracle that every new start, every fresh possibility holds.  In honor or this, and of the upcoming longest day of the year, I am posting this section from my book, “You, in Your Green Shirt.”

And, by the way, it turns out that manipulating photographs is an EXCELLENT way to procrastinate; good visuals make for more interesting blogs, after all.

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“When I return home after I run, when I am drenched, soaked in sweat, dripping down the sides of my face and stinging my eyes, when I am barely able to peel off the shorts, the socks, the sports bra that are bonded with my skin, when I am fully naked, I tiptoe into Kate’s room and stand in front of the only full-length mirror in the house.  I look at myself. 

I’m not sure why I do this, what I’m looking for. 

I suppose I look for changes.  I try to know myself.  I consider the fact that the next person, that all the next people, who kisses and fondles the breasts that I see in the mirror, this person will not be kissing the breasts that nursed his babies, that squirted him in the shower when the baby cried out from his crib.  He will see the slight puckering of extra skin along the very tops of my inner thighs as just that, extra skin, and not as a remembrance of the births of his own two children.

Yesterday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  The first bird lets out a few tentative notes at around four a.m. now, and the dogs are up by 5:15.  Our routine is the same every single morning, but they are bursting with desire to get out and see it again, to note and rejoice in every single infinitesimally minute change from the day before. 

The world is beautiful at this hour.  Staggeringly beautiful.  Ever day it is brand new.  It is  millions and millions of years old, too, aeons old.  But in its dew-drenched sparkling magnificence, it is full of promise, of all possible promises.  Brand new.  Again.”

Why Write, OR The Loneliness of the Long-Format Author

 

“We use words to tell stories for different reasons, all of us.  Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas said that he wrote for revenge.  My friend Linda said she writes because it is either that or vomiting.  Because it wells up inside of her, fills her, threatening to burst from her if she doesn’t first disgorge it in the form of words, clicks on her keyboard.  My daughter Kate said she writes to make things more real.  A flower that would otherwise be shriveled, decayed, lost forever; any moment, perhaps the first tentative smile that suggests a flicker of interest between a boy and a girl; any gesture, perhaps when he nervously reached up to scratch the side of his face in his shy hopefulness.  Any of these, all of these, can be detailed, described, made to last forever, made real when they would otherwise be lost, gone.”

That is a quote from YOU, IN YOUR GREEN SHIRT, my first novel.  I have been thinking a lot about this again, this business of why we write.  I am brand new at blogging, and have been browsing through other writers’ blogs, many of which have names such as “The Joy of Writing” and “Ecstasy of Words.”

Really?  I mean: really?  Am I that different from so many of my brethren?  Am I alone in thinking that writing is, generally speaking, one very small step away from torture?

This reminds me of when I began running, more than ten years ago now, and knowing my newbie status, everyone kept asking: “How about that runner’s high!?!”  “Don’t you just love that rush you get!?!”  So for weeks, which turned into months, I thought I must be doing something wrong.  I waited for it.  I watched for any little sign.  Mostly I felt like I was going to keel over or vomit every single second, but was pretty sure that neither of those feelings qualified as a “high.”

What I did experience was this: jubilation when it was ALL OVER!!!  When the run was complete, and I had LIVED (!) and could feel an enormous sense of relief and a slight feeling of accomplishment.

So, yeah, that’s pretty much what writing is like for me.

The process of it, the putting forth or words onto a page (ha-screen) is something I find arduous (and can I just mention here that I went through 40 HOURS of labor with NO MEDICATION, so I KNOW arduous), soul-sucking, lonely, grueling, and yes, at times, truly torturous.  So why in the world do it?!

Because when it is done, when the words are on the page, and you know, really know, that you have managed to say exactly what you wanted to say, there is no better feeling in the world.  None.