Trying to manifest a new podcast and consistent writing outlet. Stay tuned!
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.
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.
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.
Get the book @ amazon | apple books | apple audiobooks | indie bookshops | libro.fm | your library
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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