Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nothing to Fear But . . .

There's a thunderstorm happening outside.

I'm writing this to help myself calm down so I can sleep . . . school in the morning, and all.

Okay. So I've stated before on this blog that there are three things in life that scare me: heights, needles, and thunderstorms.

The scar on the inside of my right elbow is evidence to my courage in the face of needles. I'm willingly getting stuck with a big fat needle twice a week to help finish off the last of my student loan from London (plastitution at its finest). I hiss when the needle goes in, and I can't look at it, but I can take the stick. I'm brave.

I can manage heights. I think. I'm not called upon to confront them very often. Except ladders. And I can manage ladders okay.

Nearly everything else in the world, I'm not scared of. Spiders? Cute. Dark alleys? Bring 'em on. Bats? Old news. Public speaking? As if. Ticks? Eat 'em for breakfast. I am not the sort of person who has to wander through the world being afraid. I'm big, and confident, and clever, and powerful. I've got this life thing under control.

But I don't have thunderstorms under control.

I've got tears on my cheeks as I type this. Tears. I'm crying. Not dramatically or anything, but . . . I've never cried before. Not even the night this all started. I've jumped, and screamed, and ended up perched on top of furniture . . . I've flinched, and gasped, and cowered. But I've never cried. Why am I crying? I know that the odds of lightning hurting me are astronomical, particularly as I'm writing this from inside a snug and sturdy building. And I know that thunder does nobody any harm whatsoever. I know this. So why am I crying? After two years?

I do not have freakin' PTSD. I know; I Googled it as soon as the tears started. But neither do I have control of this crap.

I used to think maybe I was being reflexively melodramatic, that I was playing up my tendency to jump out of my skin because it made people give me hugs. But why would I do that, when I know that I can just ask for hugs, and usually get them? And who am I showing off to, curled up in my own bed? Did I bring this upon myself, by letting myself gasp all those times? Letting myself shake? And does the fact that I'm blogging about this invalidate my concern that this might not be just a plea for attention?

Blast if I know. Somebody get Freud down here. He'd probably have something entertaining to say about how lightning and thunder are a metaphor for my repressed Electra complex or something. (Electra = electricity? He'd go there. I know he would.)

Okay, I'm cracking jokes now. I must be feeling better. And the rain has stopped, and there hasn't been a strike in the last couple of minutes. I'm off to brush my teeth and see what I can do about sleeping.

Thanks for listening, Internet.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Sociopolitical Complexities of Self-Improvement, or, How to Make Yourself Do Push-Ups

"I swear, I'm so ANGRY right now! I'll avenge your beautiful hand and your beautiful foot! I'll chop the legs off every dragon I fight! With my face!"

How to Train Your Dragon

I've just had a thought.

This thought has two points of origin. The first is John Oliver's brilliant segment on the Miss America pageant from this week's Last Week Tonight, which you really should watch if you haven't yet. The second is my semester goal.

I've discovered that I can handle semester goals. New Year's Resolutions can bite me, but a semester goal is manageable. And, at least for me, a four-month goal can become a habit. Last fall semester, for example, I decided to swear off fast food and meat until Christmas. Both of these have worked out quite well. I now regularly pack my lunch to work, and that lunch tends to be made of black beans, noodles, quinoa, or lentils. Very healthy, extremely cheap, quite yummy. (The yumminess took some practice, but we got there in the end.)

This semester, I have decided I'm gonna freakin' exercise. This has always been a problem for me, because I am A. lazy, B. poor, and C. self-conscious. This fairly well rules out any exercise that I have to leave my house for. Swimming's a hassle that puts my body on display. Gym classes cost money. Cycling has a tendency to leave me stranded far from home in the cold and the dark with a flat tire. Kayaking is wonderful, but only while the weather holds, and it involves a fair bit of there-and-back transportation. And anyone who suggests any kind of competitive sport is gonna get a kick in the shins.

So I've been doing these:'s Body Weight Circuits. Zero money, zero travel time, zero special equipment. I can huff and puff and blow my lungs out in the privacy of my own room and the privacy of my own underwear (I don't own workout clothes. Seriously, none at all). And so far, it's been really pretty good! I'll watch or listen to something while I do my circuits, then pop immediately into the shower as soon as I've completed my daily squats and lunges and push-ups. No muss, no fuss.

Of course, I loathe being in pain. I'm a complete sissy about it. So doing "just one more" push-up is decidedly NOT my idea of a good time. And I've never managed to do it consistently in the past. So why is this working so well now?

That's where John Oliver and Miss America come back in. See, exercise for me carries this far-off, teasing promise: If you do this enough, eventually you will be beautiful. You'll be beautiful enough for someone to love you. Beauty is a weapon in the competition of singleness; it allows you to dominate other women and claim a partner for your own. Maybe. If you're also a nice person. And smart, but not too smart. And just dang lucky. But you'd better be doing your workouts, or the kindness and smartness and luck aren't gonna do you a bit of good. It's a buyer's market out there. You've got to beat out the competition.

I hate competition.

Like haaaaate.

And this is why I've never exercised regularly. Because fitness means beauty and beauty means competing and competing means somebody has to lose. I would much rather stay quietly at home and marathon-watch The X-Files than engage in a competitive sport like spouse-hunting where somebody, inevitably, is gonna get hurt.

So I've given myself a new far-off promise: If you do this enough, you will be strong. You'll be strong enough to lift boxes of costumes and heavy wooden benches and sections of the dock. You'll be strong enough to haul huge coolers of cranberry juice up and down hills, to keep injured victims afloat in deep water. You'll be strong enough to be useful at camp.

And that's a great promise. That's amazing. Because I will do pretty much anything to be useful at camp. Useful at camp is my favorite thing to be. If I am strong, I can help. I can serve. There's no possibility of me losing, because it's not a competition. If I am stronger, everybody wins.

I can't serve people with beauty. I can't use my face to do any good in the world for anyone except myself, and even then, the good for me would be harm for someone else. But I can serve with strength. I can haul things and lift things and fix things and climb things. I can be not simply good, but good for something. And that is so satisfying. Satisfying enough to merit one more push-up.