Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Resolve

It's January. How cliche of me to be blogging about exercise and weight loss. Really, how unoriginal.  And then, on top of that, resolutions. Yes, how utterly un-countercultural I am. Yet, you see, my year was not the norm. It just so happens that last January a new chapter in our family unfolded that required so much attention and energy both mental and physical, that exercise...well, exercise schmexercise. And then came Tiny, and sleepless nights, and exhaustion, and finishing my MFA and beginning a new year of homeschooling and going back to church as part-time staff and generally just-keeping-my-head-above-water until now, a year later.  And I have these twenty baby pounds I'd like to shed. And I have some  muscles that I would very much like not to atrophy before I turn 33.

I had an eating disorder many moons ago, in a world far far away, one I can hardly even remember, yet it's shadowy remains remind me all the time how little I want to do things like count calories or weigh myself very often because, well, that road led to a very bad place.  But always, since my late teens, through my twenties and into the early thirties, I've exercised--walked, yoga'd, pilate'd, run (occasionally)--and I've been in reasonably good shape. I was no Jane Fonda, mind you. No Susan Powter (but do you even remember her?).

These days, I have no desire to run or jump around in a room at 5:30 in the morning with a bunch of spandex-garbed Iowans and our free weights in the local Body Pump class. Done that. The music is too loud and there are too many mirrors.  But after a bit of researching I found there was a yoga/pilates/barre-work studio just about a mile away from my house. They teach all the classes in rooms heated to 101 degrees. It sounded amazing so I went, and went again, and went a third time and took a friend. The yoga was lovely. I felt alive again. My muscles were abominably sore, but in a happy way.  Then last night I went to the pilates class for the first time. I was surrounded by 20-something college girls who'd never had their abdominal muscles stretched out the size of two watermelons.   They could do things with their core muscles I could not. The peer pressure to keep up became almost unbearable. My neck was screaming at me, my lower back too.  And it was 101 degrees. I wanted to walk out of the room, but saving face forbade it. 

Saving face is indeed a danger to me because it means avoiding embarrassment at all costs, and sometimes the costs are quite costly. Saving face means forcing myself and then hating a pilates class afterward not because there was something wrong with the pilates class but because I got through it dishonestly and doing so hurt, literally. If I'm to get through this whole fitness endeavor honestly and with a chance of succeeding, I'll have to stop and wipe my forehead, drink a half cup of water, and modify modify modify.

And anyway, I'm sick and tired of all the face-saving wrangling I've done in my life.  That's what the eating disorder was all about in some sense: let me get so small that you won't notice and can easily excuse the sorry mess of my existence on this earth. Let me get thin for you; let me make up for all my deficits. And in pilates Tuesday night, the refrain was not so different: let me force my way through this even if I need ice and a chiropractor afterward because I want you [insert name of instructor I just met and fifteen anonymous college girls] to like me, I want you not to reject me for being on the brink of muscular atrophy.  It rings of fabulous mental health, does it not?

So as of today, January 19, I resolve to modify. I resolve to listen and care about what this 32-year-old, thrice post-partem body is telling me. I resolve to look in those yoga mirrors and not force myself to do what hurts, not force myself to do what I cannot.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Tiny Things

Oldest and Middle pooled their Christmas giftcards this week and purchased a ginormous box full of Barbie home furnishings and accessories.  This kit was complete with staging for bathroom, living room, kitchen, and (of course?) a dressing table/toiletry-type room. While things-Barbie do not usually catch my fancy, I was drawn in by the plastic kitchen tea kettle, no bigger than my thumb, and the round dinner plates, the size of my thumb's pad. In addition, I was mesmerized by the pink toilet, with a real flip-lid, and the pink plastic-crystal chandelier that hung from a stand. It puts me to recollecting my own Barbie kitchen accessories. The year was 1988. The items: pink plastic coffee maker and off-white "electric" kettle. I dissolved instant coffee granules in warm water inside that plastic coffee maker, and I let tiny shards of uncooked spaghetti soften in the kettle with the hottest water I could get from the tap.
I have always loved tiny things, including the dollhouses outside the pediatric clinics at the University of Iowa Hospitals.  Some of them have been on display since 1988, too. That year and many after, I stared, mesmerized, through their plexiglass cages at minute woven rugs and ceramic kittens lapping up ceramic puddles of milk.  Memory tells me there were gold forks on the table, different floral papers wrapping the walls of each room, a newspaper rolled and perched on the front step, and a rickety old bicycle leaning against the side of the house.  I imbued all tiny things with special powers; I lent them an air of innocence.  That miniature newspaper possessed the gift of being insubstantial, unlike the real Community News Advertiser that came to my parents' front door every Wednesday, a paper full of rank black ink and advertisements indicating that real people somewhere nearby wanted--jobs, food, babysitters, lawnmowers. And my tiny coffee pot and electric kettle were so light and insignificant that there was never even a remote possibility that they would bear what my mother's Pfalzgraff gravy boat, say, had to endure, all that passing on ritualized days of the year, passing between hands belonging to people who argued, cried, hated, mourned, laughed, teased, married, divorced, and got back together. The gravy boat could get stained, chipped, dropped, thrown. My electric Barbie kettle would not, not if I had anything to do with it, because tiny things have never had to bear the burden of being connected to gritty human drama. They signify an ideal; tiny plates belong to dolls whose happy histories can be dreamt up, whimsied up, by tiny humans, now by my Tinies. These girls, my girls, look at a fragile plastic plate, as thin as a sliver of almond, and think something as simple as food with a joyful and satisfied squeal of delight. They look at a pink chandelier, and exhale pleasure at its ode to prettiness. And they stage a "room" full of furniture with perfect feng shui mastery; there is no clutter to concern themselves with, no muddy shoe piles by the back door, no markers on the floor, no strands of yarn or scissors lying askew, no parents tensely posturing at one another.

I'm drawn to order as much as they are. Some days I want to hunker down on the floor and set up the coffee pot, the long-handled spoon, the vase with flowers. Usually my real, life-sized washing machine and dishwasher and kitchen table interrupt such fantasies. But that's okay; I had my turns with tiny things when I was tiny. Tinydom offers peace, a roomful of order for tiny people, a way to practice for real life, a field guide for Where Things Go and How Things are Used and By, For, and With Whom so that if, in real life, they ever get mixed up, they'll know it and put things to rights as best they can.