Tag Archives: fitness

Show your shame

12 May

The other morning my car wouldn’t start, so I had to take my husband’s to work. He winced when he offered me the car.

“It’s the worst it’s ever been.”

I didn’t have time to worry about that, so I climbed into the front seat, shoved a board out of the way and hooked the handle of my coffee mug onto the butterfly net riding shotgun with me. I clicked on NPR and ignored the empty Powerade bottles and gym shorts with the tags still on them next to me. Before I exited the car and headed into school, I glanced into the back seat to find a halogen light, rubbermaid containers filled with rolled up strips of cardboard, a beekeeper’s veil, and a 4 x 250 ft roll of laminating plastic. I didn’t even open the trunk, but it was filled with at least two dozen coconuts. photo(5)

Later in the morning I received the following text:

“After seeing my car at its worst, do you still want to be married to me?”

My husband was horrified that I’d seen his shame. It’s the same reason he gets uncomfortable if I walk on his side of the bed because it means I might trip on clothes, comic books, empty boxes, a suitcase, or general trash.

The only difference between his shame and mine is that I keep mine off the floor. I prefer to put it in a closet or on top of a dresser.

This whole anecdote got me thinking. Everyone needs a corner of shame. No matter how much we gloss up the outside to look organized and healthy, our humanness dictates that we allow ourselves a place for disgrace. A place we pray no one will accidentally discover. Because if we know they’re coming, we’re going to clean it up first.

What we present to the outside world is often not our complete truth. But we write it as if it were. The internet is full of “how to live your best life!” advice and tutorials. The mecca of these places is Pinterest. If you’re not DIY-ing your sugar-free life of quinoa recipes while doing squats on your Chevron-print rug, you’re not really living.

DIY Burlap Wreath!

#Eat Clean


Homemade gluten-free bagels!!

How to organize your jewelry with wine corks.

DIY Toddler Adirondack chair with Anchor Decal (adult version comes with wine holders!)

DIY Mason Jar Herb Garden

I am not against any of these things separately, but when presented all together as prescriptions for living “happier and healthier,” I carve out a space to eat Cheez-its and watch Oprah in protest. Pinterest has upped stress in the lives of many, but I still find it useful for ideas I turn into reality, especially recipes and home improvement inspiration. The key is to focus on the things you want in your life, not the things other people want.

This is difficult because people present these options as all-or-nothing propositions. You’re either eating clean or eating dirty. Fit or lazy. Crafty and DIY or unskilled and materialistic. Organic parents or mainstream parents. They forget it’s possible to be both at different times. I think it’s because we try to convince ourselves by convincing others.

In my quest for the best workout routine, I’ve found the path of least resistance has been the easiest to maintain. The go hard-or-go-home approach is only sustainable for so long. For periods of time in my life, I’ve exercised and lifted weights obsessively; I’ve become a regular runner; I’ve taken three exercise classes in one day. I could not be stopped. Until I stopped completely. Which happened every time.

Now I’m at a period in my life where I feel like I’m doing the least amount of regular exercise, but I’ve been able to maintain the same weight the best this way. I take a weight and cardio class at least once a week, I started doing push-ups every day, and I cook healthy meals. I walk/bike/run to supplement but it’s in moderate amounts. We use our rare night of eating out to indulge in more high-calorie foods, and we eat dessert more than I ever have in my life. Small amounts at a time, but more frequently. My next feat is to work this kind of manageable routine into my job and my writing life.

While I understand the need to present our best selves publicly, I respect people more who aren’t afraid to show their corner of  shame. Or they’re terrified but go through with it in order to better themselves. I am working to develop this type of openness as I’m less and less interested in looking good and more interested in feeling good and actually being good at something.

When I moved out of my house in Richmond, I was horrified for people to see my “room of shame” upstairs. After two friends helped me start to clear it out, I felt more motivated to cipher through the rest of the house. By showing them my shame, it removed the stigma and I was able to move forward. Me seeing my husband’s car motivated him to clean it out and get the air-conditioning fixed just a week later.

I’ve been mulling over this post for the past couple of weeks (and not writing it), then today I watched a Creative Mornings talk author Austin Kleon gave in Austin, Texas. His talk is about showing your work online instead of waiting until the perfect finished product is unveiled. His talk is about honesty in the creative process. His talk is very similar to what I wanted to write this post about. He has an insanely bigger internet audience than I do, but I like to think my emphasis on shame over work makes this unique?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing people about their transitions in life, and by slowly understanding how people overcome obstacles, be they self-inflicted or outwardly-inflicted, I’m getting a deeper understanding of how to actually cut away what you don’t want in your life.

I believe you have to cut away to create.

You can’t create anything while hiding in your corner of shame.


What Sade (and LL Cool J) taught me about comebacks

29 Aug

My husband and I saw Sade back in July. It was pricey but worth it. After all, we loved Sade enough to dance the first dance at our wedding to one of her songs. We got the chance for a live encore in our new city. Like we were supposed to NOT GO?

In case you are too young or too hip to know who Sade is, listen to 80’s saxy Sade, 90’s mermaid Sade, and 10’s drumline Sade.  If you don’t know who LL Cool J is, I’m just sorry. But ladies do love cool James. (And angry jams.)

We live our lives coming back from one thing or another: a career change, the end of a long relationship, the death of a loved one, a severe illness, or a natural disaster. Something knocks us out for a while and we spend our days climbing off the mat, figuring out if we even want to get back in the ring.

You start seeing the darkness as the light–it feels warm and it looks strangely comforting. So instead of getting the hell out of there, you embrace the negativity–you sprint toward it like it’s the holy grail. Only it’s the one that will eviscerate you if you drink from it. It’s only then you learn that you “chose poorly.” Only you can’t learn that because you’re a pile of Nazi rubble.

We all find comfort in negativity at times. The trick is not to let yourself stay there if you want to come back.

“One thing I know is that positive things don’t happen if you’re in a negative frame of mind.” (Sade Adu to Jet Magazine)

I recently had to come back from getting laid off, which put me into a career backslide I didn’t expect. This surprised me because I knew I was likely to lose my job. I thought that would make it suck less to actually lose it. I was a fool. Just like all of us who think we’ll handle everything awesomely until we don’t. After a summer of waiting and confusion, I’m back in the classroom trying find my inner teacher again.

My other attempted comeback involves fitness. Or redirecting my year of ignoring it. There’s always a strong dose of humility involved in restarting one’s physical fitness (and a dozen negative-thinking landmines to try and sabotage you along the way). Again I turn to Sade’s history.

A talented British band found Nigerian-born singer Sade Adu.  After all, gorgeous front woman = success (usually). Turns out Sade was shy on stage but passionate about songwriting. Despite pressure from record companies to lose her band (led by the talented Stuart Matthewman), Adu refused to sign without them. She won and 1984’s Diamond Life began a long, though sometimes intermittent career for the band Sade.

The reason Sade is able to come back over and over again is because she stopped listening to negativity. After working through a failed marriage, she disappeared from the music scene for a while and rumors swirled about her mental health, and potential heroin addiction. At that point she stopped reading the press releases and worked on herself. When you take 8 and 10-year breaks between albums, people start to talk. But the more I read about Sade, the more I understand it. The creative process is so draining, and if you don’t take time away from your work to fuel your work, the break-neck, life-stealing pace of modern life will eat your soul.

“You can only grow as an artist as long as you allow yourself the time to grow as a person,” Sade says. “[My bandmates and I are] all parents, our lives have all moved on. I couldn’t have made Soldier of Love [2010] any time before now, and though it’s been a long wait for the fans – and I am sorry about that – I’m incredibly proud of it.” (Sade Adu)

This is where our philosophies align. I work better in cycles: a time for work, a time for less work, more reflection. Which is why I loved teaching for so long: the beginning and ending of school years give you that time to recharge and be awesome again for your students.

Then I started thinking I didn’t love it and then people told me I couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe. Probably. Maybe not. I have recently been rehired as a teacher at my old school for one year because another teacher left. But she might come back next year. Or she might not. In the meantime I am trying my best to motivate my new freshmen to succeed, but I have my work cut out for me this time. Instead of helping most students enhance their writing or perfect their diction and style, I will be helping some of them just write a sentence. It requires a different mindset, but it’s no less important.

On the fitness front, some days it’s a struggle to make the time to go to our new gym. And do as much as it takes to actually get my muscles back while I’m there. One big helper has been the Kindle: by combining gym time with reading time, I’m much more fulfilled. Granted, I had difficulty reading Tolstoy while my heartbeat climbed to 180 beats per minute, but once I switched to young adult science fiction like The Hunger Games series and the now-a-movie The Help, I’m a master of efficiency. Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants is up next.

But I must not be doing as well as I thought because a woman approached me at the gym today to offer me a free makeover. Thank you? I said no mostly because she looked like she had a frequent knifer card from a plastic surgery mill. But anyone who approaches me while I’m stretching is scary. Sadly, this is not my first time. People, please learn gym code!

Lately I’ve been more optimistic about my comebacks. I have precedents to reflect on.

I’ve neglected my fitness before and come back in better shape (and turned myself into enough of a runner for a 10K). I’ve also become disillusioned with  my job before and found my inspiration again.

So don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.