I was in bad writing shape. I had a natural inclination toward it, and when I did it, I felt fulfilled, like what I was doing was right, and good for me. But no discipline, no perseverance, and certainly no courage.
Pat's been kneeling next to me for the entire 20 minutes that we've been working on handstands. He's one of the coaches, but he's not even teaching this class. It's just that my efforts are so pathetic that I require constant adult supervision. Also, probably a helmet. And even though that's deeply embarrassing, I'm grateful for the help. Because as it turns out, I find being upside down totally terrifying, even if we are against a wall.
"What's the worst that could happen?" a classmate asks. (This is, by the way, the worst thing you can ask a deeply paranoid person with an active imagination.)
I try again, my legs flailing in the air, directionless. I fall back down.
To his credit, Pat doesn't laugh. "You have it," he tells me. "It's just a confidence thing."
If I had a fucking nickel.
* * *
After I quit the softball team in college, I couldn't find a method of exercise that I could stick to, and my downward slope into becoming overweight felt nearly impossible to correct. During this same time frame, I also became a writer. And while these two things (being overweight, being a writer) do share some qualities (namely, the tendency to sit very still for long periods of time), they seemed to me to be mostly unrelated.
Around this time two years ago, I was the heaviest I'd ever been in my life—more than 50 pounds what I weigh now. And while it's really not about the number on the scale, it was a huge blow to my confidence. Clothes never fit well. I hated the way I looked in pictures. My neck was an ever-expanding thing. And worst of all, doing things like walking up hills or dancing were hard, and unpleasant to me. Hard, because I was out of breath, and forced to recognize my own physical decline. Unpleasant, because who likes to think about that on the way home from work, with sweat pooling in their lower back?
I knew something needed to change. While part of me felt that pushing myself to lose weight was a capitulation to the feminist nightmare bullshit that creates anorexia and violence against women all in the same vicious swipe, I also wasn't happy. I'd been fit for my whole life up until that point. I'd been strong. And I wanted to be those things again, even more than I wanted to be thin.
Also around this time, I was offered my first book deal. What was unusual about this was that it happened with pretty minimal vulnerability on my part. I queried one agent who I knew personally, and who I trusted not to destroy my soul in the likely case that she rejected me. She accepted me and my picture manuscript after many revisions, and then sold it in a week. Later, I'd realize this wasn't normal, that it was the result of having a pretty fantastic agent and some pretty fantastic luck. (I have not, it is worth noting, sold a picture manuscript since.) So I did not experience the bone-crushing agony of truly putting myself out there as a writer.
* * *
"Do you want me to just hold your legs up?" Pat asks. "That way you'll know how it feels, and it won't be as intimidating."
I swallow whatever sarcastic comment I had, and agree to do it. When you're as shitty as I am at this, there's no point in being snobby about remedial steps. So Pat holds my legs up, and I feel all the blood rush to my head. My vision blurs.
No one likes to be bad at things. But there are some people, people who are built of stronger character and resolve than me, who are undaunted by a rough start. They plow forward, keep working. My fiancée, Adam, is one of these people. He doesn't give a shit if he's bad at something, he just keeps working at it, CrossFit especially. In fact, I join CrossFit Alinea as per his glowing recommendation/obsessive proselytizing.
Also, because doing it gave him a nice round ass. And I want one of those, too.
I almost quit, almost immediately. It is safe to say that if I had not joined with my romantic partner, there's no way I would have stuck to it. Because I am bad at CrossFit. I am out of shape. I cannot do pushups. I cannot do pull-ups. I seem relegated, for life, to the lighter, pathetic, training bar for all our weight-lifting sessions. There's not one movement that we do during which a coach does not come by and try (mostly in vain) to correct whatever mess I'm making of it. It's hard.
And I am not one of those people who just plows through rough starts. I love to quit. If there's anything I'm super good at, it's bowing out. Stepping down. I was blessed with mediocrity at a lot of things, and for most of my adult life, I've felt good hanging out in that sweet spot, doing the things that come naturally and easily to me.
That's not as awful as it sounds. Maybe it is. Anyway, what I mean is not that I'm innately gifted at it. I mean I never developed any discipline with it. I did it in fits and bursts, and then not at all for long stretches of time. That's how I wrote the book I sold. But it's also why I was deeply unproductive. I was in bad writing shape, too. I had a natural inclination toward it, and when I did it, I felt fulfilled, like what I was doing was right, and good for me. But no discipline, no perseverance, and certainly no courage. It's why I had a job where I wrote copy all day long, but hardly ever wrote for myself. It was easier. And I was immediately good at it.
About three months in to doing CrossFit though, it starts to change. Little victories. I can hit full squat depth. I can touch my toes—and yes, I know how pathetic that is as a milestone, but even when I was playing college softball, that was a physical feat which eluded me. Six months in, I can lift more than my bodyweight off the ground. In my hands, MY hands— my hands with new calluses.
More importantly, I feel less embarrassed. I know I'm terrible. But working at it seems like a good thing, now. And if I can work at something that I was as naturally awful at as CrossFit, the hurdle of working at something I was naturally inclined to seems less daunting. In fact, it begins to feel necessary. Like exercise. I need it, in order to feel comfortable my own body. To feel healthy. It doesn't always feel good, but it does always feel right.
I start seeking publication for short stories. For essays. I am writing all the time. I am taking bigger and bigger risks. As a result, I'm still not Faulkner. But I'm much better than I was. And I'm certainly more productive. I have it. It's just a confidence thing.
This weekend, I'm at the open gym they hold every Sunday. It's not a class—it's just time to work on things at your own pace. It's my favorite part of my membership at Alinea, the most meditative. Without the pressure of a whole class watching you try (and fail), it is much easier for me to try harder things (and feel less ashamed when I fail at them). Today, I am trying to build up to handstand pushups. Which is just as fucking hard as it sounds. I'm nowhere close. But I can do handstand holds now, easily.
I am upside down when I see Pat's tattooed leg in front of me. "Remember what it was like when you first tried this?"
All too well.