the spaz of fitness has arrived

Dear World,

In Rhetoric, Training on October 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

This post spawns from many recent tidbits of my life , so I may meander a bit… but if you trust in me, I promise I won’t lead you too far astray. We will eventually return to CrossFit– there’s metaphorical cheese at the heart of this labyrinth, or perhaps a paleo-friendly, irresistibly delicious, pumpkin butter cup.

This semester, I’m enrolled in a cross-disciplinary seminar about social justice. We just read James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. I can’t call this book a novel, or a work of journalism… it cannot be contained by the term “art,” nor is it a study of truth. Our professor described it as “an experiment,” but I like to think of it as more of a response. In the 1930s, the privileged-born, well-to-do reporter James Agee spent 8 weeks living among white tenant farmers in the deep South. From it, he produced this haunting book that accounts, in loving detail, the many intricacies of these families’ lives. Agee agonizes over the human condition, over the painful impossibility of ever truly understanding another person, but also the unrelenting will to try. He reminded me so much of why we write– how sometimes the awfulness of everyday life feels so unbearable that it must effuse onto the page– or how, amid all that terribleness, you can find these surreal, wondrous miracles, and how you want to eulogize them, screaming, with every breath in your body.

I’ve been told often that I think too much–and it’s true. I can have a perfectly mundane, otherwise harmless day, and be suddenly struck and broken down by the tiny ways in which we wound one another. Sometimes I feel irreparable with the epiphany of how often and easily we break and how unrecoverable it all seems (yes, that seems hyperbolic and hopeless… I promise I’m not actually moping around all the time, but sometimes, I’m struck by these things). But I found it oddly uplifting to know that Agee has felt this way too– has felt that the world was too much, that it needed to be sung about, even if that singing does nothing but echo life’s miracles and miseries.

Now here’s where you’ll have to stick with me. I’ve told you about my little podcast addiction, and my fondness for George Bryant. He made a recent appearance on an episosde of Live. Love. Eat. in which he gives just this beautifully candid interview. I won’t go too in-depth into George’s history since he tells it much better himself (on his website and in the podcast), but he’s an active-duty Marine who’s been everywhere between 150lbs-250lbs, who spent a year in a wheelchair and the subsequent years relearning his body. In the podcast, he discusses– I think, for the first time– his history with body issues and with accepting himself. As a bit of a sidenote, I’ve always been a bit irked by the gender bias in terms of body image. Yes, women get crapped on in terms of societal constructions of body and physical “beauty,” but men do too and there’s so much less out there supporting self-acceptance in men because we’ve stigmatized the need for reassurance as “weakness.” But I suppose that’s a topic for a different day. Anyway, George had issues (as we all do). George, like a real man, dealt with his issues. He said something in this podcast that really resonated with me– how he’s had a hard time forgiving himself for giving anything less than “everything.” And how he needed to address that to find peace.

I know I struggle with that as well. I’ve said that I’m not competitive, and I’m not in the sense that I don’t compete against other people… but I’m a basketcase when it comes to self-comparison. For example, I have this powerlifting meet coming up in a week and a half. Last night, the PSU powerlifting coach briefed me and the two other members of my box who will be participating (Jefe and Zebrapants) on what we should expect from the meet. Basically, we shouldn’t expect overall PRs. We’ve never lifted under these conditions– technically, what we’ve done in our box isn’t comparable to what we’ll do next Saturday, and we have no real powerlifting-meet-standards PRs, no extant records to which to compare ourselves. We should just go and do our best and those will be our numbers. Of course, I’d been hoping for at least a deadlift PR– to beat my previous 225… but I’ll be lifting with foreign equipment, after a full day of competition, in a strange environment, adhering to new standards and technicalities, etc. I know myself, and I know that… if all the other women in my weight class go out there and lift a gazillion pounds (technical measurement), and I hit 230, I’d walk away pretty happy with myself. But if all of them eeked out 150, and I failed at 200, I’d be beating myself up all evening for missing a lift I know I’ve made before.

When I allowed myself to take CrossFit seriously– to investigate and implement my own programming, to give a damn about how I fuel and recover, etc… I told myself that I’m doing this for self-improvement. I’m doing this because I enjoy it. I’m doing this because it’s good for my health– physically, emotionally, mentally, and I will only continue doing it so long as I keep that in mind. I will not let my own neuroses get the better of me. I will not let a bad day or a failed lift or a bad time eat away at me because I “could have done better.” And I need to remember that again– next weekend, and all the many weekends that come afterwards with all the many other things I try. If I don’t… if I continue beating myself down about these minutiae, I not only rob myself of the experience, but I get so trapped in this absolute meaningless bullshit that I don’t have the mental or emotional space that I want to devote to the ones I care about in my life.

What I loved so much about George’s interview is that, like Agee, he reminded me that… I’m not alone. We live in a world that’s afraid to talk about “feelings”– that’s embarrassed by them. Adults suck it up and get shit done. But you know what? Here’s my declaration: you’re not fucking alone. Sometimes the world sucks… sometimes it pounds on you. Sometimes, life thrusts upon you something truly monumental and seemingly insurmountable, or sometimes it’s just the little things that you know you should get over and can’t. But no matter the case, your suffering doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t make you lesser… If you reach out and speak about it, you’d be surprised who’s willing to listen. And you’d be surprised what catharsis you find in the process– and by who you might help or touch along the way (thank you George and James).

George ended his interview with a touching portrait of CrossFit– and one with which I agree. I’ve mentioned a lot how this sport attracts a certain type. I refuse to believe I’m the only relentless perfectionist in the gym– we’ve all got a dose of masochism in us somewhere to return to these WODs day after day. But what’s so wonderful about the CrossFit gym (at least in my experience) is that members are never really competing against each other— they’re striving to improve themselves. The firebreather next to you doesn’t give a damn if you’re lifting two tons or a training bar– s/he’ll congratulate you regardless when you finally drop the weight and slouch, huffing, against the wall.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men reminded me how terrible it all is– the quiet ways in which we suffer, but also… that there’s hope in there too– that we, as human beings, are capable of reaching out and sympathizing– perhaps never truly understanding– but connecting, sharing the indescribable burden it is just to breathe in this bizarre little universe.

So… in summary:

Dear World,

You’re not alone.

Love,

Jo

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  1. Absolutely Amazing. Thank you for writing this, and listening to my podcast. That was the first time I have ever talked about those issues. It needed to be said though.

    • And thank you for reading. I’m so glad (as I’m sure many other listeners are) that you had the courage to share all that. And I’m glad to know you came out of it stronger and happier 🙂

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