the spaz of fitness has arrived

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

This is CrossFit

In General on November 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I’ve been an English teacher for most of my life– in large and small capacities, for formal students and family members. I love language– its nuance and intricacies, its dynamism. I live for stories– the way they make worlds, and rend them apart. I will always be a writer. It’s not a job or a hobby. It’s a way of being, of thinking, of interpreting the world. I think I’ll always be an English teacher too. I’ve experienced very little in this world more rewarding than witnessing a student become more of herself through language. Watching a student discover that she has something to say…  and then seeing her develop the confidence to pitch that voice into the world– it’s magic. But there are days when my job exhausts me. When it takes everything I have.

Coordinating and teaching for the graduate writing center this year has been more demanding than I expected. Beyond the 15 hours of actual in-office teaching, I didn’t account for the sheer emotional labor. I should’ve expected it. The stakes for my students are high. They come with dissertation chapters, grant proposals, and job applications for tenure track positions. They’re not English composition students trying to please their first semester teacher. They’re adults trying to build careers. They’re full of anxiety and self-doubt and stress and frustration. Sometimes, they cry. Often, I feel limited. I feel frustrated by how little I can do in single hourlong sessions. I feel angry at the institutions that don’t offer enough to support a lot of these students. And sometimes, I feel entirely trampled over. Understandably, these individuals have a lot of their own concerns. They’re overrun by their present situations. Sometimes, they get angry at me if I try to turn a session more into a “pedagogical” moment. They want to hear what’s “right” or “wrong.” They want me to “fix” things instead of discussing the principles behind why we need to reorganize one section or another. It’s not their fault. It’s the way we’ve constructed language as if it’s a science. As if it can be right or wrong. But after enough of these sessions, I feel less like a person. I feel like the copyediting device they visit week after week… this thing that sits behind a door and reads page after page and spouts “corrections” because my students feel so pressed for time they can’t slow down for a conversation.

It doesn’t happen too often. I promise my days are more enjoyable than not. But today was definitely one of the worst. And I went home… with nothing left. I couldn’t read or apply myself to my own work. I couldn’t find enough space in head to think or feel much beyond the stress of others that I’d been hearing about all day– uncompromising advisers and professors… the pressures of the job market, the terrors of being unable to find one’s place, the loneliness of being so far from home– fears and stresses and terrors very applicable to my own life as well.

… but then I get to coach CrossFit.

I get to walk into the box where friends greet me with enthusiasm and ask about my day and listen. I get to talk to them about their days and their lives and their interests… the insignificant little minutiae that seem to mean nothing but really make up who we are. We talk not because we have to– not because business or study or social advancement puts us together. But because it’s enjoyable. We work slowly through the warm up and methodically through the lifts. When I count down and start the metcon, the athletes work their asses off. Heels skid on wood and rubber. Sweat spatters and pools. The air is a concert of burning lungs and steel ropes. And when it ends… it ends in laughter. In more conversation. In shared relief.

This is CrossFit.

When you look across the top CrossFit athletes, you will find every possible configuration of training programs and diet protocols. Rich Froning does whatever the shit he feels like that day while Talayna Fortunato diligently logs every workout programmed by her coach. Katie Hogan eats strictly low-carb, high-fat while Kris Clever chases her four-a-day WODs with post-workout beers. Like the principles of CrossFit, its athletes are highly varied. However, the one common thread I can find in nearly all successful CrossFitters is community. To much notoriety, Dan Bailey camped out at Rich Froning’s house and became his semi-permanent training partner. Before he opened his own box, Ben Smith gathered his friends and WODed in their neighborhood streets. For a significant while, Valley CrossFit housed Katie Hogan, Becca Voigt, Kristan Clever, Lindsay Valenzuela, and a wealth of regionals-level competitors. It’s no coincidence now that NorCal CrossFit boasts Jason Khalipa, Miranda Oldroyd, Pat Barber, and Molly Biss. Don’t get me wrong– the sheer adrenaline rush of thrusters and burpees does have its own appeal, but it’s a hell of a lot better in the company of good friends.

I have my reservations about CrossFit. I don’t like how certain manifestations sacrifice safety or technique for the sake of ego. I don’t like the lack of standards or regulation across the board. I love its inclusiveness. I love the way that it has made fitness social and thus more appealing and accessible to a broader population. People ask me why I would rather go to the gym than the bar after work. Because it just feels like playtime with my friends. Because there amid the clatter of iron and steel, amid the laughter between gasped breaths, amid the conversations before and after the 3-2-1 go… I get to feel human again.

Some days, you lose

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Forgive the melodramatics. Sometimes, the Jo needs to wax poetic.

I fold my fingers around the barbell—my hands stretched between knurled grips designed for an armspan much longer than my own. I push my hips back, bringing my body towards the ground in a low squat. The metal is cool for mere seconds before it leeches the warmth from my palms. In a world that is just, I think, my rage would be tangible. In a world that makes sense, all the hurt I can’t contain thickens to a shell—an armor. In this world I conceive, emotion can scar and heal in the same way that flesh repairs and grows back stronger. I think these things and I draw my breath, imagining my 5’2” frame a cathedral. I am filling it: the vastness that is me. In my world of sheer fantasy, I am robust. I am powerful. Untouched and unbroken. I tense my shoulders, feel the earth beneath my feet, and I push. Metal clicks. For a moment, the weight leaves the ground and my heart lifts with it. But my shoulders scream and the bar wrenches me forward. In reality—in this world that we live—I’m pitched onto my toes. In this world that does not forgive, gravity wins and iron strikes the ground with more force than my pull. When I collapse, I am not a cathedral, nor made of stone. I am flesh and folded limbs and imperfection. I am small. And regretful. And so very human.

… tomorrow, I will fight again.

Here’s hoping you’ve all had better days 🙂

Faith and Falling

In Training, Writing on May 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I don’t know if any of you have heard– but Cheryl Nasso has dropped out of Regionals. A scrappy competitor who started CrossFit at an enfeebled 83 lbs, she naturally became one of my favorites when I first started my CrossFit fixation. But this year, after a season of dogged training, Nasso had to withdraw from her Reigional competition. In a freak-accident of life, she fractured her wrist while breaking up a dog fight. Fellow top competitor Talayna Fortunato wrote a rather lovely tribute when the announcement was released. She recounts one of her most powerful memories of Nasso:

We had to climb a rope without legs to 20ft. Cheryl got to about 15ft. and was struggling. She struggled her way to 19ft. At the point most people would have saved their last bit of grip strength to make sure they could put their legs on she was still reaching for the top. I know because I watched in disbelief as her forearms finally gave out and she plummeted from the top of the gym.

While I’d never advise an athlete to push him or herself to that point, I can’t help but admire that spirit– that commitment… determination that so completely eclipses fear or reservation.

When I first saw Zebrapants work out, I concluded that I want to live like he WODs– it’s a silly turn of phrase, but true. I want to be able to apply myself with that much passion, that much conviction… so much sheer force of will that everything else becomes irrelevant.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately– and feeling a lot. I do that too often, you all know. I have this theory about writers… at least, all the writers I met in my cohort during my MFA. We were all drastically different people, with such different experiences and life perspectives and writing styles, but the single thing we shared in common– the grounding force that drew us together– was the sheer excess of our emotions. Oftentimes, reading all our disparate work, I got the sense that we had all become writers because we didn’t know how else to cope with the terribleness of our thoughts. We mulled too often and too long about the ways in which people wound one another– sometimes maliciously, sometimes innocently and with such heratbreaking naivete. And because we don’t know how to process this– how to contain this realization– we write.

I won’t bitch about the things that have happened to me– everyone gets hurt. I’m not special or a victim or any more unique than the next person. Everyone gets knocked off the metaphorical rope  a few times– regardless of grip strength. And we mostly get back on the rope too because we naturally seek direction. But the question is how you regain the spirit of the first climb– how do you pull yourself blindly towards the top when you remember how it feels to have everything slip from your grasp– the indiscriminate force of gravity.

Sometimes I feel my arms giving and I’m paralyzed by fear– so much that I’m clinging to the rope, too fucking stubborn to slide back down, yet to terrified to reach ahead. So I wind up with the worst possible option– stagnation.

I started this year telling myself to hell with fear– I would commit 110% to everything that mattered to me and see where it took me. Trying to become a CrossFit coach has been the most frustrating struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like the amount of time I spend working on it is… silly because I have an entirely different career that I’m building in academia… because, despite that career, sometimes I feel all I do is cast my heart and every last bit of will into CrossFit, and it’s just consumed by an unfeeling world that doesn’t give a damn how hard I work but only how much I (cannot) lift… because I’ve never worked for so long at something and felt like I’ve made little progress.But I’m trying to commit to this entirely… I’m trying not to give a damn if I slip and fall– to be unfazed, even, when my hands yield for a few seconds and I drop a few heartstopping inches before I’m once again clinging for dear life.

Training this week has gone well. I hit four PRs in six days– in lifts as well as aerobic efforts. While rowing at a “recovery pace,” today, I accidentally beat my old 1k PR. Tuesday, I stood with 160lbs on my back for the first time– from a box squat just above parallel, but I’m chasing that 1.5x bodyweight backsquat to full depth… hopefully better now that Squatsalot was kind enough to look over my form for me.

In other aspects of life… I’m still paralyzed. I’ve been disappointed a lot lately. Some big things, some small things. I’ve been frustrated by people who fail to see the humanity in others– whose perspectives of the world narrow only to themselves. But strangely, I can’t blame these people because they’ve learned, right? The way to survive this world is to take care of yourself first because nobody else will. But this fact makes the world a frightening place for me. You’ll notice the key word I apply to often to CrossFit is camaraderie. I’m in love with people. I love the human race– I want to believe in the innate goodness of others. I want to believe that empathy is instinctual… that you will always clamber to cliff’s edge and pry the stranger from the ledge. And we see moments of selflessness and courage that are restorative. But sometimes they feel so distant and faraway when I focus too much on the pettiness that sometimes pervades everyday interactions. And I’m stuck, 10 feet off the ground, trembling fingers trying to hold on to the thread of good will amid all the… careless… mindless hurt.

I guess I want this to be a hopeful post, though… because I want to keep trying. I want to live with that blind faith that everything will be okay– if I continue throwing everything of myself into my pursuits, into my friendships and those that care for me– if I commit myself to the things that matter and keep fucking climbing… maybe I’ll make it there. Or… if I don’t, maybe I won’t regret those few weightless seconds before I hit the ground. It’s exhausting, though, and sometimes it feels lonely on this rope. So thank you for reading– particularly since I know this post isn’t altogether coherent… but those of you that believe in me, that invest a bit of your time and emotion in me… it matters. Thank you.

The Jomad’s Journey Continues

In General, Rhetoric, Training, Writing on January 3, 2013 at 12:52 am

Jo bought Jobot Coffee! New wonderful indie coffee discovery in downtown Phoenix.

Activities witnessed in the LA Fitness squat rack, December 2012-January 2013:

– Bicep curls with a straight bar

– Bicep curls with dumbbells

– Bicep curls with an EZ curl bar

– Calf raises

– Unweighted calf raises by the woman that glared at me until I rushed through my good mornings and vacated the squat rack for her. Apparently she can only perform her calf raises while lightly caressing the frame of the squat rack.

– Shoulder shrugs with a straight bar

– Dumbbell shoulder shrugs

– Half squats

– Quarter squats

– Dude-are-your-knees-even-bent squats

My actual favorite:

– Pull-ups (by racking the bar at the highest possible position), since the gym has no actual straight bar available for pull-ups

… long story short, there’s a (un)suprising lack of squatting in the LA Fitness squat racks– the frustratingly limited amount of LA Fitness squat racks, that are somehow, confoundingly, frequently occupied by people who use them for unneccessary exercises.

You’re getting this wrap-up because this morning marked my last LA Fitness visit for a while. Tomorrow, I shall fly for State College and return to home-sweet-box where squatting is a part of everyone’s vocabulary.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit a workout in tomorrow (literally traveling from 9am to 9pm), I did my Max Effort lower body work today. It was a deadlift week, but I was really reluctant to deadlift from the floor with the obnoxious decagonal plates that roll off their corners each time they hit the ground. Even when I did dynamic effort work these weeks, the plates really screwed me up– either banging into my shins or rolling away from me before I could set up for the next rep. So… I tried rack pulls for the first time. Unfortunately, the very lowest position I could set up a rack pull was just above the knee, but youtube tells me that’s a legitimate training position, so I tried that and managed to pull 255×3 for a new max. It was an interesting experience– just to hold that much weight in my hands. I don’t think I’m going to keep it in my repertoire though because I’m pretty sure my back is the stronger part of my lifts, and I have more trouble getting my deadlift off the ground than locking out at the top.

I’ll be happy to be back where I can train with familiar equipment and familiar resources– even more happy to be among friends. I’ll even enjoy the small comforts of my little basement space, assuming it hasn’t iced over due to two weeks without heating with all the snow that’s hit PA in the past couple weeks. However, I get melancholy every time I have to leave Arizona. It actually works both ways… I’m always reluctant to leave State College, then I remember how much I love my hometown and want to cling to its security, then our little pocket of Pennsylvania eventually reminds me of all its small joys. It’s really the distance I hate– the fact that I feel constantly incomplete. And that’s a fault of my mindset rather than my situation, I feel…

Honestly, that’s what I’d like to change most about 2013. I want to feel more comfortable with where I am (physically, emotionally, professionally, etc). On the one hand, I’m more determined than every to prove my worthiness. I want to become a better, more capable CrossFitter– one deserving of a coaching position. I want to settle in as a PhD student and really dig into my niche of scholarship. I want to be a better teacher…. I want to structure this creative writing class that I’m teaching so that the students really get something from the experience– so that they walk away with at least a new appreciation/understanding of stories and why we tell them, and how and why they matter. I want all of that and I’m determined to work my damnedest for all of that. But at the very same time, I know and I really want to be able to chill out more. I’m… really, very tightly wound too often. I know. I know. I know. I spent too much of last year– too much of the last two and a half years feeling like I’m madly flailing just trying to keep my head above water. If that’s all life is, it’s not worth living, right? I need to be able to sit back and enjoy. That’s strangely difficult for me. I need to be honest with myself about my faults, but also be able to accept that– for now, they’re there, and I can work on them, but I can’t frantically punish myself for them either. I need to continue striving towards my goals but at the same time learn patience… be satisfied with working towards and hoping that’s enough. I also need to spend less time hoping and more time enjoying the doing because– let’s face it– the PhD is a 5 year degree and after that there’s finding a tenure track job, working towards tenure, etc… even if that’s just an isolated metaphor for all the other aspects of life, we spend more time journeying than we do at the destination, so we must learn to embrace the journey. 

Even just thinking about my neuroses makes me want to apologize to those of you who put up with it all the time. Thank you! Here’s hoping the Jomad’s journey continues with a little more grace, and a little more calm this coming year. Here’s hoping you’ll journey with me– a few steps, or vast distances, your company is always appreciated 🙂

Happy New Year, friends.

Something Different

In Rhetoric, Writing on November 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I’m always grateful when people show an interest in my work. I’m entirely stunned when people find it worthwhile to publish my work– to see something in it worthwhile enough that they’d like to share it with others. I think I’ll always be overcome by gratitude each time it happens (and god I hope it keeps happening). That said, a recent piece of mine has appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of Kartika Review— a journal I’ve long admired and with which I’ve hoped to collaborate. This is a work of nonfiction. My only work of creative nonfiction, and possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. It has nothing to do with CrossFit and nothing to do with paleo, so if that’s all your here for you can wait until after my Saturday update on my powerlifting meet ;). I actually deliberated for a while whether I would share it on this blog. It’s personal– possibly more about Jo than any of you would want to know, but I’ve also grown tired of silence… I’ve considered that it may be cowardly, or weak, to thrust my stories onto others. But I also admire the act of openness… that fearlessness to be unapologetic about yourself and your shadows. I’m still not sure how I feel about publishing this piece, but for those of you who read it– it may illuminate a bit of the Jo that showed up in State College two and a half years ago, ragged with insufficiency, uncertain of everything. I’ve gotten over a lot of the crap featured in this essay– with many thanks to my patient, loving friends. These days,  I generally feel pretty good about the world (as evidenced by my super-fluffy posts recently), but I don’t think my demons ever totally disappear. Now and then, when I least expect it, they emerge at 3:00 in the morning, when my basement studio seems the last, lonely place on earth. Sometimes they emerge-mid WOD, when I realize I’ve stopped lifting to work out, I’ve stopped lifting for reps, I’m just lifting for annihilation– hoping all that pain will get my brain to finally… stop thinking. But it doesn’t. So I write. And this is what I came up with:

If the automatic viewer thing on the page doesn’t work for you, you can download the pdf via the “Download” tab. I start on page 67. If you’re feeling super generous, I’m sure the lovely folks who work for Kartika would love for you to buy the issue (there’s a tab for that too). I usually love the writers they choose, and they always have a wonderful selection of writing.

As always, thank you for reading.

Unwired, Unwound

In Rhetoric, Training, WOD, Writing on July 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Hello, friends! I suppose I’m overdue for an update– on food, training, and life in general.

It’s officially been a week since I stopped by “Whole 14” cleanse in attempt to diagnose my “trigger foods” for my IBS symptoms. Thus far, I feel good. I’ve reintroduced my post-workout shake, and I’m happy to report that my recovery feels much better now. I was very worried on day one because my stomach rebelled after the protein shake. On day two, I had slightly lesser symptoms, and by day three, I was tolerating it all right. I’m also thrilled to announce that I’ve also reintegrated peanut butter (by the heaping spoonful) and regret nothing. The thing is… I can feel that my body operates less “smoothly” with these “irritants,” but they’re a mild evil compared to life before and I do limit myself to one protein shake a day– most of my protein should still come from whole food sources. In terms of other whole foods, I’m fairly certain that soybeans (as in the dried edamame beanpods on which I snacked by the cupful) give me notable distress, and I should cut those from my diet. I’m not sure about soy products though– such as soy sauce or soy additives in foods… I’ll have to experiment more there.

I’m a little puzzled by my strength development. The other day, the Mean Machine pulled up an old document that our gym started once-upon-a-time (when we were little more than a handful of members, two mismatched rowers, and an odd assortment of jury rigged pullup bars). I don’t even remember entering my numbers, but apparently at some point we documented our lifts. This must have been upwards of nine months ago. Since then, my deadlift has increased by 70 lbs, my press and bench both by about 20. My back squat, however, has only risen ten lbs. That’s… frustrating, to say the least– especially because the squat is so vital for just about everything we do in CrossFit. I know a lot of my limitations in the squat has to do with my hip mobility. I can feel that my left hip is dramatically tighter than my right and I rise unevenly from the bottom of the squat. I’ve been trying to stretch more, but it seems that imbalance follows me regardless of however much agonizing bendyness I force into my stiff little limbs.

I’ve looked up all the hip videos on mobility WOD… and I’ve tried to incorporate them into my days, but honestly my left hip just seems permanently inflexible. If anyone has any particularly creative suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

A thought on food intolerance though… I’m fairly certain that my stomach was reacting poorly to the protein shakes for the first couple of days and needed to remember how to digest whey in its concentrated form– or whatever other additives are in my chosen powder. Similarly, I’m not much of a drinker. The other night, we went out to commemorate a friend’s graduation/send her off to her new life in Kentucky. I had… more shots than I’m accustomed to, and I felt awful for the next two days. My headache has only just dissipated today. When I studied abroad in England, during my sophomore year in college, I could take eight shots a night and feel fine the next morning– granted, I was a slightly larger Jo (by about 30 lbs) back then, but still… I’m torn between the fact that… yes, our bodies operate better and “optimally” on these superclean diets, but unless you intend to eat so very strictly for the rest of your life, you’re not going to be able to avoid all these “contaminants” and you’ve perhaps made yourself more vulnerable in those moments. Though this may only apply to people with hypersensitive (e.g. bitchy) digestive systems such as myself.

Workouts these past few days have been good, but nothing worth reporting. I did, however, try a WOD this morning that I’d like to share. After working on Snatches (from the floor) and two-position squat cleans, I did “Lars”:

5 rounds for time:
1 round =
–  sandbag carry uphill 100 m
– 10 sandbag squats behind head
–  sandbag carry downhill 100m
– 10 burpees
our 100m path is not on a hill, but the workout was plenty hellish without. I was ambitious for the first two rounds and started with a 30lb sandbag. After 400m of awkward limping, though, I went to 20lbs. Though I’m thrilled that the box actually has sandbags now, our sandbags are filled with medballs rather than sand. They make for awkward carrying devices. If my shoulders were at all broader, I might be able to balance the bags across them, but my options are to either hold the bag against my back (and strain my triceps the whole way) or sling the ball over a single waifish shoulder. The latter option allows me to run faster, but those of us with girl-parts know that… weighted rubber items jouncing against those girl-parts as you run make for an unpleasant experience.*
[*I can’t imagine how that would feel for ladies with weighted items permanently implanted in their girl parts]**
[**No disrespect to said ladies– … though, ow]
Yesterday, I went on my first-ever tubing adventure. Very fortuitously, one of our gym members is a bit of a tubing… enthusiast? A tubiast? Anyway… he has a stash of inner tubes and has just about memorized all the dips and curves in the river’s current. It was a lovely… lovely time… just sitting outdoors, lazing down the river, chatting with friends. I whine about it a lot, so you’ll have to indulge me if you’ve heard this rant before: I love what I study… I love teaching, I believe in the potential of language, I’m invigorated by my research, and I could never live without the catharsis of my writing… but I loathe how much of it confines me to a desk (or, on lazy days, a couch), in front of a computer. It was unspeakably wonderful to be outside, in fantastic company, and unwired. What’s even better… after I returned home, I managed to fill in the scene in my novel*** with which I’ve been struggling for a while. I take this as a sign that “unplugging” ourselves from the world is actually beneficial to productivity and general mental well-being. One of my most frustrating traits (to myself and those around me) is that I feel like I should be working all the time… I feel obligated to work all the time. I very, very rarely just sit in front of the tv because I feel as if I’m wasting time. But time spent outside in the company of good friends feels so very worthwhile that it can even make my deadlines seem trivial. Thank you to good friends for reminding me to enjoy life.
[***About the novel: I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I finished my 260+ paged manuscript for my MFA thesis. However, the manuscript is still a few steps away from anything I’d term a “novel.” In addition to my independent study work for my English rhetoric PhD this summer, I hope to tweak my manuscript into something more worthwhile…]
Happy Monday everyone.

That’s My Secret

In General, Training, WOD, Writing on May 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Saturday’s conditioning work was actually a hero that’s topped my wishlist for a while.

Rahoi: 12 Minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)

12 Box Jumps (24″/20″)

6 Thrusters (95/65)

6 Bar facing burpees

I realize it’s not a particularly heavy hero, but it still feels nice to be able to Rx the weight for a hero WOD. I also particularly enjoyed yesterday because I got to work out with a few friends I haven’t seen in a while just due to scheduling chaos. It’s remarkable how much more fun a workout can feel in the right company. Don’t underestimate this one– it’s only 12 minutes, but Rahoi packs a sneaky punch. The trio of explosive moments gets exhausting quickly. By the third round, that bar felt unusually high to jump over.

Today was more strength work:

Back Squat: 3×5

Bench Press: 3×5

Dips: 3 sets to failure. I’m up to 3 sets of 10 on the dip station, so I think I’m going to move to the rings to add instability, and hope that helps me build towards the ever-elusive muscle-up.

Then, a quick metcon. Have you ever started a workout and realized two movements in that you want to be doing something entirely different? I was going to repeat the WOD I tried a couple weeks ago (1o rounds of 3 front squats @ 65 lbs, 100m sprint, 60 second rest), but after the first round, I decided that each segment of the round felt too short. I wanted something slightly less ADD today. I’m sure I’ll regret saying this the moment I get to commit to endurance work in earnest, but for right now I really miss longer, focused workouts (as opposed to short bursts). So… still keeping it within a “sprint” framework, I revised my workout to the following:

5 front squats at 65 lbs (Power clean from the ground)

400m run

2 minutes rest between rounds

Felt great. I have to confess that I’m pretty shamefully behind on my work right now because I did nothing  yesterday but read all of book one of The Hunger Games and watch The Avengers movie. I make it a point at the start of each summer to read something less self-consciously “literary” than the stuff I read all semester. I actually don’t have anything against either camp– the “genre” fiction, or the “literary” register… they’re composed differently with different audiences in mind. I can enjoy both, though during the semester, I tend to miss the exhilaration of being able to consume an entire novel in one day. While I can (and have in a pre-seminar panic) fly through an entire volume of Pynchon in one afternoon, it leaves me feeling drained and headachey whereas… spending an entire day visiting Panem’s dystopia just provides a thoroughly satisfying adrenaline rush. I’m now trying to hold off on the latter two Hunger Games books until my trip to Taiwan so I have some good airplane material… somehow, I don’t think rhetorical scholarship will be as good company during a 13 hour flight (not counting the other 10 hours I’m spending on two slightly shorter flights and in three different airports– State College, Detroit, L.A…

If you’ll bear with me, I’m about to launch on a long bout of self-analysis. This is where those of you just here for the fun CrossFit tidbits can sneak off ;). Actually, I’m about to conflate some exercise philosophy with teaching experience, with comic book trivia, and some overly personal confessions– that should give you some insight as to the strange matrix of interests and experiences that informs my worldview. It’s strange to be inside my head.* Anyway buckle up–we’re about to get crazy.

There’s an article I love by Henry Rollins called “Iron and the Soul.” It’s oft quoted and often abused in service of poor arguments, but it’s a beautiful meditation on strength and training. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone.

It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

So Rollins (a bit like me) has a penchant for hyperbole. But the sentiment resonates with me. Though I don’t technically prefer to work out alone (and often miss the company when I do it too often), sometimes I love these Sunday mornings when the box is silent and it’s just me and the bar (and the Mean Machine or Jefe vacuuming somewhere 😉 ). These mornings are the only time I can feel my thoughts slow down. I overthink everything; I know. I’m overly sensitive and spend too much time inside my head. These mornings, I can narrow my world to just the pounds of iron and rubber in front of me. I can erase everything but the next five reps, the next 400m loop, the next 12 minutes before the clock sounds and calls me back to earth.

And the thing is… some mornings I shatter PRs, sometimes I fall drastically short. But it’s not about that. I find these sessions satisfactory regardless of the total weight lifted or the time of each round. I spend so much of my time dealing with abstractions and theory that there’s something profoundly comforting about the reality of the gym. Here I’m rewarded for my efforts, struck down when I’m overeager or overambitious. Here, I can try and dream, but two hundred pounds is two hundred pounds and if I don’t have the strength and mass to move it, I won’t.

I wrote a difficult email this week to a student who protested the A- she received in my creative writing course. I struggled with it because… she’s been a fairly diligent student. She’s obviously done the reading, turned in everything on time, and attended office hours. She answers questions in class and cares about her grade. Unfortunately, writing is not her thing. In fact, I was rather proud of how far she’d come throughout the semester– from writing almost purely expository essays to at least understanding the concept of a scene vs summary. But her characters were single-dimensional, her conflicts buried or nonexistant… I couldn’t in good conscience give her an A when I’d held her peers to a certain standard for the quality of their work… She’d argued in her email that she tried. She mentioned nothing about the final product, but that she put in so much effort. I accounted for that effort in her participation grade– balanced out her quiz scores and figured out extra credit opportunities that would improve her course average. But it’s also an awful fact of life that… the end product still matters. Her process was fine… given another year of this effort, I could actually see her writing A stories. But… she’s not there yet. Yes, grading writing is very subjective, but contrary to many accusations, it’s not as if we’re throwing darts to determine grades… All good writing instructors I know have thoughtful approaches to their grading and they evaluate based on a set of standards for what the piece does or does not achieve. But I wanted to tell this student that I was sorry… that I understood, that I felt like I’d failed her somehow for not helping her get there faster, but that she should still take pride somehow in how much she’s achieved this semester. Strangely, at this time, all I could think about was how the gym has taught me that… effort isn’t everything. I can yank on the bar all I want, but a 135lb clean is still well beyond my reach. It will take a lot of patience, a lot of intelligent training, a lot of recovery and nutrition, etc to get me to that point. And when I’m ready, hopefully, someday I’ll drop below 135lbs and bear it up across my shoulders. But there’s no… “I tried.” The Iron doesn’t give a damn.

And yes, Henry Rollins, that is my antidepressant too. The greatest comfort I can find in the harsh realities of life is the reification of it in something I can touch, can lift– or fail at lifting, whatever the case is that morning.

My friends who do yoga talk about the revelatory moments they’ve had during stretches or poses where all the tension, all the trauma of their past releases and they just can’t stop crying. I’ve found similar moments in WODs… a few of them. The WOD I talked about with The Cyborg– back when I could scarcely front squat 65lbs and he coached me through 12 rounds of 4 reps each minute followed by V-ups. More recently, 12.3, which I conducted a lone on a Saturday after I returned from a AWP (a writer’s conference) in Chicago. Sometimes, in “digging deep,” I unearth more than I intended. Like Rollins, I find working out as a way to deal with feelings of isolation, frustration, inadequacy… Sometimes something snaps and each movement feels like an exorcism… the burn becomes a slow bleeding out of the toxins I’ve unconsciously imbibed.

Then we get to the geekiest reference in this post… if you’ve seen the Avengers movie (not-much-of-a-spoiler alert), the skittish (and very well-acted) Bruce Banner (The Hulk) eventually says “That’s my secret… I’m always angry.” Randomly, throughout my life and in very different groups of friends, I’ve always drawn many references to The Hulk. I think mostly people find humor in the irony of imagining a 5’3″ Asian girl converting into a colossal, florescent-green tank of rage. But the thing is… there’s a little more truth to it than that. I mean, I don’t have an invulnerable, radiation-induced alter ego (though how cool would that be), and I’m not constantly angry. But I feel like I’m constantly… contained. It’s not a feeling I’ve always had– more like something slowly accumulated in the past couple years of trying to become an “adult.” I’ve always had a penchant for overexpression. I attach very easily and completely to people. I want to state everything with probably too much honesty (hence… the blog). But I’ve slowly accepted that mostly that doesn’t work in real-world settings. That, as we get older, people become more reserved, more protected. And a lot of our interactions are dictated by more social forces and precautions than I care to tally. But that leads often to me feeling… silenced. I suppose “the iron” is my way of working through that– so that, unlike Bruce, I don’t become constantly angry. But it’s why, when I spend too long away from the gym, I start to feel edgy– breakable… perhaps about to morph into hullking green terror.I don’t suppose that’s a healthy state of being and I’m trying to figure out a way to be more balanced. Perhaps this is a stage we must all progress through? Or… at least one that I must before I find more stability. Until then… I’ll try to keep it to more productive smashing.



* It occurs to me if I actually had to paint the landscape of the inside of my head, it would be an hazy assemblage of Minas Tirith, Gotham, and Stormhold. My mindscape would be frequently visited by the Fellowship, the Justice League, and the Avengers. Occasionally, it would be raided by the Joker. Also, there would be an arctic training facility a la Rocky IV, and every morning, Rocky and I would conduct focus mitt rounds to Eye of the Tiger.

Shameless Self-Promotion

In General on May 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Well… I’m trying not to use this site as my own pulpit (not too much, anyway), but I couldn’t resist this small opportunity. My box, CrossFit LionHeart is participating in the May Madness competition run by Ask Athletes. The premise is this: individuals post 4 sentences on the Ask Athletes’ facebook page about why they would like the free membership. The posts with the most “likes” wins a free month’s membership, funded by Ask Athletes.

I’ve posted my four sentences here: (I believe I’m comment #52ish, or close…)

This fall, I will downgrade my living space to a basement studio in order to keep paying my gym fees. It was not a difficult choice. CrossFit LionHeart has helped me reclaim my body from years of abuse and neglect; the coaches, the athletes, and the community inspire me daily to shed my limitations and to have faith in my abilities. If I could blanket myself in the rubber floor mats and wake to the alarm of the wall timer, I would—because no other place has ever felt this much like home.

I think I’ll use this space for a little more justification. I hesitated before posting because I’m… not actually sure that I deserve a free membership. I’ve been a member since the gym’s opening and I visit it on a daily basis– just to hang around sometimes. The amount of time I spend abusing their hospitality and patience probably means that I should pay more. However, I’m hoping that the box also has something to gain from its participation in this competition (perhaps even just increased visibility?), and at the very least the gym knows that I’m not going to take the free month and run. With at least four more years left in State College, I’m going to be a constant there, whether they like it or not. And, of course, I’m not going to pretend there’s not a great deal of selfishness in this pursuit. Who doesn’t like free things? I’ve been feeling a little guilty about my spending habits this month, as the trip to Taiwan (May 15-30!!!) has ripped a significant chunk from my savings. I started my MFA unaware that I’d eventually choose to pursue a PhD. The idea of spending 6 years on a grad student’s salary isn’t particularly appealing to me, but I didn’t exactly go into English for the glory and money ;).

I’ve also at times felt guilty for the amount of time I spend at the box. I worry that I’m in the way or a nuisance… but I stay because it’s the first place in State College where I felt visible or empowered. If I’m going to be entirely honest here, I came to State College at a weird time in my life, following some major familial issues and interpersonal conflicts. I’d resorted to exercise as a form of self-flagellation, in a way… It was cathartic because it hurt because I wasn’t allowing myself to think about the other things that hurt. This CrossFit gym– its observant and understanding coaches– were the ones who brought me out of my unhealthy routine. After graduating college, I spent six months in New York City and encountered a real-world beating that I needed but wasn’t ready for. Afterwards, I moved to State College– degraded, demoralized, and pathetic. The box was the first place where I saw myself as capable of anything. Confronting fears like box jumps and rope climbs (heights!) reminded me what it felt like to be strong— reminded me that fortitude comes from within, and that I have to stand on my own rather than waiting for someone to come along to prop me up. And even so… as I staggered on my trembling knees, the community formed my safety net. The trainers and the athletes here supported me when I needed it– and yelled at me too, when I didn’t know I needed it.

This past week, I conducted my MFA thesis reading for the completion of my degree. Traditionally, MFA candidates read excerpts from their theses for a small audience. Most MFAs invite family members. Mine couldn’t attend. I received a few odd critiques from peers in my department that I had invited CrossFitters to my reading– that, instead of parents or siblings, I had the friends with whom I grind out thrusters and pull-ups each morning. But these people have pried my sobbing, trembling body off the ground. They’ve helped me bind ripped hands and torn shins. They’ve caught me when I staggered, nudged me forward when I strayed, and pulled me back when I stumbled too close to the edge. If that’s not family… what is?

Summer Begins

In WOD, Writing on May 1, 2012 at 11:24 am

With my grades almost all finished, and Pennsylvania weather rising above the 50’s, I’m starting to finally feel like it’s summer. Unfortunately, with summer comes the CrossFit gym’s reduced summer hours. Part of the strange social phenomenon of State College is that this entire city evolves according to the academic calendar. In truth, my favorite season here is summer. The town moves at a slower, more relaxed pace. All the shops and bars are significantly less crowded… there’s no State Patty’s Day.* However, I’m a little bummed that– very understandably– the box has to reduce its hours in order to account for the diminished population. Mostly I’m bummed because I’m a morning person and few other individuals are so the hours being cut are, obviously, the morning hours. There’s still an 8:00am class, but the gym closes promptly at 9:00 and doesn’t reopen until noon. I’d like to continue going in at 8:00, but I don’t want to rush my lifts to be able to clear out in time, and I don’t like disrupting classes if I’m not participating in the WOD– though it doesn’t seem like the 8:00 class will be all too crowded.

Anyway, I might be rearranging my schedule a bit to work with the new summer hours. I considered moving my squats and press to Wednesday morning because Thursday is open gym day and there are no morning hours, but right now the schedule allows me to squat and press after my rest day, which seems advantageous. I’m just OCD terrible at adjusting my schedule. Most of my meetings occur later in the day and–worse yet, I need a large block of time to settle into the right mindset to work on my writing and the easiest part of my day to do it in is the afternoon/evening. Usually if I shift my gym time to the afternoon, I end up wasting the morning and then not getting enough done with my day. When Aimee Bender (one of my favorite writers) visited last year, she talked about how all writers have their own weird rituals and quirks to get into the appropriate headspace to work. Unfortunately, that’s probably true. I think probably all people are secretly very strange creatures with odd habits who think hope that they’ve fooled the world into believing they’re normal. But writers are perhaps even more of an extreme. We have favorite pens and pencils, brands of notebooks, chairs, mugs, and other security items without which we “just can’t write.” I know a guy who has to pace his room a certain number of times in concentric circles to get in the right state of mind. My college roommate remarked frequently on the odd way I stare into space when I’m searching for the right word or phrasing (apparently I have a very specific facial expression for it– I don’t know, I’ve never seen it).

Anyway, in the name of “constant variation,” I suppose I’ll have to learn to adapt. This morning, I went in at 8:00am for a very quick workout. The gym’s programming was Jackie, which I hatelove … have conflicted feelings about. In my opinion, Jackie’s one of the better-designed workouts in that you can clearly understand the philosophy behind it. It’s made to break you down, feel like hell, and encourage you to push as hard as you possibly can for a short period of time. It starts with 1,000m row, which is longer than a sprint but short enough that you don’t really “pace” through it. Then it goes into 50 bar thrusters, which is light enough that the weight won’t slow you down, but just heavy enough that it starts to hurt five or ten reps in. Your legs, already burning from the row, are hardly willing to squat your own bodyweight, let alone the 45 or 30lb bar. Then, by the time you reach the 30 pull ups, your grip has deteriorated to the point that your hands are shaking, your shoulders are aflame, and you’re struggling just to hang onto the bar. But the entire workout ends in less than ten minutes, so (ideally) you fight through.

But after a couple of heavier workouts, I wasn’t in the right state for Jackie this morning. Besides, I want my torn hands to heal before I do any bar work. So, instead, I did a 15 minute, cardio-based AMRAP. One I’ve done before and one I think I’ll visit regularly during this strength program: 100m sprint, 125m row, 20 double unders.

Now to take care of some end-of-semester bits and pieces. Then… the summer studies begin!

Also, happy birthday to the Burpee Warrior. May your day be full of hijinks and badassery.

*I’m stunned, though I shouldn’t be, that this even merited its own Wikipedia page.