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Bodies of Future/Past 3 comments

There is a video making the rounds at the moment, a three minute clip from an interview about Dustin Hoffman’s experience preparing for the role of Tootsie.

Dustin’s moment of clarity

I don’t always “buy” celebrity “moments” in interviews, but this one rings true.*  I admire him for connecting the dots with such resonance.

I had a rather personal response to this video. I lost 95 lbs over 18 months, roughly between 2008 – 2009. I held steady there for a while but gradually – with all the changes and stress – my weight has crept back up, close to where I started.

When I was losing weight, I noticed that more people talked to me. Men and women. Between having a year off work to consult independently, being in an energizing new relationship, and feeling more attractive, I was certainly projecting a happy, vibrant energy. Undeniably, it helped that I was also fitter, not just more proportional. I had more energy, more muscle shape, and I was really happy with this – especially the muscles and the cardio fitness. Happy people are more attractive people, of course. It is a non-vicious cycle.

Face Too Skinny?

Face Too Skinny?

I’m thinking about Dustin’s comment in his video in which he says that he wouldn’t go and talk to himself as a woman at a party, for example, because he didn’t meet his own brainwashed standard of beauty. When I say people were more interested in talking to me, this is what I mean – the simple act of choosing whom to have a conversation with in a social situation. This too is a variable, and a highly prized one in our society. Feeling attractive in these moments means feeling valued.

There was a very specific point at which, from my point of view, I became “visible” and “viable” to people around me. It was really at the point where I’d lost about 35 lbs. with ultimately 60 more to go in the overall attempt. I wasn’t “skinny” by any means but something happened in the perception of proportions that changed my look. I started wearing different clothes and that accented the change. From my perspective, the more weight I lost from this point onward, the “chattier” people got.

As I got down to my lowest weight point – still by no means “skinny” – I thought my face didn’t look quite right. Too harsh or hard, perhaps? The photo here is at close to my lowest weight.

My life has changed enormously since this time. New routines are hard to establish and maintain, especially given the amount of driving I have been doing.  All the changes have taken an emotional toll on both Knotty Girl and myself.  When there are stressors and demands, I’m not programmed to run to the gym and sweat it off. I’m programmed to consume foods that I shouldn’t.  Thus, in all of the hubub, the weight has almost all come back and I don’t look like this anymore. I’ve certainly been conscious of this trend, I’ve felt a bit powerless about it, and I have tried to note at what point I appeared to fade from visibility, generally speaking. At what point am I less likely to be the person spoken to at the party? Not surprisingly, it was right about at gaining 60 of the lost 95 lbs back. So, in other words, there is something magical in terms of the perception of the exterior self that happens right about at that fulcrum point.

This is a non-scientific experiment of course. The other variables – like my own moodiness or sleep deprivation or what have you – are hard to account for.  My own sense of feeling less confident, less sure-footed in my new roles at home and in the ever-changing tides at work, hasn’t helped.

Biceps of Future/Past

Biceps of Future/Past

If I were talking to Dustin about this, I’d tell him not to feel too hard on himself. We are all subject to the “physical attractiveness brain washing”, both men and women. We look at ourselves and judge. We look at others and draw conclusions, often within seconds. I know I do it. The trick is to become self-aware of this behaviour and to try to manage it somehow. I remember hearing Susie Bright say something like this (apologies for inaccurate paraphrasing): the most interesting person in the room is the least “attractive” one because they have to work their other skills – charm, humour, sexiness, intelligence – to gain ground lost by not being “attractive”.

So now what? When I reflect back on the weight loss adventure, I’m remembering how good it felt to be strong and fit. I’m going to aim for that. I’m not sure I’m going to even weigh myself, although those numbers are good guideposts. I’m not aiming to raise my visibility, per se, to anyone but myself. I’ll know I’m getting somewhere when I can walk nine holes without huffing, skate three periods without collapsing, and find myself admiring the curve of my own biceps.

*It is hard to view Dustin’s reference to his conversation with his wife, Lisa Hoffman, without a sense of irony.

Easy Is In the Eye Of The Beholder Click Here To Comment!

About nine years ago, I had a short but mind-blowing chat with a woman in the choir-of-my-past. She had gotten involved with a woman who was living at quite a distance from Toronto and I had just struck up an intense long-distance connection with a woman in Copenhagen.  As one does, one tries to seek some common ground and I said to her, “It is hard, isn’t it? Trying to manage building a relationship, a connection, at a distance?” And she looked at me with a penetrating, quizzical expression and said, “Why does everyone say that, that distance relationships are so hard? Who ever said that moving in together or getting married was easy? It is just what people are used to, what they view as ‘normal’. But in fact it is very hard. But people are used to that pattern so it gets called ‘easy’.  You and I know that it isn’t easy, either way. So follow your heart.”

She gave me a lot to think about, as she usually did, in our little mid-rehearsal chats.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, and not so much in relation to the fact that I have, indeed, moved in with the lovely Knotty Girl and her (mostly) adorable children. That part is as hard/easy/magnificent/mundane/challenging/fun/exciting/surprising/normal/frustrating/puzzling/funny/beautiful as it is supposed to be. I’m thinking more about the reactions people have had to me appearing to have gone mad by moving a vast distance out of the city.

The established, expected “pattern” would be to live close to work and to stay within spitting distance of the city that I’ve come to love and feel nurtured by. But is that truly the “easy” choice, or just the “expected” choice? How “easy” is it to live in very dense proximity to strangers who behave in unexpected ways, to cope with traffic that is worsening daily, to have very limited access to greenspace, to have to plan carefully one’s route to across town and back to account for time of day, traffic, road closures, protests, events and water main breaks?

The breaking point for me, where the rose-coloured glasses filtering “easy” fell off my eyes, happened one day when Knotty Girl and I pulled up to the arena for a hockey game and were astounded to witness a man stopping on the lawn in front of our car, pulling down his pants and defecating right in front of us. He just did his bidness and pulled his pants up and walked on. That was the beginning of the end for me living downtown. It was no longer “easy” and I could no longer pretend that I found it to be so.

I am, after all, a country girl. I am used to having cows, horses or pigs poo’ing in front of me. Not people.

My gorgeous condo was starting to feel cramped by lack of access to the outdoors and hauling bags of heavy groceries and hockey gear up three flights of stairs no longer seemed as easy as it once did.  In fact, everything about city living started to feel cramped. Space is entirely at a premium, be it space to put a vehicle or space to put a desk to work at. Even space at Starbucks, for those with laptops and that need for the unique focus that public space can provide, can be hard to come by.

I was raised in a huge, rambling, rickety farmhouse with seven bedrooms and two kitchens. We had 750 acres of land, much of which was at my disposal to roam, plow or play cops/robbers/army/spy or whatever, with or without my little buddies. The brickwork in the house was so weak in some spots, like “my” tv watching spot in the living room, that you could feel the wind blow against your ankles for six months of the year. But it sure was big. And there was room for everyone.

Is it “easy” to live far from the city, work, friends and hockey? Not always. Does it feel more “normal” to me? Yes, actually it does. We watch the weather closely, we plan and prepare for things (usually) in a more considered way. We are distracted by birds at the feeders, by the arc of snow blowing in clumps off the trees and glinting in the sunlight, by the size and proximity of the full moon against a black sky, by the wild turkeys and their crazy footprints across the snow on the ice rink. This feels preferable to being distracted by car alarms, traffic tie-ups, unintelligible arguments in grocery stores and sirens. We are responsible for solving a lot of our own problems out here, or at least being somewhat prepared for them.

A few months ago, as Hurricane Sandy approached the North American coast line, Knotty Girl and I spent about two hours getting ready. We gathered up all that might blow around on our property and stashed it safely. We shopped. We parked our cars out of possible treefall zones. We charged up all our flashlights and other devices. The weather models didn’t really suggest we would get hit hard but we’ve come to learn that weather forecasting is a less-than-exact science. It was best to be ready. And we were. I slept so well that night, having done all that we could think of to minimize damage and maximize continuity of lifestyle. We woke up to a few small branches down on the lawn. The hydro didn’t even go out.

My point is that we had some things we could do to make ourselves as prepared as possible. I don’t find this as easy in the city, especially in living spaces like condos. I did make sure that I had a gas fireplace and a gas stove in my place and hoped I could operate them if the hydro were out for an extended period. Hauling items up and down the three flights of stairs was a trade off for not having to rely on an elevator. The hydro did go out a couple of times in the nine years I lived there and I was grateful for having heat, cooking ability, and normal access to my abode.  But I couldn’t make my neighbours take their patio furniture and flower boxes off their balconies so that these items wouldn’t blow through MY windows. I’d be rewarded with a door slammed in my face if I tried such a thing. I couldn’t make all my condo neighbours be mindful of allowing strangers into the property and many of us were rewarded with an expensive overnight car break-in spree a few years ago.  Hell – the city can’t even make dog owners be accountable for dog poo and that problem seemed to get worse and worse in my neighbourhood over the years.

I apologize for the poo theme. One might think that I have a shitty opinion of downtown life. I don’t entirely. Let’s just say it lost its glamour for me and I’m feeling less claustrophobic and more able to make choices about how things happen out here, away from the city lights.  Easy? Not entirely. Preferable? Yes. More deeply familiar to me? Completely.

Extended Absence Greeting 4 comments

Hey there – remember me? :-)

So, the last few months of 2009 became a muddy blur during which time writing, and exercising, took a backseat to the following:

  • caring for the lovely Freddie as she recovered from surgery to repair ruptured discs in her spine (neck). My home became a baby-gated, cushioned, modified pet crate for seven weeks. My dog was in pain and I felt helpless. And then, shortly afterwards, broke. So grateful that Freddie’s Other Mom, and the lovely WWBA, were able to be such a supportive part of this adventure. But it did take its toll. Freddie needs to be carried up and down stairs and, at first, needed more, shorter walks. I live up two flights of stairs and my routine was tied more than ever, to Freddie’s requirements. I was exhausted.
  • … and thus got I ill myself with a persistent bronchial infection – several weeks of coughing and hacking and sleeping badly.
  • having my car vandalized, right here in the underground parking lot. Stuff stolen, car damaged. Much time and energy lost over a 10 day period, dealing with this. Not to mention feeling just a wee bit violated.
  • grading 174 really sub-par essay-like business reports in 3.5 weeks. That is a real number, 174. 87 in the first round that had to be done quickly and returned so they could have feedback to complete and hand in the second round. Second round to be graded to the grade submission deadline at the end of term. This activity will suck your brain out through the eye of a needle and will rip your heart out of your chest, tossing it away like last year’s PlayStation. Don’t let anyone tell you that teaching isn’t an emotional pursuit. After teaching plagiarism (how to avoid it, not how to do it) as a topic in class, finding students who persist in the behaviour is like getting smacked up the side of the head with a 2 x 4. I’m not sure I can explain why, it just feels … horrible.  It does get balanced out, of course, by students who really do make incredible progress and there were some really fine moments of this as well. Somehow, though, this term, the amount of grading and the roller coaster ride it took me on just about did me in.
  • ongoing negotiations with management on workload issues (see above) and the looming possibility of a strike that no one wants yet that seems difficult to avoid. Multiple meetings with management over next term’s workload. A workload review by a larger committee. Not much progress. Stress. Self-doubt. Worry.

As you can see, not a lot of writing took place. Furthermore, I actually have found myself daydreaming of the smell of my gym. What I’ve learned is that my mental and emotional health is linked to these two activities. Thus, I resolve to re-prioritize and get both disciplines back into my life. Although I’m going to wait until mid-February to actually step on the scales, I think. Yikes.

Anyway, thanks for your patience – all three or four of you. :-) Stay tuned for more … as for now, I’m off to the gym!

Curses … My Cunning Little Plan … Foiled! Click Here To Comment!

So, here I am up at this cottage. For about 10 days in a row, eight of them on my own entirely. Well, except for the sweet, elderly/ailing and lonely neighbour who wanted me to come to “the hall” with her tonight and play euchre. And the bears. And the fish.

I had this idea that I wanted to bring everything with me in one go so I wouldn’t have to make any trips into Lakefield, this nearest town of any size. This includes food, of course.

In the back of my mind, I thought – this is it. My diet is going to veer entirely and utterly off the rails now. I stocked up with everything I shouldn’t have. Mostly carbs. Potatoes. Pasta. Rice. English muffins from St. John’s Bakery. Kraft dinner. Popcorn. Chips. Pancake mix.

And bacon.  And cheese.

AND – the cottage owner’s parents dropped by yesterday with freshly baked cookies and apple cake. (Free cottage AND freshly baked goods … how the universe does look after me when I ask … but I digress …)

I remember how I used to eat. Three substantial meals a day, mostly carbs. Grazing/snacking in between. Minimal fruits and vegetables.  Minimal physical movement. Here I am, in the perfect environment to return to my old self. There sure isn’t a lot to do up here, physically, and I’m virtually surrounded by carbs.

The thing is … I can’t do it. Not like I used to, anyway. I needed some exercise today and tried to get some by walking from this cottage to the main road, about a three kilometre round trip, I’d guess. I really enjoyed the walk to the main road and the tour of the general store but was thwarted on the return leg by the presence of one or more bears. I was scooped up by some cottagers who didn’t want it on their conscience that they saw bears and didn’t escort me safely back to my doorstep. My attempt at at least SOME activity … foiled …

But, in terms of eating … I just can’t do it like I did before. Sure, I’m having more carbs. But, somehow, a lot of vegetables snuck in and I’m eating those, too. So, the balance is different. But, the big thing is quantity and paying attention. I cooked for the cottage owner before she left – lamb chops on the bbq – and I made some yummy new potatoes. In my old frame of mind, there would be no leftover potatoes from the first meal. Now, there were enough to sautee for the following night’s dinner.

Also, my meal times are all off, so I’m just asking myself if I’m actually hungry. If the answer is no, I busy myself with something else for a while. Yesterday, I did something I’d been planning to do – made a big tray of nachos – yum! This was mid-afternoon and I enjoyed them while watching a movie. Filled me up entirely. I didn’t eat dinner and I had a few crackers and a bit of kohlbassa before bed. No more with the three huge meals, etc.

Today, I skipped breakfast (wasn’t hungry), tried to walk (see above) and then deeply and thoroughly enjoyed my extremely rare Kraft Dinner treat for lunch. (Did you know they have a three cheese version now? I’m not sure what that means since it looks like powder to me, but I digress yet again …) I mean, I really enjoyed it. Maybe my pseudo-bear encounter made me appreciate the pseudo-cheese more fully. Then … almost eight hours later … dinner, which was a salad. Spinach/arugula base, a layer of alfalfa sprouts, chopped peppers, a peach, tomato, thin sliced sweet onion and a dollop of cottage cheese. I topped it with sauteed ham and mushrooms, drizzled with light balsamic dressing. Mmmmmm … I’m totally full now.

I’m sure not going to lose weight out here. But maybe I won’t gain quite as much as I thought I would when I arrived.

Documenting the Process 2 comments

Progress 1 comment

After weeks of being stable at the same weight, as of yesterday I’ve lost two more pounds, bringing the total weight loss now to 68 pounds. Only two pounds away from a hugely significant milestone.

I was both thrilled and shocked to see the number that showed up on the scale yesterday. Sure, I’ve been particularly careful with my food these past few weeks. I’ve also upped the intensity of my workouts, thanks to the advice and inspiration of my new “personal trainer” – I too wish for beautiful arms someday! :) I’ve added a third set and more intensity on the lower body which, I’m told, will burn more calories.

However, after weeks of being, literally, within 1.5 lbs up/down of where I was last time I weighed in, I was bracing myself to learn that this is it. This is where my body naturally wants to be. The extra exercise and even stricter attention to diet has paid off.

For weeks, people have been telling me that they see a difference, even from the beginning of the autumn. Yet, the weight number stayed stable. I think the strength training is adding muscle mass and changing the shape of my body. It is true that the inches have gone down. In one ten day period, I lost 1.25 inches in the mid-section, which is huge.

But, somehow, it never seems to register with me until the weight number goes down. It is like I’m programmed only to respond to that, and not to any other feedback. To measure my “success” in terms of that one number – not the comments from others, the inches going down, my clothes fitting more loosely – seems a pretty narrow piece of programming. I’m going to work on changing that. Part of the problem, though, is that I started this whole weight loss adventure with a particular target weight in mind and I get very excited with every step that pulls me closer.

Shifting Gears Click Here To Comment!

[Cross-posted from Vox.]

I live in a city where people make good use of bicycles. Granted, this is Toronto, not Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Bejing where the bicycle rules. But, on the scale of things in North America, Toronto is one of
the more bike-friendly cities. There is a bike culture … and I have longed to be a small part of it. I cannot give up my four wheels, especially now since my work takes me out of the city easily three times a week. But I have watched cyclists with envy, quietly going about the city in an independent, self-sufficient and often graceful manner.

As a kid, I practically lived on my bike. It was my major mode of transport from about the age of eight until I left home for university. My friends lived up and down the road of the farming community I grew up in, and there was a conservation area with a pool that we all congregated at daily – this was about a 20 minute bike ride from home. Who knows what my Mom thought of me taking off for hours at a time. My friends and I also rode our bikes for play, pretending they were horses, and trying to get them to be mountain bikes or
cross-country bikes before such things really existed. So much of my childhood involved taking my bike entirely for granted.

My ex and I bought bikes – this is about 10 years ago. They looked good, these bikes, or at least mine did. It was green (of course) and it had a basket on the front. It was the MOST uncomfortable bike on the
planet. I would stare at it, in frustration and pain, knowing that just lowering my butt onto the seat would cause me to wince. Being in such utter pain in my nether regions caused me to be paranoid about all the
other things I need to pay attention to in the big city … motorists, car doors opening, motorists, pedestrians, children, motorists, car doors, dogs, motorists … the paranoia came from having so much of my attention focused on the pain that I feared that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the stuff that could actually kill me. I think I rode that bike no more than three or four times before retiring the idea completely. I convinced myself that my body just wasn’t built for biking.

T bought a bike a few weeks ago. This was HUGE for her. She didn’t learn to ride as a child and is teaching herself as an adult. I admire her chutzpah. There is so much we take for granted about bike riding as just knowledge one has acquired along the way … how to move the pedal so you can put your foot on it to start out … how to balance … how to steer …how to stand up going over bumps … how to speed to get through uncertain bits of the road. For T, this is like learning Swahili at age 50 – it all feels very counter-intuitive to her. She had originally thought she’d buy a trike – one of those contraptions that has three wheels and a basket sort of thing out back but the man in the store convinced her that she was too young for that and that she could indeed learn to ride a decent bike. He sold her a sturdy bike with training wheels. And a helmet. The training wheels are VERY loud and she is getting pretty tired of them, I think, but she is also not quite sure she is ready to have them raised. The whole balance thing is a mystery to her. She slows down before speed bumps, which makes pedaling over them harder. She starts to yell out, and slow down,when she sees that she is coming up on a hill or a turn, uncertain of what to do or how to trust the machine beneath her. However, in the moments between being scared and uncertain, she admits that she really likes riding her bike. In some place within, she is having fun. With practice, this will all get easier for her, I think.

I watch all this in admiration and think to myself … maybe I could do this again if I had the right bike. So, I did it – I bought a bike! It was on a whim and a tad reckless, really – but the moon and stars must have been in alignment because I bought exactly the perfect bike for me. I’m totally smitten. T and I went out for four hours – my first lengthy bike ride since I was about 17, I think. My butt hurt a little bit by the end, I admit, but absolutely nothing like it once did. I was ready to go out for another four hours the next day, which is a
complete switch from how things were 10 years ago. We started in the Beaches, on the bike path, heading west to Ashbridge’s, then carried on to the Leslie St. Spit where we stopped to eat the lunch we packed.
Then we headed back. This would normally have taken about, oh, an hour maybe? But with T in learning mode … the pace proceeds much more slowly. This is actually fine with me as I was on my own learning
curve, getting re-acquainted with the brakes, gears, bike etiquette, traffic protocols, etc.

I loved being out on a bike. LOVED it. Didn’t matter to me in the slightest that we were going slow. I just loved the feeling of it again. T tells me I look like I was born to be on a bicycle, which says to me that my body remembers what it once knew so well. I really do think it is like learning a language – that there is a window of time when we learn things monumentally easily as children and then that window closes before we are about 10, I think. One of the reasons I hesitated to buy a bike has to do with my weight. I said I’d do it when I’d lost a bit more and that maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much. I’m glad I didn’t wait, and I’ve proved to myself that my body is capable of more than I give it credit for. Yesterday, T bought a bike rack for the back of her car so we can take our bikes to a wider range of bike paths. For now, we are looking for paths that are flat-ish and not too busy, although T did admirably well navigating the Beaches path with all the long-weekend pedestrian traffic. We are open to suggestions from those with more cycling experience in this city!

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