Trying Something New: Barre Class

Like many little girls, I imagined being a ballerina. The flowing movements, the lithe bodies, the pink satin slippers–I saw them as a perfect mix of elegance and athleticism. I still do, but now I have a better understanding of the punishing work ballet dancers do in order to turn their bodies into one long, lean muscle.

These things were all on my mind when I went to my first barre class at a studio near my home. The class was only 45 minutes, shorter than most of the ones on the schedule. I hadn’t been to a fitness class of any kind in several years, so I had no idea how much stamina I would need for even a short class.

When I signed the waiver for the first session (free!), the instructor asked, “Have you done a barre class before?”

“No, but I’ve done barre and pilates videos at home,” I said. Which in my own head now sounds like, “No, but I’ve watched Black Swan.”

The instructor, S, made a noncommittal interested noise and said, “Well, take your time and watch for any modifications.” I appreciated her lack of judgment.

I changed into a pair of clean grippy socks available gratis for the class. The tops of the socks were made of netting and woven through with sparkly bits that caught the light. I instantly felt more elegant and began to get into my ballerina mindset, making a mental note to get my own sparkly socks if I liked the class.

Other women arrived, all of them familiar with the set-up routine. I followed their cues and tried to mimic the vibe. We each demarcated our own working space in the studio with the equipment that S had listed on the wall: weights, bands, a ball. The studio floor was completely covered in grey mats, and two of the walls were mirrored floor to ceiling. Waist-high bars bracketed three of the walls. I began to relax and stretch as a bright, energetic pop song played over the room’s speakers.

S started us with deep squats, bicep and tricep curls, flies, and shoulder blade lifts. Then we moved into isolating the leg and thigh muscles. I learned quickly that every angle of a muscle would be forced to squeeze and release, moving from larger to smaller movements requiring tighter moves and increased intensity. When S moved us to the floor for abs and back work, I breathed a sigh of relief, but this part of the workout turned out to have the longest-lasting effects. My abs were sore for days any time I laughed, coughed, or sat up.

I went home and ordered my own grippy, glittery socks that night. Since then, I’ve learned something new at every class about what my body can do and been surprised at the strength and stamina that I am capable of. I’ve learned that soreness is part of the work, and it’s inescapable if you are truly pushing yourself. Out of necessity, I’ve made it a priority to stretch throughout the day to keep my muscles from growing stiff. Going to barre class has given me an appreciation for the way that trying something new adds vibrancy and passion to everything else in my life.

Snow Day Concessions

Why is it that I feel like snacking all day during snow days? No doubt it’s a survival mechanism to keep the body’s metabolism stoked and warm. However, possessed of a furnace and central heating, I have no need to consume extra calories. The opposite in fact since there is not a great deal of exercise to do right now. It is useless to begin shoveling the sidewalks until the snow stops. Hot Earl Grey tea with a little sugar and cream will keep me from crunching on carbohydrates all day. I cannot say the same for my pretzel-loving children.

From my dining room window, I can watch the slow progress of traffic running north and south through the snow. The plow trucks have made several passes this morning, and the snowfall hasn’t let up once. I have watched three police cruisers provide help when a semi was unable to make it up the hill and slipping backward every time it tried to move forward. With traffic stopped both directions, the semi finally turned around and went back the way it came. On the neighborhood side, neighbors help one sedan with tires stuck in the snowy ruts left by four-wheel-drive trucks. Snow is encrusting the screens on the windows, building up until its own mass knocks it down. 

I suffer from distraction and indecision on snow days. Should I read all day or watch a movie that I’ve been saving for a quiet afternoon? Housework projects catch my eye, and I end up spending more time than I would like talking myself out of assigning work for a snow day. I should get my kids to play games or bake with me. But they don’t want to and truthfully neither do I. We would only be playing or baking out of politeness to each other, an even more boring Gift of the Magi scenario.

Options flipbook through my mind. A nap, a hot bath, a blog post, researching a topic. I can’t make a decision. Whoops, a half hour disappears to Instagram. After I realize the danger of having my snow day absorbed by my phone, I turn it off for the morning and place it out of sight.

The snow day stretches horizon to horizon, a sandbox of possibilities. But snow days require their own discipline of intention. I have to settle on two or three things, shutting out all other possibilities or else I’ll be bogged down and buried by choice.

I choose a movie, a nap, and a novel to make my snow day worthwhile.

Change Your Hair, Change Your Life

My friend who works in the spa and beauty industry once told me, “Fate follows hair.” She said this after I went and chopped off all of my shoulder-length hair. My new pixie style felt free and wild, svelte and quick. Which translated to feeling all of those things about myself. And it’s a good thing too because I had quit my lucrative and stressful job only a month ago. I desperately needed to believe in myself and a new direction toward creativity and art.

Like many women, I’ve experimented with hairstyles and colors over my teens, 20s, 30s. Long and feminine, short and blunt, bangs, layers, asymmetrical, curls, pixie, purple highlights, silver strands, tinted henna, au naturel. When I get bored with the status quo of life, changing hairstyles is a low-risk way to freshen up routine or catapult into a completely new life. Sometimes the hairstyle causes the change, sometimes the change causes the hairstyle. Either way, it’s a physical signal that change is brewing.

The hairstyle that I have most wanted to dare but have been reluctant to plunge into is the shaved head. It’s a strong signal, often seen as a political act, to shave one’s head as a woman. Perhaps that’s the fascination and the fear: to take such total control of my own appearance in an irrevocable, in-your-face way. I would compare the feeling to vertigo, the dangerous what-if of jumping over the edge. There is no going back, and am I ready to know myself with a bald head?

So far my answer has been no. I’m not ready to face that fate or change my life in that direction. But I enjoy having it in my back pocket, an emergency hatch to a new life if I ever need it.

On the Passing of Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was the first person who told me I did not have to be good.

Using one-syllable words, she devastated and reconstructed me.

She told me and so many other young women that goodness was not a prerequisite for having a place in the world. Guilt and shame were not passports to personal worth.

She set many of us free when she slipped that smooth stone into our pockets: You do not have to be good.

The Book Buffet

For micro-post Wednesday enjoy the reading buffet I set up in my living room. Magazines, library books, an assortment of bookmarks, and an apple cider candle for ambience.

The vacuum cleaner in the background serves as memento mori: someday you must clean.

The Bookstore That Got Me Out of Accounting

Writers can’t stop talking about bookstores, and I am no exception. Today I am writing this in the downtown Denver location of The Tattered Cover Bookstore. The very same bookstore that I passed every weekday morning on my walk from Union Station to a corporate job. Stopping in at the bookstore before work was my nod to arts and creativity, a chance to breathe before the day rushed in. On paydays, I bought a stack of two or three books as my reward for keeping myself emotionally together in a work environment that caused me great stress and anxiety.

If I had 10 or 15 minutes to spare, I went through the heavy wooden doors on the east side. A quarter of an hour to put off the crushing responsibility I felt at my desk for babysitting the money of rich people. Reading gave me escape routes from work and family stress, but it also kept me in mind of those first thoughts of writing for a living. It took bravery to put that dream to rest while I gathered confidence and experience. Then it took another turn of bravery to quit the corporate world and get to work writing.

One Friday, I bought a beautiful copy of Emma (Austen) and the 50th-anniversary edition of The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov) with the art nouveau cover. I lugged them to the cubicle quad that I shared with Sales. They stayed on my desk for the day. Reminders that I was made of more than balance sheets, payroll deadlines, and catching the train.

I remember other just-bought books on my desk serving as talismans to keep my soul from being eaten up by finance. A few lines from Cat’s Eye (Atwood) sustained me through the headache of payroll. An essay from the Best American Science Writing collection kept me sane while deciphering an account that had not been maintained for two months when the accounting manager left. Caitlin Doughty’s essays about searching for the Good Death gave me perspective and watered the seeds of doubt that I had about continuing another decade of the work I was doing.

The bookstore on the corner of 16th Street and Wynkoop provided a testament to the life available to an artist. A testament that I needed desperately at the time. I still visit the Tattered Cover, still browse the shelves. Sometimes for 20 minutes, sometimes hours. And in those visits, I appreciate all over again what a bookstore can mean to someone who is looking for a sign.

Migraine Days

Somedays aren’t yours at all / They come and go as if they’re someone else’s days”

Somedays by Regina Spektor

 

Waking up with a migraine is the biggest bummer. Like waking up and finding out your car has a flat tire and you’re out of coffee and you have a big presentation first thing in the morning. It’s a harsh reality that cannot be avoided or put off. It requires immediate resolution.

Migraines have been part of my adult life since I was 26. At first, I suffered through them. Three days of pain while hiding in darkness, lying as still as I possibly could, putting off my life. Day 1: the onset, sharp pain that can still be worked through and thought around. Day 2: the main battle, no movement, no work, only intense, exhausting, inescapable pain. Day 3: the hangover, the pain is gone but in its place a tenderness, a bruise that slows all thoughts and actions.

Then I figured out that the headaches followed periods of intense exercise as well as the general pattern of hormones. I wish I could say that I demanded pharmaceutical help sooner, but like a good, guilt-ridden young woman I thought it was simply mine to bear. My wife and my family encouraged me to see a doctor. This resulted in two medications, one to thin my blood on a daily basis, another for when a piercing pain above my right eye begins to curve behind my ear and nestles under my skull. I now lose only half a day at most to a migraine instead of nearly half a week.

I woke up with a migraine today. I did not take medication immediately because sometimes it just needs water, caffeine, a shower to clear the pressure away. So I followed the usual morning procedures: glass of water, cup of coffee, toast.

The pain continued but at a low frequency. This is the worst trick that a migraine plays because I have to weigh giving up my morning but squelching the headache against trying to work through low-grade pain but being productive. I have to weigh the risk that a migraine becomes full-blown and possibly forms a lesion on my brain against sleeping through a morning of work.

Hindsight, it always makes sense to swallow half of an oblong white pill and sleep while my brain sorts itself. In the middle of the choice, it is difficult to give up the belief that maybe I can power through it. Maybe it’s not really a migraine. Maybe I’m being weak or lazy.

Migraine days appear and demand that I practice self-care. Like a meditation practice, a yoga practice, a running practice. I often don’t want to take the time to care, don’t want to slow down, don’t want to admit that I am at the mercy of the blood flow in my brain.

But there it is, and here I am. Taking the time to care for me. Taking the time to heal.