Ride, paint, inherit a few kimonos. Just a normal Sunday in pictures.
I love to hate Pitbull.
I love to hate his lyrics, which are either so stupid, they’re actually confusing, or they’re so blatant, it doesn’t seem right to actually call them “lyrics.”
I love to hate his product endorsements, which include vodka, small cars, and Kodak cameras, mostly because I don’t like to be reminded that the terrible state of the world economy is affecting even the high rollers, these days.
I also love to listen to Pitbull. Like the running program I started last week, Pitbull is surprisingly – disappointingly – addictive.
I’d never been drawn to running as a recreational activity. It’s always seemed more like a basic survival skill than something a reasonable person does for fun. Probably because, having lived in cities for most of my life, I’ve never had to run for my life. In fact, in the past two years, I can count the number of times I’ve mustered my legs into something resembling a jog. It was always to either cross the street or catch a train, and never lasted more than five seconds. But with a winter that seems to be lasting forever, and the beckoning warmth of the gym, learning how to run seemed like a good idea.
The problem and inherent advantage of running is that it jolts you into reality. Literally. While cycling is kind in the sense that it will keep you in the dark about your power to weight ratio [a.k.a. your big, fat ass], running does the exact opposite. As my foot landed on the treadmill last week, a tsunami of excess flab rippled up my leg and exploded around my waist. I was prepared for the sensation of having a belt made out of Jello wrapped around me, but it also felt like I was dragging and bouncing an anchor on my lower back. What is that, I briefly wondered to myself, before realizing that it was my abundant butt – the one that’s used to being comfortably seated on a bike saddle – that was jerking up and down behind me.
The horror of that experience had me up and running three times last week.
I am, however, using that word in its more general sense, to mean anything that is faster than a slow walk. I am walking as much, or more than, I am running, but if you judged by the traumatized look on my pathetically sweaty face, you’d think otherwise.
There is, however, a happy constant: Pitbull in my earphones, chanting those dumb, catchy lyrics as I pound my way through my scheduled jog. He reminds me that you don’t necessarily have to be good at whatever you want to do, you just have to work really hard at it.
When I started to hit the gym in the early morning, I quickly found the regulars. There are the two white guys – one tall and lanky, the other a bit shorter and less blonde – who both deadlift with bad form, the guy in his 40s with the mustache, and the other mustached guy with the huge biceps and little legs. People watching at the gym escalated from curious peeking into a creepy, secret pastime. But it was the older, anorexic woman who became my barometer of normalcy. At first, I was concerned and alarmed that a woman whose thighs were smaller than my forearms was frequenting a gym. “She’s going to snap something,” I used to think. Then I realized she was only showing up to use the Jacuzzi bath, and our mute acknowledgment of the other’s presence in the locker room settled into an awkward routine. I’d even been more worried than I should have been when I hadn’t seen her in over a week.
Months later, I gimped into the locker room and nearly the entire wall of lockers facing the doorway was wide open. It struck me as odd, and I paused for a second; the gym was consistently deserted in the morning, could the gym staff be cleaning? But that didn’t make sense because this was Japan, where things were always orderly. People didn’t leave locker doors wide open, much less entire walls of lockers.
A movement caught my eye then, and I saw my anorexic acquaintance at the end of the row of lockers, slowly opening the next one. She looked in and pulled out a particular hanger – the one she’s apparently been looking for – and returned to her own locker to hang her coat. I stopped pretending that our interactions, however minimal, were any kind of normal at that point.
It’s easy to get caught up in routine, no matter how unhealthy or strange. Repetitive actions are suddenly your new normal, and before you know it, you’re comfortable there. It’s worse when there’s a steady paycheck that pays just enough to keep you glued to your desk, working vacation to vacation. It’s life’s sneaky way of cheating you out of juicing it for all its worth, trading it all in for security and the ability to pay rent.
So, I kicked myself in the ass last week and quit my job.
I wasn’t entirely miserable. I didn’t have a horrific boss, and my coworkers were all nice to me [a favorite paralegal even got me a bouquet of one of my favorite flowers [callas!] when I left]. The work wasn’t hard. I should have been grateful to have a job. But something wasn’t quite right. Unemployment is scary, but I think the thought of doing what I was doing for the rest of my life scared me even more. Integrity can be a bitch like that.
It feels incredibly selfish. I mean, it is pretty selfish. I have no idea what’s next, either. It could be something totally fucking awesome, or homelessness.
Fingers crossed it’s the former [and doesn’t involve first going through the latter].
[This also means I'm available for any freelance writing work. Get in touch if you need a writer!]
I left on my usual lunch break walk Monday afternoon planning on crafting a lame excuse for a small break. It would go something like this: "Hey guys, sorry work/life has been hectic. I may not post anything this week but I'll be back soon!" I was thinking about how exactly to word this cheerful, open-ended, white lie, because neither life nor work has been hectic. I've just been having trouble crawling out of some life stuff - bike included - and it's all been starting to feel like quicksand.
It's been unseasonably cold out, and Monday was windy enough to have me walking a little sideways. The insides of my ears started to hurt as the crosswind turned into an enthusiastic headwind. I wasn't expecting it, and it shoved the air I was trying to breathe out back down my throat. The suffocating pressure felt like an appropriate analogy to my current life situation: functioning on a day-to-day basis has started to feel like riding into a considerable, seemingly-never-ending headwind on extremely weak [non-Dutch] legs.
In the context of the bike, it's familiar and sometimes inevitable. Shit happens, and sometimes it comes in the form of currents of air that like to mess with your front wheel, your inertia, or both. There is a stretch of windy, gusty days every year in the spring here; early enough in the year that there are cobwebs and dust bunnies still lingering in my legs from long, steady efforts all winter, but late enough that I'm practically begging weather.com to ride outside. The timing is always perfect, because I'm never ready. And so I spend a few weekends pedaling against a wall of air, sometimes doing the walk of shame while trying not to get my steel bike ripped out of my hands and down into the Tama River. It's frustratingly unpleasant and if I'm hungry enough, can shove me into an abyss of hopeless helplessness. If I'm honest, it's never not scared me.
Pushing my cold hands deeper into my pockets, I'd turned my head to try to breathe last Monday, glad that I wasn't trying to ride outside that day. As chance would have it, I was next to a small Japanese cafe I'd taken Alex and Tim to last February. It had been windy, then, too, and we'd found good ramen after riding around the Imperial Palace. Tim - like all cross addicts - skipped around sidewalks and curbs on his Super X, Alex was relaxed and steady, I'd tried to keep up without blowing up.
"I hate wind," I'd cringed to Tim.
"Bend your elbows," he'd said, "lean into it. And keep pedaling. If you coast, you're fucked."
I filed that into the mental "practical things to know about cycling" folder and pulled it out a month later when the wind predictably picked up again. It worked, and like most good advice, it's seeped into other moments, like when I feel the need to mash down on the life panic/pause button...for about five weeks...to get fat and feel really sorry for myself. I remembered, then that while slamming yourself into a brick wall won't always be productive, easing up too much on the pedals - like I've been doing - can be just as silly. In the end, it just makes it that much harder to get back on the bike.
That realization of what I've been doing [or, more accurately, not doing] hasn't gotten me tearing up the sides of mountains on one gear, setting PRs or otherwise accomplishing anything other than sitting in my trainer [and finally completing a workout, to the virtual cheers of my coach]. I've already broken my promise to cry less, but I haven't self-medicated with chocolate in three [!!!] whole days. It's not much so far, but I'm trying not to coast. I'm calling it "active recovery" - of the mental and physical kind - with fingers crossed that a Type A personality and the demotivatingly boring hell that is easy spinning will get me a little closer to hungry.
For the past six weeks, I’ve been seeing a few guys. Nothing serious; just a little casual fun three times a week or so. I travel to a building basement to see them and pay a house fee when I get there. Layers of clothes come off, and I spend the next hour or so in a cage, exhaling audibly. Sometimes I’ll even groan. When I’m done – face flushed and slightly sweaty – I might get a vocal compliment from one of the regulars:
“Did a pro teach you how to do that?”
“That looked solid.”
“Your squat form is super clean.”
My gym – dirt cheap, bare bones, filled with heavy free weights, and lightly populated [mostly by middle-aged Japanese men] – is addictive.
Particularly to those who know me [including myself], there is something disturbing about the mental image/current reality of my loading up an Olympic weight barbell and spending more than five minutes within two feet of a power cage/rack. Because I have never been the gym type. Hitting the gym on a regular basis has always been a concept similar to marriage. It seems nice yet very foreign; something that appears to require more thought, maturity, and dedication than I believe myself capable of. In the same vein, I’ve persuaded myself that visiting a starkly furnished room several times a week with the intent to exercise or otherwise better oneself is probably way less exciting than the rollercoaster of poor health, where you never know if you’re actually actively killing yourself [though eventually, like all rollercoaster relationships, you end up feeling like death at least once]. When people tell me that they like to go to the gym multiple times a week, and not only for the month of January, I would visualize clenched teeth behind those bright, energetic eyes and clear, healthy skin; secret self-hatred weighing down those yoga-chiseled shoulders and upper arms.
But spend a few months hunched [mostly] over a computer and [sometimes] over a bike and atrophied muscles will tell you exactly how much you should be hating yourself. The last time this happened, I took up a few yoga classes. It helped, but chatarangas and a total lack of upper body muscle are like semi-attractive, abusive boyfriends. You get along great at first; you love his serenity and appearance of utter calm. You convince yourself you can be less of a nut case if you stay with this guy. But one day he jerks your arm and you end up with a sore rotator cuff. You take some time off, but he’s cute enough to merit a second chance. Your hormones also have turned you into an optimist; one that is willing to overlook his obviously deficient personality [fingers crossed it gets better! Spoiler: It doesn’t!]. But the asshole does it again, and this time it takes a little longer to stop hurting. And this time, it affects your time on the bike. And this time, you realize that living in fear of temper tantrums should be reserved for parents of toddlers and those gifted with a fast jab, not women with weak arms.
It still didn’t keep me from once again considering yoga classes when my rhomboids decided to implode. My wallet, however, did.
But Google – like the [mythical?] hot guy who arrives with an extra tube just as you double-flat – saved the day with a public, municipal gym requiring a monthly fee that was close to 1/4th the usual Tokyo gym rate. A little more digging around the Internet gave me a lifting program to follow: Stronglifts 5x5. Three workouts a week, consisting of three compound, full body exercises per workout, with 5-10lbs added to each exercise every time. My limp, T-Rex arms had found their unicorn.
Not that I’ve turned my doughy body into the chiseled physique of Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby” [I. Fucking. Wish.]. In fact, despite the bordering-on-disgusting pictures my sister has sent me with my face Photoshopped onto the body of an oversized, fully roid-ed up bodybuilder, there hasn’t been much of a visual difference. The most I can say is that sometimes, the baby bump of a bicep will peer around my arm when I’m blow-drying my hair or slathering on some chapstick, and that the magnitude five earthquakes on my upper arms have been reduced to about magnitude three. Full disclosure: I even gained weight [I prefer the term, “mass”].
And though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “strength,” I also gained something resembling the beginning of some decent lifts. Since mid-January, I’ve doubled the weight on nearly all of my lifts…with the exception of my favorite: the deadlift. Because apparently 45kg is not 100lbs. It is 99.2lbs. But that still means I can deadlift both my mother and sister [Whaaaat?]. My upper body’s still lagging behind like the triathlete that keeps showing up to the hilly rides, but I’m warming up with weights that I previously struggled to bench press, arms quaking like well-made Jello. I even developed some bad ass callouses. All of which has blown-up my ego, thus more than making up for the lack of pulsing biceps.
And while lifting heavy –
sometimes usually red-faced and sputtering with effort – can look like the complete opposite of meditative, ever-calm yoga, it’s taught me a thing or two in the past six weeks. Like how crucial rest days are, how awesome noob gains can be, and how much fun it is to simply compete against yourself. And what a terrible, terrible idea it is to shovel wet, heavy snow for an hour on the same day you set a personal record for squats and deadlifts. You will want to die. I almost did.
I’ve taken the past week off to deload, but I’m back in the gym on Monday morning. And you know what? I think it might even be deadlift day.