I’m wrestling (haha!) with some paradoxes in this practice at the moment. That means this entry will be a bit more philosophical as I muse over some scholarly questions. As a theatre person and scholar I’m always fascinated by the paradox of live theatre. My undergraduate advisor would always emphasize the importance of theatre’s ephemerality – it is only there in front of you for that fleeting time when you watch it and then it disappears, never to return in the same way ever again. At the same time, those fleeting events etch into bodies and memories over time to create histories. How can theatre be both impossible to pin down and also tattooed onto the skin of history?
The changes I’ve noticed in my body, my mind, and my spirit over the past two weeks mirror this paradox. On one hand, I convince myself I can “see” the change in my body.
On the other, I’m a theatre person and I know how illusion can work. There’s a difference here in terms of lighting, distance, clothing, pose that will make the image on the right appear smaller. In addition, this is a classic convention of the before-and-after pic: slightly awkward (though unintended) before pic to contrast the smiling, confident after pic. Also, there’s actually lots of evidence that refutes that there has been an actual physical change. I’ve not lost any weight actually. That doesn’t mean I’m not seeing and feeling the physical effects. My right quad is in a perpetual state of pulledness. I’m standing up straighter. I’m less winded on walks and climbing stairs. While the workouts etch themselves into my muscles, my body is actually remembering them less. I’m recovering much quicker after each workout, but that also means my muscles seem to be returning to normal more quickly too. So, just as this practice seems to write itself onto my body it also seems to unwrite itself too.
How it makes me feel is even more difficult to back up with hard evidence and even with memory. This past Thursday was a really, really difficult day. It was one of those days that was jam-packed with back to back meetings and obligations that had me zig-zagging across the city. Added to that was the unanticipated elation and stress of transferring my daughter, mid-year, from one school into another. We told her Tuesday she would be starting her new school on Friday. Thursday she had a district-wide competition with her school dance troupe that would end up being the last time she was with her friends. I frantically tried (and failed) to see what would end up being her final dance performance. I spent most of the day trying and failing to fulfill obligations. I ended the day picking up a sobbing and angry daughter while still trying to balance multiple obligations and prep for a babysitter to take over so my husband and I could make the evening CrossFit class. I was done with my day well before CrossFit.
I’m thumb-nailing it for you because it’s just that intense. We drove late to the box in silence as I struggled with how much I did NOT want to do this at the moment. I carried a small sliver of hope that perhaps working out would maybe deliver the stress relief I needed to fix, well, this face. The archive of my day written on my face.
I am your typical over-thinker. I tend to multi-task because once I have enough things on my plate, it becomes impossible to over-think any one thing. When I do CrossFit, the initial rush of blood and adrenaline actually kick my brain into overload. During the warm-ups every possible thought I could have starts screaming at me. About halfway through the strength workout my head completely empties and fills with the task in front of me, usually counting or whatever mantra my mind has grabbed onto to just do that next rep. By the time we get to the WOD there’s nothing left but breath, determination, and nothingness. CrossFit erases, even just for an hour, the memory of the day. The barrage of tweets I ingest, the outraged status updates, the screaming headlines, or daughters, or disappointed looks. It undoes the history in my head.
But does that carry over to my body? How can that same release happen when your body is pretty much going through low-level trauma? I hate jogging. I have always hated jogging. I feared the days in PE when I was a kid that we had to run the mile. I have always wondered if I actually have like low-level asthma because I just get so out of breath. Then, I think, no, you are just that out of shape. I have tried, multiple times, to move up to jogging, taking it like vegetables daily, to try to get my body into the habit and eventually not notice how bad it sucks. Now I know, I just hate it. Burpees and box jumps are notorious difficult parts of these workouts, but I loathe the 100, 200, and 400 m runs that are tacked onto everything. With the fire of a thousand suns.
The WOD Thursday night consisted of a 10-1. We had three exercises: GTOH, push-ups with lifting your hands off the ground when on your belly, and sit-ups. GTOH stands for ground-to-ovehead. You have a weight (the round ones you put on the bars) between your legs. Grasp it on each side between your legs so that it is resting on its edge on the floor. As you stand upright you flip the weight as it moves part your chest and then lift it over your head so its parallel to the ground. Then, you reverse the move back down until you are squatting with it resting on its edge once more. We started with 10 reps per exercise, then the next set was 9, then 8, then all the way down to 1. Then we ended with a 200 m run. As often happens with these things, you start out like, “Yo, this is going to be the easiest one I’ve done.” As I turned the corner into my 8 reps I felt like I’d fallen into a hidden pothole. Time and space morphed. By the end I actually had spit flying out of my mouth. Not spittle (aw, adorable!) SPIT. Like a puddle of it on the ground under my face as I went down for another hands-up flippin push-up. I could smell my spit on the floor, on my face, on my hands.
And at the end of it all I had to jog. As I always do, I stood up straight, balled up my hands, elbows close to my side, feet barely clearing the ground for each step, head high, and began the run. Now I’m stubborn, so I don’t cut the corners or walk. I may jog slower than the folks walking, but a keep that bounce going. As I rounded the parking lot edge, my body suddenly forgot its form. My body forgot what “jog” was supposed to look like, released every ounce of tension I was carrying and fell into…something. My hands opened, the muscles in my legs released, my shoulders began to bounce freely, my stomach let out. And it was suddenly so so much easier. My deep breaths came without trouble. My feet somehow felt lighter. My body forgot how it had learned “jog.” In the process it was making something that seemed new, improvised in the moment without consulting my head which, if you remember, had checked out of this whole thing awhile back. Like my body just doing what it needed to do and not what I’d trained it to do. I glided wth ease back through the entrance of the box.
I am beginning to think that it isn’t that history is necessarily erased during CrossFit, but really deferred for a bit. As soon as it all stops and the WOD ends, my head is almost always filled with utter elation. This elation is further facilitated by what I’m sure is a rush of blood, endorphins, chemicals, and hormones into my brain and body. This WOD was followed by an emotional and mental brain dump in the car on the way home about how awesome I felt, what I experienced during the workout. All that is followed by a feeding frenzy in which we attempt to pay babysitters and wrangle our kids to bed while frantically warming up random leftovers, guzzling water and coconut water, and pounding some carbs.
The day after (teaching days) I feel incredible. I feel strong, steady on my feet, tall. My muscles don’t ache as much as they feel at-the-ready. My abs feel tight, my shoulders feel pulled back, my skin feels sparkly (yes, sparkly). All the stuff returns to my head, but I feel better able to tackle it after the workout.
If, as Bourdieu suggests, embodied history is “internalized as second nature and so forgotten as history,” is it important to make myself remember how these changes are being constructed even as my body attempts to forget on its way to habit? Right, isn’t the whole goal of working out making your body forget its own work and, in turn, making your brain forget the work too so that it can move with increasing ease through the workout, through the world? Can we actively refuse that forgetting and, if so, to what end? I don’t know. I do know I feel pretty awesome.