Just look

Breathing, walking, having real hair.

Just look at us.

~ Rachel Khong, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel

 


Photo: Patty Maher

but for the chemical rush in the hour after, for the night of dreamless sleep

Exercise was always in extremes — a distance to traverse, an impossibly high number. Every summer spent in the vicinity of a pool, I was to do 100 laps per day. This, too, was referred to in a shorthand — “doing the laps” — that made it sound like normal penance for any vacation. Counting to 100 was a feat, much less swimming there, and my mind went numb with boredom while my family ate watermelon by the pool side. I associated exercise with punishment, with the glossy magazine’s injunction to achieve the perfect body, a waifish small-breasted form that no amount of hotel-room yoga would ever transform mine into.

And yet, when I graduated from college, something shifted. Left to my own devices, I discovered exercise could be as hedonic as any other indulgence. It was a matter of reframing the goal: not to become thin, which was as unlikely as tall or blond, but for the chemical rush in the hour after, for the night of dreamless sleep, for the feeling of my body, a diffuse, frontier-less thing…Exercise was time that was mine, where I owed nothing to anyone, and the next day’s aching muscles could be as secret a pleasure as bruises left by a lover.

Now every summer, whenever I can find a pool, I do the laps. The size of the pool may vary, but I always swim until 100. At the ocean, I choose a point as far away as I can — a distant boat, a rocky outgrowth — and swim to it and back. The pleasure is partly in the terror, halfway there, when the beach umbrellas are as small as glitter, that I will never make it back. The pulse of deep water, the blue-black whisper of down down down, the atavistic tremor as my body realizes, as all bodies have always known, how slight it is against an ocean. And then the adrenaline: thighs and waist and biceps concocted into ropes of steel, hands that slip and reach under the surface as softly as under a skirt, feet that pound impossibly far behind, until I am as long as the shoreline. I’m a strong swimmer but not a good one, and I gasp only to the right, eyes stinging with salt, until I can hear the shrieks and lifeguard whistles and ice cream bells, the sounds of the civilization I almost slipped away from. In the water, my body expands, loses itself, weightless. Back on the sand, blood still pulsing with the ocean’s beat, I contract back into shape, my shape, whose boundaries are finally my own.

The Hedonic Rush of Exercise” (NY Times, August 27, 2019)

 


Photo: David Hockney’s “John St. Clair Swimming, April 1972” from “Twenty Photographic Pictures by David Hockney” (1976). CreditCredit© David Hockney. Photo: Richard Schmidt.

Morning Walk ( < 30 seconds)

> > > > NOTE: Press arrow on right center of photo to advance to video.

Walking Cross Town. Solvitur ambulando, as they say

Thursday. Metro North train pulls into Grand Central. The morning calendar is light. I’m in no rush to get across town to the office.

I sit on the train reading Ocean Vuong’s new book: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Justin Torres’ book review: “the book is brilliant in the way it pays attention not to what our thoughts make us feel, but to what our feelings make us think.” And he’s got it exactly right.

I sip it page by page.

The train clears, and I sit alone. Train engines shut down. Air conditioning rests. I sit in silence.

I finish the chapter, with eyes skimming Vuong: “We sidestep ourselves in order to move forward.” 

I tuck the iPad into my bag. I pause for another moment to enjoy the quiet.

Our feelings make us think…” and I feel just below the surface of the skin, the pull, it tugs, whispering: It’s time, it’s time you get back after it. You had your moment.

‘We sidesteps ourselves…’

I resist the pull for another moment, noting its strength, bordering on a Tsunami. Please, give me another moment. Just one.

I grab my bag and walk.

Instead of 47th, I walk up one block and take 48th street. Mixin’ it up a bit.

Silver Star Spa. Small door for an entrance. Chipped paint. Sketchy. “Best Asian massage in NYC.” I bet. [Read more…]

Saturday Morning

Why do I walk? I walk because I like it. I like the rhythm of it, my shadow always a little ahead of me on the pavement. I like being able to stop when I like, to lean against a building and make a note in my journal, or read an email, or send a text message, and for the world to stop while I do it. Walking, paradoxically, allows for the possibility of stillness…Sometimes I walk because I have things on my mind, and walking helps me sort them out. Solvitur ambulando, as they say.

~ Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London


Notes: Photo credit: Vince_Ander via Visualhunt.com in Paris Walks. Quote: Brain Pickings

Saturday Morning

My life is quiet.

There is little beside working and walking.

I have no desire to see people, and I feel as though I am waiting for something new and strange which will burn the unburnt side of my soul.

~ Kahlil Gibran, (1912) from “Beloved Prophet: The Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell, and Her Private Journal” 


Notes: Photo: Sébastien CHAZALET (Annecy) with Alone.

Walking Cross Town. In the Big Apple.

Second train of the morning.

Arrive at Grand Central Station.

Traders, Bankers, Morning Hawks gather at the exit.

Car door slides open and the throng spills out.

I pick up the pace. Heart’s pumping. I’m passing Suits. And accelerating.

I Pass Harvard.

I Pass Yale.

I Pass MIT.

I Pass Lori’s Princeton.

I Pass Stanford.

I Pass Prep School boys from Choate, Exeter. Deerfield Academy.

I’m in front now, shoes tapping on the marble floors, Exit 500 feet ahead.

Boy from a 1 room, 3-grade public classroom in Ootischenia. Graduate of Northern Michigan University.

I step through the double doors to exit Grand Central onto Madison.

20° F wind gust roars down 47th street, eyes flood with water.

New York City! The Big Apple. You made it!

Cold bites, tears flow, and flow. And flow.

Cross walk sign turns.

I’m alone.

In front now.

Not done yet.

Not far enough ahead.

Not yet.


Photo: The city never sleeps, Atelier Olschinsky (via this isn’t happiness)

Walking Cross-Town. Just Magnificent.

Tuesday.
10 a.m., I’m heading for a morning meeting in Manhattan.
I exit Grand Central station onto Madison, and head down 47th.

Light mist turns to a sprinkle.
Then drizzle.
Then, Wow! Rain in sheets.

Sidewalks are filled with Suits, morning shift shop workers, and tourists, loitering. Umbrellas spring open, mushroom caps blossoming in a time lapse video.

Walker in middle of sidewalk, sheltered with a giant golf umbrella. He does not shift left or right. His umbrella clips me in the shoulder as I try to pass, tipping his umbrella into mine, rain soaks my pant leg.
Really?

Walkers, giggling, three a breast, each carrying an umbrella. I tuck into a store front to let them pass.
Seriously people?

Walker, approaches me directly ahead. Mid sized umbrella. I walk on right side (This is America!) He refuses to shift lanes to his right. I slide left to avoid him, and dodge oncoming foot traffic – glaring at him as he passes.
Hey Man from UK, Etiquette! Drive on the right side of the road!

Walker, dead ahead, 10 steps. Smartphone and umbrella in his left hand, cigarette in the other. I slide between him and the building on the right, when he lifts his cigarette, the embers catching my coat. I jam my umbrella into his to brush off the ash, and he’s jostled into another walker.  He shouts “Excuse me!” as I pass.  I glance back. Cigarette hanging from his mouth. Light build, short. A Ferret. But who’s judging?

I smile, shake my head, turn my back to Ferret and keep walking, my right hand scanning my coat searching for the burn hole.

I stand at the stop light and wait, lifting my face to the sky. The rain has let up. The Walk sign turns, I step off the curb onto the crosswalk. I don’t see the puddle pooling in front of the street drain. My foot sinks into the cool, filthy, rain water which fills my right shoe.

Damn it@!*$

I limp into the building.  The wet sole of my shoe squeals with each spongy step on the marble floor. The wet sock and foot slide back and forth inside the shoe.

I step into the elevator. Breathe DK. Breathe. Amazing. You’ve managed to work yourself up into a full lather in a 12-minute walk across town. You’re Elmear McBride’s Magnificent:

Magnificent, somehow. To give in. Wreck yourself so completely. The beauty of it.”


Photo: Metro.US

Truth (In Step Counting)

“The goal is to take ten thousand steps per day, and once you do, it vibrates.”  “Hard?” “No,” she said. “It’s just a tingle.”

I bought a Fitbit of my own…Ten thousand steps, I learned, amounts to a little more than four miles for someone my size. It sounds like a lot, but you can cover that distance over the course of an average day without even trying…I was traveling myself when I got my Fitbit, and because the tingle feels so good, not just as a sensation but also as a mark of accomplishment, I began pacing the airport rather than doing what I normally do, which is sit in the waiting area…I also started taking the stairs instead of the escalator and avoiding the moving sidewalk…

To people like Dawn and me, people who are obsessive to begin with, the Fitbit is a digital trainer, perpetually egging us on. During the first few weeks that I had it, I’d return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I’d taken a total of, say, twelve thousand steps, I’d go out for another three thousand.  “But why?” Hugh asked when I told him about it. “Why isn’t twelve thousand enough?” “Because,” I told him, “my Fitbit thinks I can do better.” I look back at that time and laugh—fifteen thousand steps—ha! That’s only about seven miles! …

I was averaging twenty-five thousand steps, or around ten and a half miles per day. Trousers that had grown too snug were suddenly loose again, and I noticed that my face was looking a lot thinner. Then I upped it to thirty thousand steps and started walking farther afield…

I look back on the days I averaged only thirty thousand steps and think, Honestly, how lazy can you get? When I hit thirty-five thousand steps a day, Fitbit sent me an e-badge, and then one for forty thousand, and forty-five thousand. Now I’m up to sixty thousand, which is twenty-five and a half miles. Walking that distance at the age of fifty-seven with completely flat feet while lugging a heavy bag of garbage takes close to nine hours—a big block of time but hardly wasted. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I talk to people…

At the end of my first sixty-thousand-step day, I staggered home with my flashlight knowing that now I’d advance to sixty-five thousand and that there’d be no end to it until my feet snapped off at the ankles. Then it’d just be my jagged bones stabbing into the soft ground. Why is it some people can manage a thing like a Fitbit, while others go off the rails and allow it to rule, and perhaps even ruin, their lives? While marching along the roadside, I often think of a TV show that I watched a few years back—Obsessed, it was called…

For reasons I cannot determine, my Fitbit died. I was devastated when I tapped the broadest part of it and the little dots failed to appear. Then I felt a great sense of freedom. It seemed that my life was now my own again. But was it? Walking twenty-five miles, or even running up the stairs and back, suddenly seemed pointless, since without the steps being counted and registered, what use were they? I lasted five hours before I ordered a replacement, express delivery. It arrived the following afternoon, and my hands shook as I tore open the box. Ten minutes later, my new master strapped securely around my left wrist, I was out the door, racing, practically running, to make up for lost time.

David Sedaris, from “Stepping Out” in Calypso  (May, 2018)


Photo: Thad Zajdowicz with “Keep Walking

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (Long Walk. Breathe Deep. Taste the Air.)

patty-maher-the-quiet-storm-photography

Take a long walk.
Breathe deep.
Taste the air.
Keep your eyes open.
Try not to think.
Wet your lips with your tongue.
Tilt your head slightly into the wind.
Separate the sound of a single stone
cracking under your boot.
Feel the difference in weight
between a milkweed seed and a blackbird’s feather.
Stray from the road on your way home
until you are waist high in wet corn.
Approach your house from the back.
Whistle for the dog with the white mark
like a crescent moon on his chest.
Look your children in the eyes when they speak to you,
and raise your eyebrows, and smile when they smile.
Notice your son’s mouth curves up on one side,
and his fingers are long and squared-off at the tips like his father’s.
Search your daughter’s right heel for the star-shaped scar
where they tapped her for blood when she was two days new.
Drop everything when your husband gets that soft, glazed look
and presses his palm into the small of your back.
Think to yourself how like the spreading roots
of a silver maple
are his hands.

Marcella Remund, How to Practice Poetry


Notes: Poem – The New Poetry. Photography: Patty Maher (The Quiet Storm)

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