Wednesday, June 1, 2011

New Blog

Ok, come follow me! I don't have a post up yet, but I will soon. The new blog is here: See you there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Moving to Iceland, and a new blog.

I am moving to Iceland in less than two weeks. To document this risky maneuver, I will start a new blog. I will provide a link to that blog here as soon as I do. I promise to do that soon. I also promise to start packing my suitcase soon.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I Joined A Gym.

So, I joined a gym. I was getting really claustrophobic being all cooped up during the winter so I found one that was a good deal and that you don't have to commit to a long-term contract or anything, so I'll be able to cancel my membership once I leave for the Motherland. The good thing about it is that I'm forced to go work out just to get my money's worth. Well, I use the phrase "work out" loosely. "Working out" the way I do it could just as easily be called "Avoiding Eye Contact for the Advanced Practitioner."

I am not a gym person. I told this to the "Fitness Counselor" who showed me around and got me signed up when I first joined. I was so clearly uncomfortable that he actually asked me at one point if I had ever even been inside a gym before.

"So, why do you want to join a gym?"
"Well, I'm 28 and I can't really run, like at all, and I don't really have any upper body strength. So I'd like to be able to be strong and fast enough to fight off and out-run a predator, like a rapist or murderer or something. I mean, maybe my adrenaline would get me to a certain point if I were actually attacked, but what if I'm out in the woods, ya know? I need the endurance."
"Um, okay... Do you ever work out?"
"[Laughter] I sometimes do yoga, which I enjoy, but honestly, I happen to be one of those annoying people who are naturally skinny and as long as I watch what I eat I can stay around the same weight until I'm probably about 40. I get it from my dad. He's hyperactive."
"Uh huh. What's kept you from joining a gym in the past?"
"I'm really self-conscious about working out in front of people, I don't know what I'm doing, it's really awkward and I hate spending money. Also, I'm intimidated by being in the same room as a bunch of huge men who are pumping iron."

That last point cannot be emphasized enough. The gym location closest to my house is filled with fit, healthy people in their 20s and 30s who are serious about working out. Going there is like walking backwards in time into a primordial jungle. I can, literally, smell the testosterone. Like entering the wild, all the animal instincts kick into high gear, and I suddenly become very aware of the fact that I am female. There is no doubt that the male creatures, whether they mean to or not, are tuned in to the presence of us female creatures in the gym. I'm kind of tall for a woman, but when I'm there I feel tiny. It doesn't help that there are lots of treadmills, elliptical machines, stair steppers, and other equipment that people are using which causes them to tower over me, so I really do appear much smaller when I'm walking around. But more than that, this is where men are in their element. Biologically, this is what they are meant to be doing. Lifting weights, running, doing pull-ups, increasing their strength because they have evolved to compete with each other to win the favor of a female, and therefore get the opportunity to mate and breed and pass on their genetic code. They're sweating, breathing, grunting, strutting, looking around, sizing each other up like a bunch of shiny, tight-shirted stags. And then in walks a little doe (like me, for instance): wide-eyed, vulnerable, obviously out of her element, estrogen-laden scent curling through the air in a long, invisible ribbon of femininity. They raise their heads, sniff the air, look around to locate the source, and then switch arms to do another set of bicep curls. I instinctively locate the nearest shelter and then keep my eyes lowered as I rush toward the women's locker room, where I am greeted by others of my kind, and find safety in seclusion and in numbers.

Of course right after I joined I caught a cold and couldn't go back for a week, so by the time I returned I had forgotten where everything was, and I'm too intimidated to figure out how to do the butt-crunching machine by myself, so until I can bring a girlfriend with me to laugh at each other as we try to discern what goes where, I either have to stick to the elliptical, the bikes, or... groan... the exercise class.

I took a class called "Muscle Max" the other day. Now, the room where the classes take place has one wall that is just glass, so the entire gym can watch you make a fool of yourself. To be fair, most of the treadmills and things are facing away from the window, but there is still plenty of visibility. I am not a fitness model, I don't have a trainer, I'm not one of those people who gets all the moves right and is really focused and does that well-timed breathing with each movement. No.

So I'm waiting outside the room and chatting with a few of the ladies who, like me, want to Max their Muscles, trying to figure out where I fall on the spectrum of ability here. Fairly low, I realize. So when we go in and start gathering our weights that we'll be using for the next hour, I get all the smallest and lightest ones, because I'd rather get a crappy workout than collapse in a sweaty, quivering pile on the floor after the first ten minutes because I got too ambitious.

I look around and find the Perfect Spot in the room where no one out in the main part of the gym will be able to see me: between two mirrored columns. Perfect. I'm nestled safely in the exact middle of the room, where I can blend in and do a less-than-awesome job of lifting weights for 45 minutes. The music starts (a mix of techno and hip hop with a lot of moaning and, I'm not even kidding, lyrics that include phrases like, "You nasty girl," and "Oh yeah, give it to me.") and I realize the first flaw in my plan to go unnoticed. The class instructor stands directly in front of me to start the warm-up phase. I am, for all intents and purposes, somehow in the front and center of the room, and the instructor (a cute, petite red-haired girl) makes eye contact with me as she's calling out the moves.

Why are the warm-up moves always so stupid? Why? Do aerobics instructors go through a special class where they learn the most ridiculous dance moves possible to inflict upon their students? "Leap from side to side while swinging your arms in the air! [eye contact with me] Higher! Come on, higher! That's it!" Then there's the marching in place. Then they always have some kind of weird shimmy of their own that they really enjoy. Then you've got to reach up and grab some imaginary object (a rope? a gun with one bullet in it? nachos?) over and over again. It's horrible. Can't we just skip straight to push-ups, or do jumping jacks, or go back out into the gym and run on the treadmill for five minutes and come back? Do we have to do the butt kicks again?

The good thing about the muscle class is that it's basically just lifting weights. However, I was amazed at how many positions from the Kama Sutra you can incorporate into weight lifting. The first thing we did once we had warmed up was stand with our legs wider than hip distance apart, and bend all the way over. This is where I realized my second mistake in choosing my spot in the room. There, bent over, I came face-to-face with... Myself, staring back at me through my own legs, my head dangling below my ass in front of the mirrored columns. Which is worse: The whole gym seeing me like this, or me seeing myself like this? I'm still not sure. Then we had to do a whole series of moves where we just bend over at the waist and stand up again while holding our weights in various positions. At another point I was lying on my side, with one leg bent and in front of my body, the other leg stretched out underneath it, and then the instructor says, "OK now try to touch your nose with your straight leg while simultaneously lifting it as high as you can off of the floor." What? I don't know what I did, but apparently I did it right (or just less wrong) because she smiled and said, "There ya go!" As my fellow exercisers and I twisted our legs into unnatural and pseudo-erotic positions, the music still pulsing with a voice moaning something about being naughty, I found myself glancing around and wondering if there were any hidden cameras in the room, and if the gym was charging people on the internet to watch girls strengthen their inner thigh muscles. I'm not even going to get into what went on when we had to lie on our backs, but let's just say that the guy who was sitting on the weight bench that faces the classroom is probably still having sweet dreams after seeing it.

But I think I will take it again because I was sore the next day, so obviously I got some kind of a work out from it. Next time I will stand somewhere else, though.

Mostly I just do an hour on the elliptical (all the machines have TV screens attached so you can watch your favorite shows and the time flies right on by), during which time I also get a fair amount of thinking done. Plus, if I'm on a machine then I'm not walking through the Forest of Man Scents. Anyway, I've decided that I would like to produce a series of exercise videos called "The Sweaty Tomato Work Out". I do not look good when I work out. As soon as my heart rate goes up to anything much higher than nap-level, I instantly turn red and start sweating. I'm told that this may decrease once I actually get in shape. But nevertheless, I want a work out video where people don't have on cute exercise clothes, where they're all red and sweaty, grunting and groaning, and every once in a while from somewhere in the back you hear someone shout, "Ow! Goddammit! I just tore my groin! That's just great, that's just what I need. Get my ice pack! Ya happy now, Gladys?! I went to your damn exercise class and look what happens! Oh god, is it bad? Is it bad?" and they're carried out on a stretcher while the rest of the class continues doing doggy-style butt crunches.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chicago: What Now?

I'm back in Chicago! We just had a blizzard that made the news all over the place, and I'm settled into the first of my temporary lodgings before I move across the Big Water. My first week I slept a lot, and then after that I was really tense for a few days. All of the stress that I had pushed aside during the last couple of months in Idaho, and during the packing up, selling, and moving of my belongings across the country tapped me on the shoulder and demanded to be processed. Then all that inner tension broke with the weather and I'm feeling much better. So that was not fun but good to get out of the way.

Work is starting to fall into place, or at least it will as soon as the snow gets cleaned up and the city re-opens for business. "Major Department Store" is going to finally finish transferring me, and an employment agency I worked with when I lived here last year already has things coming my way, so that's all well and good.

Now that the time for the move across The Big Water is closer, questions come into my mind as always, an inner review where I check in with myself and make sure I'm all right with where I am on the good ol' life path. I think I am, at this moment. When I ask myself, "No but really, what am I going to do?" I think about careers that seem fulfilling to me. I find myself trying to figure out if it's good enough, viewing it through this lens of measuring up, living up to my potential, status, popularity, etc. And then I start to get a tight feeling in my chest, and my breathing comes in faster and shallower, and I feel a little panicked. But then I zoom out on that picture and change the lens. When I look at my greater purpose as bringing more love into the world, I feel better. Then I see that it's fine to be happy supporting myself and doing things that I enjoy, always learning more, and always trying to remember that big picture. I want to live filling up and surpassing my potential, and certainly doing something that makes me happier than working in a store, of course. But I don't have to think of it as a competition or worry that if I don't reach a certain step on some imaginary ladder that I'll be a failure. In the same breath I admit that I want to earn enough money to be free to travel and to help others and not have to worry all the time, so I don't underestimate the value of finding some material "success" and income.

I guess it's just a matter of maintaining a certain balance of focus and joy. Focus on staying conscious and making sure that I'm doing the things I want and need to do, and joy in the knowledge that there is a bigger purpose than measuring up. So, in conclusion, I'm pretty sure that I'm fine, just in transition.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Of Plans and Other Words

Yes, I changed the way the blog looks. If I were cool, I would say I did this to have a fresh start for 2011. But what really happened is that one night while visiting my parents for Christmas and New Year, I was lying around on the couch in my sweats and thought about writing something, but instead played with the different designs and colors until I realized I couldn't figure out how to change the blog back to the way I had it originally. Then I ate a snack and fell asleep in front of the TV.

Anyway, I was told that my posts are too long, so from now on I'm either going to write multiple short posts, or start out each one with a list of the topics covered so that you can easily skip to the part you're interested in and don't have to waste any more of your valuable time reading this. Unless, of course, you're reading this at work and wasting your boss's "valuable" time (and money), in which case, don't worry, I'm not really going to shorten the posts. I care about the working man. And I love to talk about myself. Oh, like you don't.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." - J.W. Goethe

So, the holidays happened and are over now. I am moving back to Chicago in less than two weeks. I am selling my car and flying back. The plane ticket is booked. The thought of selling my car makes me emotional, so I will write a separate Tribute Post when that happens. I have to get rid of many of my belongings and pack next week.

Word on the street says that I'll be going back to Iceland some time in April. This sounds good to me, so I'll go ahead and say that's what I'm doing, provided I have funds and such, which, according to my hippy healer's Vedic astrology charts, I will.

Funny things have been happening since I started telling people that I'm leaving in April. First of all, on New Year's Eve I was temporarily paralyzed by the realization that my time in Chicago is going to fly by at the speed of light, and that by the time I finish typing this sentence it will probably be time to go through my belongings yet again and pack my suitcases yet again for the Motherland. I'm getting tired of moving. I've moved 21 times since the year 2000. Even if it was just from one apartment to another in the same city, it's getting exhausting. I'm ready for a break, and ready to try staying in one place for, oh I don't know, maybe 364.5 days.

When friends casually ask me when I'll be flying across the big water, and I tell them I'm thinking of April, they are also shocked by how soon that is. And then I explain that I had been thinking May, but if I want to get a job then April might be better because it's before tourist season starts, so even though nothing's definite that's what I'm saying for now, etc. Then they're still shocked, but less vocally so, and we quietly talk about how quick four months really is. But what can I do? Time marches on, as they say. And speaking of time, I'm starting to doubt its existence. It's slow, it's fast, it crawls, it flies, it stands still. I don't think it's real at all, and I hereby reject it. They don't accept that as an excuse when I'm late for work yet, but that doesn't stop me from trying to convince them.

The other night I was talking to my "best friend in San Francisco" (I group my friends by location). I told her about Iceland, and she told me that she didn't want me to be that far away, and that I should move into her apartment with her in SF instead, her rent is shockingly cheap and we could split it and have lots of fun.

I honestly thought about it for a couple of hours. Living in San Francisco was a blast. It's gorgeous, there are a million things to do, and I really loved the west coast: the beaches, going to L.A. for the weekend every once in a while, all the delicious food, and the wonderful people I met there were great. There's beautiful sunshine most days, and then the fog rolls in from the sea in the evening and everything feels and looks magical. I shared a gorgeous little old Victorian style apartment with a girl I knew from college, and I used to sit on our fire escape and write when the sun was out, or we'd go up on the roof at night to drink a glass of wine and listen to the music playing in a nearby club.

I was a volunteer for AmeriCorps in nearby Redwood City, and at the school where I worked I met a woman named Lois, who is an artist and was working as a substitute teacher at the time, and we became friends. Her mother was a retired school teacher and her father was a sculptor. One day we were hanging out in a town called Half Moon Bay, and her father, an elderly Asian man who looked frail except for his strong hands, walked into the cafe where we had stopped to get a bite to eat. The three of us talked for a while about art and writing and things like that, and then we all drove over to his sculpture garden (which was in a small field on the side of the road) and looked at his work, beautiful abstract figures big enough to climb on, carved from large chunks of dark, reddish, gnarled wood. They were smooth to the touch. When we were getting ready to leave, he said to Lois, "I think I'll do one for her," and she told me to wait. He went to his car, which was full of all kinds of tools and musical instruments of chunks of wood, and pulled a bongo-style drum out of the trunk. I asked Lois what he was doing, and she said, "Oh, he's going to drum you a blessing." Then he perched on the rear bumper of his car and played me a song on his drum for several minutes as the sun was beginning to set. When he finished he smiled, gave me some precious life advice, and then leaned against his car, surrounded by his sculptures, and watched us drive away.

Going back to San Francisco with a cheap place to live (impossible to find in that city) and one of my closest friends is a very tempting offer. All that sunshine, flowers everywhere you look, the ocean, the redwoods, the Stanford Powwow every year, Glide Memorial Church with their incredible full gospel choir, my favorite acting teacher of all time, farmers' markets... But there are downfalls. It smells like urine in most places. It's incredibly expensive. I remembered that the reason why we sat on our roof listening to distant music on the breeze was because we couldn't afford to actually go inside the club and see the band up close. But it is a lovely city, and you can make it really fun, there are lots of free things to do. I'll say it again, it's a very tempting offer...

Then I remembered Thanksgiving of this past year. I was invited to eat with the family I babysat for this summer. Since there was snow everywhere and they live on top of a mountain, I got a ride with their friends, a couple whose car has four wheel drive. On the way up the mountain we passed a car that had gone off the road and was lying in a ditch waiting to be towed out. We got to the house, which is way up high, up some winding roads, and sits at the bottom of their steep driveway, which turned out to be mostly frozen. The husband was driving the car, and his wife said he should leave it at the top of the driveway and we could just walk down. He didn't listen, of course, and the car started to slide. To avoid hitting the garage door, he turned the wheel and the car almost went over the side of the hill that the house sits on. The wife jumped out of the car, and I struggled with my seat belt for a moment before I jumped out too. It stopped at the last second when it hit a little pile of snow, we were all scared shitless (the husband pretended he had been in control the whole time).

That whole evening I was filled with dread for the ride back down the mountain. It was snowing more and more, and I was truly afraid that I would be involved in a terrible car accident before the night was over, that there was a chance we would slide off the road and over the edge of a cliff and be seriously injured, god forbid. When it came time to leave, I was almost panicked, but the couple assured me that they would drive very slowly and we would make it all right. As we rolled cautiously down the street, my eyes glued to the road ahead of us, my cell phone in my pocket, one hand on the seat belt release button and the other on the door handle, all I could think about was seeing my parents and siblings again, and that I wanted to make it back to Iceland, I wanted to go home.

San Francisco didn't even cross my mind.