I know there is debate in modern philosophical circles about when a human being becomes a person. I am not a philosopher, but I would say some time after 10:00 a.m. and at least two cups of coffee.
(Note: I am not of course siding with those who say that one has to be fully rational to be a person. That would exclude a large percentage of the population and therefore be quite judgmental and uncharitable, and I am neither…)
Let’s just say I am not a fan of early mornings. Getting up early inevitably leads to bad decisions.
Take, for example, the time (note the singular) that I thought it a good idea to exercise before work, since I would not have time later in the day.
So, at an unholy hour of the morning, when the moon was still out on my phone, instead of slumbering I was lumbering (how clever is that one? Someone has had her coffee…) on the treadmill. And I do mean lumbering because despite my name I am not graceful on the treadmill in the mornings ever. (Or any other time, but that is a digression for another post).
I was moving awkwardly along as though my comforter were still wrapped around my legs and probably my mind, when suddenly a very large and very muscular man appeared at my elbow. I was so startled that I tripped on my imaginary blanket and landed face forward on the control panel. (True story).
The very large, very muscular man extended his hand and introduced himself. I didn’t quite catch his name in the confusion of the moment so we’ll just call him Satan, er, Stan. “How would you like a free personal training session?” Stan asked with an inordinately large smile.
I stared stupidly, which Stan interpreted as a yes, and suddenly I had an appointment for the next day, which I was just conscious enough to schedule for lunchtime.
* * *
I arrived the next day at 12 sharp and Stan shook my hand with a vigor and enthusiasm that should have served as a warning. I was led into a part of the gym I had never visited during seven years as a member, filled with all sorts of contraptions that I could only wonder at the use of.
I didn’t have to wonder long.
Muscles I didn’t know I had began to scream out profanities until finally he said, “Okay, go get some water now.” I ran to nurse my water bottle and grab my towel like a long lost blanky. I was so relieved to be done, and I figured that I probably had enough reserve to hobble home and wouldn’t need a stretcher after all.
But as I went to say “Goodbye!” Stan interrupted. “Okay, now we’ll do another set.”
We did another set, and then two more sets of sets. And I finally understood why they play hardcore hip hop and gangsta rap in the gym. Punctuated beats and curses are a much more fitting soundtrack to one’s mental state while swinging kettlebells than lullabies to the Baby Jesus.
I have previously mentioned that I have a mind that multi-tasks. I may not have mentioned that this mental multi-tasking does not partner well with my body. When my body is on a task, my mind shuts off. As it clearly did that morning.
When I was finally finished for real, the endorphins, the joy at freedom, the pride that I was still alive flooded my brain with such a happy stupor that I smiled at Stan when he said, “How would you like to sign up for a training membership?”
And so Stan took my credit card in his very large, very muscular hand and I found myself the proud smiling owner of one monthly plus ten floating return visits.
* * *
This is where I am supposed to tell you how I discovered my inner core (in a good way) and learned to love exercise and became a CrossFit trainer and lived happily ever after in a field of kettlebells.
Only that didn’t happen. I still approach training sessions with real if decreasing dread. I still leave with my abdomen on fire, and am sometimes sore for two or three days afterwards. I have discovered not my inner strength but my inner weakness. And that weakness is more than physical.
I realized that I was never sufficiently motivated on my own to do even one one-hundredth of what Stan expected and then convinced me to do. I needed his encouragement (which was surprisingly gentle for his size), but even more I needed the look he gave me when I said “I can’t do that…” (A look that I sometimes see in the eyes of another Trainer, but I’ll save that for Soapbox Sunday). I needed the pressure of Stan’s opinion to push myself beyond my physical abilities, if only because I cared a little too much what he and others in the gym thought of me. I didn’t want to publicly fail and embarrass myself.
On my own, I set the bar pretty low (literally and figuratively). But with someone watching I give a little more and go a little further.
When I was young I loved creative writing. I wrote constantly, for fun. In fifth grade I had a teacher who required us to write a composition every week; it was my favorite class, and I was good at it. I thought that someday I would be a writer “for real.”
But after my last graduate paper was turned in, more than a decade and a half ago, I have written very little. Time is one factor. Another is perfectionism and the fear of proving my own mediocrity. But the biggest is that nobody is asking or expecting me to write.
Now I have started this blog. I need the motivation of you, waiting with bated breath for my next post. Ok, I need the pressure of making a public commitment and sticking to it, if only to avoid looking like a fool. I need the fear of external expectations to stretch me beyond the excuse of “I am not a real writer” (just as “I am not an athlete”).
Meghan McArdle recently wrote about “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.” Without deadlines or outside pressure, it is often easier not to write at all.
As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.
Most writers manage to get by because, as the deadline creeps closer, their fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible. But I’ve watched a surprising number of young journalists wreck, or nearly wreck, their careers by simply failing to hand in articles…it is not that they are lazy incompetents. Rather, they seem to be paralyzed by the prospect of writing something that isn’t very good.
To be completely honest, starting this blog has been a little overwhelming. Partly because I am WordPress illiterate, and setting up the technical end of things is harder than I thought. Partly because the perfectionist in me squirms at publishing something which I know could be better given a few more hours–no, weeks–of work. I prefer to engage in things I can excel at, to keep the bar low enough to crawl over, not high enough to flop on.
And even though I feel some discomfort in my abdomen, I know this is a good thing. My writing muscles and my writing itself will get tighter and stronger as we go along.
But I still know better than to write in the mornings.
Note: A special thanks to Heather who is a “real blogger” over at Mama Knows Honeychild for all of her support and encouragement. Her site is well worth a visit. We have a lot in common–I once saw a giraffe in real life and she had a real life giraffe throw up in her car. True story. Go read about it.
Photo credit: Brandon.wiggins (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons