Workout Queen

My most athletic moment until now happened during the first week of junior high. Much to the frustration of the gym teacher and my teammates, I was the scrawny girl who ducked when the volleyball came my way. I was the last to be picked for a team and also the last to care.  So, imagine my reaction the day the school librarian came to the gym in search of a girl to volunteer to be the student library helper. Not only was this a chance to avoid the torture of PE class and the humiliation of the locker room, but to get to spend time in my favorite place at school! Ah! Such an opportunity. I stood up faster than you could say “foul ball.” I raised both hands and waved them about. I am sure some shouting was involved, maybe some pushing and shoving too. That year for the first and last time in my life, my report card showed straight A’s in PE since officially that is the class I was in.

After that, physical activity for me came and went in phases. In high school I bravely took ice skating lessons. I was the gangly string bean on the rink trying her best to look graceful. In college, I donned leg warmers and attended aerobics class on campus—always in the back row where my inability to keep a beat might not be noticed as Marvin Gaye belted out his song about dancing on the ceiling. After my daughter was born, I began to run and participated in 5K’s for a while. I really enjoyed that, but life got busy and I allowed my body to depreciate.

Finally, at 55 I wanted to get in shape. I wanted to get in shape because my husband gave me a paddle board for Christmas and I wanted to feel confident when I used it. To get in shape, I purchased a DVD for a “12-minute work-out.” For a while, every day I got up extra early and did my quicky workout that was supposed to be a miracle. “Get the body you want and your life back,” the DVD cover said. The trainer on the video instructed the viewer while three athletes of varying ability modeled the moves. However, I quickly became bored and resentful of the buff man telling me what to do. But more than that, I was never sure if I was holding a position correctly and I would sometimes hurt myself.

I had to try something different. My husband had recently joined the gym and gotten a trainer. He was not only losing weight but was becoming muscular and had more energy. I joined the gym and signed up with a trainer which is something I never imagined myself doing.  The cost for a trainer is absurdly high and far beyond my budget but I did it anyway.

All the time I was thinking that I would learn from the trainer for three or six months until I got the hang of it and then go it on my own. But then, I began to see dramatic changes, not only in my body, but in my confidence, my self-esteem. My posture improved. I became less clumsy and more coordinated (I have always been one of those people who trip over their own feet and break things). I lost no weight, but I was able to fit in clothes again that had become too snug. I was gaining muscle weight and loosing fat. I became aware of my body in new ways. I learned about diet and exercise and anatomy. I learned what to do for a pulled muscle or an injury. I learned to make mistakes and not care what I looked like at the gym.

That is when I realized that I was capable of being a truly active person and that I actually enjoy working out. By working out, I can do more every day. I am more focused, and I am happier. My trainer works me hard. She pushes me beyond anything I ever imagined, using kettle bells, ropes, machinery and doing things I thought was only for athletes. She also has a sense of humor which is so important to me. Sometimes it seems like laughter is intended as part of the workout! She smiles a lot and acts like she is proud of my progress. That makes me feel good and makes me want to work harder.

I committed to another 6 months. On any given day, you are likely to find me at the gym with my trainer, paddle-boarding or kayaking and jogging. My lifestyle has changed dramatically. I am eating healthier and drinking less. I am busy. When I workout now I feel like I am better at everything I do; I am a better me.

While I know I cannot go on forever paying for a trainer, I have changed the pattern of my life and exercise has become second nature for me; something I will always do now. Without one on one time with a trainer, none of this would have happened.  It really is possible to change your lifestyle. I highly recommend joining a gym and finding a trainer.  And, by the way, paddle boarding is great fun!

Origin Story

She came up out of the mud where the Mississippi River washes the continent’s silt into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi Sound was her place of birth, her embryo, her mama’s womb. She knew the familiar cadence of languages mixed as in a boiling pot. There was the French providing spice, the savory meats of English and the Spanish paella blended to a sound so sweet and soft. A person didn’t have to understand the words, not if she was in tune with this small world and its past. Just listen to inflection, follow the pattern, the hand gestures and facial expressions.

Go sit on the dock at her grandfather’s wharf, pretend to check your crab traps, pretend to watch the boats go past and listen to the old men. There they sit in the shade, Jax beer in hand, talking quietly amongst themselves, a chuckle here, an occasional outburst of laughter there. Their bellies evince years of fried food and pie consumption; a life, if not well-lived, certainly appreciatory of the simple goodness their world provides. Their hands are large and calloused, their eyes deep and tender. They speak of fish and boats and family. They don’t know it, but they speak of love. They offer favors and shake on it. Using few words, they offer comfort when needed, giving each other a pat on the back and maybe slipping a handful of neatly folded bills when necessary. It will come back around.

Find a corner in the kitchen and allow yourself to be forgotten. What you witness will be much the same. Women sit around the table smoking cigarettes and talking about the children or the neighbors. Or the men on the wharf, their husbands.  A grandchild wanders in and is offered a bowl of warm blackberry jam and homemade vanilla ice cream—a reward for picking the blackberries. She is sent away to enjoy her treat on the shady porch. The women carry on with their gossip.

This is the world she returns to in her mind, the world that haunts her and follows her no matter where in the real and present world she might find herself. When she drives up the interstate in Texas, filled with thoughts of traffic, errands, politics, work, suddenly she is back on the bayou watching the shrimp boats go out at dusk. The briny, humid air is the embryonic fluid that kept her buoyant and thriving and she feels it draw her home. Ghosts follow her everywhere. The ghosts of those who came before, whose DNA she shares. They are trying to tell her a story. They want her to understand that she is here now, doing this because they were there then and because of the choices they made.

And what of the others? The ones who came long before the grandparents and great-grandparents? They also haunt this woman, this woman who came from the very chemistry of this American sea that curls into the continent like a bowl being protected in the arms of some great god. She sometimes looks over her shoulder to see a woman, her bare feet, sand encrusted, her skirt hem stiff from sun and salt water. How did she get off the island, ghost or not? How is it that she is here, this Marie, wandering through an air- conditioned grocery store complete with piped in Musak and computerized cash registers? Is she covetous of this new century or disdainful? And why is she so restless that she must follow this descendant, this Elizabeth, who seems so untethered herself?

Elizabeth sees the past through a filter. It appears to be idyllic. Oh, but it was tough! And her ancestors must have been fierce to survive the weather, geography and the culture!

Elizabeth is a child and she dives down for starfish and seahorses. She races along the beach, bare feet pounding hard packed wet sand. She plays and explores. Time is meaningless. Farther up the island, the sea oats dance in the breeze where the sand is dry and deep and thick. It’s hot too but her bare feet are tough and capable. Her thighs are capable too as she marches through deep sand as other children might march through snow drifts. Over on the gulf side of the island, the wind always blows. It whips her hair into her face, slapping sand and salt about. She watches the waves and she can see them all the way to the horizon, so much bigger on this side. It’s wilder over here and exciting. On this side, it is much easier to believe that she is alone, a lone remnant of humanity. This is her origin story.

Gautier & Byrd-Bait Shop, Boat Dealership

Chasing Squirrels

 

Sometimes I think writing this historical book is a trick I am playing on myself, a sleight of hand that isn’t working. It’s a distraction from what I am really supposed to be writing—something close and personal and oh so painful, a raw story that reaches to the very bone of my existence.

In high school speech class, we were asked to choose a poem or speech to recite to the class. Others chose the obvious such as MLK’s dream speech. It was supposed to reflect something about our identity. As painfully shy and insecure as I was, I was terrified to reveal anything about myself—that is what my teacher later told me, and he was right. I chose a poem from my favorite book of all time which, I guess, is revealing in itself, but the poem was literally nonsense. I chose “Jabberwocky” from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. My teacher felt I was hiding behind it and he encouraged me to express myself, to search myself but that is something, even now I tend to avoid.

When I try to write about the events in my life, both my own mistakes as well as things I may have had no control over, I freeze up. I don’t want to face it. Sometimes even the good parts (and there are many) are difficult for me. Why am I still so afraid? Afraid of myself? Afraid of what’s inside of me? I doubt my own goodness, that is why.  I feel deep down that I am not a good person; but why? The crippling effects of self-doubt prevent me from accomplishing what is most important to me—self-expression. That mean voice tells me, “no one wants to hear this self-loathing, self-absorbed blabber. Stop whining.”  But sometimes I think the world needs to hear it, at least some people. Sometimes I think that by sharing what is deeply personal, I might be able to help others get through life more easily.

And then I think that might just be an excuse. I convince myself that I am lazy. That if I worked harder I could get into the minds of my characters and they would guide me through this novel. These characters, like me, refuse to reveal themselves. We all wear masks.

My first memory of writing was the age of seven. I was given a little white and pink diary with a tiny gold key. I loved that thing and I wrote every day. I have been writing ever since. That is not entirely true; I have been writing in fits and starts ever since. The excuse is that life always gets in the way. That, and the fact that I am forever seeing squirrels. I am an idea person. I’ve got lists of amazing ideas for novels, for a memoir, short stories too. Year after year, I flit from one idea to another, never settling on one project to focus on. I have tried, am trying. All my writing will be devoted to this one amazing novel. No, too overwhelming. I will start it as a short story and move on from there. But then I chase rabbits, I see squirrels and I am off on something else.

Then I wonder if perhaps I am meant to blend these personal experiences into my novel. Maybe there is some sort of connection. Perhaps the character is me but in another time? The story is there in my head but the events occur now in the 20th/21st centuries but the setting is in the 19th century on an island in the Mississippi sound.

Hey look, a squirrel!

ChasingSquirrels