Dita Parker

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A design for life

The poet Juvenal urged his fellow Romans to pray for a sound mind in a healthy body. His first century prompt still stands. Whether you're an author or an athlete, both the mind and the body need to be in shape if you want to go the distance, rep after rep, mile after mile, page after page, reach the finish line. First, last, doesn't matter. You finish, you win.

I read about a guy who ran a marathon without a mile or minute of training, in denim shorts. He didn't do it to prove that it was easy. (In denim shorts, I suspect it was rather uncomfortable). He set out to show there's no secret, no mystery, that it's possible.

Now before you take to the streets in your cut-offs, a) consult a physician, b) learn technique, c) set a realistic goal and commit to it, d) be regular and be relentless, e) accept the fact there will be days when you won't feel like it, at all, and when that happens, f) be honest: do you need a break or just a kick in the butt?

The lessons I've taken away from physical exercise have helped me immensely in writing and life. They've helped me get over rough patches and disappointments, they've given me pause and perspective, a sense of proportion; they've generated a certain kind of confidence and a calm not many things can bring.

So what have I learned? Perseverance, self-motivation and self-discipline for one. Talent, inspiration and a general feeling of that-looks-like-fun-I-could-do-that only takes you so far. The rest involves facing and battling with the usual suspects: fear, doubt, inner demons, things beyond your control, lethargy (real fatigue or sheer laziness), and things that in no way stand in your way but you use as an excuse when you're just not feeling it. It's working diligently without any promise of reward. Most of the time, the work itself, the pleasure of doing, is your only reward. Still up for it? Get cracking.

The ability to concentrate on the here and now and the task at hand while shutting out everything else. And I do mean talk to the hand because the rest of me isn't listening. Come to think of it, the hand is otherwise occupied as well.

There is such a thing as Flow. And it's all it's cranked up to be. A state where you could write, run, insert your favorite pastime, effortlessly, until the end of time. It's a beautiful thing.

There is such a thing as The Wall. It's debilitating, yes, but not paralyzing. There are ways out and around. Always. You just have to find out what works for you.

You learn through repetition but practice does make you if not perfect, better. The boring necessary evil part, I guess. It takes thousands of repetitions to perfect a move, to make a response an automatic one, to get rid of bad habits and/or instill new and better ways of doing things.

Good habits are just as hard to kick as bad ones. So get addicted. Adrenaline, endorphin and the flow thingy are just as much of a high as cake, cigarettes and candy are.

Overtraining happens. You get excited, carried away even, overdo it and before you know it, you stop making progress. Actually, you're taking one step up and two steps back. Then again...

Keep doing what you're doing and you'll keep getting what you're getting. If that's where you were headed all along, congratulations, you've arrived. Or hit a plateau. Time to reassess those goals.

Rest and replenishment. An essential need, not a weakness. Absolutely vital if you want to keep growing. I've taken a break, or I've been forced to take one, only to come back stronger or just as strong as I was before the break.

Confidence, Jedi style. This is hard to teach and even harder to fake. You need to feel it to be able to project it. But when you have it, you walk through a crowd that would have sent you running in the past and the crowd parts like the Red Sea. You don't scowl or growl. You don't do your best Dirty Harry at all. You just... Okay. Hard to teach, fake and explain.

You can't win them all. Not every race, not every competitor. Play the game long enough and you will come across someone faster, stronger. There will be setbacks, moments of frustration, doubt and utter despair when you question the sanity of what it is you're doing. Time to quit or commit anew. And that's just the way it is.

You can't outsource this stuff. There's no pill that has quite the same effect. Above all, it's fun and it's energizing and it's life-affirming. It's such an adventure, finding out what the body can and can't do. What a design. What an instrument. Take care of it and it will take care of you. That's all I'm saying.

Spoken like a true fitness fascist, you say? No. No no no. I'm a hedonist. I love sensual pleasures. I love food and tipple. I love planning a meal. I love cooking and eating. Ooh, and baking. But I really really like my exercise, too. (And I repeat: Not. A. Fascist. It's the health/feel-good thing that drives me, not weight loss. Weight loss is a byproduct, not the goal. But if it's your goal, consider this: when you do exercise, regularly, you don't have to watch every bite, you can go all-out hedonist on occasion and still respect yourself the next day.)

Bottom line: No exercise makes Dita a very cranky, restless girl. I crave a physical outlet just as much as I do an intellectual one. It doesn't have to be choreographed or complicated, it just has to get me moving, and right now, the mind is willing but the body isn't able and doesn't that just suck and blow. The flu has been raging through the family since January first, the holidays being the perfect time to exchange not only gifts but germs as well, so I've been out of sorts all year. I bet I can think of ten more lessons the second I press Publish. Because my mind isn't functioning properly since my body isn't. Oh well. Such is life.

[One more thing. I suspect one of the reasons some aren't moving at all is that getting and keeping fit looks like a choreographed and complicated affair where if you don't have the right gear or don't know the latest fitness fad, if you don't go to a certain gym or if you think the equipment look like something Monsieur Guillotine must have devised, you need not bother at all. Nothing could be further from the truth, sweetie darlings! Nothing!! Don't believe the hype!!! You don't need money to get fit. You don't need product X, brand Y, or gym Z. You can walk yourself fit. Dance in your own living room. You can do loads of things with your own bodyweight and nothing but. Look it up. Carrying your own weight. Literally and figuratively. I guess that's what it's all about.]

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