Sunday, September 11, 2011

Too Many Sad Days, Too Many Tuesday Mornings

"I thought of tomorrow and I wished it was Monday evening."-Spider Stacey

History is filled with moments when it seemed like events could have gone in an entirely different direction if only a crucial person had made a different choice, if only something hadn't happened the way it did. When it resulted in tragedy having been averted (the Germans halting their advance at Dunkirk, for example), we tend to consider these to be lucky breaks, and even though decades or centuries may separate us from the events in question, we breathe a sigh of relief. When the events result in great tragedy, however, we sit back with the gift of hindsight and distance of many decades or centuries and frame the events which followed as having been inevitable; yes, this may have been the spark, but all the necessary components for an explosion were in place, so if this particular thing hadn't set it off, something else would have.

This doesn't just happen in historical analysis, it happens in many fictional accounts of time travel and parallel universes as well. For example, in his absolutely brilliant novel Making History, Stephen Fry does a particularly splendid job of imagining a world made worse by the absence of Hitler, arguing that all the pieces that led to his rise and The Holocaust were in place and had he not done it, someone else would have, perhaps more effectively. The argument, it seems, is that history is set in stone, not just because it has already happened, but because even if one has the means to change the past, the past cannot be changed.

So all this being said, for a good chunk of my life I did not spend much time wishing for a Time Machine so I could tell John F. Kennedy to stay out of Dallas

Another great trope of much speculative fiction is that in those instances where one travels to a parallel universe (or encounters travelers from parallel universes) the other ones are worse than ours; of course, this is not always readily obvious to the denizens of our universe. Eventually, however, no matter how awesome the other universes may seem, we find that all those little things that made our universe our universe made it superior to us (if only because it is ours. For example, in His Dark Materials, Will and Lyra travel to many different worlds, each of them interesting and different, but learn that living in worlds not their own will rob them of health and years of life).

So while I may have spent some time wondering what might have been if only Catherine of Aragon's two year old son had not died, it is easy for me to suspect that something else would have happened to have made enough of the history I know come to pass (none of Henry's boy children were hale or hearty, so if he did not outlive Henry, he probably would have had the same panicky need for an male heir leading into a lady in waiting's arms after Catherine's womb ceased to bear fruit) and to appreciate the good things that probably resulted from the events (would we have Shakespeare if Henry VIII had remained married to his first wife and not broken with the Church of Rome?).

It is really easy to do this when the events in question are not ones one has witnessed in real time and the history isn't currently one's present.

It has been ten years and the thing I wish with all my heart is that we could go back to the world as it was on September 10, 2001.

I look at what has happened since that day, because of that day--the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worldwide economic recession, the erosion of our rights and civil liberties in this country, the erosion of our morality with regards to how we detain and interrogate prisoners, the rise of islamophobia--and I am sickened. But aside from all that, I still just wish the attacks never happened. I wish we all didn't know that planes could be used as bombs and that skyscrapers could be brought down in a couple of hours. I wish that so many of us did not watch people jumping from windows because that was preferable to being burned alive. I wish that we collectively did not know what it was like to feel as if time had ceased to exist and then to realize it hadn't, that it would still march relentlessly forward whether we wanted it to or not.

The events of that day did change the course of history. And while it is impossible to know what the world would be like if that day had not happened, I believe if I were I to meet someone who walked between the worlds (much like the guy in the Sandman story The Golden Boy), they would look upon me with pity because I am from one of the worlds where September 11, 2001 was not just another beautiful Indian Summer day.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred

Up until the beginning of August, I only had a vague idea of Jillian Michaels. I never watched her show, and thought of her as just another celebrity trainer selling something I didn't really need. After all, I already exercise 5-7 hours a week at the gym and it isn't as if she is offering what I really want (yoga, ballet, pilates).

However, the exercise I tend to do is usually of the cardiovascular sort-running, elliptical machine, biking, with the occasional stairmaster thrown in for nostalgia purposes-and every single article you read about exercise emphasizes the need to include weight training. Which is what the ballet, pilates, and yoga is for, except I am not doing enough of those activities for them to really qualify. I have tried doing weights at home, I have tried doing weights at the gym, but the truth is, I can't motivate myself to do weights consistently. I have worked with personal trainers in the past, but they are expensive and if I am spending money, I would prefer to spend it on something I love (ballet, yoga, pilates). A few participants on a message board on which I participate were always mentioning doing levels of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred, but others mentioned doing P90X and Insanity, and really, it didn't seem all that interesting to me. Sure, I liked the idea of committing to something for a period of time and coming out with a body to die for, but the process sounded boring to me and, frankly, the results always seemed to be either too good to be true or not significant enough to be worth the tedium.

So there I was, less than six months shy of my fortieth birthday, considering my need to maintain my muscle mass and, it being summer, worrying that I wasn't getting as much exercise in as I do during the school year. On a lark, I borrowed Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred DVD from the library. I figured, I would try it out once or twice and, like so many exercise DVDs I have borrowed from the library, I would be disappointed.

I was so wrong.

I was not expecting much from this DVD. I did not expect it to be hard. I did not expect Jillian to be as likable as I found her to be. I did not expect to rise to the challenge of the program. I did not expect I would be recommending it to other people. I certainly did not expect AN EXERCISE DVD to change my life (albeit in very subtle ways). But I am skipping ahead to the grand finale, first things first.

I tried Level 1 of the 30 Day Shred on a Wednesday afternoon while Julian did Legos a few feet away (I figured I could at least try to get a 20 minute workout in while he played). I used five pound dumbbells and the only modification I made was doing the second set of pushups on my knees. I finished the workout and was pleasantly surprised to find it compared favorably with using a personal trainer. I found the weight portion a bit challenging, but was not challenged by the cardio or abs portions. I figured I would maybe try it again in a few days.

I woke up the next morning with pain in my anterior deltoids, pectoral muscles, and quadriceps muscles. Not terrible "I can't walk" pain, but the pleasant muscle burn you get after a good workout. This made me happy. I biked with Julian to a park playdate and assumed that would be my exercise for the day. However, after we came home, Julian started watching tv and I did a little internet reading on this whole Shred business, which is how I found out I was supposed to do Level 1 for ten days, Level 2 for ten days, and Level 3 for ten days with no rest days. What about the pain? I was supposed to work through the pain, at least, this is what the people on the internet said. Well, I figured, I could try doing it again that day and if I needed to quit, I'd quit. But of course, I made it through that workout. And the next day's workout. And the next day's workout. I was forced to take a rest day on Day 7 because I had an acting job, but by Day 9, I was completely pain free and doing the workout with almost no modifications whatsoever. I had kicked Level 1's butt.

I had a hectic weekend which meant two rest days and moved on to Level 2.

On Day 1 of Level 2, I felt like I had to do modifications on every exercise and I still didn't manage to get through the whole thing. At one point, Jillian says she wants you to be "gargling your heart" and while that makes no sense when you hear it out of context, it is such an apt description for how one feels at that precise moment in the workout. The weights were hard and the cardio was hard. How could 2 minutes of cardio be hard when I run for 45 minutes regularly? Frankly, the first day of Level 2 was a bit disheartening for me. It was one of those "oh my gosh, I thought I was in shape, but this 20 minute workout really showed me what a weak lump of flesh I really am" moments. But then I thought about how I went from pain to no pain in Level 1 in only nine days and I was feeling stronger, like I could feel muscles gaining definition. So I told myself it was only nine more days. I woke up on Day 2 in no pain and I was able to complete the workout on Day 2, and by Day 5 I was able to do it with no modifications, though it still felt really hard. I had an audition on what would have been Day 8 of Level 2, so I decided to take it easy and do the last day of Level 1 which I had skipped. And it was SO EASY. I mean, not so easy that I thought I wasn't getting a good workout or anything, more like I found myself surprised by my own strength and started considering getting some 8-10 pound weights. So I completed Level 2.

A note about Level 2: Julian was in camp for those two weeks, so I was able to get cardio workouts in as well. I have wondered if part of the reason Level 2 was so difficult for me was because I was running for 45 minutes before doing the workout. On the days when I didn't run or did the Level 2 Shred workout before the run, it was a bit easier.

So having completed Level 2, I had to make a decision. The library wanted its DVD back. Was I committed enough to this 30 Day Shred to actually buy the DVD? I mean, yeah, I wanted to finish the challenge, but did I think I would do it after the challenge was over or would this be a huge waste of money? Eh, it was $12 and I decided I liked it enough that I would keep doing the workouts once the 30 days were done.

Having invested in the DVD, I began Level 3. I had previously attempted to walk through Level 3 after one of my Level 2 workouts in the hope that I would not find myself surprised by the workout as I had been with Level 2. The first day of Level 3, it actually seemed slightly easier than I expected because I wasn't doing it after my workout. Since there is much less delineation between weights, cardio, and abs in this one, it seemed both harder and easier than the previous levels. I managed to make it through with almost no modifications and there seemed to be less of a learning curve with this Level. Some days felt easier than others, but that had less to do with me progressing from cannot to can and more to do with external factors like what I ate for breakfast or how much sleep I got the night before.

Yesterday was Day 10 of Level 3. I completed Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred. In my case, given the rest days I took, it was more like the 37 Day Shred.

You can do an internet search to find other people's impressive before and after pictures, but I have none to show.

I am certainly stronger and more toned, but I did not lose weight nor did I lose inches. This may be because I was already in fairly alright shape when I started the routine. It also may be because the lessons I needed to learn were not about weight or inches lost, but about stamina and perseverance.

In exercise, as in life, I tend to do the things I like to do. I tell myself that if I don't like it, I won't stick to it. While I don't love doing the elliptical machine, I can usually read a magazine or something while doing it. While I don't love running, I love the endorphin rush I get afterwards and can just manage to stave off boredom with the right songs on my iPod. In exercise, as in life, I have a tendency to give up on things if they are too hard. I tell myself that if it doesn't naturally flow out of me, than I must not be meant to do it. I tell myself that people with true talent never struggle or feel doubt about their abilities. However, it isn't necessarily the best thing for one to only do the things that one likes or that are easy. It is a self-defeating thing to tell yourself that because it feels like work or because it hurts or because you get stuck, then that must mean you aren't meant to do it.

Yeah, I am not just talking about exercise anymore, am I?

So I did learn a lot about myself doing this exercise routine. I learned that what I would never do in an hour, I would do in 20 minutes, so breaking something down into small chunks makes it easier for me to get it done. I learned that I do need an external stimulus to encourage me and sometimes that stimulus can come from a surprising source (I really would not have thought I would like Jillian so much. She is both really hard and really encouraging, but not in a perky way). I learned that I really like deadlines. But most of all, what I learned doing Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred is that I can commit to something that doesn't feel natural, that doesn't feel easy, that doesn't hold my interest every single second, and that I can work through the pain.

Now to go and apply those lessons I learned to the rest of my life.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Oh Boy Peggy Sue

Buddy Holly would have been 75 today.

I think it is hard for those of us who were not alive when Buddy Holly was to understand what the world he was giving his music to was like. We hear the rockabilly guitar and we don't generally think of buttoned up tuxes.

Looking at this video clip of Buddy Holly on the Arthur Murray Party through the prism of over half a century, it is hard to reconcile the hints of wild abandon in the music with the girls in formal gowns. We hear Buddy Holly and we think of this

Monday, September 05, 2011

Insanity Laughs Under Pressure We're Cracking

"'Cause love's such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And loves dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves"--Queen and David Bowie

This seemed a fitting video to post for Labor Day and for what would have been Freddie Mercury's 65th birthday.