Last May, in the early days of the pandemic, I wasn’t riding outside much at all. Hospitals were at max capacity and I really didn’t want to be part of the burden. Riding seemed risky and since I had a safe option, riding the trainer at home on Zwift, I took it.
This May, a year later, we’re starting to ease restrictions here in Ontario and I’m finally getting out and about on my bike. Mostly though I’m not riding my road bike. Mostly I’m riding my jack-of-all-trades bike, my bike that I’d choose if I could only have one bike. We’re riding on trails for fun and I’m running errands with it too.
Friday was Bike to Work Day and since I’m working from home still, there was no actual riding to work. Instead I took the afternoon and ran work-related errands by bike. I stopped by campus for a photo op with the Gryphon!
Sunday, see photos above, we biked out to Guelph Lake on the gorgeous multi-use pathway in Guelph that runs alongside the river.
June is Bike Month and I’m hoping to get out lots more.
Second excerpt from my forthcoming book Growing Old, Going Cold: The Psychrolute Chronicles, about my Life as an (aging) cold-water swimmer by Kathleen McDonnell
I remember standing in line with my fifth-grade classmates as we waited to get our polio shots. I knew that throughout history there had been terrible epidemics, like the Black Death, where people dropped dead in the streets (which was actually more the case with cholera than the Plague). Like most people who grew up in the twentieth century, that was pretty much the extent of my acquaintance with serious contagious disease.
So when the Covid-19 pandemic and the worldwide lockdown hit in early 2020, I wasn’t terribly phased by it, at least on a personal level. Shelter-in-place? No problem. My spouse and I already worked from home. In fact, a lot of the writing of this book was done during that time. Social distancing? No problem there, either. On this part of Toronto Island the houses are close together – sometimes a bit too close together –so we don’t feel isolated. Like everyone else, we stayed separate from our daughters and grandchild, but FaceTime and outdoors visits made up for that. Get outside once a day for exercise? Let’s see, I live in a village on the edge of a nature park, on an Island surrounded by water. I venture outside, walk for less than five minutes and I’m in the water. Even in the time of Covid Isolation, there couldn’t be a better situation for a swimmer. As time went on, though, I realized just how extraordinary my situation was, how truly fortunate I was.
I began to see posts by fellow open-water swimmers going through withdrawal, lamenting that they couldn’t get to the water since parks and beaches everywhere were closed. It was just the time of the season when cold-water swim groups were gearing up, and now they were blocked. In the UK the guidelines were rigidly enforced in some areas, with patrolling bobbies chasing people out of the water. One determined outdoor swimmer stopped because she couldn’t stand the stares, the sense that onlookers were thinking, “Why should you get to swim, when I can’t?” A couple of months into the pandemic, swim memoirist Bonnie Tsui published an article in the New York Times entitled “What I Miss Most Is Swimming” “There’s a poignancy to being a swimmer now,” she writes, “in that we’re not able to do it just when we need it most.”
I was always disdainful of those single-lane lap pools, and the so-called “Endless pool,” a jet resistance you swim against, basically going nowhere – endlessly! But with the shutdown of conventional pools, swimmers were buying them or, more commonly, wishing they could afford to. Meanwhile, the open-water community in the UK refused to take the situation lying down. I saw a flurry of posts on online sites about blow-up backyard pools. Yes, folks who proudly describe themselves as “wild swimmers” were ordering blue plastic inflatable pools on Amazon, setting them up in their backyards, tethering themselves to a stationery object and proceeding to swim in place. Swimmers who hate chlorinated pools were dumping chorine into their backyard pools so they wouldn’t become germ infested. They patted themselves on the back for making do with cheery British pluck. And as pitiful as it all looked to me, I could totally understand. It’s an addiction, this need to be in water. I even felt a bit guilty. They had these postage-stamp-size pools, and I had a Great Lake.
After the full-on lockdown began to ease up in early summer, outdoor pools in Toronto began to re-open, but with restrictions. The city imposed strict limits on the number of people in the pool at any one time, and each swimmer’s time was limited to 45 minutes. Between shifts the pools were cleared and surfaces sterilized. People found they had to wait in line, sometimes for hours, and often didn’t even manage to get into the water. Lanes had to be booked ahead of time. Lockers were off-limits. Time in the change rooms was minimized: Swimmers were encouraged to wear their suits to the pool and home again. Once they managed to get into the facility, some users even found themselves singing the praises of the restrictions. “Forty people is nothing. You feel like you have the place to yourself. Maintaining distance is a breeze.” Ian Brown wrote in the Globe and Mail. Still, in the middle of a summer heat wave, Toronto pools were operating at a quarter of their capacity, in a city that sits beside an enormous freshwater lake.
Now, I don’t believe that the big concrete-and-chlorine tubs are going to disappear, nor do I think they should. But I look forward to a day when they’re no longer the default option for getting into the water. Covid-19 has changed the swimming universe. As I write this, indoor pools in Toronto are once again declared off-limits. And the various Open-Water and Wild Swimming sites I follow on Facebook show a huge jump in interest.
I found evidence of this in my own back yard. A neighbor of mine who is a dedicated pool swimmer told me the lake was too cold for her, even in the summer. But the lockdown forced her hand, and this past summer she broke down and bought a neoprene top. Off Ward’s Island Beach, there’s a line of buoys to keep the boats out of the swimming area. We reckoned they were a little over 50 meters apart. From then on, most days I’d see her doing her daily 1500 meters between the buoys. (Okay, so it is possible to swim lengths in a lake.)
The Wild Swimming trend may have begun as a necessary adjustment to pandemic conditions, but it’s taking hold worldwide, as more and more swimmers go for regular dips in open-air pools, lakes and rivers. At one point, demand in the UK was so high that the Outdoor Swimming Society was forced to take down its map of wild swimming spots, in an attempt to prevent overcrowding. Even colder weather, more challenging water temperatures and the discomfort of wriggling into dry clothing in public is failing to deter many of the converts. The National Open Water Coaching Association (Nowca), which operates bookings for 30 open-water venues in England and Scotland, said the number of swimmers in October was up fourfold or 323% year on year, after a 60% rise in swimmers over the summer. The surge in outdoor swimming has been a boon for watersports suppliers. Sales of swimsuits are down because of the closure of indoor pools, but cold-water swimming gear – wetsuits, dry robes, neoprene swimcaps – is flying off the shelves.
Covid-19 has introduced countless water-lovers to the joys of open water, and a lot of them will never go back. As one convert wrote on an Open-Water Swimming site: “Ya gotta love not having to book lanes at the pool.”
Kathleen McDonnell is the author of nine books and more than a dozen plays, which have had award-winning productions in Canada and the United States. She’s also been a journalist and CBC radio commentator, and does a fair bit of teaching and public speaking. As befits a passionate swimmer, McDonnell lives on an island; Toronto Island, a unique, vibrant, mostly car-free community a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto where she and her life partner raised their two daughters. Check out her website: http://www.kathleenmcdonnell.com/.
An excerpt from my forthcoming book Growing Old, Going Cold: The Psychrolute Chronicles, about my Life as an (aging) cold-water swimmer.
It’s not that I have anything against pools. I’ve swum in plenty of them. They’ll do in a pinch. For competitive swimmers they make perfect sense – separated lanes, straight lines on the bottom, water sanitized to kill bacteria and other undesirable critters – everything is controlled, predictable. And there’s the rub. That’s precisely what those of us who prefer to swim in open, natural, “wild” water are trying to get away from. But in the modern world, pools have become the default option, and the pool mentality intrudes where it doesn’t belong.
Some years back I found myself back in Chicago in the height of summer. It had been a long time since I’d been in my hometown during swimming season, and I was excited at the chance to immerse myself in the waters of Lake Michigan once again. This would be a pilgrimage to Touhy Beach, the very source of my swimming passion. The day was calm, the water warm, and I headed in, anticipating a nice long swim. A Big Swim: A round-trip to a beach a half-mile to the south.
There was a lifeguard in a rowboat a little ways out from shore. I nodded to him as I passed the boat, on my way into the deeper water where I could commence my big swim. I dove in and my stroke quickly settled into a nice, steady rhythm. Until I got near the first of the short wooden piers and saw the lifeguard boat in front of me, blocking my progress. I tried to swim around the boat, but he rowed in front of me again. I stopped swimming and faced him, standing in water that was no more than shoulder-deep.
“You mean, I can’t keep swimming in this direction?”
“That’s right, Ma’am. You have to stay in this area.”
“Why? It’s not very deep here. I’m a good swimmer.
“We have to keep an eye on everyone in the water, Ma’am. You’re not allowed to swim lengths here.”
Again with the lengths! Not only was I not permitted beyond the pier, it appeared I was only allowed to bob up and down in this narrowly-defined area. I’ve been “ma’amed” before by lifeguards at my home beach in Toronto and I usually try to keep my cool. But it was all I could do to keep from yelling at him. “This isn’t a pool, it’s a lake – a BIG lake and I’m going to swim in it!”
Was I asking for trouble? Would he call the other lifeguards to pull me out of the water? I acquiesced and swam a few strokes back the way I’d come, then swam a few strokes the opposite way, curious to see if this short back-and-forth distance fit his definition of “lengths.” Of course, to show me who was boss, he inched the boat as close as he could without the oar hitting me. We went on like this for several minutes, a few strokes, going a bit farther each time, then turning back the other way, the lifeguard maneuvering the boat so that it was never more than 2 or 3 feet away from me.
Finally I’d had enough. I’d come to the motherlode, the original source of my Great Lakes swimming passion, and all I’d managed to do was get a bit wet. And be treated to a demonstration of how the act of swimming had become distorted, synonomous with “lengths” of a chlorine-filled concrete hole-in-the-ground. It’s yet another way humans turn away from the natural world, and foolishly insist that the experience of being in water can be replaced or – worse – improved upon.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when swimming in natural bodies of water was considered completely normal.
Moats, Swimming Holes and Pools
You might think pools are a modern invention, but in fact they go back several millennia. As far as historians know, the Great Bath at the site of Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Pakistan was the first human-created pool, dug during the 3rd millennium BC. This brick-lined pool was about 39 by 23 feet and was likely used for religious ceremonies. The structure is still there, and has been designated a South Asian World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Both ancient Greece and Rome had extensive public baths that were central to community life as meeting places for socializing and relaxing. Later the Romans built artificial pools in gymnasiums that were used for nautical and military exercises. Roman emperors also had their own private pools in which fish were also kept, hence one of the Latin words for a pool was piscina.
These early pools were used as healing baths for various conditions, rather than for swimming, which took place in natural bodies of water. The Romans built baths in other parts of the empire too, including the one that gave its name to the city of Bath, England circa 70 AD. The original Roman Bath was a renowned healing spa and swimming locale until well into the twentieth century, when a deadly pathogen was discovered in the water. The historic structure is now for tourist viewing only, replaced for swimming with more modern facilities. It’s one example of what Roger Deakin discovered on his epic swim across Britain, lamenting the abandonment and decay of many traditional bathing sites. Deakin’s book Waterlog traces the history of swimming in Britain and its evolution from natural swimming holes to contained, human-made structures. Deakin started his journey from a spring-fed moat on his own property in Suffolk. Typically he would swim from place to place, then walk back to retrieve his clothes and gear at the starting point, basically the opposite of doing “lengths” (So there, Touhy lifeguard!)
The early twentieth century cemented the transition to enclosed swimming structures, and dozens of open-air lidos were built across Britain. For the most part these lidos are much bigger than modern pools, like the massive art deco Jubilee Lido in Cornwall, and they typically designated separate areas or times for men and women to swim. Mixed bathing only became common from the mid-twentieth century. By tradition, many lidos were kept open right through the winter, and were situated by the seaside to capture seawater in the enclosure. There’s an example of this practice in my hometown of Toronto. Built in 1922, the Sunnyside Bathing Pavillion is almost twice the length of Olympic size pool and has room for 2,000 bathers. Now known as the Gus Ryder Pool, this concrete behemoth filled with several tons of chlorinated water sits right next to a Lake Ontario beach – an almost perverse turning away from its own environment. As Roger Deakin said of pools, they are “simulations of nature with the one essential ingredient – wildness – carefully filtered out.”
With the worldwide growth in pools’ popularity came the need for better sanitation measures. Originally they employed archaic filtration systems that required the filters, and the water itself, to be changed frequently. By the time of the polio scare in the late 1930s and 1940s, a panic arose over the public’s fears that children could be exposed to the poliovirus in community swimming pools. In 1946, however, a study showed that chlorine was one of the few known chemicals that could kill the polio virus. As the problem of polio transmission receded, swimming pools regained popularity as a fun and exciting summer venue for families. Moreover, chlorine, as a polio disinfectant, became the near-universal method of pool sanitation, and by the early sixties, strict regulations on chlorine in pools were in place. And it will only get stricter with the rise of a new virus.
Kathleen McDonnell is the author of nine books and more than a dozen plays, which have had award-winning productions in Canada and the United States. She’s also been a journalist and CBC radio commentator, and does a fair bit of teaching and public speaking. As befits a passionate swimmer, McDonnell lives on an island; Toronto Island, a unique, vibrant, mostly car-free community a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown Toronto where she and her life partner raised their two daughters. Check out her website: http://www.kathleenmcdonnell.com/
Keep an eye out for Part Two, on May 7th, here at Fit is a Feminist Issue.
CW: Talk of weight gain, negative body image, and the potential for intentional weight loss
I’ve put on some additional body fat this year. I’m not totally ok with it. I mean, I’m OK in the sense that my world isn’t coming to an end, but I was more comfortable in my body when it was smaller. And the habits I had that kept me at that smaller size were absolutely healthy, sustainable habits for me. Until they weren’t for a while.
I’m going to say some things that I know aren’t in alignment with everyone in this community, starting with the fact that I’m ok if you have decided you’re more comfortable in a smaller body. I don’t think that feeling is always problematic. However, I do think we need to examine the reasons why we are more comfortable and make sure we’re being honest about what we have control over and that our reasons for wanting to be smaller that are based upon our own values, not someone else’s.
After all, what if you do some soul-searching and realize you have a belief that being a bigger size makes you less successful? What if you feel less attractive or less worthy in a bigger body? Most likely, these are not beliefs that stem from your own values but rather a reflection of internalized fat-phobia. So, when you notice this bias, approach it with curiosity, and then decide how you want to live your life and what kind of world you want to live in. If it’s important to you to address this internalized fat-phobia, then there are things you can do to counteract it. One of them isn’t being mean to yourself for realizing you have work to do. I think unlearning fat-phobia and misogyny are lifelong processes, just as unlearning and dismantling our complicity with White supremacy will require a lifetime of attention and learning. I’m ok with that. These are complicated challenges, and we are co-creating new societies and cultures. That work will take time, and it is appropriate that it does.
So, I’m not gonna get down on you, or myself, for noticing some shame about the changes in our bodies. I’m also not going to say that the only solution is learning to accept our bodies larger. We can choose that solution. It’s on the table to do absolutely nothing to intentionally change size and to instead focus on feelings. In fact, if you or I decide we aren’t ok with this larger size, we will still need to deal with these feelings in order to find a healthy, balanced approach to changing things. The lifestyle and habit changes that come from a place of shame or self-judgement are not going to be changes anyone would want to sustain. Who wants to live in perpetual self-punishment?
Doing the work of learning to accept ourselves without judgement, even when we’re currently uncomfortable in our bodies, will likely take some time and reeducation. We must notice our feelings. Question the beliefs that they stem from. Learn to reframe our thoughts. It will take time and patience for this process.
I am bigger that I was a year ago and for a long time, it was really uncomfortable for me–physically and psychologically uncomfortable. I found myself feeling like I’d failed, like I was less valid.
However, I’ve been working on building up my healthy habits again and finding new mindsets that help me see the work I’m doing, not just a measurement against some false finish line. One of the biggest lies of diet culture is that the only changes that matter are big changes and the only changes in our bodies that matter are dramatic transformations. I’ve been working on noticing my internalized fat-phobia–how often I’m so much harder on myself than I would be to anyone else, expecting myself to make big, dramatic changes, and I’m working on counteracting this narrative in my head. As a result, I’m feeling pretty good right now. I’m a tetch smaller than I was a few months ago, but that doesn’t compare to how it feels to being able to move again without pain in my joints. It doesn’t compare to how it feels to be eating in ways that gives me more consistent energy–not bouncing between loaded down and overfed, and hungry and undernourished. I’ve made this progress because I’ve given myself credit for the work along the way, even when it seemed small or “insignificant.”
For me, this work is about how I feel in my body every day and having the freedom to pursue the life that I want to live in this world. Feeling good IN my body is helping me feel better ABOUT my body. It’s helping me counteract my internalized fat-phobia, showing me the strengths of my body rather than focusing on perceived weaknesses.
It’s ok to notice that you’ve internalized fat-phobia. In fact, the only way we can address it is by acknowledging it. Shaming yourself, or someone else, for participating in the dominant culture isn’t going to lead to lasting, healthy solutions. Do the work to learn to accept yourself, your body, and your thinking as you are right now, as a work in progress, and then find solutions that work for you from that place of love.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found questioning her beliefs, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon. Youcan now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .
While current pandemic measures here in Ontario discourage travel, even between health units, I’m hoping that by summer we can at least go to the beach. Right now we’re in the “Can I still leave my house?” stage of things. Here’s the answer: “Yes. The province says residents can still leave their homes if travelling for an essential purpose, like buying groceries, picking up a prescription from a pharmacy or exercise.” That order is scheduled to end on May 20.
This week, a new study came out, saying that people who were consistently inactive were more at risk for severe COVID effects– hospitalization, intensive care, and death– than people who were more physically active.
As usual, news sources here and here were anxious to promote what they saw as the take-home message: that if we want to avoid hospitalization and death from COVID, we all need to be consistently physically active (150+ minutes/week of moderate-to-vigorous activity).
Also as usual, I read through the study itself in detail, and found a lot of complications in the data and the analysis, which suggest a different take-home message (which I’ll get to shortly).
First though, the researchers and media coverage conveyed one message with one voice, loud and clear: physical activity is a strong modifiable risk factor for severe COVID.
Modifiable? What do they mean? They mean that our levels (and intensities) of physical activity are under our control– we have the option to increase or decrease the amount of time we spend on physical activity, as well as to change how vigorously active we are.
That’s clearly not true. And it’s not true on several fronts.
First of all, the researchers cite data that, on average, Americans have at least 4–6 hours a day of leisure time, which they tend to use on electronic media. That is, we’re sitting and playing with our phones or watching Netflix. The implicit conclusion is that we should instead be lacing up our sneakers and heading out the door instead.
But that’s just not the reality for most people. We know– from studies, from news, from talking with friends and neighbors, and from looking at our own lives– that the idea of work/life balance is a thing of the past. People are working longer hours and for lower wages and fewer or no benefits in the US and elsewhere. There may or may not be 4–6 hours a day in which people aren’t doing their jobs and aren’t sleeping (which is also rampantly in short supply for most). But there are the matters of childcare, eldercare, cooking, shopping for food and necessities, cleaning, paying bills, etc. You all know this.
So, in this sense, it’s not clear to me that people have at their disposal rafts of time for physical activity. And it’s certainly not uniformly distributed throughout the population. For instance, the researchers did NOT use income as a factor in their analysis. If they had, they might have had more interesting and useful results.
Second, let me dip into the data for a moment to show you another problem with this idea that physical activity is an entirely “modifiable behavior”. Take a look below:
What we see here is about 48K participants in total. Those who have been consistently inactive (0–10 mins/week) are 14% of the group. Those who are consistently active (150+ mins/week) are 6% of the group. The rest (80%) report 11–149 mins/week of activity.
The researchers are saying that, seeing that only 6% of the participants report meeting the national physical activity guidelines, that everyone else who isn’t meeting those guidelines must be failing to do so because of factors under their control.
That makes no sense to me– that they or anyone would draw that conclusion. We know that changing health behaviors around eating and activity is hard. We also know that many of these targeted health promotion campaigns tend to have pretty dismal long-term success rates. Why?
Because there are lots of structural features of our lives that make regular physical activity very difficult: time, access to safe spaces, nutrition, sleep, income, family and other obligations, physical and mental health conditions, ability/disability, you name it.
So, is physical activity a modifiable health behavior? Yes, sort of. But it’s much more complicated than the researchers are saying. Their recommendation:
We recommend that public health authorities inform all populations that short of vaccination and following public health safety guidelines such as social distancing and mask use, engaging in regular PA may be the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.
My take on this: you can save your breath. We already know that physical activity is important. We’re not uninformed; we’re simply overburdened. It’s not your fault, researchers, but please stop saying in your conclusions that the public needs to be better informed. The public needs to be better served by government, health care, and places of work. Those are what I would call modifiable factors for quality of life.
This weekend we loaded one of the 50 km routes used by the Tour de Guelph and set out on a sunny Saturday afternoon. When you added on getting to campus, where the ride begins, going for coffee after, and a brief detour where Sarah thought the Garmin directions were wrong but they weren’t, we ended up clocking about 60 km. It was fun and relaxing and I started wondering what felt so different than last summer.
First, I think we have a better sense of what the risks are. I’m riding with one other person with whom I live. Nothing dangerous there. I’m not racing or riding particularly aggressively. And I’m staying away from roads with lots of traffic. We’re choosing routes carefully.
Second, I feel more prepared. I bring a mask. I have people at home who can pick us up if we have a mechanical difficulty. Hi, Miles! It’s year two of the pandemic and I feel more certain about what I’m doing.
Third, I’m partially vaccinated. One shot of AstraZeneca a week ago. My mother is also partially vaccinated–Pfizer at one of the provincial clinics, this one run by the University of Guelph. Sarah is Schrodinger vaccinated. Maybe or maybe not but she will be by the end of the clinical trial she’s taking part in. On the one hand I feel like that shouldn’t be changing my behavior, and it’s not really, but I do feel less anxious. Jeff the boat dweller also got vaccinated this weekend, before taking off on his big boating adventures, the 2021 edition.
Fourth, it’s another summer and I feel like the beginning of the end of the pandemic is in sight. Yes things are very bad right now in Ontario but words like these give me hope: “Countries that have combined a stay at home order with mass vaccinations have wiped out their third wave.” See Third State of Emergency. I’m hoping for a better summer than last, certainly a better fall 2021 than 2020, and a winter that sees us mostly out of the pandemic woods.
Last week, Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene– an anti-mask, anti-trans, anti-Semitic, pro-conspiracy theory member of the US House of Representatives– posted video of herself on Twitter doing her usual Crossfit workout of lifting weights and doing those odd-looking Crossfitty kipping pullups. I’m not linking to her social media, but in her post she said, “This is my Covid protection. Time to #FireFauci.”
Even (or especially) those who find her politics repellent were nonetheless fascinated by her workout. Why? I can only guess that lots of people find politicians (especially female ones) who are working out to be a novelty.
Well, they’re not. How do I know this? The internet told me. Herewith exhibit A: US Vice President Kamala Harris. She spins, she works out with weights, and she even runs up and down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when they’re handy. You can read more about her workouts here, and watch her in action below.
VP Harris also takes time out from her workouts to pose for selfies with strangers, all the time protecting them by wearing a mask.
By the way, in case you were wondering who the cover photo person is, it’s New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, working out with dumbbells in a gym before COVID. Just FYI.
The US doesn’t have the market cornered on active female politicians who believe in science and public health. Former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne , who Cate blogged about here, is an avid runner. She races when she can, and keeps working out when she’s traveling, as we can see here on her twitter feed from a few years ago:
I couldn’t find a photo of her wearing a mask, but she’s very clear and vocal about her support of masks, both at the local and national levels.
What we’re seeing in these three public servants are advocacy for science-informed public health, a commitment to being active for themselves and as role models for others, and sending out positive and accurate messaging about how we can live our best lives. At the moment, that includes wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Oh, and not firing one of the longest-serving government workers with expertise that we all need.
Take that, Congresswoman Greene and see if you can pull that message up.
Hi there—sorry I’m so late to the pandemic party! Yes, I know the invitation said March 14, 2020; I got it. What kept me?
No, I didn’t get stuck in traffic, because there wasn’t any. At all. For months.
No, childcare wasn’t an issue, because I don’t have any kids to look after and school from home while also working.
No, I wasn’t out in the scary, contagious world, treating sick people, feeding them or supplying them with their essential needs, risking my own life and health in the process.
Nonetheless, I was pretty busy.
March: yoga-zooming like there was no tomorrow (which was definitely a possibility then).
March-April: showing up to teach-lite on zoom and respond to a mass of emergency emails from students in crisis.
May: more zoom work; attending rough-and-ready pandemic-approved substitutes for church, socializing, movement, events e.g. (a friend’s 90th distanced birthday party, everyone shouting their good wishes to the birthday girl).
June: more school zoom events, as if the term had never ended. The work days/weeks went on and on.
July: respite! A defiant, risky but worked-out-in-the-end trip to South Carolina to see family, and a North Carolina mountains distanced family vacation; yes, I’m lucky and grateful for the privilege that afforded me this boon.
August: no idea; maybe pre-semester paralysis? Sadness? Too much time inside.
Sept-Dec: head down, more zoom teaching-lite (no one fails this term); more distraught student emails, more zoom events.
Dec-Jan: another defiant, somewhat risky, but this time with genuine quarantine and rigorous distancing and testing, visit with family.
Feb: Was that last month? Who knows?
There’s this idea out there in social media-land that the pandemic has been an opportunity for people to make use of the shift to time at home (for those whose jobs and lives allow it) to do all sorts of things, like:
Zoom eventing with friends, family, community
Yes, some of us have done some of those things sometimes. We’ve also experienced sickness, loss, grief, paralysis, anxiety, depression, isolation, fear. Speaking for myself, I’ve had my share of all of them. And, I’m a lucky person who still has a job working from home and family who are either well or recovered/recovering from COVID.
Now we are on March 7, 2021. The pandemic is still with us, the vaccination roll-out is happening, but very slowly. People are talking about return to normal, or return to new-normal (don’t get rid of those masks, people; they’ll be with us for some time to come).
What do I want to do, now that I’ve finally arrived at the Pandemic Party?
More home improvement: Last summer I fixed up my back porch for outside safe-socializing. And it was so much fun having people over. I want more of that this summer—more plants, more nice places for people to come to visit me (regardless of pandemic status). I have a front porch that I want to set up as another nice gathering place, replete with flora.
More cooking: During the pandemic I got a lot of takeout, and fed myself as best I could. But there was no joy in it at the time, nor much energy or creativity. Now that we’re maybe seeing an upswing, I’m yearning for new tastes and new domestic activities. I’m currently in love with sheet pan bakes. Boy, I can’t wait to cook for my friends—but that can wait until summer…
More riding and walking and swimming and kayaking and hiking, all outside: over the past year, it’s been so hard to leave the house. Friends help a lot (thanks, Norah!), and many of us have plans. Some involve resuming previous rides (hello, Friday coffee rides with Pata!), and others involve developing skills for bikepacking (hello, Michele and Pata! You said you’d help with this…). I’m planning to commandeer one of my sister’s recreational kayaks next time I’m in SC, bringing it back with me to use in rivers and ponds and flat coastal water. It’ll be a process, getting the routine down. But there’s time.
More writing: this winter, I took a 6-week personal essay writing class online with a great place for teaching creative writing of many genres, Grub Street in Boston (which is all online these days, so check them out). I’ve signed up for a 6-week op-ed class starting March 10, so be prepared for more op-ed-y blog posts to come…
All of these goals and desires and needs of mine pre-dated the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, it seemed to me like I should now use this time to work on them. But I was too busy being upset and paralyzed to do much then. Even though the pandemic is shifting and life-as-it-was may come back in some ways, I am not shifting back to life-as-it-was. I want life-as-it-can-be, focusing on what’s most important to me—friends, family, movement, meaning, community, vocation.
Will I get on a plane again? Yeah (although probably not without a mask for the foreseeable future). But has my view about what kind of life I want changed? Yeah. Like I said, I’m late to the pandemic party, but I’m here, and I made plenty of banana bread to go around.
What about you, dear readers? What features of the pandemic party do you want to keep going when the virus dies down? I’d really like to know what you’re thinking.
Usually when people associate guilt with working out it’s guilt over NOT working out. I don’t agree with guilting ourselves over that but that’s not what I want to talk about. Instead, there is a new kind of guilt creeping into my awareness since I started being a part of a group that tracks workouts. This year it’s 221 in 2021. The fact of counting our workouts generates no end of hand-wringing, especially among people who are new.
I get it. When I first started I wanted to know what people “count.” But it’s only since COVID that I’ve noticed people expressing guilt that maybe they are counting too much. I mean if I count a Sunday 10K run as one workout, does a 20-minute walk at lunch count equally? If I counted a vigorous hour at the yoga studio back in the days before COVID, does one of Adriene’s 10 or 15 or 20 minute practices count?
Some people have an idea that it has to be at least 20 minutes to count. Many, including me, work with the idea of deliberate movement. But even then, I often will combine a short walk with yoga of whatever length as one, even if they were both deliberate and at different times. I do this because now that I am working home, almost every time I move it is deliberate. Sometimes I make myself do a short yoga session or go twice around the block or do a short run with hill repeats at lunch just to move. I don’t use a fitness tracker, but I bet I’m not reaching 2000 steps some days. That is not how I used to live pre-COVID. I used to walk a lot. The workouts I counted were at least 45 minutes because I didn’t really do other kinds of workouts back then.
I think there is a worry lurking behind some of the stress people are experiencing over counting too much is that they are somehow cheating. But cheating whom, I ask? There is no prize. There is no “system” to “game” here. All we are doing is tracking workouts. And to me, if someone deliberately works out, then yay! That’s a win.
It’s hilarious actually because lately I’m doing Superhero workouts 4-6 times a week, yoga pretty much daily, and a run or a walk every day. In January I counted them as three separate things most days. Now I’m more likely to count the superhero workout as one, and the yoga and walk or run as one.
It’s the end of February and I just hit 110 workouts. That seems somehow impossible, almost halfway to my annual goal. In fact, I’m bored of counting my workouts. If the point of it was ever to get a habit going, then I’ve achieved the goal already. And now it just feels embarrassing or something to be racking up so many workouts.
I wondered whether this was a “woman-thing” where we deny our achievements and want to downplay them. Kind of took me back to when people were all impressed when I signed up for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon and I would say “it’s just a little triathlon, not an Ironman or anything.” Why do we do that to ourselves? It was a big thing to me, never having done one before! I was terrified and I did it. Yay me. No need to downplay it. Is that what’s going on now with the guilt of counting deliberate movement as workouts during COVID?
We are living through a global pandemic. We are housebound, sometimes in an actual lockdown. We are doing our best to show up for hour upon hour of virtual meetings for work (well, this is my reality) and stay upbeat even when the idea of one more hour on zoom is soul-crushing. We haven’t been able to sit down to dinner with friends since the patios closed last fall. We didn’t see our families for Christmas. We wear masks to the grocery store. We’ve lost family members and friends and not been able to mourn them together in person because of COVID restrictions on travel and gathering and touching one another. We have been unable to make solid plans. We don’t know what life will look like post-COVID.
We have cobbled together home workout spaces over time, tucking our yoga mats and dumbbells in the corner when we’re not using them to make space for our (albeit truncated) daily lives at home. We are actually using that equipment (remember back in the day when we bought stuff to workout at home and it just gathered dust? Remember?).
Given all that, it’s pretty darn awesome if we do something active on purpose. Maybe we’re on track to 650-700 workouts this year and without COVID we wouldn’t be. Silver linings and all. Go us! Let’s check the guilt at the door.