Hey y’all– in case you’re in need of some happy, joyful, positive news today: look no further. Meet Jolien Boumkwo, Belgian shot-putter and all-around good egg. She literally embodied the spirit of teamwork on Saturday at the European Championships in Track and Field. How did she do this? By winning her shot-putting competition? Nope. She finished seventh, which is excellent. But no, it wasn’t that.
Boumkwo ran the hurdles race even though she is not a hurdler, but in fact a shot putter (completely different skillsets, I’m told). Why did she do it? Because: a) no one else on her team was available (due to injuries); and b) they needed someone in the race in order: b1) not to get disqualified from continued competition; and b2) get one point for their team in the hopes of not getting relegated from Division 1.
So Boumkwo did it. Here is the race. Watch it; you’ll be glad you did.
I love it that she’s tall enough basically to step over the hurdles and that she’s being careful not to get injured. It’s also nice (and appropriate) that she got high fives and handshakes from some of the other hurders after the race.
For contrast, here’s what Boumkwo doing what she’s trained to do.
In her spare time, Boumkwo throws hammers, too. Note how far this one goes.
I came across the story in the New York Times, and of course the commenters had plenty to say. The comments were about equally divided between congratulations and thanks to her for demonstrating the spirit of teamwork, and shared anecdotes of cases where folks substituted in a not-their-sport competition and took one for the team. There were high jumpers who tried pole vaulting, hurdlers who tried relay races, swimmers who tried diving, and so on. They all said it gave them an appreciation for others’ talent and a feeling of team unity.
Or course there was one crabby person who said Boumkwo’s performance was embarrassing. Naturally, the rest of us piled on, replying that they were quite mistaken. Here’s what I added:
Her team needed someone in the race to get a point, and she volunteered (obviously with the approval of her coaches). It was heartening to see her, a champion athlete in her own right, put her ego aside to move safely and strongly through the race on behalf of her team. It wasn’t embarrassing– not to her, not to her competitors, not to her team, not to me, and not to other sports fans. It was joyful, smile-inducing, and inspiring in the best ways.
I assume you agree, FIFI readers?
Have I missed any other heroes this week? Let us know. Or tell us about your favorite moments of team participation.
I once called my mother a whore. We were playing double solitaire. A game that, between the two of us at, was a full contact sport. Slapping our cards down with no mind as to whether the other person’s hand might be in the way. In this particular game, we were neck-a-neck, cards piling up in the center at the speed of light, then we were both going to the same stack with the same card and my mum’s hand was quicksilver, hitting the mark before me. You whore. I shouted loud enough for the house to hear. She laughed with gleeful satisfaction. I wasn’t even grounded. That’s how complicit we were in our intensity. Even calling her a whore was allowed. I don’t know why, but that was one of the insults au-courant between my best friend and I. We felt very dangerous and risqué when we used the word.
Now, I hate the word. I hate all its implications. Of women demeaned. Of the judgment reserved for women and never their client-suitors. So, when a Soul Cycle instructor used the word the other day in class, my whole body snapped to angry attention. Here’s the context. Into the third song of the 45-minute workout he asked, Are you all sweating like a whore in church? ‘Cause if you’re not, you should be working harder.
First, it took me a minute to figure out what the expression even meant. The word whore had sidelined my reasoning capacity. Then, as my mind picked back through the expression, it dawned on me. Oh. She’s sweating, because her work is deemed a sin according to the doctrine of the religious institution, whose pews she’s seated in. Sweating because she has too much to repent. Judgment Day is coming for her. Sweating because she’s a woman who leverages her sexuality. Sweating because the lord on high will be displeased by her presence. Maybe he will smite her.
Why (oh why) would someone use that expression in a room full of strong, modern women? A young gay man, no less. He could have substituted himself into the expression, the implications are the same. And he would, at least, have been making a joke on himself (still not a nice joke, though humor is more excusable when we make ourselves the butt of the humor). Instead, he regurgitated what was, no doubt, an expression he heard in his childhood. Perpetuating values infused with religiosity and thus with patriarchal misogyny. I’m going to hazard a guess that the largest proportion of the women spinning that day did not look to the church as their arbiter of moral values. I doubt that even the instructor looks to the church as his moral beacon. Yet, there he was quipping in support of organized religion’s apparent mandate to control women and their bodies.
I contemplated speaking to him afterward. Trying to make light, yet still make clear what I’d found disturbing. I reasoned that he probably was not even aware of what he was saying, even that he might appreciate me pointing out the dissonance. Then I worried that he’d dismiss me as a cranky older woman. Then I worried that I was a cranky older woman, too easily triggered because my current life circumstance is high stress. And the result is that I have zero tolerance for any demeaning treatment of women.
What did I do? Nothing.
Except canvas various of my friends about their responses. Everyone, except me, had heard the expression before. While they all agreed it was offensive, when considered closely, they were split on whether I should have said something or not. Some agreed with my do nothing approach and others thought it was important to call such things out.
And, in case you think that calling women whores is a relic of church jokes, this happened to me and a woman friend the other day. We were out for a brisk morning walk together in a mixed-use bike-walk lane. Or so we thought. Until a cyclist zipping by said, Slut!
At first, as with the whore joke, we were both perplexed. We verified with each other that we’d heard correctly. Never mind that I was confused by the singular, when there were two of us. Was only one of us a slut? If so, which one? We deduced the angry cyclist thought we were infringing on the bike lane, after studying the available lanes more closely and noticing there was indeed a walking lane further over. I wonder if the insult applies only to women walking in bike lanes, or if it’s any woman doing an activity in an unsanctioned location. Push ups on a tennis court. Cycling in a walking lane. Is any unsanctioned activity by definition slutty? Does slut retain any sexual connotation? Or is the unsanctioned activity viewed as an indicator of loose morals? A gateway to turpitude.
What I’m sure of is that the cyclist wasn’t having a good morning.
There’s no true equivalence for whore and slut to describe a man. They are words with ugly intent. Normally I like to reclaim words and expressions and transmute them into a feminine power expression. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet with these words.
Gym class becomes fun physical activity when you get to choose what you do.
I found myself thinking, what would my gym class favorites be if absolutely anything was an option? How to pick? Well, why not let the alphabet be my guide. So, without further ado, here we go– here’s my A–Z list of activities offered in my version of the Platonic form of gym class.
A: Archery. It’s not just for camp anymore. I just saw that there’s an archery center near my house; it may be on the list of potential birthday party outings I’m planning with my friend Steph.
B: badminton! For me, definitely not-basketball! I like to think I’m living proof that one doesn’t need to be able to do a lay-up in order to have a happy or successfuly life.
C: Capoeira! Wouldn’t it be fun to learn something that’s both dance and combat at the same time. If you’re at all in doubt, check out this video of women moving in powerful and graceful ways, capoeira-ing.
D: Deadlifting– I’d definitely work out with free weights more.
E: equestrian sports– I rode as a child, and it was so much fun. I wish more kids could spend time around horses.
F: fencing– I took a few lessons in college. It would be great to pick up an epee again.
G: gymnastics– I liked the vault and did minor tumbling. Maybe more rolling around on mats would be fun now. G is also for golf. I never played golf, although I’m a huge fan of minigolf, which I play on beach vacations with my niece and nephews.
H: hiking, which I like in theory but am no a huge fan of in practice. Climbing down steep rocky things is not my favorite. So I could give that a miss.
I: ice skating– it looks so graceful, and I took lessons in grad school. But then I broke my wrist. Maybe that can be cut from the list.
J: jiu jitsu– I took a few lessons and found it intense and challenging. I wish I had tried it sooner than in my 50s. Maybe next life…
K: Kayaking– yes, I love it. Wouldn’t it be fun to kayak with a whole gym class? Another option: knife throwing– wow. wish they had PE classes with this, although if they don’t I can easily understand why nor.
L: luge? No, too scary.What about lumberjack competitions? Hmmm. If you’re on the fence about this, how about watch Martha King:
M: mountain biking, mogul skiing. and yes, miniature golf!
N: Nordic (cross-country) skiing– yay! I’d also like to be better at nine-ball– a billiards game.
O: open water swimming– yes! Obstacle course running (not to be confused with parkour)? Definitely not.
P: pickleball– something I’d like to try. Plus: ping pong! parkour! Can you do both at one time? There’s only one way to find out.
Q: Quadrathlon, which I never heard of, but sounds good. It’s swimming, kayaking, cycling and running. Well, three out of four ain’t bad.
R: Racketball– I love racket sports! No to running for me– I had to in gym class and also in the two triathlons I did. Just not my thing.
S: Squash– love it! Snowshoeing, swimming, snd scuba diving! Lots of S-things to do.
It’s not on my list, but sumo wrestling is increasing in popularity among school-age young women and girls.
T: tennis! I started playing at age seven. And then there’s trampolining! If you’re not familiar with it, here’s some video from the 2021 European women’s trampoline championships.
U: ultimate frisbee– no. ditto for ultra marathoning. But hey– there are underwater ream sports– soccer, rugby. hockey who knew? I can’t resist another video here. It’s Australian women’s underwater rugby.
V: volleyball– I was so not good at this in gym class! But, loved the vault.
W: weightlifting– I definitely want to do more of this. And yes to water-everything!
X: a little license with spelling gets us xc mountain biking and skiing. I enjoy both of them.
Y: yachting? Never tried it, but I watched a yacht race once. Does yo-yo count as a sport?
Z: yes, there’s a Z-sport. It’s Zorb football/soccer. It looks hilarious and impossible, which is the perfect activity for gym class. Am I right?
So, readers, what would your perfect gym class activities be, if you could either go back in time and choose, or take a gym class for you-as-you-are-right-now? I’d love to hear from you.
Out cross country skiing the other morning, I came upon this mother-daughter scene at the intersection leading to one of my favourite trails, a winding climb:
Frustrated daughter, who looked about nine-years-old, laying in the snow across the classic ski track (that’s the two parallel grooves), scuffing one ski into the track. Exasperated mother on skis, standing a couple feet away on the corduroy groomed trail.
As I made the right turn onto my favoured trail, the mother shot me a look of complicity, saying, “…” I don’t know what. I couldn’t hear her, because I wasn’t expecting her to speak to me and my ears were focused on the podcast in my ears. On another day, I might have just smiled, as if I’d heard and carried on with my ski. Instead, I felt myself in the girl’s insistent scuffing. The intensity with which she was destroying the track resonated with my own inner girl’s desire to be and do more. I stopped.
Me: “Pardon me? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
Mother: “I just don’t understand why she’s upset. She can’t ski up this trail. It’s too steep. I can barely ski it.”
Me (interior monologue): “The trail’s not that steep. Oh Mina, stop being so judgy. Also, the trail is actually pretty steep right at the top.”
Me: “Couldn’t she do the herringbone?”
Mother: “No. She can’t do it. It’s only her third day skiing.”
Hearing this, the daughter’s ski scuffing gets more vigorous and defiant.
Me (interior monologue): “What’s the harm in letting her try?”
Me (to the daughter): “Great skis. Look, they’re the same design as mine.”
I extended one leg and put one ski next to the daughter’s much shorter one, highlighting our matching black and red Atomics. The daughter glanced at me briefly with curiosity and then continued scuffing. With that, I smiled in what I hope was a consoling way at the mother and carried on with my ski.
For the rest of my time on the snow, the feminist brigade inside my head talked over each other in increasingly louder voices.
Why can’t the daughter at least try? What the worst that will happen if she tries and fails? That she will be discouraged? That she will never want to ski again? Never want to go outside again? Well, that seems unlikely. And why do I feel certain that this scene would not be playing out this way if the daughter was a son? Or if the mother were a father? A father would tell his son that he could climb the hill. Yes, true, sometimes that goes too far in the other direction. I don’t think the whole boot camp desensitization approach is the right way either. But isn’t there a supportive, middle ground? Somewhere between get-the-fuck-up-the-hill-on-the-double and oh-no-this-is-too-hard-to-even-try. Are we so fragile as girls that we can’t even be allowed to attempt something seemingly insurmountable? Why can’t she be allowed to try and be frustrated and defeated and supported in that struggle? How will she grow her resilience?
I so wanted to encourage that little girl to take on the hill. I wanted to contradict her mother, take the girl’s hand and let her know that she had all the courage she needed to take on this hill and that I’d be right behind her. And if she didn’t make it, so what, she’d have tried and that’s what counted and next time she’d probably make it.
There were other voices in my head, who told me that I had no right to even weigh in on the topic, because I’m not a mother, so what do I know about daughters; plus the just plain civil voice who pointed out it was not my place to say anything.
I still know a little something about girls. I was once a girl who encountered frustrations. And I am a woman who has learned a lot of new things, some of which I’ve failed at and some of which seemed insurmountable when I took them on, and at which I did okay. I don’t have specific memories of my parents preventing me from or encouraging me to take on difficult tasks. There was a general ethos of try-and-try-again throughout my childhood. My parents also sent to me to an all-girls summer camp, run by a fierce woman who both cared about our safety and encouraged us to try hard things. I balk at lots of things, but I want to make my own decision about when I choose not to try or to stop trying. When I look around, I see how, even now, boys have bigger self-confidence than girls. Boys are quicker to claim that they are good at something (even when they aren’t really). I really (really) want this for girls, too.
I dream of a world where all genders are offered equal opportunity to fall down (literally and metaphorically) and be supported as they get back on their feet. So, I dare to write this piece, as a non-mother, to ask mothers: “Please give your daughters a shot at the hill, even if it feels too steep, even for you.”
Some mornings I wake up with a buzz of desire fluttering around my nerve endings. When our enthusiasm matches up and time allows, my partner and I indulge our pleasure. Inevitably though, there are mornings when that is just not possible. Until very recently, my response would be to shelve the buzz in corner, so that I could focus on the practical to-do list for the day.
Or, less productively, I’d be grumpy.
Until three weeks ago. That’s when I started taking an online course on the history and practices of tantric sexuality from the Centre Summum. I’ve been intrigued by tantra practices for more than a decade, but could never work up the courage to actually sign up for anything.
A brief and necessarily incomplete description is that tantra is a spiritual practice (across many traditions) of gathering and harmonizing our feminine and masculine energy. So, yes, tantra is about so much more than sex. And, it’s about sex.
Thanks to the pandemic, the class about sex is online. Thank you zoom for the ability to enroll in classes that would be logistically complicated or psychologically daunting, if they were in person. How much easier is it to show up from home? No one can really see when I blush, nor are there those awkward moments before and after class where we talk about … our sex lives?
We get homework. The first and second week (the third class is tonight, after this piece posts) one of our assignments was to notice those buzzy moments that I mentioned earlier (the class is in French and I love the French word for the buzz—frissons). Instead of setting the frissons aside, as I used to do, we learned to pause and simply savor the sensation of our life force energy. That’s what tantrism calls our sexual energy—our life force, the root flame of our vitality. Well, that was fun homework. Enlivening.
Another delightful assignment is practicing Kumbhaka breathing to cultivate our vital energy. Breath practices are key in tantra. As explained in the class, Kumbhaka breath is to cultivate our life force energy. It goes like this:
Ideally (but not necessarily!) done in seated meditation position. Take a deep breath in, moving the breath down from your heart into your pelvic floor. Hold the in-breath for a moment and then breathe out, moving the breath through your root chakra at the base of your spine. Allow the out-breath to continue up your spine, flow over the crown of your head and back down to rejoin the in-breath at your heart. Hold your breath at empty until you feel the urge to breathe. Repeat the breath pattern. Repeat again. You may set yourself a breath count or an amount of time, or you may just do it until your vitality is buzzing.
An online search yields a variety of slightly different descriptions, with prescriptive advice on when and how long to do the breathing. Our teacher, Stéphane, has a permissive spirit, much more about flow than structure. My personal approach is to try out different ways of doing the breath and feel into what works for me. In that spirit, I have a visualization that manifested with the practice. The in-breath is to anchor my life force (my power). The out-breath straightens my spine and as the breath flows over my head and past my face, I imagine putting on a warrior’s helmet. That’s my courage. Finally, as the breath reaches my heart, I tap into love. I’ve been doing Kumbhaka during my meditation, where it feels energizing and helps me focus (not on sex, but on what I need to focus on for the day).
Where I’ve really noticed a difference is when I do the breathing in bed, as I’m waking up on those buzzy mornings when I have to get up and start the day, no time for dalliance. When I go for my workout, which is cross-country skiing these days, I feel extra strong. The first time I felt this abundant energy during my ski, I just chalked it up to feeling happy. After all, spending a few extra moments to breathe into the frissons is happiness-inducing. The second and third times I felt the kick of vitality on my skis, I thought—hey, there’s a pattern. First, I searched around online to see if there was anything specific about my experience. While there is lots about tantric yoga and about other breathing practices and sports performance, there wasn’t anything specific about the particular connection I am experiencing. So, I asked Stéphane, if I was imagining the connection or if the Special K-effect (as I think of it, a reference to the breakfast cereal, not the drug) was a known result? He wrote me back (oh, right; because I did not have the courage to ask the question in class, live on zoom, I waited to ask in writing!): “Yes, whenever we channel our sexual energy there will be a tendency to increase all of our internal energies. It (*our sexual energy) is the source of all our strength.”
Yes! I’ll have what she’s having. Oh wait, I’m the she who is already having. That sentence may have been nonsense, but you get the picture. I’m grooving to this class, even on my skis.
Interestingly, at the risk of over-sharing, but hey, I’m already in pretty deep here: when I actually have sex in the morning, that does not make me feel stronger for my workout. The more likely result is that I am more at ease with however the workout goes. That’s an equally great outcome, since I can get caught up in performance-busting narratives in my head.
And, in case it isn’t super obvious, these practices are intended for all people with sexual energy, whether or not you are in a relationship or solo and whatever gender creates the sparks.
There’s more personal, anecdotal research to be done on this front. I plan to be very diligent about my homework. And if you’ve been wanting a new kick of energy to supplement your morning coffee, check out the Special K-effect for yourself. You can’t fake the deliciousness.
James Brown was a complicated person. But we would all do well to heed his advice here. Before reading the rest of my (tangentially related) blog post, please enjoy his masterpiece below.
While we’re here, let me point out that the unsung hero in this video is the woman dancing on the platform in the back. Could you move that well for that long in those go-go boots? I can say for myself: most definitely not. But I’d love to try…
Alas, heels like those and I don’t work and play well together. I’m just going to say it: I don’t move as well as I used to. For instance, getting up from my yoga mat on the floor has become steadily less graceful for me. I can’t go from hands and knees on the mat to a full upright position without using my hands. Bending over to make my way up, sometimes I feel a little bit like this:
Of course, toddlers are not so fussy about up, down, using hands, feet, whatever it takes to have fun and explore.
I don’t think I can maintain a squat like that long enough to make a snowman. However, at the moment I’m more concerned about my general functional fitness. Yes, I can carry groceries, go up and down stairs, access things high and low in my house and elsewhere. I do yoga and walk and cycle and swim and sometimes paddle, but not as frequently or vigorously as I did a few years ago. I’m lucky and privileged to have the degree of function and autonomy and support and access to resources that I do. But like lots of people approaching 60 (less than 3 months from now for me!), I worry about this.
Enter functional fitness training. Yes, many of you are doing it right now, but late to the party is still at the party… I really like these sorts of exercises because they are arbitrarily customizable for many different bodies.
Note: to do the following exercises requires types of mobility, balance, etc. that many people don’t have access to, especially given constraints of equipment, space and training. I recognize that my post doesn’t include these members of our community. There are programs and plans that provide opportunities for people with wide ranges of abilities and disabilities to train for functional fitness (as well as engage in all levels of athletic training). I’m not (yet) knowledgeable about these programs, but will do some work so we can blog about this in future.
Basically, these workouts all include some of the following:
push-up: against the wall, on knees, extended body from mat, etc.
plank: against the wall, weight bench or table, on knees, extended body from mat, etc.
bird dog: I love this one, which I do in yoga on my hands and knees from the mat; also done against a wall or beside a chair, bench of table.
wall sit: done against a wall and modifiable by adjusting depth of sit, time held, possibly adding reps of up and down
squats: chair-assisted (chair behind for safety) or not, adjust depth of squat
split squats: with one leg behind and one in front, dropping back leg; either chair-assisted for balance or not; can adjust depth of lunge and number of reps
bicycle crunches: can do standing (touching one bent elbow to opposite knee), sitting on a stool or chair, or while lying down on mat; can adjust number of reps, whether to incorporate elbows and how close to bring elbow to knee
standing lunge: done to the rear, holding a wall or chair for balance, or not; modifiable by number of reps, depth of lunge
mountain climbers: can do them standing upright (lifting legs whatever height), against a wall, against a bench of whatever height; adjusting speed
I love it that all of these are modifiable to give me options. I want to say right now that I’m unlikely to be doing these advanced mountain climber moves or burpees (even though they’re modifiable, as you can see in the link, I can’t even countenance them). But hey, YMMV.
I’m revisiting these functional fitness exercises, rotating them into my weekly movement plans. I want to be stronger, with better balance and flexibility. It’ll help me feel better doing activities I love, like cycling, swimming, paddling, yoga, dancing, etc.
More base strength, flexibility and balance will allow me to be more adventurous, too. Will another parkour class be in my future? Martial arts? Surfing? Tennis? Dunno, but I want to be ready for what comes as I slide into my 60s.
Samantha and Tracy started this blog with “Fittest by Fifty” in mind. I want to be
Sassy (I can check that one off now)
Spry (well, Spryer/Sprier)
by Sixty. It’s totally doable.
Of course, functional fitness isn’t the only thing that helps us meet our adjective list. But it’s a part of what helps us get around and be fabulous.
Readers, how are you feeling about your functional fitness? Is it in the background for you, or are you paying more specific attention to it? What are you doing? I’d love to hear from you, as always.
This past Saturday, my partner and I set out for an 18-mile (30 km) hike from the Castle Peak parking lot at Boreal (near Truckee, CA) to the Mt Lola parking area (near Sierraville). As the hike is a point-to-point, we prepped by parking a car at the finish on Friday. We set out at 7:45 a.m., looking very much forward to 6 or 7 hours of hiking and a dip in the lake just past the halfway point and another in Independence Lake after we finished.
We’d done the route once before, three years ago, and had happy memories of the effortful day. So, we had only the most rudimentary of paper maps with us. No apps or maps downloaded on our phones. After all, we weren’t novices to the trail and it wasn’t as if the mountains or lake could have changed locations. And the route was simple, follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to the Mt Lola junction. Take a right. Follow the only trail past White Rock Lake up and over the top of Lola, then down the other side. We’ve hiked the “other side” of Lola many times as up and down. Familiar turf.
We found our groove quickly. My partner and I have hiked together a lot and we both enjoy a brisk pace, with a minimum of stops. We passed through familiar spots of the hike, noting with pleased surprise at how much sooner we seemed to be getting to them than we’d expected. As we passed through Paradise Valley, my partner commented that it should only be another mile or so to the Lola junction. He also said that if we got to a traveled road, then we’d gone too far. We hiked on. And on. And on. We crossed a few dirt roads, most of which were clearly logging roads (i.e. untraveled). One had a sign that said “Entering Zone X.9”. We didn’t remember the road, but dismissed it as untraveled. After all, we didn’t see any cars on it as we passed by. We climbed up and over an exposed ridge. We looked back at Mt Lola and kept hiking. We expressed doubt. My partner, who likes to quantify things, said he was 10% uneasy. I was I-don’t-know-what-percent uneasy. We rationalized. We downgraded our assumed pace. We immersed ourselves in denial.
Also, I was annoyed at myself for still not buying a full brim sun hat for hiking. We passed people wearing peaked caps and hoodies as protection against the sun (not just the sun, California Sierra Mountains sun). Every time I felt its hot glow beating against the side of my face, a surge of resentment about my inadequate sun protection coursed through me. Also, I was hiking with a camelback, which had a new 1L bladder, 500 ml less than my previous 1.5L bladder. I was mad at myself for not bringing enough water. Also, I was wearing trail runners that I’d only worn one other time and I wasn’t liking them as much as my standard faves. I had a little hot spot on one of my heels.
Finally, when it seemed incredible that the junction was still ahead of us, we asked the next person we saw. A young woman, a solo northbound PCT through-hiker we caught up to (impressive!). She had an app.
After some consultation, expanding and tweezing the map on her phone, she said, “The junction is 5 miles back.”
IMPOSSIBLE. My mind screamed. I didn’t even feel capable of talking to the young woman anymore. My partner said thank you and good bye to her with great cheer. I was fuming. Why hadn’t I brought the good map we have at home? Yes, it unfolds and is huge. But still. Why hadn’t I thought to download an app? Or even look for one? What kind of self-reliant feminist was I (especially compared to the daring, app-savvy woman we’d just met)? This, in addition to my sunhat and water self-criticism.
As we passed them, we asked two more groups of backpackers if they’d seen the Lola cut-off. No one had. Sidenote: We actually didn’t see any other day hikers. Everyone we asked had apps and assured us the junction was 4.2 miles, then 3.2 miles back. One woman even showed us a picture of the bridge 2/10ths of a mile from the turn off. We knew exactly where it was. Each time, my partner was cheery and friendly with the backpackers. And each time people said things like, “Oh that happened to us yesterday.” Or, “Think of it as more time outdoors.”
I was way too frustrated to be as friendly as I could-have-should-have been. I wanted to say things like, “I don’t f@#*&ing need more time outdoors. Don’t you dare presume to know what’s good for me. I’m not just a jock. I want to read my book, too.” And other such unhelpful thoughts. At one point I sat down on a rock and declared myself done and unable to go on and that my partner should just continue without me. My partner assured me that we would make it. I refused to be cheered. Even though another part of me knew he was right, that resilient voice was getting way outshouted by the catastrophizer. Let’s call her, Apocalyptica.
We filled up on water at a high mountain spring. My partner gave me the rest of his water, which restocked my supply. And then refilled his own from the stream. We had no tablets or filter. He reasoned that it was better if only one of us got sick from the water, if that was going to happen. Thankfully, I can report at this distance of days from our hike that he’s fine! I’m grateful for his taking the risk. And for his calm throughout.
At a certain point on our way back, the resilient voice started to get some airtime. Let’s call her, I-Got-This. Apocalyptica had had her fun and was willing to let someone else take the microphone. I-Got-This reasoned that my partner and I were both strong enough. We had enough water and food and there was no still no pressure to finish. Even with 10 miles extra, we would be home well before dark. Sure, the hiking might get uncomfortable. But hey, wasn’t that what being strong was for? Plus, just think of how rock star we would feel when we finished. Soon, I-Got-This was the only voice I heard. She reminded me of the ultra-marathons I’d run. Yes, they were in 2011. Even better, I-Got-This assured me, this was a golden opportunity to renew the feeling of accomplishment I’d had when I did those runs.
When we hit the crucial bridge, we slowed way down. Our eyes combing the ground. And there it was. A weather worn grey wood sign lying on the grey dusty ground at a bend in the trail. So easy to miss. We changed its location to make sure the next hikers wouldn’t be misled. The path we wanted was nothing more than a thin filament threading through the long grass. Not many people take the cut off. We didn’t see another hiker for the next 7 miles.
What a relief! Just finding the right trail was shot of adrenaline. I-Got-This was dancing. Even Apocalyptica was grooving. She gets her thrills from the possibility of a catastrophe, not from its actual occurrence. I would have busted a move, too, but I was conserving energy. We still had 8.5 miles to go. A mile later, we found the rock we’d eaten lunch on the last time and ate lunch. Took a dip in White Rock Lake. Heavenly. Putting our shoes and socks back on after a dose of cold water was the balm we needed to recoup our spirits for the climb up Lola; an extended effort, which saves the steepest part for the top.
White Rock Lake–from the shore, halfway up Lola and the top of Lola.
Oh, wondrous summit! We lay down on a flattish rock for 10 minutes to replenish. Ate a salty chocolate granola bar. Then set out for the last 5 miles. All downhill. Every twist and turn and change of terrain comforted us with its familiarity. At the sight of our little red pickup truck at trail’s end, we yelped with relief. We. Were. Exhausted.
The day wasn’t over. We had an hour drive to pick up our car at the starting trailhead. Then we mustered a final drop of energy for ice cream by Donner Lake: Mountain Mint Chip for me; Truckee Trails flavour for my partner (that’s a vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate flakes). This is ice cream’s calling. To nourish body and soul.
Yes, we agreed that we felt pretty darn proud of ourselves for our 28-mile (46km) hike. And, we agreed that we would have been very happy (equally happy?) with the hike-as-planned; plus, we would have avoided a decent amount of agita.
Still, in these early days of reflecting on the hike, I’m glad for the experience. With each of these conversations between Apocalyptica and I-Got-This, IGT grows stronger and surer of herself; Apocalyptica more willing to step aside. Apocalyptica will never quiet completely. If she did, I’d miss her dramatic flourish in my life. But I sure do appreciate her growing accord with IGT. Together they prepare me for our ever-uncertain future.
So, Naomi Osaka. World #2, unbelievable tennis player, YOUNG PERSON (she’s 23 years old). She heads to the French Open, aka “Roland Garros” (we’re posh, peeps – we call the thing by the name bestowed upon the hallowed grounds, and there are tiny sandwiches somewhere, and patisserie, and LOTS OF BOOZE). She says: you know what? I would rather not do the press conferences this time, thanks. I am a tennis player at the elite level and barely an adult and my clay court game is a tricky work in progress. I need to focus, and also cope with all the feelings while focusing, which means I really don’t need to have to field a bunch of questions about my sexuality, or the depth of my human flaws, or other outright irrelevant crap after every match, thanks. For my mental health, you know, I just would rather not. It’s about the game, right?
Friends, she broke the internet. Of course she did.
WTF cares if tennis stars do the damn press circuit at the Grand Slam tournaments? Their sponsors, sure. (Although the sponsors make their money back hand over fist regardless, and I’d bet my new racket that Osaka’s sponsors are finding this massive controversy, splashed all over the place online, is breaking their way.) The Grand Slam organizers too, yes: they have a vested interest in stuff always going to the plan they have so carefully wrought. So the money folks, they really care.
Beyond the economics, there are, from my perspective, two main reasons the world seems in a huge way to care about Osaka’s decision to refuse to do press at the FO. There’s the fairly basic answer, and then there’s the answer behind that answer – the nuances.
The first part – the basics – smarter people than me have already weighed in on. Writing in the Guardian sports blog, Jonathan Liew has pointed out that when stars like Osaka say ‘no thanks’ to the press, it’s another reminder – a billboard-sized, viral Twitter-shaped reminder – that the mostly-white-often-older dudes who still rule the sports pages in many conventional media outlets matter less and less and less. If Naomi has something she needs to tell me, she’s gonna tell me directly, on social. And that scares the bejeezus out of those dudes.
Meanwhile, also in the Guardian (NB: wholly subscriber-funded, not owned by billionaires! As a researcher it’s the paper I trust most in the world), Marina Hyde points out that Osaka’s “mistake” was to experience her mental health and address its needs while still actively competing and winning Slams – as opposed to, you know, burying that shit, blowing up in a spectacular and headline-inducing way, crawling off for a while, then coming back with a memoire. The media (hi Rupert Murdoch! Thanks for setting such an incredibly ethical example!) LOVE a case of celebrity mental breakdown and a subsection of this media will defend to their graves their exclusive right to report on these breakdowns in the most shaming and salacious ways, damn the consequences. (I urge you to read the whole Hyde piece; Marina is a comic genius and as far as I am concerned she is the reincarnation of Jonathan Swift.)
OK, now for the nuance-y bit. I’m a beginner tennis player and I only half-glance at the Grand Slams over my partner’s shoulder most of the time, but the Osaka story caught my eye because I’ve just finished going through the proofs of a new book chapter I’ve written about girlhood, gender identity, and sport. Its focus is the amazing 2016 play The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe, which follows a team of high school-aged soccer players, all young women, as they navigate a season. They are alone on stage until the very end of the play. Their pitch is their space to own and control and be messy and flawed and incredible and talented and mean little shits because they are TEENAGE GIRLS. They use that space to actualize who they are, to be better selves every practice, to dream up and then enact, in their shared embodiment, who they want to become. There are no media folks (nor anybody else) present.
This is revolutionary. Why? Because, as my chapter argues, the history of women in competitive sport is a history of the male gaze freaking out like crazy. Add in girls doing their own thing, for their own benefit, and things get really sweaty in a hurry.
(I want to be clear here that “the male gaze” is a patriarchal construct, not a feature of biology attached only to actual men: it refers to how all of us humans who live under patriarchy – a social structure in which men are valued, culturally, above others – learn to look at bodies, including our own. Think about it: when you look in the mirror, as a strong and fit woman, what do you see? I see my perimenopausal hips and thighs and think, rats. What did I eat yesterday? BAM! That’s me looking through my female eyes with a male gaze.)
Sporty women are a huge problem for the male gaze. Why? They are STRONG. They are bulky – muscle-toned. They are working their bodies for a purpose other than attracting male attention – this is weird and taboo to patriarchy. (Check out stuff we’ve written here and elsewhere on the blog about Serena Williams, and also Sam’s great posts about women on bikes, to learn more.) Sporty women are also, of course, incredibly beautiful, graceful, powerful – damn fun to watch. So the upshot is: we want to watch them, with our patriarchally-trained gazes, but in the process we (even sometimes feminist humans like me!) experience serious cognitive dissonance. How can they be so incredible to watch while not conforming to patriarchal expectations about what incredible-to-watch women are supposed to look like?Are you even allowed out in public with thighs that strong?
From here – DIRECTLY – comes the now-infamous corollary dispensed by La Mostly Male Presse (again, see Serena, women on bikes, Megan Rapinhoe, you name the bad-ass girl athlete): if you’re going to compete at this high level, laydeez, we are going to reserve the right to judge you constantly, shame you continuously, and call all of your tactical choices into question. Otherwise, you make us look a bit too hard at the structures of our social systems and our heads start to hurt and we have to consider perhaps, um, making some serious structural changes. So we’re going to push you back down, down, down. Don’t be so uppity, miss tennis star. Who exactly do you think you are?
And here – HERE – is where the rubber hits the clay, so to speak, for Naomi Osaka.
She’s young, and like all young people thrust into the limelight, she’s having to figure out some basic ontology (aka, who am I? What will I become?) while also competing at the most elite level, in the public eye. She is vulnerable and fragile like all young women who grew up under patriarchy, but to the Nth degree because tennis star (AND woman of colour, hello structural racism!!).
Add to that Roland Garros, which is a clay court surface and thus clashes with some of the strongest aspects of Osaka’s game, and both Naomi and La Presse know what’s most likely to come of any tete-a-tete post-game. Who the hell wouldn’t blame her for saying, you know, I think I’d rather play tennis than live out my existential fears on camera, so that maybe I can improve my clay court game. Ok with you?
Was her “hard no” to all press a bit OTT, maybe even a bit childish? Dunno – depends on your lived experience. When I was 23 I was only just recently not a child, so maybe a bit? #mostlynormal
Is Osaka a flawed human who let some probably nice people down in the process of making this call (for ex: occasional amazing female sports journalists who might have asked awesome questions)? Sure. She’s flawed as hell – have you seen her clay court game? Again, really not the point though, unless you feel safe tossing those stones.
What Osaka is asking, really asking, is that we hear her when she says: I’m supposed to play top-game tennis here and also face the press, all while keeping my shit together, and this combination of things is not, for me, actually possible. It’s not possible for some of my peers, too, and I wonder if perhaps we could take a look at the system and shift things so that maybe one day it could be possible, things could be kinder, and more fair for us all?
Funny how, when we ask questions just like that, the press corps and the Slam chiefs find it really, really hard to offer a good answer.
(note: this post contains descriptions of situations (including alcohol use) in which there is a risk of or actual sexual violence)
I met my first husband while I was lying on the bathroom floor of his fraternity house. He shook me into enough consciousness to stand me up and then carry me into a quiet bedroom, away from the jam-packed party. I was nineteen years old. I was drunk. I’d passed out for some brief amount of time.
I was in a relationship with him for eight years. After the first month or so, I didn’t even think about that evening. He didn’t live at the frat house. I never went back there for another party. The bathroom floor of that frat house passed (surprisingly quickly) into the nether reaches of my memory.
Until I watched A Promising Young Woman, the Carey Mulligan film about a woman (Cassie) on a mission of vengeance for the rape of a drunken friend. When the film initially ended, I got caught up in a conversational critique with my partner around the unease and discomfort the film created in us (as well as the movie’s flaws). My partner didn’t like that Cassie was portrayed as crazy, when it was the men’s behavior that was so horrible. One of the sticking points, for me, was that all of the men were portrayed as complicit, compulsively predatory and irredeemable in the face of a seemingly vulnerable, drunken woman. That long ago frat party wasn’t even in my mind. Then it was. As I slept, the film knocked on the door of that memory. I woke up. Remembering.
I went to the party with a friend. I was wearing a black and white striped, thin, jersey knit mini dress. We drank a lot of everything. At some point I felt like I was going to throw up and my friend and I went upstairs to an out of the way bathroom. I didn’t throw up. I begged my friend to leave me there and let me “rest” on the cool, tiled floor. The next thing I remember is male voices, joking with each other about what they should do with me. Then I heard one man’s voice rise above the others. Did I notice the slightly nasal twang then, or is that something I came to be familiar with later, when his was one of the voices I’d recognize anywhere? He propped me up enough to get me into a bedroom. I lay down on the bed. He settled in on a chair. The guardian. His Finnish roommate was also there. They chatted, while I swirled around in nauseous, alcohol-soaked whirligigs. Sometime later, I heard my friend outside the door, asking around for me, worried and insistent.
This is the story of a near-miss, something too many women have experienced. Of course, another too many women have experienced the well-aimed, shot to the heart of sexual coercion, abuse and assault, including myself (Tracy wrote about #metoo here). I was so lucky that night. I didn’t even notice my luck at the time. I didn’t really recognize it until watching the movie, just a few weeks ago. I was filled with retroactive terror for the way that long ago evening could have gone wrong, but did not. I cried tears of relief in 2021, for something that happened in 1985. I felt a wave of fear, too, for my lack of respect for the lesson of that close shave and my lack of gratitude. How near did I come to being the absent girl in the movie? Stripped of my physical integrity and mental wellness?
Despite my almost-immediate forgetting, the party’s impact clearly lingered in my subconscious. I cut back on my drinking, swinging way in the other direction to a level of constant vigilance that’s only ever been disrupted by precarious drunkenness a handful of times since then. I experienced a moderate uptick in my drinking in my 40s, which I considered a positive development. I was relaxing the reins of control. I felt safer, though I wouldn’t have named that then. Until menopause put her foot on the brakes again. Now my body will barely tolerate more than half a glass of wine.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now, for the first time, how I reclaimed agency over the safety of my body by controlling my intake of alcohol. I also see how, years later, discovering running helped me claim even greater sovereignty over my body. Running (and other sports) transformed my relationship with myself (I wrote about that in my very first post here on Fit Is A Feminist Issue, as well as in two books). When sports came into my life, I was no longer only concerned with my physical safety, but also my body’s strength and how I wanted to use it. Through that fresh lens, I looked around and saw other things I wanted to change. I left the practice of law. I left the relationship with that decent and kind man. We weren’t right for each other. There were many reasons. One big one was that he wanted us to have children. I already suspected that I wasn’t interested (I’ve written about being childfree here). Bearing children was not a dream I had for my body or for my life.
If I was still in touch with my ex, I might have reached out to him after watching the movie, just to say thank you. I do know he has a daughter. I’m glad.
I did reach out to my younger self, that promising young woman in her second year of undergraduate studies at McGill University and gave her a hug across time. At first, I could feel her cowering in shame. I don’t deserve a hug. At the same time, I could feel defiance flaring in her. You’re blowing things out of proportion, nothing happened. Don’t be such a drama queen. If you write about me, people will laugh at you. I acknowledged her shame and defiance. She softened. What else was I going to do? Scold her for her sloppy carelessness? She sees it. Oh boy, does she ever. She feels the wind of that stray bullet whizzing past her ear, missing its mark. She sees a life that could have gone another way.
All the younger versions of ourselves live on inside us, inextricably intertwined with our current self and the seeds of our future promise. And yes, there are seeds until the very end. Can we be gentle with all the outdated selves? Protect them, but also give them space to have made mistakes and still come home. After all, they are the water and sunshine for the promising women we continue to be (even if we are no longer young). Finding a peaceful accord with our past selves is the key to finding peace in the here and now. We claim ultimate agency by building our relationship with ourself (in all its different parts) and taking on the responsibility for who we are. Is it easy? Not a chance. It’s the work of a lifetime.
It’s week eight? nine? of lockdown. I’m running out of stuff to read, stuff to watch, and I’m really missing my partner, who is quarantined with his family in India. We’re not sure when he’ll be able to come home.
I’m also not sure when we will be able to go and visit my mom and dad properly again, as they are in their 80s and my father is a lung cancer survivor.
I’m alone, then, and feeling it really hard now. It’s been 71 days since another human being hugged me.
I found normalcy and solace riding my bicycle, for a while. I felt antsy about the possibility of an accident that would leave me stranded, but I was adamant I’d continue to ride nevertheless, for my own mental health. Then, a routine tune-up revealed a crack in my bike’s carbon fork, and we were benched for three weeks while waiting for the replacement part.
Meanwhile, Spring began springing up around me. I took my mind off the bike thing by focusing as much as possible on my garden, staining the fence, repainting the porch railing. But then the wind shifted, the skies greyed, and snow (??!!) flew through the air yesterday morning.
I retreated inside, into my head.
Many of us are struggling with the lurching feelings of lockdown; Susan has written beautifully about that experience here. My own sense of balance has been challenged hard, and I’ve found it so important to continue, via Zoom, with my psychotherapy. I’ve made some important breakthroughs (apparently, therapy based in my own dining room REALLY works, who knew?), and I’ve been thinking about how a lack of control over some aspects of my life in the Time Before parallels my queasy feelings right now.
I’ve also realized, as a result, how important it is to find some ownership over my experience of lockdown.
This ownership isn’t the same as control – controlling this situation is impossible and it’s a fool’s errand to try. Rather, owning this experience – partially, provisionally, imperfectly – for me means crafting a lockdown story for myself that makes me feel again like the proud, strong and powerful woman I know I am.
How am I doing this? A few ways. I’m holding to a weekly schedule that helps me to differentiate work time, home time, and weekend time. (Basically, weekends are when I can have alcohol, and donuts.) I’m walking with my dog as much as I can. I’m working out on Zoom with The Amazing Alex, and doing my usual Iyengar yoga too.
Oh, and I cut my hair off – RIGHT THE FECK OFF.
I only goofed once! Luckily, the arms of my snappy sunglasses cover the error.
We all know how toxic the policing of women’s bodies (in terms of size and weight) is; for many of us, this policing also encompasses our hair.
My childhood was defined by body image anxiety, and that anxiety was as much about my hair as it was about my shape. I have many vivid memories of failing to “do” my hair right, to borrow an apt turn of phrase from the queer philosopher Judith Butler.
Although my hair was naturally curly, my mom kept getting me perms. (I don’t think my mom has ever not had a perm, in all the years I’ve known her. It seemed natural to me to want/need one too.) Every time we went to the hairdresser, I hoped against hope that this time I’d look good, correct, more or less like my friends (aka “normal” girls).
Every time, I emerged looking like a 12-year-old Betty White.
For years I clipped my fringe up with bobby pins, trying to create some kind of fashionable front curl; what happened instead was that the others (aka, the “normal” girls) made fun of the fussy bird’s nest that resulted.
Although I didn’t know WHAT to do to solve my hair trauma, I had a niggling sense that my hair didn’t actually look good long. But long hair made me a girl, right?
Which meant I actually sort of looked like Betty White with a mullet.
Like I said: hair is a trigger for me.
It’s been a long time now that I have worn my hair short; I went full pixie back in 2013. I get my hair cut every 5 weeks; I’ve been getting my hair cut every 5 weeks for 7 years.
I didn’t understand until now how important haircuts have become to me as I’ve adjusted my perspective on my body as an adult; far from the trauma of the perms of the past, they now represent me taking control of that old narrative, the one about not having a clue about my ‘do, and learning to love my woman’s body in a non-conventional way.
So, as we sailed past the 10-weeks-since-a-cut mark last Monday, I felt the weight of my hair in my hands in the shower and knew I had to chop it off myself.
I drove to my parents’ apartment building and we had a socially distanced visit in the lobby as I dropped off a Mother’s Day gift and grabbed my dad’s clippers. Back home, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos, read the instruction manual for the clippers online, and moved the kitchen table back from the mirror that sits above it.
I stood in front of the mirror, stared at my reflection, and held the tool in my right hand. I was terrified.
But then I suddenly knew that absolutely nothing I could do to my head would feel worse than the creeping reminder of my toxic past staring back at me in that moment.
I began at my right ear; it took about 15 minutes. Loads of people have complimented me on it. And I feel like an absolute badass!
Hands down, cutting off all my hair has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.