Appearance vs. Reality (Guest Post)

In my high school English class, my teacher always told us to be on the lookout for clues that all was not what it seemed; to pay attention to characters whose inner thoughts were different from their actions, and to focus on the incongruity and what it might reveal about the characters, the story, or the world. I remember my teacher writing “Appearance vs. Reality” on the board over and over during the years I was lucky enough to be in her class. It has stuck with me, and I’m still attuned to it even when I’m watching movies or reading for pleasure.

Sometimes, I feel hypocritical even doing the occasional guest post on a fitness blog, because I feel like a total impostor; like the appearance I try to cultivate is hugely divergent from the reality. My relationship with exercise is on-again, off-again, I don’t excel at any sport (although I genuinely like a lot of them), and I’m not a nutrition expert. Some days, I feel like a total untouchable boss in the gym or in the pool, and others, I feel like an alien or a toddler who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of walking yet. I wish I could be someone who rode my bike everywhere (as it stands, I walk pretty much anywhere I can get in less than an hour and take the bus if I’m going any further). I’m a decent cook and like cooking healthy food, but have certainly been known to eat an entire pint of coconut ice cream* in a single sitting. I go through frequent cycles of “YAY I’M GOING TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD ALL THE TIME AND EXERCISE EVERY OTHER DAY” followed shortly by a crash where I eat takeout curry** every night for a week and forget what my running shoes look like.

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[Image description: A greeny-blue pint-sized carton of Mint Chocolate Chip coconut ice cream.] Seriously, you don’t understand how good this stuff is.

Conceptually, I know moderation is the key to avoiding these cycles, but I haven’t quite internalized that.

Because of this, I often feel like I have no business whatsoever in blogging—even guest blogging—for a fitness blog. It seems like the kind of thing that only people who really have their act together should do; people who have it all figured out and are here to impart some epic knowledge. Even though I’ve only done a handful of posts, I dread linking to them on my own Facebook page because I’m totally convinced that people who actually know me in real life will read them and go, “Pfft, what? Who is she to talk?” (I think this is my anxiety talking, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real.) The impostor syndrome doesn’t end there; I’m convinced that someone will realize I’ve tricked my way into my PhD program, someone will notice that all the socks I knit are basically just variations on the same theme (so take no real talent to produce), someone will find out that I have no real competence in anything whatsoever. This is indeed a case where appearance does not align with reality, or so my brain tells me.

I try to manage my worries with an awful lot of private pep talks to myself (and a lot of support from family and friends). But there’s a Catch-22: I normally rely heavily on exercise to manage my anxiety and depression, but occasionally exercise turns into a source of anxiety. For the time being, I guess I’ll just keep rolling with the on-again, off-again cycle that I’ve come to know and love (?), but I sure wish I could shake the feeling that I’m not good enough and have managed to trick everyone else into thinking I’m something I’m not. Of course, things are further compounded by the fact that I do genuinely believe that it’s okay just to do things you like doing, regardless of whether you’re actually “good” at them. So then I worry that I’m being hypocritical, and I question why not being good enough is so troubling to me. If you truly believed that it was okay to do things you like doing, whether or not you’re good at them, the little voice says, you wouldn’t feel like such an impostor.

There isn’t any grand lesson or moral to be gained from this post. I just wanted to throw these ideas out there. How about you, readers? Does any of you ever feel like your appearance doesn’t match your reality?

 

*And let me tell you, this is one case where “vegan” is unequivocally not the same as “healthy.”

**Again, “vegan” ≠ “healthy.”

A letter to my bike (Guest post)

Dear Ernie,

Wow. That was awesome, so much fun and so easy. Just like I remember.

Can you believe it was almost a year that you sat gethering dust under the stairs? I guess you can hey? You were back within days after the crash, having had your check up at the bike shop and gotten the all clear (and a chain clean for good measure). I, on the other hand, was pretty busy with the surgery to fix my elbow, dental for the teeth, the rehab, the healing, then life got pretty hectic.

If I am honest though, I avoided you. Physically I probably could have ridden without too much discomfort about 4 months ago. Possibly even 6 months ago. But mentally, I just wasn’t sure I could get past the notion that we might go over again. Which at the same time feels a little silly as I don’t remember going over last time. So I just let you sit there, your tyres flat and dust accumulating on the freshly oiled chain. What if it wasn’t easy any more? What if my hand, elbow or shoulder hurt too much? The fitness we had going last summer was gone. We literally crashed back through square one.

Fortunately the square root of one, is one. So wherever we start, it’s the new beginning.

And what a perfect beginning.  A warm summers night, the crit track at Victoria Park just outside the city. A girls rugby team training in the middle, the smell of lush grass rising with the last of the day’s heat (with small children a dog and balls going every which way to keep up on our toes). Around and around we went, spinny drills, some  sprint drills and  a few tempo ‘efforts’. Acknowledgement that we really need to do more sprint drills and maybe find a hill or 5 million to climb. Your form was great, my legs were a bit light on. But the ease, it was there. After 3 laps of the circuit it was like it always was.

I missed  you Ernie. I missed our adventures. Blaney to Bathurst through the rolling countryside of central New South Wales. Fitz’s 105km out the back of Canberra and the slowest ascent in the history of cycling, no – I didn’t think it was possible to ride at under 8km per hour and not fall over either, but there we were.  Beach weekends to “race” in triathons. Early mornings in the dead of winter with the development squad girls cutting laps of Old Parliament House in the dark. Sunday rides with Linda and the Piglet.

We’re not in Canberra anymore, but there are plenty of adventures in Adelaide too. In fact, all your fancy rich cousins from all across the globe come around in January every year for the Tour Down Under. I’m sure they’d love to see you! We’re going to have to do quite a bit of  work on getting up the hills out of town to watch them. But there’s plenty of time.

In the meantime I’ve just signed us up for Criterion training again. You’ll love it. It’s with a group of beginners. Yes, I know you know about Crit racing mate, but I think it’s best we take this chance to get going slowly.  Get out confidence back and make some new friends too.

Well, I’ve got to go. I guess I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for waiting for me. Thanks for not forgetting how we roll.


 

Do Things You Like Doing (Guest Post)

Recently, this blog shared a link on Facebook to an article about why pursuing joy is never a waste of time, and this line, near the very end, really stuck out to me:

“Remember to pursue more than success or accomplishment. Those are important, but so are the things that bring you meaning, connection, and engagement in your life.”

A few years ago, I realized that when I was using any kind of fitness equipment with a digital display (you know the kind: treadmills, ellipticals, rowing machines, stationary bikes, etc.), I became obsessed with the numbers on it. I was always pushing to burn a certain number of calories (are those even accurate, anyway?), go a certain distance, hit this or that resistance level. I stopped enjoying what I was doing and got lost in whether I was doing it well enough, whether I was worthy, whether others would approve of me.

Once I realized I didn’t actually owe achievement to anyone, it was like a light had dawned on me: I didn’t need the validation of the numbers to justify liking what I was doing, or tell me whether I had been successful. I didn’t need the end-of-workout stats to tell me whether I had gone far enough, hard enough, fast enough. I love swimming, for instance. It’s my favourite kind of exercise, no contest. I swam competitively for some years as a teenager, and while I’ve retained good technique, I’m not very fast in comparison to most former competitive swimmers. I’m probably slightly faster than your average lane swimmer, and can pass all the fitness requirements for lifeguarding certification without any trouble, but that’s about it. Once I stopped worrying about my times, though, I was able to reconnect with my love of swimming.

its-okay

Abandoning quantification has done a lot to liberate me from my own obsessions with being good enough (in an exercise context, at least). Pushing yourself can be a good thing, but for me, exercise is a way of escaping from all the other things that I feel I’m not doing well enough. So I started turning off the display, covering it with a magazine or towel, or entering wildly inaccurate numbers about my weight and age. Counting, tracking, and monitoring just took the joy out of it for me, because I was always worried about disappointing myself. So I stopped counting, and started enjoying.

But far be it from me to fall into the all-or-nothing camp. Sometimes quantifying things is necessary or useful. If you’re training for a long-distance race, for instance, you need to know how far you’ve gone so you can build up to the final distance in time for the race. And other people certainly seem to benefit from quantifying either to beat a personal best or compete with friends. If you’re one of them, good for you! I do go through tracking phases occasionally, but on the whole, it’s just not for me. I prefer to turn up the music and do some ugly, mindless lip-syncing while I do my thing, although I still keep track of how long I’ve been exercising, and I track my progress when it comes to strength training. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t push myself on the elliptical! But letting go of my obsession with some numbers has helped me let go of my obsession with all of them. It’s reframed my relationship to the numbers, allowed me to retain a healthy relationship to some numbers without assigning huge value to them, or hinging my self-worth on what they say. It doesn’t take stats to tell me whether I’ve had a successful workout. I already know the answer to that without the numbers. The joy is the success.


Valuing ourselves to make a difference (Guest post)

by Shawna Clausen

When I was 10 years old, my parents moved me and my siblings from the city of Omaha, Nebraska to a farm outside of Salem, Oregon.  It was nothing short of culture shock for me.  I had to rely on myself for entertainment and thankfully, my parents allowed me to get a St. Bernard puppy from the farmer down the street as my tag-along buddy. We would traipse around the countryside, exploring the forest down the road, or choosing which orchard we wanted to hang out in each day. I was surrounded by acres and acres of orchards, and I could choose between peaches or pears or cherries or apples, or fields of green beans or strawberries.  It really was quite bucolic.

However, there was great sadness and abuse in my life starting well before I arrived in Salem. This was perpetrated by the family pedophile, and also, sadly, from my own anger-ridden father. I was “just Shawna” for a good portion of my childhood and into some of my adulthood, and this recognition of myself within myself didn’t help me value myself or my body.

In 2012, I lost my beloved mother to lung cancer. In 2014, I lost my father to lung cancer.  Even though in their cases, lung cancer was preventable (they collectively smoked tobacco for 100 years total), life was very rocky and extremely dark during the years after they died. I gained 80 pounds, rising to an unhealthy weight of 265 lbs at my heaviest. All of my joints hurt, my back hurt, my feet and knees ached all the time, and I was so unhappy with myself, with the soon-to-be ending relationship, with my job … pretty much my entire life felt like it was one black hole.

A former partner of mine (who also happens to be a former Marine) helped me get started.  In early 2014, he started sending me dally calisthenics, with an exact # of push-ups to do, miles to walk or run, jumping jacks, burpees, V-ups, butterfly kicks. You name it, he had me do them. There was also a military play class taught at KinkFest that year that he invited me to “participate” in, so of course, I had to get into somewhat of better shape if I was going to “perform” in front of 35+ people.

In the beginning, I hated every minute of it.  It was all I could do to not come up with some colorful excuse on why I could run or walk today, what other things I needed to be doing instead of taking care of my body.

Then I remembered the bad physical shape my mother was in at my age, and I realized that in order to deal with the cards I was given, and not wait until I was 60-65 to make any physical changes, I had to do something then. That was 3 years ago.

Each time I force myself to get outside makes the next time easier.
Each step I take, one in front of the other, makes the next one easier.
Each stair I climb makes the next one that much shorter.

I breathe and breathe some more. I hear my heart pumping my blood back and forth within my veins and arteries, pushing it where it needs to go and away from where it should be, and then back again.

When I run, I listen to the staccato of my steps, one in front of the other, along with the beat of the fast-rhythm music I have on my playlist. I don’t run without music; it’s one thing having Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in my ears to keep me running up the hills.

During my workouts, I tell myself “Shawna, you can do this. You ran 13.1 miles THREE TIMES! This is nothing!!”

I ran my first 13.1 race, the Seattle Half Marathon, on November 29, 2015.  I ran my 2nd half marathon “The Blerch” (organized by the creator of the Oatmeal comic, Matthew Inman) on September 27, 2016, and my third marathon, the Seattle Half Marathon, on November 27, 2016.

marathom

Photo credit: Wendell Joost

At this time, I plan on running four half marathons this year. The first one is the Mother’s Day Run in Seattle (in memory of my mother.) I am also contemplating completing the Tough Mudder in June, the Portland Half Marathon in October, and the Seattle Half Marathon in November.

I try to encourage my friends and those that I meet that whatever they choose to do, whether that is running their own races, losing weight, learning how to belly dance or the fox trot or playing a musical instrument or knitting … whatever that choice is, they can do it.  One breath at a time.  Each second builds to a minute which builds to an hour which builds to a day. Then a week. Then a month.

I’m not implying in the least that everyone needs to rush out and lose 80 pounds.  If someone is genuinely happy with how they look and where they are in their life, that is all that matters.  I wasn’t happy with anything about me. I was heading for a shit-storm of a disaster in the form of diabetes, congestive heart failure and high blood pressure (all landing within my family medical history). The odds were against me that I would live past 60 years of age.

During the summer of 2016 while I was walking around the First Hill area of Seattle, I met a little girl named Alice, who thought I was Wonder Woman in disguise, as I was wearing a scarf with the Wonder Woman logo on it, and my phone cover has the Wonder Woman logo and emblem on it.  In talking with her mother, it became quite apparent that Wonder Woman was Alice’s hero.  My friend, Jamie, who is a crochet artist, created a Wonder Woman doll for me, and as a surprise for Alice, a wee tiny Wonder Woman doll for her very own (as of today’s date, I’ve not seen Alice due to the holidays, but I am hopeful that I will see her again). (FB post: https://www.facebook.com/shawna.clausen.5/posts/10208379160177646?hc_location=ufi)

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Wonder Woman has always been my hero, from when I was that young child. I believed in her when I didn’t believe in myself nor did many people show belief in me.  Now though, I believe in me and I value me and what I have to offer the world from my small space.  We all have value, we simply have to find it.

BIO

I am Shawna Clausen, a 48 year old feminist who happens to run marathons in my spare time.  In the other small bit of time I am allotted, my two cats, Elvis The Pelvis and Neville, run the rest of my life. 

Folsom Fair 2014

Folsom Fair 2014

I’m also Ms. Oregon State Leather 2014, having won the title in August 2014 and stepped down a year later.  My sash husband is Steven Steinbock, Mr. Oregon State Leather 2014.  He was a huge part of my support network during my tumultuous title year, and continues to be a steadfast supporter of every one of the crazy hair-brained ideas that I seem to come up with. He rolls his eyes and carries on, and still loves and respects me at the end of the day.  I can only wish that every title holder has a sash husband such as I had in Steven.

Photo credit: Leland Carina

Photo credit: Leland Carina

I am now living in Seattle (WA) working in the healthcare industry, and immersing myself in the rope bondage kink scene, in addition to the gaming piece in this city, which is relatively easy considering Seattle is now one of the up and coming tech areas in the nation. I enjoy experiencing different foods, along with watching bad horror movies with Michael, one of my partners (I am polyamorous). I travel often to Portland to attend leather, kink and drag events. I have discovered the modeling world, at least here in Seattle, having dabbled as a model for a few well-known Seattle-area photographers (in both erotic and non-erotic settings).

Seattle Pride. Photo Credit: Malixe Photography, Charles Daniels

Seattle Pride. Photo Credit: Malixe Photography

What Tabletop Gaming Taught Me About Feminist Fitness, Inclusiveness, and Body Image (Guest Post)

by Kimberly Brumble

grey sleeveless workout tank

Personally I’d just settle for being to walk all day long

 

This time of year, when a lot of people are re-committing themselves to various fitness goals, the tabletop gaming community is also abuzz with discussions comparing fitness trackers, sneaker purchases, couch to 5k plans, and the elusive 10,000 steps.  However, unlike a lot of January fitness adopters, the tabletop gamers are training to play a long game with goals cumulating out in mid summer and even early September.  Why?  That’s convention season, and suddenly thousands of people who are passionate about a hobby that involves sitting around a table for 4-6 hours at a stretch will need to also be able to walk 10,000 to 20,000 plus steps in a single day, probably also lugging bags full of games and gaming materials with them, for 12 to even 20-hour stretches at a time.  These are folks, like me, who take their sedentary hobby so seriously they will begin training 6 and even 9 months out to get the most out of the Best Four Days in Gaming.

Hello, I’m Kimberly Brumble.  I’m a philosopher of science.  In my free time I hike, cycle, run, and lift heavy things.  But also once a week for 5 hours I’m a dwarven fighter trying to save Golarion one axe swing at a time.  Yep.  And I live for it. And sitting around a table pretending to be a super-human elite who can do all sorts of things I can’t has changed how I experience fitness.  Our journey begins…

Let me backtrack and give a little background on me and my hobby.  Tabletop gaming centers around playing games on, you guessed it, a table rather than a screen.  These games range from complex board games like the wildly popular Settlers of Catan and Arkham Horror to role playing games (RPGs) like Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) or Vampire the Masquerade.  Also popular are miniatures games like War Hammer, deck-building card games like Magic the Gathering, party card games like Werewolf, and so on.  Basically, if you can play it on a table, it probably has a following which attends conventions like GenCon.

If you had caught me 2 years ago, I would have told you that my dalliances with board games began and ended with an ex-boyfriend trying to explain Catan to me, which I experienced much like this.  And then at his suggestion observing his friends play the game, which went much like this.  When the guys finally did let me play I was so bored I sabotaged my own budding civilization in the first hour so I could go do something else at the party.  Much of my experience of board gaming was at first shaped by 1. the weird gendered dynamics involved with learning mechanics-heavy games and 2. playing the wrong games for me.

RPGs and card games and I didn’t fair much better. As a queer geek gal growing up in a yet-to-be-hip Portland, Oregon, of the 80’s and 90’s, I could never get invited to play DnD or Magic the Gathering for two reasons: 1. I was a girl and 2. I didn’t “look” geeky enough to seem “safe” to invite.  A common trope in 90’s geek culture.  Apparently it was scary enough to invite Cool Guys, let alone sporty girls.  I mean I was also plenty geeky (I’ve read the Silmarillion…multiple times…which is something even among Tolkien dorks), but I was also sporty and artsy, and geek culture had yet to  become so mainstream that people who looked like me got invited to the game table.

Fast forward to two years ago when a bunch of grad students in my philosophy department decided to start a game night.  Our goal was two-fold: 1. have a good time in small-town Indiana without spending money and 2. try to build a better, cooperative climate in our hyper-competitive, socially-challenged cohort.  A weekly gaming night morphed into a 2+ year DnD campaign–which I am still skyping into thousands of miles and two countries away–and passion for tabletop gaming.

DnD will change your life.  There has been a lot written about the social and even professional benefits of RPGs in terms of team-building skills, empathy and community building, and even writing, but for this post I’m going to focus on how it changed my experience of fitness.  That’s right: if you are still reading this, my fellow jocks, DnD changed how I experience fitness.  Here’s how:

First the bad: Tabletop gaming lives up to some of the stereotypes.  Committing to a long-running DnD campaign (Pathfinder, actually, for my fellow RPGers reading) meant committing to sit at a table for 4-6 hours a week, during my free time.  That’s time that I used to spend hiking, cycling, and running.  I now spend it sitting.  That doesn’t mean I don’t still do those things, but I don’t do them on Saturday afternoons (when we currently game).  It’s not more time spent sitting gaming than many people spend in a week watching TV, but there it is.  Also, there are snacks.  Lots of snacks.  Which is great.  And not.

But here is the good (and maybe surprising):  plenty of us gamers are still really active people during the rest of our lives.  What’s more, I have found that gaming and gaming culture has some nice benefits for people, and particularly femme-type people, who are also into fitness.  First of all, DnD campaigns in general involve a lot of action. Even if the players are sitting, they are imagining fighting, swimming, climbing, and doing so, so, so much walking.  Ever read or watched Lord of the Rings? Yeah, it’s like that.  And actually, you can just walk into Mordor.  It’s pretty much the only way to do it (eagles aside).  So even if you play a very squishy (that’s DnD speak for non-athletic and easy to hurt) wizard, your character is probably pretty fit and occasionally making climb, swim, acrobatics, and wilderness survival checks and, generally…hopefully…dice permitting, passing most of them.  On top of that you can choose to play a character who uses physical abilities rather than magic primarily to get shit done.  In our game I play a fighter–and I don’t use magic, just a lot of strength and agility and stamina.  Which is nice, actually, because it kind of motivates me to think about and maintain those physical abilities IRL as well.  Characters “level up” and improve their abilities, which makes them better at doing more stuff, and I have gone from thinking about fitness as maintenance, or beauty, or a duty, to “leveling up” with regard to my IRL physical stats.  Charisma (charm, social skills, beauty) after all, is its own stat.  Strength, agility, and constitution have nothing to do with how you look in the world of DnD, and that’s kind of liberating, especially I think for women and femme-type folks.

Speaking of gender and stats, in DnD the gender of a character does not determine their base stats or how stats progress. Men, women, and every other gender imaginable start with the same base stats available to them.  That means your average human in DnD has a strength of 10, dexterity 10, and constitution (hardiness) of 10.  It’s up to you to change those scores as you build your character and play the game.  For me, a gender-fluid woman who has struggled my whole life with gendered norms and expectations about fitness, that was a revelation.  If I didn’t have to go into DnD with gendered expectations about my own abilities, maybe I didn’t need to bring those to the gym/mountains/cycle track either.  And what I can imagine has a big impact on what I find myself able to do and be.

Finally, I want to say something about the world of DnD and gender with regards to the DnD races.  If you have consumed any high fantasy media you are probably aware that much high fantasy post-Tolkien comes stocked with some standard-issue (and often less standard-issue) fantasy “races.”  It’s important to note that these “humanoid” races do not and probably should not track real-world human concepts of race: we are talking elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, haflings, orcs, and the like.  While they do come preloaded as tropes with their own set of representational problems, others have also argued that thinking about these issues in fantasy can also open dialogue about issues in media representation of real racism, cis-sexism, hetero-sexism, and ableism.  One thing which fantasy races have done for fans of the genre is to provide us with a multitude of alternate images of different genders as strong, agile, and beautiful people.  In my own experience as a stocky, muscular woman standing 5’2’’, I have found myself drawn to characters with similar builds; thick legs and powerful arms can be beautiful too.  Or not.  Because beauty is not compulsory for effectiveness.  Not even for bards.  Body diversity matters.  Even in fiction.  And especially in a genre in which men and women have so often been made to look like this:

conan

It’s powerful to see them depicted in a range of bodies.  Like this:

kb2

Behold the “Rat Queens” from the eponymous, amazing DnD comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe. Source:https://www.facebook.com/RatQueens/photos/a.145825672257123.1073741828.145821855590838/217050488467974/?type=3&theater

And the same has been true increasingly for men as well:

 

Feels good to go post-human, yeah?

So to sum up, tabletop gaming has brought new perspectives on fitness for me as it has slowly taken over my non-academic life: I think about my fitness in terms of being able to do things I want to do (like walk around a convention all day lugging heavy gaming manuals, something my DnD fighter would consider par for the course), or improving my ability scores (rather than punishing myself or maintaining or striving for some abstract appearance-related goal).  What’s more, it’s expanded how I and many gamers imagine strong, capable, competent, optionally beautiful, and powerful bodies- both ours and those we inhabit in our dream-lives saving imaginary worlds, one Saturday afternoon at a time.

 

kb

Kimberly “Berly” Brumble is a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on how uncertainty in climate modeling effects decision-making and how decision-making under “deep uncertainty” involves both scientists and policy-makers in the environmental sciences and geophysics. She enjoys hiking, camping, cycling, cycle camping, running, canoeing and kayaking, lifting heavy things, and pretending that the Canadian Rockies are the Misty Mountains on weekends. She is also pretty serious about illustrating and painting. She has recently discovered playing in, writing, and running rpgs. Catch her next year at GenCon on her recurring panel “Philosophers Play Pathfinder.”

I Joined a Gym! (What was I thinking?) Guest Post

One particularly dark November evening when it was raining and gloomy and my plans got cancelled, I was moping about my house, thinking about how horrible it was going to be to have to run for 36 days in a row outside in Canada in the winter. Suddenly,I had an idea.

“I will go join the gym”, says me. For some people this is an unremarkable statement but the gym and I, we have not been friends in any consistent way. I have wasted many months of membership, incentive bonuses, packaged sessions and just. . .$$money$$ on gyms in the past and I thought I quit them.I have had success with personal training because it’s a one to one commitment and I promised I’d be there. That works for me. It’s the same reason I’m never late for work now. Clients are waiting and it doesn’t matter if really I’d like to call in. No calling in sick when you are a therapist.

But a thing possessed me and I went over to the new discount place by the mall. I was so determined not to get taken in and over sold (again). I failed (again) and got the package that, while lacking a “joining fee”, included the use of the massage chairs and other nice things. It cost about $70 more for the year. I did not sign up for the bi-weekly deduction from my bank account (yay me). That is the thing that means when your year is up and you fail to give notice, you are signed up for another year.

My goodness I hate gyms and their money sucking ways. No matter how hard they try to be positive and good for you and on your side, what they are really about is taking your dollars and hoping you don’t show up much. This gym doesn’t have any water fountains. Why? because they want to sell you bottled water. UGH!

On the bright side, the equipment is brand spanking new and there is lots of it. There are no irritating trainers trying to tell me I’m fat and should hire them to help with that. The people at the gym represent the diversity of my town and the middle aged/old/regular people seem to out populate the “look at me” pretty folk. I love looking at them, don’t get me wrong, but I really like appreciating the 70 year old dude on the chest press more. He reminds me what I’m aiming for which is mobility and vitality as time marches on.

Another bright side is I joined in Miserable November as opposed to Guilt Ridden January. Somehow that feels more authentic and less like travelling with lemmings.

As may be apparent, I am cynical about this action and yet, it is mine. Perhaps this latest wiser version of me-at-the-gym will make better use of the membership. I sure hope so.

I’ll keep you posted.

brain-joining-gym

 

all bodies are good bodies, my body is a good body: affirmation as a path to better health. (guest post)

I had the awesome privilege of spending 2014 working on an amazing project at Planned Parenthood Toronto. They had secured a grant to develop youth friendly, peer-created sexual health resources, to address the fact that sex education in Ontario (and like, everywhere) has been failing young people, most especially queer and trans young people, whose experiences and needs have been invisible inside that pocket of education for too long. There have been some shifts in Ontario’s sexual health curriculum since this time, which is pretty darn exciting (and heavily controversial) , but while educators are catching up to new curriculum, and while queer and trans youth are still so marginalized in the education system, there is serious need for additional resources for young people in sexual minorities.

I got to work with fourteen genius young people on this project. We spent several weeks learning about all sorts of things related to queer and trans sexual health, and then began to think about what it was that we wanted to create. We gave workshops with other groups of youth about queer dating and consent, about navigating relationships we choose and ones we are stuck with, and about gender identity and expression. We also wanted to create some concrete things, something that could live on and be passed around long after this group no longer had the funding to work and learn together.
One of those early days of sunny spring, we moved our meeting outside to the park across the street from the Sherbourne Health Center where we often met and one volunteer led us in a writing exercise. He gave us the prompt what I really needed was… and folks spent a few minutes writing about the unmet needs of our younger queer and trans selves. There might have been some tears that day. Lots came up in the sharing of people’s thoughts, but a common thread that ran through was the need for supportive community. We weren’t in search of promises that things would get better, but folks to let us know that we were already okay. That our feelings of marginalization are legitimate. That our identities and experiences matter. That we are using our skills of coping and survival every day. That we aren’t alone.

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Maybe the link between sexual health education and affirmations seems fuzzy to you, or the link between affirmations and feminist fitness. I had a formative moment in my learning about working with marginalized youth when I was a new grad from social work school, working at Project 10 in Montreal. I read a zine about HIV prevention made in the 90s (I wish I could tell you the name of it, but I don’t remember!). There was an interview with a young man with HIV who wanted to push against the ways that info about sexual health for young queers often focuses on long term consequences of “risky” decisions around sex. This guy explained that these kinds of messages just bounced right off of him, because he didn’t think he would have a future to be concerned about. Building supportive community, representation, and legitimacy to young people’s experiences and identities are key components in demonstrating that as a society, we give a shit. This isn’t about promising young people that things will get better; it’s about making space for wherever they are, however they are, right now. When young people feel seen and valued, that can have a powerful impact on how we feel about ourselves and our ability to create change in our own lives as well as within our communities. In a context of care and value, the possibilities of working through decisions about health are way more vast.

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We couldn’t give everyone parents who support them unconditionally. We couldn’t guarantee that teachers would use their names and pronouns. We couldn’t promise that friends would accept and love them just as they are, or as they might become. But we know the power of words, of recognizing yourself in someone else’s experience, and so we came up with the idea for the Affirmations Deck.

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A subcommittee was struck and we began to meet and dream up a list of affirmations. No idea was a bad idea, and we eventually amassed a list of hundreds of statements. Piles of pizza were consumed while we wordsmithed and narrowed our focus. We laughed our butts off over affirmations like it’s okay that you started a fight at that family gathering and it’s ok that you weren’t really 18 when you went to that website. Some of them came out real funny in first draft, like the ways I use my body in sex is only the business of me and the people i’m sexing with and your fantasies don’t have to be real life commitments.

We eventually arrived at a final list of 62 affirmations, and set about designing the cards. The motifs that surround the words on the cards were hand drawn, and they correspond with the themes that the cards address, which are also printed at the bottom of each card. That means that if you want to pull out all the cards about identity, or all the cards about consent, or all the cards about bodies, you can find them both by their labels and also by the drawings on the cards. Affirmations that reference more than one theme have a blend of multiple drawings. The font that the group selected is called OpenDyslexic, an open source design that was made to be more easily read by folks with dyslexia.

These cards have spread far and wide from their original printing in the fall of 2014. Physical decks have made their way to community organizations serving youth across Canada, into the hands of queer and trans youth across the country, and even to folks who are incarcerated. The cards are also available as a free printable PDF, so anyone with some cardstock and a printer can make as many sets as they desire. If you’re a Toronto local, you can walk into Planned Parenthood and ask for a free deck at clinic reception. The deck has also been featured in the brand new LGBTQ health anthology The Remedy, edited by femme force of nature Zena Sharman.

If you run a clinic or community space, you can leave a deck at reception for folks to look at. You can stick your favourites in your locker or on your walls. You can colour them in and mail them to your faraway friends. You can give them to your therapy clients or your doctor. You can give them to parents who want to support their kids, however their genders and sexualities develop. You can hide them in library books with queer subtext. You can use them as writing prompts, or as debriefing tools in workshops. You can burn them ceremonially and make wishes on their ashes. You can write your own affirmations that speak to your personal experiences. You can use them however you like. Please do use them, and share them with folks who might benefit from their tender magic.

Carly is a 32 year old white genderqueer femme. She is a freelance workshop facilitator in Toronto, mostly working on community building, body autonomy, intersectionality, queer sexual health, trauma survivorship, and keeping people alive. She likes roasted vegetables and bitter foods, and hates cantaloupe and anything gelatinous. She thinks that leopard print is a neutral and that prisons should be abolished. She is also a tarot reader- find out more at http://www.tinylanterntarot.com