On the first leg, the San Francisco leg of our spring break travel, I went to the YWCA several times with my friend, L. She has mostly, throughout our long friendship in different cities, been more devoted to regular exercise than I– though I was, for a long time, a very regular two-to-three mile runner. But a nerve problem in my foot and an infant put an end to that about 10 years ago. L.’s children are older than my one child is– so for her it has been longer since the demands of parenting have required totally giving up on so many things that one does for oneself and while visiting I thought it would be great to follow her back into exercise.
On our first morning after we arrived, she said she was going to the Y to go to a spinning class and I said I was going with her. I’d never been to a spinning class. I’m not in the greatest shape. When I do things like running or spinning on my own, I come up against a wall of hard feelings– feelings of it being too hard and feelings of it being impossible to go on. In some ways I’ve understated this; I had very bad asthma as a very young child and sometimes when I’m exercising, that same feeling comes over me– same as when I was young having an asthma attack; “I can’t; I’m going to die.” This feeling has certainly hindered my ability to get regular exercise that involves pushing past that feeling.
But L. has a wonderful sense of humor and this unstoppable, cascading laugh and with her on the bike next to me, looking over periodically and laughing hysterically about the absurdity of spinning and sweating all together, I found I was able to keep going way past the point I could have done on my own. Not as long as the best of them but 38 minutes isn’t bad for someone as unexercised as I have been lately. And I had to admit I kind of loved it.
When I came home I decided I would join a gym– I’ve not had a gym membership in years. Recently strangers here and there have just begun acting very strangely toward me– it’s the particular sexism directed toward women who are, in someone’s eyes, older. I rode the bus at rush hour the other morning with my partner and two 30-ish people asked my partner and me if we wanted their seats (we were standing). I said, “oh no, thanks, I’m fine.” But it didn’t end there and they must have interrupted our conversation three more times on a 10-block ride to see if we wanted their seats.
When I went to visit three gyms in order to choose one– they did something similar. They talked in these strange condescending tones. They asked me slowly if I’d ever belonged to a gym before (yes, yes, I have) and what I liked best about working out. I laughed out loud and said, “I hate working out. I hate it. That’s why I’m so out of shape and why I’m looking to join a gym today. Does that answer your question?”
Despite these silly, deflating sales pitches, I did join a gym. I joined the one that was the cheapest, that is around the corner from my daughter’s school, that is walking distance from home– but has metered parking right out front where it is easy to park at most times of day. I joined the gym with ugly tee shirts and no incentive to browse their “pro shop” and the one that doesn’t have lovely pitchers of water with mint and lemon wedges throughout the gym. I joined a gym where I go in my sweat clothes and put my backpack down beside the machine and get aerobic exercise for about 40 minutes. Then I pick up my stuff and go to another area and stretch and then I go home. I don’t generally shower there, I don’t make friends, I don’t buy things and I don’t do anything except work my body harder than I do sitting at the computer. I’m loving it.
Since I don’t have L. at my side, laughing– I generally bring my iPod. I find music with a kind of lightness and a good, happy beat, or a driving soul or disco beat. I recently found this guy– Kidd Russell– who’s from Chicago and whose song, She Feels Like Home to Me– does feel like home to me and keeps me moving– not quite, but a little like a friend to cheer me on.