Saturday, March 30, 2013

Well Endured, Part I


It was about a month after I started running that I encountered a slight problem as I was getting dressed one morning.

I checked it twice. The straps were adjusted properly. It was, in fact, on the tightest setting. Yes, it wasn’t just my imagination: it was loose. All the hard work and exercise and dessert deprivation had paid off. I needed a smaller bra…

Damn it.

Other people enjoy weight loss. “OMG!” they say gleefully, “Look at me! I can wear a smaller size! It’s time to get new, cute clothes!” Maybe they save up for these clothes. Maybe they shop all the sales. I don’t know.

But I have grown to accept that I will never have an affordable wardrobe because, underneath it all, it costs a small fortune to cover a pair of large breasts.

And bra shopping is not and never has been fun for anybody ever. It’s traumatic.

---

At Lane Bryant, the store for fat girls, where I had shopped for the past ten years, I walked with glorious purpose. Confident in my destination, I honed in on my favorite bra style and grabbed the next size down, waltzing to the fitting room to try it on.

Alas, it was too small.

“Oh well. I guess the elastic in my old one just gave out. I’m still in the same size.”

Back in the store, I picked up the same bra in the size I had been wearing.

Alas, it was too big.

What sorcery is this? I thought. Waving to a shop girl, I asked, “Could I get measured for a bra, please?”

She broke out the tape measure and squinted at the number. “Looks like you could wear either a 38 or a 40.”

“You don’t have half sizes? Is there such a thing as a 39?”

“No. That’s not a thing,” she said, sneering at the apparently offensive idea.

“Because I just tried on both a 38 and a 40 and I really can’t wear either of them.”

“Sorry,” she said. “I just work here.”

Oh, I thought. You just work here? That’s okay then. I guess I can spare you when I go all Carrie White on this place, since you’re so innocent.

“Why don’t you go with the 40 since you can get into it?” she suggested.

Sure, I thought. Let me just drop eleventy gazillion dollars on a bra in the exact same size as the one that currently doesn’t fit me.

I bought the 38 out of spite and resolved to run more.

---

If you’re built like me, running requires a sports bra. “We don’t carry those,” the Lane Bryant girl told me. “Like, you know? ‘cause we’re not that kind of store.” I didn’t have to ask what kind of store she meant.

Sports bra shopping is two kinds of uncomfortable. You’ve got your bra shopping, which on its own is only slightly better than water boarding, but you’ve also got your strange and unfamiliar store to do it in. I can barely make it through the grocery store near my house – new stores are as foreign and scary to me as an alien asteroid, and I explore them with all the caution of one who knows there could be face-huggers around every brightly-colored-spandex corner.

I do not feel as if I belong at the sporting goods store. Gazing over the sea of skin tight, neon lycra, I know that the creatures who favor these garments are not my people. My ways must be offensive to them, as these shorts are offensive to me.

But in just the same way that the fat girl store didn’t carry athletic wear, the sporting goods store didn’t carry fat girl sizes. The sports bras, for example, came in sizes like small, medium, and large. FYI, these are not actual bra sizes: without a cup size and a band size, it’s just a tiny tight shirt.

But I’ve been running! I told myself. Maybe these are my people after all. Perhaps I can wear their traditional fashions and blend in. I picked out several bras, shorts, and tops in the largest sizes available.

In the fitting room, my eyes beheld horrors that I cannot unsee. Even the extra large was too small. I looked like a sausage, conveniently packaged for alien consumption. I longed for the earth to split open and swallow me – if I’d even fit down there.

---

At a friend’s suggestion, I turned to the internet for sports bras. She recommended a few brands, based on her own experiences and a few magazine articles. My industrial strength super bra (with enough straps and fasteners for a bondage porno) arrived from Amazon within a week, and subsequently trimmed a full minute off my morning run. I decided I was done bra shopping, but the universe had other plans.

Not to be outdone by Lane Bryant and (the aptly named) Dick’s sporting goods, Macy’s wanted in on my humiliation.

Innocently seeking running shoes, I was blindsided by a ladies’ underwear sale, the store’s walkways lined with tables holding bins full of bras. I just want shoes, people! I thought. I’m avoiding bra shopping! You can’t just wave a bunch of bras at me as soon as I walk through the door!

But as I proceeded toward the shoe section, the idea grew on me. It wasn't like I had to go bra shopping; they were conveniently bringing the bra shopping to me. I passed the various sizes in the clearly labeled bins: a huge bucket of 32A, then 34B; a lot of 34C, which is what I wore in high school; and on and on. The bins runneth over, stunning in their variety. I’ll just see what they have in my size, I thought, since it’s on my way and everything.

They ran out of bins somewhere in the middle of the 36s. Not a good sign, I thought. At the end of the line of tables, a handwritten sign saying 38DD was taped to a tattered cardboard box. The box held only one bra. It was ugly…

But not as ugly as the language I used when I saw it.

Why does this have to be so hard? I thought.

(To be continued... Click here for Part II.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

My First 5k

“Carla tagged you in a post,” said Facebook one Monday night in August.

That’s nice! I thought.

The post said simply, “For Tori and Benjamin!” above a link to the Zombie Apocalypse.

“What?” I said, clicking the link.

“Navigate a series of challenging obstacles throughout a 5k zombie infested course,” it said.

That sounds so fun, I thought, for someone else!

Because I am not a runner.

---

“Did you see the link Carla posted?” Benjamin said with too much enthusiasm as soon as he arrived at work the next day.

“Yeah,” I said. “Looks like fun for you!”

“For us, you mean,” he said. “You should do it with me!”

I looked slant-eyed at my coworker, ten years younger and fifty pounds lighter than I am. “I don’t run,” I said.

“You could learn!!! You have time!!!” he said, enunciating the exclamation points.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t,” I said.

But that night, I looked at 5k training programs online. “Couch to 5k in 8 weeks!” said one. “In 10 weeks!” said another. I counted off weeks on the calendar.

I had twelve weeks.
And no excuses.

---

The next morning, I stepped outside with my ipod and my determination. In my earbuds, a cheerful jock encouraged me to join him on week one of his “Couch to 5k” running program.

“This program is designed to be run three times a week with a resting day between each run,” said the podcast.

“Okay,” I said.

“You’ll have a five minute warm up walk followed by eight sets of sixty second runs and ninety second recovery intervals. You’ll finish with a five minute cool down.”

“That’s a lot of numbers…” I said.

“I’ll give instructions every time you should change your pace,” the narrator guy promised.

“Good, because I didn’t follow half of that,” I told him.

“So let’s get started!”

“Oh, must we?” I said. The sun was only just peeking over the horizon.

---

After the first run, my leg muscles collapsed in on themselves like neutron stars. I writhed on the floor with the agony of stellar evolution.

“I expect to fail,” I told my husband from my place on the floor. “Then I can get the whole mess out of the way.”

My idea of “failure” was to collapse in an exhausted heap on the sidewalk, like an Olympic marathoner just shy of the finish line. That didn't happen the first week. When you get right down to it, sixty seconds of running is not a lot. I was able to finish the run, even if I felt like celestial death afterward.

But the second week! Yes, that would be the real clincher. Then I would fail to get through the podcast and I could tell Benjamin I had given it the old college try but that, for the good of the galaxy, running just wasn’t in my future.

---

The running intervals got longer as the weeks went on.

Ninety seconds of running was only slightly worse than sixty.

Three minutes is a lot at first, but then you have to run for five minutes and suddenly three minutes seems like a very easy goal.

Ten minutes is just two five minute runs without the walking in the middle.

By week five, my legs stopped trying to implode. By week six, I was running for twenty minutes straight. Even then, I never did collapse on the sidewalk. I wondered if I ever would.

The only way I can possibly fail now, I realized, is if I decide not to run in the first place…

---

I didn’t like running. It was hard. It was too early in the morning. It was hard. Sports bras were ugly AND expensive. Also, running was hard.

I huffed and puffed outside of my inner brick house, at constant war with the inner pig who demanded pizza and donuts in payment for these torments. The best part of running was getting to stop at the end. “This,” I said of my hot shower after each run, “must be that runner’s high everyone talks about.”

“I should never have told Benjamin I was 5k training,” I complained to Matt. “Now I can’t quit without looking like a wimp.”

At the end of September, we signed up for an ironically named two mile “fun run.”

“It’ll be good practice!!” Benjamin said. “It’ll be fun!!!” Again with the exclamation points.

He tried to stick with me for a while. He zigzagged. He ran backwards. He literally ran circles around me. I was just too slow.

He got bored and said, “I’m going to go finish and then I’ll come back for you.”

I plodded along at the best pace I could manage. Several moms passed me. With their kids. And their dogs.

I’m the slowest slow person there is, a sad voice whispered from the dark recesses of my mind.

Don’t be ridiculous, another part of me responded. There are plenty of slower people in the world. And they had the good sense to stay home and take a nap.

I stared at my feet as I ran, not even noticing when Benjamin came back for me. “You’re doing great!” he said. “You’re almost done. Let’s go faster.”

Maybe today will be the day I collapse on the sidewalk, I thought.

But it wasn’t.

---

At the 5k a month later, the exclamation points struck again.

“Come on! Let’s go faster!! You can’t stop yet!!! Let’s go!!!”

“I expected this from Benjamin,” said Sarah, who came to town to run with us, “but not from you. When did you become such a drill sergeant?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Sometime in the past twelve weeks, I guess?”

Around that time, Benjamin jogged back to us from the finish line. “Hey, you’re almost there! You just have to get through that field of zombies!”

“More zombies?” Sarah said, pulling up short. We stopped on the crest of a hill and looked out at them stretched out below us.

Benjamin looked at me and grinned stupidly. “Think you can keep up with me?”

“I can damn sure try,” I said.

“Then catch me,” he said as he set off, and he screamed it again over his shoulder, “Catch me!”

I ran. I ran the fastest I’d ever run in my whole life. Past the zombies and the spectators and the finish line. I’m not ashamed to say I couldn’t keep up with him. I’m proud to say I didn’t quit. I haven’t collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk yet. Because I’m a runner.

A slow runner.

But I make up for it in enthusiasm!!!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Zen and the Art of Sci-Fi, Part II


Zen.
Peace.
Tranquility.

Sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it? Fantastic, even.

I find all sorts of beautiful pictures online of peaceful homes meant to exhibit the embodiment of Zen: homes in calm neutral colors, where the minimal furniture is comfortable, serviceable, and matches the d├ęcor, with sparse art on the walls and a single orchid or maybe a bonsai tree on the end table.

Sometimes I look around my home and I wonder if I might be further along, spiritually speaking, if I gave my environment a bit of a makeover.

Wouldn’t it be great to live in a house that looked like that? I wonder.

Except where would I hang my Iron Man poster?

Let’s see what sci-fi can teach us about our homes.

Meditate with me.

-

“The enemy’s gate is down.” - Ender Wiggin, Ender’s Game
Ender’s genius is that he looked at the same battle room as everyone else and saw it in a different way. What do you see when you look at your home?

When I see the beautifully decorated homes in the ladies' magazines, I agree that they look nice but I don't want to live there. I want to live in my own house with my own things.

I used to wish my house and my things looked like the magazine houses. I followed the advice in the magazine articles, but nothing worked. The sci-fi books everywhere, the entertainment center littered with games and peripherals, the anime wall scrolls – these things just don’t belong in decorating magazines.

The problem with my house, I thought, is that it looks like I live there.

But here’s the thing, guys: that’s not actually a problem. I do, in fact, live in my house. It is good and right and appropriate that my home look like I live there.

Pretend your home is the battle room and you are the prodigious child soldier. Is there actually something wrong with your home or are you letting an enemy magazine tell you what to do? Are you going to take that from them or are you going to fight back?

-

“There is no spoon.” - Creepy kid, The Matrix
I often catch myself thinking that, just maybe, if I get my home in order, the rest of my life will naturally fall into place. If I can just get the knack of a better home (and garden), I'll somehow magically sort out my childhood issues. If I had a fully stocked pantry with all the food organized into elegant glass jars, I would wake up tomorrow at my goal weight and never have to diet again. If I ever actually find the perfect living room set, I’ll find enough change in the cushions to balance my budget forever.

It’s not me, I want to think. It’s the house.

Oh, please.

I know it’s painful to admit, but it’s not the house. These limitations are all in my head. Maybe they’re in your head too? The truth is that even if I magically woke up tomorrow in one of those perfect homes with a sand garden and a tranquil pool of koi, I would still be disorganized. I wouldn’t remember to take care of the pool until the smell of rotting fish carcass became overpowering and I’d be sitting there in the stink wondering why I didn’t take the blue pill.

Instead of stressing over the state of your home, focus on the inner issues that are truly bugging you. Remember, it isn’t the house – er, that is, the spoon – that bends, it is only yourself.

Free your mind.

-

“Don’t blink.” - Ten, Doctor Who
We all know the feeling. You clean your house, it looks good, then you turn your back on it and when next you look around, your living room has become the gravitational center for all random chaos in the known universe. How the heck? When… just… what?

Two words: Weeping Angels. 

The unfinished projects, the unending laundry and vacuuming, the way there’s always more picking up to do no matter how much time you spend on it: they won’t kill you outright, but they’ll take your time, eat the years you would otherwise be living.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from Doctor Who, aside from an unnatural fear of statues, it’s that the inanimate objects can only get you when you take your eyes off them. The trick is to keep your eyes open. Yeah, life gets in the way, but if you only pay attention for like ten minutes a day, you can stay on top of this thing. A few minutes a day is the difference between well managed laundry and spending your whole weekend sorting clothes.

Just don’t blink.

-

Obviously, if they ever invent a colony ship to Mars, we’re not going to be able to take all of our stuff with us. We’ll have only the finest pared-down possessions in our Martian abodes. Advanced air filtration systems will clear the red dust from our homes as our robot servants spare us from mundane chores like dishes and laundry.

Our minds will be free to focus on deeper spiritual issues, and I promise at that time to write a more relevant article on Zen and the art of science fact.

Until then, continue to find Zen in the art of science fiction.

And maybe get a head start on paring down those possessions. It couldn’t hurt. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Zen and the Art of Sci-Fi


“I should focus on some inner, spiritual work,” I said.

Except, no, I’ve never said that.

I often say things like
“I wonder if I can read this entire book in one sitting?”
Or “I will play video games until I pass out from hunger, then I will eat and play some more.”
And just recently I said to myself, “If I only watch one episode per month, I can make Merlin last until Netflix puts up the next season.”

But I’ve never actually said, “Let’s meditate today.”

When I think about it, Zen philosophy’s focus on living in the present moment and striving to be at one with everything sounds nice, but the problem is that I really have no desire to give up movies and video games to become an austere hermit on a frozen Himalayan mountaintop.

Fortunately for me, austerity is not, in fact, a requirement for a life of enlightenment and spiritual peace. I once heard that the key to becoming a Zen master is to find Zen in the everyday, to distill fundamental truths from the stuff of life.

And, friends, we can do that sort of thing from home! Tibet doesn’t have a monopoly on meditation!

As a meditative exercise, I’ve done some inner, spiritual work (see what I did there?) to distill fundamental truths from sci-fi stuff. Perhaps you will gain some enlightenment from it?

So, come on, say it with me:
“Let’s meditate today.”

-

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, Star Wars
This first one’s easy to meditate on, because a Jedi master is practically a Buddhist monk already, right? Anyway, this quote used to bother me. While Luke is whining that he “tried” to do something he’s failed to do, Yoda lays the little green smack-down on him: there is no try. Ouch, Yoda. Just rub it in his face, why don’t you?

But I recently had an epiphany while I was “trying” to maintain a faster-than-my-normal running speed and “failing” to do so. “Do or do not,” he says. “There is no try.” Failure doesn’t come into it.

Instead of focusing on the things you “do not,” give yourself more credit for the things you “do.” Sure, I did not maintain the killer running speed, but I did run faster than usual. I did not perfect the impossible yoga pose, but I did practice. I did not achieve spiritual enlightenment in a single day, but I did make today count.

-

“No grenades.” - Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity
Most would say that of all the sci-fi characters I resemble, the Hero of Canton is not one of them. Aside from a shared proclivity to name our weapons (“I call her Vera.”), Jayne Cobb and I have next to nothing in common. However, Jayne and I do share a tendency to overpack.

Like Jayne, I “get excitable as to choice, like to keep my options open,” and I worry over even the simplest overnight trips. What should I pack? Have I got everything?

But the fact is I never need everything I pack, and if I forget something it’s not as if I can’t pick up another one when I dock planet-side. This isn’t the infinite blackness of space, people; there will be a Wal-mart when you get there. Save yourself the stress and listen to your inner Zen master (or space pirate) when he tells you to pack less: No grenades.

-

“Frak!” - Practically everyone, Battlestar Galactica
One of my elderly relatives likes to say that “cussing is what people do when they've run out of intelligent things to say.” He gets bent up about bad words in what he views as otherwise perfectly acceptable media: a single F-bomb can blow up all his inner peace.

However, a mentor of mine once countered with, “The time and place for foul language is when I stub my toe at two in the morning.”

Of course! I’m never intelligent at two in the morning, no matter what my toes are doing! If ever there is a time when I’ve run out of intelligent things to say, it is then.

Not every problem is small or simple enough to be put out the airlock. Sometimes, bad things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. At times like these, there’s no need to be articulate. Revel in the cathartic release of a good swear and save the stirring speeches for when the Cylons aren’t attacking.

-

There are many more sci-fi examples out there that can be used to further your spiritual practices. Should you happen to achieve enlightenment, you can reconsider becoming a hermit in the Himalayas, if that’s your thing.

For myself, I’ll mark “spiritual, inner work” off my to do list and reward myself with a movie and some video games.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Twisted Soul


Dear world,

While I know you rely on me for a great many things – on account of how I am a special snowflake and there’s only ever one of me, etc. – I am currently sick. I know this interferes with some of your more interesting plans for the day; just imagine how I feel about it. I could be out having fun. Instead, I am one with this couch. I know. It’s neither right nor fair.

Anyway, world, there are a few things you can do for me in my convalescence.

First, comfort food. I would like to eat some and I would like for it to not count. I’m going to need you to wave your magic wand and make all the calories in the following foods go away just for today:
  1. Pizza
  2. Cheeseburgers
  3. French fries (the crinkle-cut kind. You can ignore the wimpy ones from fast food places.)
  4. Ice cream
  5. Peanut butter
  6. Anything containing peanut butter
  7. Pie
And when you’re done taking all those calories out, I need all those things to magically appear in my fridge. Because I don’t normally keep them around, and I’m too miserable to go out for them now.

Second: naps. I need rest to recover from whatever this is, but I got sick on a weekend. I can't waste my limited weekend time napping, so when I nod off, I need you to stop time. I’ll let you know when you can start it up again. Like, maybe there’s an app for that? If it’s too hard to stop time for everybody, you can do it just for me. Maybe I’ll find a Time Turner in my jewelry box? Maybe the Tardis will land in my basement? Or maybe this can be like Groundhogs Day and I'll just wake up tomorrow to find it's Saturday again. We can sort out the details later.

Third: laundry. It needs to be done and I don’t want to do it. I’ve prepared a few acceptable solutions to this problem. Use your best judgement.
Option A: benevolent robot servants. I always liked Rosey from the Jetsons. But remember the Three Laws of Robotics! We don't want a repeat of last time.
Option B: house elves, just for today. I’ve got some socks they can have afterward – I’m not a slave driver.
Option C: trained Tyrannosauruses. I’m… not entirely clear on the particulars for Option C. I’m sick and my head hurts. I leave it in your capable hands.

Fourth: science. Find me a freaking biological genius and beat him about the head and shoulders with inspiration until he thinks up a cure for the common cold. Make it something ridiculously easy and widely accessible, preferably something I have in my pantry so I won’t have to go to the drug store, something attractive so I can find it on Pinterest later and be pleasantly surprised. I can act surprised, I promise.

That about covers it for now. As you can see, my requests are reasonable and mostly unselfish – I imagine everyone would enjoy dinosaur butlers and zero calorie crinkle-cut fries. I’ll leave you alone to work on those. I’ll just be waiting, right here on this couch. You know where to find me.

Sincerely,
Tori