Who needs to think when your feet just go?

This morning, I visited a treadmill for the first time in months. My brilliant writer friend, recently returned to Gambier after exciting international travels and intrigue, made a reconaissance mission to the campus's new athletic center, which opened on Wednesday, and this morning she took me along with her. I've been skeptical of this place ever since its name got shortened to exclude "fitness and recreation," which had originally formed a Healthy Triad of sorts, with athletics. And yet, despite its somewhat soulless beige halls, I have to admit: this place is a palace of an athletic center, and I felt damned good striding along to Missy Elliot, working it indeed. And because there's a rotary torso machine, I'll be back again and again. I could use that machine for hours and be ecstatically happy--though also, of course, in deep, abiding pain. One of my students (whom I intercepted on another machine, in my exuberance and inability to maintain the straight-ahead "I don't see any students here, and they're not seeing me, their professor" gaze I'd been studiously keeping up, for the most part, for the last hour) said, "I feel as though I go to another school, all of a sudden."

Now, the point of today's post is not to sing the praises of this multi-million dollar athletic facility--which, for what it cost, should be a palace. Instead, I'm stopping in, before heading out, with the pie that's now in the oven, leaking everywhere as it finishes baking, to what promises to be a truly wacky dinner party and intellectual gathering, to sing the praises of the body itself. Mine is not electric--not most of the time, anyway--but I'll sing it anyway.

In summer 2002, a lovely friend said to me, "Will you help me teach some people to dance for their wedding?" We kicked off a beautiful dancing friendship, and I discovered all manner of interesting things about myself and my clothes (one night, for instance, we started into a waltz turn and discovered that the skirt I was wearing wasn't cut widely enough around my knees for my to swing my leg where it needed to go). The biggest lesson I learned was that I'd spent the previous year utterly ignoring my body. Ignoring one's body is different from, or perhaps just a subset of, neglecting it. By "ignoring my body," I mean that I had actually forgotten that it was there for anything besides carrying my brain around and helping me get some typing done.

What made my realization especially strange was the fact that I had spent so much of 2000 learning what my body, and bodies in general, could do. A good friend of mine--I'll call her my EasternIowan friend, which means you'll have to watch closely to make sure you don't get her mixed up with my OhioanIowan friend--had gotten herself completely, amazingly, formidably cut and buff and stacked and all those good muscle terms, all by doing kickboxing. I still don't think I've had another academic friend who could match this woman for sheer muscle mass and athletic determination. Because of her, I joined a gym for the first time in my life and, also for the first time in my life, started weight-training.

Now, my beloved Brooklynite swears by yoga; she can do amazing things with her body because of that practice. My preferred physical practice, which moves and centers me to the point where it's not unlike meditative worship (though not of myself, to be sure), is weight-training. Doing weights properly requires much more focus than you'd guess if you've never tried it. When I first started, I once said to the man who was training me, "I don't feel that at all." He upped my weight a little bit but also said, "Be sure you're focusing on the muscles that should be doing the work." I tried it--I visualized my hamstrings doing all the work to pull those fifty pounds around--and suddenly things got very difficult indeed, refreshingly and reassuringly difficult. For the rest of summer 2000, while I finished up my master's degree and settled into thinking about my dissertation, I speed-walked on the treadmills and then lifted, pressed, pulled, and twisted my body into the best strength and flexibility it had ever had.

One of the things I do love about my body is that my arm muscles start to show quickly, and they hang around visibly for a long time; I haven't exercised consistently since, mmm, I finished my dissertation. But I can still pop my slowly shrinking biceps up and impress others. I've been in a long, slow process of losing my strength and my good metabolism, though, and in that process--as has been my wont, historically--I have also had a significantly reduced interest in eating. Remember: this process has been going on since 2003.

And so you can imagine with what mingling of excitement and trepidation I stepped into the sunlit, glass-enclosed superhall of a cardio and weight room in the new athletic center this morning. I fumbled the treadmill at least four times before I got myself moving, stretched out, and warmed up. But once I was going, was I ever off. In the picture I've posted above, you can see how, beyond the superhall's right-side wall, there's another, even more super, hall. That one contains the new pool. And all the cardio machines look down on the pool from a second-floor perch. (In this second picture, the weight hall is behind the left-hand wall of glass.) I'm meditating on the post that will pour out (differently than last week's meditation on lakes) my love of water and of moving through water. For now, all you need to know (if you even need to know this) is that I spent 45 minutes striding along, gazing at the mirror-calm surface of the pool below me, working up the nerve I know I'll need to shed a towel down there while students do their own striding and stepping above me. But I also came home and ordered myself a lap suit to replace the old black one that, because it turns ten this summer, is growing threadbare in strategically poor places.

For what I realized, doing rhumba twirls and chaussees and waltz turns with my dancing New Yorker nearly four years ago, was that ignoring the fact that I have a body just plain hurts, and that bringing it back to life and sense was going to hurt, too. On a couple of occasions that summer, I went home and cried and cried over the aching I'd summoned up and couldn't slake. My beloved Brooklynite suggested that there was something to be said for sorrowing gorgeously, and I agreed with her, but when the time came around again at the end of the next summer, I managed, in fairly swift order, to cover back over all those nerves, all those movements and strengthenings and flexibilities, and to dull myself back out to being a brain on feet.

Now, I'm ready once again to stave off this latest phase of ignoring half of what makes up my self in the world--if only so that I can use the four weight machines I love best, the ones that change the way I hold myself, the way I feel myself centered and grounded and ready for kicking some ass.

source for today's images: the KAC