WRITING TAUGHT ME ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO WORK OUT. WORKING OUT TAUGHT ME ABOUT WHAT IT TAKES TO WRITE.
AND IT TURNS OUT YOU WRITE, OR WORK OUT, IN YOUR MID-SIXTIES, EXACTLY THE SAME WAY YOU ALWAYS DID.
AND YOU HAVE TO KEEP LEARNING THIS.
THIS TIME AROUND, A FUNKY SHOULDER, A VERY OLD CAT, AMY TAM, AND A WHOLE LOT OF FACEBOOK FRIENDS HELPED WITH THE RE-LEARN.
HOW DO YOU WORK OUT IN YOUR MID-60’S?
I knew I shouldn’t have been doing those overhead presses, even with little bitty weights, in the BodyPump classes at the YMCA in Nashville, winter before last — I just knew I shouldn’t. But I loved BodyPump, which I had been doing since my 40’s, so I and did it anyway.
But I am not in my 40’s. I shredded both rotator cuffs, and, in the long journey to regain function, it turned out, I also arthritis in ’em.
This has all been a pain not just in the shoulders (at times, a hurting was so present I couldn’t not think of it, and would occasionally find the nearest bathroom in which to go cry) but the butt. Disability, and mine is so mild, makes what should be simple irritating and impossible. At times, during this shoulder rehab journey, I have been unable to lift up and reach for anything over my head, open a heavy door, or sleep on my side.
This from a woman who once used to bench 180 on a smith machine.
ARRRGGGH! HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN!
Now it is January, two years later.
Having very carefully rehabbed those shoulders back to good health two or three times now, I swear tI have learned my lesson.
But it is now time again, to return to the age sixty-plus version of the 3-times-a-week weight-training workouts I did more weeks than not since my thirties. ( Too, in my late 40’s I added walking 5 miles a day, tracking it with a pedometer that morphed over time to a Fitbit. And there has also been the ever-more-gentle yoga I have done on and off for forever; I now lean to “restorative” yoga, which is essentially a group nap).
But as I say: it now time again. To find and develop a new work-out, one appropriate to this particular 66-year-old body, in which, surprisingly, I find myself. (My father told me, in his ’70’s, ” look in the mirror and think, who is this old guy?” I thought this was hilarious and cute at the time. Now… I’m there.)
And I know this new work-out must, like all work-outs, takes me beyond where I am now, but still be doable, attainable, if I show up and push (in this it’s like writing, but more on that later).
And, this new workout must not injure me again, or further.
What will it be?
Having moved across country recently, it’s not just finding a new work-out, but a new gym.
I did what anyone faced with such a decision would do – tossed my dilemma up on Facebook and asked my pals.
I explained that there were two contenders.
One, within walking distance, came highly recommended but was pricey. And I suspected I would be the youngest person there. They have BodyPump classes, and I would be again tempted to (but will not) screw up my shoulders again.
The other one was free, somewhat recommended, had a pool, but required a quarter-hour’s drive.
ON BEING FREE, ‘QUASI-SINGLE’*, AND WELL OVER 21
About that free gym: Being over 65, I have a free membership through Medicare in gyms with a “Silver Sneakers” program. The nearest is a 14-minutes, by car (and, dammit, I no longer drive much after dark). It’s in a gym that connected to a hospital.
On the one hand, the thought of the drive filled me with hesitation.
On the other hand, $60 a month? When I could get it free? Plus, extra for a trainer, at least at first, to develop a program that will work for my body as it is and as I hope it will be, not for what it was?
When the free place was specifically geared towards people in the something of the same, that is, older, boat?
Except, not all “older” boats are the same.
*Speaking of which, ‘quasi-single’. There are no boxes on the forms at doctor’s offices for me and maybe many my age: divorced (when very young), widowed twice, now in a passionate, loving and committed relationship for almost five years, but not living together full-time. (A relationship that includes a lot of hot sex, by the way. Something that, in my 20s and 30’s, I couldn’t have conceived of wanting, and having, at the then-unimaginable age of 66. But here I am, and thankfully, so is he. And since we are talking about aging here, and what you do or don’t do in terms physically, it seems relevant to state this).
CROWD-SOURCING AN ANSWER
My friends on Facebook felt my pain. They were eager to help.
My friend Saveena (who years ago gifted me and my aging mother with one of the all-time great cats, the late Tumbleweed, pictured below) says, “Proximity is so important. I am all for the gym that is closer and driving at night won’t be an issue. The less barriers the better.”
Deborah Underwood agreed: “If it were me: the closer one, absolutely.” As Harold Underdown, a cogent children’s book colleague, put it, inarguably, “The closer one, because it’s closer.”
Monica Clark Robinson, a Fearless Writing™ student and now-published, prolific, hard-working and brilliant author, who probably knows me best of those cited, weighed in: “You’re more fit than most 40-year-olds I know. Save the Silver Sneakers for your 80s! You’ll enjoy walking to the closer place. (And we’ll enjoy the conversation snippets on Dickson street you’ll share with us!)”
How did Monica know the name “Silver Sneakers” made me break out in hives? Oh, right, she took writing with me.
But the other program, facility, and even Silver Sneakers had their partisans, too.
My friend Dwain Cromwell, who actually lives in the area and uses it, noted, “They offer walking in a warm water pool, which I dig.” Warm water… that sounded good. And pal Dawn Anderson, a Zumba instructor, said “… they, in your own words, have instructors trained for the aging body. Does the other fitness center? And I happen to know the Zumba® Gold instructor there – you will LOVE her!!” Having actually taken classes with Dawn, this cuts a certain amount of ice with me.
But I the thoughts of Gwen McCauley, who I know and love only through Facebook, made me wince a little. “Definitely the seniors focused program. AND I’d use it as an opportunity to challenge myself about driving after dark . . .getting a brain as well as a body workout!!”
Gwen, darling, it’s not just me on the road. I worry about my eyesight jeopardizing other people.
Teresa Wilder’s position roughly mimicked mine: ” … tried both after moving here in 2009. I would probably go with the gym because of its location. It’s pleasant keeping it right in the neighborhood and walkable. (The Silver Sneakers) program is good, but in my case was too low impact. Most of the other members were older and less mobile.”
See, I want the needs of my aging self met. But I wanted inspiration as I looked ahead, not conditions I might, not to put too fine a point on it, regard with dread. I want to learn about what lies ahead, and prepare for it (reading A Carnival of Loss: Notes on Nearing Ninety, by the late poet Donald Hall, vividly alive and honest in his words, has been remarkably helpful, moving, and frightening, all at once).
I don’t want to be old before my time, or young after it. And I’m not sure exactly where I am in all this. I am as mixed up as darling Tumbleweed was the day we took that picture: am I going up, or down?
(Okay, that was largely an excuse to use this adorable picture of Tumbleweed. But not entirely.)
Still. There was a coterie, on my impromptu wisdom council, who said, reasonably, “Look, one is free, the other probably has a trial membership. Why not try both, and see what you like? Maybe you’ll do some at one and some at the other… “
And that is what I plan to do.
BECAUSE WHEREVER I GO, I KNOW IT’S TIME
I have not been to a gym, other than for rehab, for more than a year now. It’s time.
And yet, even after working out most of my adult life, with a clear sense of the benefits, I’m finding I still have to psyche myself into it, block out the time in a too-busy life, make an agreement that I’ll work out, and stick with it.
Even though I know all this, I also resist it.
And, now that I have arthritic shoulders, less energy and stamina overall, and a declining sense of balance, I also have to avoid putting on the psychic iron tu-tu — too old! Too low-energy! Too late!
F*** that. I remember when the tu-tu was, too young! Too inexperienced! Too shy!
So in the end, the way you work out in your 60’s is the same way you always did. The same way you always do anything: you decide you want to do it more tan you don’t want to do it, and then you act on that decision, day after day. You get where you want to get, or closer, by relentless incrementalism.
Lift by lift. Word by word.
I wrote about this very topic a year and a half ago, sparked by the then-64 year-old writer Amy Tan.
In the middle of figuring out the gym conundrum, I just re-read that post. And what do you know, I re-inspired myself!
So. In addition to trying out both gyms, I’m reposting this for y’all, too.
Because while there are always good reasons not to work out… there are even more reasons to work out.
“Let’s,” as I have heard workout instructors sometimes say, “do this.”
SOMETIMES A TRUTH PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN TO YOU FLIES OUT OF YOUR MOUTH
So it was when I heard myself say, “I don’t work out to shrink my body, but to expand my life.”
I revisit this insight periodically. It reverberates, continuing to reveal truth in ways unimagined back when I first said it, two decades ago, to the editor of a now-defunct magazine named Mode.
Mode was a fashion magazine which (radically) featured representatively-sized women. Then, as now, fashion magazines mostly feature unrealistically sized, non-average-sized women (What is average? According to the stat-bundling CDC, average, if you’re white, female, American and 50 years of age, it’s 170 pounds, 5 feet one inch tall).
I’d sold Mode an article on bellies: our ambivalence, our shamed suck-it-in reflex. I took a belly-dance class in the course of writing it, investigated “gut feelings” (for which there is physiological evidence) and looked at archetypal belly power (the moon-round globe in which members of our species germinate).
The editor liked my story. Wanted more. We kicked around ideas. Then I proposed becoming Mode’s fitness editor.
I could see her mulling this over. Would the idea fly with Mode‘s audience? Could real, non-model-sized women relate to fitness as a positive, not shaming, topic? The editor was herself (oddly), thin, muscular; perhaps in her heart of hearts, she too wondered if a larger woman could even be “fit.”
I could feel, too, her considering me, scanning. Was she thinking, “Good writer, yeah, but would her appearance be motivating to our readers, or a turn-off?” I wonder now (a quick Google just turned her up teaching spin and yoga in California): I look good, and people often tell me I look young for my age and that I radiate energy. (To which I say, thank you.) But, here’s the deal: I’m neither buff nor heavy.
IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW YOU LOOK
I did not and still don’t fit the image of those who work out.
Yet, since my early 30’s I’ve remained a dedicated exerciser. I’ve stuck with it pretty consistently, despite episodes physical (broken leg) and situational/ emotional (three deaths of people I loved, five years of eldercare; much work-travel, a flood that destroyed part of my home) that could have put me off it, and at times nearly did.
Why? Because my life is better, happier, expanded — emotionally, physically, intellectually, and even perhaps spiritually — when I take care of the body, which St. Francis of Assisi called “Brother Ass.”
I love my healthy donkey-body: less for how it looks (though these days I like that, too) than for all it does. And for all it, like all donkeys, carries.
Of course I want to care for this loyal physical self. Of course it serves me even more willingly when I do.
That’s why I was able to say what I did to that editor. Why my words were succinct, cogent, as if I’d said them many times, though I never had before, not even in my mind. I don’t work out to shrink my body, but to expand my life.
I hadn’t ever said it, but I ‘d lived it.
ME AND AMY TAN
Recently on Facebook, I reposted Amy Tan‘s fitness journey after age 60, and I used those words again.
I said Tan was a “… woman after my own heart: I’m 63, devoted to working out not to shrink the body, but to expand the life. On the same path: physical and creative self-love, resilience, reinvention.”
Along with three buff pictures (chin tilted slightly with an I-earned-this show-offy defiant charm), Tan wrote, “I made a plan to … prove to myself that age doesn’t mean that everything ‘goes downhill…’ despite chronic disease, a history of broken bones, unrelenting shoulder pain, and early signs of osteoporosis…”
With zesty, cheerful braggadocio, she concluded, “This is what (I) look like after my workout… I can lift my suitcase and put it in the overhead compartment of a plane. Working out … makes a big difference in strength, balance, and endurance. I am now 64. ”
Upwards of 250 people, mostly women, commented on this post. Many mentioned my “expand the life” words.
I think the reason this jumps out at people, and jumped out at me when it first escaped my mouth, is: it goes to the core.
MOTIVATION: MOVING TOWARDS, NOT AWAY
I think we all know subconsciously that motivation doesn’t work if based in negation. It has to elucidate what you want to move towards rather than away from.
And sticking with fitness activities requires motivation.
Working out takes time, effort, energy. It requires a shift, every time; that we interrupt whatever fascinating, important, urgent thing we are doing, and focus elsewhere.
It usually requires we change clothes, locations. It involves schlepping stuff (gym bag) and showering afterwards (wet hair, make-up, towels, moisturizer, sun screen, clean clothes). It has elements of discomfort, awkwardness. It is never convenient.
But, so what?
WRITERS WORKING, AND WORKING OUT
Exercise, it turns out, informs the lives of many writers. Unsurprisingly: writing, a rarely-comfortable calling, also requires motivation.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, enough to take action: that’s the price of success.
In working out, writing, life.
That Mode fitness column never came to fruition. But my words stuck with the editor. My front-of-the-book mini-bio in the issue with my article read, “Crescent Dragonwagon writes cookbooks, children’s books, and poetry. She works out ‘to expand the life, not shrink the body.'”
She – that is, me, like the rest of us one year older this year than last – still does.
And plans to keep it up for the duration.
This essay is part of Crescent’s “Nothing is Wasted on the Writer” series. Crescent’s 2019 late-winter / early spring live classes, courses, and events include:
Left-Brain Planning for Right-Brain People: Stop Procrastinating, Become Insanely Productive, & Do What’s Important Your Way (3 sessions, limited to 12 people),
Tuesdays with Crescent Writing Group (12 sessions, limited to 12 people), and
Works-in-Progress Group (12 sessions, limited to 6 people, 2 spots left).
Click for more details, exact dates and to register.