Zumba?

I clicked into the online class because the title said, “20 Minute ZUMBA Fitness.”

I said to myself, “I can do anything for twenty minutes.”

From the first downbeat, the instructor Ayhan Sulu is high energy. His sleevless shirt says, “EGO IS NOT YOUR AMIGO.” And his smile—well—you might just need to click play to see for yourself. Better yet, stand up wherever you are, set your ego aside, and give it a try.

Let me warn you, at about the seven-minute mark, I nearly cried mercy, but I couldn’t stop smiling. Just when I found myself almost dying, the music switched, and we slowed down. Not for long. The intensity built once more. But if this guy’s energy doesn’t make you smile, then picture me—a 51-one-year-old woman who has never ever Zumba-ed, trying to keep up with his moves. Maybe you had to be there, but I’m still tickled.

Around fourteen minutes, I hit pause and went to pee for the sheer excuse of taking a time out. The workout would be over at 22:17. “I can do anything for eight minutes,” I reminded myself. Just as I hit play, there was another slowdown. And then another speed up. And then somewhere in the nineteen-minute range, we started cooling down. I had made it! Through the class. Through my A-Z blogging challenge. Through my month of action. Miracles do happen. Bring on May.  

Yoga?

Once upon a time, I went to a yoga class. In fact, two different classes kept me balanced for about four years. That was probably at least seven years ago. I just realized I miss it—the strength, the flexibility, the relaxation.

Even with my COVID vaccines, I can’t get super excited about going to a class. Meanwhile, I found one online at Sarah Beth Yoga. It seemed like perfect start—30-minute Full Body Yoga for Flexibility and Strength.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

The class begins in child’s pose, my knees on the mat, belly between thighs, hands stretched in front of me, forehead and chest resting downward, and from there a flow to downward facing dog. I can do this, I thought.

The class progressed with a walk to the top of the mat, a slow roll to standing. Sarah Beth says, “Consider what kind of a practice you would like to have today. What is the intention you would like to set for your practice? You don’t have to think too hard. Just let it be the first thing that comes to mind and let that set the pace of your flow and intensity.”

And sometimes that’s all we need—a little guidance to remind us of our intentions—that we don’t need to think too hard—but we do need to choose our purpose. That seems like common sense, but sometimes I forget. Clearly, I need more yoga.

Namaste.

X-it Off.

Man, it feels good to X some items off my metaphorical list. I’m not really a listy person. I tend to bounce from one idea to the next, and somehow that works for me. When it came to X-ing off all but two letters of my April A to Z action challenge, I had my doubts. Part of it was coming up with the list. Now the end is in sight, and soon it will be time to bounce on. Thanks for your part in keeping me motivated to finish what I started!

Walk!

Just Take the Step

All it takes is a step,
then another and another,
until momentum takes over
and propels you forward.

The steps we don’t take
are the ones we regret.
Just take the step.  
Don’t worry or fret.

Our paths, like our steps,
always lead to the next.
Billions of us on journeys
with paths that intersect

Plan all you want.
At some point you’ll see
what happens in life
might be destiny.    

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141).

Cassius in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140-141

Update.

This April here on the blog, I’ve stuck to an alphabetized theme of action. Allow me to update you.

Updates are good—especially in job situations and within families and with friends. Updates keep your people in the loop and strengthen your connections. This week I phoned my sister, and my bestie called me. We updated each other. Those are my favorite updates.

However, I have a little problem with today’s blog update. If you’ve been reading recently, you know that most of my posts for the last twenty-three days or so have been updates of sorts. I’m starting to bore myself with the topic of me. If you’ve been reading, and you’re back again today, God Bless You! You could be doing anything right now, and I’m not loving this post. Hopefully, some of the others have been better. If you’ve missed any, I’ve linked them in the update below.

Starting on April 1st, I chose to abstain from alcohol. Today is my twenty-fourth day. This action freed me to accomplish more in a month than I have probably ever. Weirdly, I haven’t missed my nightly drinking much. I can’t say I’m quitting forever, but I am totally rethinking my relationship with my booze habit. Oh, the extra calories!

This month I’ve taken three ballet classes and turned a few cartwheels. I’ve continued reading my devotional book almost every day, or at least I catch up when I fall behind. Hopefully along the way, I’ve encouraged someone somehow. One of my reader-friends said my post on forgiveness was her favorite.

While thinking about actions from A-Z this month, I’ve noticed myself Googling throughout most of my days. One day I read about the benefits of headstands, so I’ve been practicing. I held one for about thirty seconds the other night. This challenge has taught me to innovate. One day I wrote about not jogging, but since that post, I pushed myself to try it again. Mostly I’ve been trying to Keep It Stupid Simple and listen to God and good advice and people who matter and the birds in the trees.

Along the way, I put some thought into some memorization, some nominations, and observations. I photographed some murals, quested forward with personal goals, and read a few memoirs.

I’m not sure what makes me more proud this month, completing 1245 situps and pushups and 1320 squats or revising 215 pages of my memoir for my thesis due date on Monday (I still have 30 pages and a final inspection to go) or the 3 interviews I had this week (that’s a post for another time). One thing I know for certain is that none of it would’ve been possible without believing I could do it and giving it a try.

Situps, Pushups, and Squats?

The truth is — my clothes weren’t fitting, and I refused to buy bigger ones. I even noticed being short of breath from time to time when doing simple things like laundry. Something needed to change. April seemed as good a time as any, and so I chose to take some action.

My eighty-one-year-old father wakes up around 5:30 each morning and does a whole routine of calisthenics, and I mean seven days a week. Weekdays he still works full-time, and knowing him, I’m betting on some major overtime. He’s the picture of health. I’ve asked about the particulars of his workout, and he has told me. I would’ve needed to write it down to remember. It’s a lot, but I know he exercises in sets.

On the first day of April, I decided to come up with a routine of my own. I wanted to keep it simple and doable. Situps, pushups, and squats. “I can do that,” I said to myself. I had a plan. I started with ten situps, ten pushups, and twenty squats. Each day, I would add five. After the first Sunday in April, I decided to take Sundays off. On another day, I decided I would quit adding five when I reached one hundred repetitions. Modifications are sometimes necessary. Progress is progress. By April 14, 2021, I was up to seventy situps and pushups and eighty squats. The squats were not a problem. The push-ups were harder. And the sit-ups were f-ing ridiculous. I broke them down into sets. If it took me all damn day, I would do them.

But, I sort of hated my life mid-situp and needed some motivation. You know what I did? I Googled the benefits, and Healthline.com gave me nine great reasons to just keep going:

  1. Core strength. By strengthening, tightening, and toning your core, you reduce your risk of back pain and injuries.
  2. Improved muscle mass. According to research from 2016, older women who were able to do situps were less likely to have sarcopenia, which is the natural loss of muscle due to aging. Women who were able to do more than 10 situps had higher levels of muscle mass and function. 
  3. Athletic performance. A strong core gives you proper posture, stability, and form, allowing you to perform at higher levels during any sport or physical activity.
  4. Better balance and stability. A strong core helps to keep your body balanced and stable. It helps your pelvis, lower back, and hip muscles to work together with your abdominal muscles.
  5. Increased flexibility. Situps make your hips and back more flexible, which increases mobility and relieves tension and tightness. Increased flexibility improves circulation and concentration, reduces stress, and boosts energy levels.
  6. Improved posture. A solid core improves posture, and good posture includes less pain and tension, increased energy levels, and improved breathing.
  7. Reduced risk of back pain and injury. Situps also build strength in the lower back, hips, and pelvis, making injury less likely.
  8. Diaphragm strengthening. Situps cause compression of the abdomen, which can have a positive effect on your diaphragm. A strong, healthy diaphragm can improve your breathing patterns, alleviate stress, and enhance athletic endurance.
  9. Academic Achievement. Studies link high fitness levels to high academic achievement levels.

On Monday the 19th, I reached one hundred squats, and yesterday, I reached one hundred situps and pushups. I must admit — I feel stronger, my shape is slowly morphing, and my lower back pain (of the past few years) has improved. Benefits aside, I’m not sure 100 situps a day is sustainable. April is proving I can do anything one month at a time. When May rolls around, I may reassess.

Read!

Funny how we absorb — the good, the bad, emotions, behaviors — such is life. Things subconsciously stick. Bad things happen, I get it. But we can make choices in handling those experiences that are beyond our control. We can surround ourselves with whatever we want to absorb.

You want to be a better writer? Surround yourself with words.

Read widely.

Read above your usual level and absorb the techniques of the experts. Absorb their words, sentences, paragraphs, style, and structure — details of time and place, character, dialogue and gesture — inspiration and imagination, understanding of the human condition and more. Name it and notice it.

This April I’ve been devouring memoirs. Maybe you’re looking for something to read next.

This Is My Body: A Memoir of Religious and Romantic Obsession is the debut of Cameron Dezen Hammon. On page one, Hammon takes the stage at a suburban megachurch to sing at a funeral for a teenaged girl. Her cell phone buzzes in the pocket of her dress. It’s the man she might love, not her husband and father of her daughter. And from the opening scene, Hammon’s honesty and bravery hooked me. She grapples with misogyny in religion, infidelity in marriage, and doubt in faith. I couldn’t stop turning pages, and I can’t stop thinking about this book.*

Educated by Tara Westover had been on my to-read list for a couple of years. I listened to it on Audible, but I wish I had a copy. Born to Mormon survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Westover was 17 the first time she stepped into a classroom on the campus of BYU. The following passage strikes at the heart of this book and the ideology of Westover’s childhood. This conversation is the steppingstone she needs to further education—at Cambridge, then Harvard.

“By the end of the semester the world felt big, and it was hard to imagine returning to the mountain, to a kitchen, or even to a piano in a room next to the kitchen. This caused a kind of crisis in me. My love of music and my desire to study it had been compatible with my idea of what a woman is. My love of history and politics and world affairs was not, and yet they called to me. A few days before finals, I sat for an hour with my friend Josh in an empty classroom. He was reviewing his applications for law school. I was choosing my courses for the next semester. ‘If you were a woman,’ I asked, ‘would you still study law?’

Josh didn’t look up. ‘If I were a woman,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t want to study it.’

‘But you’ve talked about nothing but law school for as long as I’ve known you,’ I said. ‘It’s your dream. Isn’t it?’

‘It is,’ he admitted, ‘but it wouldn’t be if I were a woman. Women are made differently. They don’t have this ambition. Their ambition is for children.’ He smiled at me as if I knew what he were talking about, and I did. I smiled, and for a few seconds, we were in agreement.

Then, ‘But what if you were a woman and somehow you felt exactly as you do now?’

Josh’s eyes fixed on the wall for a moment. He was really thinking about it. Then he said, ‘I’d know something was wrong with me.’

Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club was a trudge for me. There are funny and heartbreaking parts. I enjoyed Karr’s vocabulary and sentences and images, but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel compelled to turn pages. In connection with the other two memoirs, all three authors goes through tough injustices. Hammon and Westover both triumph and learn something about themselves. As for Karr, I prefer her book The Art of Memoir, especially if you’re interested in writing one.

*One more thing about Camerson Dezen Hammon. I’m thrilled to say my university has contracted her to read my memoir-in-progress and mentor me. So, now I leave this post to continue my revisions. My due date approaches, and I just might have more books to read.

Quest!

In 2013, I received an opportunity to teach a Creative Writing class at the high school where I also taught English. As a new elective without an established curriculum, I had the freedom to teach it however I wanted. I adopted a two-part philosophy. First, writers must be readers, and I structured classes with time to read for pleasure with an eye toward author’s craft. Next, writers must write—every day. I gave the students daily prompts that they could use or not for their writing. The point was sustained practice.

In the beginning, I felt like a hypocrite, and so the second part of my own philosophy forced me to write—almost every day. I kept a journal and notes in my phone, bits of dialogue and scenes. As I wrote alongside my students, I often stuck to a theme of my son Drew, our new normal with schizophrenia, and our quest for help. Little by little over the next few years, I realized my story might help someone else. Finding help had been hard, especially when my son didn’t see a need for help. Maybe I would write a memoir. I quested ahead with my writing practice. My structure was episodic. My ideas were fragmented. Some of it was pretty good. Some of it was horrific. I didn’t know how to make it all publishable.

For my fiftieth birthday, I gifted myself time for grad school and started a new quest for my MFA. Who knew I could study Creative Writing? As my program winds down, I’m questing toward my degree and the latest draft of my memoir Help in the Time of Schizophrenia. When I submit this work on April 26th, two of my professors and a third contracted reader will read it and provide a final round of feedback. I’m super thankful for the extra perspective.

And soon, I’ll be on a new quest. To be determined.

Quest

Carrie Williams Clifford

My goal out-distances the utmost star, 
Yet is encompassed in my inmost Soul; 
I am my goal—my quest, to know myself. 
To chart and compass this unfathomed sea, 
Myself must plumb the boundless universe. 
My Soul contains all thought, all mystery, 
All wisdom of the Great Infinite Mind: 
This is to discover, I must voyage far, 
At last to find it in my pulsing heart. 

Photograph.

One Friday in April, I found myself home alone with time on my hands. I hopped in my car on a quest for murals. If you’ve been reading recently, you might guess that I Googled locations first, and you would be correct. With the first address in my phone map, I stumbled upon a little pot of gold. I ended up in EaDo, also known as East Downtown Houston. I can’t believe I’ve lived here nearly five years and had never seen this revitalized neighborhood. It’s vibrant and thriving, and I’ll be back. Meanwhile, I photographed the opportunity.

Thank you so much for supporting today’s A-Z Challenge post. After a year at home, I wanted to mix it all up a bit and thought surely someone would like a suggestion or two, maybe even twenty-six. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action. Some are mental feats. Some are physical. Others spiritual. Some I practice already. Some I haven’t attempted in years. Others never. Your guess is as good as mine whether I can keep it up for ten more posts. Links below to my first fifteen: