Michelle Obama Arms

Tonight Katie and I went to a strength training class. It was further proof that I have almost no arm or core strength.

This time, the instructor was male. He was a small-built man with tight muscles and small tattoo on the inside of his forearm. He seemed nice enough. He welcomed us as he put on his headset – which I found funny since there were only five people in the class tonight, but whatever – and told us we would be doing a circuit workout with three stations.

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So, other than Katie and I, there was a young mother trying to lose baby weight, a middle-aged woman, and a fifty-something woman with Michelle Obama arms.

Each station lasted twelve minutes and consisted of six exercises. The first was arms – chest presses, rows, curls, something called an Arnold press, and squat presses. Because I have almost no arm strength and have very little willpower, I thought I would grab 10lb weights. I started out with chest presses, only to do three reps before Tattoo Headset came over and handed me 15lb weights. “You can do more,” he said. “Ten pounds isn’t allowed here.”

“But I have no arm strength!” I protested.

“You’ll get it,” he barked before also swapping Katie’s weights and then harassing the middle-aged woman.

I think I should have stayed with the 10lb weights. Tattoo Headset kept yelling about form and each time he yelled, my form got worse.

Michelle Obama Arms was a champ with perfect form and Tattoo Headset kept complimenting her. I wanted to tell her to go home. She was done working out. Like, done working out for her life. She was in the best shape a woman her age could hope for and could rock a sleeveless dress.

Then we had to do these exercises around these massive tractor wheels. I don’t know if you know about tractor wheels, but when lying on the side, they’re roughly four feet tall. Tattoo Headset told us to step up with kettlebells (EIGHTEEN GODDAMN POUNDS) to the beat of the music – which was roughly 210bpm. And we had to keep our bodies straight when we stood on the wheel. Yeah, my body was not cooperating. My abs hurt more than anything else by that point, so it was almost impossible to stand straight. I would pause briefly to compose myself (re: let my muscles stop quivering), and he would yell, “KEEP GOING! MAKE IT WORK! STAY STRONG! COME ON, GUYS!” I had no center of gravity. At one point, I almost fell into the tire and then back out of the tire.

When I gracefully stumbled with the kettlebell prepared to break my fall, Tattoo Headset just told me not to do that. In fact, he said to pretend it was lava. Right. Like my body would stop falling just because there was pretend lava in the middle of the tire.

While I was falling into the tire, Michelle Obama Arms was stepping up like a champ, hardly breaking a sweat. Bitch.

On the way home, Katie said she hated the instructor. She’s one of the most stubborn people I know, so it doesn’t surprise me that she didn’t like him swapping her weights or telling her what to do. But I appreciated his insistence. As I’ve already stated, I don’t have much willpower, so when I work out, I tend to slow down when it gets hard, instead of pushing through. So, even though I almost fell into a tire and will most likely not be able to pick up a folder tomorrow at work, I feel good.

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Now I’m going to go make this face in and flaunt my imaginary Michelle Obama arms.

I should thank Tattoo Headset for making me use the 15lb weights.

That stupid thing I did yesterday afternoon

So yesterday afternoon,  I did a stupid thing. Something I can’t believe I’m about to blog about. Whatever. I’m doing it for the sake of literature.

Who I am I kidding? I need for somebody to laugh with me. It was pathetic. A low point. I have a feeling that, despite my initial enthusiasm about my new apartment, I will find myself having many pathetic moments that will serve as good blogging material. When I say good blogging material, of course I mean self-obsessed ramblings that no one actually cares about. Nevertheless, I pretend everyone is  wildly entertained by the way I combine words. I suppose that’s a pretty good working definition for a writer: one who deludes herself into believing people find her word combinations intriguing.

Maybe I’ll return to that.

Anyway. I was home alone for the day with nothing to do. I had just returned from my parents’ house to see the new kittens and was feeling sorry for myself since even the damn cat had friends to hang out with. I only let that last a few minutes before I made plans for the night. But I still had plenty of time to be alone before I was going to meet up with my friend. So naturally, the only thing I could do was turn on Netflix and make a profile on POF – formerly known as Plenty of Fish.

Before you react, I’ll tell you that you’re probably right in whatever you’re assuming. Yes. I was lonely. Yes, I was feeling ugly. Yes, I was feeling self-indulgent. And yes, I was at such a pathetic point that I actually thought I would be comforted by strangers telling me I was pretty.

It worked for a while. Within two hours of making a profile, I had over 50 messages sent to me. Most of them were messages from men who I am not remotely interested in  (re: Men whose picture is taken with a camera phone in front of a mirror, men over the age of 13 who find it acceptable to use “u” in place of the actual pronoun, suspiciously old-looking 29 year olds, men who list beer pong as a hobby) that were just “wut up. u r pretty. wanna hang”.

I kept getting emails saying that men wanted to meet me. And then I had these bubbles pop up on the side of the screen, telling me that men wanted to chat with me. I didn’t really know what was going on and I ended up chatting with a guy for a while. He seemed like a perfectly nice young man. We got to talking about relationships and what we were looking for. As the conversation went on and each of his messages reminded me of his apparent animosity for punctuation, I realized I didn’t want to be doing this. I didn’t want to be chatting with some guy who couldn’t bother to separate his sentences coherently. Furthermore, I didn’t want to be comforting myself in such a disgusting and cheap way.

So I did the mature thing. I ended the conversation with niceties (“It was nice chatting with you. I’m sure we’ll talk again soon”) and deleted my account. That’s the nice thing about online anonymity – you can do things like completely blow off a guy you’ve been talking to for an hour without having to see what an asshole you look like.

I’m going to call this my own version of the rebound: shamelessly and selfishly taking advantage of someone’s affections to make myself feel better momentarily. For a few hours, I was able to quantify my allure. See? I am still pretty and at least 50 men wanted to meet me and/or rape and kill me.  But when I finally peeled myself away from the screen, I realized I was still alone in my apartment, wishing I was talking to one person and one person only. And until I get to a point that I’m just lonely in my apartment, I don’t have any business flirting with someone else. It’s reckless and selfish. No one wants to feel like he’s in a relationship with someone who feels she needs to be in a relationship. She should want to be in that relationship, not just any relationship.

And yes, it would be much less painful and probably a lot more fun to heal if I had somebody to hang out with constantly, somebody who I knew I could call whenever I wanted and have him come over and shower me with affection. But I also know that I’m not going to find the deep and meaningful connection I’m longing for in something right now, because at this point, I can only offer superficiality. I can’t share myself or my complex emotions with another person because I’m hesitant to deal with the responsibility of another person’s emotions since I’m still dealing with so much of my own pain. Momentary distractions might serve as a cheap salve, but they won’t actually help my healing process. It’s a bandaid over a bullet hole.

So in the meantime, I’m going to just keep drinking tea, watching Netflix, and singing along to Regina Spektor because she’s the only one who can truly express what I’m feeling right now.

Now that I’ve effectively scared off any future beaus, I’m going to go to take some nyquil and go to bed.

And then I reread Sloane Crosley…

If you have to ask someone to change, to tell you they love you, to bring wine to dinner, to call you when they land, you can’t afford to be with them. It’s not worth the price, even though, just like the Tiffany catalog, no one tells you what that price is. You set it yourself, and if you’re lucky it’s reasonable. You have a sense of when you’re about to go bankrupt. Your own sense of self-worth takes the wheel and says, “Enough of this shit. Stop making excuses. No one’s that busy at work. No one’s allergic to whipped cream. There are too cellphones in Sweden.” But most people don’t get that lucky. They get human. They get crushes. This means you irrationally mortgage what little logic you own to pay for this one thing. This relationship is an impulse buy, and you’ll figure out if it’s worth it later.

So, assuming you’ve gone ahead and purposefully ignored the first adage because it doesn’t apply to you and you are in love the way no one in the history of spooning has ever been in love: now what? You’ve gotten what you want, but the state of mutual ownership has shifted. Like that piece of jewelry that you’re never quite comfortable wearing, you become concerned with its whereabouts, who borrows it and for how long. You wonder if you’ll lose it, if it might look better wrapped around someone else’s neck. Admit it: wouldn’t it be less stressful not having it touch your body at all?

The first time I read  Sloane Crosley’s essay “Off the Back of a Truck” I was at the university gym almost two years ago. I was on the elliptical and I had to stop several times to make notes in my Kindle. The way she talked about relationships in such a frank way was refreshing. At the time I was with Bill and didn’t think I would ever need to seek salve for the pains of a breakup. But it resonated so fully that I wanted to stop other girls on the treadmills and bikes nearby and read paragraphs to them.

When Bill and I broke up, this book was the first book I bought, only hours after the initial exchange. I couldn’t remember the passages. I couldn’t remember the name of the title. I just knew that I wanted the paper copy of the book. I needed the tangible thing to hang on to and to underline those paragraphs that had literally given me pause. I also wanted to be able to point to something and say, “This got me through it! This got me through that first day and helped me make sense of everything in one fell swoop.”

Of course, the book didn’t really get me through it. What it did was remind me a couple things. First, that I needed to figure out how much this was costing me. Was it going to hurt me more than give me satisfaction? Did I have to sacrifice my self-respect, goals, hopes, interests, or even passing amusement in order to make this relationship work? What, exactly, was the cost? It was a rhetorical question, one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to answer in a quantifiable sense, but I knew that for then, at least, I couldn’t afford it. The second was that I would eventually be okay. Eventually. Eventually I would be able to walk past his old house and think, “That’s where Bill used to live” the same way I might make note of a post office or grocery store. Eventually I would just look back on it as a part of my life.

That was what most struck me that afternoon on the elliptical – I knew what she meant. I had passed landmarks with ex-boyfriends and just seen them as cold facts. That was where we went on our first date. That was where he first saw me cry. We rented movies from that Blockbuster. We walked together along that trail. I recognized how those same facts that had once torn me apart now read like an uninteresting pamphlet.

I had the first promise of that the other day. I was getting ready for a wedding on Saturday night, and I digging through my desk drawer when I came across a picture from our sixth month anniversary. It was of us kissing – one of those barf-worthy things that I hate seeing on Facebook. But it was a picture I had once had framed and sat on the table next to my bed. Instead of crying and wiping my tears on my dress, I set the picture aside. “Oh,” I thought. “There’s that picture. I was wondering where it had gone.” And then I continued getting ready.

Later at the wedding, I was by the bar by myself for a few moments and I thought about how remarkable of a step that was for me. It was the first time I had come across something of us – something significantly tied to fond memories with him – that didn’t physically hurt me. It gave me hope that I was moving forward and that things would be okay. So when my friend returned from the bathroom and asked if I wanted to dance, it only seemed natural for me to accept his invitation and to enjoy myself, even if I was dancing to disco.

There is one thing you know for sure, one fact that never fails to comfort you: the worst day of your life wasn’t in there, in that mess. And it will do you good to remember the best day of your life wasn’t in there, either. But another person brought you closer to those borders than you had been, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Knowing what you can afford is useful information, even if you don’t want it.

You can find the above selections and more gems in Sloane Crosley’s book How Did you Get this Number. It would be a great book to read on the beach.

The Latest Anthem

I’ve been working unreasonable hours lately. All on my own will though. My supervisors have made it perfectly clear that any overtime I work is completely optional. I suppose it’s better than mandatory overtime. I’ve been doing it to keep busy. It’s sort of pathetic that to fill up my time, I decide to take on additional mind-numbing work. But it’s what I’m doing.

You would think that working 36 hours in the last three days would make me tired. But no, I’m just about wide awake around midnight, listening to my new favorite album – Chamber Music Society by Esperanza Spalding. Buy it now. It’s wonderful. It’s one of those albums that’s like a new discovery every time you listen to it. I may be speaking prematurely since I just got it yesterday. But I have listened to it about eight times today. The strings are beautiful and make me want to collaborate with other string players to create beautiful improvisatory avant garde pop jazz songs. If only I had those skills and actually played my violin more than a half hour once a week. During which, I play exclusively Suzuki Book 1 with an eight year old who likes mustard on pancakes (true story).

I decided to stay after the lesson this week to play on my own. It was rough. My fingers have sort of forgot how to vibrato properly. I lost my bow grip about five  years ago and have since been struggling to get it back. My six month hiatus didn’t exactly help that. Regardless, it felt good to be making sound again. I’m not ready to call it music. Right now, it’s just some horse hair across some steel making sounds in some sort pattern. It will eventually become music though. And I’ve already made plans to collaborate with a cellist to play some duets together. I think it will be fun. From what I understand, he’s also returning to playing after having not played seriously for months. So if initially we suck, at least we’ll suck together.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this lost in an album. It’s beautiful in such a terrible way. It makes me nostalgic for moments I have yet to experience. It makes me want to drink a single glass of white wine and cook an amazing italian meal for myself and a handsome man. It makes me want to sit alone on a patio and watch a storm roll in. I also want to eat meringue for some reason.

I’m doing my best to focus on myself right now. I’m trying to remember the things I was once passionate about. The last time I remember really being on my one was my freshman year. I was excited about so much. About music and art and lovely quotes that I couldn’t quite wrap  my head around. I was eager to express myself by whatever means available. This resulted in decoupage, about six new playlists a week, a devotion to Bukowski and beat poetry that last about three months, and a fierce coffee addiction. Looking back, I was immature about a lot of things. But of course I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as a cardigan-wearing maverick who happened to be really excited about pretty words. I was also very clever and mature for my age. [read: I made some foolish decisions, read some very bad books, and thought I was hip when I introduced friends to awful bands they hadn’t previously heard of.]

I’m getting back to that point – not the 18-year old naivete, because that would be terrible, but getting back to seeing myself as an individual who is free and morally obligated to discover herself. Right now, this consists of working 50+ hours in a cubicle every week, reading terrible best sellers , listening to jazz that makes me feel like I’m seeing it live, working through Soulpancake, trying new recipes, and accurately designing how my new bedroom will look.

Anyway, I’m starting to lose concentration, so I think it’s finally time I go to bed. But I’ll leave you with this, just because I can’t stop listening to this song.

Feeling Like a Criminal

I’m thinking of doing this thing where I try one new thing a day. Just one thing I’ve never done before. I’m not talking about doing crazy things like bungee jump on Tuesday and steal a pair of shoes on Wednesday, I mean relatively little things to push myself out of my comfort zone.

I did two last night. I went to a vinyl release party at a bar by myself and I wore lipstick. As I’ve said before, I don’t know how to wear lipstick, so this was an exercise in makeup tricks and confidence. I was hoping one of my girlfriends would come along, but that didn’t end up happening. So I was faced with a decision: stay home and watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix while painting my nails for the second time this weekend and go to bed before eleven, or go to the Nicole Rae  and the Traveling Suitcase vinyl release party where I would most likely see people I knew. Also, at this party I would be beautiful and charming and meet fabulous new people.

So I put on some heels and went out. And I had a fabulous time.

This was bigger than me just going to any bar or any band’s release party. This bar was where Bill had performed several times. Part of his senior recital was held here. He knows the owners, and I met them through him. In fact, when I walked in, one of the first things I saw was a picture of him. His old band is performing there in the near future I guess, and the promo poster still has his picture on it. Nicole Rae didn’t hold particular significance for us, but the drummer is a good friend of Bill’s.

So, I ran into many people I know because of Bill. And I was by myself. I didn’t have a girlfriend to huddle with on the side of the room. I didn’t have a boyfriend or date to silently flirt with. I was all alone. I spoke to friends of Bill and when they asked how I was, I told them that I was doing well. Maybe I was hypersensitive, but I felt like I saw pity or something in their eyes, so I decided to talk about the elephant in the room and told them that we had broken up. They offered obligatory words and sounds of condolences, but I was quick to say, “But I’m doing alright. My life is going well right now.”

I was introduced by Jason, a perpetual bullshitter, to a contemporary artist who is also a professor. He did not look like a professor. Considering my source, I didn’t believe him and the guy ended up pulling out his university ID, proving that he is a professor. The professor then introduced me to somebody who he claimed worked with the FBI. I told Jason, the professor, and the FBI guy they were screwing with me and then I walked away to find someone else to talk with. I ended up bouncing around between groups of people and standing by myself throughout the night. And it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be. Interestingly, some of my favorite moments of the night were when I was by myself, watching the band perform.

I also ran into an acquaintance from years ago. We ended up talking for a good chunk of time. She said she had been reading my blog and had wanted to talk to me. She said she didn’t want to send the facebook message because of the generic quality of nearly every facebook message. The conversation was great. It feels weird to report some of the things we talked about because I’m a human and there’s an obligatory sense of self-efficacy. But because I’m a writer and blogger, I suppose I tossed that idea to the wind long ago. Anyway, she said she had wanted to tell me that she knew what I was going through – she knew what it felt like to be struck by love only to have it pulled out from under you – and she was impressed by how strong I was. “You are so much stronger than you think you are, Ashley,” she told me. “You are such a woman.” And she said “woman” in the way that means powerful and strong and confident. She went on to praise me for coming by myself despite what I’m going through. It’s great to be told you’re admired when you spend a great deal of time feeling like a fool.

The band ended with a cover of Fiona Apple’s Criminal. I stood next to Jason, sipping my water, watching the band rock out, dancers toss hula hoops in the air, and audience members sing along to the same angsty chorus that I’ve been listening to all week. And I felt great. That last song felt like the universe telling me, “Yes, you’re going to be okay. Life continues even through heartbreak. We are all in this together, so join in with the chorus and remember what it is to be alive.”

Navigation

I hate how much more difficult navigation is after a breakup. Certain places, movies, tv shows, musicians, entire musics now feel off-limits. Because they’re sacred. Because the two of you shared them together. It seems blasphemous to do these things or go to those places on your own.

I restored the ipod Bill had lent me when mine was stolen. I kept his music on it for the longest time, expecting to eventually buy my own and return his with all of his music on it. We said our goodbyes last night. He told me to keep the ipod if it was still working. So I did. I restored it and started adding my music to it. One of my all-time favorite albums is Deja Entendu. We listened to it on one of our first dates. He cleaned his room for me and told me that I would never again see his room as clean as it was that day. I thought he was joking. But he wasn’t. That album reminded me of high school, so to have a guy play that in college made me immediately nostalgic and like a sponge to soak up new memories. Soak them up, I did. I think that was the first time we really kissed. The first exciting kiss that leaves you hungry for more than a brush of the lips.

Anyway, I’m not ready to put that on my ipod.

Most of our relationship took place in Oshkosh. It’s probably for the best that I don’t live in that city anymore. I don’t feel ready to go to my favorite bar because I remember the time we sat by the bar while jazz played, and he folded up a dollar bill and somehow managed to squeeze it in my locket. He told me to save it for emergency money. It came out of my locket last night and I had what can only described as an anxious breakdown over a very crispy dollar bill.

Aside from the tangible things, of course my mind has become a minefield. I’ll start thinking about something and one thought leads to another until I get to the slightest thing that reminds me of him and then I start crying. I did that a few times at the mall last night. I started out fearless. Andrea and I went with me to do some retail therapy. I saw a pad of paper. One of those tongue-in-cheek list things. We used to send them to each other. I have the pads, and I would mark off lists like “Things You Need to do to Make me Happy” or “Why I Need to Have Sex with You” or “Things You Need to do to Make the World Happy”. And I would spritz it with my perfume and send it to him. He’d do the same, only spraying it with his cologne, the one we picked out together. I saw it in a little boutique and I started crying. It was pathetic.

It’s just surreal how dangerous daily life feels. The slightest thing becomes incendiary. I feel like I need to shut off my mind, because so much of it is filled with him. Nearly every part of my day has the potential to be terrifying, simply because my mind is so vulnerable and as a consequence, over-actively making connections as a desperate attempt to hang onto something I never thought I would lose.

No, this is not the end of my life. Yes, this is the end of a very happy chapter, and moving on is going to be one of the most painful things I ever do.

On Hope

A few weeks ago, Bill and I made the decision to finally bring this whole long distance thing to a close. We’re both getting tired of it and I’d been planning on doing this anyway. I was going to move in with him in his two-bedroom apartment in Oklahoma. It was exciting. Finally, I was going to see the man I love every day instead of a few days at a time with weeks or months in between. It was exciting. It seemed inevitable that we would do this. I’ve been told by acquaintances that we look like a couple who has been together forever and who will be together forever. When we were both living in Oshkosh, if I went somewhere alone, I had a half dozen people ask me where Bill was. It was the kind of relationship I’ve been longing for since I was fifteen – one where you’re inexplicably tethered to the other. My past relationships were nothing really like that. I often felt like an optional accessory, one my boyfriends felt they could wear when they wanted and throw in the back of the closet when they were bored.

Basically, I felt unimportant. And my romantic experience hadn’t afforded me opportunities in which I felt allowed to feel important. That fact is an issue entirely its own. Berate me for low self-confidence and I’ll tell you every girl struggles with that. Berate me for dating assholes and I’ll tell you if a girl hasn’t, she’s at least been tempted. Berate me for realizing the signs, allowing this to happen and I’ll tell you I have no idea what I was thinking. I have no explanation.

But then in walked Bill and all was changed. He constantly made me feel beautiful and important. Other boyfriends told me they valued my intelligence, but Bill was actually interested in what I had to say. Bill challenged me and loved when I could challenge him. It was invigorating. I always felt free to share things with him. Early on, I was able to tell him the things I was most ashamed of. Scary yes, but I was not afraid of him judging me as other boyfriends had. I felt as if I had found a partner and an equal with whom I could spend years with.

Of course everybody feels like that early on in relationships. The beginnings are always blooming with possibilities and anticipation. You’re eager to learn whatever you can about the person. You kiss them so many times you become numb to what a kiss actually is since you never have to worry if another will follow. You take for granted those silly moments – naps on rainy afternoons, white zinfandel-soaked Scrabble games, Arrested Development marathons, and the times you unenthusiastically  watched Star Wars movies with him. Those moments become lost in your mind because every day is full of them.

When things changed and I was 900 miles away from him, those moments took on a fresh sweetness and importance. Each interaction we shared on visits was something to be cherished since they were so few and far between. So the prospect of the distance closing and being able to create new moments and memories was exciting to me. It was that same invigoration I felt at the beginning of our relationship.

Relocating from the home I’ve known for 24 years was an intimidating prospect. But the fact that I had someone there to help me figure things out and to support me when I became overwhelmed, lonely, or scared made it easier. The fact that I was going to be with the man I love made it okay. So I got excited about it all. I decided to take this move as an opportunity to sort of reinvent myself. I began to work out and eat better. I started getting rid of things I hadn’t used in months. I started looking at all the possibilities. Instead of limiting myself to searching for clerical and administrative jobs, I began applying for writing and editorial positions. I began writing more. I read more, studying the way great essayists craft their pieces, seeing how the at first apparently unrelated threads of an essay braid together to create the meaning.

I was excited about the future and I couldn’t wait to do this with Bill at my side again.

But yesterday I woke up to something that put all of this on hold. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that the plan to move to Oklahoma has been put on hold. I’ve been a mess ever since. Having to re-evaluate my plans has caused all sorts of crying spells. I go through moments when I mourn what might be lost, then I think of the newness of my situation and I’m a little hopeful at the prospect of figuring this all out for myself without that tether to Bill. But it inevitably relapses to the mourning bit. It’s been incredible to see the amount of support of family, friends, and acquaintances that has come pouring forth.

I mostly feel like staying in bed in my own filth, crying and drinking obscene amounts of whiskey, but I realized that in order to feel better I needed to ask for help. It’s only been a day, but my friends have been there with open ears, sushi meals, and chocolate vodka to get me through this. My family has been there, not minding when their shoulders get wet. It’s great to know that though this is incredibly difficult for me to do, I don’t have to go through it alone.

I realize that if this relationship is really over, it is not the equivalent of my life being over. But that doesn’t change the fact that it hurts like hell. I feel like I’ve lost a great deal of hope – hope and possibility and all those things we talked about. Losing hope has got to be the hardest thing to lose. Having to rebuild it takes time and determination. I have none of the latter at the moment though I feel compelled to do something. I can’t be sure what that something is, but I’m pretty sure it’s buying a puppy. However, I realize when I’m feeling vulnerable, I have the tendency to make irresponsible and rash decisions, so I’m staying away from animal shelters and instead comforting myself with Taylor Swift songs and Sloane Crosley essays.