How to Make Your Workout More Exciting: Haibun

So, this happened today.

I’m at the gym. Sally is going up and down, and we’re moving right along with her. Ab muscles burning; eyes yearning for time to move more quickly. We move on to squats and burpees, until we we’re quite literally saved by the bell. Yes, the fire alarm, a warning alarm with an accompanying light show. The woman who lives in one of those fire boxes tells us to exit, and so we do, though staff members continue to stand around the front desk, and no one seems particularly concerned. After ten minutes or more, a fire truck arrives, and then another. Firefighters stream in, then out again, then back in again. I finally leave without knowing what happened. But I know, Sally will be waiting. Till next time, Sally.


exit carefully

in case of emergency

talking with friends helps



Here’s the song.

Who Wears the Pants?

It’s strange what triggers memories. A couple of days ago I was putting on my gym clothes and pondering whether I needed to add an extra layer before going out in the cold. Thinking about the bare skin of my calves—the area between the bottom of my gym pants and the top of my socks and sneakers—I remembered how when I was growing up, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. Even on the coldest days, we wore skirts with either knee high socks or tights.

            I don’t know why it was considered scandalous, disrespectful, and unsuitable for girls and women to wear pants. By the 1960s, it was not usual for women to wear pants at home or while involved in some physical activities. When I was in elementary school in Dallas, on phys ed. days, or on days when we wanted to play on some of the outside equipment during recess, we wore shorts under our skirts. It was uncomfortable and strange, but we accepted it—because that’s what girls did. Girls wore knee-length dresses, which were considered lady-like, but then preserved their modesty by wearing pants underneath. Crazy, right?

            By the time I went to junior high—still in a dress or skirt–we had awful gym suits to wear in our phys ed. classes. My seventh grade gym suit for my Dallas school was a one–piece white cotton bloomer sort of thing. The top part was like a short-sleeved shirt that snapped down the front, and then there were shorts attached to the top. It was baggy in all the wrong places, and just plain uuuuggglly! We wore white “tennis shoes” with it. It didn’t really matter what we wore because we didn’t actually do much of anything in my Dallas classes. We were just expected to be young ladies.

            In my Haverford Junior High School gym classes, we were expected to actually vault, play lacrosse, and do all sort of other physical activities I’d never ever seen, much less attempted to master (or in my case, just survive). We still wore ugly gym suits, but ostensibly they were a bit more stylish and comfortable. They were also one piece, but made to look more like shorts and t-shirts. (This was considered a big improvement.) The top part was red-striped, and the shorts were solid red. They were made of a kind of stretchy jersey fabric.

            One day when I was in ninth grade, an announcement was made that there would be a special day when girls—perhaps just the ninth grade girls, I don’t remember now—could wear PANTS TO SCHOOL!  Of course, we would not be permitted to wear jeans, only “nice” pants. So I went home and went through my clothing. I guess I didn’t have any “nice pants.” I ended-up wearing a too big pair of black pants that belonged to my older sister simply because there was no way I was going to show up to school that day in a skirt or dress. I was determined to wear pants that day, even if I had to keep pulling them up all day.

            By the time I got to high school the next year, we could pretty much wear anything. It became the style to wear jeans that were long and dragged on the ground so they got raggedy at the bottom. We also wore our hair long and rarely bothered with make-up. But guess what? I was a good student no matter what I wore, and I’m still a woman, although perhaps I’m not, and never was, “a lady.”  I can live with that.

            What a person wears can sometimes indicate a lot about him or her. Fashion is one thing. Fashion can be silly, but it can also be fun—but not if it’s coercive. Throughout the ages, both women and men have been told what they could, couldn’t, or had to wear. I understand uniforms and dress codes—you want to know someone is actually a doctor, electric company employee, or police officer before they touch your body or enter your home. I understand that when schools have dress codes (to some extent) or uniforms it often means getting ready in the morning is much easier for everyone and students perhaps are not distracted.

            What I don’t understand is that all over the world, women (and it usually women, gays, lesbians, or trans people who are affected) are told that they “asked” to be rape, assaulted, or killed because of the way they dressed. Really? Because I think if a man can’t control himself if he sees a woman in a skimpy outfit, then he’s the one with a major problem. I don’t think the world ended when the girls in my high school started wearing pants. I’ve edited an Encyclopedia of Rape and my Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast will be out sometime in the next few months, so perhaps I see fashion and fashion-related issues in a different way from many people.

            I’m not against fashion or dressing up. Although I work from home and normally wear sweats or sometimes even my pajama pants (like now), or my exercise clothes when I go to the gym, it doesn’t mean I don’t dress up.  I like seeing what celebrities wore at the Oscars, although if I missed it, I wouldn’t really care. When my older daughter gets married this summer, I plan to wear a fabulous dress (still to be found). However, that is my choice. If other people don’t dress up, I won’t be offended. I don’t think my daughter will care either. As mother of one of the brides, I want to look great. (And when I look back at the wedding photos, I don’t want to be saying to myself, “What were you thinking?!”) I also want to be comfortable though, and I want to be able to dance without a wardrobe malfunction.  So I won’t be wearing pants to my daughter’s wedding, but I also won’t be wearing the fashion essentials of the past: a corset, girdle, or a hat. I certainly won’t be wearing an ugly gym suit. That’s for sure.





Having a Cold is Not Hot

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: "...

A man mid-sneeze. Original CDC caption: “This 2009 photograph captured a sneeze in progress, revealing the plume of salivary droplets as they are expelled in a large cone-shaped array from this man’s open mouth, thereby dramatically illustrating the reason one needs to cover his/her mouth when coughing, or sneezing, in order to protect others from germ exposure.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems that colds are the “in” thing right now. Everywhere I go, people are coughing and sneezing. Now that I’m one of the members of the in-crowd, I can state without any hesitation whatsoever, I don’t like it. This is a club I would prefer not to join.

I haven’t had a cold in years. Having one makes me grumpy and listless. But I can’t go to the gym to relieve my grumpiness or listlessness because I have a cold. Yes, it’s a cycle, but not one I can ride. Trying to exercise while I cough and sneeze would not be fun for me–or for the people around me.  Yes, I do understand it could be worse. After all, I don’t have the flu. Or polio. Or the plague.  But my nose is red and sore, and I’m tired because I was coughing all night.

I am fortunate to have a kind husband who picked up spicy, vegetarian lemongrass soup for me on his way home from work. I would like to say it tasted delicious, but I can’t really taste anything right now. He also bought Sudafed for me a couple nights ago. In case you haven’t purchased it recently, it requires approximately 17 forms of ID, a couple of sworn affidavits, and an Executive Order signed by POTUS himself. Perhaps I exaggerate, but only slightly. In any case, I didn’t have to go to the drugstore myself, which is good because I could stay in my pajamas and be grumpy.

I’ve been drinking gallons of water, tea, and hot soup. I’m not sick enough to stay in bed, so yesterday I spent the day blowing my nose and working dutifully at my computer on assignments that are due. (And yes, this morning I wiped my keyboard down with alcohol and sprayed the house with Lysol because I am both conscientious and a germaphobe.)

Then our younger daughter sent me a text saying she might come home from college for the weekend. I told her I wanted to see her, but I wasn’t sure that she should come home since I have a cold. I don’t want her to get it–because then we would both be grumpy.

Please forgive all my complaining. I AM feeling better today, but I still have a cold. And I’m grumpy.


Detail showing the "Prince of Hell"....

Detail showing the “Prince of Hell”. Gibson compares the monster to a similar figure in the 12th century Irish religious text Vision of Tundale, who feeds on the souls of corrupt and lecherous clergy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I remember the staff at our public school. You know, we had a saying, uh, that those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym. And, uh, those who couldn’t do anything, I think, were assigned to our school.”

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), Annie Hall (1977)

I have enormous respect for teachers—even gym teachers—but when I was in 7th grade I dreamt that my gym teacher locked me up in prison. She was probably not the ogre I imagined her to be. In my memory, she is a small, wiry, grizzled woman with short, gray hair, but my memory could be wrong. I’m certain she did not single me out for torture; I was noticeable to her only because of my clumsiness and my unfamiliarity with sports and sports equipment. Whether through lack of time or lack of inclination, she made no effort to find out anything about me. She didn’t know that I had no experience with an intense junior high school physical education program.

I was uncomfortable in my body, as many girls are at that age. Through a combination of willpower, diet changes, and walking, I had lost about twenty pounds between the end of 6th grade in Dallas and my move to Havertown the following spring. My body was lighter, but my soul was still confused. I had both the energy and the self-consciousness of youth.

I started thinking about my own relationship with exercise and how it has changed over my lifetime because of a recent discussion about recess on the wonderful Philadelphia public radio show, Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane. Many schools in the United States have eliminated, or are considering eliminating recess. How sad it is that having an opportunity to get up and stretch and relax is considered a luxury for both children and adults. When I was in elementary school we had free time after lunch to wander around the schoolyard (to me the space seemed enormous), to play on the monkey bars, jungle gyms, and swings, or to throw a ball around. Although I did not engage in vigorous physical activity, I enjoyed the freedom to walk around and think without being bothered by teachers or confined by desks or tables.

In elementary school, we had physical education classes two to three times per week. On gym days, we girls wore shorts under our dresses because we were not permitted to wear shorts or pants to school, but we were also not supposed to show our underwear. We did a variety of activities including relay races, square dancing, and calisthenics. My classmates and I were excited when we got to use scooters. These scooters were little wooden squares with four wheels. You sat on, or draped yourself over the square “seat” and pushed with your hands. I wonder—do elementary schools still have scooters like that?

My gym classes in 7th grade in Dallas were markedly different. Girls and boys were separated. We now had ugly white, cotton one-piece uniforms to wear during class.  At “that time of the month,” girls did not have to put on the uniforms or participate in gym. But I don’t remember ever doing anything very active in that class. We were being groomed to be young ladies who occasionally perspired lightly; we were not supposed to actually sweat. Once or twice a month, the teacher, a pretty young woman with red hair, would gather the girls around her to discuss questions we had posed via slips of paper dropped into a box. We sat on the gym floor in a circle around her. The questions we posed to her were about periods, personal grooming, and dating. She answered them in a hushed voice as we leaned in to hear her words of wisdom and advice—none of which I remember.

In March of that year, my mother, sisters, and I moved to Havertown, Pennsylvania. The junior high, constructed of fieldstone, looked like a prison to me. The basement with its dark, winding hallways, and exposed pipes, seemed like the gateway to some hellish torture area. Yes, it was—or as I referred to it, the gym. On my first day at this school, I walked into an area filled with gymnastics equipment. I had never seen such things, and to me it was as though I was walking into the torture panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Despite my nightmare, I survived the class, although I continued to hate phys ed. throughout my high school years.

My feeling about exercise and gym classes has changed. I now enjoy the physical activity, and even though I no longer have the energy of youth, I’ve lost most of the self-consciousness. Since I work from home, going to a gym is also my time to socialize with my gym pals. When one of the aerobics instructors exclaims in her boisterous trainer voice, “Are you here to talk or workout?” My answer is both. It is the time I use to recharge both my body and my mind.

I think we all need that time. Although not everyone has the means or desire to join a gym, we all need breaks and time to move about. When I am having trouble focusing on a writing assignment, sometimes all I need to do is get up and sweep the floor or play “Jump for the Cheerios” with the cats. One thing has not changed, however–I still have no interest in sports.