Friday, April 29, 2016

#19: Try Boxing

I made a discovery Thursday night:  I SUCK at boxing. Well, maybe not the act of punching itself, but all of the floor work you’ve gotta do to build your muscle and make your punches effective? SUCK. As I was filling out my entry paperwork for my trial class at Austin Boxing Babes, I’d selected the box that said my health was “Good.” In retrospect, “Fair” or below would have probably been more accurate. I was hoping that the running I’d been doing pretty consistently, along with elliptical and other cardio work, would make the warm-up exercises we’d do easier on me. I was fearing that the cold that’s lingered since I returned from Coachella over a week ago was going to impact me. I was dreading that feeling I got back in middle school, when I was trying out for volleyball and felt like I made a fool of myself, crying in pain as we did relays back and forth on the smelly gym court. We started out easy enough, with jumping jacks. I found myself keeping up easily, and felt excited — like, maybe I’ll be a lot better at this than I thought! We moved to front-kicking leg lift-type deals, and I was still hanging in. When our trainer said we were going to do squats, I had concerns, but I actually did OK (I didn’t go low, but I was able to do all the reps). Then…we partnered up. I was partnered with a very thin, short, and young-looking girl (maybe in middle or high school herself), and she seemed sad not to be paired with the friends she’d come to class with. I couldn’t blame her. At the direction of the trainer, we locked ankles and began doing sit ups — with our arms at our sides. I was used to cradling my neck and head when I did sit-ups, so what at first was a fun challenge quickly became a literal struggle. We had to do 30 or 40 sit-ups (I can’t remember how many now), and on the last 5-10, I found my body shaking under the struggle to get up high enough so I could continue high-fiving my buddy. Uh-oh, I thought. This is getting harder.

The next partner activity was for one of us to continue doing sit-ups while the other did burpees. I’d always heard this term before and thought it was disgusting, but I didn’t know what a burpee really was, so I asked the trainer to demonstrate. Oh. Oh, ok. It’s a leap into the air, a drop from a standing position into a push-up stance, a push-up, and then a jump back up to standing. In laymen’s terms: It’s actual, literal hell-on-earth torture. My partner, blessedly, offered to do those first while I had to continue doing sit-ups, waiting for her to hit 15. I was barely moving, mentally and physically becoming more and more distraught. When we switched, I found that I was more crawling into the push-up position, going from a standing position to a crouch, throwing one leg back and then sort of awkwardly walking the other back, then basically walking both feet towards my hands and standing. I did jump, though, I’ll give myself that. I wasn’t keeping a good count of how many reps I did, so I basically judged by the women around me — when they swapped, I swapped. From here, we had to bear crawl across the floor while our partner stayed propped on their elbows in a plank position. I’m guessing I looked like a dying soldier on the battlefield, dragging my body across the dirty gym mat more than what anyone would consider “crawling.” After this, we did push-ups, bicycles with our feet in the air, planks, sideways-twisty moves, and other activities where we were laying down but somehow I still couldn’t catch my breath.

Me, approximately (Photo by Valerie Abbott)

Once we were finally done with our floor warm-ups (about 20-25 minutes into the workout), I stood up and immediately felt lightheaded. The room wasn’t spinning, per se, but it definitely wasn’t standing still, either, and I tried drinking water to help myself get a grip. This did not help, unfortunately, and more upset my stomach than anything. I was partnered with a more experienced girl to help wrap my hands for shadow-boxing, and as she was wrapping the long length of cloth around and around my hand, wrist and fingers, I felt myself become more and more dizzy. I couldn’t tell if it was purely out of exhaustion from the most intense workout I’d half-assed my way through in forever, or a combination of that and still recovering from a cold that made it harder to breath than normal, or even an added layer of a panic attack (which I hadn’t had in weeks, thanks to a new medication) — whatever the causes, I knew I needed to sit down or I was going to pass out, vomit, or poop myself (maybe all three? Exciting!) I said to the stranger wrapping my hands, “Sorry about this, but can I sit down while you do this? I’m feeling light-headed.” She said, “Of course, I felt the same way when I started.” She talked to me about my Apple Watch and some other stuff — bless her heart, she was trying to distract me with small talk, but I was probably super pale-faced and losing it. The hand-wrapping didn’t help, either, because it was making me claustrophobic. After she finished, I put my head between my knees and my wrapped hands on my temples, trying to take deep breaths. After a couple minutes of sitting there, feeling sorry for myself, the trainer came over and checked in with me. I said, “Sorry, yeah, I just have anxiety actually and I think I’m - I didn’t think it’d be an issue, but I’ll be OK, just need to sit for a minute.” The trainer said, “OK!” and headed back to class, and her reaction made something in me snap.

As I caught my breath and got my footing, I realized — it WAS going to be OK. I was 29 years old participating in a voluntary boxing class. I didn’t need to cry or quit. And that’s when it happened — Beyonce popped into my head. From her latest album, a line from the track “Freedom” started playing in a loop in my head: “I’ma keep running ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” Yeah, it was embarrassing that I’d sucked so much at floor exercises. But the true defining action, in this moment, wasn’t whether someone would remember how much I sucked or make fun of me later — it had nothing to do with anyone but me. The defining action was, would I try again? Would I get back in the ring? Would I keep going? “I’ve got to try again,” I told myself, and stood back up and headed onto the mat.

This may seem like the obvious choice to a person more self-confident and less afraid of mistakes than I am, but this was a milestone for me. I’ve never enjoyed activities that are difficult for me, or that I’m not good at right away. Flash back to the volleyball tryouts — the very next day, I approached the coach and said I was removing myself from the tryouts altogether because volleyball wasn’t for me. I remember the coach laughing, but not fighting me on it. I think about how violin never came naturally to me, exactly, so I would dread practicing because I just wanted to be GOOD, already, right now! Academics came naturally to me, so I’d always relish in my straight A’s and my studiousness. But if it wasn’t easy, I was quick to dismiss it as something I just wasn’t into. Now, flash forward to Thursday night. I promised myself that, if after a good try (no fewer than 10 classes), I wasn’t genuinely loving boxing, then fine, I could try a different sport or exercise routine. But I had to at least try to make sure it wasn’t just that it was hard and I wasn’t good.

When I got back out on the mat with my wrapped hands, the trainer welcomed me back and quickly taught me a jab, a cross-body punch and a hook. I was able to memorize the moves in about two minutes, and suddenly I found myself putting on boxing gloves and heading to a body bag with a new partner. THIS was what I came for — letting it rip on that body bag was so satisfying, and while I have no idea if my stance was correct the whole time or if I was executing the moves accurately, I gave it all I had, taking little breaks when I got tired to get water and reminding myself to breathe. 

My partner was in the middle- or high-school crew that I’d stumbled upon, and I asked if they’d all signed up for classes together. She said she’d started with a friend and then all of their friends joined up, and then the other four girls in our group started talking to her about class (they hate woodworking, apparently, because the room is really hot). Later in our drills, when we were supposed to punch the bag as fast as we could, I encouraged my partner as I held the bag for her, saying, “Picture this is woodworking class, or your teacher or whatever!” She laughed and punched on.

After our bag drills, we did some stretching and cool down exercises, and when everything was over the trainer came and gave me a high five and we talked about next steps. Mine are simple:  I’m going to buy at least 10 classes, and give this thing a try, and once I’m physically better at it, if I still don’t find myself passionate about it, I’ll move on. But for now, I find myself fascinated by boxing, and sore the day after in all the right ways — a soreness that indicates growth, in my muscles, in my head, and in my heart.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

#23: See LCD Soundsystem With Zack

I met my husband at a music festival five and a half years ago — the same music festival where I saw LCD Soundystem for the last time before they broke up. After enjoying a riveting performance that opened with "Dance Yrself Clean" and ended with "Home," I picked up a CD copy of This Is Happening from the Waterloo Records tent and blasted it in my car the rest of the weekend. I had no idea that the band I fell head-over-heels for in that moment would break up a few months later; I had no idea the guy I feel head-over-heels for the next night would be the man I'd marry. When Zack and I made "the five year bet" — when he bet me that LCD would reunite within five years, and I said it wouldn't happen, and if it did I had to buy us tickets to their show and if it didn't he'd buy me tickets to any show I chose — I didn't realize how much significance five years would have for us. Before that landmark anniversary hit for the day we met, we were married. And *just* before the five-year anniversary of their breakup, LCD reunited.

The first song Zack and I bonded over was a love song — LCD Soundsystem's "I Can Change." It featured throughout our relationship, quickly becoming "our song." I had a bunch of Austin artists cover the song as a Valentine's gift to Zack once; he had local cover band All My Friends play it in our living room when he proposed. It was the song we danced to as our first dance at our wedding. I thought we'd never have the chance to see LCD play it live, and then — the announcement. The band was back. James Murphy had new music. They were going to Coachella. We hardly thought about it, it was just decided — we'd return to the California desert, sleep on the ground, and see our band.

We showed up at the main stage during Of Monsters and Men's set, almost four hours before LCD was scheduled to play. Bit by bit, we made our way to the railing on the left side of the stage — we were stuck behind the VIP section, but as close as GA could get on the left side and it felt right. We tuned out talkers during M83's solid set, watched bros live their best life during Ellie Goulding, jumping up and down together in a hug-circle, and then suffered through a couple making out right by our feet to get to what we'd yearned for — a disco ball, a ton of instruments, and a bunch of substitute teachers playing heart-wrenching dance music.

"Us V Them" gave us a chance to mock the VIP'sters chattering in front of us with arms crossed, letting us define our fandom outside of their hip be-seen/scene attitude. "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" made me think of my brother, and how that song used to make me feel closer to him when I'd play it on my college radio station. And then, I collapsed. Holding onto the railing, I melted, just briefly, as the bloopy synths of "I Can Change" rang out across the field. When I pulled myself back up, Zack gripped me tightly, his arms surrounding my shoulders, and he didn't let go for the entire six minutes as we sang to each other in disbelief. And that was just the third song.

I don't know what it is about LCD Soundsystem that gets me on such a deeply emotional level. I think it's partly James Murphy's self-reflective lyrics, his admittance at a desire to be accepted and appreciated, but his simultaneous ability to laugh at that vulnerability. It's definitely the emotional attachment I have to the music with my friends — with Zack, and my dear Melissa, who I called twice during the set so she could experience it with me (just like she did for me at the final MSG show). Zack and I got to leave everything on the dance floor at this show, so to speak — it was a set list that would have made our local cover band, All My Friends, proud, filled with B-side jams like "Get Innocuous!," "Tribulations" and "Yeah." But it had all of my favorite hits, too — "Dance Yrself Clean" and "Someone Great" and "Losing My Edge" and "Home." Murphy really kept himself to his no-talking policy, opting instead to play as much music as possible, and I think that speaks to how much he missed his band, too. He just wanted to hear as many of his favorites as possible, just like us.

It feels like Zack and I have experienced a true full-circle moment in our lives and relationship now. Truly, Friday at Coachella felt like a peak life moment. I'd been nervous leading up to the festival — maybe it wouldn't be fun, maybe I'd feel self-conscious the whole weekend surrounded by pretty California models, maybe I'd be far too in my head to live in a moment I'd dreamed about for so long. But I had nothing to fear. With James Murphy at the helm, and my husband on my arm, I truly had all I needed.