Category Archives: lessons learned

The only two rules you need

I’m at Camp Nerd Fitness right now! So as John Green occasionally says, I’m writing this from the past. While I’m away, I’d like to share a short story with you of something cool that happened to me recently.

I was having a Facebook chat conversation with a good friend who lives halfway around the world the other week, when I had one of those moments where I inadvertently said something absolutely perfect. My friend was saying how she really wants to write book reviews, but is concerned that lots of other people are writing them as well, and that her reviews might not be as good as theirs. This was my response:

There are two rules to doing anything you want to do, in this case writing book reviews.
 
1. Fuck what everyone else is doing. Do your thing, your way, for your enjoyment. Full stop.
2. When in doubt, refer to Rule 1.
 
If you’d like a bit more to go on than that, try this: imperfect action done today will beat perfect action done next week/month/year nine times out of eight. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, it only matters that you do it. Doing it means you can make it better as you keep doing it. Thinking about doing it will never improve anything, and trying to make it perfect before you do it will only ensure you never actually do it. So just start doing it. Love that you love to do it. Love that it’s not perfect yet. Love that it’s your thing, your way, with all the good and bad things that means. Love that you get to keep working on it. Love yourself for getting off your cute but sedentary ass and actually DOING something. And when you see other people doing the same thing better than you, love yourself for working to follow in their footsteps, and love them for leaving the footsteps for you.
 
That is all.
I could write a long and involved conclusion for that, but I don’t want to.
See you in the future, when I get back.

Why I’m not a professional singer

We’re gonna take it back…way back.

Most of you know I’m a writer and an editor. Some of you know that I used to work in arts management. But I bet most of you don’t know that before I did either of those, my fondest ambition was to be in musical theatre. I’d grown up listening to musicals, and fell in love with them. When I got into 5th grade, I had the option to sing in chorus, and joined immediately. The more I sang, the more I loved singing. It came easily to me, and I was pretty good at it. I sang solos fairly regularly, and I really liked the recognition and applause I got for doing it.

So I decided I wanted to be a singer. I pursued chorus and musicals in high school and college, signed up for a vocal performance degree, and took beginning acting and dance classes. I kept up this pursuit for several years, until my junior year in college when I took my first advanced acting class.

I hated it.

Everything I had to do felt wrong. The class was very heavy in improvisation, which scared me literally stiff–there were a couple classes I felt physically paralyzed. Learning the characters of my monologues and scenes involved digging into emotions I had worked very hard (or was currently working very hard) to forget and escape. And I’d started to see how my classmates loved the very work I struggled with, that they couldn’t wait to work on it after class while I couldn’t wait to get back to my room and read a book. I began to find my supposedly-daily singing practice taking on the same dread and difficulty as well (and it had never been my favorite thing to do to begin with). But I had spent so many years telling myself that this was the career path I wanted, and I was so afraid of removing this driving force from a life that seemed to have no other direction, that I refused to quit.

Until one day past the halfway point of the term I found myself in tears in the middle of class, with the statement springing unbidden to my lips “I don’t know if this is really what I want to do!” Everything came out in a (literal) flood. As I spoke to my classmates and teachers through this crying jag I realized just how dishonest I had been with myself for so long. It wasn’t the craft of acting and the practice of singing I loved, it was the recognition I got for doing those things in front of people who saw me as a relative expert. Under that desire for attention (which was largely in place to counter a lot of social issues I’d struggled with for several years), I had no enthusiasm or love for the work of actually becoming an actor or singer.

I finished out the acting class (got the lowest grade of my entire college career), and ultimately my music major (I did a paper instead of a recital for my capstone), but for a while I really felt like a fraud. For something like six years I’d told myself and everyone who would listen that this was what I wanted to do. I’d said it loud and proud, and probably annoyed a lot of people with it. And now here I was, rudderless for the first time since sophomore year in high school. I felt like an absolute fake, an absolute failure, and worst of all, absolutely lost. I considered stopping performing entirely, though I still had no idea what I would do instead. I wasn’t the most depressed I’ve ever been, but I was pretty damn down.

Three things saved me: words, swimming, and West Side Story.

Words. As I considered what I could potentially do instead of vocal or theatrical performance, I remembered the distinction I’d made earlier between what my acting classmates loved and what I loved. They loved acting; I loved reading. This ultimately led me to change my potential second major from theatre to English, and spend the remaining terms of that year taking a lot more literature classes. Even though this change ultimately led me to spend a fifth year in college, it was clearly the right choice, and gave me a new direction to point myself in.

Swimming. I was on my college’s swim team, and as this acting class was winding down, swim season was starting to heat up. Between increasingly intense practices, a training trip to Florida over winter break, and the breakneck schedule of weekly meets after winter term started, I was too busy, too exhausted, and too focused on my work in the pool to give too much attention or thought to how depressed I was over what happened in the acting class. That season I recorded my best times of my collegiate career.

West Side Story. After some serious misgivings, I ended up auditioning for my college’s spring musical even though I wasn’t feeling particularly excited for it. And right off the bat I had to deal with some serious mental pushback when three people were called back for the two lead male roles of Tony and Riff, and I was the third one. I was relegated to being a bit part Jet with only one solo line in the whole show. I almost quit. But something made me decide to stay on…and it was the best decision I could have possible made. For the first time in who knew how long, I was in a show with absolutely no pressure. I didn’t have to stand out or impress anyone or be under any kind of scrutiny. All I had to do was sing and dance and do stage combat.

And I loved it.

Somewhere along the line in the rehearsal process, I realized that it wasn’t solo singing that I loved. It was THIS. Being part of an ensemble. Singing WITH people. I hated practicing by myself, but I loved rehearsing with everyone else. And just like that, a huge weight fell away. I found I could love performing again, even knowing I would never pursue it professionally. (I also met three incredible friends in the WSS ensemble, and the Jets stole the show so much with “Gee, Officer Krupke” that we were asked to resurrect it for a talent show the following year.) This experience ultimately led me to starting a men’s a cappella group at my school the following year, singing with prestigious choruses in three states after graduating, and nurturing the deep love of choral music I thought I’d lost after the acting class debacle to this day.

It also helped lead me to arts management…but “why I’m not an arts manager” is a story for another day.

 

The spirit is willing, but…

You all know how that finishes, right? The spirit is willing…but the flesh is weak.

That statement has been particularly true for me in the past couple of weeks.

For one thing, I had my first (perhaps inevitable, but nonetheless unwelcome) Crossfit failure. I was visiting the second box I went to in Gainesville, FL, Crossfit GHFC.

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After a pretty comprehensive warmup, we started the day’s WOD set with Fran, one of the more well-known CF lady-named workouts (21-15-9 reps of thrusters, which are like a front squat and an overhead press in one move, and pullups). I was feeling pretty good. The techniques were coming back to me, the scaled weight was heavy but not too heavy, I was moving smoothly. And then without any warning, I couldn’t do any more. My body was literally like “okay, you’re done.” I had to stop in the middle of the set, and while I was able to do the second half of the WOD, Grace (30 clean and jerks, which I’d also done at Crossfit Empirical), I did it at a ridiculously low weight.

On the plus side, Crossfit GHFC was still really cool. The coach John was really supportive, the people there had a ton of enthusiasm, and oh yeah, did I mention the entire box was outside? It looked like this:

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To the right, just outside this picture, is a whole row of barbell racks for Olympic lifts, and there were some REALLY good lifters training on their own during the WOD I did. Watching them was pretty inspiring, or would have been if I’d had any energy left.

Next up in the flesh-over-spirit list: while I was in Gainesville, I stayed with a friend and her family, and one morning I helped her dad load up a bunch of branches and tree detritus to take to the dump. I was wearing sneakers, but I didn’t realize I should have been wearing higher socks and/or long pants. Before I knew it, my ankles and shins were covered with biting ants! I had to run my still-shod feet under running water to get them off, and by the time I’d done that they had taken some nice chomps out of my lower legs. Even with calamine lotion, those bites itched for days. Oops.

Ever since I visited my friend Ally in Orlando, who is an avid runner, I thought I’d try doing some running myself. I started out running for 30 seconds and walking for 4:30, repeated six times, three days a week. Then I moved up to a 1min/4min. A couple weeks past that, I tried 1:30/3:30, and around the same time the Crossfit boxes I went to started having me run as part of the warm-up, the WOD, or both. And then there were shin splints. (If you’ve never had shin splints, count yourself fortunate. They basically feel like your shins take the full weight of every running step you take, and they hurt more the longer you try to run.) I guess that’s what I get for trying to run while overweight. Spirit, flesh, etc.

Oh, and then there’s that during my two weeks in Gainesville I ate at McDonalds something like ten times, on top of a couple trips to Subway and several to Starbucks. In my defense, those places had wi-fi and the place I was staying had none, but even so. Excessive flesh over spirit (to say nothing of flesh over bank account).

But I’m going to end on a positive note. While I was in Greenville, SC, visiting my friend Tara (whom I know from Ice & Fire Con), I visited another Crossfit box, this one with the awesome name of Swamp Rabbit CrossFit.

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Apparently it’s named for the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a long walking and biking trail that goes through Greenville along the Reedy River, and which the box is built right next to. My pics of the inside didn’t turn out well enough to share here, but it’s one of the most spacious and best-appointed boxes I’ve ever been to. Something like 16,000 square feet, six showers, three separate WOD areas (one outside), a stretching and technique area, and enough equipment to accommodate a class of 25…well, it’s Crossfit, so I can’t say “without breaking a sweat,” but you get the picture. ;) The staff were really welcoming, even gave me a full tour before the class, and the WOD session started out with a QOD (question of the day) where everyone said their name and, that day, who their favorite teacher was in school. Kind of fun.

At Swamp Rabbit, not only did the warmup include a run, the WOD itself did as well. Seven two-minute rounds of 200m sprint, 7 deadlifts, and as many double-unders (jump rope with two passes in a jump) as possible, with one minute rest in between rounds. Now, I’ve got strong legs and my deadlift technique is solid, even after 18 months away. And while DUs are not as easy as they were, I can do a few of them still. It was the damn run that got to me. By the third round my shins hurt so much I could barely get through the run and deadlifts in two minutes, let alone do any DUs. I was exhausted. And the worst part was, the spirit was absolutely willing. I WANTED to keep going. I knew my technique was there. I just couldn’t take the pain of moving anymore.

But I wasn’t going to fall out of the WOD again. Not twice in a row. So I asked the coach if I could row the sprint instead of running it, to take the impact off my legs. He said sure, if I did 250m instead of 200. I said okay. And I did the last four rounds on the erg rather than the trail. It still hurt. It was still exhausting. And I still didn’t get many DUs in. But I didn’t let the complaints of my flesh drag my spirit down. And that felt great.