Welcome to the Workout

January 1, 2018

Day 1 of 2-week daily blog (20 mins or less) challenge

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I decided this morning, in a fit of vision, to choose a set of new year’s goals (which were split into two sub-categories: habits I want to build, and one-off goals I want to check off a list), and to also choose a set of challenges - little or big “month of daily____” type-things that I want to try during the year. An 8 week meditation self-directed course for chronic pain. The Whole 30. Things like that

And even though I haven’t finished my New Year’s goal-setting/ intention setting process (I have to generate and then hone or else I drown in the overambitious unachievable sea of of my own ideas, and I haven’t honed yet today so we're looking at perfectionist hell right now), even though there are markers all over the floor and my inspiration has been replaced with exhaustion and an unsettled stomach and some intense grief or tenderness about some of the journeys I find myself in the middle of, nonetheless I am starting on challenge #1. (That says “number 1,” not “hashtag one;” it’s an archaic text choice that you might never have heard of but I promise that's what it means).

Because challenge #1 is: write a blog post, writing for 20 minutes or less, every day for two weeks. Post each of the first week’s blogs on the day they’re written. Save the second week’s posts as a backlog. And then, shift over to the habit of posting once a week.

That's what I'm committing to. Y'all (if anyone is reading this) feel free to hold me accountable in whatever way floats your boat. Belligerent and encouraging and everything in between is welcome.

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I get excited to do it quite often in fact, except for the exact moment, every time, when I actually sit down to, you know, do it. At which point, I realize I desperately need to clean the kitchen, research how to plant tiny succulents in cute ways, read about the midbrain, call my chiropractor, put reflectors on my bike, glitter paint my nails, etc. I’ve told my incredibly patient wondrous patrons over on my Patreon that blog posts were coming. I've reformatted my blog on various platforms. I’ve even started this habit and let it go several times. As I write this, every muscle in my body is screaming for me to GET UP AND GET OUT OF THE CHAIR AND DO LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.

Why? I'm a writer. I want to write. I want to write in the world, not just poems that pile up in a corner. So why the resistance?

It’s been so long since I started a new writing practice. I think I forgot that even poetry, which now just sort of tumbles out of me almost any time I ask it to (not always good or even okay poetry mind you, sometimes its the kind of poetry you find on the bottom of your shoe in a dog park, but poetry nonetheless), even poetry was a rust-wrench, tooth-pull kind of disaster when I started. Every night, in the Providence bite of dirty ice and 4 pm sunset, 18-year-old Rachel would sit down with her tiny Moleskine (which she knew instinctively she was not really cool enough to have and couldn’t really afford to keep replacing), and write a poem.

This nightly “practice,” which at that point felt sort of like weight lifting with a small twig and yet somehow still spraining multiple muscles every time, was a mandatory part of the Poetry 1 workshop I took my freshman year. In retrospect, I’m pretty certain that one of the reasons I forced myself to keep lifting up that absurdly heavy twig was that I was a lot in awe and admiration of, and a little bit in crush with, my talented, poised, very kind grad student instructor (hi Nicole if your’e reading this you’re great I hope you’re having a happy new year!). It was kind of miserable, this nightly routine- possibly this was not the poetry’s fault but rather the immense hours of darkness at sub-freezing temperatures (I grew up in Georgia so...). It was beautiful and important, but it was also wrenching, and it didn't get easier very fast, or sometimes at all.

But I did it. And I did it again. And I kept doing it. And then, at many points, I stopped. And then started again. But I did it for long enough at the beginning, and for long stretches at other points, and have kept doing it for long stretches enough, that the poetry muscles, almost non-existent at first, became established. And once your body knows how to use and recruit a certain muscle, it does it during daily activities as well, not just when you’re working it out. Once I had a poetry practice established, and re-established, my body, my metaphor muscles, could get back in shape faster. Their baseline has become very different. If you asked me to write a poem right now, I would resist for maybe 3 seconds, and then I would do it. I could do it Whereas I am still resisting the idea of this blog post. I'm not sure I can do it.

And the timer just went off.

When you start training a muscle for the first time, you don’t start with way overloaded barbells. It’s hard for me to remember that everything is a muscle, sometimes, but that’s what I keep coming back to. You stop, as my physical therapist constantly reminds me, when you’ve still got a couple reps left in the tank. That’s how you avoid re-injuring, sort of traumatizing the nerves and muscles into lowering the threshold of what they can handle next time. So even though I don’t feel like I've said literally anything yet, I’m going to stop, and I’m going to come back again tomorrow, and write again, and post again. Everything is a muscle. And, as some obnoxiously wise and somewhat corny part of my otherwise resistant and panting brain decided to tell me while I was running a few months ago, having trouble pacing because I just wanted to open the throttle and run fast and hard into or away from everything that was swallowing me:

you have to go slower than you want to, in order to get farther than you think you can.

Ugh. FINE. I get it brain. You're right, of course. Here goes...

Happy New Year, folks. It’s practice time.

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Cross-posted at gatecitygardener.wordpress.com