I'm taking gym class this semester as a guinea pig in the student clinic where Health & Kinesiology majors learn how to do personal training. We started this week by doing baseline fitness tests, and Ethan (the student working with me) and I have been pleasantly surprised, especially I still consider myself "untrained" and "unathletic" and my body's still recovering from the hike. I performed respectably on a hip flexibility test (when lying on my back, I could raise a straight leg nearly to vertical), did 32 pushups (modified, because my legs/ankles are still a little wonky from the hike) in a minute, cranked out a 9-minute mile (still with wonky legs, but only a minute higher than my previous fastest-ever mile time), and dropped my heart rate from post-run 174 to normal in 3 minutes.

I know that's not particularly amazing athletic prowess, but for someone who's used to getting the lowest possible scores on any measure of physical fitness, it... felt good. I mean, I have a body! And... I'm using it! And it... it does things, and it learns, and gets stronger and faster and maybe it can get even better and maybe I could even get good at it! It's happened before. I used to think (in high school) that I sucked at computer stuff and would never be able to do anything useful in the tech world, and then decided that was a dumb limitation I was going to blast, and look at me now. I also used to think that my hearing meant I was broken and limited, and then my 8-year-old self got fed up with that, and... well, you know. So why not change myself from "hopelessly unathletic and physically unaware" to someone actually competent and joyful in that department? YEARS OF WORK ARE PAYING OFF!

Gym is training 3 days a week for about 45 minutes. Awesometastic. And then dance class 2 days a week, a bit over an hour, and then dance company rehearsal 2 days a week for 90 minutes...

Oh. I MADE THE DANCE COMPANY! Which was something of a shock, because I was sure I screwed my audition up completely. During callbacks, we learned more dance phrases and did some improv -- and maybe improv is what saved me, because if I am supposed to make things up, I do. Once I stopped paying attention to the other people around me ("what am I supposed to do? I cannot hear a thing! I must look at them constantly!") and started focusing more on my own movements, it felt way better -- and I also became much more aware of how awkward my movement patterns are, which led to a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I kept fighting through the 2-hour audition. If I were the type to cry more, I probably would have cried. "Well, that's it," I thought, walking dejectedly home from the end of it. "They'll never cast me. I move like a newborn cow with seizures and tendonitis."

But they did. And... so I think that means I am a dancer now. And I am looking at my training schedule, and I'm thrilled, and it's the most I've ever trained my body to do anything -- I'm going to be focusing on movement, physical awareness, fitness, presence, for almost 8 hours a week. And I desperately want to make sure I can keep up.

So I'm calling my trainer from the summer and asking her to talk with me about two things: nutrition and how-do-I-keep-my-muscles-from-hating-me.

I want to make sure I'm eating the right stuff this semester so that my body can survive dancing 4 days a week and working out for 3, because one thing I became acutely aware of during the Coast To Coast was that what and when and how much I eat dramatically affects my performance. (Trail mix is a godsend, and I think I ate more beef on the 2-week hike than I had the entire rest of the year to that point, because that's the format protein takes in northern England.) I want to do meal planning, batch-prepare things at the start of the week, and eat at the right times to fuel myself consistently, just like when Sumana and I were hiking. I realize this means I may mostly eat the same meals over and over. That's okay. I will have dinners and things with friends to get variety in, but breakfast, lunch, and a few dinners every week can be monotonous-yet-delicious if they'll fuel me right.

I also want to make sure I know how to loosen up and stretch and roll out and unknot the trigger points and funky bits so I can stay in good working order from one day to the next. I have a foam roller and a rubber ball and some other stuff I know how to use for RSI prevention in my hands and shoulders, but am only vaguely acquainted with what to do with the rest of my body ("wait, hips? I have hips?") and need to learn this NOW because my legs don't just recover magically by themselves, as it turns out.

Balance in my life, and sanity. This is good. This is very good. I'm so much happier when I use and inhabit (and tend to, and improve) the physical self I've been given, and it seems to correlate with better cognitive performance as well -- so that's a coping mechanism that is actually healthy. Stuck on a problem? Go for a run. Can't concentrate on a paper? Stretch. Paper driving you insane? Do pushups. In hindsight, this is a variant of ADHD Mel Does Take-Home Exams in undergrad, where I started sprinting around my dorm building before and during tests because I could not sit down to finish them otherwise. I may have been smarter when I was 17. (Actually, no, I wasn't. When I was 17, I thought sugar packets were an emergency meal substitute, and that I could get by on 6 nights of sleep a week. So never mind.)

You're more than a brain, Mel. Enjoy your body, too.