Just Show Up

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Last week, I found myself in front of a blank page and an expectant, blinking cursor and I kind of panicked. In the two years that I've been working on my novel, I've never experienced the dreaded writer's block. For the last eight months, I've been editing 300 pages of previously written work. I had to stop charging full speed ahead and fix things. Some writing happens during the editing process, but it's mostly exhausting decision making. Cutting. Re-working. Placing things sooner. Placing things later. It was necessary and painful, but the foundation of my entire story is shored up, strong and ready to take on more weight. Ready, go. Start writing again Meryl. Go. Time's a wasting. Go. GO NOW. After months and months of editing, the blank page felt alien to me. Either my imagination muscles had atrophied or I was putting too much pressure on myself. Regardless, I ended up wasting that entire writing lunch on social media. 

My high school track coach, "Coach T," shouted cliche sport sayings at us during our tempo workouts: "Pain is weakness leaving the body!", "Running is 10% physical, 90% mental!", "Just do it!" -- are just a few that come to mind. He wasn't a creative man, Coach T, but for many of us, the first inklings of "hard work = results" started forming inside our hormone addled brains because of his distilled directness.
For the past year, I've gotten into a groove and I've been exercising 4-5 days a week. First thing in the morning. Very early. And I do it for three immediate reasons: 1. the high-water pressure shower I get to take immediately after. 2. the 30 minutes to 1 hour of writing I get done at a coffee shop after that, and 3. and perhaps the most important of all, exercise quiets the voices in my head.

Yes, I hear voices. I know you won't judge me, because something tells me you might too.

They're awful and critical. Hateful. Voices made of pure self-loathing. They prey on your weak moments and latch onto your insecurities. They say things like:

"Why do you even bother? You keep gaining weight, even though you work out all the time."
"Nobody takes your writing seriously."
"You're never going to finish the novel, like you never finish anything in your life."
"Even if you do manage to finish it, no agent or publisher will touch your P.O.S manuscript with a ten foot pole."
"You're going to die a secretary who impacted no one and nothing."

Yikes, right? And that's just the tip of the iceberg! I know my demons well, but whatever yours might be, if left unchecked, these voices will slowly drive you insane as you sit day after day in a tan cubicle, until you find yourself uncontrollably crying on the toliet in the women's bathroom stall. If you're in the market to avoid that, I recommend exercise.

Mr. Franzos and I moved to a new neighborhood recently. Life has been in a constant state of flux and the voices have been gaining some ground again, so I joined a new gym that's just three blocks away from our doorstep. I'm trying to find the same workout-shower-coffee-write-go to work routine that I had in our old neighborhood because I know that worked for me. But new gyms, have new procedures. 
I was asked to list some goals on my intake contract. I bristle at goals. I don't like to overpromise or overcommit, probably due to my crippling fear of failure. I considered putting "to write a novel," or "to see this creepy Capuchin crypt in Palermo, Sicily," and "to quiet the voices in my head." But I decided, perhaps wisely, to put, "to be strong and healthy" instead. A nice generic, non-committal goal full of legal loop-holes.

"Gosh, I wish more women said, 'to be strong' instead of 'to be skinny' on their intake form."

I looked at the trainer, there is some suppressed neurotic part of me that wanted that, but I kept my mouth shut. I was weighed next. My weight was higher than my wedding day, but I seriously cannot worry about stupid things like weight when I have a book to finish and I'm freaking out at a blank page half-way through it all.
"Is that about right? Is it high? Low?" asked the trainer. 
I shrugged, I don't even know what box our scale is packed in right now, "The last time I noted my weight was at the doctor's office, two months ago. I was two pounds less then. Before that, I can't remember the last time I weighed myself."
"Most of the women that come in here weigh themselves several times a day."
I nodded and said, "Yeah, I've been there." I have definitely been down that stretch of road. When I look back on it now, it makes me tired. And bored. Then I began wondering if I'd really only traded one neurosis for another. When I'm on the elliptical I'm not reading Self magazine and wishing I had the fitness model's thighs anymore, I'm reading the fiction in The New Yorker and listening to Die Antwoord to block out the gym grunters, the gym phlegmers. If I'm running or lifting weights, I'm listening to writing podcasts and wearing out the demon rugrats in my head until it's their naptime. Basically, I've got writing on the mind all the time. I much prefer that over counting calories and wrapping body parts with measuring tape.
Then the trainer pulled the body fat tester out. I had my body fat tested when I was 17, and one would think at my physical prime. I got 24% back then, so this was definitely going to hurt. I grabbed the metal hand grips and grit my teeth. Sex: Female. Age: 35: Height: 5'7" Diet: Eating bar food every single night for the past three months. I braced for the moment of impact, the moment of truth.

"Wow. You have 16.3% body fat...that's like, athlete level. Good job!"

I opened one eye, "What?"

Athlete level.


The rest of the gym visit, I didn't quite know what to do with that percentage while I did push-ups and held planks to test my strength, but I was suddenly faced with the reality that even though I hate cardio and have to distract myself into oblivion, I'd some how stumbled into the fairy glen of athleticism. I had in fact, already become strong and healthy. Not at all skinny, but lean. When I got home I googled some technical fitness stuff and determined that the percentage means I carry around roughly 21lbs of fat and 107.9lbs of sheer, crazy muscle...or something like that. Instead of wanting to occupy the least amount of space possible and reduce the grand total, as women are taught to want from a young age, I began to think, maybe my muscle could weigh more? Maybe it could take on the density of a neutron star? But the question remained, How did I get here? I started to follow the breadcrumbs backwards. How did I walk through the wardrobe and find myself in athletic Narnia? I mean, when it comes to the gym, I just show up and get it over with so I can work and write without the nagging voices of self doubt clawing at my coattails. 

My first and hopefully, last gym selfie. I'm cranking the "Helping Writers Become Authors" podcast. 

I've been thinking about Coach T a lot lately. I seem to remember sitting on the asbestos tiled gym floor of Daisy Brook Elementary School with my fellow track mates. It was early spring in Michigan, and there was still too much snow on the high school track for workouts. I was a sophomore and scared. All of us were getting yelled at for the few freshman that had cut practice the day before. Coach T made it really simple, "show up for practice."

Flash forward to my next day of writer's block at the library. My laptop was open, the battery back-up was plugged in, and my knuckles were thoroughly cracked. There it was again, the blank page. My chest started getting tight, but then I thought of running on the black rubber track and Coach T flapping his clipboard at us from center field, bellowing,"...90% mental, 10% physicaaaalllll!!!" I was over-thinking things, as usual, and I knew what I needed to do. I just needed to show up. I showed up at the page and I just went through the physical motions of typing. I wrote guttural nonsense until the engine in my head turned over and started spitting out complete sentences onto the page. Then those complete sentences turned into paragraphs and then dialogue and then more paragraphs and, the next time I looked up at the Carnegie Library's clock, I was going to be late heading back to work.  

Seriously, don't wait for inspiration. You'll figure it out. Just show up. 

Good things happen when you show up...Case in point, thanks to this blog, I was invited to attend the VIP grand opening for Chelsea Collective, a new, women's fitness boutique that aims to fuse fitness and fashion. It's an exciting new retail proto-type and brainchild of the Dick's Sporting Good company. I rsvp'd and took my good friend Amy as my date. 

photo credit: Kim Ifft Photography

We mingled, drank white wine and ate healthy and delicious hors d'oeuvres, tasted the yogurt bar, and ran into our friend, WHIRL magazine style editor, Liz Petoniak. Amy caught up with an old college chum and I checked out the wares. I picked out a super cool Nike hooded vest to use my complimentary $25 gift card on.

Iphone photo credit: Amy Cohen

 Chelsea Collective carries labels I've heard of: Nike, Hunter, Splendid, Vans, New Balance, Adidas, Asics, Brooks, Birkenstock, Saucony, Sorel and Under Armor. They also carry brands I've never heard of: Alternative, Calia by Carrie Underwood, Lorna Jane, Spiritual Gangster, Zobna, Sanuk, Onzie and Alala. The staff was warm and friendly, the store was clean and inviting, the schwag give-aways...jaw-dropping! We were both completely shocked that everyone was given a (really nice) Nike gym bag, with a free copy of WHIRL Magazine, a leather bracelet, Philip Pelusi product samples, and a Chelsea Collective towel. But wait, there was more! We also got to pick out 4 other items. I picked a Hydro Flask water bottle, a tube of Philosophy lip gloss, a package of make-up remover wipes, and a pack of five Nike hair bands (I don't know about you, but I can never have too many stretchy hair bands). Amy picked out a really nice yoga mat. I'm actually kind of jealous of Amy's yoga mat, but it was a mad rush and I had to make decisions quickly.

photo credit: Kim Ifft Photography

This event and the generosity of Chelsea Collective has truly made my week. I wish them the best of luck on their venture into the women's athleisure market, but I don't think they'll need it. They have great products (at a variety of price points), a great attitude, and great customer service. I would like to see the addition of a handful of really fashion forward brands like Stella McCartney and Y-3, but otherwise they showed up and hit the ground running. I can't wait to come back and find activeware that will help me on my way to becoming a neutron star. I hope you'll join me.

Your Bosom Friend in Pittsburgh,

Brown Bagging It

Monday, August 10, 2015

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

I've been spinning around in the eye of a tornado for so long, I've completely lost track of time. Houses, plot points in my novel, contractors, movers, realtors, carpet-paint-countertop-flooring samples were whirling all around me. But here I am, spat out into the sultry month of August. I feel like Dorothy and Rip Van Winkle rolled into one. For the first time in months, my mind is quiet (as my mind gets) and I'm noticing things again. That's-what-she-said-opportunities aren't drifting past me like giant, unconsummated bull's eyes. I can smell the sweet scent of cut grass. The sparrows are chirping. Cicadas are buzzing so loud you can't breathe. My, isn't the sky so very, deeply blue today?

Mr. Franzos and I have done it. We sold those two houses. Now we only have one. We're moved in, it's not done, we're living out of boxes, there's construction dust in our bed sheets - yada yada yada - we haven't slept this well in months. High Fives all around.

But now, how do we cram the joys of summer into one month? Ah, heck, why not into one evening? We have some celebrating to do, but...shoot. Where are those wine glasses? I'll tell you where they are...in the last box we open. 

Here's what we're going to do. It'll be fun. Pennsylvania is an open container law state...so let's brown bag it and try out a romper. Bad decisions make for good stories, no?
graphic credit: Jenn Cotton
(BTW. Here's a handy graphic, from the Grubstreet.com on-line article, Sloshed: How to Drink in Public, the Right Way by Matthew Latkiewicz. Read it here. It's fantastic.)

photo credit: Joshua Franzos
I was inspired this week by drink. Which, is what I want to do during a home remodel. Though honestly, the home remodel is not so bad, it's dealing with Comcast that drives me to the bottle.

photo credit: Joshua Franzos
"That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen." - Charles Bukowski, Women.
But seriously, nothing really drives me to drink. I drink because I do. I'm a writer. I observe, I experience, I drink, I make mistakes, I watch other people make mistakes and I write about it. Perfection is boring. There's no story in perfection or ideals, except for the pursuit of them. That's why Horatio Alger's rags-to-riches stories are so charming. Underdogs are king.  
photo credit: Joshua Franzos

Speaking of underdogs... Let's talk about the humble romper. I'll start. The word romper (and, while we're at it, fashionista,) sounds like fingernails on the chalkboard to me. But who am I to judge? I hang out on park benches...but one more thing, from the drunk wordsmith and we'll move on...the word, romper, always makes me think of Austin Powers on that round bed, trying to get Liz Hurley in the sack for some reason. idk.

But back to underdogs...The romper climbed high this summer, right up from it's humble Daytona origins. I remember back when it was just a elasticized terry cloth thing with white tie straps that always seemed to get stained by cherry popsicles. When the kool-aid stains exceeded neighborhood propriety and the elastic waist rotted out, it was destined to live out the rest of its days, washing the family econoline camper. But no, this summer, the romper rose up from its usual, weekend swap meets at the Rose Bowl and sauntered straight down the runway into dry-clean only fabrics and swanky, air-conditioned department stores on Madison Avenue. This is the American dream. The romper made it. Let us all learn from the romper. 

photo credit: Joshua Franzos

check out my mom jean butt. photo credit: Joshua Franzos

I was also inspired this week by these crazy shoes, which to me, look like brown liquor bags...and on that note, here's maybe the worst decision yet: lose the romper, add a form-fitting dress and you can actually brown-bag it to work. Totally legal, totally HR tolerated.  

each shoe holds a 40oz of Mickey's. photo credit: Joshua Franzos

you know what drunks do? touch their face a lot. Ermagawd! photo credit: Joshua Franzos

What I Wore:
Sandals: Free People
Sunnies: vintage Christian Dior.

Your Bosom Friend from Pittsburgh, 

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