Monkey Claws

March 10, 2011

Every community has its subcultures. Small groups within the larger local community or even within the larger world as a whole, if you want to go that big.
Portland, Ore., for instance, basks in a substantial microculture of rock climbers. As I hail from a town where, unless you are in the presence of an elite group of fitness enthusiasts, rock climbing is considered only a blithe diversion that simply involves jumping on a wall and reaching for the nearest rock. It can be done in jeans and tennis shoes with seemingly no athleticism required.
However, try that at a gym in Portland and I think the climbing gang would turn from friendly to taking you outside before you could ask what a harness was for.
My friend, Jill, aka the beginner climber, signed up for a climbing class one afternoon. I accompanied her, figuring I would skulk around the gym, looking tough, somehow entertaining myself for about 45 minutes I guesstimated. How long does it take to show someone how to put on a harness and hold a rope?
Apparently, very long.
The class was blocked out for 2 ½ hours.
On top of that, to find this open class in the first place, Jill had to call all of the gyms in Portland. Needless to say, they take their rock climbing very seriously.
And I didn’t see anyone in jeans.

We walked in to a room filled with not average people but stealth, monkey-like, chalk rubbing, forearm-ed, “live to climb” climbers.
Suddenly, my pride in owning a personal pair of climbing shoes no longer seemed any sort of bragging right, considering that everyone in the gym looked as if they’d battled numerous mountains and won; whereas, I won’t even consider stepping onto a real rock unless I see railings.
The climbing experiences I had up to this point added up to approximately four times and spread generously over a five year period, which warranted me about as much street cred as a cigarette to the fitness world.
The gym was complete with gymnastics rings and weight machines. These people weren’t here for the fun of it.
I forced myself to observe, putting aside the obvious creep vibe I felt sure I was giving off, and stood in the corner, watching the humans around me turn from regular, vertical forms into clinging, horizontal, crouching creatures. Hanging from ceilings, grappling with gravity.
I wondered if they were hiding secret monkey claws under their sleeves or gecko-like adhesive pads on their fingertips.
If this talent is for real, it won’t be long before these same people are scaling apartment walls, Spider-Man-esque. Working for good or for evil. The beginnings of a mutant community.
And I’m plannin’ to get on board.


Following on the coattails of the very recent Glee/GQ uproar is criticism of Mike & Molly, a sitcom stuffed with fat jokes and flavored with lovable hi-jinks made funnier by the characters’ portliness.

I remember when fat jokes were offensive. Actually, I believe they still are–in the real world. But, conversely, on television, fat jokes are just another way to get a laugh, lighten a situation or make a character appear more likeable (think: Barney on How I Met Your Mother). Never mind what would happen in real life if one were to regularly chide his workmate about his fear of his partner falling on him and smothering him to death or if a mother constantly referenced her daughter’s big-bonedness as she feeds her more food. Because, by now, her fat daughter must have come to grips with her size.

I guess then that fat jokes are okay as long as they are told by the overweight people themselves or by their loved ones.

Perhaps we’re supposed to feel proud of these characters–that they’re able to accept and seemingly embrace their rotundness. With no outside appearance of embarrassment or shame. Just, maybe, an eating disorder, skewed body image and lifelong health problems. It’s okay, honey. Have another Twinkie.

We’re expected to rejoice in their triumph of self-esteem in a society that worships toothpick-sized models and ripped weight lifters.

But I personally cannot rejoice in a character’s ability to see past her weight. Her extra poundage is not something she was born with, like freckles, curly hair or big feet. Albeit, she may have a hereditary tendency toward obesity or heaviness, but she is not forced into obesity against her will, like a slave sold into slavery. No, obesity usually begins inchoately, maybe with an extra dessert every night, flowering over the years into a debilitating health issue that is either accepted or fought against on a daily basis.

Instead, overweight people are told that it’s okay. That there’s nothing wrong with how they look. (Which, there isn’t, if it weren’t killing them.) No judgments. Just acceptance. That is, unless you count the blogs about how fat people make skinny people feel nauseous. But as many people as there are like that in the world, there are plenty more who are eager to praise them for their ability to be extra-sized in a society of under-eaters.

One less person to fight them for the last size 8 dress.

why must we eat so?

September 4, 2010

When I have conversations with the general public about calories and carbs I literally feel like I am suffocating in a room filled with seafoam–that I am physically grasping at my throat and making choking sounds, but no one even looks up.

I had another one of these debilitating discussions this past week. A woman at my local coffee shop used to regularly (by that, I mean every day) purchase a large sugar-free, nonfat latte (espresso, sugar and milk); lately, though, she’s made the switch to americanos (espresso and water) with a sugar-free syrup added for taste and no milk.

We started conversing about her reasons for the switch; she replied that she’s on a non-dairy, calorie-counting diet and that, although she didn’t quite enjoy her sugar-free americanos, it fit the requirements.

Then, I made the suggestion that she use raw sugar in place of her splenda-filled sugar substitute, as a fresh, new flavor without the icky chemical aftertaste.

She responded by looking me over with a steely–and slightly confused–gaze, as if I had absolutely no place in this conversation because I so obviously lacked any understanding of the no-calorie-goes-unpunished mindset.

And that is a fact I am quite certain I will always hang my hat on. Excuse me for thinking about your body’s well-being as opposed to the measly 70 calories you will add to your daily intake by consumiing something that actually comes from the earth instead of a science lab.

And then, that got me thinking about the fad diets and various shortcuts we all succumb to in order to reach for a dream that our society proliferates.

Then, we’re surprised when we don’t succeed, after a week of slight, and very often misguided, efforts of skipping meals, eating on the go and saving calories for drinks at happy hour.

For instance, spend ten minutes outside of QuikTrip, McDonald’s or any fast food establishment and take stock of the body types coming and going.

Just think, that is what you could look like in five years. What a prospect!

I’m willing to bet that the liver and kidneys of anyone following a fast food diet shares a very similar look to that of the obese woman waddling out of QT, clutching her bear claw and a 64-ounce Diet Pepsi.

Side comment: 64 ounces of anything just isn’t good.

Scanning my fitness center’s list of exercise classes, oftentimes, I feel as if I am living in a yoga world, begging for the occasional pilates scrap to be tossed my way.

The yoga craze has officially hit our nation. It’s been going on for a while, I know; although I have just recently begun seriously evaluating it.

While yoga has a long history, beginning many centuries ago, pilates is a youngster in comparison but with an equally active and loyal following.

Understandably then, my mind began reeling with wonderings of the positives, negatives and benefits of each fitness experience.

Turning to the Internet, I was not at want for answers–no shocker here, I am not the first one to wonder this.

Turns out, yoga and pilates are far from similar, a statement which goes quite contrary to common assumption. The two differ in focus, strategy and result.

Yoga is truly steeped in spirituality–with the aim of completely aligning mind, body and spirit. This is accomplished through controlled breathing to increase lung capacity and detoxify the body, posing to build strength and ward off illness and stress, and, depending on your class atmosphere, meditation and quiet to encourage serenity and inner calm.

The result is flexibility, inner balance and solitude with a minor muscle workout.

Alternately, pilates takes no spiritual undertones. Its focus is on strength and building a person’s core muscles, or powerhouse, through isolation exercises that work the abdominals and surrounding muscles.

The result is a stronger core, which brings about improved posture and body alignment. Improved flexibility is not the emphasis, but it will improve.

To sum up, pilates creates greater flexibility and improved posture, but its goal is core strength, with the absence of spirituality; yoga, on the other hand, uses spirituality to cultivate inner and outer balance and flexibility, with an underlying improvement in strength.

Thanks to this information, I now more clearly understand which route is better suited for me.

My next challenge: getting my gym to see it my way.

workout woes

May 27, 2010

I enjoy working out at a gym.

I need peer pressure to adequately work out. And I don’t mean the encouragement that comes from a friend. Because if I bring a friend, that means I have to talk to them. And frankly, I don’t know how people do it. I get enough out of breath just walking on a treadmill. And to have to talk too! And what do people talk about that they don’t mind broadcasting to the twenty other people working closely by? I know there isn’t much information I want to share with the entire room.

No, working out is a personal experience. It’s not a chat fest. Not for me, anyways.

However, it is an opportunity to improve my body’s strength and overall health. And for that, I find that I need the awareness of people. I need to feel as if they are watching me and judging me if I give out after ten minutes on the elliptical. Or if I go for the ten-pounder weights instead of the fifteen.

Working out should be a competition with oneself, but I’ve never been very competitive with myself. Just with others.

An even bigger impetus to getting myself to the gym, though, is money. I’ve already spent the moo-lah to gain access to the gym, so I better go. I may not have to pay to walk out my front door and enjoy the sunshine, but seriously, how often do I do that?!

But losing money–that’ll always get me to move my behind. Another hereditary trait I can thank my father for. (Er, not my behind, but the money thing.)

Farm Fever

May 23, 2010

I often sit and wonder what I did before there were Farmers Markets. It’s a stupid question, really. Because it’s not like I do much when I find the time to go. I admire (and sometimes play with) the many licking, wiggling dogs around me as well as peruse the varieties of vegetables, flowers and crafts. But I’m done in about thirty minutes. And hardly ever buy anything, though I desperately always want to.

I have been getting into cooking, however. And I’m planning to construct a dish out of produce that I find at the Market. That’s yet to have happened, but it will.

So I could survive without a Farmers Market pretty easily I think. But the fact remains that I don’t want to survive without one. I want them here. And I want to be there. I want to feel the inexplicable energy, be surrounded by dogs and food and strollers and hippies. Because there’s something bigger there than people and food. There’s an air of shared understanding. A belief in health and awareness of our earth and the subsequent rejection of superstore produce and pesticides.

Over the years, it has become about eating as close to the land as possible. Not proximity speaking but in reference to time. The quicker we eat the apple after it is off the tree. Or the carrot after it is pulled from the ground. That in comparison to eating grapes or bananas picked well before ripening time, then shipped across the country and stored in a warehouse, to be consumed two weeks later. That’s not health. That’s big business.

Farmer Markets, it’s true, have become chic, trendy places in recent years. But they’re nothing new. Ever since farmers have been growing more than enough to feed their families, they’ve been selling it. It’s not a new idea; it’s a recycled activity that became almost extinct with the introduction of urbanisation, supermarkets and worldwide transport.

But with the new population inheriting cancer, diabetes, obesity and a slew of other epidemics, our past lifestyles are being scrutinized.

And, in effect, Farmers Markets are being re-rolled out as the new “in” thing. And it’s about time.

Check out some of the many benefits outlined by the National Farmers’ Retail & Markets Association at

For consumers, there are the obvious health improvements that come with eating fresh foods and the ability to have direct contact with producers so as to know the origin of the food and how it is being produced.

Farmers save money by cutting out the middleman through direct selling and decrease in packing and transportation costs. Markets also open the way for small farms that don’t have the capacity to produce for supermarkets.

The best advantages, though, go to our environment. Vehicle pollution, noise and use of fossil fuels are largely decreased. And environmental awareness is constantly being heightened, leading to improved production practices, like elimination of crop pesticides, and farm diversification, which encourages farms to diversify in their use of the land, through crop rotation and tree planting.

There are many more benefits to be found. Find a local market, and get busy.

Calories be gone

January 14, 2010

I love how humans live their lives as if they are too good for consequences.

We talk on the phone while maneuvering our car through traffic, arrive home late from work every night, speed through McDonald’s drive-thru for lunch while on a conference call and consume caramel frappuccinos and donuts for breakfast. In these scenarios, there are definite consequences to be had: automobile accidents, strained or non-existent family relationships, and obesity and early death, respectively. It’s not a question of if these will happen but when.

My daughter is pregnant at 15! How could this happen, when I spend all of five minutes a day talking to her over the drone of the television and every weekend shuttling her back and forth to her mother’s house? That’s plenty of time to create a firm and lasting, trustful relationship.

Or how about the phenomenon known as artificial sweeteners? No one seems to notice or want to acknowledge that cancer’s entrance into the everyday human vernacular hauntingly coincides with our nation’s artificial sugar obsession.

In my line of work, I hear more than once per day orders for white mocha lattes with extra whipped cream, ten Splendas and nonfat milk. Because those artificial pesticides and fat free milk make the guilt and calories all but disappear. Who cares what it’s doing to my insides as long as I look good on the outside.

I know what you’re thinking. Proof, where’s the proof? Well, there is none. These small death packets have not been directly linked to cancer, nor will they ever be if sugar substitute corporations have anything to do with it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to wait for a corporation or legal entity to tell me what I can already deduce from the sickly culture around me. All I know is whatever they’re doing, I will walk the other way.

Maybe it’s a fault of mine that I am not a very trusting soul. But until studies are created and completed to prove that sugar substitues do nothing to obliterate my insides, I’ll stick to the natural stuff created and intended for my consumption.

Because as far as I know, sickness and death, and doctors and insurance companies, don’t take well to claims of ignorance. So I’m gonna do all that I can to keep myself out of their grip.