Z is trying to get me healthy. I’m not unhealthy in the sense of having a cold or rheumatism, but since I started Z and since I started the MFA program, I haven’t been living “a healthy lifestyle.”
Oh, who am I kidding. I’ve never seriously had one. I don’t eat green vegetables and for five of the seven years I belonged to my gym I was mostly paying fat tax. One day a month I would sheepishly hand my payment to the ex-Marine in sweatpants, climb onto the treadmill, and vow to do better in the coming weeks. But then I’d forget to go. Eventually, I started mailing my payments in, which is so much easier.
Z, on the other hand, eats like a sensible person and knows himself well enough that he recognizes that daily exercise keeps him balanced and happy. I often suspect that if our paths had crossed in high school we never would have noticed each other. A girl with her nose in a book has little time for boys shoulder deep in rugby scrums. Thank goodness he came to Indiana for two years and learned how to be sedentary or I never would have met him.
Where I am from, the land is mostly flat, so Seattle was a surprise to me. We live on First Hill. When I am at the bottom sucking down a chocolate shake at Red Robin and looking out at the beauty of Elliott Bay, the horizon—if you ignore the Olympic Mountain Range in the distance--is horizantalish like home. But then we start to climb up to the peak where we live, and the huffing and palpitating and cursing begin. By the time we reach the front door (at the top of an additional 22 steps), I’m thinking of it as Fresh Hell instead of First Hill.
The first two weeks I was here, the hills and living with no car was completely kicking my backside. Even now, when we walk the five blocks to downtown, I navigate our journey home completely based on which streets have the lowest inclines and if we can time our outings so we could get into the convention center before 10 p.m. when the doors lock, because there in the heart of the building, is a giant, glorious series of escalators that will carry us up half of the hill we would otherwise have to climb. Z doesn’t understand. He does no huffing and puffing. And lately, he’s been tricking me into more walks that are purposeless, save for the health benefit.
Since the weather has been good, he sometimes lures me out with the promise of some treat at the end: a movie, supper, a neighborhood we haven’t yet been in that I’d like to see. When we get back—after the agonizing climb up First Hill—he asks expectantly if I feel better. Of course I don’t feel better. I’m sweaty and out of breath and my muscles are twitching. Maybe LATER I’ll feel the benefits. I might sleep better. My pants might eventually be less tight. But during or right after the walk? When I get back from a walk I start seriously considering the benefits of an adjustable bed and a motorized scooter.
When I give my students writing exercise, they react like I do to the walks. They do it only because there is a space in the gradebook that needs filling. You’d think when I say, “We’re going to do a fastwrite” that I’ve said, “Drop and give me twenty.” And even though I love writing in ways most of my students cannot fathom, I am sometimes the same way. If I’ve been away from the keyboard for a while, when I come back to it, my brain aches and looks for every excuse there is to escape the torture (i.e. I’ve got an infected hangnail that hurts when I depress the keys, the mail is bound to be here soon and I should just wait to start then, that laundry isn’t going to wash itself!).
But the thing about sitting down and doing the writing is I never feel worse once I’m done. My joints don’t creak. My brain doesn’t immediately try to think up excuses for getting out of it the next day. I feel a little bouncy and invigorated. It really isn’t fresh hell at all. Maybe after a few more walks I’ll feel the same way about exercise too. I have my doubts.