My First Pull-Up

It’s official! At approximately 6:00 pm yesterday evening, I did my first pull-up.

To some, this might not seem like a big deal, but to me it’s quite the accomplishment. When I first started climbing, I could barely even lift myself an inch up on the bar, much less get anything up and over. But now, after about eight weeks of training, I’m finally able to do a single pull-up.

This came at a great time, too, because in my previous post I mentioned how I was starting to get frustrated and burnt out with climbing. Having goals like these – not about climbing, but just about training my body to do things I want it to do – and working towards them gives me something else to look forward too at the gym, even if I’m managing to send any problems.

When I started my training a few weeks ago, even though I’ve been climbing for nine months, I still was nowhere near doing a pull-up (or chin-up, for that matter). Here’s what I did to get started:

Reverse pull-ups. Instead of pulling myself up, with this exercise I let myself down (only physically, not emotionally). I put my hands on the bar and jumped up so I was holding myself/my chin above the bar. Then, I slowly lowered myself with control, counting to ten before I was at the lowest point. After getting to the lowest point, I jumped back up on the bar, and repeated twice. I did three sets of three lowers with a three minute break between each.

Assisted campus reaches. Excuse that title – I have no idea what the actual name of this exercise would be. I matched hands on the wide sloping campus rungs, and with my feet on the skinny rail underneath, I went plus two with one hand, then down to minus one with the same hand, then back to matching. I repeated with the other hand. I tried to do this four times on each side. After each set, I rested two minutes, and repeated three times, for a total of four sets.


(No idea what these are actually called.  Original photo from BKB.)

One might not seem like a lot, but from what I’ve heard, it’s really the hill that you have to get over before you’re on your way to being able to do many. I’m modifying my training to include the following things:

More assisted pull-ups. Using the smallest band that my gym has, I do four sets of five assisted pull-ups. I switch feet after each set so I’m not favoring one side over another, and I rest for three full minutes between each set.

Aussie pull-ups. I never tried these until I read about them the other day. I don’t have a set routine for these yet, but it’ll probably be similar to my sets with my assisted pull-ups – five or more, three minutes rest, repeat three to four times.

And, of course, trying to do as many full pull-ups as I can.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, trainer, dietician, exercise guru, or anyone who should be giving anyone any exercise/training advice whatsoever. This is just a description of my training routine; you should probably consult someone who knows what they’re talking about if you want to do your own training.

Bouldering Mental Block

I got really discouraged at the climbing gym Saturday. The day started off so well; I was super hyped to be going in to work on a few problems, but after the warm-up things just kind of fell apart. Part of my warm-up involved a V3 that I had been able to flash just two days previously, but after three attempts at it I still couldn’t seem to send it. Frustrated, I moved on to a V4 I had was able to get up until the finishing move on Thursday. I fell off the second move. And then I fell off the second move again. And again.

It was pretty demoralizing. Since it was Saturday morning, more and more people started showing up, and since these problems were in a new area of the gym, they all crowded around this tiny area. The gym is pretty miserable when it’s packed, so I moved on to another problem I’d been working on. This wall was being taken over by a teen climbing class. Ok, move on. The next wall was covered in toddlers milling about, jumping on the mats and getting under everyone’s feet while their parents merely said “Great job, wow! That’s awesome!” to children who were basically putting themselves and the climbers around them in danger (don’t get me started on the parents that bring their kids to this gym, y’all).

When the walls started clearing up enough for me to climb, I was pretty pissy. Carrying all this pissy-ness onto the walls with me was not a good idea. I took fall after frustrating fall, missing holds that I have been able to get before or not making any new progress on problems I’ve been trying even though I’ve been working on them for weeks (six weeks in the case of a particular V4+). They’re going to change the wall before I finish the problem, I know it. It will be the third problem I’ve worked on nearly every day since having it been set that will be changed before I’ve been able to send it.

This anger, this frustration, and this desperation to finish these problems are all having negative effects on my climbing. I know this. My boyfriend has spoken with me about this many times, since he can carry a lot of frustration into his climbing too, especially when it’s a problem that he’s already figured out the correct beta for but just can’t seem to stick. I let outlying factors fuck with my mental state – the amount of people, the toddlers and their insufferable parents – instead of blocking them out (Really, why should I be concerned about these people? They’re not concerned about me, it doesn’t matter). I let my perfectionism and self-doubt fuck with my mental state – I see a move, know that it’s a hard move, and don’t follow-through and stick it because I know I’ve fallen a thousand times and will probably fall again this time.

There are other outlying factors too. Work stuff, personal life stuff – all these things add up and contribute to the emotions I’m carrying with me on the wall. I need to find the peace and confidence within myself to know that it takes a lot of work and that failure, when climbing, is an inevitable part of the process. Bouldering is fucking hard. Of course I’m going to plateau at V4 and stick there for a long while, because V5s are fucking hard. Falling off a climb says nothing about how hard I work or my value as a person (as much as I seem to wrap them all up together).

I’ve been reading a couple articles about this. “Overcoming the Fear of Failure,” tells me to consider my experience and training, to concentrate on the process of climbing as opposed to the outcome, and finally to be comfortable with the possibility of failure as one potential outcome. The last is probably the most difficult for me, and as the article points out, “you can only assume this mindset by consciously detaching your self-image from your performance.” It’s not about the send; it’s about the experience of the send. It’s about the enjoyment of the act of climbing, not the outcome.

Have you had any experiences like this, in climbing or otherwise? Give me some tips for how you handled it in the comments; I’d love to hear how you worked through it.

Problems with the Follow-Through

As a follow-up to the last entry, I did in fact meet my goal of 500 words a day for the entire month of July. However, that success was short-lived, as the ultimate goal was to build a habit of writing 500 words every day for the rest of forever, and unfortunately I only made it through the first week of August.

It’s easy to let all the other daily stuff distract you. It’s easy to get derailed. Maybe it’s Sunday morning, and you’re tired and hungover, and you go out for bagels with your best guy and suddenly the whole afternoon has been frittered away and you haven’t accomplished anything. Or maybe you wake up during the week, and you can’t quite seem to get it together for work, so you end up wasting too much of your morning time, which is your best time to write, and you run to the train without having completed anything, only to come home later too tired and drained to do anything except watch X-Files re-runs on Netflix (welcome to my life). There are just so many excuses, so many tiny excuses, that end up knocking down whatever habits you’ve tried to set up.

In college, one of my professors said he thought I was capable, but that I always lost it in the follow-through. I agree. There’s something about making a commitment to my creative work that changes it from something I enjoy into a weight hanging around my neck, dragging me down. I become reticent and resistant; I no longer want to do whatever it is that I wanted to do. Once work has been started on a project, it becomes a reality, and the reality of a piece of work is much more overwhelming than the free-floating dream of it.

But that’s a childish reaction, and one that’s based out of the fear that I am, in fact, as extraordinarily unremarkable as I know myself to be. My desire to be right, to create something of meaning, makes me impotent. So it would seem the best course of action would be to remove the self, the ego, from my work, and try to concentrate on whatever it is about the piece that inspired me to make it in the first place. To concentrate on the purity of the work, with thoughts of how others would judge it left behind.

Big Fat Failure

Do you ever feel like a big fat failure? I know I sure as hell do. I spend most of my life convinced that I can’t do anything right.

This feeling affects most things I do, from working to having a successful relationship to writing. I don’t think there’s a particular reason I should feel this way; I’m not a significantly more terrible person than most people I know (but not significantly better, either). I make it to work on time every day, try hard to apologize when I know I’ve done someone wrong, and I don’t accidentally break an inordinate number of objects.

However, the feeling of being a failure still hangs over me, crippling any creative inclination I might have. This is what I feel is at the root of what I can refer to as my “writer’s block.” This feeling of impending, inevitable failure cripples me, acts as an immediate paralyzer to my ability to write. I sit down at my computer, pull up an empty word document, and immediately switch to facebook or tumblr. Or I don’t even make it to my computer, because writing takes so long and I’m so tired, and there’s no point anyway, because it’s not like anything I write is good.

And so nothing gets done.

My goal this month is to get over these feelings of failure and to get back into the habit of writing. For July, I’m participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo, as some of you may know, is National Novel Writing Month. It occurs during November, and everyone who participates undergoes the arduous task of writing a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Camp NaNoWriMo is like regular NaNoWriMo’s laid-back cousin. Occurring in April and July, Camp NaNoWriMo is a month dedicated to setting a writing goal and sticking with it – whether it be starting a new literary project of any kind (play, poetry collection, etc) or editing past work into a new version.

This year, I’ve decided to use Camp NaNoWriMo to get back into the habit of writing. Every day this month, I have to sit down and write at least 500 words. They can be about anything – parts of a story, a blog entry, or even just a random stream-of-consciousness journal-style entry of things that I have on my mind. No rules, just 500 words a day.

The point is to overcome my fear of failure surrounding writing. If I can get comfortable sitting down and writing anything, if I can get back into the habit of writing in general, I hope I can get back into the habit of writing something that’s actually part of a greater whole without worrying whether or not the first draft is going to be a complete and utter failure.

Because let’s face it – the first draft, by definition, is going to be a failure. But that’s ok, because you can edit it and make it better. The greater failure is no first draft at all.

Shackin’ Up

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I moved in together. Here are some things that I’ve experienced since I’ve moved in with him.

  1. Travel times are significantly decreased. Now, this might not be too big of a deal for those of you with vehicles, but as a proud rider of the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority, I can tell you that the less time spent on the train, the better. Brooklyn has a lot of really good connections between itself and Manhattan, but as far as north-to-south travel within the borough is concerned, things can be less than ideal. Even though we were only living about four and a half miles away from each other, the time it took to make it from Point A (my place) to Point B (his place) could take anywhere from 40 to 55 minutes, depending on whether or not you just miss not only your first train, but your transfer as well. Being able to just come home and have him around saves me lots of time.
  2. Things are a lot funnier. My boyfriend is full of jokes. Granted, most of them are really bad jokes, but I like them (hence the whole dating-and-wanting-to-move-in thing). Even if we’re just sitting down to breakfast together, and I’m blearily stuffing granola cereal into my face and hating the fact that I have to go to work, he’ll make some silly remark that brightens my attitude and makes me feel like I can, in fact, make it through the day. I like hearing him say things to the dishes, make weird noises, and generally be a strange, funny guy.
  3. You always get to hang out. We’re both very busy people, and in the past our packed schedules made it difficult to see each other as much as we wanted. We tried to cram in one “date night” a week (usually us being exhausted in the same apartment and watching Netflix) in between work, gym sessions, and all the little chores that take twice as long when you live in the city (ex: laundry). Now that we’re living together, we get to see each other all the time.
  4. You learn to compromise. As the song goes, you can’t always get what you want. Some things we’ve compromised on is our neighborhood, the train line we live off of, whether or not we have roommates, etc. While most of these compromises aren’t idly made (in fact, most of these compromises were monetarily-motivated), in our case it took one person to be more… willing… to point out reality and show what we really could afford vs. what would be nice but just isn’t right for us at the moment.
  5. You get to fall asleep and wake up together. Every night I get to fall asleep next to the person I want to see most and start my day with him as well. And that’s a great feeling.

I realize this is quite a rosy picture of cohabitation, and I attribute it to two main things – first, that my boyfriend and I have really good communication with each other and try to let each other know when the other person is annoying/hurting us, and two, that it’s only been about a month. However, I’m looking forward to what the future has in store for us together.

No More Meat

** Please note: this is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to vegetarianism. It’s just an explanation of an experience I’m currently going through and an attempt to live more closely aligned with ideals I feel are important to me.   All opinions are my own and only represent the limited amount of research I’ve done on the subject (some articles are linked. I also recommend the documentaries ‘Food, Inc.’ and ‘Vegucated’). **

I’ve never been a vegetarian before. My parents raised me on hearty dinners of hamburger helper, shake-and-bake pork chops, and meaty spaghetti. I never really thought about the ethicality of my consumption or just where my meat was coming from.   Cows lived on farms; meat came wrapped in plastic from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. End of story. Once I left home, my meat consumption declined drastically.   This was more for budgetary and space reasons than any ethical stance; meat is expensive, and freezer/fridge space is currently scarce because I have four roommates (six, if you count the cat and rabbit). Also, since then, I’ve been learning more about the meat and dairy industry in the US, and the information I’ve been exposed to doesn’t exactly whet my appetite.

On January 3rd, I realized I hadn’t eaten any meat yet in the new year. I figured I might as well keep going. It’s now March 10th, and I think I’m officially ready to call myself a vegetarian. Here are a few reasons why I’ve decided to do this:

One: Environmental. Those of you who aren’t from agricultural communities may not be familiar with the sweet smell of industrial meat farms. And by “sweet,” I mean noxious. As someone who grew up in North Carolina, I’ve experienced the intense, fecal, gaseous smells of poultry and hog farms. You could always smell them before you saw them, and there were certain spots of highway where you knew you had to roll up your windows or you’d be forced to smell shit for miles.

The minutes driving through them were bad enough – you can only hold your breath for so long, after all – that I can’t imagine the torture of having to actually live close to one. ‘Pig Poop Fouls North Carolina Streams,’ published in Scientific American, describes the plight of an elderly couple that lived in the vicinity of a hog farm. The wife described how you couldn’t do laundry if the wind was blowing, because the smell of the hog farms would get into the fabric and you’d just have to wash them all again to get the smell out. Her grandchildren wouldn’t visit her. Her life was worse because of her proximity to the hog farms.

Bacteria from these hog farms often make its way into the water system via improperly disposed of hog waste. Most large farms have hundreds if not thousands of animals, all producing a vast amount of urine and feces. This urine and feces are stored in “lagoons,” and are sprayed onto crops via sprinkler systems. This waste is not supposed to leave the property of the hog farm. However, a study done by UNC  suggested that these large hog farm operations have allowed waste bacteria to pollute North Carolina streams and rivers . Researchers took water samples from water sources situated near hog farms and found “DNA from bacteria that live in the digestive systems of hogs and that are not known to live in any other animals or people.”  The water quality has been compromised. A criticism of this study is that the mere existence of this bacterial DNA cannot prove that hog farms are disposing of their waste inappropriately; however, it seems to give pretty damn good evidence that waste mismanagement is, in fact, happening.

I don’t want the state I consider my home to smell like hog shit. I don’t want my parents, who currently live in rural North Carolina, to wake up and be forced to stay inside their home because their backyard smells like hog shit. I don’t want anyone in my family (or, you know, any human in general) to be forced to drink water contaminated with hog shit. 

Two: Humane Treatment of Animals. Most animals raised for meat in the United States live on CAFOs (Concentrated Organized Feeding Operations). Many of them spend their days standing around and covered in their own shit. CAFOs can include both open lots without grass and closed buildings without windows. They exist for animals to be stored until they are the proper size for butchering.

Pregnant hogs are often kept in conditions so cramped they are forced to stand. Their waste falls through a slotted floor and is kept below them, and the hogs are “exposed to high levels of ammonia, which causes respiratory problems.” These hogs also develop ulcers and wounds caused by the pressure of being crammed so close together.

The egg industry also employs questionable methods. Male chicks born into egg operations often get exterminated on day 1. Because they’re male, they’re not going to lay eggs, and because they’re bred from a type of chicken geared toward making eggs and not meat, they aren’t seen as being viable as a meat source. It’s more economical just to kill them and be done with it.

Every time I think about eating meat now, I think about these animals. I think about the documentary Vegucated showing bags full of still-living male chicks being thrown out like garbage. Every bite feels like support of cruelty, and that’s something I’m not comfortable with.

 Three: Health/Beauty/Vanity. In high school, my skin was fairly clear. However, since about 23, my face has virtually exploded with adult acne. After trying almost every product I could get my hands on (scrubs, goos, washes, “treatments,” etc), my face was still a mess. I read a few articles that suggested dairy products like milk and cheese could cause skin problems. I severely limited my intake of these products, and my skin has definitely improved. Is it a decrease in dairy products or merely an increase in produce consumption that have caused this change? I’m not sure, but I’m going to keep with it because my results are good.

Since December, I have not eaten any meat products (eggs, however, continue to be consumed, although at a greatly reduced rate, and milk and cheese have been cut out almost entirely). Overall, I feel healthier and less sluggish, and I’m paying more attention to the type of things I consume and how they will affect not only my body, but my community and my sense of integrity.

** Please note: this is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to vegetarianism. It’s just an explanation of an experience I’m currently going through and an attempt to live more closely aligned with ideals I feel are important to me. All opinions are my own and only represent the limited amount of research I’ve done on the subject. **

50/2015 #7: Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

Complaints and Disorders: The Sexual Politics of Sickness, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English, briefly discusses the history of the medical profession and its views concerning and treatment of women. The authors discuss how so-called medical and scientific logic have basically been utilized as weapons against women.

Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, the medical community postulated that women were inferior and inherently ill. The very fact of their womanhood caused them to suffer from deficiencies that men were unaffected by. The mere presence of the womb, of reproductive organs, caused women to be chronically ill. Because of this, many physicians and spouses of the women in question prevented women from being active or pursuing intellectual activities. Not only did this view allow for women to effectively be “from participating in life outside the sphere of the home, it also provided doctors (almost all male) with an endless supply of patients. Womanhood was an illness to which there was no cure, but there was always a “treatment” that was available for purchase.

One thing the authors do bring up is the question of how sick some of these women actually were. Of course women faced medical obstacles that men didn’t (like childbirth and a higher probability of contracting TB), but it seems sickness became like a hobby to women in affluent households; it gave them something to think about, somewhere to go (various appointments/visits to doctors’ offices), and a strange sense of importance (“I have a problem to be solved. I must do something about it.”)

The authors postulate that the physical fitness/abilities and treatments for women were divided down class lines. Upper class women were frail creatures who should not be overworked or over-stimulated and who should not take part in any intellectual or strenuous outside-of-the-home pursuits because they were in danger of falling ill. They had a natural delicacy that prevented them from participating in such active schemes. Women of the lower classes, often consisting of women from races and origins deemed “unfavorable” by the upper classes, were naturally suited to hard work, but were carriers of disease and would bring filth into the homes of the rich families they worked for. These two narratives were essential for keeping up the status quo: if all women were weak, how can society force lower class women to work? And if all women are strong, how can society force women with class or racial privilege to remain silent?

All of the above just barely taps the surface of the issues the book explores. Anyone interested in the conjunction of feminism and medicine should definitely read this book.   Ehrenreich and English leave us with a few thoughts on the implications of this system: by developing our views of our bodies and our health through the filter of the patriarchal system, how can we form ideas about what constitutes a true “female nature?” They also stress the importance of viewing health and feminism from many different perspectives; the health issues and access facing affluent white American women are different that those facing poor immigrant women of color. If we’re working together to find solutions, we need to make sure those solutions include all women, not just some.

50/2015 #4: The Thing Around Your Neck, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

WHAT IT IS: The Thing Around Your Neck, by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a collection of short stories that deal with feminism, female autonomy, and the struggles for identity people face in a country that is rapidly changing around them as well as when moving to a new country. The majority of the main characters of the stories are young females, and although the situations they deal with vary – in one, a woman moves to America for a better future, but is abused by an uncle and forced to make her own way in the world; in another, a young woman is married to a man and moves with him to Brooklyn, where she finds out he is not what she thought he was, and also that he wants to squash her Nigerian identity out of her – through each of these stories, Adichie very clearly articulates hardships many women (particularly immigrant women) face.

 WHAT I THINK ABOUT IT: First of all, Adichie’s writing is simply beautiful. The novel reads like tributaries flowing into a larger river; it’s graceful and purposeful, with each word exactly the right weight for the story. Aside from being beautifully told, these stories all feature strong women. Even if Adichie doesn’t leave us with concrete solutions for these women’s problems, we are left with the idea that, using their inner strength, they will be able to overcome them. Even when feeling lost, abandoned, beaten, and scared, Adichie’s women show strength, grace, and determination; they are feathers quills of steel.

 WHY I READ IT: Like many people, I first became aquainted with Adichie’s work from being exposed to the sampling of her TED talk in Beyonce’s song “Flawless.” I watched that talk and several more, and upon learning she was a writer, I became interested in reading her work.

Girl on (Plastic) Rocks

I’ve never been a very athletic person. Much of my childhood was spent either in bed or a comfy chair, curled up with a novel. In middle and high school, my whole goals were just to make it through P.E. classes without somehow embarrassing or injuring myself (I am, without a doubt, one of the clumsiest humans alive). I’ve tried kickboxing, I’ve tried jogging, and for a few months two years ago I was old-lady power walking on a fairly regular basis – but nothing really stuck.

Until now. My sig other introduced me to the wonder that is rock climbing (specifically bouldering), and I think I might be addicted.

Sports never were my thing. For one, I never “naturally” took to sports, so I never practiced, so I always sucked at them. I also was a nerdy kid who frantically excused my physical inabilities by believing and maintaining all the media B.S. that athletic people are idiots (on behalf of nerd-dom, sorry athletes, but let’s be fair, you got a few good ones in there too). I’m a perfectionist, holding myself and everyone around me to basically impossible standards. I hate when I make mistakes, and I hate when others make mistakes, because deep down I’m convinced that if I had the chance, I could do it better.

This doesn’t bother me in climbing. Climbing teaches me that not only is it o.k. to fall, it’s the only way to ever get better, and that’s a life lesson I still sorely need.

Climbing isn’t a group sport. It isn’t a competition (I mean, there are professionals and competitions out there, but I’m talking about the low-key essence of climbing). The only person I’m trying to beat is my past self. The only person who controls the outcome of a climb is myself. I get what I put into it – if I train, if I exercise, I can improve, do harder climbs, and accomplish cooler moves. And this has inspired me to practice not only climbing, but other areas of fitness as well – I’m now doing yoga, pilates, and resistance training, and I’ve changed my diet drastically in the last few months. My body feels good, healthy in a way it’s never felt before. My body feels attractive in a way it’s never felt before, even if the feeling is just in my head.

And that goodness transcends my time spent in the gym. That goodness makes me not only more confident in myself, but also more forgiving of my mistakes. It makes me more forgiving of others’ mistakes, as I climb alongside other beginners and we see each other’s weaknesses and work together to make them strengths. All in all, I feel like a kinder, more helpful person, and that’s a good thing.

So let’s hope this is one hobby that will stick.

50/2015 #2 – If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

WHAT IT IS: If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino, is a novel that presents itself as a collection of short stories. Or a collection of short stories that presents itself as a novel. Or a novella connected by a series of short stories; I haven’t quite decided which. The chapters of the novel are divided into two parts: the first part describes the adventures of “you,” an avid reader who goes in search of the missing parts of a recently purchased novel, and the second part is the beginning of each novel “you” find.

The beginnings have two things in common: they leave off at the climax, and they are never continued in the rest of the book. Indeed, that is the quest of “you” – to find the rest of the novels to which these introductions are part of.

HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT: If on a winter’s night a traveler has been one of the most difficult books I’ve read in the last year. It mainly seems to be dealing with questions of authority, authenticity, and trustworthiness. Can I believe what an author says in his books? Is what the author describes a true belief or a contradiction meant to point out an inconsistency? Like the mirrors described in one of the novel beginnings, this story acts as a kaleidoscope, infinitely expanding and reflecting and collapsing back upon itself.

To be honest, I’m still not sure what I think of this book. Was this a true meditation on the purpose of readers, writers, and novels in general? Or was it meant to point out the futility of such questions? I don’t know, I don’t know! But it’s definitely on my list of must re-reads.

WHY I READ IT: My partner gave me this book as part of my Christmas present. He got me “Cosmicomics,” also by Italo Calvino, for my birthday, and since I enjoyed that one he figured he’d might as well get me another. Plus one to him for deductive reasoning.