AJAX BELL

Author of the Queen City Boys books


4 Comments

Forced change and willpower

Last summer I finally hit the wall of being so unhappy with my body that I had to take action.  For years I’d gained weight and become more sedentary.  I thought I ate pretty well and figured that genetics was against me and there was nothing I could do about my round little apple dumpling shape.  And I didn’t care so much.  I’ve never been terrifically concerned with beauty aesthetics and I am genuinely concerned with the way our society raises young women to starve themselves.  I have a couple friends who underwent bariatric surgery to great (over 100lbs) weight loss and each of them told me that at the end of it, they were still who they’d been before and whatever demons they had still needed to be faced, skinnier or not.  I knew none of my demons had to do with my weight so why fight a losing battle with my body?

But as I age my body becomes more my enemy.  Aches, joint pains, longer recovery times, many new problems.  Everywhere you look there’s a new study saying that exercise will cure everything.  I got into physical therapy for my chronic, severe shoulder pain.  I worked on my posture, I diligently did my recovery exercises twice a day and I decided to get fit.  I mean if I was already doing some sort of exercise twice a day, why not add more?  I determined the the optimum, most convenient exercise for me (indoor rowing) and set to it, with long series of staggered goals.  The biggest one being “turn 40 being in the best shape of my life.”  I rowed and rowed for weeks and the weight almost immediately started falling off.  Exercise with a surprise benefit!  I wasn’t just becoming healthier, I was visibly changing.

Fitness minded friends encouraged me to count calories and really look at my diet.  I insisted I didn’t need to do that because I knew I ate pretty well: no gluten, mostly whole, fresh foods, very little packaged or pre-prepared food.  But I caved pretty quickly and started using My Fitness Pal, initially to just track exercise but my use coincided with discovering my recent weight loss.  I was encouraged so I started tracking what I was eating every day for a few weeks and yes, according to the general consensus, I was eating too many calories for my height & age.  Sure they were “good” calories, but they were still too many.

Armed with numbers (weight and calories and energy expenditure) I didn’t quite understand, I read up on nutrition and on nutrition and sports medicine.  There’s a mountain of information out there and lot of it is wrong.  I sorted through message boards and essays of advice and I eventually made a standard for myself.  Maybe some of it is wrong, it’s hard to tell, but for me it’s reasonable, practical and makes sense.  I eat a low carb, high protein, high fat diet, still avoiding most processed foods.  I spent months altering my diet slightly and recognizing what was making me feel better and what was making me feel worse.  And the weight continued to come off, slowly but steadily.

In the last few months I’ve been pretty uneven about exercise.  My consistent routine was upheaved by moving and the demands of the new house and my job, by not immediately creating a new routine when my circumstances changed.  Days shy of turning 40 I’ve nearly met the weight loss goal I set when I started tracking calories and I feel great.  I can’t stress enough how much pain I was in before and how much simple weight loss helped me feel better.  But even when I was heavier I felt much, much better when I was exercising regularly.  I’m small and relatively fine boned and extra weight was literally dragging me down, so yes, I feel better with out it.  Exercise however has a threefold improvement: the satisfaction of accomplished a single task set out to do (row 30 mins, walk an hour), you get the immediate rush of improved blood flow, it’s calming and over time you physically feel stronger and more capable.  It’s like this door to understanding has opened for me.  Yes, of course we’ve all heard “it’s just diet and exercise” for ever.  But I can’t state strongly enough how true that really is for me.  It is hard work, not because it’s hard to do, but because it takes commitment and dedication and sometimes the returns are slow to show. But really unless you have a major medical problem, six weeks of dedication, to diet, exercise, or both should show you what’s possible.

Still I’m not nearly to where I want to be.  Halfway there.  I’ve got diet figured out, as long as I stick to it I should be fine (“it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change”). But exercise I’m still learning, it still feels forced some days and I don’t love it. Yet.  I’m going to get there.  That’s my goal for the next year.  I know I need to work harder because just like my friends, here I am at goal weight for my height, age and build and I look in the mirror and I don’t see much that’s different than where I started (in fact I can only see the difference when I compare pictures side by side).  Lumpy, poochy, misshapen belly, weak arms, shoulder pain that flares up when I’m too sedentary, aches that could otherwise be controlled.  I am so much better than I was 11 months ago, but  I’m not great yet and I want to age into greatness, into fitness and most importantly into strength.  So I will keep working, keep striving and never set an end point, because I want to have a good relationship with this body and like all relationships, you have to keep at it, keep listening and keep trying.

And because no make over story is complete without pictures:

Continue reading

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Hooray say the people, it’s the Solstice!

Today in the Northern Hemisphere we round the corner on darkness.  It is the Hibernal solstice when the sun is near its greatest distance from the equatorial plane, standing still as it were.

Today Marduk tamed the monsters of chaos and for one more year we are safe as we move back into the light.

Today we light candles and keep them lit.  Though darkness is already on the run, we must continue to chase it away so spring can come faster.

Today the Oak King is apparently dead, his branches bare and cold.  We thought the Holly King had won, as he remained green,  but long live the Oak King as he returns to rule us into Midsummer!  Go, hang the holly, let it catch bad spirits on it’s tiny horns, protecting us in the months of darkness when the border with the shadowlands is permeable.

Today is the Saturnalia where we eat and dance and decorate the evergreens with red berries.  We will reverse all our roles, switch with our opposites and see the world from the other side, through other eyes.

Today and for the days to come, find joy in each other, celebrate, kiss beneath the mistletoe, feast in the light of candles.  Celebrate the darkness and the joy we have as  it washes away.  Tonight we breathe and meditate on our lives.  We breathe out the things we want gone, we breathe in our wishes for the coming year.  Tomorrow life begins again.


Leave a comment

What Spain Was Like

“She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”

– William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (full quote here)

Yesterday morning (relatively speaking, to my current sense of time), I got on a plane in Barcelona.  It flew out over the Mediterranean, which was spectacularly blue, and then turned sharply and went directly over Sitges, a town I had visited just days before.  I wept copiously with a great sense of loss as the plane went over the entire length of the Pyrenees, until reached the Bay of Biscay and turned over the Atlantic, towards Philadephia.

I am presently too tired, too soul-lagged to tell you about it.  Indeed I may never getting around to writing a narrative of it, but I promise lots and lots of pictures as soon as I get all 500+ of them sorted and tagged and all that modern day nonsense that allows me to foist my living room vacation slide show on you.  For now my soul is still somewhere over the Pyrenees, perhaps, still dreaming of the Mediterranean.


What Spain Was Like

Spain was a taut, dry drum-head
Daily beating a dull thud
Flatlands and eagle’s nest
Silence lashed by the storm.
How much, to the point of weeping, in my soul
I love your hard soil, your poor bread,
Your poor people, how much in the deep place
Of my being there is still the lost flower
Of your wrinkled villages, motionless in time
And your metallic meadows
Stretched out in the moonlight through the ages,
Now devoured by a false god.

All your confinement, your animal isolation
While you are still conscious
Surrounded by the abstract stones of silence,
Your rough wine, your smooth wine
Your violent and dangerous vineyards.

Solar stone, pure among the regions
Of the world, Spain streaked
With blood and metal, blue and victorious
Proletarian Spain, made of petals and bullets
Unique, alive, asleep – resounding.

– Pablo Neruda


Leave a comment

Two down and what makes three?

Some days you just need to change everything.  And sometimes you remember to document it.  I’m pretty sure my hair was holding me back. Heh.

and

 

And of course if you’ve decided to have a week long mid-life crisis, then haircutting isn’t enough, you need to get a giant new tattoo as well:


3 Comments

An open letter to Sherman Alexie

Just read a line in a Sherman Alexie story about standing in line at Bartell’s and suddenly I’m so homesick I’m not sure I can live through the heartbreak of it. In my head I ask Sherman Alexie if he imagines how many of his throw away lines profoundly affect people?  I think of every word I’ve put out there, every bit of fiction I’ve written, and no one has ever come back to me with the important words, with the phrases that I labored over, they only come to tell me about the how they were moved by my fast lines, the ones that drop out, that I don’t consider at all before I put them to paper.

Perhaps the lines I don’t labor over mean the most, come more truly from me?  Perhaps there is no meaning in any of it and will just keeping spilling out words, looking for the turn of phrase that will free my soul and find it someday.  Perhaps Sherman Alexie labored over that line and still will never know will never know how his two sentences made me break my own heart.  I could write him a letter and tell him, but I would labor too hard over the words, I would lose the importance of sharing what he gave me.  I have always been writing this letter to him in my head, through out the years, every time I read his stories and poems.  A letter that never makes it to paper, to computer screen, never achieves more than some small form of therapy for me.

I am talking to Sherman in my head (can I call you, Sherman, I feel we are close enough now) about my homesickness, about how I cannot ever really understand where he is from and he cannot understand how I am from where he is now.  I tell him it is a continuum that no one but me can see, a story that can’t quite be told, but is important all the same.  And the The Butchies pop up on shuffle on the old mp3 player and I start to cry because this is more homesickness than a soul can bear.  But this makes me get up and start to cook dinner: fettuccine alfredo with smoked salmon (real, PNW smoked salmon), peas and caramelized onions.  Because I am homesick and if I lived close enough that I could call my mom and ask if I could come over she would walk to me to a restaurant near her house (one Sherman Alexie has surely been too) and I would order some variation of this dish because you don’t really find it anywhere else in the world, not the way we make it in Seattle.

And while I am chopping onions the mp3 player turns again and gives me Kevin Gordon singing Watching the Sun Go Down, and I remember how I stopped at 6:42 am, on my way to work, to photograph the sunrise over an electrical power station, and got distracted by some horses too.  I think of how the redbuds are surely more beautiful this year than they have ever been before, blooming riotously, everywhere, making the edges of every roadway glow purple.  I think of how  the heat in Tennessee makes me feel warm all the way through to my bones, like I’ve never been warm before.

So I tell Sherman that he is lucky indeed, to be able wait in line at Bartell’s, but he has to go through cold rain to get there and I am saved by the sun  and the green in spring and the sounds, all the sounds, here in the dirty South.  Perhaps I am homesick for a place that no longer exists.  A place I visited, moved through in childhood, that is just a fairytale now, I can not go back.  My adult self does not have the magic to cross back over the boundaries of the places I’ve been before, I can only go to new places or create them myself. And I’m still crying when I sit down to eat my dinner, but not because I miss anything.  I am so lucky to have been so many places, both real and imagined. Lucky to be me and to be still so full of emotions good and bad (love) about all of those places I have been and the people in them.  Even the rude lady in the Bartell’s line that you have to tell to fuck all the way off.  So thanks, Sherman, for reminding of my home, the past one, the new one, the one that is always me and goes everywhere inside my heart.  I’m certain that you never knew that namedropping Bartell’s in a story would make some girl in Tennessee break out the fancy smoked salmon from way back home and cook herself a good dinner on a night when she would otherwise have been too tired, too worn down by work, to do more than make a quesadilla.  Thanks for dinner, Sherman, I really feel like we are close now.

 

(Pictures taken early this morning in Tennessee, when I stopped, before I even had coffee, to remember that there is beauty in the world.  Even when you feel like you break to pieces because of the stress that swirls around you and puts the anxiety inside you, there is still the color purple and leaves that were not that green yesterday and sunrises.  The redbuds really are spectacular this year.)


1 Comment

Resolve

I was trying to think of a fitting send off for 2011, but really I wish it would sneak quietly out the back door and be done with.  I can’t really even be bothered to tell it not to let the door hit its ass on the way out.

In 2011 I got better.  I recovered, almost completely, from 2010 and 2009.  I reconnected with some amazing, beautiful old friends who I am so very glad to have back in my life.  I reconnected with my old online community which is no different than sitting down with old friends.  I learned, I changed, I stayed the same, I became more me, I remembered who I was, and who I want to be.  I think I managed to find myself again, or at least the creative center of myself, even if the rest of me seems much changed than who I was even a year ago.  I am glad to be moving forward, looking forward, and carrying on with the people I have around me.

In 2012 I plan to take myself less seriously.  I want to worry less about external pressures and ask less of myself.  I want to write more and laugh more and sing loudly even when I’m out of tune.

I have an extensive list of new projects I want to work on in 2012.  I’m not sure yet which will make the cut and which will fall by the wayside but I am going to strongly commit to one or a few and be dedicated and vigilant in my work on what I do choose.

I will be smarter and more me by the end of the 2012.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask of myself.

I am so grateful for my huge, wonderful family, for my mother and my sisters.  I am so very thankful for my friends and my community.  I wish I had the words and time to tell each of you just how much I love you and how much you mean to me.  I will carry that love in my heart every single day, I will use it to bolster myself against the hard times.  I will do my best to love you all even more, every single day.  I will trust you all and work to to learn to trust myself and my instincts more.  I will try harder to be worthy of the love given back to me.

Here we go!


Leave a comment

Adventures in substitutions

It’s a cold, cold winter night here, so I did the only thing one can do, cooked and baked until the house was warm and smelled good.

Quinoa Red Lentil Soup


I used this recipe (the stove top version which only took about 35 minutes) which came highly recommended from a trusted friend.  I saw it and thought, oh I have all those things, I’ll make that.  HAHAHAH!  Well, I had quinoa and red lentils.  Of the spices I only had fresh ginger, paprika, cumin and thyme.   So I used those and substituted 2 tbl of green curry paste for everything else.  Also I didn’t have any of those vegetables, so I used a yellow onion, diced, a yellow squash (the zucchini like kind), also diced and a can of diced tomatoes and a couple cloves of garlic, finely chopped.  I did follow the directions pretty closely, despite all the substitutions.   At the end of cooking I also put half of it through the blender until it was smooth and added it back in with the rest (a secret that improves 85% of soups).

I think it turned out great.  Would be excellent with a dollop of sour cream but there’s few things that isn’t true about.

Apple cake


2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin spice
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 apples, peeled & chopped

Directions:  In large bowl, beat eggs, applesauce and oil until smooth.  Add sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, baking soda, salt and mix well.  Add flour, beat until smooth. Fold in apples. Pour into greased and floured 9 by 13 pan. Bake at 350F degrees for 50-55 minutes.

I substituted Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free baking flour.  Also I normally would do 3/4 cup applesauce and no oil, but I was unsure about this flour mixture, because I’ve never used it and I figured a little oil might help.

I’ve used previous versions of this recipe (I seem to reinvent it every year, whole wheat flour, less sugar, no oil, now gluten-free) to make muffins for which it is excellent.   The original recipe called for 2c sugar and a cinnamon and sugar glaze, but I really prefer things less sweet.  You should experiment until it tastes how you like.