Last night I worked out at an aerial studio downtown during an open gym session. I haven’t successfully sweet-talked a gym near my house into letting me hang a silk and work out, or bullied my husband into building me a rig in my backyard, yet, so I’m still working out when I can, where I can, in and around my stupid have-to-act-like-a-grown-up schedule. Lately that’s been more of a challenge because apparently right now I’m pretending to be a “Successful Real Estate Agent” instead of a “Professional Waiter for the Phone to Ring”. The former is exciting and dramatic, but more labor-intensive than the latter.
Last week, my workouts consisted of one aerial fitness class (+1!), one run that wasn’t actually run and more of an exercise in futility (-3), one aerial choreography workshop that was really probably too difficult for me and mostly made me sad about my existence (+.25 for effort), and one actual run (+2!). On the weekend, even though I intended to hike and workout, I did nothing but wait for our new couches to be delivered, eat sourdough toast and blueberry muffins, and work (-∞).
This week I’ve been intent on redoubling my efforts, so I headed to the gym, alone, for my workout. It was only the second time I’d attempted a solitary workout. Usually I take classes or workshops, or meet up with friends to work out together, but I’ve been feeling like I need more solo sessions. I like to learn tricks, but I need to work on them to clean them up. I want to work toward creating an act, or a piece, or something. I’ve now taken classes from probably a dozen different aerialists, and I’ve gotten a strong sense for how they each have their own individual styles. Rain Anya is all about fluidity and stunning transitions that don’t even look like transitions. DeAnna McCandless does everything with a straight arm and specializes in powerful momentum and terrifying open drops. MoNika Ell told me once that he thinks of himself as a paintbrush and the space around him in the air as a canvas, so he stretches and extends his body throughout the space to ‘paint’ as much of the canvas as possible.
I want to have my own style! I want to be an aerial artist. And I feel like to have any hope of expressing myself in that way, I need to spend time on the silks without anyone instructing me or telling me what to do so I can figure out what I’m drawn to. I know, as a dancer, I was into a kind of ‘modern’ style. As a writer, I favor comedic storytelling. Who knows who I am as an aerialist? I want to be someone beautiful and amazing! (Who maybe doesn’t do a ton of bendy back things, because I kind of have an old lady back.)
This is how I ended up on the silks last night, working out alone. It’s also how I ended up heading home after only an hour at the gym, wondering if it all wasn’t really just a futile, waste of time, money, and gas. The workout was a shitshow, is what I’m saying. I ran through my stuff, but it was really hard. My stamina was down from lack of consistent time in the gym, and there were several things I wanted to work on that I couldn’t even remember how to do. I spent 10 full minutes trying (unsuccessfully) to remember a simple crossback from footlocks thing Dakoa taught me once.
At the end, I set a timer, with a goal of staying up on the silks for 10 minutes, to build strength and condition myself to perform ambiance sets. I made it through just under 8 minutes before I considered hanging myself from the silks instead of sliding dejectedly to the ground.
It was horrifying. I’d been watching YouTube videos of gorgeous performers before I got to the gym and I was determined to emulate their grace. I was going to focus on long lines and adding performance elements, posing within tricks. Instead, I spent the set shaking and sweating, trying desperately just to keep my old ass in the air. I wasn’t graceful, I wasn’t pretty. I didn’t know how to even figure out tricks I’d already learned, much less create my own. My hands ached, I felt nauseous and chubby, I just wanted to go home.
In bed, after I’d stripped off my sweaty circus outfit and determined I didn’t deserve my star tights and probably never would, I wondered if I should be spending my time and energy on an activity I was more suited to and less destined to fail at. Maybe my failures lately were a cue that I’d reached the end of my potential in this field and should move on to a new distraction.
But then I remembered Ira Glass (who’s totally on my celebrity hall pass list, so I how could I forget him?) and that thing he said I love so much:
I decided I’m in the gap, drank a glass of wine, and went to sleep. After all, when I watched the video of my 8 minutes in the air, there were moments of beauty. My windmill hipkeys are great. My straddlebacks have always been enviable. For most of it, it doesn’t look like I’m working quite as hard as I am. I’m just not amazing like I want to be. My taste still far exceeds my abilities. And maybe it always will. But I won’t ever know if I give up.
This morning I got up and put on my running gear. I had on the schedule my normal 4 miles. I decided, because I’ve done my easier 4 mile route several times without walking in the last few weeks, that it was time to try the tough route. The tough 4 mile route is more difficult because it has a stretch of almost a mile at the end that is straight and gradually uphill. I can see the full mile when I turn the corner, and I can see the whole elevation change. It’s murder on my psyche, and I’ve given up and walked during that stretch probably as many times as I have made it through it.
This morning, though, I was in a decent mental place to get it done. As I ran the easier, downhill part at the beginning, I mentally prepared myself for the beasty end section. Just focus 3 feet in front of you, I pep-talked. You can make it 3 more feet, and you can certainly do 4 miles. You did 4 miles two days ago. This is not more difficult. Keep your head down, and don’t think about the mile you have left to go. Only think about the next three feet.
Not terribly surprisingly, I did make it through. It was difficult, but the end section seemed to fly by as I diligently kept my eyes literally three feet in front of me.
As I finished the last half mile (it’s a downhill section back into my neighborhood to my house), I reflected on how this strategy is really what Ira is talking about. Rather than getting caught up in the big picture of how successful I’m being in comparison to everyone else, and my ultimate goals, I need to keep my goddamn head down with respect to my creative goals. I need to focus on the work I’m doing that’s right in front of me. I need to think about being successful in the next three steps, versus worrying about how much I still have left of the long, uphill part.
So this is what it comes down to:
Dear My Creative Pursuits (Writing, Aerial, Whatever Damn Other Ridiculous Thing I Decide I Want to do Next),
I will not give up on you. You are important to me and you make me who I am. I will do the work in front of me. I will recognize sometimes the steps I’m working on are difficult or going badly, but I will move past them and focus only on the next three steps in the journey. I will not get swallowed by The Gap.
All my love,