Does the phase “Enjoli lady” mean anything to you? If so, you can head straight on over to Medium to read my new essay about women and booze. If the Enjoli lady doesn’t ring a bell, watch this, imagine growing up with it embedded in your freaking brain, and then go read the essay.
I started a heart-rate running training plan yesterday and it’s already killing me. The idea of HR training is to expand your aerobic capacity and reduce burnout by doing most of your running at 140 beats per minute or less. As your hearts learns to supply oxygen to your blood more efficiently, you can go further and faster at the same level of effort. Sounds good, right?
It was maddening. Even running as slowly as I know how–and looking, I suspect, like the Pink Panther–I hit 140 fast and often. I spent an hour on the trail and walked at least half of it. (I’m not throwing shade on walk breaks, by the way–I love them. I need them. But the operative word is “break,” and this is not what that was.) By the halfway point, my internal monologue went something like this:
Just because this has worked for a lot other people doesn’t mean it will work for me. What if my heart has some anomaly where it doesn’t get more efficient? I’m going to spend weeks walking 15-minute miles and nothing will change except for my fitness collapsing because my body isn’t designed for this plan. Anyway, I’m under too much stress right now to run slow. How am I supposed to decompress like this? Oh, I know–I could make my own sort of hybrid plan, where sometimes I do the workout as written and sometimes I run as fast as I want! I know the coach says that will sabotage training, but what does she know about me, really? I’m special. My heart is much better and much worse than the ones that normal people have.
Does this sound at all familiar? It did to me, and I started to laugh (grimly, I will have you know, because officially I was still pissed about walking so much). It sounded like me, thinking:
- I don’t get how all these sober bloggers sound so happy. They’re probably just trying to talk themselves into it. Or maybe they’re just inherently much happier people than me. They had one little problem and they dealt with it. I have a hundred problems and without alcohol I’d still have 99.
- The data about alcohol and breast cancer seems a little overstated. I mean, I exercise and eat organic food and have no family history, so even if I drink too much I bet my risk is still below average.
- Same with the liver stuff. You never hear about people like me having liver failure. It’s always older men who drink during the day at those bars with ATM machines and no windows. Like William H. Macy in Magnolia. My liver is not the kind that fails.
- Anyway, even if I wanted to 100% quit I doubt I could. Those sober bloggers aren’t dealing with the kind of job stress I have. Or the way I grew up, walking on eggshells all the time, getting hit, plus getting blamed for getting hit. People like me can’t just stop drinking. We’re not strong like those other people.
- But oh, I know! Maybe I can just moderate. Have some rules, like only buy half-bottles of wine, or drink a glass of water between every glass of wine, or only drink red since I don’t like it as much. Oh yeah, this is a great idea–a plan that fits my special needs.
That’s right–as a drinker I didn’t even really believe that medical science applied to me. And, to judge by my heart rate temper tantrum, I guess I still don’t. I still think I’m too special to benefit from proven, codified methods.
And you know what? That’s okay. I’m still going to stick with this plan and see what happens, just for the hell of it.
With sobriety, maybe you’re right where I am with the cardiovascular system–utterly convinced that you can’t have the peace of mind, the freedom that those smug bloggers do, because you’re an anomaly/special snowflake/freak of nature. You want it, but you have zero faith that doing the things we did will make any difference.
And guess what? That’s okay too. Sometimes it’s just asking too much to have faith in advance of your own data. Sometimes you have to take an action, then another, then another–feeling slightly foolish along the way–before the evidence appears.
So maybe we can do it together. What do you say? I’ll go out and plod down the trail, even though I don’t think it’ll work. You’ll do anything to avoid having a drink, even though you don’t think it’ll work. And when we both have some data, we’ll meet back here and talk.
Belle from Tired of Thinking About Drinking changed my life, full stop. So when she asked me to be on her podcast, I had one of those Wayne-and-Garth “I’m not worthy!” moments. Like I should be asking her to be on my podcast, you know? Except I don’t have a podcast, of course. So the only real option was to kick my unworthiness to the curb and say “Yes, please!”
It was a blast. We were supposed to talk for 25 minutes and we went on for an hour. About writing, being anonymous vs. public, being jealous of other people’s blog titles (hi Jean!), , Moving Day in Quebec (so weird), and whether I am on a mission (Belle thinks maybe yes, and I don’t know what I think). The +3 in this post title gets explained, too.
There are two things in life I love: yoga, and being judgmental. So when Laura and Holly alerted me to Yoga Journal’s big new heavily promoted advertorial partnership with TY KU Sake, aka “The Official Drink of Apres Yoga,” I simply could not wait to learn more. Let’s take a look, shall we?
First, here’s the image on the TY KU Sake landing page:
Friends, let’s get straight to the heart of things:
What the fuck is going on here? Why are these two women hanging out on a fake stoop that is clearly indoors? Are they on Sesame Street? If so, where’s Gordon? Where’s Maria?
Why is the one on the left smiling blankly into space, and why is her leg Photoshopped? I know what pose this is supposed to be. I’ve done it. I did a lame facsimile of it today as blog research. And I still can’t work out how her knee is facing forward unless it has been removed from her body.
And can we talk about the smug-looking chick on the right? Specifically: what the hell is she wearing? Is it by chance an acid-washed, elastic-cuffed denim jumpsuit? It is, isn’t it? And those are high-top moccasins on her feet, aren’t they? It’s okay, you can tell me.
Everything about the denim-jumpsuit girl and her smirk is freaking me out. I feel sure she is a malevolent spirit that rose from the ashes of those ads about Yoplait being shoe-shopping good.
Finally–and you’ll have to take my word for this because I cropped the photo badly–there is a loaf of French bread in the tote bag behind the disembodied pink leg. Just in case you needed one more signifier that these are the classiest, most urbane yoga ladies of 1994: they have stick bread with them, okay? They are practically named Audrey and Tautou.
Whew. So now that I’ve got all that off my chest, let’s talk about the six reasons YJ and TY KU say that sake is the perfect post-yoga beverage…oh shoot. There was one other subtle thing about the photo that bugged me and now it’s slipped my mind what it…oh wait, I remember now. It was the RANDOM BASSET HOUND on the top step. He doesn’t even seem like he’s with the yoga women–maybe he’s the landlord? And is this really the best shot of him they could get? “Oh man, Mr. Furley licked his own nose again.” “Fuck it, we’re losing the fake daylight. It’s a wrap.”
Anyway. Here are the six reasons YJ and and TY KU think you should drink this 20% ABV stuff after practice:
- It may help reduce stress and allow you to ‘live in the moment.’ And god knows you’ll need that, after a yoga class aimed at building tension and encouraging you to obsess over past mistakes and make wild projections about the future.
- It’s heart-healthy. “We know a small amount of alcohol can be beneficial when drank (sic) in moderation.” Oh Jesus, it’s resveratrol again, right? The compound that will make us all live forever when consumed in quantities of wine way, way smaller than anyone who gets self-righteous about resveratrol actually drinks. Okay, yes, you’d better make sure you get your life-saving resveratrol, yogis. And if you can get it in a mind-altering substance (instead of grape juice) right after a sweaty and possibly dehydrating workout, all the better.
- Trade wine for sake and you may sleep better because sake contains less sugar and fewer byproducts of fermentation vs. wine. So, basically, it sucks for your body less than wine. Might as well aim high, right? Enjoy that marginally better sleep.
- Sake is sans sulfites and tannins. “We suck less than wine! Om shanti!” part 2. Though really, all I can think of is how I used to blame red-wine hangovers on the tannins vs. the, you know, FIVE GLASSES FULL OF ALCOHOL I drank the night before.
- Sake may make your skin healthier. “If sipping sake makes you less stressed, it may also have an impact on your skin. A happier person tends to have a healthier glow.” Well, gosh, who could argue with the straight-up hard science they just laid down right there? And again, after that yoga class you are going to need something to lift you up, sister-friend.
- Sake is culturally portion-controlled because the serving size is 3 ounces, vs. 5 ounces for wine. Maybe I’m not qualified to comment on this one, given that my understanding of the alcohol ‘serving size’ concept was, let’s say, philosophical at best. But I have visited Japan a few times, and at least from my limited Western point of view, “cultural portion control” did not seem to be a super big thing when it came to booze.
Anyway, Yoga Journal says drink up, yogis! I mean, sure, excessive alcohol use causes 10% of deaths among working-age US adults. And sure, moderate use can slide into excessive use because alcohol is, you know, a goddamn addictive substance that changes how your brain works. But that’s about other people, not you. You’re so healthy. You’re so mindful. Those awful things aren’t going to happen to you.
I was healthy. I was mindful. Those awful things weren’t going to happen to me either.
So kanpai and namaste! After all, TY KU Sake is ‘happy hour for the chakras.’ And if you’re saying “Wait, I thought yoga was happy hour for the chakras,” well, I guess you’re not quite as big a sucker as they’d like you to be. Work on that, huh?
I saw spiked seltzer at Whole Foods last week: yes, water with booze in it. It reminded me for some reason of those online alcoholism self-assessments. Imagine if one of the questions were “Do you buy alcoholic water?” If you answered yes, you’d skip all the remaining questions and go straight to a page that said “YOU IN DANGER, GIRL.”
I don’t know about you, but I always found those quizzes pretty easy to game because they were so focused on big external consequences: jail, divorce, job loss. My drinking never led to those things–just, you know, a blunted heart and shrinking life, which in certain circles just look like adulthood. My own Cosmo Quiz for Progressive, Life-Ruining Addiction would have looked something more like this:
- Do you drink every day? Y/N
- Do you frequently have more than 1 drink in a day? Y/N
- “One drink” is a) 5 liquid ounces; b) 5 liquid ounces plus unlimited top-ups made when no one else is looking; c) it depends on how victimized I feel that day; d) I drink to escape bourgeois concepts like ‘ounces’ and ‘measurement.’ God.
- Has your drinking led to anyone seeing you naked who maybe kind of shouldn’t have?
- When I say ‘the five a.m. fear’ do you know what I mean?
- Did you have the five a.m. fear today? Will you have it tomorrow?
- Are you overly proud of times you don’t drink? Before five, at business dinners, when you have the flu? Do you feel pretty special about having this one limit?
- How tired are you? Not in numbers. In words.
- Do you lie to your doctor about how much you drink? Your trainer? Your hairdresser?
- Select one: The sexual choices I make while drinking are more/less dubious than the already arguably dubious sexual choices I make while sober.
- Has anyone ever suggested you cut down on drinking? a) Yes; b) Yes but only assholes; c) No, because I’m lying to everyone; d) Why? What have you heard? Who is talking about me?
- T/F: I seek out cinemas with bar service to relieve the terrible stress of watching a movie in a comfortable seat in an air-conditioned room.
- T/F: I feel angry when people leave wine in their glasses.
- How scared are you? Not in words. In numbers.
- T/F: Drinking as much as I want whenever I want is the primary way I express my feminism.
- T/F: I tried to quit drinking once and failed.
- Did you fall down the first time you ever tried to walk? Y/N If yes, are you still lying on the floor in your little overalls and saddle shoes, or did you eventually haul your ass up and try again?
- Fill in the blank: One year from today _____________.
- Fill in the blank: Five years from today ____________.
- Cat got your tongue? It’s okay. This quiz is not timed. Those blanks aren’t going anywhere.
“Physical pain?” my shrink says.
“None,” I answer.
It’s a standard inventory that she goes through every week, with all her patients, not just me. (Well, I don’t think it’s just me. Oh my god. Do you think it’s just me?) A list of life elements to which I answer lots, some, a little, or none. Depression, anxiety, physical pain, fatigue.
Anger, grief, competence, pleasure? A little, a little, some, some. Would I know I was grieving if someone didn’t ask me? I’m not sure. Try it: set an alarm once a week and ask yourself what you’re mourning.
“None.” Never. I grew up in a suicide threat-rich environment. It inoculated me against any personal interest.
“That’s good,” she says, writing something down.
“I mean, futility, yes,” I say. She looks up from her legal pad. “But in like, a Sisyphus sense. I wouldn’t call it hopeless per se.” My shrink tilts her head to one side. “Hopelessness is a very specific word,” I explain.
“Well,” she says. “Maybe we should come back to this.”
A few days later I drive to a park outside Seattle to watch people run a 200-mile trail race. Well, to be fair, only the crazy people are doing 200; the normal folks are only running 100 or 150. On a 10-mile loop course. The first time I ran a half-marathon, at the end of Mile 1 I thought See? That was easy! And you only have to do it 12 more times–a thought I immediately wished I had suppressed. I wonder now if any of the runners finished that first loop, said Only 19 more! to themselves, and then, I don’t know, tore all their clothes off and started spinning in circles crying and screaming.
I’m here to steal details for an ultra-marathon that takes place in my novel. Also, my husband is pacing a friend for one loop, though I may not even see them while I’m here. And then of course there’s my middle-distance runner’s curiosity for just how far this so-called hobby can be pushed, not to mention…
Oh, fuck it. All of the above is true, but really? I’m here to see what futility looks like. I’m a futility tourist.
Big races can feel like county fairs, with massage tents and shoe showcases and kids’ 1K runs and all the free sports drink and glucose gel you can stand. This is not that. This is a few rented tents, a whiteboard for tracking time (no shoe-tag sensors here), and a half-dozen people grilling hot dogs and tofu pups. The only way I know the organizers even have a permit is because I hear one guy ask “Should we get out the beer?” and another guy say “Well, I told King County we wouldn’t have any beer.”They agree to wait for cover of darkness.
It’s gray, chilly, and drizzling–ideal running weather, actually, but not so great for spectating. My Raynaud’s finger turned shock-white in minutes. It’s been doing that for 20 years with no pain or progression, but I still take a moment to worry every time it happens. With that task checked off, I plant myself midway between trail and tents and settle in to wait for some human suffering.
The first sufferer to emerge from the forest trail is a 40-something, robustly healthy-looking black woman. Huh, I think, having expected a tall, wiry, bearded white man like the ones in the tent. “Hey girl!” the woman calls out to the tent guys as she approaches. “Hey girl!” the tent guys call back. She eats a couple of hot dogs, chats for a bit about the Subaru one of the tent guys just bought, then heads back out–smiling–while we all clap. I think she must just be getting started. But no: “Just three to go!” the keeper of the whiteboard says. That means that even if she’s only (‘only’) doing the 100-mile distance, she’s already run 70. I don’t know about you, but I would have stopped grinning and “Hey girling!” by mile 65, 66 at most.
A few minutes later another woman comes trotting out of the woods. Here is my second chance to see a human being struggling not to come apart in the face of nothingness. This woman is less chatty than the first. She grabs some potato chips, visits the Port-a-John, and goes right back out. “Hey, you forgot to ask my number!” she calls over her shoulder.
“Oh yeah, what’s your number?” the timekeeper asks, though he’s already marked down her time.
“867-5309,” she says, and disappears around the bend.
What is wrong with these people? I think. Do they not understand that this is a desperate situation?
“Tell me more about the futility,” my shrink says.
I pick up a throw pillow and clutch it on my lap. “Okay, let’s say I actually manage to find a publisher for my book,” I tell her. “And let’s say it earns out the advance, or close enough.”
“You publish a successful book,” she says.
I cringe. “‘Successful’ is a complicated word. Let’s say it does well enough that the publisher wants another one.” She nods in assent, or acceptance. “Then I’ll have to write another one.”
“I thought you wanted to write another one,” she says.
“I do. That’s not the point,” I say. “And then there’s work. Things are going well there. I feel valued, like genuinely valued.”
She smiles. “Certainly has been sounding that way for a while now.”
“But what happens when you do well at work?” I ask her. “They ask you to do more work. That’s the best case scenario. Doing more work. Like the best case scenario for writing a book is writing another book. Even with running, the best case scenario is you don’t get hurt and you can keep doing it.”
She leans forward a little. “But unless something has drastically changed and I don’t know, you love all these things.”
“I do,” I tell her. “But still, isn’t it kind of horrific that they just go on and on and on? And then, you know, after that I’m going to die.”
Finally! A man who fits my vision of an ultra runner ambles out of the woods. Well over six feet tall, with brown dreadlocks almost to his knees. Minimalist shoes. Tattoos on painful-looking parts of his legs–calves, the backs of his thighs. At the aid tent, they ask what he’d like to eat and I wait for him to say something like I am nourished by the spirits in the trees and pull a chewed-up root out of his shorts.
“How about something to make me run faster, not feel pain, and be in a better mood,” the man says. “A steroid smoothie, maybe?”
“We have pizza,” someone says.
I notice then that he’s carrying retractable hiking poles and limping a bit. While he’s loading up on pizza, a woman comes in, also limping, and ducks into a tent to sleep for an hour. Shortly after she zips herself in, another man appears. Unlike every other racer I’ve seen so far, he’s full-on running, not shuffling or walking. Also unlike the others, he doesn’t stop to eat or pee.
“RUNNING SUCKS BALLS!!!” he yells as he flies past us. The dreadlocked man watches him go and says, “Hard to argue with that.”
Over the next hour I start to see things I didn’t before. That almost every runner is walking kind of funny, for instance. That their approaches and departures are slow even by my standards. That though their aid tent breaks are downright leisurely compared to the water stops at a normal-person race, no one sits down. (I ask about this and am told it’s for fear of never getting back up.) That the trekking poles many runners are carrying are for walking the steep uphills, because if you’re going to travel 200 miles you’d better have some plan for pulling your heart out of the red zone.
They are adapting to conditions, in other words, instead of just barreling through. And maybe it’s because anyone who would run this far is preternaturally in tune with his body and mind. But I suspect it’s more that they each learned the hard way at some point that barreling through an 80-hour race just doesn’t work. So if you want to win–never mind that, if you just want to finish–you do what works.
I think about my first year sober, how clear it became about six months in that the new conditions of my life required that its major components not, as the man said, suck balls. I realized I would need a better job, more practice saying no, more sleep. More time outside. More time in general, for walking the uphills.
And did it feel futile, the prospect of stacking up sober day after sober day until the occasion of my glamorous funeral? Uh, yeah. It absolutely felt futile. For a little while. Until I felt steady enough to start noticing all of my surroundings, not just the path in front of me, and realized that time has astonishing density.
My shrink can’t really argue with the fact that I’m going to die, though she looks like she might like to. “Well, we all are,” she says.
I shrug. I have decided to prioritize worrying about my own death over the deaths of Everyone Else (the exceptions being close family members, my dogs, and, for reasons I cannot explain, Michael Stipe).
“Do you think you’re going to die young?”
“Not really, but I guess it depends on what ‘young’ means,” I say. It’s just not my day for coping with commonly understood English words.
She stares ahead at her bookshelf for a moment. I think she might be looking for a dictionary to hurl at me, but when she speaks again, she speaks softly.
“You’re perilously close to finally having the life you’ve always wanted,” she says. “It’s not surprising to me that you would panic.”
I loosen my death grip on the throw pillow. “I know,” I tell her. “I know.”
It’s really raining now, and I’m hungry, and at home the dogs are getting hungry too. I decide I’ll leave, though a big part of me wants to stay and watch the whole calm, plodding spectacle play out in real time, like that Warhol film where a man sleeps for eight hours. As I’m heading to the car I spot my husband John sucking down some Gu at the aid tent–he must have finished his pacer loop while I wasn’t looking. He seems pretty chipper for someone who just ran ten miles. “It was great,” he says. “I could have done another one. I mean literally another one.” His friend is already back on the trail alone, with 30 miles to go.
John walks me to my car and sees the bag I keep there with a set of running clothes and my second-best pair of shoes, for times I want to go out for a few miles and haven’t planned ahead. “Never too late to join,” he jokes. And for a moment, my body wants to do exactly that. I can already feel the tightness of my ponytail, the damp air on my mostly bare legs, the subtle pooling of blood in my fingertips–even the ache in my upper back that sets in when I go long and my rhomboids decide to do some of the work. How good it would feel, I think, to be out there, with those people, in the weather and the tedium and the pain, trying and doing on the hamster wheel where I belong.
My heart: I’ve been working hard to keep it on lockdown. To use it tactically, like Aleppo pepper or some other wonderful spice that will take over a dish if you let it. And only on the page. Because I’m on the march, with no time for surprise feelings. I have goals. I have things to prove to people who were mean to me in 1978 and 1990 and also this April. I have losses we can’t talk about. I have chips on my shoulder like you wouldn’t believe. I’m sculptural with them.
Last week I told a friend: “I think the key is to learn how to never want anything.” I was proud of myself for figuring this out! Because there are things I want very badly right now that are largely out of my control. What am I supposed to do, tolerate that? No. I’m supposed to not want them in the first place. I explained this to my friend and waited to be told how wise I was. Instead he said “Sure, but is that realistic?” Realism: the crutch of the unimaginative and of binary male thinking. I may have said something to this effect.
But anyway, my point is that other than being chronically misunderstood by people who are supposed to know me, everything about being on lockdown was fine until the Violent Femmes fucked it up last Saturday night.
(If you are a Very Young Reader of this blog, first: don’t drink or take drugs. Second: in yesteryear, when I was in high school and video games were mostly played at Pizza Hut, the Violent Femmes were the most shocking band imaginable. Not because of how they looked or acted on stage–they were just three young guys from Wisconsin playing acoustic instruments. The actual songs were shocking–baleful and clammy and tense and driven by the kind of teenage sexual need that’s 90% desperation, 5% payoff, and 5% instant regret. Something was wrong in those songs that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. To hear them for the first time was a bit like witnessing a crime. Young Readers, you could go check them out for yourselves on iTunes, but for the full experience I recommend you find a babysitter or lab partner to hand down a well-worn Memorex cassette.)
Anyway, the Femmes were in town and a girlfriend suggested we go and I thought Well sure, why not? And that is how we two nice women found ourselves in a sold-out room of drunk, roiling, sweaty pandemonium.
Maybe you are wondering what it’s like to be sober in a situation like that. (I used to wonder and I didn’t have anyone to ask.) I will tell you: it’s like being a minor Greek god. You don’t lose your credit card. You don’t have to stand in line eight times to pee. You don’t have to stand in line at the bar for a gross well drink in a plastic cup. You know exactly how you’re getting home. If the moshers in front of you start getting overly amped, you have the core strength to stand your ground–and if they start doing blow off each other’s backs and getting super double overly amped, you can decide calmly whether to hang out where you are or move back. (I hung out.)
So, being a minor Greek god is pretty sweet. But yeah: you feel a little apart, too, perched in the foothills of Olympus. I stood there steady and clear-eyed in my moto boots and bifocals, surveying my territory, making decisions. I decided the songs were still creepy as fuck. I decided the genial, middle-aged Gordon Gano seemed like a cool high school science teacher, the kind who would trade Spotify playlists with you but still expect you to work hard. I decided to dry-shampoo my sweaty hair before I went to bed that night. I decided I would never have voted for my state to legalize marijuana if I’d known people would start lighting up in non-smoking clubs.
It was all very pleasant. And then, a drag of saxophone and the band plowed into my very favorite Femmes song, an album track from their underwhelming tried-to-be-pop third record, e.g. something I’d had no expectation of hearing that night.
“I’m gnawing on the knowledge that I have been burned,” Gano sang. “I’m learning things that I should have already learned.”
Me too and Me too, I thought.
It’s a buzzy, bouncing, forward-rushing song. A barn-dance song. (I’ve never actually been to a barn dance. Shocked, aren’t you?) The moshers had locked arms and were do-si-doing wildly. I felt a little carbonation in my chest.
“I don’t even remember if we were lovers, or if I just wanted to,” he sang.
Heh. I have those don’t-remembers too, I thought. (Not about you–you I’m sure I would remember.) I had a sudden vision of my heart–the actual only, only prettier and more Valentine pink than it probably really is. It was wiggling. Shimmying, if you must know. With memory and the flat circle-ness of time, or with giddiness. Or maybe just with relief at the room to move.
A craggy mosher in a knit cap and flannel grinned broadly at me. I figured he was smiling at someone else until I realized I was grinning too. I’d smiled first, in fact, though not at anyone in the room.
I have not been in the habit of smiling first on this forward march of mine. I didn’t think I could spare the energy, with so much else to do. I thought I needed to lock it down.
“Beautiful!” he shouted over the noise.
“Beautiful,” I shouted back, with tears in my eyes.