Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Spiral Road to Recovery

Six months ago, I broke my ankle while playing roller derby. Since then, I've retired from roller derby (with some amorphous hopes of returning as a ref after I finish my PhD) and started the challenging task of regaining my athleticism after the ankle break. I had the help of some great physical therapy, and my day-to-day actions are pretty much back to normal.

What I wasn't prepared for, though, was the mental work of recovery. I was dutiful in doing the stretches and walking through the pain. I focused so much on the physical challenge of regaining flexibility and rebuilding muscle that I didn't stop to fully recognize what a toll this break had taken on my psyche, especially as someone who had only recently felt comfortable calling herself an athlete.

Lately, I've been thinking about the many ways we could look at the word "recover." I hope that somewhere along that lexical journey, I'll find a way to make it all the way around this recursive loop of loss and gain.

(Re) cover- to hide, conceal, or protect (again)

 There is a literal concealment--under baggy clothes, long sweaters, stretchy pants. The muscles that I spent months building before the immobility took no time at all to vanish, and my weight has crept up. Does caring go against my mantra that fitness is more important than appearance? Or am I just frustrated that my current appearance acts as a constant reminder (to myself, if no one else) that the fitness is gone, dormant, slipped away?

(Re) cover- to go over, to study, to learn (again)

I walk into the gym and cross from one room onto the "other" side, the one where the women never seem to go, the one where the heavy weights live. Just a few months ago, I felt at ease here, but now the nervous glances in the mirror are back. Are they watching me? There's only 70 pounds on this bar. Are they judging? I feel the urge to scream "I broke my ankle. I'm working on it!" but no one is really watching me. No one cares. They've got their own confidences and insecurities to battle. They don't need to carry mine, too.

The confidence I had worked so hard to gain, though, is gone, and now I have to fake it until I make it . . . again. I step under the bar and try to look like I believe I belong. Maybe one day I will.

Recover- to get back or regain something lost or taken away

I registered for the half marathon before the ankle broke, and I was too stubborn to just let it go. The entire summer of training was wiped clean, and I was still limping a little when I walked for too long the day I nervously toed to the start line. "Just jog until you can't," I told myself, "then you can walk. It'll be fine. You can walk 10 miles." I jogged the first mile, alternated between walking and jogging the next four, and then I just walked.

As I walked, I watched people twice my age run past me with ease. Later, people would actually
walk past me. For a while, I tried to jog whenever the camera crew was visible, but then I gave up even that pretense. For the final two miles, every single step was a battle. "That was it," I'd say in my mind, "That was the last step I can possibly take." But then I'd take another. And another. And another.

When I got back to my car, I had to turn around backwards and throw myself in. My legs hurt too bad to lift.

Recover- to regain the strength, composure, or balance of oneself

In physical therapy, I stood on one foot on top of a pillow and threw a ball at a trampoline. Over and over and over and over again. Switch feet. Bounce. Catch. Bounce. Catch. Stumble. Rebalance. Bounce. Catch. Bounce. Catch. 

But the real balance that needed to be restored was the one between body and mind. On the way to the emergency room, I told myself "well, I needed some time to work on my dissertation. Now I'll have to slow down and really focus on it." But I didn't. I wrote nothing. Not a single word until I had a boot on my foot and could at least stagger around, but even then the writing was tortuous, slow, and stilted--just like me.

It wasn't until I was cleared to jog again, to go on long walks, to take in the sunshine and the wind that the words started to flow. I wrote forty pages in a week. I read two books in four days. When my body couldn't move, my mind couldn't either. It was the hardest realization.  
Recover- to regain a former and better state or condition

I will never be the person I was before my ankle broke, but I will also never be the person I was when I was ten years old or, for that matter, the person I was at 10 o'clock this morning. We can't recover our past selves because we've seen more than them; we've done more than them; we are new versions.

This will not be the last time I have to recover in my life. There will be other injuries, other setbacks, other failures. I will lose abilities and gain new ones. When I can stop comparing the person I am today against the one I thought I was yesterday, perhaps I will have truly recovered. Until then, I will continue to cycle through these various meanings of the word, hoping to come out on the other side in some way renewed.

Photo: Infomastern,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Unpopular Opinion: Do You REALLY Care About Thanksgiving Employees?

I've been seeing a lot of posts popping up in my social media feeds that are dividing companies into two realms: the money-hungry corporate thugs that would dare to make their poor employees work on Thanksgiving Day and the kind, loving companies who recognize the value of family and have given their employees the day off.

Today I saw Think Progress (a site I follow because they cover stories that align with my own politics very often) post "The Progressive Guide to Holiday Shopping." Other posts with similar themes abound, including calls to boycott Thanksgiving shopping or to boycott stores that open on Thanksgiving for the entire holiday season.

I'm going to try to approach this delicately because I think that my point can be easily misunderstood. First of all, I support everyone's right to boycott any place they don't like for pretty much any reason. You should spend your dollars in ways that align with your values. Boycotting is an important way to influence decisions higher up on the corporate food chain, and I don't want to diminish the power of that action. 

Secondly, I've been on many sides of the working-on-Thanksgiving perspective. For one, I worked at Wal-Mart throughout my undergraduate years. I worked Black Friday sales (because this was before Black Friday sales actually began on Thanksgiving evening), but I also worked on Thanksgiving Day because Wal-Mart has always been open on Thanksgiving. Yes, it's true that they didn't always promote the extreme sales on Thanksgiving Day, but we were a 24-hour store that only closed for Christmas Day (and I worked Christmas Eve, too). 

That was only a few years out of my life, though, and since then I have sat in a position of privilege that gives me pretty much every holiday off because I work in academia. Of course, I've spent many a holiday (as I will likely spend this year's) working at my own pace on academic projects, but that's not the same as being forced to stand in a retail store while customers punch each other over the last Elsa doll, and I won't pretend that it is. 

What has had a greater impact on my holiday traditions is the fact that my mom also works at Wal-Mart and has done so for over a decade. She works a lot of holidays and a lot of odd hours. We've always had to plan our family get togethers around her schedule, and it's not always fun, but you do what you've got to do. 

I tell you all of that to help shed some light on the fact that I'm not coming at this issue from a point removed. In fact, my family and I have been very much directly impacted by these decisions. I understand why people want stores to close for the holidays, and it is a position that I have very much felt myself. 

However, I have my suspicions that these boycotts and angry posts and litmus tests for "progressive" shoppers have less to do with the actual employees and more to do with the corporate encroachment on traditional values. 

For one, we are singling out a very specific type of employee experience at which to point our outrage. I know several people for whom it is tradition to go out to a movie on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've got news for you: movie theaters aren't staffed by robots. That popcorn? Those tickets? The vacuum cleaners? They're all managed by human beings who have to work on their holiday to feed the consumer drive for holiday entertainment. 

I actually got into an argument about this around this time last year. The arguer said that was "different" because going to a movie was a family-centered event and shopping wasn't. 

I'll concede that going to a movie together may be a more family-centered event for the family going to the movie, but this outrage is allegedly about the employees, not the customers (who have a choice in the matter that the employees do not). 

If you go to the movies on the holidays or stop by a restaurant or even run to the grocery store when you realize you forgot a crucial ingredient to your famous Thanksgiving pie, you are part of the consumer culture that keeps retail employees on the clock during the holidays. If you do those things but get up in arms about those "poor employees" having to work during Black Friday sales, you're being dishonest (with yourself if nothing else). 

I suspect the actual issue is that those Black Friday sales are alluring. We live in a culture where the actions of others are more influential than ever since we see them all the time in our social media feeds. In fact, it's gotten so bad that we've coined a new disorder for it: FOMO--the Fear of Missing Out

A lot of people (and I am not one of them, as I'd rather walk across broken glass barefoot than go to a store on Black Friday) sincerely enjoy Black Friday shopping. They get a thrill from the deals and for many it is a social event that has its own family and friend traditions built around it.

When stores started creeping back their Black Friday sales times until they got earlier and earlier, though, people's habits were disrupted. When you have to line up at 3pm Thursday to get a Black "Friday" sale, you have to make a tough choice. If you don't want to feel the FOMO, you're going to have to give up your holiday. 

And if some of your family members make that choice while others do not, it can seriously disrupt the dinner table seating arrangement and make the charades teams uneven. Those stores really are disrupting the holiday by insisting that Black Friday start during Thanksgiving, but in order to get to the heart of it, we have to admit as a culture that we're making a conscious choice to continue shopping and let them disrupt it. 

So I think that most of our outrage is a scapegoat. We're* pretending to be outraged on behalf of the poor overworked employees (who deserve outrage for a myriad of reasons including erratic scheduling, poor benefits, and a host of questionable year-round business practices) when what we're really outraged about is our own consumerist behavior. We looked in the mirror and didn't like what we saw, so we pointed to the employees we normally ignore under the guise of family values and concern for their well being. 

The bottom line is this: as long as people shop on Thanksgiving, there will be stores that will be open. The families impacted by that decision will build their holiday traditions around that reality. Yes, that is built out of greed and more than a little sad, but reducing those workers to a prop that's wielded while their plight is co-opted isn't really sincere--especially if it means we can pat ourselves on the back and ignore that same plight in, say, January through October. 

*-I realize this "we're" sounds all-inclusive and that there are many people who fight for workers' rights year round. You're excluded. But you have to admit that the movement has surged for the holidays in a way that it doesn't any other time. I don't think everyone's concern is genuine. 

Photo: Michael Holden

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links for the Week)

I've seriously neglected the weekly round-up post, but I've missed doing it because it gave me a good recap of what I'd been reading and I'd often go back through old link round-ups to find something I remembered reading but couldn't remember where. I could go on and on about why I've been so remiss (dissertation, kid, work, dissertation, being sad about losing all my running ability while my ankle was healing, did I mention a dissertation?), but I'd rather just get back to it. So here they are: the links I read that made me smile (the Good), cry (the Bad), and think (the Curious).

Please feel free to add anything you've been reading or writing in the comments.

The Good

Caitlin over at Fit and Feminist explains that she doesn't care if you think she looks pretty while she runs, so you really don't need to catcall her to let her know. Keep it to yourself:
Because here’s the shocking thing – and I know this will blow your hair back, so hold on to your butts – but not all of us care about looking pretty all the time. (A lot of us don’t even care at all!) Sometimes we just want to go out in public and do our thing and not have to be reminded that there is still a segment of society that looks at us primarily as decorative objects meant to pretty up the place.
This review of Amy Poehler's new book reminded me that I'm going to have to cheat on my dissertation writing day sometime soon and sneak in a tiny bit of pleasure reading.

The gay marriage ban in my state (Missouri) was knocked down today!

This woman ran a 10k in under 40 minutes. . . while pushing a stroller!

I know Halloween is over, but this lovely story about the teens who are too old to trick of treat is worth a read.

This cover song exists (and I'm really upset that I didn't know that until today):

The Bad

I thoroughly enjoyed the reviews on this sexy PhD costume, but the fact that it exists puts it squarely in "bad" territory.

These cops were caught on a dash cam joking about rape.

Colorlines explains that there was some selective race-based editing in that viral catcalling video.

The Curious 

Did you know a lot of those old fairy tales are based on real-life events? One of them includes a father who, upon learning that his daughter had converted to Christianity, "decapitated her but was killed by a lightning strike soon after." Happily ever after indeed!

My iPod broke, and I really, really miss having all my music mobile and in playlists, so I finally checked out Spotify (I know I'm late to the party). That then prompted me to wonder about the ethics of it, and I read a series of articles that didn't help clear it up at all. Here's one from NPR that basically concludes that you should ask the band how they feel about it themselves. This one from The Verge has some interesting discussion, including the stat that the average American only spends $17 a year  on music (at least I'm above average at something). 

This NPR article discusses the faith required to further scientific study, and I find it fascinating:
If supersymmetric particles are found then, great: We will enter a new epoch of high-energy physics. But what if they aren't? My prediction is that there will be a split in the community. While some will abandon the theory for lack of experimental support, others will hold on to it, readjusting the parameters so that supersymmetry becomes viable at energies well beyond our reach. The theory will then be untestable for the foreseeable future, maybe indefinitely. Belief in supersymmetry will then be an article of faith.
There's a Rutgers class based entirely on Beyonce. 

This article about professional marathoners and how they handle their pregnancies shines light on a work/life balance discussion we don't usually think about. 

I haven't known what to think about the Lena Dunham controversy (having not read the book myself and seeing extremely different reactions from people I really respect), but I think this post from Love, Joy, Feminism brings up really good points about boundaries, consent, and labeling that are getting glossed over in the discussions I've seen:
Yes, children experiment sexually, and yes, children are curious about each other’s stuff. But that doesn’t mean that childhood sexual exploration is always and of necessity harmless and okay. We need to be able to draw lines between childhood sexual exploration that is harmless and okay, and childhood sexual exploration that is exploitative and coercive. Part of the problem may be the way we draw lines. You either are a sexual predator, or you are not. That is too all-or-nothing to describe reality; it forces us to label people as all good or all bad, and people are rarely so simple. Most would be loath to put the little boy who pressured me into showing him my bottom in the sexual predator box, but what he did was nevertheless not okay. It was exploitative and coercive, and it left me feeling dirty and used.