Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Final Score



I used to collect basketball trading cards, despite never buying a single pack myself. I won them. One week of every summer from five to 12 years old, I would go to the basketball camp put on by the high school I would eventually go to and play basketball for. The girls’ coach happened to be my dad’s nephew-in-law. What probably started as a way to support family became a tradition that set me up to fall in love with the game.

Each day at camp we would play “Coach Maya Says.” It was Coach Maya’s basketball spin-off of Simon says. There were certain actions you would perform that related to a basketball term. Jump and yell “Rebound!” when Coach Maya said rebound. Slide in the direction he pointed and yell “Slide! Slide!” when Coach Maya said slide. Fall backward when he yelled, “Take a charge!” The most used command was to get into a defensive position and yell, “DEFENSE!” when Coach Maya said breakdown. If you performed the wrong action, did the action when he just stated the action rather than saying Coach Maya says or did a flinchy or a wiggly you were out. The final three contestants won the coveted pack of basketball cards he would carry around in his pocket. 

Over the years I probably collected around 150 cards. Most of them have made their way to the trash or are packed away into boxes in the room I grew up in. With my parents getting ready to move, my winter break was spent packing up my childhood bedroom which has been emptied and turned into the new storage space. Out of all the basketball cards I collected I never once got a female player. In fact, the first sports trading card I got with a female athlete on it was this Christmas. I was shocked when I opened a Tobin Heath soccer trading card and all I could say to my mom was “I didn’t even know they made these.”

Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna

Two weeks after the death of Kobe I am still processing. The initial shock, the wave of grief, and the fists shook at heaven are all gone. But now I am left with the questions. I wasn’t close to Kobe. I never got to meet him, his daughter Gianna, or any of the seven other victims whose lives were tragically taken by the helicopter crash. To be honest, I wasn’t even a big fan of Kobe until his career was nearly over. And I will never be caught saying that I am a Lakers fan. 

I did, however, hold the utmost respect for the way he approached his career; his work ethic was second to none. In high school, I used to rewatch a video of his at least once a week for motivation. My favorite was footage of him training while he talked about how the beauty of any craft was mastering the fundamentals, before going into a monologue of how in the off-season he would start his first training session at 4 am.

Kobe's devotion to the game made the comments from others slowly disappear. I didn't feel ashamed of spending hours breaking down footage of top players shooting in slow motion or practicing the same move over and over until I could do it perfectly nine out of ten times. I didn't feel as strange for preferring to watch the Phoenix Suns as often as their games were shown on cable.

He also supported women’s basketball more than any other current or former NBA player during the last few years. Kobe and Gianna would frequent WNBA games, women’s college games, and he coached Gianna’s AAU basketball team. When he was on Jimmy Kimmel, he told the story of how he responds when people tell him that he needs to have a son to carry on his basketball legacy. He proudly states that Gianna is the one to do so and the father of four girls wouldn’t have it any other way.

Questions about what could have been for Gianna have started to fade from my mind. I have no doubt she would have had a successful career at UCONN, the most successful college basketball program, winning a national championship (or multiple), before going on to be the number one draft pick in the WNBA. Her talent and love for the game of basketball were undeniable. And I know Kobe would have been there for the whole journey. Instead, those questions have been turned inward. I think of Kobe’s oscar-winning animated short film: Dear Basketball. Basketball was so good to him. Basketball what were you for me?

Despite my face in this photo, I was ecstatic to get a Steve Nash Jersey for my 10th birthday.
When my fifth-grade teacher found out that the Phoenix Suns point guard was my favorite basketball player, the one who I would try to emulate on the school playground, she confided in me that he was her favorite player too. One day after school she gave me a box full of cutouts from basketball magazines of action shots of Steve Nash. I arranged them on the wall across from my bed, forming a shrine of my basketball inspiration. I remember my mom coming in, excited to see what this player I raved about looked like; she was expecting a dreamboat. Why else would her ten-year-old daughter insist on watching every game? 

That’s him? That’s the player you like? Meija he’s not even cute.

That was likely the moment my mom realized, I actually really did like basketball.

Ticket from a recent U of A women's basketball game I dragged my friends to
My dad and I used to go to nearly all the home games for the New Mexico State Women’s Basketball team. Since the team didn’t attract a large following, seats normally reserved for season ticket holders were free for the taking. We would sit a row behind the bench to listen to the feedback coaches would give players and try to eavesdrop on the huddle during time outs. My dad would chime in on what players were doing well, what I should try to emulate. I think a part of him hoped I would be on that team one day; He would have been proud.  

In Tucson, I can’t even get close to sitting near the bench. Most games I sit near the top so I can see over the sea of people in front of me. The energy in McKale is second to none, especially when playing the top ten ranked teams like UCLA. There’s something about 7,000 people cheering on a group of badass women that gets me so fired up. This season our girls are ranked higher than our men’s team, for the first time ever, but it’s a surprise to most students I talk to that the team is even doing well.

My dad coaching a 3v3 tournament. Our team name was the "Bad Girlz" and we made our jerseys ourselves.
Basketball is my dad’s favorite sport. He was my coach up until I got to middle school and even when he wasn’t my coach he was my coach in the stands and on the drive home from practice and games. There are very few things my dad enjoyed more than coaching.

Basketball was the main way my dad and I bonded. I was the only one out of his three kids who actually liked and played the sport for more than a year. To this day, it’s one of the only topics we can carry on a conversation about. I have so many memories of practicing together and playing one on one in our driveway with the hoop we assembled together. We used to pretend to be NBA players and try out moves we would see in games we watched together in the living room. I remember the proud look on his face the first time I beat him in a game of twenty-one where he was trying his hardest to stop me from winning. All the times we listened to country music or 70s rock in the white Chevy pickup truck on the way to games and tournaments. He would let me help pick out the uniforms for each season, and our team name, the sharks (my favorite animal as a kid), was my idea. For three on three tournaments, dad would sit at the kitchen table with me and my teammates, and help us make our own jerseys.

But because it was the place we spent the most time together in, it was also the space that our other issues were brought into and half dealt with. There were a lot of times I cried during or after our conversations on the way home. By the time I got to high school, I was burnt out with basketball; I had played fall, spring, and summer seasons since I was eight years old. When I told my dad I didn’t want to play anymore, he told me I was just lazy and needed to grow up. So I showed up every day for three more years, growing hatred towards the game and what it had turned my relationship with my dad into. It brought me to a breaking point. None of my friends were still on the team. The coaches were brutal and constantly used contempt in their conversations with us. My relationship with my dad was being held together by the frailest thread of common interest. In November of my senior year, I couldn’t take it anymore. I quit the day after the final cuts were made. My dad barely talked to me in the following weeks because he was so disappointed in me.

Legendary UNC Men's Basketball Coach Dean Smith who won 2 National Championships and coaches Michael Jordan.
The University of North Carolina is one of the most famous schools for men's basketball. With six national championships under their belt, and Michael Jordan as their most famous alumnus, it's easy to see why. I mean, when an annoying Duke fan tries to give any reason why they are better, all you have to say is "Michael Jordan" and you win. My dad is a UNC fan purely because of Michael.

I'm a UNC fan because of coach Dean Smith, who I never actually watched coach. What drew me in support of the Tarheels was actually coach Smith's comments on the women's soccer program. The Tarheel's soccer team has won 21 of the 38 NCAA national championships and has produced more beloved USA National Team players than any other program.

In 1997 Dean Smith did an interview with Football News Daily. Coach Smith said, "This is a women's soccer school. We're just trying to keep up with them." That comment meant everything to ten-year-old Yasmene, always the only girl trying to play basketball during recess with the boys.

One of my all-time favorite books: Brittney Griner's memoir In My Skin.
I didn’t know non-fiction could be more than textbooks before I read In My Skin by WNBA player Brittney Griner. I ordered the book during my freshman year of high school, hoping that her words would provide some insight for how I could swiftly make my way onto the varsity basketball team. What I found instead was a story I could relate to. I saw the story of a young girl with a turbulent relationship with her father, whose safe haven from him and her bullies was sports, and a secret about her identity that needed to be vocalized. It was the story I needed to hear to know that I wasn’t alone.

Finding a part of my story in Brittney’s story led me to read other memoirs written by athletes. In fact, I wouldn’t be writing this essay or any sort of creative essay, if it wasn’t for reading athlete memoirs. During my freshman year of college, I decided I wanted to take a creative writing class and intro to creative non-fiction was the only one that fit into my schedule. I didn’t know much about creative non-fiction at the time, but I knew I loved reading people’s stories, especially athletes like Brittney or soccer star Abby Wambach. So I gave it a shot and ended up falling in love with the craft.

The legendary coach of UCLA John Wooden. He won 10 national championships with a record of 7 straight

Coach Geno Auriemma cutting the net after winning another NCAA Championship
My favorite coach is Geno Auriemma. When I say this, mostly to white men, their response is usually along the lines that I must not really be a college basketball fan. John Wooden, not a women’s coach is the goat.

The Italian immigrant who didn’t even play college basketball knows how to win; He has over 1,000 career wins (and under 200 losses) and 11 national championships. My favorite thing about Geno is that he is the kind of coach who doesn’t put up with B.S. He runs the tightest ship in the NCAA without a doubt. One year during the NCAA tournament he benched his best player, Breanna Stewart. During the press conferences, reporters kept asking why he would do such a thing, reasoning that it must have been to motivate her or give her time to rest for the next game. He responded by talking about the premium he and his coaching staff put on body language; if your body language is bad you don’t get in the game, no matter how good you are. “Stewie was acting like a twelve-year-old. So I put her on the bench and said sit there. It doesn’t matter on our team… I’d rather lose.


About a month ago I came across an article WNBA player Breanna Stewart wrote for the Players Tribune during the height of the me-too movement. I was baffled that this was the first time I had come across it despite Stewie being one of my favorite players. But I think we see things when we’re ready to see them, and had I read this story two years ago I would not have been ready.

I reread that article three times that night, alone in the dark while the rest of my house was quietly (minus the snores from the dog in the adjacent room) sleeping. I saw myself in Stewie’s story; for the first time, it felt like my story was being told to me. Young. A known abuser. Freezing in fear. Basketball serving a safe space, a time to feel in control of one’s own body. I wasn’t alone in this being a part of my story.

An article by the New York Times following the death of Kobe Bryant 
I wasn’t old enough to know about the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case when it was initially going on. Amid his death, some people angrily talk about the way justice wasn’t served. They are hurt, rightly so, and want this case to color how we remember Kobe. I agree and I also disagree.

As I woman, I have a hard time believing that another woman would lie about something like this; It’s so painful to talk about, I just can’t see someone putting themselves through that pain and scrutiny for no reason.

Kobe was in the wrong for assaulting this woman. His response doesn’t account for the wrong done, but I do appreciate his response of acknowledging the pain of his victim, not dismissing her. Did he get our of a case because he was rich and famous? Maybe. Should there have been more serious consequences? Probably. But I’m hesitant to let this be the first thing I think of when I remember Kobe ten years from now. I’m also hesitant to erase this from how we remember him; it’s not fair to the young woman who was damaged by this encounter. I hope I can remember him as a human who played basketball, not as a basketball player with an elevated, can do no wrong position, and not just as someone who committed sexual assault with no real consequences.

The game of basketball is black and white. You don’t get half points for hitting the rim or for good form. You either make the shot or you don’t. You either win or you lose. The record books say Michael scored 63 points on April 20, 1986, and that the Bulls lost to the Celtics 131 to 135 in overtime. They do not record that he played with the flu.

What you were for me though is not black and white. You were my first love. I didn't need anyone to convince me to invest or practice. Backyard games of horse and 21 were the most fun. You taught me how to work hard and to keep going when I thought I had nothing left in the tank. I also hated you. I hated the way my dad’s failed expectations of me and our relationship was projected onto the game. I hated the way my teammate’s cutthroat nature was empty of friendship; the way I was outcasted while injured. I hated the way the coach’s condescending yell was just another space to be told I was not good enough.

Maybe this is what I’m trying to do with this cabinet. Collect the stats, add up the black and the white, and figure out what the final score is. I’m searching for the blend of the good and the bad, the perfectly nuanced shade of grey to give me the answers to the questions that can’t be solved by checking the books.



Tuesday, December 17, 2019

K.I.T.

Keep In Touch
by Natalie Lima


Lately, I’ve been thinking about relationships. About how fleeting they so often are. Sure, there are the short-lived affairs with the mediocre men I regularly fall for (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this!), but there are also the more meaningful encounters. Friends from college. Work colleagues. Friends from your first recovery group. Relationships that, when we are young, seem as though they’ll last forever. You assume, like student loan debt, once you’re in, you’re in it for the long haul. 

I have a massive pile of postcards, and birthday cards, and thank you cards that I keep stuffed in a box in my closet. I’m not an organized person, or an especially sentimental one. I’m not really sure why I keep these cards around, why I’ve dragged them from Chicago to New Jersey, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to Alabama, to Ft. Lauderdale, and now to Arizona. Maybe because they are handwritten, and therefore physical talismans of love? Maybe because handwriting feels like a dying artform? Maybe because I, myself, am terrible about letter writing and when I hear of someone who does this regularly, my respect for them instantly swells?  

Each time I moved over the last decade, I packed sparingly. Nothing beyond what fits into my car. But I always take the cards. And just recently, because I’m working on a memoir,  I decided to dig. To shove my hand deep into the abyss, hoping not to discover mold or a colony of bugs, and read these notes. Many from people I don’t speak with anymore but who, at one time, I would have taken a bullet for (or, at the very least, a broken arm or something).

I don’t know what to call the feelings this brings up, the sort of melancholy that comes with aging and knowing that many relationships do only come to fruition for a specific reason and, often, last only a season. How when we scribble Keep in touch on a tacky postcard from Vegas, we know that we may never hear back. 

A birthday card from my friend Vicky. In it, she wishes me a happy birthday. Although there is no date on it, I know it’s from 2014 because she closes it with, Let’s run soon! I miss you.

I can’t remember the last time I ran. I think once, in 2015, before I left for grad school. I fractured my ankle in my first year of grad school and life got sedentary really quickly after that. 

I read the card and I wonder if I’ll ever get back to running again. Was I ever really a runner, or was it a dream? 





A postcard from David. I don’t remember a David. The card is from Monument Valley in Arizona. It’s wintertime, just like it is now, and he tells me we should visit the southwest after we visit Cuba. 

I never planned a trip to Cuba with a man. And I drank and dated so much in my early and mid twenties, I know this could have been anyone. If I’d come across this postcard a few years ago, I might feel embarrassed by the fact that I don’t know who this dude is. 

But now it only makes me laugh. It makes me miss the recklessness of being very young. 


There are more. One from a teacher when I was living in Alabama. He sends me a postcard every month and each month, I mentally beat myself up for not sending one back, ever. Why I never do, I'm not sure. 


And there are several from friends I no longer speak with, friends I assumed would be tethered to me for a long time. And now I rarely think of them. We lost touch. Or I had to push them away because a relationship got too toxic. Or I can’t even say, because I don’t remember.






















jhs






Thursday, December 5, 2019

FAKE BODY FACTS


FAKE BODY FACTS: 
A CONVERSATION

(LUCY KIRKMAN/MARGO STEINES)






1. PATELLA


MS: A kneecap is a tiny teacup floating on a table setting which disregards the pestering of gravity and moves, fully moored, through space and time. Bone white is the swatchiness of the patella, millions of lengths of baseboard and crown molding can thank it for their soothing, yet stain-resistant, tone. A patella can detach from its motherboard, spaceship rising shifty, slinking like clot, deep knee thrombosis, reduce to the size of a grain of pastini, weave through tendon and ligament, dodge between greater bones like small zippy engines, weary, weavy, jagging into capsular voids, stretching into the voidyness of the iliac bursa, growing fatter and wider: a floating knee

LK: Questions about the body manifest as questions about other things, things that demand answers in a more urgent way. What will I eat? What will I wear? What will I buy? How will I move? Will I move? Will I go to the gym? 




2. ILIAC CREST


MS: The Alps of the hips jut up and out, one palm-shaped handle for each of two large calloused hands, peaks driving away from the body’s hotwet core and pushing out against skinwrap, against the dermal sky, studded with twinkly capillaries, pressing into a place where matter meets sky. On Everest that interstice is called the Death Zone, where cloud and earth become confused about their roles, where air is so thin it is not really air any longer, just that which is wearing its jacket. Atop the iliac crest there are no clouds but there are chips, plinked off shell layers flaking musselly into pearl glazed shards.

LK: Some questions are the kinds of questions that leave you sweating and panting and muscles aching for days. I lift and run then stretch to try and ease the pain. I do the circuit. I end up in the same place I started. The control of numbers and weights. One hundred pounds, one hundred and five, one hundred and fifteen. GET UNDER IT! Capacity and potential feel like an illusion, because they are infinite but infinitely unachievable, and the gym is the place where there are no answers, only questions and control. 




3. HAMSTRING


MS: To string a ham is a quick process for a deft hand but a flailing mess for a first timer. Cross the ankles, as if they were skirting under an evening gown, bind them together like a lash of kindling. Run, next, your rope around itself three times at the place where it crosses over itself between the two ankles. You have made an eight, or infinity, or a mistake. Now throw your hank over a beam or a solid pipe or the branch of a very certain tree, catch it on the other side, pull down hard with the motion of stabbing a ski pole into the snowbound earth if a downward grade suddenly pulled up level like a lame horse. Pull pull pull, and when your pig that is not yet a ham points its toes high enough, half hitch the tail of your rope to the eight, or the infinity, or the mistake. If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot. Now you will feel, if you grasp the thighbacks of your not-yet-a-ham, the coiled power of the butt and the legs meeting in this long pushy cable of meat, how it is a string and yet not a string, a rope and yet not a rope. You can watch, if you are patient enough and have practiced with plenty of boily pots, the striated ribbons of becoming-ham pull out and away from themselves, become longer and stringer and crampy, and when you rise quickly from a kneel to a stand, pushing the ground away with your own thighs, I dare you to say hamstring ever again without feeling a deep pully yank, without feeling your knees and your butt connected with some of god’s own bondage. 

LK: Will I go to the gym? 




4. PALPEBRA


MS: The remarkable engineering of a convex hood, thin as a potato chip and sometimes as seethrough, that can windshield wiper the eyeball in all manner of windstorm and salt spray and highway grit extravaganza, should receive more press, more attention at the national, international, global, planetary, interstellar level. We should be talking louder and more often about this delicate bowl of squish and squeegee. There is plenty more to say, and more to learn.

LK: My body changes shape in the mirror, but so do my eyes, my head, the shape of my thoughts about my body. 




5. VERTEBRAL COLUMN



MS: A spine is a tired snake, and also an ambitious tree; a slack rope, and also a length of rebar. Depending on the day and the mood and other factors (like: latitude, longitude, willingness to swallow gummy capsules of ocean oil with hot gulps of black coffee, the ergonomics of your work, how squarely you have faced the truths of your own fearfulness) a particular spine might enter the world like a wrigglebacked caterpillar, each piece operating with cheerful independence, or like straight bendy conifer, defined by root and tip but open to discussion in between, or like a splintery and furious length of driftwood, ready to break altogether before allowing any movement. 

LK: I have a purple half-moon scar circling the left side of my belly-button, through which a surgeon directed a thin metal endoscope, equipped with a video camera and miniature surgical instruments, to cut out and remove my appendix. The idea that the appendix is a vestigial organ, and no longer useful to the body, is being slowly disproven as it shows that the appendix contains a store of gut bacteria unique to each person. When the microflora within the gut is wiped out by an infection, a virus, antibiotics, etc. the stored bacteria within the appendix repopulates the gastrointestinal system. Is the microbiome the seat of the soul? Highly unlikely said the slick looking surgeon, during his pre-surgery brief. He looks like a serial killer, American psycho. We talk some more, and I tell him my friend is doing her PhD in religious studies and she wouldn’t be happy that I’m getting my appendix taken out. He smirks: Religious studies? And as he leaves, over his shoulder: Don’t worry, I won’t take out your soul. 




6. APPENDIX


MS: Sometimes it is not possible to say all the things one wishes to say in one sitting or session or speech or tome. Often, l’esprit d’escalier strikes, and we have a note of thanks or explanation or followup to tack on. When this happens north of the pelvis and south of the gullet it is an awkward need to manage, because square footage has been doled out already, and there are not lots sitting empty or undeveloped. Take, now, a small pouch, craft it of deerskin or polymer or coconut husk. Fill it with your left-unsaids, your don’t-forgets, your also-these. Fill it so full it lives in perpetual anxiety of overfilling, churn and swirl it so it remembers it is alive. Do not give it any busywork like the others, and trust in its delicacy: if its seawalls crumble or its innards roil, thank it for its service, retire it with flag and bouquet, trust that it has performed its duties, and move along.

LK: The doctor cannot tell me if it was completely necessary to take out my appendix in the follow-up appointment. Could I have taken a course of antibiotics? Maybe. Would it have worked? Maybe. Would I still have had to get it taken out after the antibiotics? Maybe. No exercise for four weeks. No lifting, no yoga. You’re young and will heal quickly so after two weeks you can do some cardio. I do a handstand against my kitchen wall that evening, and feel a gentle pain in my abdomen as I try to fall asleep. I cannot tell if it was imagined or real, but I spend the whole night waiting to start vomiting with pain, with the contents of my gut leaking out into my abdominal cavity through burst stitches. This did not happen, but I woke up tired. 




7. INTERCOSTAL MUSCLE


MS: Slaughter a lamb once and a rib will never again be just a rib. The shallow sheet of rainbowsheen fiber that runs over and under the ribcage, laminating the pokiness of the whole bone collection into a single sleek suit of armor is strong, very strong, unlikely to tear unless presented with thin sharp (knitting needle, chopstick, flagpole, drill, boning knife) or with simultaneous wrenching and tear, the thinnest parts stretching even thinner, some light pixelating through, a tissue spread over the lip of a glass with steam rising from hot liquid, suddenly sheet becomes pulp and between the ribs your neat coat of arms fissures into a sad covering that holds too much whippy draft to protect against any of the elements. It is very cold to wait for a winter train wearing such a garment. 

LK: Sometimes in the gym there are those moments where control loses its grip and I am crying and the salt from my tears runs down my face with the rivers of salty sweat and perhaps I am choking -- it feels like I am choking. As soon as someone comes over to see if I am alive I snap straight, wipe my face with my shirt: I’m fine. And try again. 




8. CLAVICLE


MS: If you are very slim this will jut like a small mountain range too tall to receive much ground cover, or like bones covered in a very thin layer of skin. Sometimes an object is not a metaphor. The clavicle searches up, reaching skyward, pressing out from the hot core of you towards starry cloud of sky. The clavicle is vulnerable to steering columns and fore-headbutts and makes a perfect tidepool for tiny lakes of seawater, rainwater, bathwater. Stand perfectly still if you wish these pools to heat or cool to the temperature of the rest of you, stand perfectly still and feel for swimmy amoeba making tentative eye contact with each other, brushing their bellies against the tiny fluffs coming off the surface of your skin, waving at the floor of the depths like seagrass and anemones. They will seek the belly of this trench the way all things seek to plumb depths and touch skies. The middle of a thing is a dull and dreary place. The middle of a thing is where beige dangers creep up unsuspected. The middle of a thing can drown you despite all the warning in the world. 

LK: The questions that come up in the gym are ones of movement, how to move efficiently and effectively. Waste no extra energy. Or do? It is good to feel depleted, to feel tired, to feel that work has been done. The work that is done is then, hopefully, manifest in a product: the body, which can be infinitely improved. 




9. PLANTAR FASCIA


MS: String a guitar too tight and it plays springy tinny bongo bounce, string a foot too tight and it plays high pitch high key soprano squeak, every step a further tightening of what should be free and a slackening of what should be taut. The invisible pain of a furious sole is louder than the visible pain of a blackened eye, but no one worries over it, not even you, who teeters on this poorly strung platform of distress and smiles with your teeth pressed into your softmeat cheeks. 

LK: Will I go to the gym? Or will I run?





10. PECTORALS


MS: We learn of these from Ken dolls, and what we learn is that they should be pronounced but flat, broadly visible, as if the heels of two wide square loaves of firm bread had been placed carefully northeast and northwest of the heart. From the ruined bodies of men who hate themselves we learn that they can be nearly absent, a sheety flatness under a tattered nipple, white like chicken breast and littered with embarrassed looking hair. A man can appear strong in some clothing if he has girthy arms, but in the gazey brightness of daytime nudity, he can never look strong without the cresty curve between his throat and his belly, his unashamed nipples perched overtop low sloping hills. A strong pectoral shelf is useful if you find yourself drowning or on fire in a shallow pit, and if for these or other reasons you must be bench pressed to safety. In such moments a man with a chest is invaluable.

LK: A firefighter I know spends three and a half to four and a half hours working out everyday, as part of his work day. He is a part of a team of firefighters that get sent all across the country during the fire season, the summer, and they haul chainsaws and tools and other heavy things up and down mountains. They go where there are no roads. His body is lean and muscled, each part of his body defined by the work it does. I run my finger up and down his abdomen -- I can feel each of his abdominals as he exhales. 




11. POLLEX (a)


MS: King of the fingers, lord of the hands, hitcher of hikes, uppy or downy with a smile or a frown. Try not to lose these, they are vital to such tasks as gripping the speckled cast iron of a panhandle, grasping the meatiness of a strong thigh, carrying a bundle of celery. Without a thumb you are left with your trunk, your fingers, and pressure, a tiring enterprise if you wish to lift and hold anything greater than small vegetables. A thumb fits easily in a mouth, an ass, an eyesocket, but rarely in an ear. 

LK: Nobody loves pain except for those people who love pain and pursue it because they haven’t had enough of it, or too much, perhaps, or because their brains need it to understand something about reality. This understanding is not real, and completely. The pain is a lens through which things can make sense. Pain pulls you into the body, and the body becomes everything, the body becomes the thing that interacts with the environment. The self/mind is quiet. Striving is something that can be measured by pain. But it is a slippery marker of success because there is no upper limit, except for perhaps death or complete numbness (the same thing). 



12. POLLEX (b)


MS: A thumb is always a finger but a finger is not always a thumb. Put it up and get a ride, put it down and stake a claim. Suck it and stay stuck in some early stage described by a man who, to be gentle, had some of his own stuff going on. The fingerness of a thumb is obvious but it is never, ever eclipsed by its essential thumbness. Things we can do with our thumbs supposedly separate us from The Animals (by which we mean the ungodly ones, by which we should mean just the other animals). But the orangutan. But the gorilla. Thumbs aplenty, but sitting dopelike in a cage or a field, idly thumbing their ass and swiping at their mouths—we don’t do those things. Not in public, at least. An opposable thumb allows for the use of tools, allows for the creation of hand signs, signals, language, allows for writing and typing and sex that makes clear a difference between touch, the verb, as in, he touched me, and touch, also the verb, as in, our bodies touched each other and touch, the nounish, as in, you don’t need a thumb to experience the touch of another body. 

LK: The problem with “fitness” is that in biology it means the quality of being able to survive and reproduce. It is inherently the quality of being able to do the things that enable ongoing existence relative to the environment. But what does it mean to survive in a world where our livelihoods (mine, at least) are not dependent on physically triumphing over others or the environment?. In the gym there is talk of “functional fitness” which translates into a kind of physical fitness that equips us (the gym-goers) to be able to be functional in everyday life. Like, they say, if you were stranded and you had to run a mile (or three or more) or lift another person or lift an object in order to save someone’s life. But can you really prepare for those kinds of things? Somewhat. But what about other things? The day to day. I bike to campus, some days faster and some days slower. I can lift my groceries out of my car, I can walk downtown to the bars. I am lucky to have all the fitness I need, being relatively healthy, even without the gym, based on the physical demands of my lifestyle and environment. I still pay money for sweat. 




13. CALCANEUS


MS: The cup of the heel, part of a complex system of levers and rods, part of a complex structure that negotiates with gravity and surface, part of a sack of sticks contained within a small bag of meat. The foot is the thing that moves us around and yet we tend to ignore it until it becomes painful. The calcaneus holds, like a cup, hopes and dreams and intentions: move here, get there. It is very difficult to move without a foot—even in the typical car. Cup your desire to get up and walk across the room to tuck a piece of curled hair behind your lover’s ear. Cup your desire to cross an ocean on an airplane and never return. Cup your desire to run next to a dog, gentle thumps of paws in rhythm: theirs, yours. If your calcaneus cracks you can still run, for a while. Pain will refer up your leg and to the front of your ankle, pain will confuse you. You can shatter this bone, but why would you, if you could instead break it gently, one strike at a time, body against ground on this tiny flatness, this heel?

LK: My oldest friend has left me for the gym. She no longer tolerates my bad behaviour. Truly disgusted, she stares into my eyes and asks earnestly, “How could you?” when she sees me smoking for the first time in years. She talks in terms of “functionality,” “macros,” and “modalities.” I do not care for this. I care only for aesthetics. Tell me how.




14. CARPAL TUNNELS


MS: Things that have apertures wide enough to sail a thing through them: straws, Twizzlers, copper piping, the more robust pastas—your ziti, your rigatoni. Things that are too clogged and narrow to allow passage: New England plumbing on a bad day, carpal tunnels. Once there were tiny boats drifting fore and aft, once there were dinghies, outrigger canoes, elaborate junks. But over time the speakiness of these vessels grew too loud and clamorous. Dams erupted out of nowhere, boats crashed, souls drowned. Blockage became typical and crash sites were no longer cleared, not for tugboats, not for Zodiacs, not for anything. Hot tinglepain can slice under the surface, beneath wreckage and crams, beneath shattered pieces and soggy limbs, and so the carpal tunnel becomes a tunnel for justpain, for hotness stabbiness burniness: one lane only. 

LK: Parts of my body that I love: 
Femur: the strongest bone in the body. 
Ribcage: the thing that protects the heart.




15. VERMILION



MS: If the core of a body is the selfiest self and the outside environment is other, then the lips are negotiators between. Are you within me or are you without me: lips ask this question incessantly, so steady and low and constant that at times they must be broached only to silence them, a jagged stab of outside-coming-in the only thing wild and fast enough to ensure a moment’s rest. Close the curtains, slam the door, purse the lips. When children are furious they seal their lips closed and refuse to eat. When women are not eager we stay dry and closed. When we hunger—women, children, mouths, cunts—we go wide and balmy, our doors flung open, our consideration of where we end and the world begins temporarily set aside in favor of some terribly dangerous mixing. Bring the outside in, let the inside out, it is okay, we can sort it out later; borders tell us lies like that: lies about future safety. 

LK: Perhaps I will begin to record the time I spend inspecting my body for ingrown hairs. This is my favorite thing to do, but it makes me sad. 






16. GLUTEI


MS: Triplets, here: medius, maximus, minimus. Together are important to make the leg work for such things as walkingrunningstrollingsprinting, also jumping, also running away, also standing still and absorbing the impact of the moment. Ask your hip pain about middle child syndrome. Ask your awkward gait about family dynamics, sibling rivalry, the rule of thirds. If the torso is the self and the legs are its propellants, the glutei are the stagecoaches in between, flexing and going slack many thousands of millions of times in their lives. Start round and puffy, bounced up and springing out, gently fall, sad, rise again like bread dough under the pressure of enough labor, but, eventually, still, fall. 

LK: Questions of my ongoing existence feel more abstract: financial, emotional, logistical. My passport. Emotional survival, which too is survival, is related to fitness, though; endorphins bring a kind of emotional stability that is difficult to find elsewhere. Science will back me up. But there are those moments of movement, few and far between, where the body does what the brain asks it to, and those are beautifully sweet. A handstand. Jumping rope. 

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