Redefining Expectations

None of the beaten end up how we began.

A poem is a gesture toward home.

The two final lines from “Duplex” in Jericho Brown’s The Tradition hit my heart. Brown created the duplex to say what he couldn’t express in other forms. Or in his words, “I should remind everyone who knows me that I do not believe that poems are made of our beliefs. Instead, I believe poems lead us to and tell us what we really believe.” Poetry Foundation

I feel this way when redefining goals while living with chronic illness. Have you noticed that I don’t say overcomewhen speaking about chronic illness yet? Overcoming suggests an ending. You cannot fail without a set end. You cannot find out what you really believe without exploration.

Sylvia Plath published four books, despite dying at 30. I was obsessed with this before my 30thbirthday. “The Applicant” is one of my favorite poems because of the saltiness, the suits, the repetition. I mean, will you marry it, make it yours, take on the expectations built before you? Will you marry it? Don’t. The expectations are empty, there is no reason to follow them.

I’m about to turn 31 and have put aside this obsession with number of books as publishing success. I’m still chasing some time goals in running, but the minute details interest me at this point: the consistent tempo run, the amount of times I perform physical therapy in a week, or the amount of hours I sleep. In writing, it’s about the process: drafting, or reading and journaling my reaction to the work.

Recovery isn’t standardized. Neither is success. I see this deeply in Lily Hoang’s Bestiary: “The success of the true rat race is all veneer. It is a hot-boxed garbage and infidelity.” Hoang sends her piercing gaze on perfection, family, the immigrant experience, expectations, myth. There are so many ways to live, any one definitions of success is garbage. I hope you, reader, see this in your life and find joy in the process.

Stay sweaty and glittery.

Books I was thinking about while writing this: Jericho Brown’s The Tradition, Lily Hoang’s Bestiary, Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie.

An Element of Control

In the spirit of crampedstyleblog’s #selfcarefebruary on Instagram, I’ve been looking closely at what I’m doing when my body starts to shut down. Last month, so many things were missing from daily routine: multiple rest days, dedicated stretching time to keep (my) hips open, allocated time to indulge in pleasurable reading. My body starts to rebel with pain and sour moods when I try to consistently crest 25 miles in a week, at least from what I’ve gathered through tracking my runs over the past couple of years. To try and do better, I’ve added a “self-care” column to my training log.

See! It’s real. I add text or glyphs to spice it up, like executing my glute and core physical therapy exercises are MONEY. Workouts I haven’t done yet are in pink. An aside—can we have a moment for the improvement in technology, from the inaccurate Nike running chips in vogue a decade ago to the relatively accurate Garmin technology of today?

Mileage and workouts might not seem important to everyone, but testing the limits of my body has been a lifelong habit. Swimming for hours a week, sucking in chlorinated air hoping that millions of strokes will lead to some sort of momentary glory. Racking the weight at incrementally higher amounts on the squat rack, knowing that my secret weapon was kicking underwater like a dolphin for fifteen meters at a speed faster than most of my peers. Tenacity is a piece of identity I’m not willing to forgo. Chronic illness changes this perception of invincibility.

I think of this quote from Sick when the attempts to feel alive, to feel healthy, seem out of reach:

“If you know a part of you is always dying, taking charge of that dying has a feeling of empowerment.”

There is something in pushing the limits, in feeling a rush, however it is found. There is an element of control, a belief that there is a choice.

I see overlapping threads in recovery memoir, illness accounts, and athletic feminist theory, like Leslie Heywood. My curiosity piques when the author pushes against the perfect story, the perfect feminist character, the story of what is supposed to be best for your health. These accounts, these protagonists, these people are not perfect plaintiffs. I’m looking at the complex stories broadly to identify threads, like The Recovering by Leslie Jamison, Pretty Good for a Girl by Leslie Heywood, Sick by Porochista Khakpour, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine, and Annie’s Ghosts by Steve Luxenberg. There are more, but I think that brief list gives a smattering of the different approaches–in form and content.

I’m looking to expand my list, so please comment with recommendations. A few books I’ve been meaning to read: The Amputees Guide to Sex by Jillian Weise, The Carrying by Ada Limón, The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang, and Crumb-Sized by Marlena Chertock.

Thanks for reading. Stay sweaty and glittery.