THE THINGS WE CARRY
By: Lauren Anderson
It’s midnight on a Thursday. I’m alone. Chopping vegetables in the kitchen. AGAIN.
My sister Marnna comes in. She takes one look at my face and says, “Jeez Laurie, what’s wrong?” (My sister still calls me Laurie, a holdover from childhood.) I look up. I didn’t realize I had a cartoonish frown on my face. But I did. I looked like that old guy from the movie UP. Grumpy as hell.
“I’m so freakin’ sick of cooking.” I say in my most pathetic woe-is-me voice.
I’m being a pouty a-hole. I know it. But at that moment, all I wanted was to go to bed without thinking about every single thing I was going to eat the next day. But I can’t. Because Friday is a big day, and I needed to be prepared.
I had a morning meeting. Then I hit the gym at 11:30. Then jetted over to rehearsal from 1-5 for the next show. Then, no time to go home because, from 6:30 until 11:30 that night, I’m at the theatre doing a show. Trying my best to make people who paid good money, laugh.
That means I need 3 full meals, 2 snacks, workout shoes, regular shoes, winter boots, and 2 changes of clothes to get through Friday. Between that, my computer, and a fashionably large purse chock-full of medicines and lady business, I am carrying A LOT. I feel like a reluctant camel, charged with the burden of a load, when all it wants to do is frolic. I mean, just because you CAN carry the weight, doesn’t mean that you WANT to.
My sister laughs at my grumpiness. I realize I’m being a big baby, and I start laughing too. Marnna and her partner Lora offer some suggestions to help the food-prep-time go quicker. Maybe play some music? (Sure, of course. That actually would help…) Maybe bring your computer in and get caught up on Scandal while you chop? (I’m a veggie Gladiator!) Or how ’bout on Sundays you try preparing a couple meals, instead of just one at a time?
Yeah yeah, I know. I know. But then what would I complain about?
The fact of the matter is, I’m a few days into week 3 of The Essential You food challenge, and I feel great! My body feels spry and stronger, my sinuses are empty. My face/acne attack has cleared up, and I have a lot of energy. Between eating different foods and exercising more, I’m also sleeping really well. It’s still tough, and there is definitely a learning curve, but I’m starting to get the swing of it.
I am even figuring out how to cook a little. I figured out the meals I like, and I make them quicker each time. I even made some baked chicken in the oven. The fact you can use the oven to make something other than frozen pizza is still a novel idea to me.
To give you an idea of my growth, I needed Marnna and Lora to walk me through making hard-boiled eggs. But I did it! I boil a dozen, and peel them all so I can just grab ’em and go. I bought a tantalizing 13 bean soup kit to try, that both mystifies and intrigues me. There is even a surprising and satisfying sense of accomplishment that comes from preparing your own food.
So if all this good stuff is happening, why do I still feel so burdened?
Whether it’s the bags of food, bags from the grocery store, bags of gym clothes, bags of… feelings. It’s not just the things I’m physically carrying, it’s all the emotional baggage as well. (See what I did there? Please, not all the Pulitzers at once!)
Full disclosure: I’ve never been particularly good at change. It creates an unrest in me that feels deeper and more dangerous than the Sarlacc’s Pit of Carkoon. (Star Wars reference! Timely!) I am not the person that changes the furniture around every season. I am not the hare, I am the turtle. Slow and steady wins the race. I have a deathly long game. I am not stubborn, I am determined. Some have even called me tenacious. I don’t give up, I never surrender. I am a steady friend. The one you can count on to always be…well, me.
It’s not a flashy or especially sexy trait. Sometimes I want to be dangerous and mysterious and unpredictable. But mostly, this attribute has served me well over the years. I tend to stay employed. I am loyal. I am easy to shop for, (jewelry, elephants, the color orange, books, gum. Check.) And if I agree to start something, I usually finish it. Sometimes at my own peril.
To give you some insight, my mom used to only let me color a few pages of my coloring books at a time. Because if she didn’t, I would have to finish THE WHOLE BOOK. Every time. And I would hurt my hands, but I wouldn’t stop. I even had to wear a brace once. From coloring.
Cut to the gym on Sunday, Coach Jenn takes me through a some Shoulder Presses. This is when you lift a heavy barbell over your head without using any legs or squats for power. Your legs and core are engaged, but mostly it’s just arms/back/shoulders and strength of will.
Coach wants me to work up to 80 lbs, so that would be my new max. I am weary of this, but Coach Jenn believes in me, so I give it a try. After a bunch of reps at a lighter weight to practice my form, I finally do 5 reps at 70 lbs. It is tough, but I manage it. Then 3 reps at 75. I am wobbly, but I power through. And then I set up my bar for 80.
I step back. That bar is HEAVY. By now, my arms feel cashed because I’ve already done a bunch of reps. I take a deep breath in, I lift up. My arms stop just above my chin, and I cannot for the life of me get that bar above my head. But I don’t give up. I keep trying. Coach Jenn is watching, and my face is seriously contorting. I feel like that stress ball guy. You know, the one when you squeeze him his eyes pop out? Yeah, that was me. I stand there fighting, unwavering for a good 30 secs.
“Lauren, LAUREN!!” Jenn insists. “Put the bar down!”
I re-rack at Coach’s urgent request, and after I catch my breath, we have a big laugh. Man, I was not giving up on that coloring book–er, barbell! I meant barbell… It appears I was gonna do that Shoulder Press or die trying.
Coach Jenn seems amused and bewildered by my resolve. To be honest, I was a little too. She says, “If a lift is ever that hard to do next time, just get out of it. If this were a competition, you might want to fight like that, but you don’t need to now.”
See what I mean? Tenacious. It seems my spirit was indefatigable but my arms were not. Instead, I fail. I comically failed. It was my first time not being able to complete a lift. Okay. So that’s what it’s like to fail. Huh. I guess now I know what I can Shoulder Press. About 75 lbs.
And I can’t help but be reminded that there is as much to learn from failing as succeeding. Tenacity has it limits. That being persistent and determined is usually a good trait, until it becomes dogged and clingy. Or having some fight when you’re trying to find your max is good, until it becomes dangerous, and your eye pops out.
So when I decided to take on a life-altering gym membership, and a life-altering food challenge all within 2 months, you can bet the me-that-hates-change is fighting and clinging on to keep my old habits. Determined and willful, even when those habits aren’t working for me anymore. In fact, some of those habits were even hurting me.
So I grumble at the chopping and the shopping. I bemoan the late night packing and the pre-planned snacking. Burdened by the bags and the bundles of my new normal. Because change is hard. And it’s scary. And it takes time and courage to loosen your grip enough to let go so you can reach out for something unknown.
I used to struggle a bit to get in and out of my low-riding car. Until I noticed late one night last week, coming home from another epically long day, I bopped out of my car with a new-found ease and grace. It felt effortless! That despite all the extra bags I had with me, my strong, squat-savvy legs could now handle it.
And I finally realized, I can carry this load. And then some.