Writing and Lifting

by Tom Swift

Here are two things I must do daily in order to be me in the world:

1. Workout

2. Write

With respect to the former, for a number of years now, at least seven, possibly eight, I have made it to the gym with clockwork consistently. Committed or should be is how I phrase it. While my modality has changed over time (boot camp, CrossFit, yoga, running, weight lifting), and while, certainly, I take days off, and, no doubt, some days I lift lighter than others, I, more or less, show up. Every day. I meet this obligation to myself. When it comes to working out, it is simply rare for me to miss more than two days in a single week and, unless I am ill, those two days are never consecutive. This is an ingrained habit for me.

I do not make such a statement to beat my chest. This habit, it must be said, has an aspect of burden to it, as it has formed mostly out of a desire to avoid unpleasant feelings. Many people struggle to motivate themselves to get to the gym. It is not on account of rare willpower or any great inner drive that I do not have this problem. I go to the gym because at some point I internalized that I am more likely to feel emotionally uneven on days when I do not. Specifically, I am more inclined to get crabby. More likely to be inpatient. There is a chance of increased angst. A greater probability for anxiety. As an introvert, on days off from the gym, I am more likely to isolate or personalize matters that have little or nothing to do with me. In short, I have a daily due to rent space in my body and that rent is paid, at least in part, in sweat.

I have a similar need to write but my habit here is surprisingly less fully formed. Surprising, given that I have known since I was very young that I am writer, that I want to write, that writing is one of the best things I do (and there aren’t many things I do especially well). Yet there are many days in which I do not write. I take days off without thought. Sometimes weeks off. I simply deal with the fallout: I absorb less of my experiences (for writing is how I foremost process that experience) and I am less open to the next experience (when you do not express yourself in your primary mode of expression your lesser modes suffer, too — that is, you have less access to and less confidence in your spoken words, or at least that is the case with me).

I have placed these two things, working out and writing, side by side for a reason. For I mean to try to tease out a theory that there are meaningful parallels between the two beyond the one I have written about here — in other words, beyond the fact that both are activities I personally must do. If it’s OK, rather than continue on right now, I plan to dig up and into some of those parallels in future posts.

But before I end the present post, an aside: it occurs to me just now that it might be telling that I do not write more about working out. Here it is a significant part of my daily life, an integral part of my functioning, and yet I usually do not consider it worthy of writing about. Why? The world scarcely needs more gym selfies. If you have spent 10 minutes on Instagram you know this. Possibly I don’t write about working out because there is a part of me that doesn’t want to create the literal post-workout selfie. Who, after all, cares what I did at the gym today? Not even my dog, frankly. Another point of shame may be that what I do at the gym, lift weights, mostly, has the reputation of that of a meat-head endeavor. It is time that reputation ceased but I plan to say more about that later. Seems, though, possibly I have internalized the view on some level and this gets in the way of the presentation of my self-image as, well, not a meathead. Finally, while I have a lot of experience lifting and, in fact, hold a coaching certification in power-lifting, I do not hold myself up as an expert. And there are plenty of experts out there, if one is so inclined to read their views. To put a slightly finer point on it: I can move some significant weight, especially for my age, but every day I work alongside guys who can move more. And that is just at my gym.

Yet, it occurs now, that I am less aware of space devoted to the intersection of writing and exercise, two habits many people wish to but struggle to form or maintain. We writers, especially, are notorious procrastinators. And there are more millionaires in America than there are people with six-pack abs. Really.

So perhaps a theory on top of a theory: possibly the sets I post in the gym could be fodder for writing posts — possibly I could, in other words, more regularly exercise my writing muscles simultaneously as I exercise my pectorals.

As always, and with everything, we shall see.