You take a walk. The air is fresh and bright, the fall leaves crisp pleasingly beneath your feet, the dog is asleep at home so you don’t need to stop every ten feet to sniff things or leave a post on Urinary Facebook. (With applause to John Tweedy for the concept.)

You’re probably walking at about three miles an hour. That’s a nice pace – an arm-swinger, but probably not one that will make you pant.

I go for a run. I’m togged out in my fat lady version of running clothes – leggings and a longer top so no one is forced to observe too closely the insulation that I’m carrying on the rear elevation. I’ve timed it so the high school kids have gotten in their fancy cars and driven away, and the track teams have already slipped past like a pony-tail-bouncing herd of gazelles teasing a lion.

I’m going at the blistering pace of FOUR miles an hour. Yes, it takes me fifteen full minutes to cover a mile – which I could walk in twenty.

And every damned time I have to fight the urge to berate myself. YES I am slow. YES I spend more time walking on my “run” than I care to admit. YES my hands tremble at the end and my lungs feel like someone has taken sand paper to them.

But – and this is the really critical point – actual, long-lasting change (like from a hippo to a gazelle) comes only very SLOWLY.


A person waiting for me to return from my run, someone tapping their toe impatiently at the open garage door, would just have to be patient; I’m going as fast as I can.

And my expectations, tapping their toes with nervous energy, will just have to be patient, too. I’m evolving just as fast as I can.

Now I chant three things as I run, instead of two. The first one was “use your abs, use your abs, use your abs…” which is only a valuable thing to say until your abs get tired. After that, mouthing this chant is useful only because it makes startled onlookers give you a wide berth.

The second thing I learned to chant was “use your abs, use your glutes – use your abs, use your glutes,” which is all but useless because I’m still having a hard time turning the glutes on. (Freeloaders.) Running up a hill helps, but damn it, then you have to run up a hill.

And now I’m chanting “use your abs, use your glutes, breeeeeathe deeeeeep,” which often makes me cough and that spoils everything. HOWEVER I think I’m running farther before shambling back into a walk, so the deep breathing seems to be making a gradual difference.

Still – four miles an hour. (Itself a ludicrous proposition, as I can barely make it around a one-mile loop. Going for a four-mile run is the gauzy, impossible ambition of an hallucinogenic dream.) Slow.

Slow – slow – slow.

I run slowly. I evolve slowly. I don’t give up.

Well – not yet, anyway.

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When I run, I alternate between hoping no one I know sees me and praying someone I know will give me a reason to stop so we can chat casually on the sidewalk while we both ignore the fact that I’m gasping for air and panting like a Labrador watching you serve the chicken.

Show a Little Backbone, Wilya??


Betcha nickel that when my sister Lexie saw the blog post title of “Show a little backbone, wilya?,” she added the other line of “That’s just my pet snake Reggie.”

I know that because Lexie and I must continually throttle the urge to quote entire passages of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to you whether you want to hear them or not.

The joke about that particular scene was not the large python crawling up Harrison Ford’s thigh at the time – the joke was that Indy had just displayed a cheer-worthy amount of spine in facing down booby traps and devious guides and blow-dart-wielding natives, only to be undone by his lone phobia, snakes.

(“I hate snakes, Jock! Hate ‘em!”)

The point is – the backbone is adaptable. Yours is loose in some parts and tight as hell in others, to make up for the looseness somewhere along its path.

For me, the low spine – the lumbar area, mostly behind your waist – is super-loose. I’m flexy as hell in the low back. But my thoracic region (call it the bra strap region, if you’re the bra-wearing type) is so tight as a result that I didn’t even know I was supposed to be able to move it the way I should.

Here’s how I know.

Barbara (the best trainer in the world at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA) take a foam roller that’s been cut in half – so it looks like a hot dog sliced longways, only made of hard foam that even my weight can’t crush. She puts it against the wall and has me lean on it so the top of the foam roller is a few inches below my neck, and the bottom is somewhere below my tail bone.

“Push your spine against the foam roller. Use more abs. MORE abs. Okay – now without bending your neck, touch the back of your head to the wall.”

“Without bending my neck?” I was awash in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Use your back. Your spine. Bend back from where the foam roller ends.”

“Bend back?? From here??” I made some confused little gestures with my shoulders, bending at most a quarter of an inch. “Nothing moves there – I don’t bend that way. Neither do you. You’ve got your anatomy wrong for once.”

Not at all. She demonstrated, and her head almost brushed the wall. SHE BENDS THE WRONG WAY THERE. Way up high. Between the shoulder blades.

Or rather – I don’t bend the right way there.

“It’s because your lumbar region is so loose. The thoracic region has stiffened up to compensate. We’ll get you loosened. It’ll take a while.”

This made me think about my mother-in-law, a tough, smart woman masquerading as a sweet southern belle. She speaks with a gentile drawl and charms everyone she meets, but she’s hiding a whip-fast wit and – apparently – the genetic code for healthy old age. She’s 93, and her only issue now is that she doesn’t stand up straight.

She and my son were in a horrible car accident nine years ago (I mean like the kind where they use the jaws of life to pry you out of the car). Doctors told us she probably wouldn’t survive the night… but she did survive. She recovered – and she’s up and wandering around, annoying her daughter and smiling on me – so bonus points to her.

But she uses a walker and gazes intently at her feet as she goes. No wonder; I wouldn’t want to fall, either. Still, her back has now permanently hunched her over; it’s extremely hard for her to straighten up.

And I think… if she could go back five years and work on her spine flexibility, would she?

What about ten years? How much better was it before the accident?

What if she could go back 34 years, to my age of 59, and work on whatever was beginning to be out of whack in her back bone? If she’d done it, would she be standing tall today?

Is it worth it for me to listen to Barbara and loosen up my thoracic spine now, when it’s just an interesting exercise in futility??


So I’m going to show a little backbone and follow where Barbara leads. You get credit for the places in your life where you’ve been tough and strong – but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the places where you’re less capable. The pet boa constrictors ARE going to come along. And I want to be ready when they show up.

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Really. Wouldn’t you rather look at a photo of Harrison Ford in his glory than even the most beautiful drawing of a spine? Yeah. Me, too.



Original Demon


Once upon a time, a little girl (every little girl) put on a Cinderella dress and suddenly she knew she was Cinderella… the same way you knew you could run faster in new sneakers.

She didn’t look in the mirror and think “Hang on – I don’t look animated AT ALL. It’s still JUST ME inside this magical dress.” No – that’s not what happens.

When you’re four or five, you spread the skirt and twirl in joy at becoming someone beautiful. Any minute now, bluebirds are going to fly in and tie a bow around your suddenly-slender waist. Bliss!

Something happens in the intervening fifty-five years. I’ve acquired demons since then – the most visible being sugar. But the oldest, most clever, most cruel demon never goes away. Call that one “self hate.”

When you look at a photo of yourself and wince, ah – the original demon is grinning.

I went to a gala last night at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, Virginia. For once, I dressed up in gala clothing. I had a huge, full skirt (with pockets! Forget the demons in your life and hear this: Pockets will never let you down!!) with a train. It was off the shoulder. Navy blue – which looks so nice with diamond-ish accents. It was a Cinderella dress.

Well, I thought it was.

It turned out I required both Mammy AND Prissy to wedge me into this creation. I needed a long-line bra that I couldn’t hook myself – and the corseted back needed at least four hands to secure, and none of them could be mine (which faced the wrong way to be useful).

The long train was stepped on repeatedly.

The boning that held up the strapless-ness was off-the-rack; no nimble tailor nipped and tucked so it actually fit. Instead, the boning in the strapless bra united with the boning in the gown to create a sort of breast plate that hovered in the general proximity of my torso without actually touching me where a gown is supposed to touch the body. The boning did, somehow, manage to repeatedly stab me in the groove between biceps and triceps. By the end of the evening I couldn’t even close the car door once I got in.

As for the pretty diamanté sandals with the thin ankle straps? Torquemada clearly invented them. By the time we sat down for dinner, I had a circlet of red, angry flesh above my ankle bones. Since I wasn’t able to buckle them myself while so heavily boned, I knew that if I took them off, I was doomed to being barefoot all night…

…and the acres and acres of skirt would only not be too long if I stood on those two-inch heels.

I lasted about ten minutes. Then I took the shoes off and spent the rest of the evening barefoot in a tent in November, hauling up great handfuls of overlong skirt so I could move anywhere.

“Look out, Pru,” one of my charming dinner companions said, “someone broke a shot glass over here. I’m worried about your bare feet and the glass.”

So kind, I thought – but I’d rather walk through crushed glass than put those shoes back on again.

And then he kindly took a photo. “That dress is a romance novel in the making – you’re wearing a bodice ripper! Let’s take a photo for the author picture in your first book!”

What a sweetheart. Okay – let’s do it!

He took the photo, beaming at me with love and affection and approval, and handed me the phone back.


OH DAMN. Who is that old fat hag?? Surely I’m not going through the labors of Hercules to look like THAT??

And the original demon chortled happily, feeding off my fierce self-doubt.

A gala is a terrible place for people with body image issues. Everywhere I looked, slim women were effortlessly drifting about in stunning gowns. I was filled with envy and self-loathing. And I thought – ah, but if we had to run a mile, could THEY? I can. If we compared cholesterol levels, who would be doing better? If I was lying on side-by-side gurneys next to that graceful beauty and there was only one liver available and the transplant team had to decide who should get it based purely on evidence of an attempt to live healthfully, wouldn’t my general muscle tone give me an edge over a woman who clearly had no stamina nor determination to improve her health?

It’s not fair that some women are just naturally slim. I’ve been working out all my life – and working out with effectiveness for three years – and I’m still thick and plodding. And that’s just the way it’s going to be.


Next year, a tunic, leggings, and boots. That’s where I look and feel best.

Damned demon.


It takes a quarter-hour to get into this rig, and assistants – and cinching really doesn’t help. As Mammy said – you done had a baby, Miss Prudence – you ain’t never going to have no 15-inch waist again. Yeah. Let’s blame it on the kid.




I am BETRAYED BY CHEMISTRY. I had a dental implant put in a few days ago; I was under anesthesia for about 45 minutes and was never in any real pain. For which let us all joyfully shout HALLELUJAH!

(My big back molar cracked months ago. MONTHS AGO. This process has taken an eternity. First the dental surgeon pulled the tooth, for which I made him put me to sleep – for about ten minutes. Easy. He wadded up a lot of cadaver bone and shoved it up in the socket so it would bond to my jaw and allow for a screw to be put in, off of which they could hang a fake molar. The whole process takes about nine months; you could create and birth a baby in that time.)

(During all that time you’re not supposed to chew on that side, but hah. Best laid plans, and all that.)

However, now that I’m almost 60 years old, I’ve discovered that all those OLD PEOPLE from my past who were too wimpy to get over surgeries quickly weren’t such wimps after all. Three-quarters of an hour under IV sedation leaves, apparently, a little sticky residue in both body and soul. I find that three days after (or is it two? It must be two), my brain is utterly cloudy. I was keeping score while playing Scrabble last night and was rendered utterly confused at having to add the number six to the number seventeen. Surely that’s impossible, isn’t it? No one could REALLY add those two numbers together, right?


And I’m blue. Just utterly depressed and lonely and grumpy and sad. So I went to my fitness appointment this afternoon because – endorphins, right? And it was miserable, and my jaw hurt, and I could feel every single stitch disappearing into the vulnerable and naked pinkness of my flesh above where teeth are supposed to be and I think a few unsuspected pockets of anesthesia misery must have been waiting to burst forth because now I feel completely defeated and deflated and the exercise actually made me feel worse.

And oh – did I mention? I have an ENORMOUS SCREW STICKING OUT OF MY JAW BONE and I am constantly worrying it with my tongue. At first I thought it was a flat-head screw, but now I’ve discovered it actually has two parallel grooves in it. What I can’t figure out is…

Are those grooves just straight? Or is there a little wide place at one end so the new tooth can slot into a groove and hold there, like the cover of my cell phone? I don’t know why I need to know this, but I keep trying to figure it out – and my tongue is at just the wrong angle to perform a useful diagnosis. And yes, I have stuck my iPhone into my mouth in a blurry attempt to photograph it, but all I can see is darkness, more teeth, and a whole lot of filled cavities. My dental history has been sadly crowded with incident.

I also wonder – do these stitches go under the screw? Or over it and I just can’t feel it? I think under – but I’d better check again.

And just how big a gap is there between the top of the screw head and the roof of my gum? Could I fit a seed up in there and then lose it? No more brown flax with the morning breakfast, I’m guessing.

And am I rinse-and-spitting enough with disgusting salt water? And did I take the antibiotic today? And why can’t I get a decent night’s sleep when I’m so damned tired?

My mind is a weak, stupid rat running on a wheel. I’m not getting anywhere and I can’t figure out how to get off. This anesthesia stuff is bumming me out.

I’ll be better tomorrow. No need to send a St. Bernard with whiskey.

Although a dog would be nice.

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Fitness. It’s not just about abdominals, you know.