Friday, January 12, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #129: The History of Working Out on Purpose, Part 2

Last week, we looked at the importance of physical fitness in the ancient world, namely in the ancient Persian Empire, ancient Athens, and ancient Sparta. I could continue talking about fitness in the ancient world – the Romans, for example, encouraged a high level among the general populace, or at least that part of the populace that was eligible for the military draft, i.e. citizens aged 17 to 60, but instead, I wanted to skip ahead in time to the Middle Ages. We’re still in Europe, because as everyone knows, that’s the whole world.

In the Middle Ages, as during Neolithic times, many people didn’t need to work out on purpose. In the chaos that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, the average person spent his or her time tending to livestock, farming, and fearing God, all of which activities are great for the physique. They also walked a lot more than we do today, and had to engage in strenuous physical activity to do almost anything – cooking, shopping, repairing their hovels, you name it.

As we can see in this Pieter Bruegel painting.

While the peasantry didn’t need to work out, that doesn’t mean that other members of society didn’t understand the importance of a physical fitness regimen. Aristocrats, knights, and those training to be knights undertook physical fitness regimens such as those outlined in contemporary fencing manuals,  like Hans Talhoffer’s

A page on grappling from one of Talhoffer's manuals.

In the earlier middle ages, the warrior class relied on strength training by lifting large stones, wrestling, jousting, and riding to get in shape. A popular exercise was voltige, which helped knights develop control over their horses by practicing jumping in and out of the saddle, or onto and off of a table. By the 1200s, wooden horses replaced real ones in this exercise, and as time went by, the practice of voltige became more and more of an art form in and of itself, until, over the centuries, it evolved into what you might now recognize as the gymnastics pommel horse.

Here, gymnast Alberto Baglia demonstrates more physical prowess than I will ever possess.

Jean Le Meingre, (aka Boucicaut), who was the marshal of France during the reign of Charles VI (aka Charles the Mad), formed a martial society for the defense of the wives and daughters of absent knights, called L’Emprise de l’Escu vert a la Dame Blanche, the Order of the Green Shield of the White Lady. Members of this order followed a fitness regimen that included walking and running long distances to build endurance, “leaping onto the back of a horse,” jumping over horses from the side, “striking numerous and forcible blows with a battle-axe or mallet,” and, while dressed in a full suit of armor, “turn somersaults” or “dance vigorously.” Boucicaut also asked his soldiers to “climb up between two perpendicular walls that stood four or five feet asunder by the mere pressure of his arms and legs, and…reach the top…without resting either in the ascent or the descent.” That was probably harder than jumping over a horse while wearing a full suit of armor, although I think I can see why they switched to using wooden horses. Would you stand still while a fully-armored knight jumped over you? What if he landed on you? How many horses did they go through, do you think?

Knights and warriors weren’t the only ones who valued fitness in the middle ages. A fifteenth-century letter from a physician to his sons, university students in Toulouse, gave the men instructions for daily exercise. On rainy or otherwise inclement days, the doctor advised his sons to exercise indoors by climbing “the stairs rapidly three or four times,” practicing swordplay with a heavy stick until winded, and jumping. On nice days, the doctor advised walking each morning and evening; in cold weather, they should “run on [an] empty stomach, or at least walk rapidly.” This activity would balance the humors; running in the winter would restore the body’s “natural heat,” while exercising until winded served to expel noxious fumes from the lungs.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Fun Friday Facts #128: The History of Working Out on Purpose, Part I

I swim laps at a gym on the grounds of a local resort, and last week, I just couldn’t swim in peace because every single Christmas guest at that resort brought their three kids to play in the pool for the exact forty minutes I was trying to swim. Even though it’s New Year’s Resolution Week, the pool has been quieter this week, except for that time when a bro jumped out of the hot tub to set off the safety alarm because he thought it would be funny. If looks could drown a grown man in a hot tub, well, you get the idea.

Jim and I watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation over Christmas weekend, and the depiction of Todd and Margot harkened back to a time when only douchebags exercised on purpose. So when did people start exercising on purpose, aka working out?

According to Lance C. Dalleck, M.S. and Len Kravitz, PhD, one of our greatest accomplishments as a species has been “the continuous pursuit of fitness since the beginning of man’s existence.” I would’ve said it was inventing chocolate, but I’m fat so of course I would.

I think saying that man has always been interested in fitness is a bit of a stretch. I mean, obviously prehistoric man got plenty of exercise. He spent literally all of his time hunting, gathering, making clothes out of animal skins, preparing food from scratch so that he could make more food from scratch, building fires without matches, and so on. There was no Netflix, so prehistoric humans were forced to talk to each other for entertainment, and probably spent their free time trying to invent KitchenAid mixers, or, as the case may be, the actual wheel. But they weren’t worrying about how many calories they’d just burned killing that mammoth, or if they were it was because it meant they’d have to eat again right away and they still had a whole mammoth carcass to butcher.

But, the promotion of intentional exercise goes back to the earliest days of civilization. As long ago as 4000 BCE, in the Fertile Crescent, military and political leaders recognized that physical exercise was an important component of military discipline (well, duh) and leaders in Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, and Syria advocated regular exercise for all members of society. In Persia (present-day Iran), boys began fitness training at age six, when they were required to start marching, hunting, riding, and javelin throwing. However, Dalleck and Kravitz note that the Persian Empire fell “at a time when society could largely be characterized by an overall lack of fitness,” and while they don’t come right out and say that being fat and lazy did the Persian Empire in, I think it’s implied, America.

I typed "ancient Persian exercise" into Google Images and this is what came up. Says it all, really.
~ Image by user Dake on Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the ancient civilization you probably think of when you think of exercising on purpose is the ancient Greeks, who (probably) exercised on purpose more than any other civilization in the world at the time. The ancient Greeks appreciated some sweet gains, and believed that physical well-being and mental well-being were linked, an idea that, as it turns out, was not so far off.

The Greeks, too, forced young boys to exercise, educating them in jumping, running, wrestling, and gymnastics. Boys trained in a palaestra, while adult men (those aged 14 to 16 and older) trained in the gymnasium (hey, I know that word). Music was played during exercise sessions, just as it is today.

Two ancient Greek societies liked exercising the most: the Athenians and the Spartans. The Athenians emphasized the importance of physical fitness and beauty because they were perfect, enlightened democrats, while the Spartans emphasized fitness for military reasons, which may or may not have involved beating the sh&t out of the Athenians (I’m picturing regiments of well-oiled, muscular men coming together to, um, wage war on one another, wink wink). Famously, Spartan men entered military training at age seven (which sounds appalling to us, but I’m beginning to think it wasn’t that unusual for the era – you can’t go getting attached to your kids when half of them are going to die of diphtheria anyway, right?). Spartan women were also required to adhere to strict fitness programs, which involved dance, gymnastics, wrestling, throwing the javelin and discus, “trails of strength,” running, and horseback riding. This emphasis on female physical fitness followed a broader trend of relative equality between the sexes in Sparta, but let’s emphasize the word relative, because, ultimately, it was all about helping women fulfill their highest purpose in life – plopping out healthy babies.

And dancing with one boob out.

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Resolutions I Considered, Then Rejected

Finish My Memoir

I resolved to write this book on January 1, 2014, and I still haven’t finished it yet. At last count, I had 61,132 words, which is nothing to sneeze at, but sneeze at it I must. 61,132 words really, really ought to be, if nothing else, a complete, coherent draft. It is not. It is disorganized and incomplete, and try as I might to correct this situation, it just keeps getting longer, more disorganized, and more incomplete.

This makes the second time I have tried, and failed, to write a book, if you count my undergraduate honors thesis, for which I was inexplicably given academic credit in spite of the fact that it was a steaming piece of sh*t. Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I should start a whole new memoir. The third time is, after all, the charm.

Write in My Diary Every Day

One of the biggest problems I have as a memoirist and essayist is remembering the things that happened to me. I’m working on this memoir, see above, and I’ll be wondering about some important plot point, like when did my grandmother die, for example, but I won’t be able to remember the exact date. So, after tearing the house apart looking for a copy of the obituary that I know I have somewhere, I’ll resort to digging up my old Facebook posts from six years ago, trying to reconstruct the events of my own life.

I used to keep a diary. Beginning at some point in grade school and continuing throughout middle and high school and into the first year of college, I wrote in my diary every single day, even if it was just one word. I had to do it. Then I had therapy and realized that I didn’t have to do it, so I stopped. I took it back up again for a few years, when I was with my psycho ex, but then I stopped again – the obvious pattern here is that I only keep a diary if I’m miserable, or backpacking across Europe.

If I’d been more consistent in my diary-keeping, I’d have so much more material, plus I’d be able to remember vital details about things, like the day I ate a panini for the first time and thought it was the best sandwich I’d ever tasted, so I spent the next nine months chasing that virgin panini high until I finally accepted that there was only one good panini in the world, and I’d already eaten it.

The thing is that I’m not in the habit of writing in my diary every day anymore, so I keep forgetting, and then after I’ve forgotten a few times, my default habit of not writing sets in and I end up not doing it for the next six months, until the diary itself turns up again. Plus, I resent feeling like I have one more thing I have to do every day – first it’s eat; then it’s eat and take a bath; then it’s eat, take a bath, and brush your teeth; then it’s eat, take a bath, brush your teeth, and make the bed; before you know it you’re 35 years old, your back hurts, and you’re busy from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. But I still need to keep a diary so I’m gonna try doing it every second or third day instead.

Finish My Peacock Feather Afghan

Some time ago now – I’m not sure when because I didn’t write it down in my diary that I don’t keep – I decided I wanted to crochet a peacock feather afghan. But I didn’t want to pay for the pattern, so I found a peacock feather pattern on a random person’s blog and just decided I’d make a bunch of these little peacock feathers, and then sew them together.

Problem is, the peacock feathers I wound up with are tiny. They’re like five inches high. I’ve got about eighty of them and I’m going to need to make approximately seven billion more to have enough to make an afghan. Knowing my luck, they probably won’t even fit together well.

I thought I’d resolve to finish the peacock feather afghan this year, but I’d probably have to make like five peacock feathers a day just to have a shot at it. Realistically, I’m going to finish this peacock feather afghan when I’m eighty-two years old. I’ll have them bury me in it.

Lose Fifty Pounds

Oh sure, I’d really like to lose fifty pounds, but who am I kidding? At this rate, Jim’ll be lucky if I don’t just up and eat him someday. I’m not trying to sound defeatist, but I’m not trying to set myself up for failure, either. I think I’ll aim for something more attainable, like “stop eating expired food.” That’s probably a good idea, at least until we get that universal health care we’ve had our eye on.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #127: Saturday Edition Two, Electric Boogaloo

I forgot to write a Fun Friday Facts post yesterday, because I got involved in a Dr. Mario session, and before I knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning. It turns out I’m better at Dr. Mario than Jim, which seems to bother him somewhat, even though he’s better than me at almost every other video game there is.

It’s New Year’s Eve weekend. The snow is gently falling outside, Maximum Cuddles is begging for his dinner, which it is not yet quite time for, but he doesn’t have a great sense of time so he’s been begging for it since about 2:00 p.m. This Monday, make sure to enter 2018 right – with a fire extinguisher and a wet handkerchief tied around your face.

According to Snopes, the first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day – called the first footer – will bring either good or bad luck for the year to come. Here’s a list of people you should NOT allow to first foot your home on New Year’s Day:

  • Women. Absolutely no women. Allowing a vagina to nonchalantly stroll across your threshold before anyone else in the New Year will cause your hair to sour, your milk to turn grey, your calves to be born breech, and your feet to stink. Actually, I just made all that stuff up. But still, no women. Snopes advises us that “they should be shooed away” like raccoons or stray cats, using firearms if necessary.
  • Blondes or redheads, for obvious reasons.
  • People with crossed eyes.
  • People with flat feet. That’s bad news, because Jim has flat feet and I’m a woman. No wonder I can’t find a full-time job or my telescoping back scratcher.
  • People with eyebrows that meet in the middle, though it doesn’t say whether plucking them is permitted.

The ideal first footer is tall, dark, handsome, and a man. He should bring the following small gifts to the household:

  • A lump of coal
  • A morsel of bread
  • A silver coin
  • Some salt
  • A sprig of evergreen

The first footer should knock and be invited in, even if he lives in the house. Under no circumstances should he be allowed to let himself in with his own key. He should say hello to everyone in the house, bestow his weird little gifts on the household, and then leave through a different door than the one through which he entered. This is why fire codes require houses to have at least two exterior doors.

Under no circumstances should anyone be allowed to exit the house on New Year’s Day before the first footer has arrived. You don’t want to know what happens then.

In fact, some say that nothing whatsoever, not even trash or recycling, should leave the house on New Year’s Day. If you’ve got to deliver food or gifts on New Year’s Day, you should put them in your car on December 31 so as to avoid taking them out of the house. The year must be started by adding to the household, not subtracting from it. Some say it’s okay to take things out of the house as long as you bring something else in first, but I wouldn’t risk it. Put your women and redheads outside on December 31, and bring them back in on January 2, just to be safe.

What if you live alone, or are a lesbian, or have no dark-haired male friends or brothers to bring luck upon your household/release you from it on New Year’s Day? You can get around the first footer restrictions by placing the aforementioned coal and stuff into a basket with a string tied to it. Place the basket just outside your door before midnight, and then after midnight, open the door and reel it in. Do not just reach out and grab it. This counts as crossing the threshold, and will put you in a world of hurt. We’ve already had two bad years. Don’t make it worse.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017: My Year in Review

It’s become something of a tradition to begin these year-in-review posts with an apology for not having blogged enough over the course of the year just gone by, and I think that’s especially fitting this year, because last year I didn’t even do a year-in-review posts. 2016 was a doozy guys. You know. You were there. Well, 2017 has been rough, too. Here’s what I’ve been up to this year.

I Became Politically Active, Sort Of

I started my year by going to Washington, D.C. with some friends to participate in the Women’s March on Washington, which was a lot bigger than I think any of us expected it to be.

The Trumpy Cat shirt was a good choice.
I didn’t stop there. I started paying attention to politics, sort of, and I started using Resist Bot to fax and email my representatives in Congress RE: exactly how they’re disappointing me each week. I’ve also taken to sending angry tweets to Senator Shelley Moore Capito, which may or may not be keeping me from getting any of the really good jobs. This has kind of backfired on me, though, because it’s caused the Twitter algorithms to show me Senator Capito’s tweets first. This, of course, causes me to send more angry replies, which causes the algorithm to show me more of Senator Capito’s tweets…I’m caught in a vicious cycle, is what I’m saying.

I Got Fat

Oh, you guys, as my primary care doctor won’t stop reminding me, I was already fat. I got fatter. It’s okay, though, because I was out walking around today and it was like minus twelve degrees Fahrenheit, and I was only a little bit cold, because I had my fat jacket on. Of course I had my fat jacket on, because you can’t just take the fat jacket off. It’s inconvenient that way.

I Earned My Master’s Degree

I’m still having that recurring nightmare that I get called up and told that I didn’t take a required course or that I failed a class and didn’t earn the degree after all. In the dream, it’s always a French class that I didn’t pass, even though my Masters in Professional Writing and Editing involved ZERO French classes – I didn’t even have to take the foreign language exam because I have a BA in French. Sometimes I fail the French class outright, but sometimes I just stop attending and forget to drop it before the deadline. They don’t always take away my degree, however. Sometimes they just lower my GPA to – brace yourselves – a 3.0.

I’m also still having the recurring nightmare where I’ve forgotten to attend a class (one of my actual classes, not a fake French class) all semester and am about to fail it. That is, when I’m not having the recurring nightmare that my conference paper is due tomorrow and I haven’t even started the research yet.

My Cat, Penny, Died

Facebook memories are harsh these days, man. I can’t bring myself to change my phone wallpaper, either. I still have it set to her picture.

Miss you, sweetie :'(

I Went to the Beach

Jim's parents rented a beach house in Pauley's Island, South Carolina, so we went to the beach for a few days. Then we spent some time in the Smoky Mountains, where we both remembered how much we hate camping. I'm sure we'll go camping again next year, and hate it just as much.

I Got a Kitten

Jim wanted to name him Connor, but the rescue people were calling him Little, and that seemed to fit, because he was, indeed, very little when I brought him home to live. Plus, he responded to it. But, as I think I’ve mentioned, he has the worst gas I’ve ever smelled. Even the vet has commented on it at his kitten checkups. I’ve told him he stinks so many times that now he thinks his name is Stinky. So, Stinky he is.

Jim is appalled by this, btw. “You can’t call him Stinky! It’s an insult!” he insists, even though he has met Fatty. If only Jim had been around in the days when I was still calling Max Skin Disease. In retrospect, I should have called him, Max, Scabby – it would have been catchier.

 I Got Engaged

Jim and I were discussing this with his parents the other day, and we were both pretty sure we got engaged before Thanksgiving. My post history tells me that we actually announced the engagement at the end of October, but I didn’t get the ring until the first week of November. I probably should have made Jim propose at Christmas, but I could tell he was too excited to wait. Also, what’s the point of a Christmas proposal when it’s just the two of you? That shit requires an audience.

I Got a New Couch

This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s the first couch I’ve ever bought brand new (well, I did buy my psycho ex a futon, but futons don’t count). Previous couches I’ve owned were either purchased from the Goodwill (1), found in the house or apartment when I moved in (3), or brought by Jim (1). Jim’s couch bit it when we invited my friend Mark to join us on it at our Halloween party. All three of us are large people, and the poor couch just collapsed. So Jim and I went the next day and splurged on a new couch at Big Lots. It came already put together and everything.

I Got a Roomba

Jim got me a Roomba for Christmas. It’s not actually a Roomba, it’s an off-brand robot vacuum called an iLife – an iLife V3s, to be exact. I have outsourced vacuuming duties to a robot. It’s amazing. Sure, there’s this big spot next to the TV that it just consistently misses, but I’m okay with that. Sometimes it gets stuck under a cabinet or something and if I don’t come to rescue it right away, it quietly gives up and goes to sleep – can’t blame it, really. With the time I’m saving, I’ll be able to clean the bathroom once in a while.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Here’s What I Thought of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" [SPOILERS]

Last weekend, Jim and I went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As I’ve discussed before, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I don’t think Jim was terribly excited about it, either; he enjoyed neither The Force Awakens nor Rogue One. I hear they’re making a new one about Hans Solo, which promises to be another waste of more than two hours of my only life.

Speaking of which, and not to get too far off topic here, but what’s with making every movie two-and-a-half or three hours long these days? Very few movies are improved by making them more than two hours long. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was certainly not one of them. It, like Blade Runner and Logan, was too damn long. Movies are getting too damn long. If movies get any longer, they’re going to have to bring back the intermission. In fact, I think they already need to bring back the intermission. My favorite thing about seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that I timed my bathroom break so that I missed “nothing much,” according to Jim, and my second favorite thing was that I decided to take a bathroom break at all because, unbeknownst to me at that time, there was still like two weeks of space-ninja-movie left.

Like, okay, I don’t have anything against space ninjas in and of themselves. And I have to admit, I was kind of getting into the movie to begin with. The first three hours of it were great. I really enjoyed it right up to the part where Kylo Ren killed his master, and you think he’s going to join Rey and turn to the light side of the force, because that’s clearly the source of conflict for his character, but actually he just wants to seize power for himself. I mentioned this to my friend Mark, who liked the movie, and he explained that that’s just what Siths do. I guess I would have known that if I had watched the second and third prequels, but I didn’t so it pissed me off.

But, that wasn’t the biggest disappointment of the movie for me. Neither was finding out that Rey’s parents were just a couple of drunks. I mean, sh*t, lots of people’s parents were drunks. One of my parents is a drunk. That doesn’t mean I can’t become a bitchin’ space ninja. It’s called garbage can, not garbage cannot. That said, the franchise could have gotten a lot more mileage out of that plot point. I think it’s going to need it, and here’s why.

Carrie Fisher is dead, may she rest in peace, but unfortunately, this film put all of the franchise’s magic-space-animism eggs in Carrie’s basket. Jim and I were both looking forward to seeing a spectacular light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and, well, anyone, really, and we even thought we were going to get one, but no, it was just Luke force-projecting himself from his island in the interstellar Hebrides.

When I complained about this to Mark, he countered with, “It takes a tremendous amount of strength to force-project a perfect image of yourself across the galaxy.”

Yeah, maybe, but the people wanted a f&ckin’ light saber battle dammit, and by “the people,” I mean me and Jim.

What makes it even worse is that, after force-projecting himself across the galaxy, Luke just disappears. Like, he’s dead, presumably, but instead of dying the traditional way, he “becomes one with the Force” or some sh*t, and I mean, yeah, I know he’s the most famous space ninja who ever lived and the default head of the religion and all, but, wtf? It was unclear to me (and Jim) why Luke had to die in that situation. Mark thinks that the effort of force-projecting himself was so taxing that it left him unable to even keep the molecules of his body together, or something, and that makes sense I guess, but it was still a baffling and dissatisfactory conclusion. Besides, and I realize the filmmakers couldn’t have foreseen Carrie Fisher’s passing, but I feel like they’re going to need to write Luke back in, because Carrie Fisher’s dead, Han is dead, and Rey’s chucking boulders around with no clue what she’s doing. Who’s going to teach Rey to use the Force? She can’t exactly go to school online for that sh*t.

Or can she? Coming in 2018: The trailer for Star Wars: