December 2, 2014

Work It: Feminism and Fitness Feature

My Favorite Failure: an Introduction
Elizabeth Hall

A year ago I was asked to write an essay about fitness for eohippus labs, a micropress based out of Los Angeles. The editors placed no limitations on length, form, or style. The timing was unfortunate: I worked seven days a week, at three different jobs, in three different cities around LA. I struggled to sit still long enough to read a wikipedia article much less write an essay.  It’s true: I had lied to the editors, assuring them that I already had a text in progress. Months passed. I emailed the editors: “soon” and “almost done.” I had not written a single sentence. I was busy. Out of necessity, daily exercise—performed before or after work—had replaced writing as the prime mover in the active labor of keeping me sane, a person in the first place, and not some other walking, talking thing.

I did try to write. Every morning before the sun rose I would walk to the gym, thoroughly exhaust myself, then walk back to my apartment, notebook in hand. I tried to channel the precise sensation of lifting weights, of dancing, of stretching deeper and deeper within myself. I wrote nothing.  My failure did not bother me. I simply did not know how to proceed. This not-caring, however, was new to me. It had been daily exercise itself—the ritual of breaking down muscles in order to build them up again—that had conditioned me to failure, to relish its pleasures, to seek it out whenever possible. I lingered in my not-knowing.  Soon I found it necessary to walk to the library for the first time in months, to sit very still and read and read and read. 

I read all afternoon. As I read I discovered I was not alone in my particular failing. In her essay Bodies of Work, Kathy Acker describes her own inability to write about bodybuilding. After failing time and time again to finish an essay on the topic, she experimented with keeping a workout diary. She described the journaling process as another failure: “After each workout I forgot to write. Repeatedly I...some part of me...the part of the “I” who body builds...was rejecting ordinary language, any verbal description...”  Ordinary language had been replaced by the language of the body.  A language created through the repetition of breath, of traveling further into one’s own body. The more I worked out—the more I failed to write about working out—the more I began to slow down, discover that language, like the body, is not always so controllable. The essayist, like the bodybuilder, is always working in and around this failure.  

Let me put it another way: I knew I needed a new language to describe the experience of exercise but I didn’t know what that language might look like. I read through blogs, exhausted my library’s offerings, emailed friends for book recommendations. It was in this spirit that I asked Amanda Montei, a writer and veteran yoga student, to co-edit a feature for Delirious Hem about fitness and feminism. The premise for the project was simple: we wanted to read more literary writing about working out.

In our open call for submissions, we expanded our definition of “working out” to include the various ways women work their bodies, including the work of motherhood, of writing, of maintaining one’s health and mental clarity, among other things. Although we initially conceived of our project as an anthology—a collection of published pieces—the submissions we received were mostly original texts. This delighted us. More writing—more for us to read—had been the whole point.

Throughout the month of December we will be posting essays, poems, short stories, and interviews every day on Delirious Hem by

Marisa Crawford, Flip Turn
Elizabeth Colen, What I Cannot Do
Elizabeth Hall lives and loves in Long Beach, CA. Her chapbook, Two Essays, is forthcoming from eohippus labs. You can read more of her writing here.


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