The Non-Instagram Parts of Fitness

Fitspiration and #BodyGoals are everywhere. Some authentic, some Photoshopped. All waxed, polished, enhanced with make-up and flaws removed with hair perfectly straightened (seriously, who doesn’t tie their hair up while working out?). The glamorous part of fitness is plastered all over Instagram. Color-coordinated workout ensembles at $129.99 an outfit, toned and airbrushed tushies nestling Brazilian-cut thongs, and spreads of fruit platters, photogenic and supposedly low-calorie chocolate desserts, and delicious-LOOKING green-smoothies that MUST be healthy because an Instagram fitness model posted it (FYI, I’ve had a real kale/veggie/fruit smoothie blended for me by my bestie with no additives or sugar; it was a horrific green sludge that I struggled to choke down).

But when the average I’m-gonna-start-going-to-the-gym-it’s-my-new-years-resolution gal begins a fitness journey, she’ll encounter some things you won’t find on social media. I certainly wasn’t ready for or expecting the following:

1) You can outgrow your wardrobe.

If you’re looking to build muscle mass (as opposed to losing weight, which, actually, everyone should aim for because even for those aiming to lose weight, ideally you should be gaining muscle mass) you want those GAINS. But this means you might go up a size in your clothes. Sounds counter-intuitive, huh? I remember when I learned the truth about “toning.” It’s kind of a myth. You must build muscle in order to “tone.” There’s no other way. You might think, oh, i’m just replacing fat with muscle, but muscle is stronger and denser than fat (and it also lays on top of it), so while sliding slender, jiggly thighs into those tight skinny jeans was once easy, forcing that same denim over thicker muscle becomes more of a challenge. I had never experienced my thighs rubbing together before in shorts (thigh gaps are stupid anyway). I had to buy all new jeans or else risk discomfort and chronic yeast infections. :/

2) DOMS HURTS.

I remember good ol’ Joe Mango from my last job, who religiously woke up at 4:20am (this time means nothing to him, it’s a total coincidence) four days a week to visit the gym before work. Sometimes I’d see him walk slowly down the long hallway to and from the kitchen, with a slightly pronounced pimp-swagger. Now I know the reason. If you’re strength-training your legs, approximately 24 hours later, that Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness kicks in and YOU FEEL IT. Sitting hurts. Standing up from sitting hurts. Walking after standing up from sitting for a prolonged period of time HURTS. You may have to start off with a duck-waddle to get the right momentum going. You eventually forget the hurt if you keep moving, but movement after a time of rest makes your muscles remember, and that memory is brutal and can last for days. #PainzisGainz

3) You will want to eat all the time. And little salad diets won’t cut it.

Not knocking salads (actually, yes I am, I hate those things lol). But, especially the next 24 hours after your gym session, a voracious appetite will visit you that’ll make you want to devour a whole pizza. Which you could, but probably wouldn’t want that to be the meal of choice after a gym session, ey? Note: I have an odd relationship with pizza. 

Good ol’ Joe Mango and fellow muscle-ridden lifter bro Vadim were the human garbage disposals of our old department. Anything we didn’t want, or couldn’t finish, was handed to them to be swiftly decimated. Leftover Chinese? Catch guys. Half-eaten muffin? Here ya go. Spare California rolls or miso soup/salad that came automatically with the lunch special? Delivered to them on a side plate. They never declined our offers. Sometimes they’d battle to the death over our scraps (j/k, j/k, they were gentlemen about it). Once I started gymming, I understood. You gain a Godzilla appetite that must be satiated immediately with something filling. Your body craves protein and hearty repasts; you naturally crave a higher caloric-intake to keep up with your routine and what you’re burning off. And since you NEED those extra calories, including carbs, if you’re strength-training, dieting isn’t an ideal option. The better option is to switch up what you eat so you can consume more of it. #CaloricSurplusisGainz

4) You will stress about working out if you’ve gotten a fresh new tattoo.

I’ll be the first to admit I was raised by a mother who exhibits extreme symptoms of paranoia often, and some of that paranoia surfaces in myself as a result. When I get a new tattoo, I don’t want to move my arm, I don’t wanna flex, I don’t wanna lean on it, sleep on it, bump it, breathe on it. Hell, some sites even caution you to avoid HOT, SWEATY SEX, just for the initial healing process, and they’re right, you can ignore some sensual pangs for a lil’ bit to avoid ruining something you’re etching on your skin for life. Going to the gym with a new tat feels akin to bringing a new baby with you. The gym is filled with bacteria, sweat, potential for infection, what if the weight knocks against it, what if it gets rubbed while I squat, what if I stretch my joint too far and it breaks the scabbing before it’s ready to come off, IS IT POSSIBLE FOR IT TO GET STRETCHED WITH MY STRETCHING, let me check it every 5 minutes to look for signs of ruination but it’s already scabby and peely anyway so if I’ve fucked it up then I won’t know until A MONTH LATER AFTER HEALING’S COMPLETE ANYWAYAHHHHHH.

Extreme paranoia makes me push back my workout sessions 1-2 weeks during the tattoo healing phase.

And also sex.

Social media doesn’t show the whole process. So the next time you’re scrolling through Instagram and pause at that *highly-likely* Photo-shopped model gazing wistfully off a Victorian terrace with a gorgeous tropical island backdrop on her tip-toes like it’s casual but it’s not really cause she’s posing, wearing a designer cropped sweatshirt and cheeky panties with zero cellulite and a practically concave belly, remember the truth behind the glamour.

If it’s natural (or as natural as one can get what with social media’s filters and teeth-brightener/wrinkle-reducing/stretch-mark removing apps and what-not) she likely goes through one of these. And if it’s not natural and simply #adobegains then…these don’t apply.

But shhh…it’s a secret. <.<

~Tael

Mix Hoodies With Black

I tend to have some pretty down-to-earth conversations about racial truths with one of my cousins, who is like a brother to me. They’re never serious, debate-like, haughty, “woke” ones; just some “Damn, shit’s really like this, huh,” ones.

One lovely experience that reinforced the scaffolding of our own invisible prejudice occurred during a trip to Atlantic City for my birthday a few years back that I’ve shared on Facebook before. It was late and dark and the ATM I needed was the drive-thru kind in an empty secluded lot. My cousin instantly put the fear in our party’s hearts by mentioning how one could easily get robbed here. He does this. Like when we went to see “Get Out” on opening night and he said he hoped no white supremacist would come shoot up our theater in protest of the movie. T_T’ Had me looking at white boys with backpacks who couldn’t sit still and the exit routes for half the movie, praying.

The ATM wasn’t constructed in a way where the car could get close; we rolled down the window and I slung half my body out, engaging my core to access the screen and withdraw as quickly as I could. OF COURSE, at that very moment, a black guy with a hoodie enters the lot and seems to make a beeline for our car. Stuck hanging out the window, waiting for the machine to process the withdrawal, while everyone else is giving commentary, “He’s coming closer!” “Did he just pull out a ski-mask?” “LOCK THE DOORS!!” I panic, terrified and fully believing I’m about to get buck-fiftied for my meager checking account balance. I’m not sure if I made it to the part where I actually got the money. I may have just jettisoned myself back into the car and screamed “DRIVE, JUST DRIVE,” without completing the transaction.

Dude walked right past us.

Was our fear justified?

If you were walking down a block at night and saw a group of Black teenagers clustered outside of the projects, would you cross the street to avoid…”something?”

I don’t. Not anymore. I don’t because what am I afraid of? Why should I be afraid to walk past a group of my own race at night? At most, as a woman, to avoid catcalling, but I’d rather show solidarity. When I confidently pass them, they either quiet down or throw out a greeting. I acknowledge them back as fellow humans and keep it moving and the “big, scary moment” is over. I don’t want to fear my own people. If it was a group of White men in suits, there wouldn’t even be a situation up for discussion, my cousin says. Or if it was a group of Asian men.
What if they were wearing hoodies?

“What about Spanish men?” I ask.
“Probably not. A bunch of light-skinned guys don’t look as threatening.”
What if they’re wearing hoodies?
“But your skin is the darkest of all; would you be afraid to walk past a group of you?”

There is not a clear cut answer.

“What if it were Black men in suits?”

Then it probably wouldn’t be an issue either. Everyone loved Men In Black.

What if they were Black but wearing glasses, skater gear, a Nintendo shirt…blahblahblahblahnothoodies, why do what they’re wearing hold so much weight? Why do we trust clothes before people?

I don’t want that ingrained fear that was instilled in me growing up. I’m Black and I wear hoodies. To fear another Black-in-a-hoodie seems silly. I want to break that fear. And so I walk past them, fearless and without judgment. Because we are all people, and we deserve that much. Most especially from our own.

~Tael

The Zen of Twitter

I’m proud to say that I’m not a Twitter snob.

You know the type.

They generally have a rather large follower-to-following ratio and openly brag about how they don’t do “Follow-4-Follow.” Then they get publicly insulted when someone stops following them because it wasn’t reciprocated, but why are you really upset? Because you thought you were some kind of celebrity and how could that loser with only 212 followers possibly unfollow YOU? You, with your clearly higher Twitter-cred?

Peasant.

It brings the questions to light: Are you on social media to make friends and connect with like-minded individuals? Or are you simply here to continue the popularity code that most hope to leave behind once they graduate school? Or perhaps you’re out here solely to attain celebrity status and bask in it?

You’ll encounter many who’ll say they don’t care about followers (usually those who have the most followers actually; aren’t they so humble?) For me, the concern doesn’t lie so much with the follower count, so much as the stasis.

Let me explain the Zen of Twitter. It’s the concept of balance (ninjas are all about balance). When you follow someone, you are doing so to somehow “benefit” from this new connection, whether it’s following a brand for updates on sales or new releases, following a celebrity to satiate your fandom, or following someone with a similar point of view who maybe makes insightful comments or gives you a daily dose of laughter whom you become friends with. If they follow you back, you’ve immediately gained something as they’ve completed the “link” and balance is achieved. If, after this, you try to talk to them and they ignore all your @s, that balance is disrupted and you decide if just having them remain as a dead-follower-weight is worth it for your “ratio.”

If they don’t follow you back, there’s really absolutely no obligation to remain following them unless you REALLY dig what they’re posting and you’re gaining from it. It’s their picture and posts that will be showing up on your feed, so you need to decide if you really want them to be there. And the unfollowed shouldn’t be angry if they didn’t complete the link in the first place.

I primarily follow the gaming community on Twitter because I don’t like my feed filled with dumb shit like “Lose weight instantly using this method,” or an innundation of narcissistic selfies (they always find their way in though). I want cute characters, hilarious gaming memes, geek culture, and cats. Anyone not familiar with the gaming community on social media would be surprised at the number of snobs in our own! You’d think that we’d all want to follow each other out of solidarity because we’re posting about the same topics, and not only if we’re currently into the same game, or #TeamNintendo. But also only if we have a wall dedicated to our collection worthy of a #SundayShelves. Even though we follow all the same people. And communicate in the same conversations. And have even played each other online. XD

But the truth is, it’s your Twitter account. And someone following you just because they want to hear your thoughts contained in a 140 character tweet is pretty awesome and should be appreciated. But you are free to follow or unfollow whomever you want to maintain your balance and ensure you’re benefiting from the deal. Unless you’re purposely unfollowing someone you’ve been cool with and had great conversations for awhile with no explanation whatsoever.

Then you’re just a jerk.

As a non-snob, heres a list of those I’m not likely to follow back on Twitter:

-In your face Bible thumpers
-Sexy_gurls_l00king4_gud-time
-GROWYOURFOLLOWERSINSTANTLY
-Feed cloggers who post mundane statuses every 5 minutes (I have literally seen “Bout to walk down these stairs” as a post)
-Strictly solicitors (Posting to promote your mixtape/YouTube Channel/Twitch is fine. Posting to promote your mixtape/YouTubeChannel/Twitch 10 times a day and constantly begging for support and Auto-Dming to help you reach 1000 subs is not, unless you’re reciprocating something to keep that balance
-Those who post strictly in another language, like arabic, cause I dunno what the hell you’re saying

Everyone else is generally good. Keep up the Zen.

~Tael

You Can Touch My Hair

I’ve heard it around the Internet how offensive it is to touch a Black woman’s hair. And maybe I’m feeling kind of left out that no one’s making requests for mine. Then I second-guess myself and wonder: Maybe they have been. Maybe they have, and it’s such a non-issue for me that it’s eroded from my memory.

My cultural collective says I should be enraged and offended if this happens. That it’s supposed to be some subtle form of micro-aggressive racism and I should feel objectified since I’ve had to overcome so much amidst the war against natural Black hair. But I’ve willingly tossed my locks into others’ hands so they can feel how lightweight they are. I’m a proud dreadhead and I’m proud of how far my own have progressed. And one thing I love about having them, is that I frequently receive compliments on them from across the race spectrum, from Black to Asian to Italian, from those I’ve worked with, to passersby on the street, to randoms at a service counter.

And I appreciate that.

I remember the turning point when I decided to lock up for good. It was after watching Floetry’s Say Yes music video.

Dreads are a vibe. A mood. I soaked up that vibe and ejected it out through my scalp and never looked back. I embrace my hair the same way I embrace questions about it. The only one I ever find mildly irritating is “Do you think you’ll keep them?” As if they’re some kind of throwaway hairstyle or fashion statement. Or a pet you’ll grow tired of. This question usually comes, surprisingly, from the Black community. As if I haven’t been cultivating a thriving garden of life on my head for the past 11 years.

But when those of varying races and nationalities find my hair impressive, and stop me on the street to let me know, I appreciate that. And if they say “Dude, I love your hair. Do you mind…” and reach out hesitantly with curiosity, because they’re afraid to finish the question and they fear some perceived inevitable wrath, I’ll whip some locks straight into their outstretched hand and say “Feel em!” The same way I would with a curious toddler who enhances their knowledge of the world through touch. I want you to be interested. Yes, we wash them, although not everyday (but most Black hair isn’t washed every day anyway). Yes, there might be a little lint stuck in there. No, not everyone chooses to let them grow into a tangled mass with little maintenance. Yes, at this point, if I wash my hair in the shower my dreads fall into my butt-crack. And yes, I also sometimes grab a bunch and hold them between my nose and upper lip like a mustache. It feels good.

I want to enlighten you if you’re interested in my hair. And as long as you don’t secretly cut them off from a seat behind me on the subway, we good.

You can touch my hair. Just ask first.

~Tael

P.S. If I get to know you, and you have an afro, I’m gonna ask to touch it. Because it’s an afro.

The Vilification of Shyness

I come from a family of acceptance and varied personalities across the spectrum. The outgoing, the charismatic, the loud and boisterous, the low-toned pipe-ups, the never-smile-for-photos, the Let’s-Take-40-Photos-at-the-Same-Angle-and-Only-Slightly-Mix-Up-The-People, the ones who avoid the center of attention like the plague. We’ve got it all. Maybe I was raised in a bubble. The New York one, I’ll get to in a later post, but the acceptance bubble. Because the real world is not as graciously accepting of the unfamiliar.

Assimilating into the world from beneath the comforting blanket of your family, one constant mind-boggler has been that there are many who treat shyness and introverted natures with disdain. Perhaps they don’t understand them; perhaps it doesn’t exist in their own families; perhaps it seems very Columbine-esque to them and they fear we’ll murder them in their sleep. Growing up, we brought many friends and lovers into the family, and half of them were introverts. They were shy, spoke quietly (and duh, why shouldn’t they be, they were just meeting us) and we respected this and surrounded them with our raucous laughter and love and never made them feel a certain way if they didn’t speak enough or remained on the sidelines.

Leaving my own family though, I’ve encountered the opposite throughout life. I’ve had people tell me my shyness and habit of keeping to myself has come off as rude, intimidating, and arrogant. When in the world did this happen? When did a lower voice and less speech and more social observation make you a villain? Sure, in grade school, it was more likely to make you a pariah, until you matured and realized not everyone is a social butterfly with a big mouth.

At family gatherings and events, you might have found me huddled in a quiet corner with a book on the outskirts. An only child until the age of 15, I learned early to be comfortable with silence and isolation. My comfort zone was in solitary. My mom constantly answered questions toward me for me, might have realized that wasn’t the best move, and once took me to a church function where she plopped me in a group of kids I didn’t know and demanded I make friends before walking away. I immediately burst into tears from the pressure. Middle school I was pretty friendless. I clung to what little social interaction was offered to me, played Gameboy in the yard, tried not to hide out in bathroom stalls at lunch, and dreaded when the teachers gave us the opportunity to choose our own groups for projects. High school I developed sweaty palms from the social anxiety, frequently wore gloves to hide this fact, and prayed I wouldn’t be questioned when I went to shake someone’s hand or I left damp palm-prints on the science tabletops.

Eventually, you encounter people in this world that don’t care if you veer away from social situations and probably even understand it (I would think it to be fairly easily relatable). But you also continue to encounter ones that still look down on it, as I did recently. And I’ll likely continue to encounter it the older I get, because not everyone is accepting to your personality, whether you’re in their face with it or not, and not everyone is willing to see the deeper you past your reserved layer. In our society, where partying and raucous antics are considered the epitome of a good time, if you deviate from this, you must be ready to defend yourself. Because if you hide on the outskirts and don’t drink as much, your motives will be questioned. Because if your anxiety gets the best of you at the wrong time, and you seek solace in isolation to recover, you lose worth in their eyes.

Thoughts

The ninja lifestyle can be misunderstood by most. But I am not lonely to continue its path. If you’ve ever been judged by your shyness, find me.

~Tael

The Holy Cage

If you’ve read Chaos (un)Controlled, you encountered tidbits of Rixa’s dark, arson-laced poetry during church. Uniquely written specifically for this novel? Nope. But the creative, rage-driven thoughts of an actual teenager forced to worship? Absolutely. I wrote The Holy Cage myself years ago and performed it as spoken word, when I was feeling very much like Rixa. I pulled excerpts from it because it was incredibly fitting considering the storyline. You can see the full original version in its entirety below:

I call it a cage.
Enclosed within those “spiritual” bars that consume me with rage.
Yes, I believe I am of age to lash out at the “holy hands”
Of my family that chain me with bands…
I am…forced…
To carry that torch, that as soon as I leave my house, I douse.
Wicked fantasies of flames, gripping at the lush carpet in exchange for my freedom.
Fire licking at the crumbling walls, the building falls.
I want to burn this place down,
while Last Supper portraits peel and blister, they’ll frown
at the demon achieving her freedom through an arson’s plough.

Wicked fantasies, of protruding my tongue to release my gum
Into the brass tray they pass.
“This is my contribution to your institution.”
This man at the pulpit will not control me,
His words do not hold me.
But they are all sold on a few scriptures riddled with holes
As he boldly shows what he thinks they mean.
They are lost in dreams that are not their own; they clutch at symbols and make them more.
The door to this building is just a door.
Polished wood and crushed velvet drapes, life-sized crucifix,
I need to escape.

I am constantly being nudged awake.
I have no respect
for an institution that forces people to come to its beckon.
That uses fear to control its prey,
Fear of a fate in a fiery pit if you don’t do it this way.

Many walk through that door that is only a door,
Walk back out no different than before.
Sanctification on only one day, the rest reserved for heathen play.
My spiritual stock is not derived from an edifice;
That path, is in my heart, and in pious actions
Not in concrete slabs with electrical wiring that fall apart
where the glue to hold is that so called offering that comes from your heart.
“Do you feel his presence? Well all you have to do is give us presents.”
In the form of tithes.
My spiritual connection resides in myself
While a minister, administers correction
when he may need the most help himself.
My spiritual faith does not rely on a guy in maroon robes
Assumed to be holy cause he told us so.
Breathing phrases from the leather-bound book in his hands,
He is no different from us,
Yet we lift him up and continue to pay his price like he’s Jesus Christ.
But they’ll continue to misplace their spiritual following in a mistaken faith.
Clung to as a savior, I call it a curse.
But they call it…church.

Why I’m Not LitRPG

I’m the first one to jump and say that Chaos (un)Controlled is a YA that blends gaming and RPG elements. When I was trying to box my genre for self-publishing, I learned of a newly emerging genre, LitRPG, which encompasses books that involve characters within a game. Basically a blend of literature and role-playing. My first thought was “Oh wow! I’ve finally found an actual niche rather than YA Contemporary Science Fantasy because that’s a mouthful.” Upon additional Googling research and website perusion (yea, I make up words that sound cool; I’m a writer, what of it?), I discovered I was WRONG.

The exemplary Ready Player One is a good fit for that category. Besides that one though, the books I found using this particular tag were far too literal. Like, avatars, hit points, NPCs and all that. And orcs. Chaos (un)Controlled takes RPG elements, but the entire story is not an RPG. I consider it more the story-boarding side of a game before the actual mechanics are introduced. Hardcore LitRPG seems like an extremely niche category not meant to have widespread demographic appeal; it’s meant to draw in those old Dungeons & Dragons and MMO players. I never got into PC gaming, with the exception of The Sims and the wildly entertaining Theme Hospital. I was strictly #TeamConsole, and PCs were generally the platform for MMOs. I remember the first time I got a trial disc in the mail; I believe it was EverQuest. It looked amazing at the time, but it required a subscription and A. My mom was not going to pay this for me and B. She also didn’t believe in putting her credit card online back then. -.- That would have been my PC gaming induction and I missed it.

Chaos (un)Controlled brings gaming elements into a real-life story, but could just as easily be bringing real-life elements into a gaming structure. It purposely creates a realistic world and a dream-like setting side-by-side, putting a magnifying glass to each world and blurring the edges. But I can’t call it LitRPG. Rixa doesn’t sign in with her avatar and follow a strict numerical hit-and-attack point system. She’s not hooked up to the OASIS online. She doesn’t battle harpies and goblins and griffins. She harnesses an internal power driven by focus and emotion. She crosses planes bringing her real life and fantasy life together.

While a LitRPG summary like “involves a character submerged into an alternate reality where characteristics of a role playing game are inherent,” is enticing and almost seems perfect, Chaos (un)Controlled’s storyline seems far different from novels with that genre tag. For now, I continue to remain the lone wolf on the sidelines. YA Contemporary Science Fantasy it is.

Ninja out.

*Fades into the shadows*

(Ya’ll remember fading in chat rooms, right?)

~Tael