An Attempt to Explain My Fascination with Zumba

You can see from the last post I entered in February, that I was toying back then with the idea of committing to Zumba. I did not. In the intervening months, I continued to do terrible things to my own health–ate whatever, whenever. Worse still, I remained sedentary. I’m pushing 50, and that just isn’t a good idea. Committing to something like daily exercise just hasn’t been easy for me.

In 2004, a momentary lapse in judgment moved me to document my weight-loss on the pages of the San Antonio Express News.  What was I thinking? I still don’t know. But that was almost ten years ago. I was low-carbing, and my obsessive personality carried me through to losing 25 pounds in one month. Yes. Even as I write that, I cringe to think of it.  It’s true what they say about anything that seems too good to be true. I gained the weight back in no time. Back in 2010, I did it again, this time quietly. I lost about 20 pounds and was shopping for clothes in the teen department. The weight soon came back again.  It does.

Everyone who knows me, knows my weight fluctuates. Everyone who loves me, knows that my intentions are usually pretty good–to get on the wagon–and all the different wagons–and eat right and exercise.  And I do stay on the wagons. For. A. Little. While. At. Least.  This time, as the bathroom scale climbed to numbers I’d not seen since I was pregnant, something different happened: I did not care. Not one whit.  Not at all. I won’t get into it here, but there were reasons for this indifference.

I wasn’t very active and I ate my emotions all day long for the first part of the summer, from May until the end of June. I just didn’t care. I was busy with my family, my writing,  my garden and my animals. Sure. All of those things make me happy. So, so happy. I guess something had to give some place. I guess I’m glad that if something had to suffer, it would be me, just me and this old body, not my family or my sweet pets. I have been a very blissfully happy wife and mother and writer and teacher, but also a  high-functioning sad  girl, incredulous at the meanness of the world and eating her emotions as the ickiest, most unsatisfying kind of balm.

I’m stronger than all that now.

Mostly.

I have the Zumba DVDs and pop them in once in a while and dance around. But in recent weeks, I’ve done what I’d long avoided: I joined a gym and started going to Zumba classes, sometimes twice a day. One Monday morning, in an insomnia-induced stupor, I announced to my husband and daughter that I was going to Zumba. Just like that. Inexplicably.  I got in the car and drove the few minutes over to the gym as if it were something I did every day. The experience was very positive. I’m really graceless and klutzy and even slipped and fell during one particularly up-tempo reggaeton sequence. But I loved it.  I studied the class schedule and figured I would make it over a couple of times a week. Nope. I can’t stay away. Now, mind you, I’ve only been at this for one short month–less than that, really.  But it feels great to get the blood moving. When I’m active, I’m less inclined to put crap down my gullet. I’m an emotional eater, to be sure, but if I can eclipse some sad feelings with an endorphin rush, I might make a better choice when I’m bowing down to the light of the refrigerator. It happens.

I’ve read that doing Zumba might not help me lose the pounds, but it might help whittle away inches.   I’m someone who needs to see the numbers on that scale go back down for a little motivation, but I’ve been uncharacteristically patient. Good thing, too, because the needle on that scale did not budge for over two weeks. What about inches? Yes. I didn’t take any measurements when I started on this journey, but, at last, I’m not popping out of my clothes. It’s just not about the numbers for me any more. I just want to feel better, to be active and healthy.  The rest will follow.

Another thing I like about Zumba is that it is truly a no-judgment zone. I can think of few contexts in life outside of my own family life that I can say that about. At the gym a couple weeks back, a woman made a racist remark about those of us who take Zumba classes. I was stunned because I don’t experience any negative exchanges in the class itself. But frankly, I’ve heard more cruel remarks directed at me and mine in so many other contexts, even in my workplace. Sad, but true.

In the classes we are all supportive of each other.  There are young people there and much older people. Everyone is from everywhere. We are a veritable United Nations of Zumba-ites dancing to songs from diverse genres and places.  I meet people from all over the world in these classes.  No one is envious of another’s moves or abilities or weight loss. We are all there to help each other. This stands in stark contrast with the chiding from “friends” in other contexts who tell me to stop being “boastful.” One even said “You act like you’re the only person who ever worked out.”  I wasn’t being boastful. I don’t think I can convince this person of that, however. Maybe she wants me to remain silent and pre-diabetic. No can do.

And anyway, riddle me this. What’s to brag about? I’m just moving this body. So what? But I can’t say enough about how being active in this other way–with positive people and music that I adore– pulled me out of the doldrums,  from a pretty dark place into  the sweaty, fluorescent light.  Am I being “boastful” about moving my body and trying to be happy in this short time I’m here on earth? No. Is that what people brag about? Gosh. That’s pretty petty. No. I think I was just sharing. I think I was feeling so happy and carrying the good will of my gym classmates (you should hear *their* stories)  over to other areas of my life.  I hope others who have been thinking about doing something *good*  for themselves will be moved to action by my words, just as I continue to be inspired by others along the way.

For a long time, I’ve been reading and “liking” the FB posts of a Friend who makes it over to the gym at 5 am. She works all day *helping others* and makes this time to take care of herself. I’ve admired her for a long time. I think about her almost every time I walk into the gym. For months and months, my sister encouraged me to get out and get to the gym. I never listened. She heard all my sad stories. She knew. She just knew that I needed to get out of my head, out of my way, and to think about improving my health instead of destroying it.  She is a superb dancer and has had incredible success in using Zumba to maintain good health. I think about her every time I enter the Zumba studio. My mother told me many, many times that a little activity would do wonders for me. I was too busy feeling bad to listen. Of course, she was right–always is. A cousin who had experienced it all, guided me along with encouraging words.  My husband also witnessed my steady decline. He paid for my gym membership and coaxed me to join him on the treadmill, in the pool, on the running/walking track at the park.   Like my sister and mother, he understood that some activity  might help me feel a little better.  They were right. I feel a little better.  And my daughter?  Well, there is no better motivation…

I’m also very inspired by my Zumba instructors and classmates. I hope to write about some of them in future posts. Right now, threads of their stories are appearing in other writing projects.

If someone had told me back in May that I’d be choosing to go to Zumba classes everyday, that I’d be looking forward to it, I would have thought they were completely misguided.  Am I going to regret documenting this latest chapter in my blog? Fall term starts again in a couple weeks. I will no longer attend my morning Zumba classes and I’m always really tuckered out when I get home from work. I’ll have courses to prep, papers to grade, a thesis to write and revise, a home and family to take care of.  Am I really going to keep up with evening Zumba classes? I don’t know.  I hope so because it’s a really good thing to do.  That’s why I’m writing about it. I found something I enjoy that’s actually good for me. I wish that for everyone.

There are no magic bullets. No panaceas.  I’m still in the honeymoon phase of all of this, but I feel so very optimistic about it. I hope I can use my energy for good by walking away from negative people and situations. It isn’t always easy.  It’s a heavy, heavy business.  I’m getting stronger.

Like Zumba, Only Better

I dumped out of the blogosphere after only a few months.  I don’t have any real excuses except I got busy with other things and never returned to  it. I look at it once in a while and check my stats. I have about ten views a week on one post or another. That’s more than I had when I was more actively blogging. I wonder what people are Googling that brings them to the site?

I hate admitting that I can be a bit of a dilettante. I start off great guns on some project or other and dive in so deeply that I overdose on the obsessiveness and inevitably flame out. Most times those short-lived hobbies have involved exercising and dieting–activities that lose their shine awfully fast. Blogging involves writing, an activity I enjoy very much.  I didn’t think I’d neglect my blog for as long as I have, but I did. The “before pic” is none too flattering.

Life lately has been full of experiences that are devastating, ludicrous, or pretty wonderful by turns. I’m not sure any of it is blog-worthy. I certainly can’t commit to blogging every day or even every week, but no one says I have to.  I’m a writer. Even if I’m not a very good or successful one, I’m still a writer. I write every single day.  I teach it. I study it. I do it.

I enjoyed a big, fat lunch today. So I’m snacking on homemade and healthy kale chips while I write this. And okay, I’ll probably hit the gym this weekend. I’ll give it another go. Maybe I’ll blog about it.

GOSSIP VIEJAS

A person in the online class I’m taking said something interesting. It’s a course on the “Politics of Narration.” So as expected, we are discussing “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin. In the discussion one person said that she thought the character of Richards–the friend of Brently Mallard–was “feminine” and “like a woman” because he was a “gossip.” Actually, if you go back and read the story, the character says nothing. Certainly he has been the purveyor of the bad (or good, depending on how you look at it) news that Brently has been killed in a train accident. At the turn of the century, certainly the newspaper biz was a man’s world. But here’s my gripe. The idea that he is a “gossip” makes him feminine? That’s a bad rap for women. I often hear people describe gossips as “viejas.” That’s a double whammy of a bad rap if I ever heard one. And look again….A vieja? Is gossiping just a woman thing?

I decided to catalog the people I know given to chisme. The most unrepentant chismosos I know are men.  The women I know who do partake in gossip are a kind of bully. They wallow in the chisme, spread it around good and thick, because they are so unhappy in their own lives. Oh, yes, I know this to be true.  It makes me sad and angry at once. Is it oh, just so human to want to gossip sometimes? I don’t know. It certainly feels wrong when we do it, doesn’t it? But I’ve gotta say, women do it and men do it. By the way, mean people suck.

San Antonio Loses Its Luz Woman

At a soundcheck for the Macondo Writers’ Workshop reading on Wednesday, the Sterling Houston Theater was dark. A tiny spotlight darted across the space like an apoplectic bee.  A figure entered stage left and the light expanded to reveal a radiant Sandra Cisneros.

“That’s the theme of this reading,” she told my daughter and me. “In dark times, art brings us light. Writing is la luz, the light, that transforms the darkness.”

That’s the story of Sandra Cisneros inSan Antonio—the tireless champion for literacy in our town who organizes readings, donates books and her all-too precious time to schools and libraries, and mentors other writers.

In passing, she mentioned there is much to do before she leavesSan Antoniosome time in the next eighteen months. I hadn’t heard that news. My heart sank, and yet I felt glad that she’d just come out and said it out loud.

For as long as I’ve known her, murmurs and gossip and strange fabrications have swirled around this celebrity persona of La Sandra. She seems almost ignorant of that fact and unwittingly counters the chisme with her simple truths.  

But now begins the speculation about her certain departure. I dread the next couple of years could be a time marked by an attitude of “What’s-your-hurry-here’s-your-hat” as far as our collective anticipation of this inevitability goes. It’s difficult not to start thinking about the unthinkable—a San Antonio without Sandra Cisneros.   [To read the rest of this, please click on the link.]

 http://www.plazadearmastx.com/index.php/culture/106-columns/1276-san-antonio-loses-its-luz-woman]

THE QUINCEAÑERA COMES OF AGE

I’m old enough to have celebrated a quinceañera three times over, but I’m not as experienced as you might think with the traditional Sweet 15 celebration observed by Hispanic families in the United States and throughout Latin America. New trends are changing the soft, supple features of the quinceañera as we know it, eschewing schmaltzy sentimentality for in-your-face millennial-generation merry-making.

I didn’t have a quinceañera. Before anyone asks me to surrender my Mex-Am card, the quinceañera was not en vogue when I was growing up; moreover, it just wasn’t a financially feasible family project.

Now that I’m a mom — and one that self-identifies as Mexican American — my 13-year-old daughter believes it’s her God-given right to have the full Chicana experience, including a quinceañera. [—To read more please click on the link—http://plazadearmastx.com/index.php/culture/106-columns/1255-the-quinceanera-comes-of-age ]

CASEY ANTHONY IS NO LA LLORONA

Around here, most of us have heard the story of La Llorona. Maybe some of us have even prudently, if sadistically, shared the story to deter younger siblings from swelling arroyos after a storm. Maybe we’ve even considered the legend of the star-crossed wailing wretch during this summer’s unexpurgated, unabridged Casey Anthony Carnival Cruise. Fact is, with the tragic stories of filicide in recent history, La Llorona has become the go-to metaphor folks pull out as if it were some novel idea no one’s thought of. It’s become as predictable as tomorrow’s rainless forecast. The irony is that what we can’t foretell or even begin to comprehend is a mother murdering her child. […MORE…To read the rest, please click on the link. http://plazadearmastx.com/index.php/culture/106-columns/1231-casey-anthony-is-no-la-llorona]

‘TIS TRUE: PRE-TEENS AND TEENS STILL NEED VACCINES

photo by bioethicsinstitute.org

Last summer we received a letter from the state with a daunting directive.  Seventh graders were required to have the Varicella (chicken pox) TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular petussis), and the meningococcal vaccines.

I felt reticent to brandish my daughter’s bare shoulder for needles full of chemicals.We braced ourselves for weeks. The dread-filled pall of the doctor’s appointment hung over our heads, as did the amount of money we would be charged for all three vaccines—upwards of 300 dollars. Two words: necessary evil.

We’re in the blind-followers camp when it comes to the government. I’m less inclined to question and more inclined to follow the letter of the law. But this felt like a Big-Brother invasion of privacy—and an expensive one. For the first time in my adult life I researched a loophole.

That was my first mistake. I researched the diseases the vaccinations fend off—but not the CDC website itself. I walked around like a disease-ridden wretch, cursing the school, the state, diseases and vaccines. A little knowledge really is a dangerous thing. But information is power.

Lucky for us, our nurse practitioner was patient. My daughter chattered nervously with her for the duration. Before we knew it, she’d received all the vaccinations.

The nurse practitioner was where we received the best information one-on-one. She also directed us to the CDC website. My daughter asked a lot of questions and was suitably relieved that she’d not suffer unduly for her sincere efforts to follow the law. The nurse reassured us that the shots fend off untold troubles related to these diseases.  Fortunately, my daughter did not suffer side effects. A little tenderness here and there was the worst of it. Priceless.

Now all that’s left to dread is high school. Ay, dios mio.

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The CDC sponsored this post. Check out their website @   http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/who/teens/index.html

CROSSING THE CHECKPOINT

At the I-35 checkpoint between Laredo and San Antonio, I turn off the car stereo playing Marco Antonio Solís’ “O Me Voy O Te Vas.” I remove my sunglasses so the agents can see my eyes. I prompt my daughter in the backseat to put her shoes on and sit up tall. “Answer him clearly when he asks you,” I say to her.

 “Okay, mom,” she replies, closing her book.

 “And don’t say, ‘Okay.’” I tell her. “And no ‘Yeah.’ Say ‘Yes!’ Just like that.” I turn to my husband who is driving. “And, you, don’t joke with him,” I instruct. “Sit up straight, would you? Why didn’t you shave this morning? Oh, man, they are so gonna bust us!”

 When the agent peers in, I feel myself transformed, my hair in two long black plaits, and my skin the caramelized pecan color of my forebears. “Please don’t shoot me,” I want to say. Instead I nod vigorously and squeak “yes” as if I’m responding for the first time to a new language. But it’s the same question I’ve heard hundreds of times before: “American citizen?” […To read more, please click on the link: http://plazadearmastx.com/index.php/culture/106-columns/1207-crossing-the-checkpoint]

SUMMER TIME MEMORIES…AND A SMILE

Backyard family barbecues during my childhood in Laredo,Texas happened on magically long summer evenings when a stubborn twilight managed to eke out its last gleaming even after 9:00. We wore no watches. It was summer. For the only time in our lives we didn’t have to worry about homework or fret about bedtimes.

On the radio blared the sounds of the Four Seasons exclaiming about that night back in ’63 or Timi Yuro imploring us to “Smile.”

We ran and screamed and played with only intermittent trips inside the kitchen to find our mother seeing to the pot of beans simmering on the stove. We scurried back outside with her to “check the fire.”

Ah yes. The summer Saturday barbecue. Or as we said it in those parts, the “Carne Asada.” That phrase named the meal but also the family gathering.

My dad would set up the huge oil barrel pit, pockmarked and rusty from years of exposure under our orange trees. He purposefully poured in the charcoal. He chopped up leña—the mesquite that made the fire smell so much better than the chilly November bonfires of the city’s rival high schools.

After that it was a frustrating coin toss. My father had a weekly battle with the fire. Adding fuel to that conflict was the fact that he didn’t care much for the grilled fajitas or beef skirt–the inexpensive but mouth-wateringly delicious cut of meat we craved and awaited patiently.

That’s when my mother would charge out the back door to the barbecue pit toting a pitcher of water in one hand and in the other a large swatch of cardboard from some box long ago discarded. She was quite expert at it. She waved it over the fire, fanning some imperceptible ember, and then squinted as gray ribbons of smoke blew all around her. She waited patiently in a glowing serene vigilance.

My father protested saying he didn’t want to “quemar un palo” (which translates to “burn a stick”) just to be able to eat. He was inevitably distracted in the backyard by all of the other self-imposed chores he saw around him. He pulled weeds or edged the sidewalk. He hauled branches to the back of his truck or toiled in his workshop. He just couldn’t slow down long enough to wait for the fire.

My siblings and I were regularly recruited to assist in these impromptu chores or in the cooking happening inside the house. Mainly we played and turned up the radio if “Wooly Bully” or “La Bamba” came on; we smiled and swelled with pride over hearing Spanish lyrics coming from the top 40 station.

My mom came to the barbecue rescue not because she is such a brilliant cook. She is. No doubt about that. My mom corrected the stalling embers because she understands fire.

She was forced to forge a quick and trusting relationship with the element when she was a migrant worker. My grandmother, a single mother of eight, traveled with her brood up north to places where gradations of climate weren’t limited to warm, warmer still, and hot. Sometimes my granny cooked even the family breakfast over an open campfire before she and the children set out to meet the hard physical work of the day. Even in their little house back in Laredo, a small gas heater glared in the front room where they all huddled close and slept together on long winter nights that unexpectedly blew in.

My daughter is an only child. I wish for her these days a screaming, sweating swarm of siblings—even brothers like mine who were merciless in those endless, goal-less chases, scraping past tree branches, scratching at mosquito bites, plucking the stray thorny sticker clinging to our skin. Believe it or not, I wish that for her—that adrenaline rush abandon maybe only athletes can relive as adults.

Because of this summer’s merciless drought, I’ve not grilled much at all. However, in recent years I was indeed the keeper of the flame at my house. Maybe it bordered on pyromania. It used to be a weekend thing, but the addiction rendered me weak. If we scratched our heads over what to have for dinner, I could usually entice my little family into some small grilled feast at least a few times a week. The neighbors must have thought we had no stove.

In some strange way, taking on this role makes me feel more grown up. A kid can pull out a tiny cake from an Easy-Bake Oven, scramble eggs, or mash up the potatoes while mom checks on the pot roast. But children don’t have a very big part in the barbecue production. My brothers used to dare me to toss twigs into the roaring fire, but I didn’t dare tease the gods–or my mother–with that kind of horseplay.

Those endless summer nights decades ago were some of the happiest times of my childhood. They involved no rewards, no presents or toys or privileges. They were just times spent out-of-doors with the people that mattered most.

At the end of those nights, bathed and pajamaed, I made the rounds to finally kiss my folks good night. Dad busied himself with the outdoor clean-up and mom washed up the last dish. They hugged me tightly, and I carried the lingering scent of the summer night to bed with me, the last strains of an old song barely audible above the soft insistent whirr of the fan.