Saturday, December 29, 2007

Don't Be Scared, Pump Real Iron

The much-fitter-than-thou (or me, or anyone I know) blogger at Fitness Fixation takes umbrage with the model selection in the Champion catalogue, whose little skinny-ass arms belie their presense in a fitness catalogue:

"...I was flipping through your latest issue with the chicks awkwardly rollerblading and everyone lounging on the b-ball court, and I noticed that you had this little section where the models were prancing around steps (like step aerobics) and using dumbbells. When you look closer, you can see that they are, in fact, using 5 pound dumbbells. Hence the straw arms, hmmm?

I then wracked my brain to think of one exercise I might do using 5 pound dumbbells. Pinky curls for when I want a more toned coke-snorting finger? Maybe I could try and lift a 5 pounder with my eyelashes? Because, you know, I don’t think that’s gonna do a hell of a lot for my arms…

Now I’m not trying to be all big-dick weight (as in, my massive barbell is my penis stand-in, which it is sometimes, but hey, cheaper than a Ferrari.) 5 pounds is a fine starter weight for someone new to fitness and weight training and all. But, um, shouldn’t the models in a sportswear and fitness getup catalog be somewhat farther along in their fitness travels than your average novice lady exerciser? Like up to using (gasp) 10 pound dumbbells at least…

Okay, so why am I so pissy about 5 pound dumbbells, other than the fact that pissy is my true nature (even Buddhists think so.) Well, I’ll tell you, and thanks for asking. Because a few studies have shown that women do not lift NEARLY enough weight to get much or any benefit from weight training. I think most were lifting like 35 percent of their 1 RM (the max amount you can lift one time) which is waaay below where anyone should be. But you know, chicks get scared of bulking up (the vast majority won’t) and I think many women are sucked into the myth that we are ladies, we lift itty bitty weights cuz we get the vapors and we are delicate and those big, rusty barbells are for dudes with no necks. Which means plenty of females wasting hours upon hours at the gym, 'weight training' in a way that does NOTHING.

And of course, aside from the time-waste, there’s that part of me that always comes back to fitness as a kind of feminism. Do not, repeat, do not give me any stupid shit about proportionally less upper body strength than men, blah blah blah. Cuz so fucking what? That should not mean that women are relegated to “girl” push ups or abandoning pull ups or dicking around with teensy little colored dumbbells (or pencils or air, hee hee). Bitches can totally do push ups from the feet, get pull ups, learn Olympic lifts, press heavy dumbbells, bench press like monsters, etc. Do you want to ask the out-of-shape guy in your office to carry that box for you because you are a woman and somehow he must be stronger because he has a dick? Do you want to tolerate feeling like the weaker sex? I fucking hope not. Lift, grunt, and flex those guns, my girls. Please. Don’t be a wuss because you think you should be one. It’s bad form.

So Champion catalog people, do you think next time you could find some models who can pick up something heavier than a hairbrush? Toss out the 5 pound dumbbells and bring in some good weights? Have the girly models challenge the guys to a push up contest? Please? Let’s see some actual sweat and athletics to show how effective your wicking shit is. (Cue inspirational music, cut to shots of Rosie the Riveter and Billie Jean King and so on.) Do it for the future of our girls. C’mon, bitches! "

RIGHT ON, SISTER!! I love how she writes, too--no pussyfooting around, and I always feel an affinity for any woman who will drop an f-bomb. (You can take me out of the Army, but the Army will always live in my potty mouth.)

I hate looking at fitness magazines and clothing catalogues with little stick-figurines who look like the only weight they lift is their mascara wand! Check out the fit chicks at Title 9 Sports...real women who are active and look the part, not some bullshit little lettuce-fed martini-sippers. I read both Women's Health and Shape, but vastly prefer Women's Health for that same reason--Shape always has these exercises with little bitty weights evidently meant to increase muscular endurance, when I want definition and some visible evidence of strength.

Women don't bulk up unless they spend a great deal of time, energy, and money to do so. Do you know any bulky women? Do you know OF any bulky women (outside, of course, the 1988 East German Olympic Swim Team and those freaky, orange-colored, bed-baked bodybuilder chicks--think steroids here, ladies)? It just doesn't happen unless you spend more time at the gym than you do sleeping. A little definition is sexy, lifting heavy torches calories for hours afterwards, it helps prevent osteoporosis, and it feels good.

I spent over an hour a day on the elliptical trainer all summer--true, I had the resistance cranked up, was worn the hell out afterwards, and dropped a few pounds. But it was when I split the workout into :30-:45 cardio, :45 heavy weights/low reps that I really started to see results. After about a month of super-heavy (I lift as much as I can for about 5 reps, and do 2-3 sets, and the last rep of each set is generally very slow, with my face contorting and sweat running off), I started seeing shoulder muscles. Then my hamstrings and quads poked out. It's serious stuff, folks, and I'm a convert. Cardio's great, don't get me wrong, for health and to torch some calories. But weights are the holy grail.

And with that, I'm off to the gym--it's lower body day, which means full-body squats with 90 pounds on the bar, lunges with 25-pound dumbells in my hands, hamstrings at 90 pounds, quads at 75 pounds (I don't dare go higher with my crap knee), leg presses at 210 pounds. It makes me feel like a superhero, even if I still have too much junk in my trunk and could stand to lose 20 pounds. At least I'm a fit fluffy!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

...That's Better...

Spent the last several days celebrating. Dear God. We had two "down days," when we were as close to "off" as you can get in a combat zone. Trouble was, I spent them recovering from the night before and being called in for mission needs. I ended up more tired from the time "off" than when I'm in my work groove...but it's been great.

J and I have "Baghdad Boyfriends" (think summer fling, lighthearted and fun) who don't work as many hours as we do. They have a great deal of leisure time, and we generally do not. I'm dragging ass after sitting around *yet another* bonfire last night, partaking in the holiday cheer and hanging out with like-minded folks. It's a mixed bag--some Marines who guard the Embassy, State Department folks, some three-letter Agency people, a few of us Defense Department workaholics. And of the bunch, DoD people work the most hours by FAR. It's just what we do--you get indoctrinated in the no-time-off mindset in the military, and you carry it around with you for good. Well, at least while on deployment.

My Baghdad Boyfriend is a retired Army Sergeant Major--and when I say "retired," don't think of some whitehaired crumbly on a golf cart with a little flag on a cane pole. He joined at 18 and retired 20 years later. He recently divorced a woman he was with since JUNIOR HIGH. I cannot even imagine that, and I don't ask--or think much--about the implications. Am I only the second/third whatever woman he's ever...holy crap, don't think about it, much less ask. He's a big, strapping manly-man who laughs easily and brings everyone else in on it. This will not follow us home to the U.S. It just won't, and that's all I've got to say about that.

I'm finally back in the gym all the way--the box of clothes and my iPod I sent myself to keep from dragging it all over Kuwait finally made it here. I'm lost in the gym without my headphones. And I got 5 new CD's of workout-worthy funk: Dap-Kings, The Budos Band, and some excellent rare funk out of Detroit. I'm back to hitting the weights--The Girls seem to have healed up nicely, feel comfortable, and don't object to the weight-induced bullying. And I'm still having a great time picking clothes every morning--everything looks great and it's no small thing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mama in the Middle

I walked into a hornet's nest with all the seething cattiness I mentioned while on vacation. Friendships and loyalties are so complicated in an environment like this, where there are so few of us and there is no separation between professional and personal lives.

Turns out, my peeps (J1, J2, and C) are engaged in open warfare with the woman they'd told me was talking out of school (M)...really, this seems like a wormhole straight into high school, but this kind of shit never ends. We even have a cafeteria with tables assigned by clique, and everyone watches where you sit and with whom. I'm stuck in the middle and I refuse to take sides. But my close friend here, J1, has the "with me or against me" mentality, and by refusing to hate (and say horrible things about) M, I'm making an enemy of J1. I get the cold shoulder if I sit with M in the cafeteria. I wish I were making this shit up.

My three peeps are all my age, mind you. I think it's one part boredom, one part miscommunication, and one part malicious silliness by all involved.

I just want to stay neutral. I don't want hard feelings with anyone. I'm certainly NOT reporting conversations to either side. I listen to all the venting each way--but I refuse to engage in it, and actively try to diffuse it. J1's begun to get a little icy towards me, especially when the subject of M comes up and I don't join in the mean-spirited, spiteful ramblings. All the stuff they told me while I was on vacation--I shouldn't have believed it. All evidence contradicts it--M pushed for me to get promoted and was instrumental in my getting a big award here, and has said nothing but great things about me to M2, who was with me here in Iraq as a soldier and would not misreport.

I talked to M about it all a few days ago, and she seemed genuinely hurt by it all. Maybe I'm a sucker, but she didn't trash-talk the other involvees in retaliation and her story is backed up by events and evidence.

The way I see it: I'm an adult. I don't have a dog in this fight. If that costs me my friendship with J1, then she's acting silly. I really like J1 and consider her a close friend. But for the love of God, if she'll turn on me for not hating someone who never wronged me, then what kind of friend is SHE, in the end? I'll fight in the pit like a dog for a friend who has been genuinely trespassed against, but it's just not the case here. There's no moral imperative--she wasn't swindled, lied to, taken advantage of, etc. They just plain don't like each other.

The hatred towards M has clearly been a way for the three of them to bond, and I'm seen as traitorous for not bonding with them on it. And I could get left out in the cold by all involved by not participating. So be it. I have almost seven months left here, and the malice is what people will remember about the warriors. I'd rather be detached and somewhat left out of my former posse than engaged in this energy-sucking drama.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


I left Mississippi early Sunday morning. I finally made it back to the International Zone *yesterday*. Yes, Friday, as in, five days later. I'm glad to be back.

That situation I mentioned with the talking out of school--I knew my sources had their own motives, and I put out some feelers when I got here. There *may* be a 5-10% truth there, nothing more. It was nothing like I'd been told, and it's all cleared up now.

I finally have my own room here, and it's a nice, big one at that, with a double bed! I'm still trying to get all my crap moved in, but it's coming along bit by bit. I'm about to give away several large boxes of clothes and accumulated crap in the process. Need to lighten up.

Nothing more to report--I have been inundated with catching up, and my main operation needs immediate attention. I don't have to worry about being bored anytime soon, that much is clear.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hang On St. Christopher, Cause and Effect, and Please Forgive Me, For I Have Evidently Sinned

What did I do to piss off the Patron Saint of Travelers, and how can I atone for my wickedness? You want a finger, you bastard? I got your finger right here.

I don't think I've ever had a trip go so horribly wrong. The ice storm in Chicago led to a late arrival to Frankfurt, and even after sprinting full-out across the airport (completely inverse to doctor's orders, no less), I missed the Kuwait flight. The Frankfurt Airport is a chaotic nightmare staffed by the rudest people Germany could find, and Lufthansa was completely uncooperative with the missed flight. The next one was 24 hours later, they wouldn't let me into any of their eight lounges, and I was faced with a night in a steel chair, or shelling out big bucks for a hotel. Wipe your ass with American dollars, and that t.p. hurts even more overseas.

I went the hotel route. And it was expensive. When I have the energy to dig my camera out of my bag, I'll post separately on the Germany experience...airport shitty, hotel lovely. Worth every dime.

And THEN I got to Kuwait, finally, and after waiting over 90 minutes in the visa line watching the staff talk and joke on their cellphones, take long breaks at their seats, and generally take things slow, I got the visa and booked it to the US liaison/bus just in time to watch the shuttle pull away from the curb. Which means I lost my opportunity to turn in my passport tonight. Which means I won't fly tomorrow.

And they don't fly on Thursday. Which means I'm stuck here until Friday. It's only Tuesday. So I have to take the shuttle out to the airbase (which leaves four hours from now), hand in my passport, and given the shuttle leaves at 2:30am, it's too late to check into a hotel. Which means I'm stuck in the tent, and I did not bring a towel or a blanket. Which means a cold night on a cot under flourescent lights, waiting until the PX opens at nine, buying one of those towels that's too small to cover my big ass, showering in the trailer, and hoping that by some miracle, my passport is ready before tomorrow's flight out of here.

It's not the end of the world. If the passport doesn't come through, I'll check into a hotel (again, at my expense and obscenely expensive), and spend the rest of Wednesday, all day Thursday, and Friday morning basking in the bathtub, eating at the obscenely expensive restaurants, and just enjoying myself.

*Sigh* I really can't wait to see the ordered inside of my room in Baghdad.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On the Road Again

I'm in terminal C16, Chicago/O'Hare, watching it snow outside and hoping we lift off on time. I have over 5 hours in Frankfurt for leeway, but I hate sitting around in airports. And I'd rather have more time in Frankfurt, where I plan to walk around, drink Hefeweisen, find breakfast, and utilize my rusty German.

I sat next to a guy named Kelly on the flight from Memphis--big good ole boy from Birmingham. We chatted the entire flight. He works sound for concerts, speeches, etc., and has been to both Oxford, MS, my hometown, and Athens, GA, where I went to college. We know some of the same people. He's been at it for over 20 years, so he listed concerts he'd worked in both towns, and I remembered most of them. BB King at Ole Miss in 1988. Widespread Panic and Drivin' and Cryin' at the Georgia Theater in Athens in 1993. I like to chat with people while I'm traveling, as it passes the time and can be pretty interesting.

After wandering around O'Hare working out the kinks in my legs, I settled in at Chili's for a big fat margarita and a big fat cheeseburger. Finished the margarita, only ate about a third of the cheeseburger--my philosophy on food is that it's okay to have a cheeseburger, especially on the event of my last night State-side for the next six months. But I don't have to cram the whole thing down my piehole.

An elegant older lady named Judy sat next to me and we talked through our meals. She was much more interesting before the sales pitch--she works for some supplement company, the kind that sells pills and shakes via individual associates who run home businesses and make more money for every new individual associate they sign up. Which is the textbook definition of a pyramid scheme.

She went on and on about how their products will essential fix all that's broke: my sister's torn ACL healed up, my uncle had a stroke but lived 20 more years, I lost 60 pounds, etc. You've heard this same line from every snakeoil salesman on HSN, including that nitwit Kevin Trudeau. I'm sure these supplements are fine, but I'm equally sure the cheap ones I buy through Pilgrim's Pride contain the same ingredients and boast roughly the same absorption rate. She kept pointing out how great their shakes would be for me while in Iraq. But I already have shakes there, three canisters in fact, of vanilla Kashi Go-Lean.

So here I sit among the crying babies and fellow bored-shitless travelers. I don't mind going back--this beats the hell out of when I took leave from Iraq last time, when I got back on the plane with a heavy heart and clenched stomach, knowing how miserable it was there, and that I had a full nine months to go. This time, I have six, and it's relatively easy time.

There's been all sorts of drama in my organization in Iraq while I've been gone, and I found out my own site lead (the manager for the company I work for) has been saying terrible things about me behind my back and has even blocked me from moving into the job I want. Nice. I'm more puzzled than anything--she's saccharine-sweet to my face, then says I'm horrible to anyone who will listen. Or at least, that's how it's been reported to me.

I have no interest in garnering attention, positive or negative--I'm there to do what I can for the fight and save money for law school. She's the Princess. I guess I'm the Pea.

I don't need to jockey for position--there's no sense in it for me, as this is the last position of its kind I will ever have. I'm not looking to snag some prime follow-on assignment in DC or impress the leadership of my company.

Cattiness and this brand of cliquish, say-shit-about-people-to-get-everyone-on-my-side (we have SIDES???)-against-whomever bullshit is not only highly unprofessional and immature, it takes more energy than I care to expend on peripheral activities. The job sucks enough energy on a good day, the gym takes a pint more, and there are all the fun things I get to do for fun elsewhere in the Green Zone. There's Mantasy Island, for chrissakes. Who has that kind of energy, and is hateful enough to use it against a fellow analyst for the same company? I've never done anything to this girl but disagree with her, like any self-respecting professional would do in my situation.

She's about 8 years my junior, and I think that may be the crux of the issue--8 years ago, I probably created some drama myself. I guess it's entertainment in a monotonous environment. But I don't remember ever being this mean-spirited and/or dishonest about it, even on deployments or in smaller units, where boredom was rampant and drama encouraged. Just a couple of months ago, she was pushing to get me promoted, so her keeping me from the job that would both satisfy me and keep me more motivated, it just doesn't make sense.

Every business environment has a seedy underbelly of backbiting, powergrabbing, and professional jealosy. I've just reached a point in my life where I've recognized the futility of such pursuits--usually, people believe that kind of gossip only until they get to know you better. I have a great attitude and my analytical work stands utterly above reproach. People see that and start to wonder where the animosity came from. Hell, I wonder where it came from--I know she dislikes someone who's become my close friend, but I try to stay neutral in spats like that. I don't tell either one the things anyone has said--it's only hurtful and damaging to any organization.

And really, it's not awful that she's doing this--I'm well-liked there, and have only six months left. It's a big enough place, I can avoid all but the most perfunctory of interactions with her. I'll always be civil, even while annoyed, and will pretend nothing's happened. I just want the next six months to glide by, not rattle and hum on highs and lows of triumph, little spoons full of shit, and high drama.

I don't want to have this hanging over the two of us--we've gotten along well, or at least I thought we did, so maybe I'll approach her and ask what happened, tell her how disappointed I am, and try to clear it all up. And it is entirely possible it's been blown out of proportion through the telephone game, especially considering my source. I should be the grownup, hear her side of it and judge for myself where the truth lies. Many spats like this lie in one miscommunication somewhere that could be cleared up with one conversation, and hard feelings can be put to bed. I hope that's the case here.

When it's all said and done, though, It's all about perspective, and being home these last couple of weeks has reminded me why I'm there--save up for law school, do it honorably, and go home happy in July.

Friday, December 07, 2007

*The Result*

This surgery was no picnic, despite assurances from my augmented friend that she had no trouble, flew across the country four days later, etc. Last Sunday morning, I awoke at 6 am to find the left Girl hugely swollen and bruised. I called the doctor's office for advice. And he asked me to come in and let him check it out, at 6 am on Sunday morning. That's how you know you chose the right surgeon. It was okay, just me freaking out a little--lefty was pretty ugly and uncomfortable. The stitches dug into my armpits like barbed wire, I was bloated as a dead whale on the beach, and just generally felt shitty.

I even had a day or two when I wondered if this whole thing was a good idea...what have I done to myself, this is crazy, what was I thinking???

So after about ten days of trying not to use my chest muscles and lying round the house like a slug, I drove to Memphis yesterday for a follow-on appointment to get the stitches out. The healing's on track and I instantly felt better once the stitches came out. I felt good enough to try on clothes, which had been painful with the stitches. I've been stuck with loose things I could easily pull on without straining, and I couldn't lift my arms--I'd been hanging around in sweatshirts and jeans. So I decided to do some quick shopping.

I meant to just buy a couple of things, a top or two to take back to Iraq with me. Normally, if I take ten items into any given dressing room, only one or two would fit and look good. I started at SteinMart, and stuck to the clearance racks. I found about eight things--cute empire-waist tops, a gorgeous Anne Klein blazer at $60 from the original $350, a couple of really nice blouses. I wore jeans and a cami under my clothes, since I have discovered how many nice pieces there are out there that look great over one. And I have *never* been able to wear a cami, mind you. Nothing to hold it up and it accentuated my lack of proportion.

I tried on the blazer over my lace cami, with the jeans. ****WOW**** I have an hourglass figure! The blazer has one big button at the waist and perfectly brought out my new shape. I stared at the mirror in disbelief and went out into the fitting room to look in the three-way mirror. The sales lady said, "Oh, yes, you're taking that one home." I couldn't believe the transformation. I still have my wide booty, but it looks totally proportional.

In all, I only spent a couple of hundred dollars at SteinMart and Ross, and made out like a bandit. Top after top, 90% of what I tried on looked fabulous. No more doubts about the surgery, that much is clear. The surgery was not as expensive as many people would imagine--I was able to pay for it out of my checking account, straight out. It won't impact my ability to pay for law school.

Like it or not, women are judged on appearance, and much moreso than men. Just listen to comments made about any woman in any position--Condoleeza Rice's wardrobe, Hillary Clinton's haircut, it's the first thing people consider, even for women in the highest echelons of power. Listen to people you know--most discussion about a woman refers to her appearance. I'm not judging right or wrong, I'm acknowledging a fact of American life. It impacts everything--studies have shown attractive people are more likely to be hired for any given position, and just look at all the bias against fat people. Looking good imparts power in all facets of daily life. And feeling like you look good is half the battle. Call me superficial (my brother did--won't be attempting any more contact with him anytime soon), wasteful, silly, I don't care. I've always hated trying to find clothes (and bras, for that matter) that didn't make me look like a walking pear.

But no more. It looks even better than I'd imagined, and it's a joy to get up and choose clothes for the day. It'll be interesting to see the reaction when I get back to Iraq--I'll have to wear one of my new, flattering tops for the trip back.