Friday, June 25, 2010

A Body Is Made to Move

It is, isn't it?

That's what it feels like, at least, as I begin to re-motivate myself physically, since doing so mentally feels a bit too taxing right now. With my body in movement--at the gym, hanging from a trapeze bar, tumbling across a mat--I know exactly who I am in that moment. I feel the endorphins, the fear, the thrill of discovery, the awe that all of my joints, tendons, and muscles can coordinate and tell my brain not to stop, to try it, to just keep moving through the space and trust that I know how to spot the ground.

There are far too many metaphors that hover around this train of thought, and maybe I should pay more attention to them. There's simply something about the air, about the feel of shuddering from exertion, of inducing muscle memory in my nearly 37 year old body. My thoughts may drift to glucosamine now, but this is the closest to living in the past I've come in a long time.

When my parents enrolled me in gymnastics at the age of 8, their motivation was likely to get me out of the house and blow off some of the proverbial steam. I was already practicing my own form of tumbling in the neighbor's yard, after all--convinced somehow that the laws of physics did not have to apply to me. I was taken to Peninsula Park in North Portland to a gymnastics class...where I was the only boy in a rickety old gymnasium overrun by girls in leotards who could execute moves that I'd only seen on TV. Even in this rundown working-class neighborhood, there was an effortless grace and athleticism on display that I found alluring. Maybe this was a world I could live in that felt OK? Maybe this would be a bubble in which I could do what I wanted?

Because I was the only boy at the gym, however, it meant that I competed on "girls' apparatus," so I dutifully learned how to vault, how to maneuver on the uneven bars, how to keep my steadiness on the beam when I cartwheeled, and I quickly adapted. No one batted an eye or ever made a comment. I was simply encouraged to keep going, to keep trying, to push my body into the air, on to the ground, and over obstacles. All I knew is that I wanted to learn a double back somersault in the air and how to actually execute twisting motions while upside down.

I gave up the gymnastics bubble by the time I was 13. My body didn't seem to want it anymore. My mind certainly didn't (puberty can be so fun). The money also wasn't there to keep sending me to the Oregon Gymnastics Academy, which was so far away from home--and where I couldn't seem to learn all the men's apparatus; I was seen as a boy who could execute a perfect back handspring but had no concept of what the hell a pommel horse was. I didn't have the discipline and the right frame of mind. And the encouragement I had gotten from that rag-tag room of girls and my female coach in North Portland was gone.

Tumbling--what I always loved most--would still rear its head over the next few years, however: at friends' summer parties; in college on the lawn after I'd had a couple of drinks (always a good idea); every once in a while until my mid-20s, when I became too scared to do it--when I no longer trusted my body and became afraid of physics.

And yet here I am quickly approaching 37--two years into working out on the trapeze and silks and reacquainting myself with what it feel like to hurtle my body through the air in acrobatics classes.

Why? Why not?

I am not so lithe anymore. Nor as light. My body doesn't feel rubbery and unbreakable. I count my blessings that the only thing I've ever broken was a pinkie. And yet I stare down a mat once a week with a new teacher speaking to me, telling me how to launch myself into a no-handed cartwheel (or side aerial, if you will); how to achieve a bounce off a round-off back handspring; when to think about opening my body from a front pike off a mini trampoline. Only a month into this routine, my body remembers 1981. It sets me up exactly like it did when I was 8, whether I can now complete the motion or not. And it thrills me. Still. I once again don't want the laws of physics to apply to me. But I know now why I do it. Not because I used to and I have to prove I still can. It simply makes me happy. Or high. Or both. It hardly matters when you are above the ground looking to stick the landing.