There's another verbal tool that my ageless trainer Michael over at the gym has used on me numerous times. Aside from, as of late, training my muscles "to Failure"- a phrase for which I've found much use in my daily life beyond training. He's got another catch phrase which seems equally as universal outside the gym as well as in.
In fact, I've heard him use it from way across the room on other clients many times- me sweating it out on the sadistic abdominal slide machine wringing another few crunches from my sweaty, trembling torso, already feeling as though we've hit "To Failure" about two sets ago. Some other weary brave middle-aged soul will be leg lifting or bench pressing or squatting or balancing on the ball some fifty yards away from me. Michael's urgent baritone will float over the incessant pulsing club mix to land in my ears with precisely these three familiar key syllables:
"Fire it up!"
He says. "Fire it up!" To my fellow sufferer on the other side of the gym. Fire it up! To me and my aching belly muscles. Fire it up, Holly!
Fire. It. Up.
Fire It Up is usually the phrase which emanates from Michael's mouth right at the moment when you (or more precisely- me), the suffering gym client, have thought you've reached your end.
You're done with this set.
You're done with this machine.
You're done for today.
You might be done with this whole "work out" thing forever, because in this particular moment you're starting to entertain the notion that you might actually be done breathing. Or at the very least you're done having your breakfast safely locked INSIDE your stomach.
Done. You think. DONE! I'M DONE!!
And that's when --
"Fire It Up!" Makes its move. And it's weird, because it's an awfully powerful tool. I can't quite put my finger on it, but when Michael barks the FIU, whatever food that was making its way up my esophagus on its way to splurt itself out upon my tight black spandex pants settles right back into my stomach. My lungs which a split second ago were unable to process any more of that essential oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange, suddenly remember how to accordian themselves back to life. And my muscles find some teeny little violently shaky ability to do one... more...two....more...--- three! ..may...be...even..F-O-U-R-- MORE repetitions.
And then I really know what "To Failure" feels like. And you know what? It feels-- AWESOME. Because I did it! Because I fired it up beyond a place where I thought I could. I lit a cauldron from some deep inner place from beneath the bottom of my belly and from there I gathered strength to keep going.
Now. There's some obvious broader life uses for this Fire It Up beyond lifting and stretching and pulling dull grey weighted contraptions over and over again with my muscles. It seems almost didactic to further explain. And yet- somehow- the simple physical act of having my body Fire It Up from somewhere when I thought there simply was no fuel left is so incredibly empowering. It informs the mind. Beyond all those self help books talking about finding your Inner Fire. Or beyond even listening to the most powerful speaker- your favorite band- or reading bone splittingly gorgeous poetry.
It feels oddly more like when I'm singing a song. And it's going really well. Because that song suddenly becomes something that's inside and outside of me at the same time while I realize that as singer and human and creator, I am merely a channel or a vehicle for the song itself to be birthed. Because its not mine and I'm not it and we don't belong to each other, we're just intertwined for a moment. That's life force. Life force firing it up!
Recently I've noticed this young woman who's now diligently at work every time I saunter in to the gym. She- like me- is always in the pit with the boys. There's no dewy half hour on the stationary bike for this girl. No few easy bicep pulls on the machines in the corner. No- she's in the middle of it. Pushing it HARD. Heavy weights. Precise motions. Barbells. Spotters. It's impossible not to notice her-- she's beautiful and naturally blonde and beyond toned in a way that for awhile now has seemed otherworldly to me. So much so that I finally asked Michael, after hearing him bark a few "Fire It Ups" her direction last week, What is she training for? She must be training for something specific...
"Yep. Miss World Fitness- 2014." He said.
"Ah--" I squeaked out. "Well- thank GOD. Because if she wasn't I was just gonna go home and have to shoot myself in the head."
Because I come in here feeling pretty decent about my damn middle-aged self lately. About the 10 pounds less that I now weigh. About the slightly more toned triceps and abdominals and backs of the thighs. I feel a little bit closer to that 20-something body I remember taking so much for granted back in the swing of the lurid psychedelic-hazed 90's. So, then to emerge into my place of Re-Awakening Spirit and to witness this creature of perfection, can sometimes be a bit of a downer. When what you want to do is gaze rather approvingly at your own reflection in the endless walls of gym mirrors and not see Her 20 feet away from you - 6 reps longer, 50 pounds harder, immovable heart shaped ass better, making your small improvements appear crushingly invisible.
So thank god she's working her guts out for SOMETHING. Something actual and specific and real. Not just to make me feel inferior.
Funny thing is- once I found that out about Her, rather than making me feel worse about myself, the opposite thing happened. She became yet another source of gym inspiration for me. As I started to quietly pay a bit more attention to Her workout, and to Michael's coaching of Her, I realized that there wasn't actually THAT much of a difference between us. Well-- at least not on paper.
She too is constantly being reminded to Fire It Up! ( Of course, she has more opportunity to hear that seeing as Michael informed me she's there three times a DAY for a few HOURS at a time, and I'm excited to make it to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes, if that.) She, like me, also scrunches her adorable little freckle-sprayed nose up into a crazy inverted slinky shape when, like me, she's close To Failure on her leg lifts. She, like me, is also concentrating like the world depended on it when balancing 75 pounds on her back while doing set after set of perfect leg squats. (I do quite imperfect squats with no barbells balanced atop my not-so perfectly toned shoulders, just for the record. Nor leg lunges. Not yet.)
In other words, though, I've seen Her a lot lately, and, like me- this girl has purpose and goals and this girl SWEATS for them.
As some of my readership may know, I am about to birth a new album out into the world. An album that has taken me the better part of two years to get close to finished. This record is certainly not the end-all, be-all....it is not anywhere near the "Pretenders-like" set of songs I am forced to tout it as, for promotional PR purposes. But I am proud of it. It is a band record, with a clean, early 80's sound and it has kick-ass drums and bass lines and my voice, alongside the usual soulful tonality, sounds sassy and angry here and there. To date, I don't think I've been able to successfully accomplish that very alive, thriving piece of my personality in any of my previous recordings.
Plus, I produced this one. Alongside my two engineers who each recorded and mixed about half of the material- I helmed this ship. A first for the Holly.
So it's a big deal for me.
And I'm now desperately in need of a little portable Trainer Michael on my shoulder at many points in my day outside of the gym. I'm so in need of a more consistent "Fire It UP!" in my ear over and over. A reminder that at those (way too frequent) times I feel I've hit sort of rock bottom in terms of having no energy to promote....no mo' mojo to keep doing the parts of record making that I so don't love, namely the promoting of the thing... that's when I need my Michael.
That's when I need my sweaty torso to just screw courage to the sticking point and tell my brain how to make that fucking phone call to the club booker. Rehearse that song one more time. Call that guitar player again. Schedule that rehearsal. Compose that mass email to send to all your fans telling them when and where... Edit that web page. Tweet that tweet. Record that new demo. Promote that FB page post.
And by the way, go to the grocery store because we're out of toilet paper and you better put the potatoes in NOW or dinner won't be until 8:30 and you have to make Back To School Night and don't forget Truman needs to finish that last worksheet for tutoring tomorrow and you need to help Josephine find that book that she thinks she left at her friend's house and the dogs haven't been walked since yesterday afternoon and the kitchen's a mess.... and on and on and so on and....
My new mantra. I hope maybe yours too. It is true that in the grand scheme of things- in the Big Picture, as it were....my therapist is constantly reminding me "There's nothing to do. There's nowhere to go." Meaning, stop driving yourself crazy with the consistent neurotic voice on repeat that you're never doing enough or being enough or good enough, blah blah.
But. Some things ARE actually worth doing. Even if they're not huge things like starting companies and launching charities and birthing babies and winning awards and changing the world.
Maybe these little things that bring us To Failure.... that challenge the very notion of our own capacity and what we're capable of...THESE are the things that are worth doing. To whatever end. God knows I am NEVER EVER EVER EVER going to be running for anything like Miss World Fitness 2014. Holy Shit. Nor am I ever going to run for the Senate, most likely. I'd be shocked if I made it to some sort of local PTA position....
But what I will continue to strive to do- as I try over and over again to Fire It Up from the deepest core of myself- is to challenge my own sense of the possible.
Maybe right now I don't exactly believe I could ever be as influential or life affirming with my music as the likes of the greats like Chrissie Hynde, or Cyndi Lauper, or Martha or Patti or Annie or any of the powerful rock divas of our era.
But then again, what do I know? A few months ago, I couldn't conceive of being anywhere near a size 6 again.
And I've only just begun to bench press.
Fire it up, Hol. Let's GO