Monthly Archives: September 2022

Nostalgia for Old School Aerobics

Fitness Guru Leslie Sansone

I was coming of age in the late great 80s just as the aerobics movement, led by Jane Fonda, was getting started. I may still have a vinyl copy of her first workout album in the days before everyone owned a VHS player. Live classes were everywhere. My mother and I took a class at the nearby community center. The cable access channel hosted a weekly workout led by a local gym instructor. I could set the VHS to record it so I could do it on my own time…an early version of streaming, I suppose.

I haven’t done these kinds of workouts for a long time, preferring my treadmill, Wii and working and walking outside. But, with the demise of my Wii and my need for a bit of excitement beyond the treadmill, I went exploring online and discovered fitness guru Leslie Sansone. She was a contemporary of Jane Fonda, and her signature exercise was simple: WALK. There are a few different steps, but mostly the goal is to keep moving.

I explored her YouTube channel to start with and then downloaded the app and paid the subscription. Leslie is my age, and her upbeat approach was immediately fun and nostalgic. I found myself wishing I had a unitard and leg warmers! One of Leslie’s claim to fame is that she was the first live on-air guest on QVC. I got to know her colleagues and enjoy the wide variety of walking workouts. As COVID moved in, they began streaming live workouts from their studio in Pittsburgh.* They have also added some strength training workouts in the app.

There are plenty of videos featuring Leslie in the app, including archives of some of her original workouts. But, according to Wikipedia, she hasn’t been featured in any videos since 2020, and there is some mystery around where she might be and her current involvement with WALK. There is some speculation on Reddit but otherwise no one seems to know. Hmm…sounds like podcast fodder to me!

*Part of my attraction to Sansone was her ties to Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh.

Wisdom from Austin Kleon

Consider this a second installment of a “people I take time to read and listen to” series. I featured meditation teacher and writer Sebene Selassie on Monday. Today is Austin Kleon, an artist and writer I have written about in the past. I look forward to his Friday newsletter with its ten topics that could take a month to explore. He’s like the New Yorker of newsletters. I can never finish one magazine before another arrives.

I appreciate Austin’s work so much I took the step of becoming a paid subscriber. That means I get an additional email during the week where he muses on life, art and more. This week, he reviewed a dozen books he read this summer and described the guilt associated with being able to read during the day.

I resonated with these sentiments. While I renounced the notion of calling any reading a guilty pleasure, I do understand the idea of guilt at seeing some free time during the day and thinking, “I could read my book.” And then immediately imagining all the people I know who are toiling away at desks, in offices, online and feeling that pang that perhaps I *should* also be doing something other than “just reading”. Prior to retiring, even though I have worked from home for decades, I almost never read during the day unless it was professional literature. My work day mimicked that of the real world, and I felt as though I was cheating clients if I was engaging in hobbies during the day.

Now, however, as I explore this liminal space in which I am living, reading during the day is rapidly becoming part of the routine, both in the morning and in pockets throughout the day. It is all part of the increase in my reading mojo. I created a bookshelf bullet-journal style page and penciled in some of the titles I want to get to before the end of the year.

P.S. And now I *really* feel guilty as I realized the new season of the Great British Baking Show is available now on Netflix and the streaming has begun.

Spend Some Time With Sebene

Sebene Selassie

Sebene Selassie is one of the lead teachers for Ten Percent Happier. I have probably meditated with her hundreds of times over the past few years. Her book, You Belong, is an exploration of finding connection in a world that often focuses on division. She introduced me to Audre Lorde.

I find her personal story compelling:

Growing up, I felt like a big weirdo. I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and raised in white neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. I was a tomboy, immigrant, Black girl who loved Monty Python and UB40, explored Asian philosophy, and did not go to prom. I never believed I belonged. But I do. So do you.

In addition, she has suffered at least four rounds of cancer, including one in the past year and she speaks honestly about how those struggles impact her life and practice. I find her fun, refreshing and serious, all at the same time.

She writes two newsletters a month, on the new and full month. Here is her more recent one in which she muses on learning about astrology (something I am exploring as well), Octavia Butler, and coupling. Take some time to read it and follow her links as they give a better sense of her philosophical grounding.

Endings/Beginnings: Living in Liminal Spaces

The Lebanon Valley rail trail near Cornwall, Pennsylvania

Summer is on its way out with a few last hot, humid days. Metereological fall arrived September 1, and the Equinox is tomorrow. Autumn is my favorite season. I love watching as it slides into our lives every year, chilly mornings and foggy fields reminding us, as Robert Frost once did, that nothing gold can stay.

With summer gone, I find myself nesting, decluttering and organizing my studio, making lists of fall projects, and taking some time to explore bullet journaling and planners. It seems as though everyone has a planner to sell. As I explored the options, it occurred to me that I could just make my own planner/journal, the goal being to use it for both planning and reflection. I have always been intrigued by the Daily Examen, a spiritual practice based on Ignatius Loyola. Loyola’s practice was based in Christian imagery, of course, but I think it is possible to take it as a more general approach to ending the day with intention. Actually, my Apple watch even suggests a bit of mindfulness as a way to wind down at the end of the day so the practice has certainly entered the secular world.

Even as I work on my organizer, I continue to drift along a bit. There have been endings: my retirement, the loss of Spot, the last of the vegetables from the garden. And there is the usual beginning as I head into the fall semester. But, for now, while there are a few glimmers of new opportunities, there is no clearly marked path. Astrologer Chani Nicholas mentioned the concept of liminal space in past two weekly readings, and the concept resonates with my current state. As I understand them, liminal spaces, from the Latin limen or threshold, are the spaces in between the endings and beginnings of practices and lives, its roots in anthropology and rites of passage. It is considered an uncomfortable place, and there are days when I wonder if I am living it right.

Joseph Goldstein, in the Ten Percent Happier app’s Common Questions course, commenting on what might happen at the beginning of your practice, says with a chuckle, ” The beginning can be the first twenty years.” I have only been exploring my own new beginning for a couple months so maybe I don’t need to worry too much and just allow myself to experience liminality for a little while longer. I created the image at the beginning of the post, using my own photo of the Lebanon Valley Rail Trail.

Getting My Reading Mojo Back

Dailyish blog writing went to weeklyish blog writing as I headed into fall: I took one last trip to Pennsylvania, mourned my boy Spot, finished teaching a summer course, and got two fall courses up and running.

With that initial busyness behind me, I am facing a fall with more free time than I have had for decades. Seriously, decades. And I want to make sure I am finding the balance of chilling out and stepping up. One thing I am doing is learning to relish my reading life again.

A painting of a woman reading a book outside by Camille Corot
A Woman Reading, Camille Corot

A long time ago, before you were born*, when I was still single, and life was great (it’s a song it), I used to get up on Saturday mornings, pour fresh-brewed coffee into the thermal pot, add it to a tray with mug, cream and something sweet to eat, and retire to bed for the morning with a book and a cuppa. These were my hours to read and sip and rest after a long week of work before whatever chores and activities the weekend held. Depending on the book and the weekend, morning might stretch into afternoon, and I would find myself sprawled on the sofa at sunset, probably with a glass of wine, mourning the end of yet another book. I know I had responsibilities but somehow they had not come to weigh on me. The *shoulds* had yet to take control. (As in, you should do laundry. You should clean the bathroom. You should call my your mother.)

Somewhere along the line, I lost that reading mojo, as a friend of mine on LibraryThing calls it. That ability to just sink into words, to lose track of everything except the book, to be able to ignore the voices, including your own, that suggest you should be doing something more productive than “just reading.” Was it some combination of graduate school, tl;dr social media syndrome, and life in general that made it a challenge for me to do more than a chapter or two of even the best book?

If you look at my statistics for the years, numbers wise, I read and listened to a lot of books. But, distraction definitely kept me from sinking into a book the way I once could, and I read in bits and pieces except over the summer when I escaped to the pool and floated and read, no devices allowed.

Lately, I have found myself working at getting that focus back. For instance, I take only the book or device from which I am reading to the porch or bedroom recliner, two of my reading retreats when the pool is closed for the season. As for choice of device, I am inclined to take the old school Kindle with me as it offers little in the way of entertainment. It is solely an e-reader, and sometimes a single use device isn’t a bad thing.

I have also disrupted my morning routine, because I have found that early mornings are still a favorite time to brew a latte and slip back in bed with a book. I do love reading at night with just the book light for illumination but, sadly, one of the perils of getting old is falling asleep easily and I wake with the impression of book and light on my cheek. Enjoy those late night reading binges while you can, my younger friends. Now, it takes quite a book to keep me up.

*Seriously, I know how old some of you are, and it was before you were born.