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Leaning Out

This post is written by NCTE member Jolivette Mecenas. 

JolivetteMecenasIn the past five years since my son was born, I have struggled to make time to exercise and keep fit, a struggle that is renewed every summer. This is an ordeal for many, true, but one I find especially challenging to maintain in between commuting 70 miles round trip to the university where I work, teaching and grading, running the college writing program that I direct, and keeping up my research and writing agenda. The night-and-weekend shift is filled with domestic duties and attending to the general needs of a small human – responsibilities that I shoulder with a partner who does more than her fair share (though she does leave me all the pots to wash, grumble grumble). In the parlance of today’s working mothers, we Lean In, though I have come to accept that I’m a terrible leaner-inner.

By all appearances, accomplished leaner-inners run full marathons at least twice a year, and they do not develop a donut habit. Exercising was easier when my son was younger, ages one to two, when he could still fall asleep in a stroller while I dance-walked around the three-mile perimeter of a reservoir near my home in Los Angeles. Dance-walking happened when I gleefully listened to Rhianna instead of Raffi, children’s folk singer famous for introducing beluga whales to toddlers worldwide, and who otherwise dominated my Pandora. One year I believed that all this dance-walking was conditioning me for a half-marathon, so I signed up for one. I finished 900th out of 1,000 half-marathoners, but hey, I walked 13 whole miles! Under four hours! That was me leaning in.

Every academic year brings stress-induced weight gain, and summer brings the chance to get back in shape. I believe this anew every June. I promise my dog more hikes. I check the class schedule at the gym, where I haven’t set foot in a year. The summer after I passed my three-year probation at work, I decided to sign up for a “boot camp.” I rose at 5:30 a.m. (during the summer!) to meet fellow boot campers at the park for endless reps of burpees, directed by a very bored, very chiseled athletic trainer-slash-actor. By the end, boot camp did reenergize me. And then fall semester returned, and I put my body back in assistant professor jail: backside in a chair, eyes staring at a screen.

This summer I am assembling my tenure file for review. I won’t go on about that, except to say that I signed up for Zumba and yoga as an antidote. I’m taking both classes at the rec center at our neighborhood park, with the same firecracker of a teacher. Zumba is fun! If you don’t believe me, or if you’re not familiar with the exercise craze, watch LA-based teachers-by-day, punk-rock-band-by-night No Small Children dancing Zumba moves to their music. Clearly, they are having fun and getting in shape. My instructor turns our class into more of a Latin dance party, with the neighborhood women (and one guy) of various sizes and beautiful shapes throwing our hands up in the air and moving our hips in a soca shake. I don’t have much rhythm, but so what? I’m having fun and not even thinking about that thing I have to turn in soon. . . .

And then I go to yoga once a week for some training in being present in the moment. I stretch my body beyond old limitations, feel the burn of my muscles as I hold my downward dog and plank, not even thinking about that thing, the T word that scratches at the back of my consciousness and would take over my yoga time, my 60 minutes of “me time,” as the instructor calls it. In these 60 minutes there are no students, no colleagues, no administrators or children or partners or parents. Only me resting in child’s pose, or in savasana, the corpse pose, in conscious surrender to nothingness.

Leaning way out, never in.

Jolivette Mecenas is associate professor of writing at the University of La Verne in La Verne, CA, where she directs the writing program. Her research interests include writing program administration in minority-serving institutions, composition and rhetoric pedagogy, and civic discourse.