Assisted by counterweights

We’re not talking about Docker for Windows today either. Oh, we are so not. At 10 pm Monday night, C. and I realized that the handy-dandy new way to run Docker on Windows only works for Windows 10. My desktop runs Windows 7 (don’t judge). My laptop runs Windows 8.1. We spent an hour of intense frustration in which Docker behaved like a Balrog and Windows behaved like Gandalf (“You Shall Not Pass”), which apparently is a known issue that is plaguing a lot of people and has no real solution. At 11 pm, we gave up.

It’s back to installing Ruby gems for us tonight, and when I say “we” I definitely mean C. because the last time I tried to install the Ruby gems needed to run Jekyll on Windows, it was like getting lost in the Old Forest but with no Tom Bombadil or Goldberry. You get the picture. (I don’t know why all the Tolkien. Why not? It’s a good metaphor that most folks understand.) Anyway, I never did get it to work and I just had to proofread stuff without previewing it, which is Not Optimal. I have a developer wizard/elf at my side this time, so I expect better luck.

Let’s try a horizontal line here and start over.

I wrote a charming story about dinner Sunday night and C’s idea that maybe instead of talking at length about costume design and overlooked films and evolving word usage in our culture, I could write blog posts. So here I am. Isn’t that wonderfully straightforward?

But I left out the assisted push-ups.

It’s like this: In May 2015, I shut down the film website I had been editing for ages and ages. (I was originally going to write “A couple of years ago,” and was shocked to see, no, it’s been 3.5 years. Daaaaaang.) One reason was that I wanted to write about other things that were not film. I was dead tired of writing movie reviews.

Movie reviews can be extremely formulaic to write: Lead (preferably with hook and preview of overall opinion), summary of plot without giving away spoilers, details on good and bad points, wrap-up with final overall opinion restated. You can do this in 400 words for a local weekly with space limitations, or 1400 words for a film site that specializes in in-depth essays. You can flip it around a bit if you want to be creative, and occasionally mess with the form. I wrote a Tristram Shandy review as though it were the novel Tristram Shandy (I don’t have a link, sorry). I got super-snarky about Pacific Rim in the lead paragraphs in a style you can only get away with once. I was proud enough of my meta-meta Dawn of the Planet of the Apes review that I thought about including it in samples for a tech writing job.

Anyway, I was burned out on movie reviewing, I was super-burned-out on editing other people’s stuff in my spare time for no money, and I said truthfully that I wanted to devote that time to my own writing. But it didn’t happen. I sat at my computer (Windows 7) and failed to write. I can tell you where to buy really cute socks and cardigans online, though.

In early 2017, I took some freelance movie reviewing assignments to see if it would spark my interest in writing reviews again or anything else. January is an awful time to start reviewing movies for a publication with a national readership, because studios dump some of the worst new releases from January until March. Reviews about terrible movies are occasionally fun to write, but after awhile, all that snark wore me down. But I ended up on upbeat note: my last assignment for a mainstream movie was the film I’d been looking forward to seeing for months and was, in fact, one of the best movies I’d see the whole year: Get Out. It is a great last review to have published.

Around the same time, I was trying to write longform essay-style reviews for a site that specialized in micro-indie films – the ones that premiere in tiny theaters at festivals and don’t get distribution right away. After Get Out, I watched a lovely, fascinating documentary made by a crew that included local folks. I took careful notes while watching the doc (watching online means you can pause and write down people’s names, which is useful). I liked the film.

I still have half a review of the doc on my desktop computer (Windows 7, natch). It’s maybe 350, 400 words long and has no ending. I struggled through three or four paragraphs and felt I’d said everything I wanted to say. But the review needed to be about 1200 words. I still had to talk in detail about the visual aesthetic and the direction and the political subtext and … You know, it was a nice movie. But documentary reviews are tough to write for reasons I won’t elaborate here and I ran out of gas abruptly and entirely.

The editor was extremely understanding and I told him I’d get back with him when/if I felt less burned out. I haven’t spoken with him since (although hours after I drafted this blog post, he included me in a group email about winter film fest assignments, thus proving he’s both kind and optimistic). The editor of the site where I reviewed Get Out and a bunch of stinkers has had no shortage of other freelancers who are top-notch reviewers and probably need the money more than I do. (Paid film freelance work is rarer by the day. In the time between my drafting and publishing this blog post, two media sites laid off a bunch of entertainment writers. Happy holidays.)

That was March 2017. I can count on one hand the number of things I’ve written since then outside of my job. Sometimes I tell a little story in a Google doc or a text file. I have a nice one about pastrami I might share later.

I do have strong ideas about what I want to write. But some of these things, I can’t write at all. I sit at the computer and stare and I can’t. They are too personal and loom too large. I freeze. I’ve tried numerous ways to unfreeze – I can tell you about some excellent books that probably inspire everyone else but just made me go hide in the bed with the cat.

So C. talked about starting a blog again. And I thought, well, that’s a bit silly. I don’t want to write dinky little blog things. Everyone writes about that stupid song, I just read a column about that movie.

And then I thought about the gym. I think about the gym a lot because I spend a lot of time there when I can get away with it, and when I can’t, I feel cranky about the unfairness of my not being there, and spend time trying to figure out how I can sneak out of wherever I am and get to the gym. If I don’t have regular gym time, I crumble into sad dust. I don’t usually go to classes, I like working out by myself, although I have a weekly personal trainer who likes goal-setting and shows me exercise routines and fusses at me about eating too many carbs.

Last year I learned how to do an unassisted pull-up. In May 2017, my trainer and I changed gyms and we needed a new goal to go with the new surroundings. I suggested an unassisted pull-up, since I’d seen a woman on the pull-up bars outside the gym the previous week. She was strolling past the bars, stopped to set down her coffee cup, jumped up and effortlessly (it seemed) did a couple of pull-ups right then and there. I was impressed.

We set a three-month goal and started work with the gym’s assisted pull-up machine. The machine uses a counterweight system, so the more plates of weight you choose, the easier the exercise is. So 20 is the easiest, and 5 is as tough as it gets before you kick up the footrest (it’s the standing version of the machine, happily, because the kneeling one sucks) and go fully unassisted. This is way more info than you need about an assisted pull-up machine to understand my point, which I realize you probably already figured out, but let me finish.

The point is that I did not set down my water bottle, jump up on a bar, and see whether I could do an unassisted pull-up. We used a weight machine I was very familiar with, we started around a comfortable-to-me 14 or maybe even 12 pounds and week by week, we moved to smaller and smaller plates and smaller numbers of repetitions. I didn’t try to do sets of 10, I tried to do sets of three. I would stand at the foot of the machine like a gymnast preparing to mount a beam, step up and make sure the right muscles were engaged (namely, all of them), and do a single pull-up on 6. Then a break and a different exercise. Then another one. Then a lot of water-drinking and walking around.

At the end of the three months, I could do unassisted pull-ups on the machine. It took a few more months (interrupted by vacations and post-vacation colds) for me to go outside of the gym to that bar, jump up (for a short person, this is the hardest part), and do multiple pull-ups – not nearly as gracefully, but I got there.

And, not very gracefully, here we are at my final point, which is that this blog is here because it is the writing equivalent of an assisted pull-up machine. When C. said, “You should blog again,” I realized that instead of hanging around on a bar and not moving, I should work my way up slowly. I know how this works, I can use it comfortably. Judging by the number of paragraphs it took to make my point, though, I think we’re probably at six reps on 12 and I need to remember to engage my lats.