Brand building through storytelling

Why Pilates reminds me of writing

Less than two hours from now I will be lying on an instrument of exquisite torture with my quivering legs upraised in a crude approximation of straightness, my arms beating like the wings of a mangled bird and my lower abs screaming for mercy. At the very thought of this posture I can feel the sweat between my thighs (which strain for tightness but never achieve it) and a wicked cramp in my right foot (which is supposed to point but instead flops about like a flag of surrender). I sometimes doubt if I’ll ever get the hang of Pilates. But so help me, I persist.

As a dutifully health-conscious woman, I’d sooner wolf down Twinkies and potato chips for lunch than play hooky from Pilates class. Our teacher, Sagrario, never fails to note which of her devotees are missing. “Does anybody know where Rona is?” she would ask. I can picture the expression on her small, watchful face, where worry that I could be ill does battle with the rueful recognition that I could just as easily be loafing at a sidewalk cafe. Renowned for her toughness, she has a tender streak.

I thought of myself as a Pilates veteran when I joined this class after several years of private lessons with a younger, gentler teacher who once called me her most advanced student. That teacher used to let me off the hook when I complained that a movement hurt too much. With Sagrario, no one gets a break. Trained as a dancer in her native Mexico, she brings a ballerina’s rigour to our motley bunch of midlifers with real-world hips and tummies. Not a form fault gets past her. And I commit more than my share: “Rona, stronger arms!” “Rona, toes pointed!” “Rona, are you squeezing your gluties?” When I say yes, she raises an eloquent eyebrow. After more than a year in Sagrario’s class, I’m still among the newer disciples, a befuddled beat or two behind the rest.

I sometimes wonder why, after all this huffing and straining and leaping up to work the cramps out of my feet, I continue to feel like a beginner. Then again, why not? I’ve been writing for most of my life, yet every time I sit down at the keyboard it’s with a faint quiver of unease—a brain cramp, you might say. I look at the first words on my screen and they don’t point anywhere I want to go, much less take a reader. I reach for one sentence that’s powered by enough commitment to pull me forward to the next, and from there to a piece of prose that will launch onto Word River a story or a thought that holds a little of my caring and knowing, like a twig sailor in a paper boat. I follow the sentences, just as in Pilates I follow my breath:in, in, out, out. I hear my own words in my head and if the rhythm is off, the whole piece begins to sputter.

Beside me on my desk is an essay by Rosellen Brown, whose fiction I’ve admired, on the habits a writer must cultivate. Number one on her list: Show up. You may think you’re only waiting for a worthy idea to happen by. But you’re assuming both the physical posture (“pen in hand or fingers on keys”) and the mental one (receptivity). If you don’t get ready, you’ll never get started. This is why, for the best part of three years now, I’ve made a ritual of writing here twice a week. Okay, not quite that often lately. Creatively speaking, I don’t have a Sagrario to ask why I’m not at my keyboard. But it’s only because I’ve shown up pretty often that I can now reread all these posts and detect core themes that suggest another book.

Next essential: Pay attention. What the world deems trivial could be anything but for a writer. Rosellen Brown says she reads her New York Times from back to front lest she miss out on details to enrich her next novel. I don’t know about Sagrario’s tastes in fiction, or even if she reads it, but something tells me she’d approve.

Today I sat down to write a comic take on Pilates. It didn’t amuse me so I chose a different path. A year from now I may or may not take pride in this particular journey. But at least I showed up and focused on the task at hand. Since I wasn’t being held to account by the most attentive woman I know, I summoned the memory of her voice and kept writing.

Posted by Rona

Leave a Reply

Stay up-to-date with Rona.

To see what’s on my mind these days, friend me on Facebook.

Miss my old site?

Visit the archive to find your favorite blog posts and Chatelaine editorials or browse my published articles. Sorry, I’m not blogging anymore.