Insights from the Changing Room
(Some parts of this post were first posted on the ERWA blog Oct 2014)
Tuesday morning. 8:00. I just finished a brutal kettle bell workout. I’ve gone up in weight, and I’m seriously feeling the
love. I won’t even tell you what I look like as I walk into the shower room. Suffice to say it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t see much in my state of exhaustion. I fumble through my locker for my shower things and fresh clothes then stumble to the stall, where I strip off adjust the water and lean against the wall, wondering how I’m going to lift my arms to wash my hair.
I linger there because I can, because I work at home and home’s not going anywhere. All around me the changing room is a beehive of activity and my sense of smell is overwhelmed by myriad scents of deodorant, shower gel and various other olfactory efforts to disguise the scent of humans. Most of my fellow gym-goers have stopped in for an early workout before they head to work.
Once I’m clean, I join the ranks of the frantic in the changing room. While I admire the women of all shapes and sizes who seem completely comfortable being naked in front of everyone, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m not one of them. I’m fit. I’m strong, and I look good enough that people can tell I work out. But my body shows the wear and tear of being my vessel for a lot of years. It has served me well through the abuse of the youth I thought would be endless. Better still, it has (and still does) allowed me to experience some truly marvelous adventures and some amazing loving. At some point I’ve come to accept that I’ll never look like I’m twenty again. And the sad truth is that I was far less satisfied with my body when I was twenty than I am now.
The gym I go to is unpretentious, and it has a great mix of all ages and of people who are fit and people who are brave enough to thrust themselves into an environment where they can become fit. Most, like me, will know the joy of what becoming fit does to all other avenues of life. I’ve not come to that knowledge late in life, I’ve always felt more myself when I’m strong and healthy. BUT fitness and health rarely translate to the washboard abed, bulging biceped males we see posed on the covers of erotic novels nor the high, firm breasted, rounded bottomed women who frolic on the pages in between those covers.
Even now, as I watch woman unselfconsciously flitting around the changing room with pert tits and exquisite arses naked or in sexy underwear as they blow-dry their lush long manes and make themselves up to perfection, my stubborn brain is green with envy. This morning there seems to be a larger than normal bevy of pert breasts, tight bottoms and flowing locks as I slink to my locker and dress as quickly as I can so no one will notice that my tits are not that perky. As for my arse, well, do to a genetic trait in my family, I don’t actually HAVE an arse. I’ve spent my entire life tugging up my trousers and sitting on bone and gristle.
But I digress. As I shove into my clothes and run a quick comb through wet hair, not lingering for a good coiffing nor to put on the make-up I seldom wear, I can’t help feel that I should apologize for being neither coiffed nor pert. The nasty voice in the back of my head, says ‘at your age, who cares?’ And I protest that I look pretty damned good for my age. In truth, no one in the changing room notices anyone else, and no one judges in the frantic effort to get to work on time. My only judge is me, and sadly, I’m a bit harsh at times.
God! I battle those internal voices all the time. You’d think I’d get past them at some point. But I don’t. You’d think that writing characters who are less pert and less wash-boardy would be my way of shaking my fist at heaven, of cursing the fact that at my age – god how I despise that phrase! It feels like a “get out of jail free” card for every shortcoming that I had no excuse for when I was younger because I have now reached that magical age – whatever the hell that might be. BUT I digress again! Here’s the shocking truth. I don’t look twenty-five anymore. You’d think I’d make sure my characters don’t look it either. But nooooo! I constantly toy in my imagination with characters who may not exactly look like they live in a gym, but on the other hand, seeing them naked would be close enough to chocolate for the eyes to make my mouth water.
All good characters need a life beyond looking hot, otherwise they’re boring, and the only thing worse than a character with flabby abs and a flat arse is a character whose biceps or tits are the most interesting thing about them. I confess, I write what I wish was so. I write what I’m convinced readers wish was so. I write who we wish we could be, and who we wish would be so attracted to us that they’d lose sleep obsessing about shagging us senseless. I write charactersthat look like youth has decided to linger awhile longer with them than it does with most of us. Of course I’m happy to throw in some good genetics for nicely rounded bottoms and a proper amount of pertness. I write nice bodies, AND do my best to make them interesting too. I WANT IT ALL!
I live vicariously through the characters I write. Through them my tits are perfect and my arse is magnificent.
Through them, I am the obsession of the wounded hero who is both intelligent and a fine specimen of manliness. Are all these a sign of my neurotic shallowness? Or are they, perhaps a sign that I’m old enough to recognize what I’ve lost, what I’ve left behind. I’m old enough to understand the price everyone pays for living in a body long enough to experience enough life with all of its joys and sorrows and bashings about to look a little worse for the wear. I’m old enough to know that what I don’t reveal in the changing room at the gym says enough about the wounded character that I am, says enough about my numerous and openly admitted neuroses to remind me again that the sweetest things aren’t pert nor washboarded, nor nicely rounded. The sweetest things are all the experiences in between the best my body was when I was twenty and the best my body is now. Am I making excuses? Perhaps. Would I still like to be pert and properly rounded? Hell yes! Is my reality and the fantasies I create as a writer any less textured and rich because of the lack? The truth is, that it’s probably richer for my flat butt and semi-pert tits. But perhaps I only say that as a way of compensating for my envy of youth and beauty.
On the other hand the place inside me that lives to fantasize, to create, the place inside me that lives for story isn’t subject to the passing of years. And what comes out of that part of me is, more often than not, a way of dealing with my darkness, my self-doubts, my occasional tango with self-loathing. It’s my way of reconstructing them into something that feels better against the raw places, the places that are afraid and uncertain. It’s a way of being less cowardly in the knowing that I, like everyone, must deal with my own mortality as best I can. And sometimes the best way is writing stories with heroes who have nice abs and even nicer pecs and heroines who are round and tight in all the right places. Strange that I never actually see those characters, those fine specimens of physicality, in my mind’s eye, though I know that some writers do. But I feel them from the inside out. That way I know that they’re, in some ways, a testament to my irrational need to be forever young and yet at the same time to cling to the experiences that seldom happen in youth, but are always required to make us more than a collection of body parts that are pert today and sagging tomorrow.