On Storytelling & the Gym. On Taking Control.

Posted on: February 27, 2017

Moving wasn’t easy. Being pushed out of your comfort zone was hard. In truth, it wasn't always comfortable given you lived in Karachi, but that wounded beast of a city was your wounded beast even if it did bite your hand, its chaos was your chaos, its mindless madness was recognisable to you. In your new home city, everything feels off kilter, unfamiliar. The walls are hard, the surfaces jagged & alien. There is a lot of growing up to do, & a lot to do alone. Desperately reaching out to long distance friends because those are the only ones you've got doesn’t always work because their lives are the same with you as the only tiny missing piece. But you’ve suddenly got a lot of empty puzzling space around you, so you try very hard to drag them into it & make them fit from afar. Mostly it doesn't work. Those who have known you longest will say the right things. Suck it up, they’ll say. Roll with the punches.


Eventually, you get sick of yourself & you do. Roll with the punches. You visit every gym in a 10 mile radius, getting lost a dozen times along the way & you try to fill the spaces that have suddenly emptied around you. Each gym is better than what you've known & they're all just as good as each other so you're uncertain where you settle until finally you find a place that it feels like you could fit a little piece of you into comfortably, but not comfortably enough to get complacent in the body you've let go slack & started hating again. You sign up for boxing classes after months of not punching, not learning, only this time it’s with a heavy bag & a gang of women & trainers who turn off the lights & turn up the music & push you into pummelling your demons. They don’t mind when you gape at their ridiculously liquid movements & incredible strength & want more more more.


It isn't until a writer friend points it out that you realise why you can’t write & read & create words the way you used to. Making physical changes takes up a lot of creative energy, she tells you. You hadn’t thought it would. You’d thought that your imagination would run wild while you put your body through the motions of whatever torture you chose for it each day. But it didn't quite work like that for you. You found yourself unable to think up new words, you found it hard to fix the older ones or the ones others wrote for you. Your reading speed slowed down. You were horrified to see yourself become a reader of average fast speed, instead of the manic levels you were accustomed to from yourself. You were running out of original questions. You were becoming repetitive, predictable & to you there was nothing worse than that.


You hate yourself for it. It takes you a while to deal with your anxiety & stop punishing yourself for things that weren't so terrible in the first place. You learn to let your brain slow down, you learn to use your nervous energy for something else. You learn to cook better, and more. You learn to parallel park. Backwards & in one go. You know, somewhere in the back of your ever buzzing mind, that all this is about your own control issues. You know deep in your uterus, deep in the dark of your subconscious that this is all because you feel you're losing control of your life; that you are trying this hard to control your body because you feel that you cannot control your new surrounding, or what may come in your future. You feel as if you are waiting, just waiting & you don't know what to do about this so instead you learn to brace your core better, you try to understand your kinetic chain, you count your macros. This is how you talk now.


Physical transformations, be they subtle & slow or sudden & speedy all take up intense creative energy, you keep thinking. One day you have an epiphany while talking to someone new. You realise that the reason these changes take up so much creative energy is because you are creating someone & something new. You are using a muddled, mess of muscle & fat & lax sinew, & painfully carving from that mound a new image, a new story. You are rewriting your own story, recreating your own self, remoulding your actual literal physical being. It's a metamorphosis, an evolution, a fight against genes & age & disease & against the inevitable fucking apocalypse your body will host when it betrays you & gives into generations of genetic baggage, gravity, environmental defects, sheer wear & tear.


Writers often talk to you about process. Everyone has a unique method to their madness, as must you even if you don't recognise it yet. Some days you meet your word count, some days you deadlift your personal best; some days you just erase your words & get your basic squats wrong. One bad day, one crash into cookies doesn't have to stop you from getting on that treadmill the next day. Or the days that follow. It's a funny beast, storytelling. Did your narrative take a wrong turn? Is your pace is flagging? That's okay, throw in the heaviest plot twist you can lift & move the fuck along. Preferably at high intensity intervals so your heart can be stronger for longer.


This is the hardest story to tell, the toughest edit to wrangle. Partly because you can never step away or get some distance. Partly because none of us are ever really truly done. We're all works in progress: our minds, our bodies, our stories. Constant evolution is a good thing, constantly pushing boundaries & dropping filters is good for your mental health just as constantly lifting heavier and running faster is good for your physical. Neither is easy, each is a challenge in its own right & each can break you just as easily as the other.


You never quite get that clean banana bread to rise the way it should. You never quite learn to control your hormone related cravings for salted butter & extra mature cheddar. You still can't do push ups on your toes with a full range of motion but you also can't find any reason to stop moving on. The dense banana bread is still good. The cheese & butter aren't part of your diet often enough to clog your arteries. Push ups on your knees make you work just as hard as you can right now.


You don't see the changes right away. You're hard on yourself because you know no other way. You don't yet understand that any workout is better than none, so you're sad on days you can't give it your all. You overcompensate by putting in too many hours at the gym while trying to fix your diet. It takes you a couple of weeks of never getting enough rest & a lengthy talk with a nutritionist to understand just how important recovery time is. You learn that at your age you need to take better care of yourself than someone a decade younger does, you learn that if your body needs a day off you should take a fucking day off. You learn that there's nothing you need to be entirely rid of in your life except maybe sugar. & people who show no interest in you. You realise depending on either is toxic & slows you down, so you learn to let go of both. Little by little, you grow as you shrink, you get stronger as you get smaller. You take up less space, but you contain multitudes.


You learn that a minute will take a minute no matter how fast you go, so you learn to tell your story slower & deeper. You are grateful that your editors, collaborators, publishers have patience with your lack of discipline when it comes to writing. You wonder what they see you in, & then you try to see that in yourself.


You still read and write less than you did before, but you're okay with it. That doesn't define you. No one thing can. You roll, you slide, you feint, you weave. You breathe.


You've got such a long way ahead of you that you can't even see the finish line. So you accept that maybe there isn't a finish line at all. & that's okay. Because even though you may never be done, you'll still be so very far from where you started. & while you're at it, you can take the scenic route. There’s plenty of us out here.