Picking a New Gym

I’m not exaggerating when I say that my biggest concern for my new job was finding a new gym.

As I’ve stated before, my last gym was really good and really good for me. In addition to having really good trainers there, the group class approach clicked with me. So finding the closest possible replication was my top priority when I moved to Ohio.

It didn’t quite happen like that.

I don’t have a car yet, so I’m limited to a fairly narrow radius. Within that range, there are… well… three options.

One was Snap Fitness, which was never really in contention. Fine for what it is, but it’s the least convenient option. The gym itself was perfectly fine, and there were some classes, but not at times that are terribly practical for me (my work schedule is just unusual enough to make it tricky) and they seemed to be a bit less intense than what I’m ready for.

The real options were between the YMCA and Xenia Elite Fitness—as they’re closer to both where I live and work. Neither one really has classes comparable to what I was looking for—XEF doesn’t seem to have any (although it says some are coming), and the Y’s are not super-compatible with my wonky schedule. (And, again, I’m not sure that they’re quite at the level I’m looking for.)

Fortunately, I’ve been developing my own workouts since moving and, so far, it seems to be working okay. So the lack of classes isn’t quite a dealbreaker, at least not yet.

The Y is bigger and better appointed, although some of that is the extras—things like racquetball courts and a swimming pool that might be nice but that are peripheral to what I’m likely to use. I was also impressed—or at least, intrigued by the potential—of the high-intensity room with a new WOD every day (as the OD implies).

The C in YMCA gave me a bit of pause, although as far as I know, the Y’s implementation of C is relatively close to the founder’s intent, rather than certain modern implementations based more around judgement and hatred of undesirables than making the world a better place. So I could have dealt with that.

But ultimately I went with XEF.

It’s smaller, but it has enough—including a nice selection of free weights, which is the big thing I need. Supporting local business is also a plus. They’re promising a climbing rope soon, which is actually a bit of a selling point, given its OCR usefulness.

And, I guess, it felt right. Any of the three options, I’d likely be building largely on what I’d been doing in Chicago, which in a lot of cases means doing my own thing that isn’t necessarily what the crowd would be doing. (I think my workouts are reasonably intense, but they don’t match either what the musclebros do or the “let’s read while vaguely moving on the elliptical” crowd.*) And it seemed like that would be sort of OK there.

I did consider not joining a gym at all. I worked out in the park for the first couple weeks I was here, and that worked. But I’m not really terribly good at building all-bodyweight workouts that can keep me interested. In short, it’s really valuable to have heavy things to pick up and put down that aren’t quite as heavy as me.

Anyhow, we’ll see how it works out. Thus far, it’s been okay. (In fact, I’ve never been there when there were more than about 4 people in the gym, which is nice. In fact, I’ve even had the place all to myself one of the three or so times I’ve been there.)

XEF


 

*One weird, currently amusing but possibly sinister thing: XEF does have a fairly large collection of magazines to read—all of them clearly targeting women. Slightly odd, especially as the read-on-the-machine crowd seems to be roughly evenly split, gender-wise, but at this point it’s something I’m going to investigate.

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How To Not Be Creepy Working Out at a Playground

Playgrounds shouldn’t be just for kids. They typically* have things like steel bars in various configurations that are good for pull-ups and laches and dips and rows and miscellaneous things that can be tough to replicate at home.

However, that’s not the world in which we live. Playgrounds are for kids, and using them as an adult can raise suspicion, even when that usage is as innocent as a workout. And I get it: We should want to protect kids from people who wish to do them harm. But I’d like to be able to get some monkey bar work in myself.**

So how can you use these public, taxpayer-funded facilities without seeming or feeling like the kind of person who needs a mustache and a corner shrub to peer through at all times? I’ve assembled some suggestions. Use your common sense before applying them and don’t be creepy!

  • Go when kids aren’t there. This is the approach I’ve been using so far in Ohio, and it’s worked well; the playground that’s near to me is both not terribly exciting and not particularly convenient to extensive residential area. (There’s one neighborhood around it, but it’s bounded on one side by a county fairground, across the street by a greenway, and a third side has a school and then fields.) So, while I’ve seen kids using it, there’s never been any potential conflict.
  • Get in/get out. By that I mean: Most of your workout doesn’t involve the bars. So go there, do your bar work quick, and then go elsewhere—like the middle of the field—for the rest of your workout. Also, maybe make sure you’re facing out (rather than toward the rest of the play structure) while you’re working. And wear a shirt. Don’t be this guy:
  • Bring a kid of your own. Or a neighbor’s kid. Or a random one you find on the street. I’m not here to judge that kind of morality. However, this can be tricky, even if you do it totally legal-like: if you bring a kid, you’ll be expected to keep an eye on it, which might get you some appalled looks if you spend too many minutes on your toe-to-bars.
  • Wear a uniform. Certain people in our society are above question. If you dress as a police officer, a firefighter, or a soldier, you will automatically be protected against any accusations of creepiness because you’re a hero. (Maybe our culture ought to have a bit more nuanced relationship with the idea of those professions.)
  • Be a juggler. Jugglers can work pull-ups into their act. Jugglers can work anything into their act. Unfortunately, this might not be enough to make you appear not to be creepy. And if you are deemed acceptable by community standards, you’ll need to develop 30 to 60 minutes of kid-friendly patter in order to keep the show going.
  • Wear a badge. I’m thinking one of those “Hi, my name is,” stickers you can put on your shirt, and then you can write in “Someone who isn’t creepy.” Although if you don’t have any of those stickers available, you could carry a sign, write it in Sharpie on your forehead, or safety-pin a note to your shirt. I’m sure any of those will work okay.

On second thought… maybe just move to a place where they have grown-up playgrounds. I’m not sure how effectively these techniques will keep you out of jail.


* No, not always. When I was in Chicago, there actually seemed to be a movement to rip out playground equipment and replace it with these weird cord-based structures. I have no idea why; they didn’t look like they would be particularly fun or particularly safe.

** I was going to say “innocent monkey bar work in,” but that makes the phrase so much more creepy, no?

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Splinters

Gather round, my obstacle course racing brothers and sisters, because there is a scourge that we all face, and most of us probably don’t even realize it.

Obstacle course racers pride ourselves on our toughness and our resilience, but I think we need to talk about how soft and cushy our collective asses have become. And I mean that literally.

Toilet paper is making us weak.

A brief history lesson: The first recorded toilet paper dates back to 1391. Since then, millions of innovations in toilet paper technology have been developed—rolls, quilting, two-ply and three-ply and four-ply and five-ply, to name just a few—but the one that led to the patheticization of human society developed in 1930.

That was the year Northern Toilet Paper became the first splinter-free toilet paper.

While that may have been a boon for backside comfort, I think we can all agree that in the 87 years since then, we as a species have become as soft as the stuff we clean the outside of our rectums with.

I’m willing to take a stand and say no more.

splinters

Splinters brand obstacle course racing toilet paper, with extra shards of wood for extra toughness. Image by Brandon Blinkenberg via Wikipedia, used and modified under CC BY 2.5.

That’s why I’ve started production of Splinters OCR toilet paper.

Splinters is a brand-new brand of toilet paper, tough enough for the toughest OCR racer. It’s made of 98% wood pulp and 2% wood shards ready to dig into your glutes every time you poo. This discomfort is key to building the emotional strength, physical resilience, and spiritual spirituality that humanity has lost in the past 0.87 of a century.

We can get out of the mess we’re in, and it starts with how we get out of the mess we’re in.

Splinters. Because if you’re tough enough to trudge through mud pits, you’re tough enough to dig shards of wood out of your ass.

Available at finer shops everywhere.

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Biking in Ohio

When I was doing my final interview for my new job, one of the things the employer highlighted was the extensive bike paths. Apparently there are more cubic feet per capita than any place in the history of time or something. (That’s not a real statistic, because I don’t remember the exact details.)

I may not know the exact details of Ohio’s bike path network, but I’ve had the chance to ride it a lot (for having been here only five days) and I can say: It’s cool.

It started the day I moved. For some reason it was a hundred bucks cheaper to return the U-Haul to Dayton, rather than Xenia (which is where I now live). It’s only about 10 miles, so I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to bike back (even after doing the ‘hauling heavy shit’ part of the move that day). But, as it turned out, there was a bike path that went almost directly from the U-Haul store to my new place.

I don’t think I’ve ever done a 10-mile ride that quick.

The path is paved and smooth, a lovely ride through woods near a creek, and there were only a handful of roads that it crossed where bikers even had to slow down to check for cars—which there rarely were.

Even better: Xenia is the county seat and located geographically in roughly the center of the county. So there are several of these paths that head to the other cities in the county (and in some cases beyond; I think it’s possible to bike to both Columbus and Cincinnati on them, although don’t hold me to that), and they all intersect here. So, in addition to using the bike to get around for errands and getting the stuff I need post-move (which has also been really easy; the paths have taken me close to where I need to go, and on-street biking in other places has been perfectly fine), I took a bike trip out to Yellow Springs this weekend.

Yellow Springs is a little town with a bit of a hippy vibe and a nice downtown with bunches of cafes and little artistic shops. Also, here’s the view on the way:


OK, that’s not the only view, it’s only one of the views on the way, but still: pretty cool.

One drawback to biking in Ohio: While the bike path game is on point—I’d even say
“on fleek” if I were confident what that means and that it were still a term—the bike rack game is less so. In Chicago, racks are everywhere. In fact, they’re almost a nuisance: marauding packs of feral bike racks roam the streets, jumping out in front of traffic, pooping everywhere, and rebending their pipes to form rude gestures. In Ohio, the concept of attaching a bent steel pipe to the ground where bikes can be securely locked is completely foreign.

OK, I exaggerate for comic effect; there are some bike racks. But I have also been to largish commercial centers—like the strip mall with one of the big supermarkets—that don’t have any, so I’ve had to lock my bike to a fence or a shopping cart corral or a sleeping Weimaraner. And that doesn’t include the rack that I saw that existed (Yay!) but was built so that the rack supported the tire but kept the bike so far from any metal that my U-lock was useless (Boo!). Unless I locked my bike on the side of it rather than in one of the bike slots, which I did.

So the lack of bike racks hasn’t been a real impediment to biking, but it’s a bit of culture shock.

In general, biking feels very different here than in Chicago. Chicago has done right by bikers: There are plenty of bike lanes and other facilities to make biking possible, which is a minor miracle. But like other forms of transportation, biking in Chicago is stressful: There are almost always lots of other bikes, cars, and pedestrians, all of which could move randomly at any time, that you have to worry about. It was still my first choice of transportation, but it was transportation, rather than recreation. Here, it’s much easier to relax and enjoy the ride.

 

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Ohio Goals

The purpose of this post is sort of to process the impending change and the potential things that can come out of it. Normally my goals are hyper-specific, and I like that approach, but this is going to be much more general. More sort of guiding principles that I should be living by, now that some of the barriers or crutches that I’ve had will be gone.

Fundamentally, it’s about taking better control of things. Fitness-wise, in the past several years, I’ve used several unhealthy things as a crutch to overcome the job-hunting despair and be able to function. It’s kind of worked; I haven’t gotten worse, healthwise, and there’s even been some progress in a few areas, but those things have to be relegated to special occasions rather than things to get me through the day. Diet is the biggest area for improvement here. (Working out, honestly, was the best part of nearly every day for me, and the single biggest contributor to my mental health, to the point where it may have been a crutch. It’s not the worst problem to have.)

Probably more important is to have better control over my career. This has hurt me a lot. There was one position that I was over-devoted to; I thought that I would spend my entire career there. And when it went bad, I didn’t have a lot of options, which splurted me into the job-hunt despair and desperation. In this job… well, I’d love for it to be a lifelong fit, but I also want to have alternatives. That means better professional connections (which the job will be supporting as a matter of course, because they’re beneficial within the position), a stronger devotion to my personal writing, and taking responsibility for making sure that what I’m doing at the new job will be beneficial for both the job and for me.

I also want to have stronger connections to the community. I didn’t have those for the past several years, and with some logic—I knew that relocation was in the cards, so building those connections wasn’t a big priority. But it contributed to isolation, which contributed to unhappiness, which contributed to aforementioned crutch usage. This is an area that should be easier; my new employer even commented that being active in the community is, if not required, strongly encouraged as a practice.

Is there more? Maybe, but nothing I can think of now that needs to be shared here.

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Why Job-Hunting Sucks

One of the best things about getting a new job is that I don’t have to job-hunt any more.

I’ve been job-hunting nearly non-stop for more than six years. I say nearly; there was a brief period when I stopped after getting my most recent job, but I realized fairly early on that that wasn’t a good long-term fit so the search resumed quickly. And there were times when my sanity demanded a pause in the search, because the hunt really broke me.

Why does job-hunting suck? Let me rant the ways:

  • The time. Finding openings and applying is a big time investment, even with the advent of time-saving job application systems. Wait, did I say “even”? I meant “especially.” More about that later. But even before those systems started existing, finding the openings and crafting cover letters was a big time sink.
  • The terrible application process. Job-hunting has actually been the bane of my existence since before I was job-hunting, but that’s a lengthy diversion so you’ll have to check that out at the end of the post. But from a job-hunter’s standpoint, job application sites are the worst. After you post your resume, which has all of the relevant information in an easy-to-read format, you then have to re-enter everything from your resume. But often, the sites literally won’t allow you to enter your information correctly. I can’t count the number of times a field didn’t have enough space for the full information—usually job titles were too long for the space, but I do have one memory of a site that limited cover letters to 100 characters. Seriously, that’s barely enough for a fart. And you usually have to make an account, with a unique password that you have to keep track of, even though you probably won’t ever have to use it again but if you do it will be several years down the line and if you don’t remember it then, then you’re screwed. And plenty of places will send increasingly urgent nagging emails if you haven’t changed your password in six months. Gah.
  • False red flags. I think this got me a lot; there’s a lot of things about me that I think raised concerns, even though they shouldn’t have, that disqualified me from jobs that I was great for. I was looking jobs in fields that are pretty geographically dispersed, rather than concentrated in one location. So I was looking for jobs outside of my hometown, but the prospect of relocating—even though I could have done it in the same kind of two weeks that would have been standard for any other hire—threw people. I was also going to a slightly different field than I had experience in, even though they were pretty closely related. And looking for slightly different jobs than what I had, even though the skills they used were mind-bogglingly applicable.

    Oh, and I’d written a book, which instead of being a good thing marked me as a flight risk.

    And then there was my last job, which made lots of heads explode, since I worked from home even though the company was based in another state. Oh, and I couldn’t give a precise hourly wage, because my pay varied slightly based on project and client.

    When job-hunting, these things make you basically a serial killer.

    Maybe I should have tried that.

  • The interviews. It’s hard to fathom anything less like a job than a job interview. The environment is so stilted and the questions are designed so that actual answers will disqualify you. Like that “tell me a time you had a disagreement with someone you were working with” one. If you’re a grown-up, either one side listened to the other, or the person in power pulled rank. Those are the only two possibilities, and there are circumstances where either one might be appropriate, and if you’re a grown-up, you move on. But when an interviewer asks that, they’re looking for an inspirational tale full of pathos and struggle and ultimate triumph that doesn’t fucking exist. So either you lie or you’re disqualified.

    And that’s an example from people who aren’t actively trying to be malicious interviewers. I’ve had worse. My very first interview in this round, the place didn’t actually bother to ask any questions. They did have a test for me: Come up with a Tweet promoting an event. Not a specific event, just an event generally.

    A couple times, I was interviewed because the interviewer wished to register a complaint about my former employer, and they thought that telling their complaint to someone who used to work there was the most efficient way of bringing about change.

    There was one place who scheduled interviews between me and four different people. But two of them missed the original appointments, so we had to re-schedule. There were also three different tests of my ability in this time. And then the final interviewer also missed our appointment and had to reschedule, but they let me know that I didn’t get the job before that could be done. But they were still interested in me, and wanted to start the process over for a different job. When I asked what other information they needed to properly evaluate my suitability for the position, they didn’t know.

    Every interview is just tap-dancing through a mine field. Stumble over your words? Kaboom! Sound too rehearsed? Kaboom! Prioritize elements slightly differently than they would have? Don’t have an inspirational story about all the remarkable challenges you faced in your previous job? Haven’t done exactly the same things in exactly the same ways in your previous job that you’d be doing in this one? Fully qualified and therefore someone who will probably get bored? Kaboom Kaboom Kaboom!

  • The oozing insencerity. Don’t worry, the rejection of you personally isn’t a personal rejection. It’s also not your qualifications, which we were extremely impressed by. We just don’t want you. But we’ll keep your application on file.
  • The emotional destruction. This might be the worst. You put all of the time and effort into crafting an application, studying the employer, evaluating your abilities and how you can fit in well, send it off, and hear nothing. You do that several times a weak, for months on end. Sometimes you do hear something, and that’s worse, because you’ve got to be on edge for the rest of the process and you have to invest even more time preparing and doing the interview and it may be pointless anyhow because you know that if the interviewer wants to abuse you, and some do, they can. It fuels a really awful cycle of dread and misery and despair. Ugh.

    Having this off my shoulder for the first time in six years has me feeling better about my prospects than I have in that time.

  • Bonus hate! Employment advice. There’s a lot of job-hunting advice out there, and it’s generally as abusive as most advice is. It’s designed to prey on people who are vulnerable—wanting something makes you vulnerable to people who promise they can help you get it—but their primary method is to blame the people who want a job for not already having a job. One really egregious example was the one that tells you what colors you should never wear to a job interview. Seriously. If the color tie I’m wearing affects whether I get a job or not, then you have to assume that the entire process is completely defective. Which it is, but the proper response to that is to fix the process rather than blame the poor sap who wears the wrong color.

    But that’s over, at least for the time being, and hopefully for a significant time being. I have better things to devote my energy to.

That was nice to get out of me. Thanks for listening, or not, as the case may be.

 


The lengthy diversion about my pre-job-hunting job-hunting horror: A couple jobs ago, powers way over my pay grade decided that the magazine I worked for needed to change its classified ad system (which was manual but effective) to an ultra-modern jobs website (much like the current standard), which was automatic unless it didn’t work, which it never did. I wound up spending as much time on job ads as I had before, only all of my time was being screamed at by angry people because they were wasting hours of their time trying to post ads on a system that didn’t work instead of sending their ad to a person who did. Oh, yeah, and because the system worked hard to discourage people from putting their ads in the magazine, it cut print advertising from 15 pages to 1 page an issue within a year. Oh, yeah, and since the online ads were cheaper, it also cut revenue by a lot. Oh, yeah, and since the system actually merged two magazine’s classified ad operations, it cut revenue by half again. Oh, yeah, and it took three years of meetings and several hundred thousand dollars to pay the developer to create the site, which, as previously mentioned, didn’t work. Oh, yeah, and while I wasn’t involved in the creation of the site in any way, I wound up being the person responsible for trying to make it function, even though my only administrative tool was to tell people, “Yeah, sometimes the site just doesn’t work, you’ll have to try it again.” Oh, yeah, and it was terrible for job-hunters too; you were forced to search for jobs by state, even though these were the kind of jobs that you expect to relocate for, and you couldn’t search by date to see the jobs that had been posted since you last visited, even though someone who’s actually looking for a job would check the site every day. Oh, yeah, and the day it went live, literally everybody who was involved in the site’s development decided to go on vacation.

Wow, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

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Being My Own Trainer is Hard

The move is done, or at least, all of my stuff has physically been moved from Chicago to Ohio. A good thing about working out a lot: The “hauling heavy shit” portion of the move wasn’t all that bad. Leaving Chicago, it took me longer to pick up the U-Haul then it did to load it, and I lived on a third-floor walk-up. The store where I reserved the truck didn’t have it, but they sent me to another store, which sadly wasn’t the store where the reservation had actually been moved to and was also in the opposite direction. (When I actually picked up the truck, it had been quite thoroughly tagged, thusly:

tagged u-haul

but that didn’t really affect me.) Then it took less than an hour to haul all my stuff into my new place (which is on the ground floor and much easier.)

I still have yonks of unpacking to do, but that’s not terribly interesting or relevant to the subject of this site.

More relevant: For the immediate future, this is my gym:

park

There’s a rather large park adjacent to my apartment—in fact, it goes back well behind that beige building in the background, and there’s a little forest off to the right, and on the other side of that is some soccer fields, and then past those there are some… well, I don’t know exactly, but there’s some tall grass with paths through them. So the park has lots of space in which to do stuff, that’s the point.

I did my first workout today, and, while this isn’t news, being my own trainer is hard. It’s really easy to think, oh, I’m about to die, when you’re not in a group of people who are all clearly not about to die with an expert in front of you to remind you of this fact.

I did 10 stations – an exercise or sequence – and ran between them, for about a 45-minute workout, and I was cursing my own name every second of it. Admittedly, some of that is being tired from moving, and from a lot of biking around to get stuff taken care of this morning, but that doesn’t account for it all.

This move could be a tricky thing.

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