The Writer’s Block

When I was in Boston, I joined a gym that was much nicer than the gym I frequent in San Francisco (unfortunately with a matching nice price, but it was a block away from my apartment, the ideal gym location, so I had to do it). The gym, as part of its overall niceness, always had a stack of magazines for members to borrow while they were working out.

I used to look down my nose at the people at the gym who browsed magazines or read books while they were “working out” on the elliptical trainers, bikes, and treadmills. I couldn’t see how you could get a good workout while reading. It’s fair to say that I scorned this type of exerciser.

Well, I am a changed woman. Now, thanks to my “nice” Boston gym and its selection of magazines, I have been converted. I can’t pass 10 minutes on the stupid elliptical machine without a copy of one of the most mindless, pointless magazines in front of me: People, US Weekly, OK!, Lucky, Ladies Home Journal (or as my friend Christine calls it, “Ladies Home Urinal“), Oprah, Domino, and so on. I was up on all of Britney’s latest news, I knew who was dating who, who was getting divorced and who was having a baby. I knew what kinds of snacks were best to make for Halloween parties, how to dress up the new fluorescent clothes, what kinds of shoes to wear to an office party and who wore the ugliest dress to the Academy Awards.

Aside from boring Billy with nightly stories of TomKat, Brangelina and so on, my magazine addiction was harmless. I was actually working out more, because I didn’t get bored on the machines. The magazines were a free perk of my gym. I felt relaxed after a half-hour of mindless reading and picture examining, which was pleasant when I was stressed out by schoolwork.

But now I am back in San Francisco at my cheaper, lamer gym and they don’t have any magazines. Ack! For the first few weeks I went through the humiliation of buying US Weekly, Lucky and other similar mags. I toted them around the gym and reread them endlessly to avoid buying new ones. (It seemed an unnecessary purchase, especially for someone with, um, no job.)

But I’ve now found a substitute that’s better for my brain and my wallet. It’s The Writer’s Block, KQED’s weekly reading series. I downloaded a few essays and short stories onto my iPod to listen to at the gym. I was completely and totally engrossed while on the elliptical trainer today, by a Julie Orringer story. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading her collection How to Breathe Underwater, you are missing out. Seriously. So the short story was great, it was the perfect length, and I think my brain actually regained cells lost while reading OK!, so it was a pretty good situation… and, I’m looking forward to hearing essays (nonfiction!) by Kate Braverman and Michelle Richmond during my next couple of workouts.

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