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  • jdettmann

Champion of the Novelties

We’re two weeks into the fitness kick here at the House of Gusto and slowly but surely, things are changing for the better. We have been aided by an unprecedented run of good health for the whole family – although obviously having typed that I will return today to seven plagues upon my house.

I have been exercising quite a lot. It turns out the trick to exercise is not trying too hard. Apparently I knew this when I was a child but had forgotten until now. A few weeks ago I came across an old homework book from when I was eight, in which I wrote the following sentence:

‘If it does not rain we are going to have our athletics carnival on Wednesday and I am going to get lots of energy so when the starter goes I am going to be champion of the novelties.’

Now that sentence says a few things to me. It says that my habit of writing overly long sentences goes back a very, very long way. It says my pessimism is deeply ingrained – these good things were only going to happen if it didn’t rain, which it probably would. And most importantly, it says that even at eight I knew that aiming low is the key to exercise success. I was not planning to win a running race. I was not planning to jump the highest or throw a javelin the furthest. I was aiming for ‘Champion of the Novelties’, which I think means things like the egg and spoon race and the sack race. History doesn’t relate how I actually fared at this carnival, but the lesson is one I carry with me today.

It is in that spirit of aiming low that I have now taken up running, which is a pastime that until recently was called jogging. I know lots of people who do this running business, and I was always very much in awe of them. Then I quizzed some of them a bit and realised that by running they meant jogging a bit and walking a bit. Oh. I can do that. Once I removed the pressure to run the whole way, I found I could actually run more than I thought I could. I don’t go fast. But at least I don’t do it in a sack. In my mind that makes me a champion. I have exceeded my own very slight expectations.

I’m thinking of making some motivational posters. One will say ‘Running is Just Jogging a Bit and Walking a Bit’. One will say ‘Exercise: It Can Take Less Of Your Day Than An Episode of Frasier’ and one will say ‘Go To The Gym: Remember There Are No Kids There’. I’m quite the convert.

In addition to the running I’ve been to a few classes at the gym, including one called Pump. That, I discovered once I was in there and too far from the door to sneak out, is a weightlifting class. Like all the classes at my gym, it was packed full of grans. The grans are very strong and fit and nice to me, showing me where to get my barbell and how to attach the weights plates to it so they don’t slide off and brain me. I learned quite quickly to halve the amount of weights any of the grans are using in order to be able to get my barbell off the floor. The grans are also kind and when they are doing hundreds of lunges they pretend not to see me lying on the floor exhaling obscenities with every heaving breath. I do okay in that class, except sometimes I can’t manage the move called ‘get back up off the floor’. But I try not to judge myself. I just lie there and think I am the champion of staying in the class until the end.

Our new healthy lifestyle has come at a good time for another reason too. Last week I had some professional photos taken of my face. You see, a big website in America has asked if they can republish a post from this here blog, broadcasting it to potentially many thousands more readers than usually find it. That is very exciting news, but also rather nerve-racking. My first reaction was total writing paralysis (hence no post last week). Because nothing says ‘I’m a serious professional writer’ like complete radio silence. I feel a bit like I’ve been busking behind a supermarket and now I’m going on an arena tour.

My second reaction was to decide to spend the time when I should have been writing and some money I should have been saving having a photographer make me look really nice in the headshot the US website editor casually requested, like it was no big deal at all. Sure, I told her, I’ll flick something through. Like I have a headshot already. Like there have been pictures taken of me in the last five years that don’t also feature either my children, one of my accidentally exposed boobs, or nine chins. H offered to take some pictures, and though he is a very good photographer, I thought perhaps it would help if someone took the pictures who wasn’t so used to my grumpy face. Basically, if I stop scowling and give even a half-smile H thinks I look unimproveably lovely. Which is very sweet, but the look I was going for was shots that would make people who saw them disappointed if they met me in real life.

Anyway, who knows when this exercise fanaticism will wear off? I might never again have seven days of working out under my belt again, so it would be good to take some pictures to capture my glowing complexion and slightly less podgy face.

The photographer told me to come along wearing something something that makes my eyes pop. I didn’t really understand that. Something like my electricity bill? I stuffed an unironed assortment of tops into a bag and headed over to my friends Kate and Amy’s house just before the shoot. While Kate used her arsenal of makeup to paint a more agreeable face over my own, Amy coached me on how to arrange said face.

‘Do you have a face you usually make in photos?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ I said, proudly. ‘I do this excellent pouty thing like my friend Ellie does. She looks amazing when she does it.’ I demonstrated for Kate and Amy.

‘Ok, don’t do that. That is not for your face,’ they politely told me.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Then what should I do?’

Amy, who is an actor and an acting teacher, explained that I should not make a face at all. That I should try to inhabit my own face. I was to look at the camera and project from inside the qualities that I wanted people to see.

So once I met up with Bree, the photographer, and we went down to the edge of the harbour to take the pictures, I stared down the barrel of the camera and tried my hardest to project high cheekbones and really big doe eyes. ‘I am an ingénue,’ I thought, and I pushed that thought out through my now invisible pores and my expertly lined eyes. ‘I am not freezing. I do not hate this. I am really funny, but also smart and brave and so cool, but not intimidatingly so. I am the love child of Zooey Deschanel and Tina Fey. I am Ellie Kemper meets Jimmy Fallon. I look like I am brimming with excellent ideas for blogs. I look like my children sleep through the night. I look like I took up exercise well over a week ago.’

Afterwards I looked at those pictures and realised that all that was coming through was a high degree of lunacy.

In the end, there were a bunch of pictures I really liked, and Bree edited these two for me so I look all flawless and ethereal. When I think back to what was going though my mind when those particular shots were taken, I realise they were when I stopped thinking about being photographed and either thought about something hilarious Garnet or May Blossom did (the smiling shot), or I was looking at Bree and thinking how very pretty she is and wondering why she was on the wrong end of the camera (the jealous, surly shot). Both pictures were taken with me looking up at the camera, as if shot by the aliens who have just opened their pod doors and are showing me the stash of salt and vinegar chips that will be mine when I let them take me to their leader.



Overall, I’m very pleased with the photos. I haven’t looked really hard at my own face for a long time. It seems to have changed a fair bit in the last five years. I hadn’t known that I must raise my right eyebrow a lot, because there are fine rainbow-shaped lines above it. I was taught to raise that eyebrow independently of its lazy left counterpart by my friend Aimée, when we were thirteen years old. Aimée died almost eight years ago, and it was a fine thing to realise that I will forever have a memory of her etched on my face. That’s pretty cool.

So one of these pictures will be appearing alongside my name when republishes my post on July 21. If I remind you, will you all please go read it again on their website? Just project through your faces that you haven’t read it before and act like you think it is hilarious. I’d be very much obliged. You can consider yourselves the Champions of Reading the Same Thing Twice.

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