The gym was a space full of people who were all in some kind of dialogue with themselves about their bodies, each propelled by a unique set of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to interact with objects and equipment that stood in for other things, individuals, and relativities in the world outside of the gym. Looking around, it seemed probable that some of these dialogues were not healthy — inasmuch as one can judge a maladaptation from an adaptation when someone only becomes who they are through it. There is a suspension of judgement one can enter into that provides a natural indemnity against other judgement, and I entered into it. I found a profound sense of communion — even with the gymgoers who were annoying.
It was in fact the most annoying gymgoers who I found the most fascinating — those whose approaches were expressed through the extremes of exertion and endurance as a kind of loud factory production in which the equipment they operated was manufacturing their own exceptional bodies. This seemed to both conquer and reproduce something at the same time, and that we might all have a freedom that hung in the balance of figuring out what that was made them impossible to ignore. That they performed made them seem the most different from me, but then — there was my flip-fold of my paper towel.
My flip-fold was masterful on a different register, and it was performed for a select audience — that other gymgoer. We encountered each other constantly in the same set of spaces, and a comedy was developing between us that had the potential to span many genres of comedy. Its premise was that we had all of the same injuries, and that we were likely receiving treatment from the same physiotherapist.
Without dialogue, we established sequences of moving around one another so as not to collide or crush parts of each other underfoot, and we began to furnish each other with foam rollers and stability balls at the moments we knew the other needed them. We developed a range of acknowledging looks with which we identified each other’s exercises and agreed not to say their names aloud, as though in reference to a silent conversation we were having about the hilarious relentlessness of the forces that hold human dignity under siege. Inevitably I began imagining hot sex with this person in the lateral coital alignment position and in other positions recommended and developed by sex researchers for injured people. We would choose them without having to explain their purpose or how to get into them and would choose them by preference when we no longer needed them. This part of the relationship remained speculative in order to preserve the assurance of a space that made it possible.
I had thought this was a space where a person came to do one of two things: to change one’s body or to protect that body against change. But there was something else that was possible — which was to find the body’s terms with which it could accept what can’t be helped. These movements were the least easy, and I knew I had the most to learn from the gymgoers who made them. They were not all older than me.
I now knew more about how — through the constant reminder of most of the things in the world — the possibility of an other less painful or more compliant body can reside within your current body, and how what you feel can be in suspension between the two. This made possible the body from which I would remember this one, a body that would come to be in an increasing agonism with its surroundings as it fell out of the fit it had fallen into by default. These shifts were already underway in my temperament, and the potential for a perverse kind of thriving had begun to be revealed. It seemed that the trick was to be at odds with the world, but not to be at odds with the body. I felt drawn towards the people who could teach me.
Excerpted from Andrea Nunes: Giraffes, featured in Issue 3.43 (Winter 2021). To read the piece in its entirety purchase a print or digital copy here.