Why I (temporarily) fell out of love with pole

I took my first-ever pole class about two years ago. One of my closest friends had started doing it and looked amazing, so I decided I wanted to be just like her. Plus, it looked like a fun, challenging, and truly artful way to get and stay in shape. What wasn’t there to love about it? Although it took a while for my practice to finally “stick”, I decided in March of 2015 that I would start poling at least three times a week. And I did it.

It was difficult. I remember crying my eyes out because I couldn’t even manage a “chair spin” after my third class. I remember seeing girls hold themselves upside down twenty-feet in the air in 6-inch heels, wondering if I could ever be so fearless. I went alone to every single class, so I never had a friend to relieve stress with if I messed something up. I had to get comfortable looking stupid in front of girls (and boys) who were really, really good.

Eventually, though, I too got good. I started inverting a few weeks into my consistent poling regimen. I increased my flexibility. I could do complicated, often scary-looking tricks. I learned how to put routines together. Soon enough, I was helping out the other girls in class and even got to teach a class of my own for my friend’s bachelorette party. I even bought a pole for my apartment, rearranging my entire place and getting rid of furniture to do so. I was feeling fabulous and felt that pole had become my “thing”.

Other than falling out of it a few times for a couple of weeks at a time, I kept at it until the following March of 2016, when I competed in my first competition. I competed at Level 2 in the entertainment category, meaning that my routine had to be focused on tricks and spins rather than “flow” or displays of emotion. I didn’t place too highly, but I wasn’t in last place by any means and was proud of myself for doing it. Excited at the prospect of competing again, I kept at it, albeit much less consistently, for a couple of months thereafter.

About a month ago, though, things started to feel…different.

I had absolutely zero motivation to go to classes and interact with people. I barely felt like freestyling at home. While I partially chalk it up to it just being too damn hot this summer (and my apartment is like a furnace, even with generous wattage being spent on multiple fans), I realized that there was something else happening.

I had started taking pole too seriously, and it was biting me in the butt.

You see, when I start becoming interested in something, I feel like I have to eventually become the best, or one of the best. This sentiment may pass, but I always start out that way. With pole, it just happened to stick with me for a while. When I started, I knew that even though I sucked then, I would eventually get better and better until I was competing nationally, then internationally. I pictured myself being like Natasha Wang, who started pole at 29 and now teaches workshops of her own all over the world. I was determined to become a figurehead in the pole world and make my mark that way.

But here’s the thing.

Pole is not the only way I use my time. I have a full-time job, a novel I’m writing, two blogs, and a side writing project I’m working on with a friend. I have friends, family, and a relatively new relationship that I am developing and nurturing. I have other things I love doing, like reading and making visual art and getting outside. I realized that if I wanted to be where I supposedly wanted to be with pole, many of these things would have to be put on the back burner. And if I’m being 100% real with myself…I’m simply not willing to do that right now.

And I’m okay with that.

Me not being willing (right now) to put in the enormous, sacrificial amount of effort it takes to be one of the “greats” doesn’t mean that I can’t continue with pole. I doesn’t mean I can’t be good–nay, great–, that I can’t ever teach again, or that I can never compete again.

This is me being okay with not being the “best”, at least for the foreseeable future.

This is me saying that I’m okay with having pole as a part of my life right now, rather than being my whole life.

This is me telling myself that I’m still valuable, awesome, and talented even though I’m not dedicating hours a day to stretching, lifting, spinning, falling, and bruising my way to pole expertise.

I may have fallen in love with pole for the wrong reasons, but I’m willing to take a more casual approach and see if I can fall back in love with it for the right ones. I’ll still attend classes once a week or once every other week and I’ll still keep my home pole–even if it means I can’t have furniture. Heck, I might start taking online pole classes when it gets a little cooler. I hear great things!

Like any enjoyable activity, pole is one of those that can easily turn into a chore or burden if you take it too seriously without understanding what that truly means. But if you sit down and and have an honest conversation with yourself, you can figure out where you truly want to be and how you can get there. Maybe you are willing to make it your life, but need motivation to get started with that goal. Or, perhaps your time with that activity has expired and it’s time for you to move on–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Or, maybe you’re like me and you just need a little reconfiguration in your approach. All of these outcomes are good and it’s important to do what’s best for you.

Is it easy to figure out what the answer is? HELL no. It’s probably easier to land a fonji or a Russian split than it is to answer that question. But try to have that conversation with yourself whenever you’re ready. You’ll feel just as good as when you land that split.

-H

p.s. If only for my own ego, it is still an imperative goal of mine to be able to fonji one day. And get into a hypersplit. And dance in heels. Maybe pole isn’t getting rid of me as easily as it thinks it will.

The Healing Powers of Pokémon

I’m not expecting any SEO miracles from me posting something about Pokémon right now. Despite only celebrating its 15th day of life today, there has been no pop culture topic more talked about during these past two weeks than Pokémon Go, the free-to-play, augmented reality app that seems to have captured hearts and sculpted legs the world over. So, I’m not unique in bringing it up, and even the most astutely crafted blog post about this game runs the risk of falling into the Black Hole of Overused topics, but I’m here today because I just might provide a unique perspective for those doubting the game or stating that they “just don’t get” Pokémon.

First, a little background.

In 1998, I was eight years old and in the third grade. I was just starting to come to terms with two heavy realities in my life: my anxiety, which I live with to this day, and my parents’ looming divorce. While I had a lot of great friends, I couldn’t help but feel noticeably different from the flock, moreso due to the anxiety than anything. This fact would be told to my face the next year, but it was I who picked up on it first. I couldn’t go into rooms with high ceilings; I felt like I was going to get sucked into the atmosphere. I would cry instantaneously if someone said something mean, because I thought it meant they hated me. During reading comprehension exercises in school, my teachers would sharply question where I came up with things and would blatantly tell me I was “wrong” for interpreting stories the way I did. One teacher suggested to my parents that I may have had a learning disability. I just wanted to be like everybody else, but I never once felt like I truly fit in.

One thing that did help me feel connected to others growing up was video gaming. My two brothers and I had played video games since we had control over our own finger movements. Like many-a child at the time, we found ourselves at the feet of our parents to get copies of Pokémon Red and Blue for our Gameboy Colors when they first came out in the U.S.. What started out as a trend-prompted request became a virtual lifestyle shortly thereafter.

In the wee hours of the night – well, as “wee” as my brothers and I could manage without getting in trouble – we furiously trained our Charmanders into Charmeleons and, eventually, Charizards. My brother traded his Haunter to me so it could evolve into Gengar. I emitted increasingly loud groans when I ran into Chansey in the Safari Zone and could never catch her. This may sound like gobbledygook to someone unfamiliar with the games, but the overarching symbolism was what tied us to it.

To succeed at Pokémon, we had to invest hours of our time to train our monsters to be the best they could be. We battled in-game trainers, sometimes continuously, to reach increasingly difficult goals. My brothers and I had to work together to catch more Pokémon. In effect, the games were a fun, entertaining way for me to experience real-life responsibilities, even if they were in a fantasy world.

But I didn’t think of it that way at the time. Pokémon just made me so happy. I didn’t think about my anxiety when I played. I didn’t think about my parents’ arguments or those scary ceilings or my mean teachers. I didn’t really experience negative emotions while playing the game. Sure, I got casually frustrated, but the game was just too dang enjoyable for me to ever become truly disenfranchised with it.

While I never got into the trading card game and only infrequently watched the first incarnation of the anime, I continued to be a fan of the game series well into middle school. I let it go for a while in an attempt to be “cool”, as the fad had died down, but would secretly return to it from time to time, especially when a new game would come out. I continued playing in high school, but figured that in college I would “grow up” like everyone else and stop playing it.

Turns out, I needed Pokémon more than ever in college.

Between discovering my social identity, painstakingly learning about love through my rather intense, often damaging romantic relationships, and experiencing what was, at the time, one of the biggest decisions I had ever had to make (my college major), college was an animal far different from high school. After a hard day of studying, working with my student business organization, and hitting the gym, Pokémon was there to pick up the pieces and calm me down at the end of the day. Because I used it as a reward system after I had taken care of my responsibilities, I felt zero guilt sitting down to play it. It may have just been a game, but there was nothing else that calmed me down and brought me happy feelings so instantaneously.

As I transitioned into my whirlwind grad school year and began taking the CPA exam, Pokémon became an even more integral fixture. In order to get done what I needed to get done each day, I had resolved to breaking up my days’ commitments into hourly intervals. I don’t think I would have been as happy of a camper without my daily 30 minute-to-one-hour responsibility of playing Pokémon Black (the version I had at the time).

Which brings me today – and Pokémon Go.

I’m open on both this blog and my new one (cue mandatory plug of my new blog, Building Your Bold) about my struggles with anxiety and depression. As I get older, I not only gain more responsibilities, but become ever-more aware of the painful realities of this world, which unfortunately makes these illnesses harder to suppress and deal with. It doesn’t help that I’ve recently been having a tougher time than usual, likely because of my new relationship combined with creative struggles. (Keep in mind that I’m over-the moon happy in my relationship, but literally any relationship is so, so stressful for me at first, due to the amount of inherent risk involved and the amount of damage I am still undoing from previous ones.)

When Pokémon Go came out two weeks ago, I was nervous. On its outset, the game looked super different from its console predecessors. It was supposedly rife with bugs and appeared to be way overhyped. But I gave it a shot anyway, because it had been a while since I’d played Pokémon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time.

Pokémon Go has revitalized my desire to go on walks and explore the beautiful city I live in. It’s helped me feel more comfortable making conversation with random strangers, because I finally feel like I have something in common with people. It’s given me a reason to exercise more during the day, which is vital given the sedentary nature of my job. Best of all, it’s reminded me that Pokémon has always been there for me as a stress-reliever and all-around “happy-maker”. I know I’m not alone in this, as I’ve seen dozens of people around the internet say the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dropping everything else in my life in favor of Pokémon Go, and even though it’s great exercise (the game requires you to actually walk around to land items/catch Pokémon), I try not to spend too much time on it unless I’ve completed my “real life” stuff for the day. I still go to work, I still sit down for healthy(ish) meals, I still spend time with friends and family, I still volunteer, and I still make plenty of time for writing, pole, and all of my other hobbies. And to be honest, I think this is how 99% of all other Pokémon Go players are. Yes – even the ones who sneak in a gym battle or two during work hours :).

Moreover, I’m aware, albeit painfully, that Pokémon Go may not be here forever. The craze may pass and the creators of the app may cease developing new iterations. Worse yet, I may eventually find that the app doesn’t hold up for long-term play, especially since it’s so different from the console games I grew up with. I know that I may one day have to drag myself outside without the motivation of an egg hatching or a rare creature sighting to excite me. That’s okay. I can accept that and will enjoy it while it’s here. Plus, if anything, I always have the main series games to fall back on should I be specifically craving a Poké-fix.

In conclusion, I’ll say this: let people enjoy Pokémon Go and any other video game they might love – Pokémon-related or otherwise. You never know what kind of impact the game might have had on their life and you never know how productive they might be in their life outside of the game(s). And even if they aren’t productive? Who cares. I find life is most enjoyable when we focus on improving ourselves and not criticizing others. But that’s just me.

Now, excuse me while I try and track down the Hitmonlee I saw earlier.

-H

Changes Happening at IC + A New Blog!

Here’s the thing. IC started out chiefly as a travel blog. Light-as-a-feather, carefree, newly-graduated Haley anticipated having all the time in the world to travel back in 2013. And if she didn’t get to travel far, she’d still spend every weekend heading to a new place or finding a new adventure to write home about. So she thought, at least. Because this is what a lot of 23-year-olds think for a while.

Alright, enough third person.

Now, of course, life took some turns that, while awesome for my overall development and mental health, prevented me from having as much vacation time or money as I thought I would at this point. While I still get to travel an incredible amount (comparatively speaking), I am now in a position where I only get 2 weeks a year to actually take off and travel. What little time I had before (5 weeks, for anyone curious) has now become relatively miniscule.

I also noticed that my “off-travel-topic” posts, ranging from mental illness manifestos to interviews with Youtube-stars-in-the-making, kind of ran the gamut. And boy, was that a random gamut. However, I also noticed that a lot of my best posts had to do with confidence, insecurity, and anxiety.

So what did I do? Well, I started a new blog for those things called Building Your Bold.

BYB (as I like to shorten it) is all about confidence, insecurity, anxiety, and everything related to those things. It’ll be a weekly+ feature blog with new posts every Sunday or Monday and occasionally Thursday. In other words, it has that one key thing that IC has always been missing: consistency.

I feel confident (pun intended) that I can write something fresh and new about these topics every week, so I am choosing to do that with Building Your Bold. Moreover, many of the IC entries under those topics will eventually be moved over to BYB.

So where does this leave IC, you ask?

Well, first of all, IC ain’t goin’ nowhere. There is too much good material already on here to let it fold. Moreover, I will forever and always continue to blog about my travels here, even if I only go on 1-2 trips a year. Even if none of you guys read it, this is my “public diary” for some of the highlights of my life, so that it will remain.

To keep the blog going for the rest of the year, I will also try to be more diligent about writing about my local LA adventures. Given that I live in one of the most vibrant, entertaining, and overall poppin’ cities in the U.S., I don’t see why I can’t come up with at least one good entry a month–even if I’m not oozing wealth or free time out of my pores.

What to expect from IC moving forward

My goal for IC right now will be one well-done entry per month about LA living or general travel, unless I actually go on a trip. If I go on a trip, I will always have at least a few entries related to it. All of my entries moving forward will be complete with awesome pics and good stories, as they were with the Australia trip.

Anything related to the topics in the “Life Stuff” category on this blog will eventually be moved to Building Your Bold and from here on out, that blog is where I’ll publish anything related to those topics (which, again, are things like confidence, insecurity, relationships, anxiety, etc.)

Obviously, my primary goal with IC is to provide meaningful, entertaining information to you wonderful readers, so hopefully these changes do not impact your interest in this blog. Moreover, I hope that you do end up checking out Building Your Bold and reading the entries there each week. My written body of work is always evolving and I will always keep you all in the loop. Thank you for always being incredible–without you guys, I’d be nowhere.

Sincerely,

Haley

p.s. I know it’s kind of late in the game to say this, but…Happy 4th! Eat plenty of patriotic red, white, and blue for me. My stomach can only hold about 15-20 but my heart yearns for more.