Many years ago, I was introduced to video games. I had always wanted to play them, but the expensive consoles were never in the budget for my Christmas and birthday lists growing up. ( I also believe my mom had an issue with video games in general and being the youngest of three girls, no one we knew had them…) I FINALLY broke through when I was 15 and asked… no, begged… for a Sega Genesis and got it for Christmas. Now, it wasn’t a big win, because I was only given 3 games.. Home Alone, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Little Mermaid. Yeah I know… absolutely no geek cred there, but I was a kid and had no money and those were the “mom approved games”, so those were the games I played.
Anyway, I played Dracula most and really loved it because I had an obsession with vampires, but never got INTO the video game culture. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a such thing! The game I really always wanted was Sonic the Hedgehog but my parents would never get it, so I had to rent it from the video store to play it. I liked playing, I wasn’t obsessed with it. I enjoyed it as a hobby but it never occurred to me to consider it, or games in general, as much more than idle entertainment.
Oh, also- I was home schooled, so I didn’t have any friends who played video games and the few who did- they had Nintendo and I sucked at Mario, so they’d never let me play.
A few years later after high school, I was introduced to Lara Croft and Tomb Raider.
I immediately connected with this character. Her strength, her control, her fearlessness and her ability to demand and take whatever she wanted from any situation. This was when there was only ONE Tomb Raider game, no movies. I absolutely fell in love with her and the whole concept of this style of game; puzzles, skills, it took some time to get through, but I liked that you didn’t need anyone else to play and you didn’t have to stop every 12 seconds to read a screen and meet with 5 other people and cast a spell that probably wouldn’t work and then die and try again. (Not a fan of VRPG’s)
So. Back to my story.
I was in a martial arts class at that same time, so I felt pretty solid in my own strength and after a while, I realized I had, quite subconsciously, taken Lara on as my personal hero AND as inspiration to get even better. I watched the game being played by others at first, because I was pretty terrible at game play and enjoyed the story enough that I liked watching people play it. Eventually though, I took the plunge and played it myself. It was hard to get the system down, it was embarrassing too, because I was really terrible at it. I was not used to playing anymore and the technology had completely changed. I was really out of the loop and had NO clue what I was doing. I was totally that pathetic girlfriend who sheepishly said, “umm… sure, I’ll play your game with you…” but minus the snotty stuck up voice and utter lack of desire, because I really DID want to play it! Eventually, I got better and soon realized, that this game… I wasn’t just playing it to win or finish it, or not die by falling off a ledge or eaten by a bear… I was playing it because it invigorated me. It fueled my passion for personal excellence. Everything Lara could do- I wanted to be able to do it, too. Every jump, kick, perfect shot, everything… if she did it, I wanted to be able to do it. Not only do it, but know that everyone I met would know I could do it, too.
Now, I often wonder what would have happened if’ I’d known about the cos-play world at that time and how that might have shaped those years and my future, because I know if I’d known there was a “culture” of people who dressed up as characters from video games, I’d have been all over it, but I was till just a wee baby geekling myself, and hadn’t yet fully opened my eyes to all of what the world of fandom had to offer. Even without that influence, my day-to-day attire began to shift from ultra-goth and pretty, velvet, witchy Victorian, to combat boots, black or camo fatigues or jeans, a black tank top and my hair in a braid pretty much every day. I worked out, took weight training in school, went on hikes every weekend and had a personal workout program that I invented for myself to do every morning and I was serious about it, for my own strength and my own ability to prove that whatever Lara could do, real people, people born with clubbed feet and dislocated hips who hardly had any muscle in their hips and had fused ankles like me, could not only try, but could EXCEL at it. That I could rock that lifestyle and beat back every ounce of “oh honey are you sure- that’s really hard…” crap I’d been given my whole life anytime I wanted to do ANYthing physically exerting. Sure, I was a girl. Sure, I had some “challenges”. I could still be a girl and kick ass and I was determined to prove it.
Through everything I did with this new fire under my seat, Lara was always in the back of my mind, every time I worked out and every time I pushed myself physically- she was there to tell me I could do it, that I had to keep up, that I had to keep moving and I had to win. Every time I failed, fell or buckled under the weight, I heard her voice in my head… you know the one, the one from the training level… “NO”. Get up. Try again. It worked and I was in the best shape of my life. I’m sure some people probably think that’s kind of nuts to get your inspiration from a video game, but seriously- look at her! Who wouldn’t want to be this awesome?!
Well now, it’s 15 years later. I just finished the second day of my second week of training in a program called “Boot Camp” where I’m having my ass handed to me on a daily basis by 15 years of my own lack of motivation. I’m sore everywhere and I’m exhausted, I come home in the morning after my workout to crying children who are sad I was gone, crying because they woke without me. I can barely keep my knees from buckling under me and I am nauseous for at least an hour after I get hoe to be handed the relay baton, I kiss the husband goodbye and take over on the home front with mama duty. Making breakfast, getting everyone dressed, fed, contented and settled into projects or a movie, or a game and on with my day.
It’s been hard, but each day I get home and feel better, even when I feel terrible. About mid-week last week, I started to even sorta feel like my old self again and I noticed something Friday morning as I was showering after my work out… I had this music stuck in my head… I kept humming a tune that I couldn’t quite place at first, then when I realized what it was, all I could do was laugh. It was the music from the very first Tomb Raider game. I’ve played every single one, but the music in the first, the puzzle music, was always the one that stuck with me and it was that music, I heard in my head as I completed my 5th day of the hardest fitness program I have ever done in my life.
It’s amazing what sticks with you… what really clicks in your brain and what inspires you.
So. Now enough with Lara and back story and onto my point, which was this meme:
My husband sent me this photo the other day after I was really bummed about having a hard time and feeling really crappy after a work out, to help inspire and energize me again and it got me thinking about archetypes and motivation because it totally worked! River Tam is by far, one of the absolute most amazing bad-asses in geekdom, she totally inspires me and yes- I absolutely believe that we should work out every day as though reavers exist because, well, in a sense, they do. The world is a scary place and we need to be physically capable of managing ourselves if and when the time comes.
The next day in work out, I was really pushing it on some calf raises and feeling pretty stupid because, well, I basically only have one calf to work with because the other ankle is fused and doesn’t move. I was battling my inner insecurity that I’ve had since early childhood, the one that says things like “you know you look stupid right now pretending you can pull this off” and remembering bullying that I’d endured as a child and the voices that said in a kind tone, “you know you don’t HAVE to do this, it’s really hard, no one will think less of you”.
The thing no victim of bullying ever wants to admit- the worst bully, the one that really beats you down, tears you up inside and really breaks your spirit… Is NEVER that dude that pushes you down or talks crap or the chick that glares at you for not being as cool or rich or skinny as she is.
Is you. It’s always you. Because NONE of them mean anything unless you allow their words and their actions to have power over you. Your own self-worth issues are decided by YOU, not by some idiot from school or work or on the walk home or in your TV to make you feel small. The voice in your head is you talking… You are the one that beats yourself into a victim, not that other, outside person.
So, in that moment when I heard the internal bully start poking doubt at me, I beat her to the curb and said screw you- with images of River Tam beating back a room full of reavers.
The next day, a similar thing happened and this time, the image in my head was Selina Kyle because the exercise I was doing was an attempt at jumping with both legs at once, onto a 18″ platform, landing into a full squat and then jumping down again. My inner Catwoman has turned into a lazy, lazy Garfield over these last 10 years and I’d all but given up on that personal icon. Well, that exercise reminded me that she was once my hero, too- back when I believed I could do anything…
It’s interesting how icons can inspire and survive the test of time. It was only 3 years ago, shortly after I had my first baby that I stopped believing I could have any sort of kinship with any of my favorite characters because of how vastly different my life was and I never, ever thought I’d get back to a place where I’d see the old me, the one who identified with Lara, looking back at me in the mirror.
I never, ever believed I could do this again. I thought my days of tackling hard core fitness were long over and I missed my shot. I’ve spent the last few years grieving a life un-lived, self-terminated by stagnation, sitting behind a desk for a decade then having babies and losing all hope at having a fit body again, only to realize very recently… I can start over at anytime. There really IS no such thing as too late. Just because I have a family now, does not mean I can’t still listen to my inner voice of strength. In fact, BECAUSE I have a family, it’s twice as important to me that I pull her up to the front of my mind and remember what I wanted to fight for back then, pull that want into the here and now and recreate myself for my SELF, not like before with strength, power, the ability to do anything I needed to and anything I want or need to do and this time, for my children’s sake, as well as mine.
When the pain gets too much and I want to quit, when the hurt literally brings up wells of tears, uncovering old wounds I’d hidden deep within my many layers of weakness, there is one phrase I keep saying to myself, over and over and over until I believe it.
If I can give birth to a child, I can do this damn exercise. If I can grow a person, I can push through this next set. If I can recover from a c-section, I can overcome this pain that is burning my legs and my arms and my core, making me dizzy and scream and literally not care that I look like a madwoman in front of the rest of the people in my class.
It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel weak. It’s okay to hurt. It’s not okay to quit. I’m done quitting. I’ve tried that- didn’t work out.
The world of sci-fi is full of strong, iconic women and each have a lesson that we can take with us into our futures, and use their archetypes as inspiration. From Dr Who to Firefly, Buffy and Star Trec and hundreds more… these women are not just representing strength, they are demanding it and for the first time since I have really been deeply part of the geek world, I see that clearly.
Being a geek does not mean you have to observe the world from an armchair or a computer desk. Why watch imaginary people doing things that we are capable of doing ourselves? (Okay, maybe not the killing demons and slaying monsters part, but still…) I know so many people in our culture who do nothing but live stagnant lives. They eat crap, they watch tv, they play games, they go out and drink, they party, they go to work, they do their art and crafts and creative projects behind a desk and under artificial light while creating people who actually GO OUTSIDE and do all of the things they never would. I have two friends who recently suffered heart attacks and several more who are dangerously unhealthy and I think… how did we get here? With the kind of inspiration we have, the characters we look up to… how is this even possible?? When did we think this was an acceptable excuse to let ourselves go and just sit around playing games all day and doing NOTHING to improve ourselves mentally or physically? Being a geek OR a nerd does not mean that we have to sit around in our cos-play gear around a table for 18 hours rolling dice and smoking ourselves into an early grave. It does not mean we have to drink so much Mountain Dew that we end up with type 2 diabetes. There is NOTHING cool about that, guys. NOTHING. It’s stupid and short-sighted and we have got to do better. Do better for ourselves and our loved ones. We might love the idea of Eric Draven and wear black trench coats and put on his make up and walk around in cemeteries, but does he sit around reading comics? No, sir- he goes out and kicks ass. Can YOU do that? And no… saying you have a 10 in strength and agility on PAPER does not count. Personally, I think if you look the part but you can’t act the part, you’re still NOT the part.
Look, we all have our limitations. We all have our weaknesses that bind us to a very human, vulnerable place that makes us feel bad about ourselves. But no one ever said we had to sit there and do NOTHING just because we can’t do EVERYTHING.
So here’s the question I’m asking myself AND you. Do you want to be the dude who reads about it? Or the dude who lives it?
Lara is back in my head again, this time standing next to River and Zoe and Cordelia, Faith and Buffy and Fred, Liz Sherman, Sally Jupiter and Selina Kyle and every other woman in the expansive universe of geekland to remind me why I wanted to do this, why I should do this and that I CAN do this.
I’m going to make a warrior out of myself again so I can be an example to my family, show them that it can be done. I never, ever want my kids to go through a dark spell like I did, when I spent 15 years feeling weak, sad, incapable… the only way I will prove to them that they never have to feel that way, is by never allowing myself to feel that way ever again.
Today I did a bunch of squats while standing on a tire holding a 40 pound kettle bell and cried because I couldn’t do it. I cried, because I knew.. .I KNEW… that if beneath me were a thousand foot drop and I was holding my two babies in my arms, I’d have dropped them.
THIS is what I think about now as I push to make it through these workouts. This is my motivation and what drives me, but also the very real thought that if I don’t control my health now, when will I? Today is the day. That “sometime later, tomorrow, next week, eventually” is NOW. There IS no tomorrow unless I make today worth living and make sure I am healthy enough to see it.
There is always a tomorrow and no one can take your sky away from you. So fight, like Reavers are on your tail. Push like there’s a treasure waiting for you and give your all as though your life depends on it.
Because believe it or not, it does.