My spirits are lifted up by good conversation, art, music, and frequent visits to a gym nearby. A public recreation centre, it serves a local community that includes Chinatown and Little Italy, a Somalian community, Indigenous peoples, as well as well as other settler populations. The average salary in the area is a modest $34,000 a year.
I count my lucky stars when I enter this building. No broken bones. No debilitating illness. Not to mention my blessed pension. I am just an overweight out of shape older woman tromping towards the change rooms.
The news is bleak. The world is lifting up governments defined by hate and an uncaring society. This is my winter of discontent. Racism, misogyny, ableism, corporatism, homophobia and classism define the world promised by the winning governments in Alberta, Ontario, Brazil, UK, USA and elsewhere. The quality they share is their tendency towards intolerance and blind obedience to the leader. Fascism comes to mind.
Here in Alberta, 60% of the voters along with White Supremacists supported the United Conservative Party government leader, a closeted self-hating Catholic gay man whose main electoral platform was to remove supports for LGBTQ2S students in schools.
The UCP Minister of Education, a religious extremist, is busy instituting the misogyny of anti-abortion politics that she campaigned for earlier as a leader in the Red Deer pro-life movement. Critical thinking is a no-no while adherence to a shrinking petrostate economy leads to propagandizing not education.
The UCP’s $45 million giveaway to big oil companies led to the departure of some of the US corporations or to employee cuts in other companies. Meanwhile 20% of Albertan young men are unemployed and the UCP refuses to diversify the economy. There is widespread UCP denial that many oil jobs are redundant due to automation. Alberta has the lowest high school completion rate in the country – not surprising for a petroleum economy where workers, mostly male, could get a high-paying job in the oil sands without much education. Those days are over and young men need to be retrained to work in projects that will clean up the thousands of abandoned oil wells dotted around the province. Or they need to be guided towards non fossil fuel transitional energy jobs. But this would require vision and change in the UCP that thus far dedicates itself to blindly turning the clock backwards.
This $45 million hole in Alberta’s government budget is the rationale for their decimation of our healthcare, education, public service, etc. The latest is their elimination of a key fire-fighting unit in a province with notoriously devastating summer conflagrations across the prairie. The UCP motto to my mind: Governing is a breeze when you eliminate the people.
In light of my simmering rage and sorrow about the heartless mindless character of too many humans, my hours in the gym have an excellent effect on me. I am a willing subject, a guinea pig to be prodded and poked by the various body technologies on offer. Though I ache from push-ups, I am buoyed up by my 20-40 minute walk, 15 minute rowing-machine stint, free-standing exercise programme, weight machines, swimming, hot pool, and steam. Or a variation thereof. Sometimes I take a class or two. Yin yoga – relaxing and transformative. Or pilates barre – good for the core. Or walking fitness (quick walking with strenuous intermittent stretches.) All for $416 a year with my community league membership and senior discount. Subsidized community memberships make the space accessible to those with fewer resources.
This regime takes time. But I have time. Anywhere from an hour to three and a half hours per visit depending on what is on offer in terms of classes and how disciplined I am that day. This is the only way I will survive aging. Without this exercion, everyday life is all creak and moan and low energy.
After a few hours at the gym, I sometimes nap for a short while when I come home. And then my being comes to life, a spring uncurling with the energy of my dog on a trail.
One of my favourite attendants at the gym is very encouraging and suggests exercises for me to do. I dutifully do 12 repetitions. And suffer the temporary consequences.
One day she mentioned that many of the seniors come every day. It is good for them physically and some are lonely so this is their social space, she says. I nod in approval and then realize these old people are me. Retirement reveals how I’m in denial about being old.
I am a solitudinous person who loves people. I am not lonely. I chat with everyone. The professional soccer player and his trainer at the side of the track while I do my backbends. And the young family in the lobby packing up the gingerbread house they made while waiting for someone to emerge from the pool. Or the women in the change rooms.
Sometimes I come with a friend, but I’ve reached the point that I simply want to go to the gym. And I will head off on my own for a few hours. Yoga was once my exclusive destination. A keener. The physical pleasure after an hour or so of asanas invigorated me. Now it is the gym. And yoga.
The other day, I told the attendant how much I liked the facility, the pool, the track, the small spaces distributed around the track with a bike or rowing machine or weight equipment, the architecture, and the glorious light. But what I really love is the diversity of people. The whole world lives here.
“Yes,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter if you arrive in a Mercedes or you are homeless. Everyone is treated the same.”
On one of my first days at the gym, a homeless man showed me how to work the automatic lock works in the locker where I store my purse.
Occasionally I bump into old friends who love the water classes and attend regularly. We catch up and chat. The other day one old friend told me a long moving story that stays with me to this day.
In the change rooms, women chat about their lives. The other day, one woman exhanged child-birth stories with another. I said I was grateful to the woman who bore my adopted daughter. They ignored me. A voluptuous mid-life woman spoke about her anger at her mother who didn’t warn her about childbirth agony. She withstood a searing 48-hour delivery. And then she went on to share a story about the enduring power of Cree ceremony in her women’s community.
Meanwhile aging Chinese women come and go to swim and float in the hot pool or disappear into the watery blur of the steam room.
A young social worker tells me she comes to this gym because it is on her way home from work. Her specialty is families. “Stressful,” she says. “So this is where I come to unwind.”
Today a South Asian woman talked about how good she felt after a yoga class and swim and how bad her husband’s hat smelled. He worked at a gas plant. And she had borrowed his hat because her long thick hair was hard to dry and the day was cold enough to freeze it.
Nearby the Italian Centre and Zocolo provide a landing spot before or after for a good coffee and freshly baked Portuguese tart (Italian Centre) or a muffin (Zocolo). Both cafes have their attractions.
The Italian Centre is where I took my daughter for groceries from when she was a tiny girl. One of my best friends lived nearby and we stopped in after shopping. Plus the produce is fresh and reasonably priced and the store is filled with tantalizing specialties from many countries. Not to mention a great selection of pasta, cheese and charcuterie. I am ashamed to admit that I have suppressed the fact that the owner, the daughter of the original founder, complained about the NDP raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Mea culpa – I still shop there.
Just down the street is Zocolo, a small business that includes a large gift store, a florist, a large flood-lit greenhouse with a long wooden table set up for coffee drinkers. Along the walls are stacked brilliant Mexican pots and throughout the room gorgeous plants abound. In summer the greenery spills onto the street in front and the laneway in back. The selection of garden plants and Zocolo’s pot design are very seductive.
Now that I’m going to the gym, this is, in fact, my favorite neighbourhood. I will back there tomorrow sporting my walking garb – a Value Village t-shirt that reads: EVERY SECOND COUNTS.