Earlier this year, I sat down and thought about what I would like to do in my life. As mentioned before, there are some big tasks I have set for myself: doing a PhD, moving to London, becoming a mum. But these things need time and are often influenced by things beyond my control: the PhD supervisors I have contacted are either on maternity leave, about to move to another university, or retiring altogether; finding a job in London is tricky, as I require a certain income level (not only due to personal standards, but mostly because London is just ridiculously expensive); and let’s not get started on having a child on my own. So I decided to focus on smaller challenges for now; things that I have always wanted to do or change, but never had the energy, money, or time for. There were two areas I was keen to explore: sports and music.
It started in February with me contacting a friend of friends who is … a personal trainer (when I told Detti about this, she proclaimed, “Hang on – I thought this is stuff only Hollywood actors do?!”). I am not a fan of the gym, but in order to get fit enough to finally get involved in team sports again, I realised that some groundwork had to be done. Plus, I am getting older and need to work on my mobility and general fitness. Before I met Matthias, I was worried about us not getting along; the last thing I wanted was one of those guys who yell at you to make you move faster. Luckily for me, Matthias is calm and down-to-earth; he is a former basketball and volleyball player, which means he is also rather slim for a trainer (something I actually prefer – men with bulky muscles frighten me, and I certainly don’t want to look like one of them in a year’s time).
It took Matthias just a couple of days to realise that I am a perfectionist in everything I do; he was rather amused that I am never entirely happy with how I execute the exercises (as I know I could have done them better). It says something for his quality as a trainer that he is also teaching me to change my view on my physical abilities: When I was angry at myself last week for not immediately being able to perform a specific exercise, he told me that I should not focus on the things I can’t do yet, but instead be proud of my accomplishments. Sometimes he sounds like my therapist.
Apart from our trainings, I am now going to the gym about 2-3 times a week on my own. I still think it is incredibly boring to do those exercises, but I understand why they are important for me. And it’s nice to see the first results, even when they are unexpected: When I met Jutta last week, I walked towards her and wondered briefly whether she had shrunk. While we were hugging, she suddenly asked me, “Why are you so tall?!” Turns out that building up some muscles in your back helps you to draw yourself up to your full height of 5’9 again.
Two weeks ago, I had my first riding lesson in about 25 years. The good news: It is like riding a bike – it took only a couple of minutes for the muscle memory to come back; even when the horse was spooked by some shadow, I instinctively knew how to react. The bad news: Dear God, I had completely suppressed how much it hurts to work with a horse for an hour. Heels down, knees together, constant pressure on the lower legs to get the horse going, back straight, elbow close to the body, hands just above the withers, and then up and down at an easy trot – I was absolutely knackered after my first hour and almost crumbled to a boneless heap after dismounting Nell. But I also really enjoyed being around horses again; I have now taken up regular lessons and just hope that the pain in my legs will subside in a couple of weeks.
One of my best kept secrets is that I absolutely love dancing: standard dance, freestyle, Lindy Hop, contemporary – the only thing I am bit “meh” about is ballet, but that might have to do with these dancers rarely looking like they are enjoying themselves. My first (and only) dance lessons were back when I was 14; it was ok, but I had some problems relinquishing control and always wanted to lead (who would have thought…). When I contemplated what things I would like to have in my life, I was a bit surprised that dancing featured quite high on my list.
So I booked a standard dance course and went to the first lesson last week. It was … quite good, to be honest. There were some couples and some singles, but the dancing school had made sure that there was an equal number of men and women. One guy was quite keen on dancing with me all evening; I did not mind, but he apparently thought that slow waltz was some form of lambada, so I had to continuously remind him to follow the three-foot rule. We swapped partners regularly, and I realised that I actually enjoy dancing (and handing over control!) with somebody who knows how to lead. I am also not too bad at picking out the right rhythm; when the dance instructor put on a song at the end of the lesson, most couples tried the waltz, but to me it was obvious that it was a 2/4 beat, not a 3/4 one, so I switched to samba (without telling my partner, who almost stumbled over his own feet).
Last week also saw me recording a short text for an animation film which is shown on some festival. A friend of a friend who works at a TV station needed somebody who could convincingly do a British accent, so they asked me. The whole thing was over in about 30 minutes, as I only needed to say about 10 words; I therefore wouldn’t hold my breath for Pixar calling any time soon. It was weird to hear myself on tape; my voice sounds much deeper and darker in my head, so I am always a bit taken aback when confronted with a recording.
Coincidentally, I had my first vocal coaching lesson the day after. I have no intention to become a singer or a voice-over artist (I am quite aware of my vocal abilities, or rather limitations), but I want to get a better grip on my voice: I talk for hours every day, and while I have no problems with regards to volume or range, my vocal chords sometimes feel a bit sore in the evening. Much to my surprise, my singing voice is apparently significantly higher than my speaking voice, or at least that’s what Hanna was trying to tell me. I wanted to sing the song in a rather low voice (because, again, that’s what I sound like in my head), with Hanna immediately stopping me and saying, “No, higher!” – “I can’t sing that high!” – “Yes, you can – your head register is actually quite good!” I am now rather curious what else I will discover about my own voice in the coming months.
And this Saturday, my first drum lesson will take place. I am rather worried because hand/feet coordination is not my strength (as the opposing players in basketball back in the days can verify), so it should be interesting, to say the least. But I have always loved bass and drums; I am a rhythm person, always snapping, tapping, clicking along to the beat. An unexpected and well executed change in rhythm can fascinate me more than the best guitar solo in the world, which is why I decided to finally try and learn an instrument providing this rhythm. I have also signed up for cello lessons, but there is a waiting list at the moment, so it is going to be drums first. I am pretty sure I am either going to shred the drums or the teacher; I wonder whether my insurance covers this kind of damage.