Wellness: Yonkers Style

Some people call that awful, internal voice that never ceases to remind you that you should be anywhere other than where you are, doing anything other than what you do, their inner critic.

The voice in my head is more destructive than a critic. I call it my inner troll. A lot of people I know have one. I know a lot of artists, and it seems to me sometimes that you aren’t handed talent without also getting the internal troll. Not that you can’t be a janitor or teacher or deep-sea fisherman and have one. I’m sure the inner troll is an equal opportunity taunter.

I’m in a class with other artists, and one day, while talking about our critic/trolls, my teacher told me I should draw mine; so I did. I gave him a cell phone and wrote down all the text messages he sends me. The usual troll charm: you are fat worthless stupid something is wrong with you. The drawing I did turned out looking kind of like Dobby from Harry Potter, only meaner.

My teacher loved him and encouraged me to do a series of drawings. She thought they would make a great book. I could see her point; a kid’s book for grown-ups.

But something bothered me about my drawing. When I did the initial sketch, I didn’t really draw who I see in my mind’s eye. To me, my drawing looked like sort of a generic looking little fiend. I started to think of what my internal voice looked like. And suddenly it came to me.

Gwyneth Paltrow.

That’s the face I see, that cool, perfect beauty to whom I could never measure up. That’s who is telling me I’m no good. She brings out the absolute worst in me. It’s not simply an inner troll that’s my problem. I have a Paltroll.

Ever since I read the excellent piece on Goop written by Taffy Brodesser-Aknerin the July 25th edition of the New York Times , I have been haunted by the most irritating woman in the world, Ms. Gwyneth Paltrow. This embarrasses me.

I don’t want to criticize her. I want to support women in business. I want women to unabashedly make millions and run their own companies. I cannot stand it when people criticize or shame women who make money. Paltrow is younger than I, but we are from the same generation. It is hard work to undo the programming fed into your head about shut up and look pretty. I like to support any woman who is going full steam ahead to make her mark on this world and to earn her living the way in which she wants. I support women going half steam. I support women who are just going with no steam at all.

Of course, speaking of steam and Gwyneth Paltrow in the same sentence creates for me, and I suspect others, a rather unsavory and totally unnecessary image.

Look, I don’t have to write down all the ways in which both Goop and, heavens save us, GP are insufferable. We’ve been beating that dead horse since way before the (TMI!) review of her vaginal steaming.

The problem with Paltrow, I think, is that if you took every photo of her and drew her hand giving us the middle finger, there isn’t a single one I’ve seen in which flipping the bird wouldn’t fit. She flaunts her superiority. She’s made a business of it and she calls it an aspirational lifestyle. I find myself wondering if, while she was living in England, she got her idea for Goop from the Royal Family’s divine right spiel.

Here we have it explained to Claire Foy by Eileen Atkins in The Crown. Watch this and tell me you can’t envision GP saying the same words to a new hire at Goop:


She has taken if you got it, flaunt it, to sights unseen; she is certain everyone would prefer to be her. It wouldn’t be so awful if she weren’t such a talented actress. But she is. She’s no Kardashian. She’s got talent. Which, apparently, she doesn’t need anymore.

don’t need no stinking Academy Award-winning acting career, she says to me, glowing with health and no make-up (but very artfully done “natural’ hair). No, not I. I am so damn special I don’t need an acting career at all. I can take it or leave it.

I’ll make a wellness company, she says, selling crap (I substitute crap for her ‘beautiful things’) to women who are special like me. Of course, they’ll never be as special; no one could ever be, and that is what gives me this secret, winsome smile.

Fine, I think. She’s figured out how to get money from Stepford Wives and Stepford Girlfriends and Stepford I’m Fine Aloners. Who cares?

It’s that awful word I cannot abide. Wellness. Hearing it turns me into a raging banshee.

Have you ever, once, heard a poor person say wellness? Let me answer for you. No. You have not.

When rich, white Americans are prattling on about wellness, I find myself reaching an unreasonable state of seething rage. Wellness seems some sort of voodoo created to protect oneself from worrying about the rest of the people on the planet. Whenever I hear someone in $150 yoga pants say, I’m practicing mindfulness, like they expect me to compliment them or give them a gold star, I want to throw their filtered water in their face and say How about being mindful of others? Huh?

So please, imagine my irritation when I dreamt of GP after reading the piece. I can almost hear her laughing in her Goop offices with the Goopers that are reverently looking at her as she reads this out loud to them.

Way to go, team. We are infiltrating their dreams.

I carried my grumpiness to the track that morning, talking to myself in the car. What do I care that she’s figured out a way to make money off of neurotic people that already have more than 99% of the rest of the people in the world? But again, that awful word floated up to me. Wellness.

 That’s the crux of the matter. Goop devotees, like their blonde guru, aren’t unwell. They just have too much time on their hands.

In 1970, the founder of Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Sidney Garfield, coined a delicious phrase, the worried well. To me, the Worried Well is a perfect name for the devotees of Goop, who, having everything the masses could possibly desire, gaze into their navels reverently, hoping to glean information internally about how they can feel better.

I don’t understand how these people could have found information on jade eggs for their nether regions and somehow missed the vast amount of data that states volunteering and helping others is a good way to make oneself feel better. Maybe they don’t like all the negative vibes from poor people. It must upset them, all the ugliness in the world.

Goop has become the collective navel of the Worried Well. Paltrow is smart. She could have kept her newsletter free for her rich friends; instead she found a market for those women who think happiness is just within reach of a $300 face cream.

What she is doing is not wellness. It’s acute narcissism, and GP is the captain of Sloop Goop. She is a pirate of unnecessary worry. All that worry from people who don’t have concerns about things like bills and their kid’s educations and handling Medicare for their parents and whether or not to eat or get their medications.

But I am not here to just bitch some more about GP and her cynical shakedown of the Worried Well’s pocketbooks. I will not succumb. I am offering an alternative to the Goop brand of wellness.

It’s wellness, Yonkers style, and it takes place at the Gorton High School track, which is open to the public. I went to this track most mornings this summer. Starting at just before daybreak, (that’s 5:30 am for the rest of you) the track of Gorton High School, home of the Wolfpack, is utilized by the long maligned residents of the City of Yonkers; which includes me.

Here, on the track, are the people with whom I worked out before my knee went out again. I don’t know any of their names and they don’t know mine. No one has an assistant. No one has a gym membership. We get our exercise the old-fashioned way: we go outside, in public, with our innumerable flaws for the whole world (or at least the sanitation workers on their morning routes) to see. No one working out on the track at Gorton is thinking about aspiring to have the life of Gwyneth Paltrow. We have bigger fish to fry.

We are obese; we are living in shelters; we have steady jobs that require our presence at 9 am after we’ve fed and clothed and taken to school our three kids. We are retired. We value the 20-40 minutes we get on a shared track because for a lot of us, it is the only time we get alone. We have no assistants to take our calls or our children or our parents with dementia. Some of us have headphones, some of us do not. No one minds if we play music without them.

I have grown, over time, to love Yonkers and its citizens. While walking on the track the other day, making notes into my iPhone mic, I thought about what a diverse bunch we were, all here with a singleness of purpose. No fighting, minding our own business; staying in our own hula hoops, respecting each other’s space. It’s kind of like how America was supposed to work.

There’s the lady who comes in a housedress, a real, old-fashioned house dress, paired with dayglow pink and lavender sneakers. Sometimes she brings her surly husband in the golf shirt. They usually only go around a couple of times. I have a theory she makes him walk because the doctor told him to, and he insists on the shortest amount possible. He probably has a heart condition. But there he is, getting well, with his wife keeping him company.

There’s the beautiful girl with dreadlocks who looks too curvy to be a runner, but does very fast sprints on the north side of the track. I love her. She’s an inspiration to me, as I drag around my battered skeletal system, given courtesy of a school bus that failed to give me right of way the summer of 2013.

Four surgeries later here I am, on the track, not a joint in my long, scarred legs that’s quite right. I am a mass of walking scar tissue and muscle turned to fat. But I do my half hour of track at Gorton, getting well with each step.

There’s the nervous looking Italian guy with dark circles under his eyes. He could be forty or he could be seventy. He walks, and listens to a tape that I believe is from Narcotics Anonymous speaker meetings. I catch snippets of it as I pass him. I’d like to welcome all the newcomers…Good for you, man, I think to myself. Looks like you’ve got a plan and are sticking to it. Well done.

There’s a tall, skinny Irish guy who for some reason finds the need to wear sunglasses at 6 am. Sometimes I walk the opposite direction of everyone else so I can see their faces and say hi. He’s the only one who won’t speak to me. I think he takes issue with my habit of being the only salmon in a row of orderly trout. He glares at me and always looks like he’s on the verge of telling me off. I love him too. We both show up. We don’t scare the other off.

There’s the lady with the most beautiful, ebony skin I have ever seen. Her clothes are ill-fitting and she looks anxious. She doesn’t stay on the track long, but she does use the bleachers to stretch. I secretly believe that she has a terrible distrust of being in the world, especially in public. I’m thinking she makes herself get up and go to the track, even if she can’t stay long. She doesn’t have an iPhone or headphones to distract her from the pain of working out, or the pain of life. But she shows up and I like to think her mind and spirit are growing well, along with her body.

Then there are the bros. They run together, mid-thirties. Good God. Every time I see them I’m in danger of having my day ruined by their misogynistic conversations. I hope they recover from belittling women and get well soon.

There are the two Spanish girls who talk and laugh as they do their laps; the man with the most gigantic potbelly I have ever seen. There’s another man with a runner up in the potbelly size contest. There’s the incredibly fit woman in her mid-sixties. I make up stories about all of them; imagine their lives at home.

I have grown incredibly fond of my early morning companions. I am most fond of what could be called their flaws. They seem unashamed of them, although I cannot, of course, know if they have an inner troll. They know exercise is about feeling good, not looking almost impossibly perfect. They are wellness incarnate to me. GP may have cornered the market and cornered my mind. It’s okay. I have nameless neighbors to remind me I’m alright; that it’s fine to be a long, long way from perfect. We can enjoy the day anyway.

Take that, Paltroll.

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