A Pandemic Workout With The Weight Of Texas History

A lot has been said about the way the pandemic has changed our lives. And much of it’s true. But Austin-based writer Ruth Pennebaker says for her, some things that haven’t changed.

By Ruth PennebakerNovember 10, 2020 9:59 am,

For the past 30 years, I’ve worked from home and dressed in spandex. That’s 30 years dressed like I’ve just come from the gym even if I hadn’t been in a week – and no one has ever asked me about my fitness routine. Not once. I’m still waiting. People can be so withholding!

And now, during this great pandemic, I’m still dressing in spandex but I have to work and work out at home. I have a yoga blanket and mat and one yoga block and very little desire to buy more equipment. So what should I do for weights? Books, someone told me. What a great idea! Books I have.

I started out with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals.” It’s the story of Lincoln’s first cabinet and one of my favorite books. It’s a hefty 800-page paperback and it worked just fine to exercise my shoulders. I used it for three or four weeks, lifting it over my head with both hands and recalling I had such a major Lincoln crush that once, at a library in New York City, I was so moved by the sight of a Lincoln impersonator that I almost rushed up to him to thank him for saving the Union.

But, anyway, cheap sentiment can only get you so far. It won’t necessarily make you fit. After a few weeks, I realized I needed more heft than “Team of Rivals” could give me. It was time to move on, improve myself. I scoured our book collection.

What luck! We had the perfect book: Stephen Harrigan’s “Big Wonderful Thing.” It’s a monumental book of Texas history, painstakingly researched, but also witty and irreverent. The author, who’s from Austin, is the most engaging storyteller I know.

But not only that: “Big Wonderful Thing” is also a massive, 900-page hardback suitable for lifting during a pandemic. Raising it over my shoulders, I can feel the daunting weight of Texas history – the noble, the ridiculous, the fascinating, the shameful. It’s all there. It weighs a ton.

But I’m still waiting for somebody – anybody – to ask me about my fitness routine. “I work out with heavy, well-written Texas history” – that’s what I’ll tell you if you ever get around to asking. In the meantime, I’m waiting. But don’t try my patience. I’m a little short-tempered these days.


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