Actually, what got swept away was me. After years of summering on gentle Atlantic coves, I'd lost my healthy childhood respect for the Pacific Ocean. I plunged into the invigorating brine, powering out past the breakers, out past the last line of surfers, slicing through the water like a seal. "This," I thought, is easy. "Fun. Exhilarating." Eventually, as my arms started to feel heavy, I turned to shore. Which suddenly seemed rather distant. Caught in a powerful current, I made no headway, no matter how hard I thrashed and kicked. Had it not been for a 12-year-old surfer who paddled out to rescue me, my pear-shaped corpse might have washed up in New Zealand. Sprawled on the hot sand, humiliated and waterlogged, gasping for enough breath to thank my pint-size savior, I realized I was going to have to try something else.
Yoga seemed a safer bet. I admired the toned, flexible bodies of friends who were devotees. After consulting a bewildering menu of choices—Bikram, vinyasa, vindaloo—I set out for a studio located superconveniently close to our Sydney home. I enjoyed the evocatively named poses: warrior, downward dog, cobra, plow. But as I lay in corpse pose at the end of each class, struggling to clear my mind and follow my breath as the instructor advised, all I could think of was looming deadlines and shopping lists. Instead of rising calm and centered to face my day, I'd bolt out of the studio, wild-eyed with guilt and anxiety over all the tasks awaiting me. An hour and a half, I realized, was an unrealistic time commitment for someone trying to be both a full-time writer and a full-time mom.
A friend, lean and fit well into her 70s, recommended Pilates: "You'll love it. It's yoga, speeded up and stripped of all the BS. And it takes only an hour."
Maybe. But what a boring hour. It was too rote, too predictable for me. I found myself sneaking glimpses at my watch: Can we really be only ten minutes into this? It feels as if I've been sucking in my belly button and neutralizing my spine for, like, ever....
Three months later, our Sydney intermezzo had come to an end and I was packing to move again. I pulled the old fitness report from the place I'd stashed it, at the rear of a file drawer, and realized I was still nowhere: still a slightly mushy, 123-pound pear with the cardiovascular capacity of an aging hippo. I needed help.
Fortunately, on Martha's Vineyard, that help was at hand. There was a bewildering array of options, from $1,000 a week detox sessions to inexpensive, pay-by-the-class aerobics. A number of my new neighbors on the Vineyard were avid tennis players. Encouraged by their enthusiasm, I signed up for a women's beginners class under an instructor whose e-mail address, LatinAce, sounded promising. LatinAce sent me out on the court with the racket I'd borrowed from my husband and started lobbing balls gently in my direction. Ten minutes later, he shook his head sadly. "Sorry, but you're not good enough for this group. The other ladies in beginners, they know how to hit the ball."
Stinging from this rejection, I began to consider drastic measures. A couple of different fitness instructors offered programs billed rather ominously as "boot camps." I had rejected these as too GI Jane for me. I asked a friend who'd tried one. She wrinkled her nose. "Very talky and huggy." That didn't sound like me. And then, one morning at 5 past 6, I awoke to the sound of raucous laughter just outside my bedroom window. Irritably, I got up to see what was going on. A bunch of women, all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors, were running up and down the hill opposite my house. Weirdly, they seemed to be enjoying it.