Shaping up 

The Observer has been going to the gym since the first of August, lifting random heavy objects, doing a nightly march on the treadmill, and riding the recumbent bike to nowhere. It has not been a pretty experience, but it's undoubtedly the right thing to do. We've always been a Husky-American, and with the chasm of 40 and beyond looming on the horizon, we know that if we don't get moving now, it's going to be much harder or impossible to keep on moving later.

Considering we hadn't darkened the door of a gym in 20 years until the moment we walked into the Jim Dailey Fitness Center with our new towel and water bottle a month and a half ago, we're feeling pretty good about things. Check back in a few months, when the dark of winter draws about The Observer's old bones like a shroud, and see if our git up and go has got up and went. For now, though, we go three times a week, rain or shine. While it's not quite the rather-take-a-beating chore that it was in those first few sessions, it's not our favorite thing in the world. We definitely like "I went to the gym!" a hell of a lot better than "I am going to the gym."

You learn a lot about yourself at the gym: what your body can still do and what it can't; the hard, brick-wall limits of endurance; that your muscles can ache in places you'd swear you didn't have muscles before. It will also make you suddenly, painfully aware of every second of your age. Back when The Observer was a teen-ager, tall and lean (or not quite as chubby, anyway, as we are now), we could do an honest week's work and the hard muscle would pile on our arms and chest and legs. Once, we remember, we picked up the eight-foot crosstie Pa used as a parking stop for his truck in the driveway, hoisted it up on shoulders, and toted it easily around the yard, just to see if we could — actually held an extended conversation, in fact, with it balanced across our shoulder blades like the instrument of our crucifixion. Once, at a junkyard, The Observer squatted down, picked up a Chevrolet V-8 shortblock in our arms — crank, rods, iron block, pistons, 375 pounds easy — carried it 30 feet like a bag of onions, and put it in the back of a pickup.

Oh, but how long those days are gone. Now The Observer grunts and strains to lift 100 pounds overhead (don't laugh, we started out grunting at 70 pounds). We're getting stronger, day by day — helping health, day by day — but we know the age of long-and-lean are probably divorced from us for good. And winter is coming.

Getting older sucks, in case you haven't figured that out yet.

The Observer made it out to a private showing of Arkansas native Jeff Nichols's new film "Take Shelter" over the weekend. We generally don't like to leave the house on Sundays, opting instead to stay recliner-bound. But, Nichols' follow-up to his first film, "Shotgun Stories," won the Grand Prize for best feature film and the Society of Auteurs and Dramatic Composers Prize for best screenwriting at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Plus it was free, so it was pretty difficult to make a case for staying home.

The film was haunting. It's a story about fear, the fear that comes with age and responsibilities, the fear of losing the things most important to you. Michael Shannon, who also starred in "Shotgun Stories," plays a husband and father whose delusions of an end-of-days-style storm raise questions about his sanity. His fears of approaching doom drive him to build a well-equipped storm shelter in his backyard in an attempt to protect those he loves from something that may or may not come.

It's a story about how paranoia and fear can become all-consuming, and it's incredibly well done. The film moves along purposefully, pulling you into a plotline that overwhelms the senses and leaves you at once hopeful and afraid of what will happen next.

Nichols said in a question-and-answer session after the screening that the film's script came out of his own maturation as a filmmaker and father and the subsequent responsibilities that go along with each. As a rather young Observer, it's a feeling to which we can relate. As we drove home, quietly contemplating our own fears and anxieties, rain drops began to hit our windshield and flashes of lightning streaked the sky. We couldn't help but think of one of "Shelter's" more stirring scenes, in which Shannon screams, "There's a storm comin'!"


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