Elaboration on a theme
I wrote the below on Thursday, June 17 while I was on the way to visit my family. Some things have changed since then; namely, I am in a better mood. Always a good thing. But the musings were kind of fruitful for me—they probably helped me snap out of it—and possibly interesting. I’ll leave it to you to decide.
“I have some time and some battery power to try to articulate what’s going on with me. I’m sitting on a plane traveling to America’s midsection, as one of my favorite people described it, for some QT with my family. This will be good and bad. Good, because they accept me unconditionally, even when I am acting like an asshole, and I feel safe with them. Bad, because since I feel safe with them, I will probably let it all hang out, which means crying and, well, acting like an asshole. What do they say? You always hurt the ones you love. (UPDATE: I didn’t act like an asshole much at all! Nobody cried or yelled because of me, and I didn’t get that anxious feeling in my stomach that I get when I know I’m being shitty.)
Regarding what I wrote yesterday, about feeling like I’m too old for this shit, I am still in that place, though like I said, I really can’t foresee myself ever quitting BJJ or CrossFit. I’ll always train and CF. Doing those things has become part of the fabric of who I am. But I also just finished reading Age Is Just a Number, by Dara Torres, the swimmer who took silver (by two one-hundredths of a second) in an individual event, among other events she medaled in, at the 2008 Olympics at age 41. This is making me feel, not guilty, but like a whiner. Because obviously, she figured it out and has enough of what it takes to be among the best in the world, even at her “advanced” age. I think what’s making me feel off kilter is the fact that I don’t know if I possess that drive to win, and if I do possess it, if I possess it consistently enough. Not to mention the bigger question of whether I possess the talent. Torres talks about how she was competitive from an early age, in every situation, from big things like swimming all the way to mundane things like fighting to be the first among her siblings to finish dinner.
That sounds exhausting. A friend of mine tells me I am competitive, and I guess I have to be since I do compete. But when I hear about people who sacrifice and dig deep and put everything else aside for their dreams, I don’t think of me. I don’t perceive myself that way. I don’t even really have a clearly articulated dream, other than to be happy and a good person. And I want other things for myself besides victory, I think, that I don’t really have, like social and financial stability. Like community. Like a rewarding way to make a living. Basically, all the things that I wanted before I went walkabout and thought I would find on the road. I don’t have a great grasp on those things, really. I wouldn’t go back to my old life for anything, but sometimes I feel like I’ve just walked in a big circle. Only now my shoes, my body, and my heart are a bit more worn and beat up. I have more gray hair. My knees are wrinkly.
I do feel like I’m in better physical condition than I’ve ever been in my life. I still absolutely love to train and to CrossFit. Even when I’m feeling like absolute ass, usually when I train/pick up heavy things and put them down again I am still thoroughly and completely in the moment. I am PRESENT. I go into that flow state. And I can’t afford not to feel that way at least sometimes. It’s what got me through the big decision to go walkabout in the first place, lo these 4 years ago. It makes me feel alive and like the best version of myself.
And yet, I’m back to it being a double-edged sword, because I’m back to noticing a lack of happiness outside of training and CrossFitting. So while training and CF bring me joy and contentment and fulfillment, they also highlight the shortcomings in my life outside of these things. And I don’t want them to be escapes for me, diversions, ways for me to self-medicate. So my brain goes walkabout, and it takes some time and effort to get that organ on board and synched up. And as we all know, 90 bazillion percent of physical performance is mental. So, what to do with a renegade brain? Feed it sugar and Gilmore Girls reruns, it seems, and don’t let it do too much of what it was designed to do: think.
Unlike Dara, there’s only been one stretch in my life where I have honestly and for a long time not wanted to train. In the book, Dara retired and came back no fewer than 3 times, and is contemplating a 4th comeback in the 2012 Olympics, when she’ll be 46. When she was “retired,” she didn’t swim. At all. Barely got into a pool. My retirement from training was the year after I got my purple belt—close to 7 years ago now. It was a time when I had what “normal” people have: a boyfriend, a cocktail every now and then, a later curfew because I didn’t have to get up for Saturday open mat, disposable income.
But I missed it, obviously. And came back with more commitment (in multiple senses of the word) than ever.
So maybe the issue is with competing, which anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows is something that leaves me intensely ambivalent. For me, competing in jiu jitsu is lonely. And it doesn’t matter whether I win or lose; it’s a lonely road either way. I’ve had some experience with winning and far more with losing, so I feel like I can speak with credibility on this. If I lose, I feel bad about myself, question my abilities, and relive the match(es) over and over in my head, wondering what if I had just acted a split second earlier or done one thing differently. I endure the well-meaning but frequently misguided attempts of people to be comforting or placating, especially those who don’t do jiu jitsu at all or at least don’t compete in it. I tell myself I’m done, that’s it, it’s time to chuck the strictures of my diet, my training, and my mental focus and just lie around eating cupcakes. That’s to be expected. It’s losing. Losing is rarely the preferable alternative. I don’t stay in the dark place nearly as long as I used to, but I still go there.
But winning is lonely too. For me, it’s reminiscent of when I defended my dissertation. While I was defending, giving my presentation and answering questions from my committee, I was on. I was dodging bullets in the Matrix, bullets that seemed to be coming at me so slowly that I could do a little pirouette before I moonwalked out of the way. I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses and trench coat, but I did have on a great outfit.
After I successfully completed the defense, though, and got all the congratulations and accolades, I was hit with the dual realization that 1) I still did, and always would, have a boatload of work to do to improve in academe—and that there would never be a point when I had learned it all, and 2) now people were going to EXPECT things of me. I had the union card, which I had desperately wanted, but there were responsibilities—not just rights and privileges—pertaining to it.
Similarly, when I have won or done well at tournaments, I have savored the experience for a little while, maybe a day or two. But then the reality hits me that I want/need to continue to improve, which means going back to the mat and the routine and the demands of the sport. When I have won, nothing has really changed for me except for the intensity of the expectations, both my own and of the people who are in my orbit but don’t know me that well. My coaches and friends/family don’t judge me either way, for which I am immensely grateful. They don’t look down on me if I lose, and they don’t puff me up if I win. They just help me improve, as long as I want to.
And I always want to improve.
I just don’t always want to do what it TAKES to improve.
I go back and forth between believing that I create much of my life experience and being pretty certain that just because I do my level best to assume responsibility for my life, I don’t get a pass from feeling craptastic sometimes. So when I get like this, all cranky and thinky—all crinky—I wonder how I can tell the difference between wallowing in a self-indulgent pity party and just being human.
You read books like Dara’s and there is always that component of it, the part where the protagonist has doubts and fears and doesn’t know whether s/he will make it. Dara went there. The protagonist of my favorite novel, Ender’s Game, went there.
Writing a book or telling a story about the triumph of the human spirit is fantastic and uplifting and may be inspirational to those of us who want to push ourselves, but I’m here to tell you that in my experience, glossing over the horrible parts does a disservice to those same people, because working toward any goal is going to entail wading through, and sometimes eating, a shitload of shit. There are going to be times when you don’t want to do it anymore, and when you don’t do it, at least for a while. And you know what? Some people don’t go back. What about those people? They may be less inspirational, but they are probably more numerous. They don’t make good bestsellers, though, I guess.
As with most BJJ things, this seems to be like life. Whether a person’s story is triumphant or depressing depends on where you start and end that story. There’s a lot of time between when you say “And they lived happily ever after” and the time “they” shuffle off their mortal coils. Lots of time for all kinds of shit to go down. So sometimes when you enter the story, the protagonist is on the top of the medal podium, and other times s/he is underneath it, rocking back and forth in a pool of his/her own excrement, figurative or literal.
Right now, I personally am sitting on the podium, after the dust has cleared and everyone has gone home, and I’m eating a donut and waiting for the next competition (which may or may not be an actual competition, or which may be a metaphor for my next life challenge—see how that works?) with apprehension, some enthusiasm, and a huge sugar rush. Stay tuned.”