Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Blame Becky - she tagged me!

I suppose I have to do a meme sooner or later - and this one seems pretty innocuous as the breed goes. Enjoy, Becky!

1. Who was your best friend? Jeff
2. What sports did you play? None. I was not athletic at all.
3. What kind of car did you drive? Car? I didn't get my driver's liscence until a couple of months before I went to college.
4. It's Friday night, where were you? In my room, reading a book. Even when I had a boyfriend, dating wasn't my thing.
5. Were you a party animal? Never
6. Were you considered a flirt? The very suggestion would have made my friends die laughing.
7. Ever skip school? No
8. Ever smoke? No, and never wanted to
9. Were you a nerd? Yep. And a geek, and about every other term in the book.
10. Did you get suspended/expelled? Are you kidding? I never even got detention.
11. Can you sing the Alma Mater? Alma Mater? I don't think we had one.
12. Who was your favorite teacher? Madame Turner, my French teacher, who went way out of her way to make a newcomer (I changed schools between Jr. & Sr. year) welcome.
13. Favorite class? AP Biology.
14. What was your school's full name? Pittsford-Sutherland High Schooll
15. School mascot? No clue
16. Did you go to Prom? No. I asked one guy, too late, and never worked up the gumption to ask someone else.
17. If you could go back and do it over, would you? Possibly, if I could do only Senior year. Toss in any grade school or HS before that and I'd throw myself off a bridge first!
18. What do you remember most about graduation? The school bus yellow graduation robes they made the girls wear - which blended perfectly with honor codes, so no one could tell which girls were honor students.
19. Favorite memory of your senior year? Walking in to my first day of class, and realizing - this is not my old HS.
20. Were you ever posted up on the senior wall? What is a senior wall?
21. Did you have a job your senior year? No
22. Who did you date? Nobody. I'd just managed to escape the long-term boyfriend WHO WOULD NOT GO AWAY. I had no desire to start up again.
23. Where did you go most often for lunch? The cafeteria
24. Have you gained weight since then? Oh yeah
.25. What did you do after graduation? Got my BA, moved to SC and got married.
26. When did you graduate? 1987
27. Senior picture: I managed to avoid having any photos at all Senior year. PSHS has no pictoral proof I ever existed.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lawn Fetishes and Macho Men

Our next door neighbor has a lawn fetish. He mows the lawn twice a week - minimum. He fertilizes, waters, rolls - all the myriad little things that make a lawn look like a golf course. We do none of these things, which appears to mystify him completely. He, of course, mystifies us. S and I mow the lawn every one or two weeks, as needed, and otherwise ignore it in favor of the far more interesting vegetable garden or flower beds. You can see our neighbor's brain ticking over as he watches us digging in the garden. "Why are they wasting so much time on the vegetables when their lawn is in such sad shape?"

Recently we've discovered that we can make him torture himself just by doing things to our lawn. It started by accident. I mowed our lawn about two days after he mowed his. Before I had even finished he was out mowing his lawn again - about a day earlier than usual. We quickly found out that we can make him mow his lawn anytime, under any circumstances, just by making our lawn slightly shorter than his. It's become a game by now. It's going to rain tomorrow, can I make him mow in the rain by mowing just ahead of it? Check. Can I make him mow in the dark? Check.

The Germans probably have a word for this. It's a little like schadenfreude, but not quite. The joy of backing someone into a corner, so that they either have to give up a little on their fetish, or torture themselves. There's a mild sadistic joy in watching them torture themselves, but it would be a greater pleasure to watch him give up on mowing just once, and go play with his little girl.

I've seen similar behavior in karate on occassion. Most usually it comes from teenaged boys, or younger men, in the form of eccessively macho behavior. Generally the most obvious, and most annoying (at least to me) manifestation, is that they cannot let a girl (defined as anyone with XX genetics) win. I've been known to play the same sorts of games with the boys at the dojo that I do with my neighbors. If I do thirty pushups, the guys afflicted will have to do more than thirty. If I break two boards with a punch, then they will too, or break their hands trying. Or, since Sensei is very careful about possible injury, complain bitterly when he won't let them take on too much.

Fortunately there's not too much of this at this dojo. There's only one boy who suffers from a bad case of macho, and his father and Sensei mostly keep him in check. Which is a good thing, because he cannot get it through his head that at 37 years old, 5'8" and 200 pounds, there are a lot of things I can do, that he (11, 4'5", 98 lbs) is not going to be able to do yet. Plus, he does have respect for my rank and additional knowledge, which helps. He had a counterpart at my old dojo who was much more of a problem (to himself more than to me). This was a boy who outranked me, so respect for my rank didn't figure in. He thought that gender plus rank trumped size and strength every time, and it was downright easy to make him run into the wall of his own expectations. At the summer picnic all I had to do was get in the pool, and he did the rest. Because obviously a guy who's a brown belt is better in the water than a girl who's only an orange belt (who was a part-time swim instructor with lifeguard training). He half-drowned himself trying to do everything I did, only better, while all I did was fool around in the pool like I normally would.

I don't quite know what to do with the guys who suffer from this. There's some joy to be had watching them torture themselves, but it would be much more satisfactory if they could just realize - they're doing it to themselves. If they'd give it up, maybe we could all settle down and learn karate.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

That's What I Get for Making Predictions

Chuck one belt test.

S's mom went to the doctor this week, and found out she's lost another five pounds. That makes a total of thirty-five pounds since last fall (she's only 5'2" if that tall). Her doctor has diagnosed diverticulosis, put her on a strange diet involving lots of calorie dense food (for weight gain), and lots of fiber (for the diverticulosis), and is threatening her with more drastic measures if she doesn't start gaining weight. S is adamant that we're going down to see his parent's this weekend, and I wasn't about to say no, so I called Sensei, and told him I couldn't make Friday. He was really nice about it, but Lord only knows when we'll get it scheduled again. We've got a number of other students coming up and ready to test, and I don't want to delay anyone else's test to fit mine in. (We only do two or three at a time) All of the other testees are kids, and frankly, their change in rank means a hell of a lot more to them than it does to me.

All of which doesn't mean that I'm not disappointed. I've been ready for this test since forever, and I really, really want to get to work on Wansu and the other requirements for purple.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Summer Birthdays Suck

I feel like the worst mother in the world.

#1 son's birthday was yesterday. He's been planning his party for almost two months. We created a ringtoss game in the shape of a Triceratops head. He made a bunch of toys all by himself for games, baked a birthday cake (Lemon/White Chocolate), and did all the get-ready-for-a-party things.

Nobody came.

We sent out the invitations about four weeks ago, during the last week of school. We had RSVP's from three kids - each of whom would have brought a sibling or two, for a total of 6-8 kids. I wasn't counting on any of the others, though I had some hope that one or two might show up anyway. Instead, even those who had said they would come didn't, and I was left with a sobbing 8-year old, who didn't understand why none of his friends would come. S and I did everything we could think of. We looked up phone numbers and called people. I even drove out to the house of one family whose home phone was unlisted. Nothing doing, nobody was home. Eventually we took the kids out to Chuck E. Cheese's, which seemed to ameliorate the day a little. It didn't help though, that even dear old Chuck E. didn't come through. Normally the mouse comes out to sing Happy Birthday to kids, but apparently they couldn't find anyone to don the mouse costume yesterday, because he never came out.

Poor kid - what a completely sucky day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Pushing Through Fear

For those who know her (and those who don't), Kameron Hurley of Brutal Woman wrote a kick-ass post called On Fear and Being Stronger. She's talking about her adjustment to discovering (at age 26!) that she now has Type I diabetes, with all the scary stuff that entails. She already remade her life once, when she decided to walk away from the person she was and the life she knew to become the person she wanted to be. Now she has to do it again, only this time she has to figure out how to remain the person she is and wants to be, while dealing with a whole new set of circumstances. She likens it to stepping into a fighting ring with a bigger opponent. It's not that you're not afraid - it's that you make the commitment to push forward anyway.

Kameron's pushing forward anyway. A month after she was in the ICU, she's lifting weights again, thinking of starting a yoga class, and about to sign back up at her boxing gym.

More power to her. I've let fear stop me far more than I should. I was amazingly timid as a teenager, and as a young adult. Finding karate at 25 was a godsend. A neighbor wanted to try the local dojo, and brought me along for moral support. Since I had toyed with the idea of trying a martial art for ages, I agreed.

Frankly, if I'd known what I was getting into, I'd have never set foot in the place. Gabbard's dojo was, frankly, brutal. Good - my gods they were good - but very, very tough. I felt lucky to survive the first class, and I could barely get out of bed the next morning.I had sore muscles, sore joints, and bruises everywhere.

I loved it. I went back the next night, and the night after, and the night after that. For weeks I attended every class they would allow - usually four a week. I got stronger. I learned that getting punched might hurt, but it wasn't the terrifying thing I had always thought. I still hadn't faced my biggest fear, though - the fear of getting hurt.

Then six weeks in, we had a bit of a different assignment. Gabbard Sensei dumped everyone in the ring. Four black belts, and twelve lesser belts. The job was to pin each of the black belts. We could work in any teams we wanted, from one on one, to twelve on one. Nobody left until each black belt had been pinned. The two other newbie women and I choose to tackle the youngest, smallest target together. He put up a terrific fight, but sheer weight and size eventually brought him down. (He was perhaps 5'2", we were all in the 5'6"-5'8" range.) I was on my knees, holding his shoulders, when another black belt, being pressed hard from the front backed into me. Thinking he was being attacked from behind, he spun, chambering his leg and hit me full across the face with his knee. In all probability he cracked my right cheekbone - though it was never X-rayed. That whole side of my face was amazingly black, purple, and red for weeks. It was over two months before Gabbard Sensei let me back into the ring without a mask to protect my face.

That was my first, and so far almost only significant karate-caused injury. But what was significant about it to me, wasn't the injury itself - it was what I did about it. I held onto my target's shoulders, finished the pin. Joined in the finish of the last black belt. Bowed out of the ring formally with everyone else - and then went and got ice. I discovered that my worst fear of injury, wasn't actually fear of the injury. It was fear that I would collapse if I were injured. That I would cower, and hide, and never, ever do such a thing again. I also discovered that my worst fears weren't true. I cried - or rather I leaked tears that I couldn't stop - but I also finished what I set out to do. I showed up at the next class wanting to be there, and amazed at myself that I truly did want to be there.

If karate had taught me nothing else, ever, that one moment would have made it worthwhile for me to go. The discovery that my fears themselves were infinitely more painful than the reality I was afraid of. Also the discovery that I wanted to learn, far more than I wanted to be safe. I'm a more courageous person now than I was before, and that is precious indeed.

Friday, June 09, 2006


S and I had an out-of-town friend stay over last night. He's in town for a business meeting, but came a day early, and spent last night playing board games with us, and a couple of S's friends from the local board-gaming group. One of whom I had met, and his brother, whom I had not.

The brother turned out to be an absolute font of knowledge about all things relating to martial arts. We kibitzed all through a game of Caylas (he was playing, I was spinning), and then afterwards we moved over to the other section of the basement for an impromptu lesson.

All I can say is that it's a crying shame that this man isn't an instructor. He used to be, but a truly devastating car accident about ten years ago put him out of commission as a martial artist. He can certainly still teach, and demonstrate, but mostly does not do so. I finally got to see (and feel!) the famous Bruce Lee one-inch punch, an indulgence I'm going to be paying for for a while. We discussed body mechanics, pressure points, breathing, a whole slew of stuff. I'm going to be struggling not to forget 9/10ths of it before I can encode it to memory. I really hope I get more opportunities to talk with and learn from this guy. He not only knows much about several different styles (including Isshin-ryu), but understands both the science, and the philosophy behind much of it. I'm dying to get more chances to pick his brain.

Now I just have to explain to Sensei tonight why I have an imprint of somebody's fist on my chest - and it isn't his!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Two Weeks in May

For two weeks at the end of May, eighteen years ago, I had absolutely no obligations to anyone but myself. It was a unique moment in time, one that has never been repeated. After my final exams, there were two weeks before commencement. I had to stay for commencement, but only because I was a member of the choir - I was a frosh. For two weeks I had no classes, no boyfriend (he was three states away), no friends, no enemies, no family - absolutely no one and nothing that I was obligated to do. It was a stark contrast with my normal life, which I tend to stuff to the brim with obligations. Instead I slept, read, took walks, ate when I felt like it, and generally lived a quiet, somewhat contemplative life for two weeks.

I found that within only a few days a number of remarkable changes took place. I had a clean room that stayed clean the entire two weeks - something that has never happened before or since. I went to bed as soon as the sun went down, and got up at sunrise - ditto. I barely even remember eating - I only did it when I was hungry, and otherwise didn't think much about it. I volutarily took long walks around the local lake, meandering along, with or without book in hand. In short, I relaxed - deep, visceral relaxation. It's one of the few times in my life at that age (HS through college) that I don't remember having regular self-hate sessions. I talked to my parents on the phone perhaps once. My boyfriend a time or two more than that. I wasn't in the least lonely, I discovered, because there was no one there. Lonliness for me, seems to have little to do with being alone, and everything to do with being near people who don't acknowledge my existence, for whatever reason.

It was an enlightening couple of weeks. It's a period of time I wish I could duplicate, even as I realize how incredibly privileged I was to experience it even once. Toss in an obligation and my tension seems to immediately return, and yet life is obligations. I'm bound to my husband and children, to my friends, to paying a mortgage and putting dinner on the table. In order to have made a life that in any way resembled those two weeks, I would have to have consciously carved away my responsibilities - and I would not voluntarily give them up.

Still I understand what drove Thoreau to Walden. I have never felt closer to myself than in those two quiet weeks. The challenge is to find the spirit of them under the noise of daily life.

Monday, June 05, 2006

On The Hunt

I've got an article due for Damn Interesting tomorrow, and no idea what I'm going to write for them. Sigh. The irony is that I have a ton of interesting topics I want to write about - but they're all biology. I try really, really hard to keep at least 1/3 to 1/4 of my pieces outside of biology - either technology, or sociology, or anything else that catches my fancy. Just to keep from landing myself in a medical/genetic rut.

Unfortunately all my current ideas are running biological: some interesting medical conditions, hybrid bears, the shrinking of the whale-shark, underground orchids, and on, and on. I have no trouble coming up with odd biological stuff up the wazoo, it's the variety aspect that gets me. I had hopes for an article on the reversing of the genderfication of pink and blue (Pink used to be for boys!), but haven't been able to find enough documentation. I'm currently looking at the origin of high-heels, and the Adulterous Bible, but both look like they'll need more research than I can put together by tomorrow.

So of course I'm writing a blog post. Aye well, something will come up. Either that or tomorrow's article will be about bears.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Date - Finally!

Sensei has finally given me a date for my green belt test. June 23. Since he's been saying that I was ready since April, I can only say "It's about time!" I'm more than ready for anything and everything on this test, and have been long since. Lest this sound over-confident, I was an ni-kyu at my last dojo before we moved, and I had my eight year hiatus. This is for my yan-kyu. I won't be up to my old level for two more tests.

As much as I enjoy Sensei, and our dojo, I do get frustrated with his short-term memory problems. He has trouble remembering day-to-day what a given person has already learned, or whether or not he has said anything about testing. Since he also doesn't tend to write things down, it can be a long, long time between when you're ready for testing, and when he actually manages to schedule you. It doesn't help other aspects of class, either. I've had him compliment my naihanchi one day (a rarity, he's hard to please, though always kind), and ask me if I knew it all the way through three days later.

Fortunately for my sanity I'm not too concerned about my actual rank. I'll get there when I get there. Some of our more eager beaver students are chewing at the walls over the repeated delay in test dates. It's a good thing we joined up with the larger TKD dojo, since their structured testing schedule seems to provide at least a little impetus to Sensei to get things scheduled while he still remembers. Before we joined Kentuckiana MA tests could even be scheduled, and then not happen because Sensei had simply forgotten about them (happened six times over three months before I tested for yellow). Now, as long as he actually schedules the date, the dojo manager makes sure the test happens.

It's a good thing Kevin, who is testing with me, and who is one of the eager-beaver students, didn't join us until we were here. I think he'd have quit by now.