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Old Gold

June 29, 2011 3 comments

I just got back from visiting my best friend, Stephanie, who lives a few hours away in the pretty mountains of New York. She and I have known each other since we were maybe two or three years old since our moms dragged us into the same playgroup. However, we didn’t really become friends until around our junior year of high school. Sometimes, I become friends with people and I don’t even realize that it’s happening. Other times, I meet someone and I get a little giddy and try to make them be my friend. With Stephanie, I did a little of both. Our junior year, we had some classes together as well as lunch. Since we were both shy little creatures with slight social anxiety, we elected to eat lunch just the two of us in complete separation from our peers. (Sometimes, though, Stephanie would have track or cross country meets and I would end up eating lunch alone. Ah, high school.) That summer, I very bravely called her to hang out. She said yes! So over those summer months, we became actual friends and not just two awkward teens who were inexplicably afraid of being in the cafeteria with other teenagers.

I liked Stephanie because she had a very calm presence and was also incredibly silly. I also liked her because I could be my natural geek self around since we had many geeky things in common. We both loved writing and literature. Our senior year of high school, we got the extra nerdy idea during our English class’ Shakespeare unit to divvy up the parts in Hamlet and read the play out loud together, affirming that we’d absorb it better that way.  Or maybe it was just an excuse to hang out. It’s hard to say.

I do know, though, that she is the first friend that I could have real, true conversations with and the first person that I was ever able to talk about the things I was afraid of or worried about. So when my brother was killed by a drunk driver midway through our senior year, she was the person I wanted to talk to most that day. Stephanie has a natural talent for helping you sort out your thoughts and gently calm you down, and on a day like that, I really needed that. Looking back, we probably didn’t know each other that well yet, but she was there for me without hesitation.

After high school, Stephanie and I went all over the country, and she also spent two different periods on other continents. But we stayed friends. And more surprisingly, we stayed close friends. The period of age 18-22 is pretty weird, and we both went through our separate periods of intense weirdness. Somehow though, no matter how we changed or how many miles were between us, I don’t ever think we felt less close, or that the friendship was fading away even if we didn’t talk for six months at a time.

During this past visit with Stephanie, I realized that she is maybe a little more than my best friend. She’s someone I admire the hell out of. Stephanie is the mother of two little girls, one three year-old and one tiny little eight week old. I’m not only blown away by the fact that during her last pregnancy, she also picked up a second Master’s degree, but I was overwhelmed (in the good way) by what an amazing family she and her boyfriend have created. You know how single people complain about their friends who have kids–they never go out, they never can do anything, they always use the kids as an excuse to say no to things, blah blah blah. Stephanie and her boyfriend still do pretty much all the same things that they did before.  They go out to eat. They hang out with friends. They go on hikes. They travel. Their daughters just come along with them. Sure, they’re not going on to smokey bars until two in the morning, but they’re certainly not limiting themselves or their children to the house and the playground. I’ve never really known any parents quite like Stephanie and her boyfriend and they made me much less afraid of having a family one day myself.

Seeing Stephanie as mom and thinking about how much we (or at least she) have grown up over the years made me remember all the things she’s done so far in her life. Although she admittedly can be overly-anxious and nervous, she takes so many risks. Semester abroad in Kenya? Why not. AmeriCorps in Alaska? Sure. Go teach English in Vietnam? Of course. So many of us get ideas or have dreams about the things we’d like to do, but we’re too afraid to be uncomfortable or have things turn out badly. Or some us may set a plan for ourselves so rigid that we never let ourselves deviate from that path and be open to a new experience. But not Stephanie. I know I’m not her mom or anything, but I can’t help but feel proud of her. This last visit makes me want to try extra hard to be as good of a friend to her as she’s been to me, and it also makes me excited to think that there is so much more ahead of us.

 

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Categories: Childhood, Friends, Life

On Competition and Promotions

June 26, 2011 1 comment

Recently, I was working with one of my clubmates on the Kata set she needs for her next promotion. I mentioned before that it was pretty rough for me. Two of the five sets I’ve had almost no experience with, and while I went to Kata class regularly last summer, I didn’t go at all during the school year. After we went through the sets, my coach commented that it was good I was getting the Kata practice in since I’ll be up for my brown belt in the fall. I didn’t really offer much of a response at the time since my brain was slightly broken, but later on I kind of freaked out about it.

It’s funny to me that the thought of getting my brown belt is intimidating because my reaction is totally hypocritical.  There are a few other green belts at my club, but they have been green belts forever and are completely ready for their brown belt (in my opinion, at least). Our club has a Kata requirement for promotions for brown belt and above and it’s up to you to put the work in if you really want your promotion. These guys are totally dragging their feet to meet the Kata requirement. They are not excited to get their brown belts. Why? The expectation bar that gets raised as you move from “novice” to “advanced”.  The pressure! (Also, some people just really do not want to learn Kata, but that’s a whole other post.)

I’ve officially been a green belt since December 2010. Last summer before I got my green belt, but knew it was on its way, I thought it was possible that I could be a brown belt within a year of getting my green.  I also thought I was going to still train a ton and compete all of the time during the school year. Ha. The reality of grad school combined with a few stupid injuries in the fall and winter crushed that idea. So since the fall, I’ve only competed four times. My first tournament, I fought one match, which I lost, and then had to pull out of the tournament because I injured my shoulder blade and had to go to the hospital. My second tournament, there were no novice girls for me to fight, so I fought against a third-degree brown belt. I lost two and surprisingly won one match. I fought her again under the same circumstances in May and lost all my matches to her. In March, I had my only tournament where I fought all my matches against novice girls. I lost two and won one, which I was OK with since I had barely been training leading up to the tournament.

The point that I’m trying to reach is that I barely have any experience competing at my current level. To me, competition is the best way to see where you stand in your practice.  When you’re training, you often work with the same people over and over again. You get to know their style and technique and they get to know yours. You don’t often surprise each other. Also, for women judoka, it can be hard if you don’t have other women to train with. Don’t get me wrong; the men at my club are great training partners and I learn so much from them. But women and men move very differently and have different strengths and weaknesses. I do have other women to work with, but there are only a handful of us and we know each other’s games pretty well by now.  So the best way for me to test my progress is to compete against people whose style and technique are completely unfamiliar to me. That way I can see how well I can work my game and how I problem-solve in a new situations. But I feel like I haven’t been able to test myself nearly enough in this respect. The thought of moving from green to brown without much competition experience at my own level seems like a bad move for me.

I trust my coach’s judgment, but I still have a fear of wearing a belt that I can’t live up to. There is so much to learn in judo, and since I’m not exactly a natural, I really have to put in the work just to scrape by.  I know that I want to keep advancing in judo and when I feel more prepared, I know that I would be excited to test for my brown belt. I remember when I was kid and my dad got promoted to brown. I was just so impressed and completely in awe of him. I realized that my dad was really committed to judo; that he was going to keep moving forward and that his hard work was starting to pay off. For me, brown seemed a million miles away and I wondered when I would get that level.

I know that my two biggest fears are snakes and failure. I can’t believe that I’m considering adding “brown belt” to that list.

Label-makers: White trash Ivy League athlete.

June 23, 2011 2 comments

Earlier this week, I used my one nugget of common sense to see a doctor about my hip flexor. During the course of the standard “get to know the patient and their ailment” chit chat, the doctor extracted three pieces of information from me: 1) I am from Upper Darby, 2) I attend UPenn, and 3) I practice judo.  The doctor wanted another doctor to examine me as well. As Doctor #1 introduced me to Doctor #2, he told Doctor #2 that I am an athlete who practices judo and is a “bad mofo” and that I go to Penn, so I obviously must be smart. Moreover, since I go to Penn, I am the only person from Upper Darby to ever make something of themselves. I believe he referred to Upper Darby as “The White Trash Capitol of the World”.

This introduction struck me as both strange and hilarious.  In terms of my hometown, I’ve lived in a couple different states and most people  I meet know nothing about Upper Darby. I just say, “It’s a suburb” and that seems to serve as a satisfactory description.  Conversely, since I moved back to the area, people around here definitely have their preconceived notions about Upper Darby and what goes on there. People from Philadelphia usually think of it as just another suburb, but people from other suburbs think Upper Darby is a gang-infested, crime-riddled hell hole filled with illiterates. Are there drugs and crime in Upper Darby? Yes. But the high school also has a swimming pool and golf team. I don’t think kids in desolate neighborhoods get to go swimming or play golf.  Also, I know that I grew up on a clean, quiet street, which remains clean and quiet, in a big house with a big backyard. And my friends from Upper Darby are all smart, accomplished, productive members of society. Some of them even went Penn.

I won’t lie to you; a big part of the reason I decided to go to Penn to get my MSW is because of the reputation that goes with the institution. However, as I trudged through this academic year, I did not feel very prestigious. If anything, I often felt like an impostor as I considered that I should shower more often and change my clothes with greater frequency as I ate fake food, like protein bars and scraps left over from meetings that I stole from the faculty fridge.  I thought going to an Ivy League school would be more tweed and free red wine and Gruyere cheese and less writing and editing in a windowless building wearing coffee stained sweatpants until 2 in the morning.

As for being called an athlete, this is the funniest to me.  If you asked anyone from my high school if they would consider Lori Latimer an athlete, their response would mostly likely be, “Who the hell is Lori Latimer?” (My high school had about 4,000 students in it so even within your own graduating class, you would probably only know about 0.03% of your  classmates.) The alternate response would be “Hahahahaha!” For all of my life, I have been a reader of books, a drawer of pictures, and player of Scrabble. I also have seasonal allergies, mild asthma, and wear glasses. Yes, from time to time I would engage in sports, but I typically performed at the low-end of mediocre.  And when I practiced judo as a kid, I think I was getting by on my feral sense of “fighting spirit” and not so much on my strength and endurance.  So I’ve never considered myself “athletic” let alone an “athlete”.  I guess that’s because I figure if I was an athlete, someone would be paying me for the work I do, or at least throw me a gold medal for doing well once in a while.  Those things are certainly not happening.  So being called an athlete multiple times in the span of a half-hour was infinitely amusing to me. I almost let the doctors in on the joke, but decided just to let them do their job instead.

It’s simply interesting to me how three little facts can lead someone to create an image of yourself that you’ve never pictured and leave you wondering just exactly how you fit that image.

Father’s Day with the Latimers.

June 19, 2011 7 comments

Yesterday, I celebrated Father’s Day with Mr. Latimer. This is typical, as the Latimers have historically celebrated Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Valentine’s Day one day early because we hate being crammed in rooms with other people, especially when they are being all loud and happy in public, like at a restaurant. Because Mr. Latimer is somewhat unpredictable, his reasoning this year for celebrating Father’s Day on Saturday instead of Sunday was not the standard reason, but one that remains a little unclear to me:

(via phone)

Me: Hey, Dad.

Mr. Latimer: Oh. Hi. I didn’t mean to call you. I meant to text you.

Me: Oh. So, can I take you out for lunch or dinner next weekend? I can be at the house on Sunday after 2.

Mr. Latimer: ….

Me: Or Saturday, if Sunday doesn’t work.

ML: Well, maybe Saturday. Because, you know, Sunday’s Sunday.

—–

No, I don’t know.  As with most phone calls with Mr. Latimer, though, I just rolled with it. He’s not an easy guy to talk to on the phone. He’s a habitual mumbler who refuses to speak into the phone, so half the time I’m not too sure what we’re talking about. Most of our phone conversations go something like this:

Me: You’ve seen Grandmom lately?

ML: Yeah, I saw her and we mifoajlkg akdslfjoicmes. She seemed albkejsal, but then aklcmwioew malsng snchrof.  You know.

Me: What was that, Dad? I couldn’t hear you.

ML: Oh. I was just saying snfrmod hrysatlk ghiald. Plemsasems lked.

Me: Huh.

ML: Yeah, you know.

Me: Right.

——–

At dinner yesterday, Mr. Latimer demonstrated his usual sense of contradictory table manners. He insists that napkins are placed in one’s lap; however, for the past 15 years he has traditionally blown his straw wrapper at my face as soon as he gets his soda. Sometimes, he doesn’t even wait for the server to leave the table. Yesterday, the Japanese restaurant’s straws disappointingly came unwrapped. Mr. Latimer improvised with his chopsticks:

ML: Wanna sword fight?

Me: No.

ML: Wanna spear fight?

Me: No.

ML: Wanna play hockey?

Me: (Turns head. Looks out window).

——-

Then on the way home, we almost had a regular conversation:

ML: Oh, I saw this really great movie! Dirty Filthy Love.

Me: Oh, really? Who’s in it.

ML: It’s English.

Me: ……

Me: So, it’s in English, or it’s an English movie?

ML: The movie’s English. So I don’t know who’s in it.

Me: Oh.

ML: No, wait. You know who’s in it? Oh, nevermind. That was some other English movie I saw.

——-

We did actually talk yesterday. Although Mr. Latimer and I may not meet in the middle over table manners, we can always talk about judo. Actually, earlier in the week I was feeling pretty sappy about my dad. On Wednesday at practice, my instructor brought in his nine year-old daughter. She’s been taking the kids’ classes, and my instructor had her work with me a little since I’m injured and have to go slowly and gently anyway. I think there could be times when I’d be reluctant to work with a nine-year old, but I really enjoyed it. And she was tough! And tiny! She did over 150 uchikomi (where you fit in the technique without actually executing the throw). There are some adults who struggle to do that, but she just methodically plugged away without a complaint. I talked her into throwing me a few times and she was strong. Her dad was unabashedly proud when I told him all this and said, “That’s because she’s my girl! My girl is tough!”  I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to when I was her age–being on the mat, which seemed familiar, yet strange and sacred all at the same time, watching the adults, and of course having my dad there pushing me along.

I have to hand it to Mr. Latimer. He treated me and my brother the same and didn’t really do any of that over-protective stuff that a lot of dads do with their daughters.  He liked that I wanted to to practice judo like he and my brother were, instead of trying to deter from it or outright saying no because I was a girl and judo can be a rough sport. He liked that I wasn’t afraid to get hurt and that I wanted to smash all the boys. I’m grateful he never treated me like a princess. I think that’s helped me to always try just a little harder when I don’t want to anymore. More importantly, I think it’s helped me to be willing to try things that seem challenging, and actually see it as fun.

So while I may question Mr. Latimer’s conversation skills and table manners, I can say with certainty that he’s a great father. He’s proved it as many times as he’s blown his straw wrapper at my face.

Our bodies, ourselves.

June 17, 2011 2 comments

At 29, I am in the best physical shape of my life. Wait. Don’t go. I’m not being a vain jerk when I say this (well, maybe a little). I’m saying this because when I was in my oh-so-young early 20s, people would to tell me that as we approach 30, we start to fall apart. But I can do things now that I could never imagine doing at 22 or even 18. More to the point though, I realized that about a year ago at this time was when I started training hard for judo. I can’t believe how much I’ve changed in that year.

I realized all this when I woke up this morning and made the commitment to take a day off from any kind of conditioning or training.  I thought this was funny because a year ago I had to wake up and say, “You’re going to practice no matter what.” So once upon a time, I had to force myself to train; now I have to force myself to rest.

And I need to rest because, yes, my hip could use it, but also I’m certain I’m coming down with a cold. I hacked up phlegm during kettlebells last night and could barely clean and press on my right, which is my dominate side. BJJ was not much better. When I sat out of the live training sessions to give my hip a break, I nearly feel asleep while keeping time for my clubmates. Then during judo, my clubmate and I went through five sets of Kata so she could prepare for a promotion. Practicing Kata, you might not end up dripping with sweat, but it can be  mentally taxing, especially if you don’t practice it regularly. Which I and my clubmate do not. We both struggled. I almost lost it.  So after training last night, I felt both physically and mentally broken. However, I still planned on getting up, going at my circuits, going to yoga, then later in the day going to the gym for some lifting and cardio. And then I thought, “Hmmm. I almost feel asleep during class. Maybe I should listen to my body for once.” I digress.

Back to a year ago. From March 2010 leading up to June 2010, I was going to practice once a week. At this time, I was working two jobs and with the commute, I had about a 12 hour work day. So there were days that even though I lugged my gi around with me, it would come time to leave work and go to judo and I’d say, “Oh, I’m tired. I just want to go home and relax with my boyfriend.” So that’s what I’d do.  (Well, I’m single now, so that solves half that problem).

Then at the next class I went to, I would look around and feel ashamed of myself. My clubmates had tiring jobs. They had relationships. But they were at the last class. And they were at this class, and would be at the next one. As I began to marvel at their commitment, something inside me woke up. I realized that’s what I wanted for myself. When June 2010 rolled around, I went down to one job. I decided now was the time. I was going to go balls out and throw myself into judo, no matter how hard it got. As the weeks went by, as cheesy as it sounds to say out loud, I felt alive again, like my true self.

Last summer, I already made the decision to go to grad school. I decided to pursue a Master’s in Social Work. I knew I was starting at UPenn in the fall. I was aware of these decisions as simple facts though, and had not deeply considered what they could mean for me and what I was going to make of my life.  I realized that I had become complacent, letting things happen around me instead of making things happen for myself. I used to not be like that. I didn’t want to stay like that.

I made some massive changes last summer that resulted in a hellish fall. I have no regrets though. When I think of what I am capable of now that I was not capable of then, I can’t help but feel a little proud of myself. Judo reignited that spark for me. As I approach my 30th birthday in November, I get excited thinking of all the possibilities that are still ahead of me.

Hmm. All that from a little phlegm and narcolepsy.

Warning: Terrible haiku about judo.

Judo, what is this?

Are you trying to kill me?

Too bad. I’m still here.

Categories: Judo, poetry

Hero worship: Unabashed.

June 15, 2011 3 comments

Moving near campus has made me exponentially happier, mostly because it makes my life more convenient and I finally get to live alone in my own little cave. Beyond that, however, I discovered a bonus today while walking to the El. I ran into one of my faaaaaaaaaaaaaaavorite professors ever in the whole wide world. Actually, he stopped me (gasp!) to say hi and ask how my summer was going. After some friendly chit chat, we said goodbye and I practically skipped the rest of the way to the train.

I find it difficult to talk about him without sounding like a hyper-active 10 year-old, so I will attempt brevity: Throughout my semester with him, I was continuously surprised and reassured by my professor’s honesty, humility, passion, commitment, and his dual ability to command and offer respect. I’ll stop here before any eye-rolling commences from the nice, patient people reading this.

Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t stop there. Further explanation of my professor’s uncontainable awesomeness:

After each class with him this past Spring semester, I typically felt compelled to post something my professor said or did during class that I thought was particularly inspiring on Facebook. Yes, this is silly. But I would leave his class so pumped, truly believing that I and my classmates could change the world, that I felt like all my Facebook friends might like to feel the same way.

The two things he said to us that have stuck with me the most are:

1. “You will never do more for people than what you allow people to do for you.”

2. “It is more important for you to understand than to be understood.”

Now, I don’t know if these are Walter J. Palmer originals, but I don’t really care. What I care about is that I have thought long and hard about these two off-handed statements. The first statement I’ve though about in relation to my social work practice and the relationships I’ll build with my clients. If I never learn to be open, humble, and how to accept help, I can never truly be there with my clients. I won’t be able to fully appreciate how hard they work to take the help I’m offering to make the small and big steps they need to get on the right track. I have to understand give and take.

The second comment I’ve thought about over and over again in regards to my personal relationships, especially with my family. I have said about six billion times in my life, “He/She/They just don’t understand.” Now, if I find myself thinking that, I feel ridiculously childish. When I really look at why I feel that way, I realize that he/she/they don’t understand because I haven’t let them. If I can’t listen to someone else’s perspective and respect it as a valid point of view, they sure as hell can’t consider mine. To communicate and make a connection, I have to be ready to learn about the other person first and not expect them to put effort into me that I haven’t bothered to put into them.

OK, now back to brevity:

The main reason why I love Professor Palmer is because he made me feel as excited, naive, angry, and hopeful as I did when I was a teenager and just starting to really discover what drives me, but ultimately I think he helped me become a better adult.