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You need both sides of the coin.

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Yesterday was an amazing day for me.  I had lunch with a family friend, Amy, who’s known my parents since before I was born and my very close with my mom. We had some really interesting conversations about family, communities, motivation, and just life in general. Talking with Amy had this unique feel of spending some quiet time with family, but also that little bit of excitement that comes with good conversation. While Amy sometimes does act like my mama sometimes (giving me a little bag of Hanukkah gelt, asking me if I’m cold as I walk around in a spring jacket in 34 degree weather), it’s in a reassuring way. During yesterday’s conversation, I saw that even though Amy has strong memories of me a little kid, she’s able to see me as an adult, probably more so than I’m able to see myself that way.

Later on in the day, I met up with my friends, Dennis and Jenny, who recently got married. Now, I’ve known Dennis since I was about 10 years old and I met Jenny when I was 15 or 16. We all went to the same high school. Last night at dinner, it could have been two hours of “Remember when that gym teacher, Mr. Blah Blah Blah, got mad because of that thing? That was so funny!” Instead, it was about four hours of intense conversation about our careers (Jenny is in nursing school and Dennis, who served in both the military and law enforcement, is now a teacher) and the difficulties and rewards of being a “helping professional.” We talked about some of the things we’ve struggled with recently and what we hope for in the future. We didn’t skip over the dumb jokes though, nor did Dennis forget to tell us some hilarious stories about my brother. I felt like I was with my true family. Those four hours felt perfect.

While I was having this wonderful day, my great aunt and her family were in a hospice in New England with her son, my cousin, Steven. Steven was sick for a very long time, but things began to deteriorate for him quickly in the last few weeks. Last night, Steven was surrounded by people who loved him, but he didn’t make it through the night. Truthfully, I didn’t know Steven well. My dad’s side of the family is pretty big and I haven’t seen most of my relatives on his side since I was in elementary school. Steven and I had reconnected through Facebook in the last year or so, but still our interactions were very limited. What I remember about Steven is that he was remarkably smart and that he had a fantastic dry wit. Also, I knew I like Steven the first time I met him. My family when to visit my great aunt when I was about five years old and my brother was about seven.  Steven was there, too. He was in his twenties then, lounging on the couch, reading a book. My brother and I were bored. I had a twenty pack of plastic barrettes with little bunnies and duckies and kitty cats on them.  My brother and I asked Steven if we could put all the barrettes in his hair. He said yes. We spent a long time methodically fastening the barrettes into Steven’s hair while he read his book. He was nice enough to leave them in for a while after we were done.

It’s strange for me to think that Steven and his family were going through something so painful while I was I was having such a good time. I don’t feel guilty about or anything quite like that. It’s more like, thinking about Steven being gone makes me feel very appreciate for all the people in my life and the impact they’ve had on me, no matter how great or small. I have lifelong friends like Amy, Dennis, and Jenny who have evolved into my family, giving me such support and inspiration. In the last two years, I’ve made friends through school and judo who I know have made me stronger.

Life is full of loss, but I think it also comes with some pretty incredible gains.

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Birds of a feather.

July 18, 2011 7 comments

Right now, I’m visiting an old friend who actually feels like a new friend in a lot of ways. Kristin and I first met when she was about 4 or 5, and I was maybe 7 or 8. Her dad was my first judo coach, and our families became friends. Our dads even work together now. Anyway, as far as little kids go, I remember Kristin and I being very shy, very quiet and very serious. That’s probably why we got along so well. We spent several years with my brother, her little sister, and all the other judo kids running around empty parking lots, terrorizing caterpillars and playing in traffic while our parents went through the adult class after us kids were done. Sometimes we all went out for pizza afterwords and us kids drank pitchers of caffeinated soda at 10 at night, spilling plenty to both embarrass our parents  and pose a nuisance for a weary wait-staff to clean up in our wake.

It was awesome.

Of course, I ended up quitting, and while Kristin stuck it out a little longer than I did, she ended up quitting,too. We didn’t go to the same schools and I left the Philadelphia area for college. After she finished her undergrad, Kristin took a job in Rhode Island. She and I didn’t really see each other for over a decade. Kristin became one of the many people my dad would mention in passing with little updates that I would file away, but not think about too much.

And just as we both quit, Kristin and I both found ourselves back in judo. My fuzzy memory indicates that Kristin and I reconnected at funerals for each other’s families, but I think what really got us talking again was judo. Kristin started back up before I did, and I think had nervous questions to ask her, which she graciously answered. Maybe about two years ago, she was home visiting her family during Christmas and we met up for lunch. It was not weird at all and also very weird. Not weird because we both felt comfortable around each other due to our families’ history, but I kept thinking how weird it was to be getting along with someone so well that I hadn’t really spent any time with since I was nine or ten. Sure, we talked a little about judo, but also about relationships, our families, school, careers, music, and a bunch of other stuff. We wouldn’t have these conversations as nine and six year-olds, so it was kind of amazing to see that we got excited about the same things, could relate to each other, and that we simply still clicked.

This visit has been pretty fantastic. It’s a unique thing to know someone as a child and then see how you both grow up. I think Kristin and I are significantly less shy and quiet than we used to be, but we still share a common sense of focus and drive when it comes our careers and our training. It’s just been cool to reminisce while learning new things about her, like what her life is like up in Rhode Island, how much she loves books, and how for someone who claims not to know how to cook,  has an incredibly well stocked kitchen.

Also, it’s been really great to have another girl to talk about judo with. My assistant coach is a woman and we’ve had a few intense conversations lately about judo that have been really good for me. Talking with Kristin has been really helpful because she’s significantly more experienced with judo and been back on the mat longer than I have. She can offer me a lot of insight into some of the things I struggle with since she’s struggled with them herself.  I think for all judoka, your commitment to the practice can become intensely personal and grueling, but I do think for women there’s a singular component of adjusting to the reactions of other people, men especially, when they learn that you train for a grappling sport. I’m sure guys who practice judo and BJJ hear plenty of weird comments and questions, but I think a lot of people don’t know what to make of a girl who likes to fight.  Kristin is the perfect person to hash out the ups and downs of judo since she’s extremely logical while remaining incredibly empathetic. And we do share the common experience of having wonderfully blunt fathers who give us the courtesy of not holding back while critiquing our technique. Lucky us, right?

I think what I like about my friendship with Kristin is that it’s not easily definable. Is she a childhood friend? Is she a judo friend? Well, she’s both those things. But during this visit I’ve discovered that we have similar senses of humor, listen to a lot of the same music and have read the same books, like the same kinds of people, and face the same challenges, like hanging up our clothes. The more time I spend with Kristin, the more I admire her and am inspired by her.

Truthfully, I don’t really know how to conclude this post; I’m simply sitting in a coffee shop in Providence, Rhode Island, marveling once again over the incredible people in my life.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

The games we play as children.

As I was trying to fall asleep tonight, my thoughts wandered towards the games I played as a kid. Not board games or the supervised games you play during gym class at school, but the games the kids in my neighborhood played and the ones we played at recess when adult supervision was slightly lax. In retrospect, all of these games are unified by a disturbing element of violence and punishment.

When we lived in Southwest Philly, the beginning of summer denoted the commencement of nightly games of “Manhunt”. My memory is a bit fuzzy on the particulars, but basically all the kids on my block divided into two teams. The first team usually consisted of older kids, say 13 and up and any younger kid deemed bad-ass enough to join their ranks. Let’s call this team the Jailers. The second team was made up of all the younger kids and anyone older who was a whiny crybaby. Let’s call this team the Prisoners. More or less, “Manhunt” was team hide and seek. But it was freaking terrifying. The prisoners had about a two block radius to hide. You could hide in groups or pairs, but that was risky. Hiding places could be in some stranger’s storm cellar, underneath a porch, underneath a car, in a fortress of trash cans–whatever the physical environment allowed. Basically, you sat tight in your hiding spot until you heard a gang of Jailers roll up (they always traveled in packs) and held your breath and prayed they wouldn’t see you. And if they did see you and called you out, you had to run your ass off so they couldn’t catch you. If you are, say, six years old, getting chased by a group of 13 year-olds is monstrously petrifying. They are going to catch you. Then they will throw you in “jail”. And they will be vicious about it. The game would go on for hours because it was officially over when everyone was caught, but since you could escape from jail, this could take forever. I remember sometimes being called to come home because it was my bedtime, and I had to try to be sneaky and run like hell to make it back to my house without getting caught. Occasionally, I made it the front steps with a bunch of Jailers at my heels, and I’d run up to door and clutch the knob, out of breath and practically plead, “My mom said I have to come in. So I’m not playing anymore!” This was frowned upon.

At school, we like to play Wall Ball, which we also called Suicide. This game is very simple. Throw a racquet or tennis ball against the side of the building. Everyone tries to catch the ball as it bounces of the wall. If someone catches the ball after it bounces on the ground, it’s that person’s turn to throw it against the wall. If someone catches your ball without letting it hit the ground, you have to book it to the wall before the person that caught you throw pegs you as hard as they can. Then you’re out. Now, getting hit with a tennis ball hurts. Getting hit with a racquet ball? Oh my god. That stings.

In a similar vein, I have a friend who said the kids on her block used to play a game where one group ran back and forth across someone’s yard while another group pelted them with acorns. This was one of their favorite games. When my brother and I were really little, say four and six, one of our favorite past times (aside from getting into arguments over inanities in order to have an excuse to beat the shit out of each other, which went on for years) was also quite simple. We’d takes turn sitting in a cardboard box while the other person ran at full speed across the carpeted floor and rammed the person sitting in the box smack into the wall. We loved this.

So why, as children, when left to our own devices do we create these “games”? What are we absorbing, and subsequently acting out? What is it in human nature that makes children incorporate dominating and being dominated, seeking out and cultivating terror, ignoring common sense and risking physical harm, all in the guise of game? And why do they only do this when they think no adults are looking?

Categories: Childhood, Games, Human Nature