29 June 2011

I have a sword.

I've always wanted a sword. When we were kids, my cousins and brother and I would make swords, and I still have the last one I used in the closet at my parents' house: two pieces of 1"x 2" wood nailed together to form a hilt. We used to run around in the woods behind Oma and Pops' house building forts and planning battles and generally creating mayhem. When I needed a few minutes of quiet, I would climb the tree in the middle of the fort, up and up until I was alone in the high branches, very possibly with my sword.

So, yeah, I've always wanted a sword, and now I have one. It is shiny. It has a hilt wrapped in fabric and a red silk square tied to the hilt end.

I have a sword for kung fu. In the summer, we do a weapons form on the top of a hill in Universe City. So far, I have learned how to hold the sword, and about ten stances of the form. The exciting part is whipping the sword around, which is also the scary part, because I am not exactly the most coordinated person ever, and I am a little bit afraid that at some point I am going to lose my grip on the sword and it’s going to go flying through the air. Hopefully not then landing on some person’s head.

The one minor problem with my sword is that using it involves holding an object of weight in my right hand like a tennis racket, and waving it about. I might possibly have mentioned, back when I was going to occupational therapy for my wrists, how my occupational therapist once told me that if I ever took up tennis again, I should never come back to her, because she would refuse to see me if I wasted her work that way. Good news! She is back in New York and cannot stop me. (Bad news: I have to sleep in my wooden arm again after kung fu.) I am not giving up my sword for some measly little nerve problem.


I am slightly embarrassed to admit exactly how many photos I have of myself with this sword, because there are a lot, and most of them do not depict me in any actual kung fu sword stance. Okay, no. I am not actually embarrassed to admit how many photos I have of myself with the sword (because nothing, seriously, is cooler than owning a sword). I am embarrassed to admit on how many occasions I have randomly said to people, “I have a sword,” and that comment has resulted in the taking of photographs. (Hint: more than twice.)

Oh, please. If you had a sword, you’d want to tell people, too. It’s amazingly cool.

I wish I had known that you could get a sword for only $38. WITH SCABBARD. I probably would have bought one years ago, and then my brother and I could have killed each other with it. Or I could at least have beaten him with the flat of it. What good is a sword you can’t hit someone with? And once you outgrow beating up your siblings, there really is no one left who it is acceptable to actually beat up.

Possibly this is why I take fighting classes. That, and, obviously, the chance to own a SWORD!


Yesterday at fighting class an experienced student told the girl I was working with to strike my arm forcefully when she did the block. “Won’t that hurt her?” she asked.

“No,” he said, “she conditions for that.”

Which is true. Not only do I beat myself with a phone book (not often enough), but in kung fu we do drills of hitting our forearms together to strengthen them.

I was amused.

I was even more amused at the end of class when a woman I had worked with on Monday, a brand new student, talked about how she had thrown me around while practicing how to get out of headlocks from behind.

“She wouldn’t even take a turn to practice!” she told the kung fu students. (I had already practiced, on someone taller and stronger than me, which is much more what I need than to practice on someone shorter than me. Plus the practice I need is on the falls.)

“I spent the class throwing her around, and she wouldn't even let me help her up."

"Of course I wouldn't let you help me up!" I said. "The last thing you want to do after you take someone down is help them up. You shouldn't get into that habit."

"I hit her in the ear, accidentally. But even though she was the one being thrown around, it was pretty clear who was the badass.”

Only the new students think that of me.

28 June 2011

supreme running goal of all time

I glanced out my window just now, and the sky is so very beautiful and strange. The upper part is periwinkle, heading toward indigo. Then there is a long, dark cloud, and below it the remaining sky, toward the sun, is bright yellow. I can't stop staring.

I went out for another run tonight. I am determined to build my endurance for fighting and hiking, and also to be a runner. Who runs. A runner who runs. As runners do. I get so excited by the fact that look! I'm a runner! that I want to announce it to everyone, but I have to keep it quiet around my martial arts studio, because my instructor, er, well, kind of forbade me to run, at least until my knees started not being a mess because of kung fu.

(My knees are a little better now, thanks to, I am not kidding, all of the following things: being careful about my stances, glucosamine with chondroitin, massaging Blue Emu into them twice a day, daily ice packs, fairly regular ibuprofen when they hurt, and an ancient Chinese way of sitting back on them that is supposed to fix arthritis. Life becomes so high maintenance once you pass 25. The running doesn't seem to be doing them any harm, though, as long as I run on the wood-chip dirt path.)

So, I ran. I told myself that I would run 3 miles, however slowly I needed to run them. I would not rush. But! But! But! It only took me 34.5 minutes! I could almost run with my dad!

That's pretty much my supreme running goal of all time: run three miles with my dad, and not want to die the entire time.

23 June 2011

over and over... (fill in the blank)

I have stayed up too late every single day this week. This is probably why the fact that the closest coffee place made my tea too weak AGAIN made me so mad I could have cried. (This silly place believes that having expensive tea is a substitute for putting enough tea leaves in your cup to give it flavor. I vowed never to get tea there again, but it was close, and my throat hurt... bah.)

Fortunately, I did not take my exhaustion out on any people. I just fumed about the tea all the walk back to the office, and then drank my too-weak tea while dealing perfectly nicely with actual people. Go me.

And now I'm up too late again, for the same reason as Tuesday night and last night: too much kung fu. I am furiously determined to learn the entire 72-stance form by next week, and this meant staying an extra hour and 10 minutes after advanced fighting class today, getting patient lessons from a classmate, and then I came home and did it for another hour. The good news is that I finally got it right, here at home, and did it right at least half a dozen times in the little space of our living room. (My roommate, sitting on the couch, kept worrying that I would hit my foot on the coffee table, but I kept my kicks short, and all was well.)

I think I have earned my bed, tonight.

But man, I have a lot left to do this week.

(The title of this post would make sense if you were in my fighting or kung fu classes, where the instructor constantly says, "Over and over... that's how we learn," until I'm not sure I know any other way to follow up on that phrase.)

21 June 2011

runner, again

I celebrated the longest day of the year by going jogging. I probably shouldn't be jogging - kung fu is doing enough of a number on my knees - but I have yet to give up my fantasy of being a runner, and I need to work on my endurance so that I can hold out longer in fighting class. So when I realized that there is a dirt track in a park right behind my fighting studio, dirt tracks being easier on knees, I made my way over there tonight.

I was pleasantly surprised, actually, at how well I did. I only ran two miles, with a 2 minute break in between to find the map and figure out if I'd been running the right track, but I ran them in a comfortable 11 minutes each. That won't win any prizes, but considering that I normally have to literally jog as slowly as my legs will go in order to keep moving, I consider it a win. It is much, much better than I did the last time I tried to run, last fall, soon after I started fighting class. Five minutes of running wiped me out then. Tonight, I could have kept running for quite a while, had I not needed to come back to my house and work on learning xiao hong chuan, the form that I have to know if I ever want to test for a yellow belt in kung fu.

(I have a coworker who claims that a real martial art for adults only has three belts: white, brown, and black. I, however, need the instant gratification of the colored belts, thank you very much.)


Friday last, I drove over the mountains with my window open to the sun and breeze, singing along to the radio until I lost all stations but public radio, which played folky sorts of songs that perfectly fit the sky and the pines and the river. As the last of the music faded to static, I put my hand against the radio so it could use my body as an antenna, and then I turned the radio off and propped my ipod up on the dashboard, below the speedometer, to provide my driving soundtrack.

Over there, the days were utterly perfect: clear and sunny, cooling in the evening. We all spent more time outside or in the 91-degree heated pool than we did inside, soaking up the Vitamin D that we do not get for so much of the year on the sheltered side of the mountains. I got a little bit of sunburn on my legs and the part of my hair, just enough to feel like summer was about to fall, and then I drove up the long, desolate road through the high desert to Ye Little Town, Northwest, where I reveled in a night and day with the B.s, whose house feels like yet another home. It's good to have some homes, especially when the town where you live doesn't feel like one.

14 June 2011

ninja or not

Because kung fu is not as easy as fighting class, and because fighting class is mostly boxing and low kicks, I rarely feel like a ninja.

Come to think of it, I don't actually even know what a ninja is. Is kung fu generally associated with real ninjas? (Answer, according to wikipedia, source of all knowledge: No.)

So being a ninja is altogether out, then, since I am doing a martial art from the wrong country.

But you know that thing, that I guess I was associating with ninjas but maybe I should actually associate with kung fu, where a person does a nice high kick and then spins around and backfists a person from the other side? That thing. We were practicing that in kung fu yesterday (it was really more like: round kick, three punches, front kick, round kick, backfist, low kick, backfist, three punches, if you really want to know, which you don't), and there is something about whipping around like that, ponytail flying, that made me feel like I actually knew what I was doing, for perhaps the first time in kung fu.

Although not like a ninja, apparently, even though that is what my ignorant North American mind was thinking.

13 June 2011

still life with poppies

I sat outside Saturday afternoon, at the tea shop I used to walk to when I lived in Gone West. The sun was out, the restaurant across the street had live music in their courtyard, and a horde of naked bicyclists rode by. I felt the way I do in the afternoon on a sunny day in Gone West, as if the world is so perfect that it is impossible to be unhappy.

I even walked past my favorite poppies, and they were there, just like last year.

It stayed warm into the evening. S. and F. and N. and I went to a soccer game, frankly the only sport in which I actually understand all that is going on, and I had not yet put on my coat by the end of it.

I really need to live only in cities big enough to have major league sports teams.

In the end, there were creative drinks and gooey mac and cheese, late into the night, and a drive back to a familiar bed in a cozy house, the house where I feel so relaxed that I cannot quite remember that I have to get up early and work at the end of the weekend.

09 June 2011


One of the instructors accidentally elbowed me in the nose today in fighting class. It hurt. It hurt quite a lot, actually, and it took a few minutes before I was sure that I was going to be able to keep the involuntary tears to the few that collected in my eyes.

I am having one of those weeks of being overwhelmed. My reaction to being overwhelmed generally goes like this: Panic. Spend some time trying to breathe and focus. Realize that it's not working and give up on the overwhelming stuff and get some extra sleep. Come back and be super extra productive for a while. Panic. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The good news is that I can sleep even when I am overwhelmed. It is, in fact, the best way to forget the overwhelmedness. The other good news is that I have been super extra productive, even though there is that much more to be done. The final good news is that it's almost the weekend.

I can see the sunset from my living room, and it's distractingly beautiful.

08 June 2011


At a stoplight today, a Land Rover pulled up next to me. I caught sight of it, as one does, out of the corner of my eye, and it seemed perfectly normal until suddenly my head snapped back around to look at it, because it was white and it had a roof rack and an extra front bumper and really, it should have belonged to some aid agency in Africa.

I saw today that the organization I worked for in Rwanda has a job opening in South Sudan.


06 June 2011


Sometimes, when you have to deliberately stop yourself and remember how to breathe because the list of things to do, people to call, papers to file is so overwhelmingly long, it feels really good to beat the shit out of a pad, even - especially - when your lungs start screaming.

I have no idea how I would survive if I did not have fighting class to get me out of the office and doing something physical nearly every day. It keeps me sane.

05 June 2011


I go bowling approximately once every five years, which is to say that I think I last went during law school.

"What is a good score?" asked R., the Kiwi in the group.

"300 is a perfect score," I told him, "if you get all the pins down every time, but I am thrilled with anything over 70."

And I would have been thrilled with a 70, too, especially after bowling a 36 on the first game.

After that dismal showing, I began to remember something, vaguely, about needing a heavier ball. I upgraded from my measly 8 pound ball to a 10 and then a 12 and finally a 14, until of the six guys and three women, I was using the heaviest ball. Somehow I need the heft. I just sort of toss the lighter ball all over the lane, but a heavier ball has enough inertia of its own to roll slowly down the middle of the lane. This bowling alley shows your speed as well as your score, and mine was consistently lowest, but my scores went up with the heavier ball, to an 86, and then a 73.

I was happy.

(Side note: a group of 30-somethings should not be allowed to do any activity involving balls. The innuendo is far too easy.)


I left church early today to go to a martial arts seminar, but I did that thing where you think you know where something is and then when you get there the something that is in the place you thought you would find the something you need is not the right something, and then you drive around for a while looking for the right something but 1. you do not find the right something, and 2. the class you wanted to take has already long started.

So instead I went back to a coffee shop and sat outside until I remembered that I was right by church and people from church were probably going to drive by and wonder why I wasn't at the class I said I was going to be at when I was chatting at the pre-church breakfast.

And just at that moment, someone from church drove by.

I retreated home, and added some milk to my bizarrely chocolately mocha to tone it down. (If it's too chocolately for me, there is probably scarcely a person in the world who can handle the chocolatiness.)


The sky is occasionally blue again, here, and I feel homesick. Blue sky does that to me, because in the blue sky I can see the jet trails and I know that somewhere up there are people who are going somewhere, while I'm stuck here.

02 June 2011

camp making

When I heard the weather forecast, I most definitely was not planning to camp for the whole weekend. I had M.'s tent and N.'s sleeping bag - good to -15 degrees F - and I'd forked out the cash for my own thermarest (which is not actually called a sleeping pad, being too thick, but a camp bed; yes, I had taken mockery for the wimpiness of owning such a cushy pad), but I did not actually intend to stay anywhere cold and wet. I had nefarious plans, you see, to bolt back to the K.s' house at the first sign of rain.

Except that it was sunny, that first day, and there were water droplets raining down from the cliffs over the trail, and who can resist that? And then there was this awesome salad dressing/everything sauce, made of sesame oil and soy sauce, and who can resist that? And then it was late, and dark, and I had a sleeping bag good down to -15 degrees F and a 2.5 inch camp bed, so I climbed into my little tent and fell asleep.

In the morning, we climbed up to look down on the world like birds do, and then further up and in through the woods, until we came down again into a tourist attraction so busy that I felt dizzy, after the silence and the emptiness.

It was strange to camp so close to Gone West. At the end of each day, I wanted to suggest a pub or pizza place in Gone West, since that's what you do after a day of hiking in that area, when you live in Gone West, but instead we retreated to a strangely idyllic campground close to the city.

The K.s had made bets on whether I would last the weekend, and although I came home with a wet tent and sleeping bag, I did. I even slept in a tent by myself. This is a feat, since I fear the woods. Seriously. I am far more nervous in my parents' house with that backyard of trees (anything could be hiding in them! anything!) than in a house on almost any city street (exceptions, I know, blahblahblah. noted.).

Since I got home, wet sleeping bag and tent in tow, I have done nothing but run about frantically. So badly have I exhausted myself that today I fell asleep on the couch over lunch. I curled up facing the light from the window, set an alarm, and fell immediately and deeply asleep. When the alarm went off, I was slow and disoriented, and also far from recovered from my shorter and shorter nights of sleep.