25 August 2013


Friday morning, I had to explain dates and times to someone in Spanish. I felt clumsy and halting. I can understand much if not most of what I hear in Spanish (I am that person answering the question in English before the interpreter starts talking), but the words slip out of my head when I try to speak, and sometimes they come out with French pronunciation.

I was annoyed with how far gone my Spanish felt, and I decided, finally, to do something about it. 

I have a friend here who has been bugging me to come to his Spanish conversation group, but I know myself and my twinge of perfectionism, and I know that if I go to a conversation group with my Spanish as rusty as it is, I will just sit back and avoid talking for fear of making mistakes.

Instead, I called his Spanish school, and by Saturday afternoon I was meeting with the teacher in a bright room in a refurbished firehouse. He gave me a book and an introductory lesson, and he set me up for 1.5 hour lessons every week for the next ten weeks. 

I left and sat outside at the tea place, working on the next lesson, whispering the words out loud. Even in a few hours of saying the words, things are coming back to me, and television is sounding less like the French -see-oh and more like the Spanish -see-yown.

"Your pronunciation is very good," the teacher said, "except when you start to pronounce things like the French." Yeah, about that. The French I crammed in Montreal in 2002 pretty much killed off the Spanish c. 1993-2000, but somewhere in there are the words I once knew, and I'm going to get them back. I have vowed to stop worrying about whether I'm making mistakes. I'm just going to start talking, and writing, and trying. My goal is not to need an interpreter.

24 August 2013

dancing wall

There was a festival in the square downtown, yesterday, and I headed over there after work. Three of my friends were a bottle deep into the wine.

One person left and two more arrived. 

There was more wine. I don't like wine much, but the next three bottles were prosecco, and I can do sparkly wine.

"I'm so excited to see you out having fun!" V. said. (I have been mayyyy-be a little stressed since I moved back here. Also I don't often drink, and I think by having fun she really meant partaking of the vino.) 

The one guy in the group had stepped away when a middle-aged man came by and said, "My band is going to be on at nine, and you girls have to come dance down by the stage. Here, let me take a photo with you to send to my friends to show them the beautiful ladies so they will hurry up and get here."

We weren't quite sure what to expect of the band, but when they came on, they played danceable Italian songs and danceable American classics and danceable Euro-pop and we did, in fact, go down into the middle of the square and dance for over an hour. 

Every now and again one of us would get drawn into the conga line, or a random person would grab our arm and prance in a circle, or a Saudi student would leave his friends to show us a footwork pattern that we never could quite replicate.

Every now and again we would all stop to watch one of those couples who really know what they are doing as they sashayed across the bricks.

From across the floor, I watched a girl dance with a man. She seemed to be done, but he wouldn't let her go. He pulled her back again and again.

"I don't like what's going on with that guy in the pink shirt," I told V. "He won't let go of the girl in the green dress."

I wasn't sure what to do, but V. is a dance floor expert. We went over just as the girl's friends were prying her out of the guy's grasp, and V. and I turned our backs to him and made a dancing wall between him and the girl. "Are you okay?" V. asked, and the girl said, "That was scary!"

Once the girl's group had moved away from the guy, we went back to our own people, to dance until the music ended.

22 August 2013


I wrapped my ankle for two days, until I read on Dr. Google that compression diminishes circulation and circulation promotes healing. Then I unwrapped it and gingerly took my first steps outside the safety of the wrap, like a colt that is afraid that its legs won't hold it up. 

My ankle holds me up, and if I am a little more worried than usual about the risks of turning it at any given moment, well, I think that is only fair.

I bought a little wrap thing that billed itself as moderate support, for workouts, because I want to keep my ankle strong by forcing it to move, rather than putting it into one of those lace-up things that hold it stiff. 

Then I went off to fighting class.

I know.

My excuse is that I thought we were doing a belt test, and usually during belt tests we just watch while the person getting the belt rolls with everyone in the gym until the testee is exhausted and looks like he (they've all been hes so far, that I've seen) wants to die. I figured I could watch and baby my ankle at the same time.

Only there were so many people there that they sent the stand-up people to do stand-up (this included me) and the white and yellow belts BJJ people had class on the other mat and only the orange and up belts watched the rolling.

I wrapped my ankle in the little wrap thing and told myself I would take it easy.


It's like I don't even know myself when it comes to fighting. Look, I am totally a person who knows how to chill. I can turn off work mode in an instant. I can spend entire weekend days lazing about. I can leave the bathroom uncleaned until I begin to worry that there might be new species evolving in there.

I cannot go half-in at fighting.

So I worked hard, and it was fantastic. My ankle held up. 

At the end, at the sparring time, one of the owners came over and sparred with us. This guy is tall, maybe 6'4" or so, and he has these incredibly long arms. He doesn't even bother to hold his gloves up near his face to protect it, he just sort of swings these lazy, looping punches that reach you only because his arms are so long. As they came in, I kept thinking there was no way, he was too far away, but then there they came.

I haven't sparred in months, and I've never sparred with someone with so much reach. I'm used to being able to hang back and just jab at people, because I have pretty long arms myself, but I was forced to cover up and move in close, where I could pummel him for a while. 

I only realized afterwards how nervous I had been. Sparring with someone so big is intimidating.

19 August 2013


I was having a day that vacillated between below-average and mediocre, just due to everything going wrong (although I wasn't really feeling below-average to mediocre; I was feeling fine) and so I was excited to go to fighting class, because fighting makes everything better.

And it did.

We were doing jabs today. I expected to be back to that place where I have to lift my left hand onto the steering wheel, because that is just how wimpy my left arm is, plus I took some time off to go to the Mitten and I've been sick. I am not in top form. 

Well! It turns out that we are all too good at jabs, so we got to add crosses for a while, and all was well. I didn't even feel that excessively tired.

At the end, we do conditioning for five or ten minutes. I don't mind conditioning. I like the fact that I am working my body hard, which is not something I get to do in my work day. And I'm there for the exercise, after all.

If given a choice, I always start with the burpees. Mostly because I hate burpees, and I'd rather get them out of the way at the beginning.

So I started with the burpees, and then I did the kicks and the punches and the lifting the heavy bag and then the stair-step where you go side to side, stepping up in the middle. I was halfway through the rotation.

When the buzzer went off, I took an elegant little sideways leap off the stair-step, excited to start the station where you throw down the weight ball as hard as you can, and I landed directly on the outside front part of my ankle and collapsed onto the floor. 

The guys in the cage with me (the class was all guys today except me) crowded around and asked if I was okay, and I said I was fine except maybe I wasn't going to get up yet.

I wasn't really fine. I was talking to prevent the involuntary tears. 

I sprained my ankle really badly about 13 years ago, working with kids. One of the kids ran away, and I ran out to the street looking for him. When I didn't see him in either direction, I went sprinting back toward the workplace, hit the edge of a pothole in a parking lot, and went down hard. I don't think my ankle ever returned to its previous un-swollen size, and it's been vulnerable ever since.

But it hasn't been this bad since, either.

So I'm thinking it might have been a mistake to ride my bike to work after a couple of weeks off and being sick in between and go all out in fighting class after a couple of weeks off and being sick in between. It could have happened anyway, I know, but I can't help but feel that exhaustion contributed.  

I stood up and did the weight ball station, but the rest of the stations involved putting weight on both feet, and I couldn't.

I skipped out on what would have been my first sparring class, because it just hurt too much. 

"If it were anyone else, I would have thought they were just trying to get out of conditioning," my coach said, but he knows me better than that. 

The walk to the car had me in tears. Putting weight on my foot was unbearable. 

I sat in the car for a minute, trying to figure out how I would possibly use that foot to push the gas and brake pedals. If I didn't drive a stick, I would have considered trying to use my left foot for those pedals, but I needed my left foot for the clutch.

At least it wasn't my left foot, I consoled myself. I don't know if I could have driven home if it was my left foot. The clutch needs more pressure than the gas or brake.

My driving might have been a bit erratic. It's very difficult to apply steady pressure to a gas pedal when any motion but a 90 degree angle hurts your ankle so much that you cannot tolerate it.

I am icing it right now, but the current status is that I can stand on it as long as the pressure is applied straight down. Any turning or twisting or extending causes gasps of pain.

I am displeased with myself and also with this below-average to mediocre day.

17 August 2013

what I saw

I took the train home yesterday, because the Prime Number Bus pulled away as I was walking up the block to the stop. (I could have looked up when it was arriving online, but instead I just meandered over there when I was ready, and the timing was bad.) It would have been half an hour for the next Prime Number Bus, and the other bus that runs close to my house was 15 minutes away.

It's only a 0.6 mile walk from the train to my house (the Prime Number Bus runs 0.2 miles from my house), and I was in a hurry to get home, so I hopped on a train. 

I love the train. It's even more interesting than the bus, because there are more people on it and no conductor and people stand all around leaning against the windows and holding onto the posts. 

There was a woman whose little son was in a stroller. He was about 18 months old, and he was fully adorable. I kept looking at him and smiling. He was clearly getting annoyed with the world, though, and his mom looked stressed. When he started crying, she gave up trying to calm him and buried herself in texting. I don't mind crying babies. He was still awfully cute, even in tears.

An older woman came down the few stairs from the only-seating area. She complemented my dress, and I smiled and said thank you around my ear buds. As she got off at the next stop, she pointed over at the adorable baby. I smiled, thinking she was noticing his cuteness, too, but instead she said, as she got off the train, "Pay attention to your baby, bitch," and I realized that she wasn't pointing at the cute baby but at his stressed out and very young mom. I couldn't even respond, because she was already gone.

A group of teenagers got on, all bluff and bravado. We were getting off at the same stop, and they were closer to the door, so I looked at the one nearest the door and smiled, expecting him to step out the door, and he smiled in return and stepped back into his friends and let me off first.

I thought about two things, walking the 0.6 miles home. 

First, I love living in a city, where you see and interact with people so much more than you can in the suburbs where everyone hides behind the windshield of their car.

And second, you do sometimes get out of the world what you see in it. The older woman expected bad things from a young mom with a crying baby, and that's what she got. I expected an adorable baby and his stressed out mom, and that's what I got. I've watched negative interactions between teenagers and adults on the train in the past, when the adults expected the teenagers to be hoodlums. I expected nice kids hiding behind bravado, and that's what I got. 

It doesn't always work out that way, but it's pretty great when it does.

15 August 2013

higher grade ish

Traveling seems not to be good for one's health, much as I love it.

I got back Monday night, and by Wednesday afternoon I was thinking, "I am even more allergic to Gone West than I remember! This place is trying to kill me!"

Or, you know, I could have just picked up a cold on the plane. Or from the munchkins. (As I was leaving their house, my niece clung to me and said, over and over, "You CAN'T go! You CAN'T go!" My heart, it is broken.)

I knew it was a cold when I kept waking up last night because all the snot in my body had settled on whatever side of my head that was facing the pillow. My allergies are always better inside at night. 

There is something vaguely satisfying about having a cold as opposed to allergies. I mean, I feel awful, but I know it will pass. I can take things for it. It isn't just the forever-and-ever low-grade ish.

Now I am off to happily take some ibuprofen and children's dimetapp and go to bed.

14 August 2013

light x 2

I flew overnight to the Mitten, yet again. (I am a sucker for the cheap flight and maximizing my time there, regardless of the discomfort involved in getting there.)

I flew first class, courtesy of that practically round-the-world trip to the Netherlands last year, and the fact that united was practically the only airline that flew into/out of Universe City. And yet, I did not get that much sleep. I finally figured out why, which is that the first class seats on united are placed juuuuust far enough away from the side of the plane that you cannot lean against the window, ruining my whole general plane plan of just keeling over against the slope of the interior wall and sleeping. Harrumph.

It was fine. Somehow I managed to be That Person, which I rarely am on planes. I have flown enough that I usually just tuck myself into my corner and sit there, accepting drinks when offered. And I wasn't That Jerk-Face Person. I was just That Incompetent Person. My headrest was always in the wrong place when it was supposed to be stowed for take-off and landing (it was really hard to move it up and down). I didn't know where to find my tray table (in the armrest). I woke my seatmate up when I got up to go to the bathroom. You know, That Person, the mild version.

But as I sat there, unable to sleep, the eastern horizon began to glow. There were thunderstorms off to the north, and so the pale light of the day glowed above the dark clouds and the warm light of the lightning glowed in the dark clouds, and I spent quite some time trying to capture it on camera.

This is the best I got, and I think it's pretty awesome for an iPhone* photo taken from a plane window:

* I put my phone in airplane mode before I turned it off for take-off. I am skeptical that a phone in the plane would actually be close enough to interfere with navigation systems (even though I have heard them interfere with sound systems), but I still follow the rules just in case, unlike the girl in my row on my last trip back to Gone West, who was texting as the plane was taking off and landing. If only I were the tattling sort.

06 August 2013



I got my first stripe on my glove in stand-up fighting, and I got promoted to the non-beginner class.

My instructor used the words, "good all-around fighter" in his little promotion speech.

It's funny, because when I first started fighting stuff, the belt/promotion concept terrified me. There is a reason I started with a program that has no belt but black. I didn't want to have to test. I didn't want to be judged and found lacking, I suppose.

Now I love the rankings. I don't love them because they prove one person better than another. I love them because they give you something to mark your progress. 

I don't need to have a black belt right this second, or even a blue belt, but it feels good to be able to say, "I worked hard, and I got better, and I earned the color I"m wearing around my waist."

04 August 2013

cat fight (literal)

I think I mentioned that my roommate got a new cat. The intention was that the new cat and the old cat would become friends and keep one another company.

This has not happened. The old cat was kind of a jerk to the new cat at the beginning (there was hissing and chasing) while the new cat was sick, and now the new cat is full of hatred.

The old cat keeps sidling up to the new cat, hoping for friendship, and the new cat hisses and drives him off.

I was not particularly paying attention to the cats until, a few moments ago, suddenly a full-on cat fight broke out in the middle of my room. The two cats were tearing at one another, snarling, up on their back legs, not three feet from my bed. 

What do you do when cats are fighting? It was very alarming.

I didn't dare try to get in between them lest I should end up scratched. I just yelled at them and watched, worried.

They stopped after half a minute or so, but now my floor is littered with tufts of cat fur in both of their colors, and the cats are still pouting on opposite ends of the hallway.

03 August 2013


I have never before owned a car in a place that cared about my car's emissions. The Mitten does not care (it is Car Central). Rwanda does not care. Universe City might care if it were bigger. And I didn't have a car in New York or last time around in Gone West.

Now I do have a car, and I live in Gone West again. They care about emissions here.

My vehicle registration expires this month. I had to look at the last registration to be sure of the date, because I'm used to the Mitten method of having the registration expire on your birthday. Not so here. Here it expires on the date that the first owner originally bought the car, which happens to be August 16 for my car.

I didn't get the paperwork for my registration in the mail, presumably because I forgot to change my address with DMV until a month or so ago, so I had no reminder of this registration expiration thing. I just vaguely remembered that it expires in August and got paranoid about driving it on any date beginning with August, and vaguely remembered that I had heard people talk about the emissions testing here.

My car needs a new muffler and probably some vacuum system thing replaced, so I figured I ought to get those things fixed in order to have a hope of passing. Only, well, my bike is also broken, so I need my car. And I am leaving for the Mitten on Tuesday, so I don't have much time. And I don't have a mechanic here yet. I asked the K.s and a friend at work and everyone said they knew someone but no one ever got me the info. So.

I read up online on how to pass the test. They suggested nonsense like fixing any problems with the car, but again: no time!

They don't charge you if your car fails the test. I had nothing but a couple of hours to lose by trying it.

Instead of actually fixing my car, I drove around in circles for about 20 minutes, and then got on the highway and drove about ten miles north and back, all to get the engine properly warmed up and lubricated, and then I got lost getting off the highway trying to find the place. 

By the time I made it to the testing center, it was 12:40. It closes at 1 on Saturday. I held my breath and hoped for no line.

Brilliance: there was no line, and my car passed. How? I have no idea. I can only assume that the standards are lower than I expected. (All vehicles from 1996 on have the same standards.)

Now I just have to take an afternoon off work to go wait at the DMV to renew my registration. I can't do it by mail or online, thanks to the lost-in-transit renewal form. It's just me and the take a number system. Yippee.

01 August 2013


On the train, riding out of downtown toward my martial arts studio, I thought about how much I love this city.

I love the blunt, graffiti-ed back sides of buildings against the train tracks.

I love the way the clouds hang over the bridges.

I love the crowds on the train.

I love the familiar smell of my martial arts studio.

For the first time, waiting for class to start, I looked around the studio and felt at home.

It isn't the same as my Universe City studio. That was my introduction to martial arts, and it cannot be replaced. I feel a fierce loyalty to the people there that goes beyond just a gym. And there is something special about it, too: the kung fu bow when you step onto the floor and when you leave, the counting in unison, the instant focus when the instructor starts talking, the cheering each other on, the way the whole class yells responses. ("Ready?" "READY!")

But this one is starting to feel like me, too, in a different way. This gym is younger, on the whole, and more casual, and the people in it go out to watch fights together. They have a permanent table at the Mexican restaurant around the corner. They feel like people I might end up keeping as friends outside the world of martial arts.

BJJ class was good, and afterwards we lined up again. We only really line up at the end of class when there is something to be given out - a belt, a stripe, something, and I look forward to seeing who gets something. Someday I even hope it will be me! (Okay, it was me a few weeks ago when I got promoted to the non-beginner class in bjj. Someday I hope it will be me again!)

Okay, it was me.

Remember how I was all embarrassed when I got student of the month in Universe City?

I am student of the month here now, and I feel almost more embarrassed. Student of the month is for kiiiids. Give it to a kiiiiid.

And it feels a little excessive to be student of the month in two studios in two different cities, albeit two years apart.

At the same time, as I tried to explain to my roommate, I work hard at martial arts. It's kind of my thing. I am there every single time I am allowed to be. School may have always come easily to me. You may find me surfing the internet on the weekend when I should be cleaning the house. But when I go to fight, I am all focus. I watch carefully and I imitate and I practice and I get better. I am that annoying person who shushes other students when they try to keep talking over the instructor, who dances around cheering people on at the end of class when we are all exhausted, who is told to start at the second step, or the third step, because I clearly need to work harder.

It's nice to have other people recognize how hard you work. Apparently both the stand up and jiu jitsu coaches agreed.

I got a bumper sticker, and a set of patches to put on my gi, and there is a plaque in the studio with my picture on it.

All of this gave me the courage to ask a coach to roll with me. I haven't dared before, because no one looked available, but I really wanted to try it, so I finally braved it, and it was so fun! She went easy on me, of course, but I wasn't instantly defeated. It was fantastic. I love this stuff.