Friday, January 29, 2016

The First Pre-Test

Tomorrow is the first and, according to some, the most important black belt pre-test. This is a four hour test that will determine whether each of us is really going to go forward to the next test and eventually Power Weekend, when we are tested a final time for our black belts. So, this is a really big deal.

These muscles aren't just for show
I have no idea right now whether I'm physically ready. I've done my best, week by week, to get into top shape, and I think that I've had a measure of success. But, I've also had annoying injuries, including shin splints and some persistent bursitis in my shoulders. I've had great running weeks and not great running weeks, and great push-up weeks and not great push-up weeks. The only things that I've been consistently good at are crunches and skipping. So, tomorrow could be physically great, or physically terrible, and I really can't know which it will be in advance.

The expectations for tomorrow are shrouded in mystery, as are the tasks we'll be asked to complete. A few of the people who have already got their black belts are gleeful as they warn us, with a twinkle in their eye, about how difficult it will be (e.g. there will be buckets nearby in case we have to be sick). There's a little bit of that old passage-to-maturity ritual feeling to it - 'we went through this, and now you will go through it, too, and we will keep the secret that was kept from us.' I understand it, but not knowing is obviously what drives the nervousness and anxiety about the testing. It's a mental game, as much as a physical one.

Mentally, I think I'm doing alright. I know that my emotions are my weakness. I sometimes have exercise-induced asthma, but I know how to control it. It first happened in high school, during a rugby game. I was in pain, exhausted, hot, and pissed off. Through the experience of years, I have figured out that it's fine to be in pain, fine to be exhausted, and fine to be hot. It's the pissed off part that gets me into trouble. When I feel frustration mounting in my chest, I know that my throat is about to constrict and the wheezing will start, and suddenly I won't be able to get my breath. I know how to talk myself back from that by telling myself to calm down, and breathe deeply. Tomorrow, keeping my temper in check and receiving each new instruction with calmness (joy, maybe??) will be my greatest challenge.

Last night I dreamed that my red-topped attendance card (a large rectangular piece of card stock that is used to record our attendance, and is colour-coded for belt level) had a thick, bold black line across the top of it. I didn't wake up feeling over-confident about this weekend. At first, I didn't even connect it. But I'm a bit weird when it comes to dreams; I think they often give us clues about ourselves and our actions. I think my dream was showing me the future, but not in a prophetic way; it was showing me something that I want and will be true, as long as I keep working as hard as I have been, and stay dedicated.

I'm not worried about failing the test tomorrow, but I also don't think I'm going to get a gold star at the end. For me and my teammates who have been working hard since September, this will be a difficult but possible challenge to meet. I will meet it; I will try so hard to surpass it. I'll try to be as sharp, as quick, as strong as possible. I won't be perfect, and I'll be in pain and exhausted, but I'll be calm, and take joy where I can find it, and keep my eyes on that bold black line.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Here Lies Kate: She Got What She Asked For

There's something about the power of intention, something spooky. There's something about telling the universe that you want to achieve certain things, and then finding yourself doing more than just achieving them, but surpassing your own expectations or wildest imaginings.

Just over two years ago, when I was about to turn 30, I wrote a list of things I hoped to achieve in my fourth decade of life. I know now that I could have said that I wanted to achieve them in the first half of my fourth decade; at this rate, I'm going to need some new goals by 35.

You see, some of the things I wanted to do were:
- become an eccentric aunt
- get my PhD
- travel "way more," and move somewhere new
- make a decision about whether to get my black belt
- wear fun things every day
- take more time for snuggles, and remember to love deeply and to be grateful

Well, it's only been two years, and already I can tick half of these off the list. I'm doing my PhD, and I'm actually half-way through it at this point. I decided to do it in Birmingham, England, so in terms of efficiency I managed education and travel quite handily. I am definitely travelling as much as I hoped I would. More, in fact; I think I spent six out of 12 months last year out of the country, so that's quite a lot of travel. Luckily, it hasn't all been to England. Drew and I went to Asia in September, and in February we're going to Australia. We'll be in Scotland in June, as well.

We haven't moved to a new city, but I think the PhD sort of takes care of that one, too. It's not definitely the case that I won't get a job in Toronto, but there's such a slim chance that it's not really worth hoping for, and very much not a good idea to plan for. A new city is in our future, I believe, and I really look forward to that.

In rereading the list that I made when turning 30, I'm amused to notice that I only wanted to "make a decision about whether" to get my black belt in Taekwondo. Well, I definitely decided. I checked out a martial arts school around the corner from our house in January two years ago, and once joining the school there was no going back. Participating in the school means progressing in one's skills, and so since I joined with a brown belt, they let me get back into it at that level, and now I'm only a few months away from achieving black belt. A few months, and a few hundred hours of physical and mental training. Just in case you're curious, everything still hurts.

Regarding becoming an eccentric aunt, I pointed out before that the aunt part was up to other people, but that I could handle the eccentric part. It just so happens that in addition to my two 7-year-old nieces, all of those potential other people who could aunt me have now done so. It's a literal avalanche of babies around here. My sister, my two besties, and four or five other girlfriends are either currently pregnant or have just had babies. For two of these friends, they're already on their second.

So aunthood is well in hand, and the eccentric bit is coming along well, too, depending on who you ask. A friend recently made a comment to Drew and I about having eccentric friends, and I observed that eccentricity is a relative term. To many people, that Drew and I don't want to get married or have kids, that we ride our bikes as our primary transportation, and that we like renting, is enough to make us eccentric to the point of near-unrelatability. It all depends on where you're standing.

The projects of wearing fun things every day, taking time for snuggles, and loving deeply and being grateful are all long-term, on-going, constant works of self-improvement. These will never be accomplished, but always undertaken. I'm reading Joan Didion's "Year of Magical Thinking," and I don't think there's another book that could help with the project of loving deeply and being grateful as much as this can. It's almost like being given the gift of time. Reading Didion's reflections on her husband's sudden death and the things that she remembered, questioned, or regretted is like getting a letter from my future self, telling me to take care now. It's like glimpsing the future, 40 years hence, and understanding that every moment between now and then is precious and fleeting, and that there is never enough time. I told Drew the other night that a whole lifetime isn't enough time with hm, and I meant it. I'm grateful to Didion for reminding me to go slowly and gently through the world, and to Drew for going through it with me.

It's nice to sit here, on a train to Ottawa to see my bestie and her son, and to reflect on how much I've accomplished and how much I have left to do. I started this post thinking that one should be careful what one wishes for, because one might just get it. I'm ending the post thinking that if my life were cut abruptly now, I would feel good about what I'd gotten done in the time I had.