Enslaved and Empowered

I was speaking with my mother-in-law Judy over the weekend about mediums and the concept of an afterlife. To picture this conversation you have to understand that I was in the backseat with my crutches and my Air Cast and wondering how I was going to cope with the buffet-style meal my youngest chose for his birthday dinner. It was also the second time I’ve left the house for anything other than medical appointments or work since December 4.

One of the comments she made was along the lines of where does all our energy go when it’s no longer constrained by our bodies. The assumption kind of was (or at least I took it as) — we’re bigger on the inside than the outside.

I was brought up short by my own reaction. My hastily written note:

Gifted with body

I spent most of my time in my 20s trying to get out of my body. My body, especially as it had been used by others, was a pretty shitty place. I played PernMUSH back in the day, which was kind of a proto-World of Warcraft game, except you didn’t kill things, you just pretended to be someone else, on some other planet. Dragons were involved. One of the best parts of it, for me, was that I could interact with other people without having to deal with fingers, toes, clumsy actions, too-loud laughter, ugly smells.

There’s no question that if you had asked me about my beliefs at the time that I would have insisted that my body was one of the smallest parts of me. A regrettable necessity.

Being knocked on my ass by my broken leg, though, I realize how much that’s changed. Since getting going on my martial arts journey (and really several years before I knew I was on it), I work out to grow and feel my strength. I stretch out to feel the earth and the hum of the world around me. I breathe to connect with, yes, the energy that comes from some wellspring I can only touch and never describe.* I move because I love going ahead. I’ve been really frustrated with my limitations. But nowhere in the last 7 weeks have I wanted out of my body. (Except maybe the period between shock wearing off and painkillers, before my leg was set – I will give anyone that!)

The idea that I would be bigger after death doesn’t sound so right any more. I’ve held my daughter as she died, so I know something changes that isn’t just about breathing or heart rate, but about – for lack of a better word – soul. But I’m no longer sure that’s larger than life. Life is pretty big.

Years ago I cried in the bathroom because I had to go to a PR event that involved a pedicure, which meant baring my feet in front of colleagues and having a stranger touch me, and I did not think there was any way I could make it through that experience in one piece. (I survived, even though it made me feel like I’d lived on the wrong planet forever, and the icily polite person dealing with my unpampered heels clearly agreed.)

Yesterday I went to physiotherapy for the first time, and people touched my feet and poked and prodded, and we talked about what I can do and what I can’t do, and what I should do…and what I want to do. I felt great. Also my leg was all hairy. And I didn’t care.

I feel pretty lucky I came to this in my 40s, because I can see how the hill crests here somewhere and then it’s back downhill. Good thing there will be so many awesome books in the world.

* Being of Gen-X, you can pretty much substitute The Force for energy.

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No Man’s Land (1)

Sometimes when we lose our heroes we lose ourselves. And the corollary holds.

Growing up I frequently got through the day (hour…minute) by fantasizing constantly. My mind was full of The Bionic Woman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Arthurian legend, V, Pern…pretty much anything other than the there and then. I could call it fandom, or I could call it fantasy-prone personality, or I could call it a creative connection to archetypal myth and legend.

But mostly for the last two decades I have tried not to call it anything at all and focus instead on being an ordinary human being.

I suppose it’s either understandable or cliche then that my midlife turning point came in the middle of watching Wonder Woman. I have been waiting for a decent female superhero movie for literally my whole life, The Incredibles notwithstanding. Lots of people wrote about this movie last summer, but I didn’t. I did talk about it with my friends but I didn’t invest too much money in themed merchandise or start writing fanfic.

I just quit my very nice arts-related job and became the operations manager at The Academy.

My adolescence spent hanging out at the Silver Snail and spending money on Alien trading cards is apparently nothing when weighed against the amount of perimenopausal havoc I can wreak.

I particularly blame the No Man’s Land scene. I cried through it every time I watched it in the theatre, and I found clips on YouTube and watched them, and now I have the movie via iTunes and I watch it still about once a week.

It wasn’t that it was Diana’s first steps towards becoming a warrior for humanity, although that will also do. And it wasn’t watching a female-directed movie allow a flock of men to support a woman’s vision, although that will do as well.

It was the moment Diana turns away from Steve with an absolute commitment to her own vision.

Steve: We can’t save everyone in this war. This is not what we came here to do.
Diana: No, but it’s what I’m going to do.

I’m turning 47 next week. I was raised in the days of Free to Be, You and Me and I grew up believing William Wants a Doll and Parents are People and all those things. And I gradually took fewer STEM classes, and came to hate trigonometry, and I studied literature instead, and I got several jobs and got promotions and got new jobs and got promotions. I spent 8 years working for mainstream women’s magazines, in time for geekery to become cool.

I have worked with many amazing women. And for many years I believed the time would come when the women that were a decade or two ahead of me, the stellar and ambitious ones, would be the CEOs and I would follow in their wake.

Instead, I have watched women I highly respect get worn down. Worn down by sexism and the old boys’ club. Worn down by harassment. Worn down by life-work balance that still meant they were responsible for the second shift at home, or caregiving for elderly parents. Worn down by the low-grade drip of having their ideas continually put down because they had breasts, or had taken maternity leave, or any number of reasons.

But worn down mostly by watching mediocre men get promoted past themselves.

And that is why I cried. Because Diana is – unbowed. And she did not wait for approval, or try to argue her team into listening to her or changing their mission. She just climbed the ladder and walked into the hail of bullets. Because that’s what she was going to do.

(And then, the men followed her.  Which will be another post some day.)

I didn’t leave my job to train Amazons exactly, although I have said on Facebook that a part of that decision was that I kind of did want to at least be able to say that. (My job is not instructional, and martial artists are not Amazons. But we do have swords and bo-staffs and perhaps even want to change the world.) It’s because that’s what my gut was telling me to do, and I listened to it, and then I got off the corporate ladder.

This is either one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done in my life or one of the smartest, the jury’s out. But it was a recommitment to…my own quirky freak flag.

My job is still new enough that I feel a bit like I’m at the phase where Diana is under her shield. I know I can hold my own. I’m not quite sure, yet, how best to move forward. (Also Diana heals super-fast and I am still sitting here with my broken leg elevated.)

I still watch that scene and cry.

Falling on the Floor

I attended a PIAC conference this fall. The keynote speaker was Dr. Stuart Shanker, who outlined some of the differences between misbehaviour and stress behaviour. He also pointed the audience towards Dr. Mel Levine’s The Myth of Laziness. It was eye-opening as a parent to recognize how easy it’s been for me to forget my original parenting position which basically comes down to “kids will do good if they can and have the right support and guidance.” I’d fallen into some patterns of assuming laziness in my children for sure.

And myself.

The premise shared by both Dr. Shanker and Dr. Levine’s books are that if a child isn’t succeeding, there’s probably something in their way. Dr. Shanker looks at stress and anxiety in particular, and how that kicks children into “red brain” — a stressed, anxious response as if a tiger were chasing them through the woods. And people who are trapped in their red brains can’t access the parts of their brain that help them to learn and perform at a higher level.

Ding, ding, ding. I know allll about the red brain, trust me. As a person with PTSD, I’ve spent a lot of time learning to (somewhat) manage my broad-strokes fight-or-flight response, sometimes better, and sometimes not so well.

I often (not always) do some of the right things for the “big” PTSD-related issues- deep breaths, calm down, get centred, “fake it ’til you make it,” etc. Five years of therapy helped. And in some ways I feel like I’ve mastered some of that to the point that I can turn around in my journey and start to more openly share some successes with other people to see if that helps.

My martial arts journey has been a big part of that, since learning to get grounded in my body and be in a place where I can learn skills, physically, that are completely foreign to me, and work through any triggers and upset, physically, has been huge.  I spent decades of my life becoming an expert at not being in my body, so the idea of being expert at using my body is…ridiculous.

When I start a class, I’m always ready to be at the bottom of it. But I go anyway.

And because it’s martial arts, and that was just brand new to me when I started, I come to it without expectation. If this were a movie maybe that would make me really skilled at the martial arts part of it, but unfortunately, it doesn’t – I mean I even broke my leg doing it! But I am willing to fail 99 times out of 100, because I don’t confuse my beginner status with my own value as a human being. I don’t have a sense that I should do this better or that better. I identify as a martial artist not by my achievements but by my effort. (Technically, I guess, I have a growth mindset.)

And what’s more, I recognize that some weeks, my capacity to risk myself on the floor is more limited. And I’m okay with protecting myself that way and seeing it as part of the journey.

But…here’s the realization as I grapple with having a broken leg while starting a new job in a new field, which involves a lot of walking around and I can’t walk yet…I don’t always apply the same principles to other ares of my life.

I let my critical inner voice mistake inexperience for incompetence. I let the frustration of those around me impact me. I judge myself as not enough.

And to some degree, what I am always going for is what I’ll label supreme competence. I like to be good at my job, to be the expert, to be the one who can be relied on to think things through and do things right. I don’t think these are bad goals.  I don’t want to be a lousy martial artist, and I don’t want to be lousy at other things that I do. I want to excel.

The problem is that in one case, I let myself really experience my incompetence, and work to get better, and it adds to my day immeasurably. In the second case, I experience my incompetence, and work to get better, while beating myself up and feeling like shit about myself, and stressing out and eating chips and being cranky about chores, and it eats away at my days. And it makes it harder because that tiger of anxiety that says “you suck, you’re ruining things, you need to be better” is actually contributing to lack of success.

I learn and perform way better when I am not generating a field of anxiety. Like…really.

So simple, and so not.

 

 

Giddy up

20171204_225355It’s been a while! Quick summary: I loved my job at The Royal Conservatory for two years, but with Noah growing up sooo fast and Liam fast on his heels, as well as having fallen in love with martial arts, I took a job at what I will now refer to as The Academy as their operations manager in September. Anyone who thinks small business is calmer is crazy but being close to home and in the middle of the action has been really great. I still miss the RCM crew a lot.

Everyone asks, so I will say: I have a green belt which is not very close to black belt. 🙂

However in great irony, I broke my leg about two weeks ago!

Blessings of a broken leg
I have only been injured doing martial arts twice. Both times, I was pretending to be someone else. The first time, I was learning zero kicks (where you go right down on the ground as you kick) and I was imagining myself being Wonder Woman and ended up on my elbow. Later I realized the scene I was picturing was not a zero kick. Also, I am not Wonder Woman.

The second time was two weeks ago. I was learning jumping side kick, which looks like this although…lower, less spectacular. One of my fellow students, who is a young man, was inspiring me and so as I took my steps towards the target I was picturing the way he had done it. It was a perfectly decent kick from all accounts, but the landing was a little rough. I heard a snap, went down, and sure enough, I broke my fibula in two places and have new hardware.

My brain seeks patterns in all things, and so here’s lesson #1: Stop trying to do martial arts as someone else.

Or, you know, life.

I’ve been on a quiet path of renewed self-discovery over the past few years, but one part of my identity I haven’t plugged back into at all is storyteller. And so I’ve been stumbling around a bit. So here we go, back on the horse.

Here’s a moment. Everyone is out of the house on various errands this morning and I got myself coffee. I got a bag, filled a Contigo travel mug with coffee at the pot, put the mug in the bag and hobbled to the fridge, put milk in the mug, put the mug back in my back and hobbled back to bed with it. (My leg is still stuck on elevation, having it down even for 10 minutes makes it swell.)

This felt a bit like getting the keys to the car. It’s nice to know you’re never too old to take adolescent joy in independence.