Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflections on Not Fighting on June 20th, 2014

I began this post awhile ago. Then it got too long; then other stuff happened.

I'm going to finish it now, tonight, whatever that means. It will mean combining a number of posts into one single, massive post; a post that is almost like a "piece of writing," except totally solipsistic and unedited by myself or others. WHO ARE YOU? WHY ARE YOU READING THIS? THANK YOU FOR READING THIS.

Hey how are ya? Here we go.

This is a story about how I got injured, and then I got better through the miracle and grace of our bodies and nature, and a couple of thoughts I've been having as -- now -- I get back into the swing of things, (touch wood, for the moment:) totally healthy.

On July 20th, I was supposed to have a fight near San Diego. Here’s the ticket:

I had a blog post planned for this pic, or maybe just a tumblr. My note for it was 8 days to fight: okay, this is kind of cool” because really- this is like a real ticket. Cool, huh?

But then, 10 days before the fight, sparring at my gym, I got chopped with a low kick. No one was being aggressive or reckless. It was a chop kick to my right leg; it happened while I was moving backwards because the technique R---, my kicker, was doing was one in which you shove your opponent back then chop at the right leg while his/her weight is on it. My right leg first of all isn’t used to taking low kicks; if you’re a righty (I’m a righty), you spend all or most of your time in a stance with your left leg front, which means the left leg is taking the chops. Also, my leg was in motion and the muscle was engaged -- this being the point of the technique. So I trained for 45 more minutes, not being tough -- I really didn't feel much more than a "hey, I sure took a shot there." And then about an hour after practice, this happened:

Back when I thought I would be doing these separately, the post for this pic was something along the lines of: 10 days to fight: holy s$!@ my f_____ leg

It came on suddenly; I was sitting and having a post-training meal with a friend, my awareness of the leg went like this:

- Hunh, yup I got low-kicked

- Hunh, guess that low kick hurt more than I thought

- Ah darn. That low kick banged me up a little. Maybe I won't do that run tomorrow



I’d gotten what’s called a corked thigh, which is a bad bruise to the quadricep. I had a sort of epic one, intra- and inter-muscular; when I finally went to the doctor there was lots of "hey, come look at this" between the docs before starting me on a couple of months of physical therapy with admonitions to stay off it, not get hit, et cetera et cetera.

I didn’t know this right away, of course. You get hurt doing muay thai and, while this was bad, I figured I’d see how the swelling was the following morning. Getting into the car was difficult, as was driving.

The following morning it was bad, but not awful. I switched out my run and instead lifted weights and did yoga.

On Saturday, two days after the kick, I trained. The leg hurt and was clearly impaired and was starting to feel like an injury rather than a hurt, but it still seemed like maybe something to just power through.

On Sunday I lifted and did yoga.

On Monday I did yoga and trained muay thai. This is one of the many blog posts I'm folding into this one; one about “6 days to fight: unknown strength”. That’s because by this point the leg was a problem, a problem I was worried about; it was stiff and painful and weak and unsteady. That permeated my yoga class, of course, making my yoga tentative and injured and lame. But then, at the end, I really nailed my head-stand to an unusual degree: it was strong and precise and I felt like I could’ve stayed up there for ten minutes. Hence "unknown strength": the post was to be about finding hidden wells of strength when you test yourself, on the path to fullness and to doing this fight. HAR! It’s hard to say now, but I think at this stage part of me really did think that it would be… well, not all right. I think I was annoyed that I was going to again do a fight not at 100%, in the sense that the leg wouldn’t be healed and would impact my performance.

Doing muay thai on Monday, I couldn’t knee. I tried to knee hard, which was dumb; R--- goaded me, over and over: “I’m not feeling it!” Which is good training. And not his fault because I did not freaking tell anyone about this problem. Finally I had to say something was up, and Coach got annoyed at me for not having said anything before. I also took a light kick to it, just in demonstration, but it hurt a lot.

If you're thinking right now that this story so far is a carnival of stupidity on my part, I hear you. The only thing I'll say in my defense is that I was not was not trying to be rugged; I was really just trying to train through and manage the pain of what I was still telling myself--less and less convincingly-- was a hurt, not an injury. I just wanted to get to the fight.

And then Tuesday morning, my ability to pass it off as anything but an injury was overcome. It was all fucked up; clearly all fucked up, swollen and bruised along the sides (where the blood from the hit was draining, not from the hit itself) and fucked up. A mass of purple bruising had appeared above my right knee; over the course of the next few days this mass would kind of ooze its way down my leg over my calf, doing a thing that I have never seen a bruise do and did not think they did but this definitely happened, very slowly, on my body right there.

So I went in, told coach. Fast-forward by Thursday we’d called it and pulled from the fight. I was sad and angry and frustrated and discouraged, as you can imagine. I'd trained hard, people at the gym had supported and trained me hard, and now like days before I had to drop. It sucked.

It's now the end of September, weeks and weeks after all this, and I'm hopeful (touch wood) about getting another fight in October. I think what's moving me to write all this, though, is that I really did wind up learning a lot during my period of convalescence, and I really am brimming with gratitude and happiness during this, now, my period of rebuilding.

Here's some stuff I wrote, right around July 20th, when I was still processing this:

I’m seeing a doctor tomorrow, so hopefully there will not be some dramatic uptick in my dismay . It is taking a long time to heal – it is still swollen, and stiff, and unable to bear weight – but I still think it’s just a narsty soft tissue thing.

I had this idea for another post, the note for which was “5 days to fight: omgmfl [that’s oh my God my fucking leg] p2, and why anything can be a blessing”, and that’s really the thing that’s going to set me off, here. Because it turns out that I have a lot thoughts about how this might be a blessing.

I am not feeling existentially anxious. I am feeling, of course, awake to the fragility of my own physical self, and the pleasures I take in that self and how those pleasures can be taken away. But the fact is that this is a soft tissue thing that will heal and I won’t even notice in… well, longer than I’d like [ed: present day me: it will not be fully healed by, for instance, October], but also the kind of time that you look back on and don’t even really remember how long it was.

What has changed, a lot for the moment, is my routine. Before the injury I was doing 2 workouts a day. They totaled between 2h50m and 3h30m put together, depending on what I did. With transit, &c., that means 5 – 6 hours a day were often spent on my physical self.

Now that time is open, and I am not active. I may try to ramp back into activity over the next couple of days, depending on what comes out of the doctor’s visit tomorrow. But for a week now, I’ve done nothing.

I’ve gone up and down on this a lot – certainly, being injured REALLY SUCKS, and being inactive when you want to be active REALLY SUCKS. But the heart of this blog post is still "why anything can be a blessing.” 

And then I wrote out the blessings, which now I'm going to edit, with the great wisdom of like 8 weeks (I did have a birthday!) between me and the callow young buck who originally wrote these words.

These are the blessings.

Appreciation Trite & true, both. I’m pretty good at being appreciative and “mindful” in general; I’m frequently moved to say little prayers of thanks when I’m in the mountains or out on the water, or after a satisfying training session. But obviously, nothing makes you grateful for something like having it taken from you, even temporarily. So I've been reinforced in my gratitude; in my gratitude to nature and good fortune for allowing me to be healthy; to the city I live in for being so so so full of wonderful ways to be active; to myself for doing all this stuff that I do, that I get so much out of, even though no doubt sometimes I have to push myself past some exhaustion or moodiness or whatever might be conspiring to get in my way; and yes to some general cosmic sense of goodwill and good fortune that just lets me be here, whole, a person, able to work out and be outside and do amazing things. I couldn't wait to get back, and now that I'm back I find my enthusiasm rejuvenated in a way that I’m really really appreciating (be careful, though, James: watch the leg.).

Don’t Be a Rigid Weirdo   In the complex melange of feelings I was and am feeling, which of course don't have to make sense, there is also the fact that I was, in fact, starting to feel a little hemmed in by my routine pre-injury. Fatigued in my muscles; sometimes overtired; and most of all just of in terms of time and how much structure these activities put on my day. Activities where are, after all, supposed to be fun: it's not like I'm a medical resident, here. During my period recovering, it was fun having so many nights with nothing to do (muay thai is at night); it was fun to have afternoons where I could just write, or had to, because there was no yoga or lifting or swimming or running to make work in the day. This is such a first-world type problem, I know, that it might require a whole new nomenclature of privilege. That's fine, I own that - I'm very lucky. And it feels like a valuable insight, regardless. It's led me, for example, to a simple shift in my schedule which is not such a big deal but feels like one, which is just (this sounds silly) that on days where I also do something else (lift, run, yoga) it is not always necessary for me to go to the conditioning hour before the actual muay thai part of muay thai. In addition to giving me another hour a day for writing which is of course what I'm ostensibly doing with my life, this actually improves my training, because when I'm there hitting pads or sparring that is really what I'm there to do, not part of some long thing that has gone on forever after another workout earlier in the day. Part of this is psychological, and part of it is that I was just overtraining, some. So I'm grateful to have had a chance to reassess myself in that way.

The psychological is pretty big. Here's what I wrote while I was laid up:

What’s particularly valuable to me about this is the way it spreads into many aspects of my life. By which I mean: the sense of freedom isn’t just having a few more hours a day. It’s being free of a structure that I was somehow allowing to constrain much more than that. There are a bunch of things I need and want to be doing – from dumb little personal projects that nonetheless are satisfying to complete, to taking active time to really engage the big questions of what to be doing with my life – which had somehow gotten lost in the cracks and divets between the chunks of time (3 hours writing; 3 hours business logistics; 1 hour work reading; workout; workout) that was all this schedule allowed. This is a tough nut to crack (duh: time), because it was absolutely not that I was wasting time before, or actually that I think I was spending too much time on exercise. The fact is that I sort of have that luxury, right now at least. But I was letting the schedule – and, it’s true, I think to some extent just being a little more tired – really box me into a way of thinking and a routine of days that wasn’t advancing any of these sort of “non-essential” but also essential things; again, specifically, we mean little personal projects (like catching up on blog posts) and then the opposite, vague but big thinking/researching on activities and directions for life, which I view as very much open for me, right now. Open and therefore needing time and attention I wasn’t giving it.

Don’t Ration   This is a good one, and also the one that has stuck least. Because I am already rationing again. But I'm trying to remember the lesson.

Digression, promise it hooks back to relevance: The Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival – which should really have been won by Emily Carmichael’s The Hunter and the Swan Discuss Their Meeting – was won by another admittedly good film (2 films, I guess) called Brick Novax pt 1 and 2, written and directed by Mat Piedmont. These were funny ironic adventure stories in which the titular Brick – played by a stop-motion animated action figure, as is everyone/thing else in the films – does sexy space spy derring-do while bedding ladies and dropping bon mots. And one of Brick's lines, towards the end, was: “Never ration happiness.” This could well be an aphorism, I don’t know; but it struck me and has stuck with me since, both as a good aspiration and as something I fail to do.
Do this. Just do it. Or whatever.

I ration the shit out of happiness. I ration the shit out of everything; out of music I like and time and leftover hummus and people and love and every thing. If I love going to Nijiya late at night for 20% off sushi, I’ll have these conversations with myself about "should I go? should I not? I don't wanna 'use it up'". If I love the cakes at Susiecakes, a 5-minutes walk from my apartment, I’ll not go for months and months. Not like as a sensible eating thing, I mean; I suppose one shouldn't eat cake every day. But I don't want to eat cake every day, I want to eat it occasionally, and not doing so when I want to because I might "use up" the pleasure I take in it or something is dumb. There's something to be said for deliberately spooling out a limited resource, and perhaps for keeping something special. But mostly not. Mostly: USE IT UP. DO IT. If I love going to Nijiya after a training, I should always do that whenever I want to because guess what, I might get injured – badly injured, or slightly badly  – and not be able to train for 2 weeks or 2 months or years or forever. I won’t always live a two-minute walk from a bakery I like: I should take advantage of it while I do. This idea that I have -- and that I therefore suspect some other human beings may have, as well -- of “not overdoing it” just for the sake of “not overdoing it” is straight-up asinine. The only reason to deny yourself is if there is an instrumental value in doing that: if of course you don't want to eat cake every day because you don't want to gain a lot of weight; if you can't afford sushi 5 nights a week; if you need to work or are needed at home or with a friend so you can't kick back at the ocean. Otherwise: use it up. Use it up use it up use it up. We only get once, don’t leave a fucking cent on the table. The stuff I'm taking for granted today could disappear faster than I'll ever know, before I know it, before I know to look and see if it's gone.

I went out and had a carrot cake, the day I first wrote out the bulk of these thoughts. Not today; remember, I'm editing (sort of) my young foolish self. A whole huge slice of carrot cake; the slices at Susiecakes are big. It was great. Way too much; gross. Felt sick. I may not need to do that particular thing again for a minute, although I find myself with hankering for carrot cake, writing this.

You know what, that's it. I had other thoughts for here, but it's not just how long this has all gone. They were about how it feels to be getting back to activity, and all the stuff I've been doing, but I mean: who cares? I've been getting to do lots of cool stuff, and getting to be very active. I care, a lot, and maybe even you do but the point is-- it feels good to be back, out, doing. And hopefully I can take some of this along with me. I have to. I'm 35. If I don't start learning from my injuries, there's going to be a lot of pointless shit going down.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. Even if you didn't.

How Long it Actually Takes (HliAT), #1

This is the first entry in what will be a sporadic and poorly maintained ongoing series. I welcome submissions from my thousands of readers in the comments below. HliAT is pronounced "hell-ee-aht".

This series derives from a simple premise:

None of us knows what the f**k we are talking about when we say how long it will take us to do something. 

We say "I'll be back in a minute" when we mean 15 minutes; we say "it'll take 2 minutes, literally" about things that literally take 11-25 minutes. We are morons about time, and it's not just a matter of usage ("I'll be back in a minute", yes, I know, carries a different meaning than the literal single "a minute"). We really don't know how long it takes to do things, make terrible estimates, and force ourselves and others to suffer.

I've been on the giving and receiving end of this nonsense for my entire life. It's time to take a stand.

This series is going to change the whole world.

A few years ago, in Chicago, I started tracking how long it took me to do certain everyday things; things which are no longer relevant even to my life, so I can't imagine how spectacularly irrelevant they will seem to yours. HOWEVER, the principal stands, and many of these things are like other things that I still do, or perhaps that you do. So I shall post them here, now, and when it occurs to me to time how long it takes me to "pop into this store for a minute" in future, I shall post that as well.

So here we go, let's change the world.

How Long it Actually Takes to...

take the Orange Line from Madison/Washburn in the city of Chicago to Midway Airport at around 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon: 24 minutes, 30 seconds

take the 151 bus to the Metra in the city of Chicago from the South Water Street stop (taking the bus to the Millenium Station stop getting caught at 1 red light, and then walking to and taking your seat on the Metra): 3 minutes, 55.9 seconds

take the 151 bus to the Metra in the city of Chicago from the South Water Street stop (getting off the 151 at South Water Street and walking into Millennium Station through the South Water Street entrance all the way up to taking your seat on the Metra): 3 minutes, 14.2 seconds
important note: This was catching the 7:48am Metra to South Chicago; catching the 7:35am Metra would be even faster (probably 30 - 40s) because they open the train doors further down the platform on that one

walk from the 151 stop at the corner of Stockton/La Salle in the city of Chicago to the door of apartment #2503 in Eugenie Terrace, a nice place to live:
2 minutes, 5.07 seconds to the elevators at Eugenie
the wait for the elevator varies significantly, from 0 to 60s
in the instance I timed it was 1 minute, 57.1 seconds from arriving at the elevators downstairs to opening the door to my flat

walk from the Metra station at 55-56-57th street, taking the 57th street exit, to the U. Chicago Cummings Life Sciences Building: 15 minutes, 23.9 seconds
note: walkways clear of snow/ice

And more to come. This is only the beginning, my friends. Only the beginning.