Love-Hate

I am not ready for this. My head hurts (caffeine headache? eye strain?), I didn't sleep well last night, I can barely think in complete sentences. I haven't been doing my yoga properly in the mornings, so my muscles are all stiff. I somehow seem to have hurt my left wrist (I think maybe I fell in the tournament on Sunday), so even if I wanted to, I couldn't do any Down Dogs. Yesterday, when I got to the venue to have my equipment checked, I wanted to cry. I am going to lose today, I just know it. There is not going to be any great moment of enlightenment when I am standing there on the strip waiting for the referee to say, "En garde." I'm going to be just as confused and nervous as I always am. And that, it would seem, is that.

I've tried, I really have, but I just don't seem to be able to get the hang of this sport. The driver in the taxi I took yesterday from the airport asked me whether I liked fencing (or maybe whether I enjoyed it, I don't quite remember). I said, "No, I hate it." And I do. I hate this sport. Not so much perhaps as volleyball, the bane of my years in middle school gym, but enough. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Here it has stolen six years (and counting) of my life, thousands and thousands of dollars in lessons, equipment and tournament fees, countless evenings and weekends away from my family, and what do I get in return? Pain. Frustration. Lack of confidence. Despair. One of the reasons I haven't been doing my yoga properly is that I am so discouraged at how stiff my right hip has become thanks to all the lunges I do, and now my left hamstring is seizing up because the tendon in my left foot has been hurting since July and my leg is trying to compensate by taking the tension off. But this pain is nothing to the feeling of what's going on in my head.

I watched my friend Ed win the Veteran Men's 50-and-over Foil yesterday. I'm pretty sure what he would say if he were reading this now. "You need to be tough, have confidence in yourself." I don't even know how anymore. I have nothing to hold onto except that I'm still here, inexplicably, trying again, but I do wonder whether I'm just being an idiot. My father--have I told you before what my father always used to say about talent? My brother, he would say, was an athletic genius, he was simply gifted, born talented. The rest of us (by which I always knew my father meant me, even if he was actually talking about himself) had no hope because we were not born with that genius; there was quite literally nothing we could do. Never mind practicing really hard or sticking with it for years. Either you had "It" or you didn't, and that was that.

I certainly never had "It" when I was growing up. You wonder why I hated volleyball so much? I could never get that stupid ball over the net with my serve. Not that I ever spent much time practicing (I hated the way the ball hurt my wrist when I hit it), but neither did I ever see any of the other girls practicing much and yet they always seemed to be able to serve somewhere other than straight into the net. I did enjoy shooting baskets and actually spent quite a few afternoons with the backboard we had behind our house, but somehow that failed to turn me into a basketball star. Likewise with gymnastics: hours and hours and hours with the mat in our basement, learning to stand up from a backbend and kick my feet up over my head. But I was never good enough a gymnast to become a cheerleader (which, at least in middle school, I very much wanted to do).

And so it goes: I seem to have been cursed with the desire to be able to do something athletic in my life, but with absolutely no natural ability to speak of. It's like some sort of cruel joke on the part of the Creator. Some people are given this desire to compete along with the ability to realize their ambitions; they are happy, at least until they end up in the papers for things they do off the playing field. Others, like my son, are given the ability (he really was an excellent fencer, so smart and efficient), but without the driving need to compete, while still others seem to be blessed with both lack of ability and drive. I, however, get the worst of both: I want to compete, but I can't. No matter how hard I try (if I actually am trying hard, maybe I'm just deluding myself), I don't seem to be able to discover that spark. And yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, here I still am, banging my head against an ability I will never actually have.

If only somebody could show me what I am doing wrong. If only somebody could explain to me what I am supposed to be looking for as I prepare my attacks. If only I had the knack for seeing the solution. It's like a door has been slammed in my face. Every time I think I've learned something about how to prepare myself, about what to think in the midst of the bout, it turns out not to be the case. Either I can't capture that insight ever again or, having captured it, kill it by thinking that it is somehow the answer, when it isn't.

I'm repeating myself. I already wrote this blog post before. Been there, done that, failed to find the secret ingredient. It isn't supposed to be like this. I'm supposed to start a blog, spend a year in self-discovery, and then at the end, awaken to my new life, enlightened and wise. I'm not supposed to be writing the same d**n posts month after month, year after year, boring even myself, never mind my readers. Of course, if I ever do pull out of this life-long athletic slump, by somehow finally making it to that f**king podium, then won't it be fun to look back over all of these posts and think about how lucky I was that I didn't give up, even when I was near despair? As if. Maybe the only thing I'm ever going to get out of this sport is the satisfaction of knowing I never gave up, even though I was crap at it. Some prize. Only a booby would think that that counted.

Oh, look, it's time to come last. Better get my s**t together.

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