Bragging Rights

I want to be up there. Someday. No: I want to be up there today, not tomorrow or three years from now. I want to be one of the ones that everyone is taking pictures of and envying. I want to be wearing a medal around my neck and smiling because I know I fenced well. I want to be able to say to everyone who asks me after the tournament, "How did you do?": "I WON!"

I'd tell everybody: my coach, my friends, my mother, my husband. Wouldn't it be wonderful to make that phone call? Not the one that has to say, "I didn't make the cut. I lost my first D-E. I fenced well but I just don't seem to be able to win." But the one that says, "I'm great! I'm the best! I fenced as well as I know I can! I set up my actions correctly. I was patient and didn't rush. But I also kept the pressure on, making her disengage, finishing the attack." Oh, what power! What glory!

And all day and all the next and even into work next week, I'd wear my medal. Showing off. Feeling good. Being able to say with confidence: "Look, I'm somebody!"

Or would I?

I was talking about this with my husband before the tournament, wondering what it would be like actually to win (BTW, I don't really think it's ever going to happen, I just want to be one of those eight). And about what it would mean to be able to say to everyone who asked, "Oh, you fence?" "Yes, I am one of the best in the country." The thing is, in some things at least, I am the best in the country, or, at the very least, among the best. But most of my friends at fencing don't even know what I do for a living and almost none of them know how many awards I have gotten for doing what I do when I'm not on the strip. Why don't I tell them?

Let's be fair, I had some great touches today. Some of my opponents (bless you all!) even told me so. One told me how strategic she found my fencing; another remarked on how clean my actions were. The woman who is standing there in the picture with the blue ribbon around her neck told me that she found fencing me very cerebral, one of her harder bouts (she won, but only 5-4! Not bad for a bear of such little brain as I'm feeling right now.) And yet, I find it difficult telling you even this. It feels too much like boasting.

I envy the heroes in Beowulf who announce themselves before they go into a fight (I'm making this up because I don't have the translation of Beowulf that I like to hand): "I'm the one who killed the sea monsters and outswam so-and-so. I'm the one who wrestled Grendel and ripped his arm off. I'm the one who dove into the meer [sp?] and hunted down the monster's mother. I'm the greatest warrior of the Geats." What if I did this as I got on the strip? "I was valedictorian of my high school graduating class, first out of 510 [I think; maybe it was 509]. I graduated magna cum laude from one of the top 20 universities in the country and I teach at one of the top 10. I have won awards (plural) for my teaching and for my book. I have been a fellow at the National Humanities Center. I just finished the first 10,000 words in the draft of my new book."

Note that even in this hypothetical boast, I'm not telling you everything, e.g. what the awards were, nor how it happens that I'm on leave this year. (Hint: It starts with a G.) Somehow, I can't. Not that any of this is a secret. If you Google my (human) name, you can find out most of it. But it's not on my homepage and I haven't posted my c.v. online. It's not as if I'm ashamed of it; that would be nonsensical. And in the right context, e.g. putting in my request for promotion once I finish this second book, you can bet your buttons I will be sure that the chair of my department and dean of my division know what I've done. But other than in that context, no, I'm not telling.

Why not? Well, for one thing, in the context of a fencing bout, it's completely irrelevant. Who cares if my students like me? It doesn't make my attacks any more effective. Who cares if I wrote a good fellowship application and won the chance to work on my next book? It doesn't mean I can parry-riposte or keep distance. The thing about status (because status, after all, is what this is all about) is that it is not transferable. On campus, I may be Professor, but on the strip, I'm only Fencer no. 4--and Fencer no. 4 is only Somebody if she can beat Fencers nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6. There, see there (see photo): that's who I am. Not 1st out of 510 in my high school class, but 25th out of 29 after the pools. And indeed, somehow, when I'm looking for my name in the round results, knowing who I am off the strip, reminding myself of all of my successes and accomplishments, really doesn't help. Looking for my name today, I wanted to scream: "Do you know who I am? [which, of course, I'm doing here by writing about it]; I'm Somebody, really, not just no. 25 out of 29." But it doesn't help. I'm still just no. 25 who lost all but one of her pool bouts.

But what would I be writing about right now if I'd won?

Update: I have the answer now. I need a herald. Like in A Knight's Tale (2001). Think Chaucer introducing Sir Ulrich. It's why we do introductions for each other at conferences.


  1. I WON! I WON! I WON! Now, what am I going to do about my next 10,000 words?

    Thanks for the cartoon and I hope that you meet your standards. There is something special, and I hadn't really thought about it before, about Fencing. Maybe I'm just fantasizing about the bouts in the "Pirates.." trilogy.

  2. You know, I've had similar thoughts about what I'll do when/if I ever get my E.

    Strangely, I somehow think I'd have a drink to celebrate, then go back to club asking "what's next?" I'm basing my supposition on past experience - "winning" never feels like winning to me. I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

    And yes, we all need heralds. And squires. And man/lady servants :P


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