Slacking Off

I'm home this evening instead of at fencing practice because I can feel a cold coming on and don't want to make it worse. Should I have gone to practice anyway? I don't know. I'm fairly crabby right now (and wish a certain someone weren't looking over my shoulder as I type; and, no, he's not a cat*), so it's probably doing my clubmates a favor to keep my grouchiness at home, but one of the reasons I'm grouchy is that I haven't been to practice since Tuesday a week ago, thanks to the excitement of the medievalists' conference towards the end of last week. And yet, I know that it is foolish to push myself when I'm feeling like this--just dizzy enough not to be able to think clearly (note the syntax of this post!), plus a little itch in my chest and throat that could, if I push myself, turn into a full blown sore throat and (possibly) laryngitis. What to do?

My mother sent me a video link a few days ago that I only just watched this morning. You may have heard D.J. Gregory's story; if not, it really is inspiring. Gregory spent last year walking--and walking, and walking, and walking. Every hole of every round in the PGA TOUR, a total of some 900 miles over the course of some 40 odd weeks. Amazing enough given that most of the professionals don't walk every step of the way; even more so given that Gregory has cerebral palsy. It's impossible not to find tears running down your face watching the video; everyone who has commented on the ESPN link says the same: what courage it took for him to carry on like that, day after day, week after week! How petty it feels to complain when one's game is a little off or one's foot hurts today. Think where Gregory would be if he had given up after his feet got sore (they did) or if he had gotten a cold.

Which seems to indicate that I should stop typing now and get in the car and go to practice. What's a little cold, after all? It's nothing to having to work for every step that I take. How dare I slack off and sit here instead? But the thing is, I am sick. And I know it precisely because I am in such (relatively) good shape or, at least, good touch with my body. I get these colds maybe once or twice a year; it's fatigue, really, not flu. Just my body saying, "I've had enough and I need a rest NOW." Being public a lot tends to bring them on, thus I often get them after conferences (helped, no doubt, by the fact that I've been shaking hands with people who themselves have often just got over colds and been on airplanes with all that nifty recycled air). But even knowing this makes me feel weak and undisciplined. Am I really such a wimp that I can't endure even the occasional change in my schedule?

Maybe I am. Thinking back over the blog posts I've written in the past few months, I realize that this is hardly the first that I've written about being sick. There was the food poisoning back in October and the flu just after New Year's. Then there has been the insomnia and my foot hurting (I don't think I've written about that; stress after the tournament in Atlanta), not to mention general fatigue at the end of the day. How many times I have started a post talking about how tired I am? It's not fair.... Um. Well, it doesn't seem right, in any case. This is my year off, a year for recuperating from the strain of preparing for classes, sitting on committees, reading applications, taking responsibility for other people's work that is the stuff of being a professor; this is my year to indulge myself in my research, do nothing but the work that my heart and mind call me to do. It's not supposed to be stressful. I'm not supposed to get sick.

I've spent the day trying to think what lesson we are meant to take from Gregory's example. Never give up, certainly. Don't take every little difficulty--or, even, every big difficulty--as a reason to quit. You can do more than you ever thought possible. Don't listen when people (like Gregory's doctors) tell you that you can't do something; prove them wrong. The biggest obstacle that we have to overcome is our own lack of faith in ourselves. Set goals that seem impossible and then achieve them. But does this mean pushing ourselves in our work and our practice until something breaks? No pain, no gain, to be sure. But what kind of pain? What kind of gain? It's probably not a bad thing that I'm giving myself one more day off to help my foot recover, but staying home will certainly cost me in my general fitness. Even one day missed of practice and I feel it; more than a week (minimum, if I make it on Thursday) is going to be all too noticeable in my legs and in my point control. Not to mention that my opponents are not taking the day off because of a twinge in their chests; they're there at practice, making that increment that will enable them to fence that little bit better the next time we meet. Which seems, once again, to suggest that I should be there now, regardless of how I feel.

I have a colleague who once told me he had never missed a day of teaching on account of illness; he's retired now and still more productive than most of us youngsters. I don't mean to get sick; I really don't like it at all. But the confidence and pride with which he said it--"I never get sick"--makes me feel, yes, like a slacker whenever I do. If I were a real academic/fencer/superwoman, I would never get sick either, right? Certainly, it seems to me like I get sick more than most of my colleagues and friends. But maybe not. I haven't really been counting. One is always more aware of one's own disabilities than anyone else's, except, that is, when they are as overwhelming as Gregory's. Then one just feels embarrassed for complaining about anything short of death. I suppose this is the real question everyone has: when is it okay to complain? About getting a cold? About being stressed at one's job? About not being able to figure out how the next chapter is going to go? About losing a bout?

I have in my mind this conviction that if only I could push myself harder--like Gregory--I would get over all of the things that seem to stand in my way: I'd practice hard every day; I'd work from morning till night on my book; I'd do my yoga and say my prayers indeed every day, not just most days. Then I would have the kind of publications list that I envy in others; then I would put in enough hours to actually make some progress in my bouts; then I would be the woman that I want to be or, at least, the very best version of the woman that I am. Instead, here I am at home, giving up, at least for the evening, too fuddled to read, too fragile to fence. Part of me always suspects that I'm making it up, making excuses rather than doing what I know I should. The question is, would I feel like such a slacker if I actually were--a slacker, that is? I really don't know. Do you?

*Actually, it was my son and he wasn't reading over my shoulder. He'd gone to sleep.


  1. I definitely don't think you're a slacker - if you were, you wouldn't be asking this question! And given that you've got home, work, prayer, yoga, fencing....No, not a slacker in my book.

    FWIW, hard burn requires serious rest - this link is about strength training but I think it applies re: fencing as well:

  2. Very good advice on how to rest as well as train. Problem for us fencers: we're only ever really working the same muscles, at least on strip. Finding a good yoga class has helped a great deal these past few months, but there's always the problem of needing *those* muscles, if you know what I mean. But I'm pretty sure the conference gave me the cold.

  3. It would be especially interesting to read your further thoughts on how Latin was used in prayer in the later Middle Ages. And i could not agree more about the ways in which the Middle Ages are inherently interesting (though I suspect Pat Geary holds the same view.) But as a citizen of a country where the government (most of whose ministers had to pass exams in Latin) has decided that the teaching and learning of Latin is 'elitist' and so should receive no state funding and ideally be hpased out of schools and universities, I think the problem of Latin is central, and must be tackled, not least by the Anglolexic.
    With every good wish.


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