Dark Night of the Sword

I'm here again, my eyes puffy from weeping, my muscles aching to no purpose, sleepless and angry at myself for losing in that way yet again. How many times have I been here over the past year? I don't even want to count. I knew what I had to do in that bout and I blew it. I was so close, I was ahead, but I rushed it and made the same mistake over and over again. It makes me sick just to think about it. And then, when the bout was over, I totally lost it, even before I got off the strip and had signed the sheet. The women were so kind to me, but I'm not sure they should have been. I'm a grown-up, for goodness' sake, I know better than to behave like that. But I had been ahead. Mirabile dictu, I had won 3 of my 5 pool bouts (actually 4, but one of the fencers had to drop out for medical reasons), I had placed 10th out of the pools, the highest I had ever placed in a Veterans' event. I knew my opponent in the DE, I knew what I needed to do in order to fence her. And yet, clearly I didn't, because otherwise I wouldn't be sitting here writing about how much it hurts again.

I need to make some tea, I'm still completely dehydrated from fencing--and crying--so hard. When is this ever going to end? I have been here for so long, in the dark night, abandoned, unblessed. I've had one really good result (top 16 in a Div II) in the last two and a half, now nearly three years. Since then, it's been nothing but dryness. Okay, so there have been a few consolations: I did finally manage to qualify at least for Div III at Nationals this past year, after failing to do so for several years running, but even that was hardly the success that it should have been. Again, I was ahead in the bout that would have qualified me for Div II as well, and I lost 15-13. That day I had come out of the pool bouts 2nd; I dropped down to 5th. And at Nationals in Div III? I don't have my pool sheet (I'm not sure I even wrote it down), but what I do remember is losing at least three of my pool bouts 5-4. I think I won one or maybe two, somehow it was enough to make the cut. And then I lost my first DE 13-9 to a girl whom I had beaten in the pools 5-1.

Nor does it help that more than once, even after I have managed to finish a pool or DE without crying so they aren't just saying it to be nice, that someone has said to me how beautifully I fence. Indeed, come to think of it, they sometimes say this even after I have beaten them, which I suppose is some consolation: I fence well enough that my opponents, at least, don't feel like complete idiots when I actually manage to make that last touch. But why then can't I make it more often? I'm so close, and yet so terribly, heart-wrenchingly far. And it's all in my head. My hand knows what to do, my feet how to move, but that is worth nothing if I can't do it at the right time. And, for the life of me, I can't figure out what to do. My coach says that I need to have confidence in my attacks, but (and I've written about this before) there is confidence and then there is confidence. What I had yesterday in my DE going in (and was nervous about) was confidence that I was "the better fencer" (as if); what I didn't have was the confidence to make it so.

Great, now I've just spent some time reading over my posts from the past year or so. I have definitely written this post more than once. If only I could fence as well as I write about how stupid I feel. But I can't even seem to write any more. Been there, done that, written the blog post. And here I am, still in this hell. It's all in my head, I know it's all in my head. If only I could find the heart to let myself fence as well as I know that I can. But it's clearly never going to happen. I have been trying to write myself out of this darkness for a good year and a half now, and nothing has changed. I am just as enlightened and yet unenlightened as I ever was, losing just as many bouts as I ever did, no closer than I ever was to that magical but oh-so-elusive breakthrough that so many fencers have described for me. My clubmates have all found it; several of them have made their As and Bs this year. Me, I'm clearly too stupid to see what is staring me in the face because it really isn't as if I don't know how to fence. And yet I don't. I don't. I don't.

Please, God, what is it that you are trying to teach me that I simply can't learn? What else is there other than what I have already written about? I know there must be something, but I clearly can't see it because if I could, I wouldn't be writing this now. Is there something that I haven't confessed that is clouding my soul? Some truth about myself that I am too proud or too scared to face? I understand that there is no secret ingredient, that I don't need to do anything other than be myself. Am I being punished in some way for, I don't know, not being faithful enough? What is it that you are trying to tell me by withholding success from me in this way? Please, I've been here now on this plateau for so long. Please, let me feel that it is somehow worth it. I know, I know. I won't get off the plateau until I can accept being on it. I know. But I see those other women winning time after time and I know that they are not better fencers than I am. Okay, so they are better fencers because they do win, but it's not as if I don't have the wherewithal to make the moves that they do. Please, tell me what I need to practice and, I promise, I'll change. But I don't even know what to change any more. Is that it? Argh! Is what it?

I'm going to miss my airport shuttle if I don't get my stuff packed now.


  1. It's probably not much consolation, but I quite often feel that way about Go. I've been playing for years - maybe 20,000 games - and got quite good, but reached a plateau that nothing seems to change. You start wondering if you've hit some kind of cognitive limit that nothing but a new brain could alter.

  2. Thanks, Ray, it is actually some consolation. The hardest thing about being on the plateau is precisely what you describe: the feeling of being stuck permanently in a lower cognitive state than the one just a level above. The catch is (or so I'm told) than one simply has to stick it out without worrying about getting to that next level. Frustratingly, it really isn't as if one's progress or learning is flat; it's just that one only realizes how much one has improved looking back. Also, there are all sorts of changes going on that do not immediately issue in tangible results. It's just that they have to accumulate sufficiently for one to make the leap to the next level--which then becomes yet another plateau.


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