Discomfort Zone

I suck.  One of my coaches* has been trying to get me to learn to change lines with my attacks, which means, for the moment, practicing holding my arm and hand in a much higher on guard than I am comfortable with.  It also means, as I learned last night at practice, that I have next to no game left at all.  Which sucks.  I cannot tell you how much.

For months, since sometime in February or March, for the first time in my eight years of fencing, I felt like I had a game.  Okay, so not all of my attacks landed in the way that I hoped, but I had learned (finally, finally, finally, thank God!) how to asses what I was doing during a bout, think about the mistakes that I had made, and try something different: change distance, change tempo, feint, set up an attack.  I was fencing, God dammit!  Fencing.  Really and truly fencing.  And, let's not forget, enjoying myself. 

It's all gone.  All of it.  I am back in the Pit, staring at frustration and despair.**  Nothing works.  I am blind to what my opponents are doing.  All I can think about is making the touch.  I'm not watching them, I'm not planning, I'm not there anymore.

But that's not why I suck.  I suck because last night, in the midst of a bout with one of the newer members of our club, I lost my temper and tried hitting her too hard.  And, for my sins, broke a wire, thus killing my blade.  It was her fault, really.  She was being so picky and serious about all of the calls (we were directing ourselves, never a good idea, but standard at practice), and she never believed me when I insisted that I, too, knew a thing or two about priority and whether there had been blade action or not.  It didn't help that she has been studying these past four years with yet another of my coaches*** and, yes, I was jealous that she was fencing better than I was.  But.

I suck.  I shouldn't have lost my temper with her.  I want to say, "I just couldn't help it."  But that's the problem: I could.  Or could I?  I'm calm now; I feel like I could fence her again and not get so frustrated, but I've been there on the strip facing that demon for years and I know how powerful it is.  The demon that says, "You should be able to do this better.  You never learn."  I thought that I had conquered it.  More fool I.  I spent the last half hour of practice losing it over and over again, including when I was fencing Ed (the one who is trying to teach me to change lines).  My fellow Fencing Gypsy Marie had to listen to me bitch about how sucky I felt and how she is most certainly a better fencer than I am despite the fact that I have been fencing longer (at least, as a Veteran) than she has.  I wanted to hit myself again as I was driving home.

I know why, theoretically at least, I've lost my game: I'm trying to learn a new skill, take my game to the next level, become an even stronger fencer than I was a month or two ago by incorporating a new level of complexity into my attacks.  Of course my game has fallen apart.  It's just like trying to learn to write about a new subject and losing your grammar and syntax.  Until the new material makes sense to you, you simply can't write at the level to which you have become accustomed.  But I'm scared.  What if my game never comes back?  What if I'm stuck on this f*cking plateau for another eight years?  What if this summer's understanding of what to do was only a blip, a peak to which I will never return?

Heh.  At least then I'd have something to write about.  It's funny (and, let's face it, heartening) that I don't right now seem to be able to sustain the funk that I was in even a few hours ago, before I had a chance to start working on this post.  I took the Dragon Baby for a walk out to the lake after finishing my translation session this morning, and as we were sitting there together on a rock looking out at the seagulls and waves, I was composing in my head all of the things that I wanted to say about how terrible I felt.  About being afraid of feeling what I was feeling and not being very good at dealing with emotions.  About how, growing up, I never learned what to do with the feelings that I had of frustration and self-doubt.  About whose fault it is that I feel this way about myself and my feelings.  About how I suck.

But I can see now (literally, thanks to the new eye drops I have).****  And I know that these feelings are okay to feel, even if they are uncomfortable and I want nothing more than to get away from them.  Wow.  That's not quite what I thought I was going to say.  What I thought I was going to say was something about needing to learn to sit with these feelings, not identify so much with them, but also not to blame myself for having them.  Talk about my game falling apart.  So is my interior syntax.

Let's try again.  "My sinuses hurt."  Nope, not what I was intending to write about here.  "I'm tired, I might need a nap before I start making notes again this afternoon for that committee report."  Nope, that wasn't it either.  "I was angry at myself last night for being jealous of V.'s parry and wishing that I didn't feel so defeated fencing her."  Okay, that's closer.  "I wanted to argue with her about the calls that she was making, but she seemed so sure of herself, it just wasn't worth arguing.  But I know that there was blade contact in that last action, and I don't care if she meant to do a second intention, I still parried and hit before she took the blade back."  Now we're getting somewhere.  "I was angry because I felt like she wouldn't listen to me."  Now, why?  Plenty of people don't listen to me, all of the time.  Mind you, that makes me pretty angry, too.  But why should not feeling heard be such a powerful trigger for me?

Aha.  See, this is where I wanted the post to go.  Somewhere towards making sense of what it is that makes me feel so very uncomfortable about having such strong emotions about what is going on in a bout.  I'm fine when I feel like my opponent respects me.  I go crazy when it feels like nothing I can do will impress her.  And I totally lose it when she seems to think that she knows more than I about what has just happened in our interaction.  (It most certainly didn't help last night when V. started directing Ed and my bout.  I just wanted to tell her, "Forget it!  You'll never see what I did, even if I could do it right tonight."  Instead, I said something about Ed trying to break my line, but I don't think she was listening.  Go figure.)  But why should being contradicted make me lose my own self-respect?  Is my ego really that fragile, that I can't take being questioned at all?  Perhaps, but I don't think that is all of it. 

I need a cup of tea.  And my sinuses do hurt.  I wonder sometimes about how my body seems to be expressing all of the tension I feel: the tendon in my left foot that hurts when I've been fencing for a while, my left wrist that hurts when I put weight on it, my right elbow that hurts almost all the time at the moment, my eyes.  Everything seems to be falling apart.  And, let's face it, I have been under some stress.  Decluttering.  Going to therapy.  I'm not even sure I have a comfort zone anymore.  But maybe that is a good thing.  Because if nothing else, one of the things that I've learned this past month watching myself eat is how much I have used eating to try to suppress exactly these kind of uncomfortable emotions.

Talk about having to learn a whole new game.  I think I'll try taking that nap now.

*I have three: Bakhyt, Ed and Rebecca.  Bakhyt is from Kazakhstan and fenced for the Soviet national team when he was younger; he is the founder and head coach at our new club.  Ed is the assistant head coach for the Northwestern University fencing team; he was the president of our old fencing club.  Rebecca is the assistant foil coach at Culver Academy and captain of the Great Lakes Fencing Gypsies Veteran's Women Foil team (i.e. me, her and our friend Marie).  It takes all three of them to keep me sane--and then some.
**At least, I was last night.  Curiously, after writing that first footnote about my coaches, I started feeling better.  Stupid Pit!  It doesn't even stick around long enough for me to finish the post.  I'll show it.  I'll find it again.  So there.  Um.
***Peter, founder and head coach at Redstar Fencing; Peter was my main coach for the first four years that I fenced.
****Long story, I'm still healing from my PRK back in January.  Basically, I haven't been able to see properly for months, owing, it now seems, to the fact that my tears were draining too quickly from my eyes.  I have plugs in my tear ducts now that help keep the tears in, but I also have a new brand of eye drops (a.k.a. artificial tears) that seem to be better at smoothing over my corneas.


  1. This isn't a very profound thing to say about a thought provoking post, but your experience has convinced me I'm never messing around with any supposedly sight-improving procedure on my very nearsighted eyes. I'll stick with the soft contacts I've work for over 20 years now! I'm sorry you've had such a terrible recovery from your procedure, and I hope this new care plan works. As someone who reads, writes, and looks at images for a living, I can't imagine something much worse than not being able to see properly.

  2. Well, I should say that things are better with the new drops, but also that it's been my distance vision that has suffered most over the process. I do have to wear reading glasses more or less to read at all now, but my middle distance vision has been good for several months. Which means I don't have to wear glasses under my fencing mask--definitely a plus! But the healing has taken much longer than I think is usual, even for PRK.


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog post. I look forward to hearing what you think!


Popular posts from this blog

Sister Mary, the Devil, and Me

Make the Middle Ages Dark Again

The Myth of the Flat Earth

How to Signal You Are Not a White Supremacist

Draco Layer Four: The Anagogic or Mystical Sense