Archive for January, 2016
Tonight in Aikido class we’re falling. We’re falling forwards and backwards; sometimes we finish the fall by standing, sometimes we finish in a crouch. Sometimes in the middle of a fall we switch direction by shifting our legs and finish the fall at a different angle.
It’s important to note that “we’re falling” might be more accurately written as “they’re falling.” For, in some massive irony, I am no good at falling. But neither is PJ.
PJ and I decided a while ago to get back into martial arts. We have practiced other forms of martial arts both separately and together. He did Kempo in the US and I did Taekwondo. We both did Kung Fu for a couple of years in Prague.
Like any physical activity, martial arts teaches and trains so many different skills. Aside from martial and self-defense skills, it also teaches patience, mindfulness, meditation, fluidity, the ability to almost literally go with the flow.
At first the bird startles people. With its ability to make impossibly high-pitched croaks and whistles, it sounds more like a faulty smoke alarm or a broken stereo system than a myna bird. Only when it squawks do customers realize there’s a bird in the pub.
And after a while it’s sort of fun to watch the newcomers jolt with their inaugural squawk. throughout the evening, the bird gets rambunctious and lays out some serious vocals. It consistently freaks people out. It’s in a cage on the landing of the stairwell and everyone who goes to the bathroom stops to have a look at it.
It’s favorite song is the first half of the Can-can. For whatever reason the bird perennially sings the verse without ever getting to the refrain.
Other than pesky birds, the pub has other cool characteristics as well. It’s a brew pub, and designed with the giant brass vats used to boil and brew beer. The tables are close, so it’s impossible not to overhear the couple next to you whispering an argument about their pet dog. And the shots of hruškovice (pear brandy) are served with a little slice of pear on a toothpick, so you can feel quasi-healthy each time you shoot 100-proof liquor.
From time to time I hit snooze twice and end up running around my house like a headless turkey. And then I usually leave my house decaffeinated, hungry, and unshowered.
Today is one of those days.
Add in the fact that I have left my house without a book and my morning is ruined. Or at least my morning commute. I am running late, so I can’t stop for a snack or a coffee, and no book means I am forced to sit on public transport and be with myself in my own head.
It’s a horror show.
On the tram I am agitated. In addition to my already mentioned stack of issues, it’s winter, so comfort is not a word in my lexicon. My skin is dry, I am sweating because it’s – 30 degrees outside and the Czechs heat their trams and metros at around 400 Kelvin.
A Buddhist would be. Just be. Breathe. Be in the moment.
Commendable, but not my bag, baby. I have to distract myself by focusing on my misery and wondering how I could either A. be less miserable or B. be more miserable.
Today, I think about A.
If there’s one rule for working out, it’s to never look in a mirror while you’re doing it. Unless you resemble Chaning Tatum or Jennifer Lopez, you do not look good working out. You don’t.
OK, at least I don’t.
I always look a few seconds away from a stroke, shirt soaked through with sweat, my cheeks red as tomatoes, my face conveying a confused sense of loathing.
While there is a mirror in the middle room where I work out, I usually avoid it completely.
But every now and then, I take a peek. As I am suffering in a manly way, I guess I am hoping to catch a glimpse of myself looking manly suffering. But I never do, I always look marvelously unsexy and almost dead.
It’s during one of these peeks that I become aware of my chosen outfit for working out.
Not just a blue shirt. Blue everything. Shoes. Shorts. Shirt. Towel. All blue.
I don’t know if I fit the stereotype one might associate with a forty-year old bachelor. Probably yes and no. I am a good cook, I enjoy keeping a clean house, and I have admitted the benefits of a daily lotion regimen. On the other hand, I can’t iron and I have long lacked the ability to clothe myself properly.
I am remarkably bad at dressing myself.
It’s hard to believe that I was in the U.S for Christmas just two weeks ago. My Christmas holiday visit came and went so fast that it’s almost as though it didn’t happen. Sometimes, in the confused moments of lingering jetlag, I am not totally unconvinced that it wasn’t a dream.
Fortunately, I spent a lot of time with my sister in the U.S, so I have roughly 12,392 pictures to prove I was there.
My sister and I have known each other for about forty years. She is the second oldest sibling, twenty-two months younger than me, and so was my first DNA-sharing partner in crime. Ask my parents and they might suggest that “partner in crime” is an almost literal statement. See, at the age of three, I realized that efficiently torturing the youth and happiness out of my parents demanded a second party, which is where my sister came in.
And for the next ten years or so we did just that with several thoughtful, well-planned, poorly-executed hijinks. We broke things, ate things, and threw things. We snooped, crapped, and plotted. The only thing we were better at than doing bad things was getting in trouble for doing bad things. Fortunately, it turns out that neither of us are natural-born criminals, so more often than not we got nabbed. And when that happened I left her holding the bag as often as possible.
Believe it or not, my tendency to sell my closest friend, partner, and confidante down the river did nothing to damage our relationship. We remained close friends until we hit puberty a decade later and she embarked upon a seven-year period when everyone in the neighborhood referred to her as the “she-monster.” Not to her face, of course, as we were all afraid of her. Nobody who knew her then ever talks about it now.
And yet, my sister has grown into the opposite of the she-monster, and the nicest of my siblings (myself included). She is sweet and unassuming, will focus with genuine attentiveness on what people tell her. She looks down on talking bad about people behind their backs, while the rest of our family is governed by the notion that if you’re not there to defend yourself, well, that’s just your own damn fault. After two drinks she slips on a wide-eyed naivety persona, both easily amazed and entertained, and one who would cajole a shoulder rub out of Adolf Hitler if he happened to goosestep through the door.
Beneath this goofy exterior, is a hard-headed businesswoman. Lack though she does the funny gene and the biting wit the other three siblings have, she has instead developed a shrewd and clever business sense.
And you would be hard pressed to find another human being who takes as many photographs as she does, outside of those who write the word “photographer” on their W2 forms.
I am sitting at my desk at work, trying to organize my day. Usually a fan of the good old to-do list, today’s task is not a pleasant one. Things are piling up. I am staring at a stack of papers, watching my emails actively multiply from administration and desperate students. I am feeling stress.
It’s that awful period in between teaching and testing, which means that I am still teaching a few courses while creating tests for other courses. My rhythm and schedule have been thrown off and there’s a whole lot to do.
I make a distressingly large to-do list and while I do this, I mentally kick myself for yesterday.
Yesterday was Sunday (as you probably well know). It was a day that I had free from the minute I awoke to the minute I feel asleep with a Bill Bryson book tented over my face. I didn’t have to meet anyone, nor did I have to teach or leave my house for any reason.
And yet, I had a list of things to do. I had to write my blog for today, plan two lessons for today, grade three tests, create a test, mark two papers, and edit a chapter of a book. This was only on the professional to-do list. My domestic to-do list was to clean my bathrooms and kitchen and do laundry. I had to work out too.
In the end, I chose to plan one lesson, write the blog, do the cleaning, and work out.
And I’m still stressed today.
I’m trying to stay awake at Charles De Gaulle in Paris. More accurately I am trying not to embarrass myself. I am doing the bastardized version of sleep that comes during long layovers after long flights.
My chin is in my palm, elbow perched on the armrest. I keep dropping off to sleep for seconds at a time, waking as my head slips out of my palm and towards the backpack on my lap.
Anytime I have a long layover after a long flight I feel like a prisoner being tortured by the CIA. I can’t sleep on flights, so after 8 sleepless hours in the sky, I am sent through a maze of hallways, gates, security points, and escalators. What’s more, the same coffee shop and magazine-stand/gift-shop keep appearing, so I am led to believe I am hallucinating.
Today, the worst part of this ordeal is that when I finally reach my gate, I still have more than four hours to wait. I groan.
My sister can’t believe this attitude, everything involving air travel is a dream come true for her. But then again, she has two kids, so four quiet hours of scrolling Facebook or reading magazines might as well come with 72 virgins.
I have inherited the pathological and intense dislike of waiting displayed by the men in my family. We have made impatience into a warlike art form, and become instantly stressed, uncomfortable, and aggravated.
But I have worked on this shortcoming in recent years. I have tried simply to be, rather than expect or anticipate. So that’s not what really bothers me. What really gets to me is waiting to do something I can’t stand.
In many family Christmas movies, the main events take place on the main event. That main event can be Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Like all movies, there has to be something to drive at, what’s the crisis? What does our character need to accomplish or realize and how does Christmas play into that whole thing?
George Bailey had to realize that his life was worth living. Clark Griswold needed to prove that he could pull off a big family Christmas. Hugh Grant tracked down that curvy singer who thwarted the advances of Billy Bob Thornton.
This is what the main character ponders for the week before Christmas: What is this all about?
In the meantime he spends time with his family. In this movie, a viewer might see the character trying to successfully negotiate the booby trap pitfall Jenga tower that his mother calls “the refrigerator.” He is twice doused in sauces (guacamole and sour cream) and has never seen so many packets of blueberries in his life.
The viewer might also see him singing the entire score to Jesus Christ Superstar with his sister and trying to talk sense to the other sister, whose superpower seems to be morphing into an 11-year old girl after her third glass of wine.