Thursday, August 23, 2012

A new home, a new chapter: Leaving an experience behind while bringing the feeling forward

So it's been a big week for me. Over the past eight days I moved out of my parents' house (I don't have to pretend to call it my home anymore; it's their house) and got my own apartment, on my own, in Ithaca, New York. This is not a unique point on the spectrum of human experiences, so I don't think it would surprise anyone to read that I am both excited and tentative about this new chapter of my life.

Of course, the reason for the location is that I am beginning graduate studies in English at Cornell University this week. There is only one way I feel about this: excited! I look forward to the challenges ahead as I strive to continue the work that I do and learn how to do it better. I look forward to learning how to be a more effective scholar, and how to execute the skills necessary to succeed as an academic. I look forward to learning just how much  have to learn and to realizing even more saliently than I see now how little I really know. I look forward to meeting new people whose interests intersect with my own, and people whose interests don't. I look forward to carrying my formative stories from SUNY Geneseo with me across the Cornell campus, and adding to but not overwriting these stories.

Well that brings me to one of the less than spectacular things about the move: as excited as I am for Cornell, it does feel strange not being in Geneseo. I've written enough gushing facebook statuses and had enough conversations with folks both within and outside the school about how much I freakin' love that place, so I won't go all-out here. But I'm going to miss that community. Not in the sense that I won't be able to enjoy where I am and treasure the present moment -- I fully understand that I am at the moment where I ought to be -- but I will miss Geneseo in the sense that even though I know it is healthy for me to grow and move physically away from it, my identity is still very much connected to it. Geneseo was my home for four years. And I mean that. During summer vacations I would intentionally avoid saying I was "home," because I honestly did not think of the place where I grew up as such. By the time I was ready to go away to school, I had really begun to think of my martial arts school as my home on long island, and after a year at Geneseo that became my home throughout the academic year. So yeah, I'm a little homesick.

And there it is too, the dojo, the place I feel most at home. For 16 years --that's 73% of my life on earth! -- I've trained at the Kempo Martial Arts Dojo of Holbrook. I started assisting classes 11 years ago. I've been an instructor teaching classes on my own for 7 years. There is absolutely nothing on this earth that has had a larger impact on my life and on who I am today than my time training in White Tiger Kempo. And by training I mean living, breathing, eating, sleeping, and thinking Kempo. I mean being Kempo. Training has reached a point where for me it is a way of being in the world. As I wrote in my last black belt essay, I don't do martial arts, I am a martial artist. And so it is difficult to leave this time around. It's different from going to Geneseo. Four years ago I knew that I would be coming back to the island every summer and so my training would continue sporadically but predictably for the next four years. And like clockwork, for four years, late May would roll around and I would be back in the dojo, seven days a week (usually training 5 and teaching 2). But this is different. This move is much more permanent. My Cornell fellowship thankfully supplies summer funding, and because I'm leasing an apartment I am contractually attached to my place of residence for 12 -- as opposed to 9 -- months. This means no more spending 3 and a half months every summer training at the dojo. This means a week or two here and there. I cannot even conceptualize that yet. I have no idea how I will deal with this part of the new chapter in my life. I know I will continue to train in the martial arts. I know I will always be a martial artist. I know I will always be true to my Kempo roots. I know I will always remember the instructors who cultivated me and work to honor them in my own training. But I don't know yet how I will deal with not physically being in that dojo. I know I will always be part of the family, but I don't know how often I will see my Kempo brothers and sisters. And that's tough.

On the topic of family, I have to also mention my Geneseo family (we literally referred to our end-of-semester gatherings as "family dinners"). I love all of them so much, and they have each been so important to my life, teaching me, helping me, guiding me, laughing with and at me, calling me out on my bullshit, listening to me, encouraging me, and above all else, letting me be me. I am eternally thankful to all of them for that (I don't care how trite that expression sounds). I know we're all moving on to new chapters of our lives in new places (and some returning to old places), and I am happy for everyone's growth and successes, and I wish for the best for everyone in the future. But like my feeling about Geneseo as a whole community, even though I know it's healthy and natural for us to all be setting out on new paths, I will still miss the old dynamic.

But as Sarah reminded me, I'm not leaving anyone behind. I carry all these people with me, along with all of the other folks that touched my life in numerous ways be it by playing in a shitty band for 3 weeks in high school, getting lost in New Orleans, mentoring me through academic and personal crises, being there to learn with me how to do work inside of human relationships, or working on the school newspaper with me for 3 or 4 years at Geneseo. Yeah yeah yeah, cliche cliche cliche you've heard all this before and I'm sounding way too sentimental and repetitious. While obviously self-conscious of this, I don't care enough to not post it =P

But again, to be clear, I am beyond excited for this next step. I am already learning to love Cornell and the city of Ithaca one small piece at a time (though I wish the Africana Center wasn't so far away on the northernmost edge of campus...). I feel closer to being a professional, and it feels good. And I cannot express how great it feels to have my own space. After a lifetime in a space crawling with toxicity (not only toxicity, as distance and age is teaching me, but certainly corrosive toxicity nonetheless), it is wonderful to nurture my own space. I will strive to make it a space in which I can be most able to do the work I want to do to continue to shape spaces and clean toxicity elsewhere as well, wherever I can and with whomever I can.

So while I will treasure all of my experiences and the family I found throughout my story thus far, for now I will enjoy making my new home and putting pen to paper for a new chapter. 

*          *          *

The old ones speak of winter
The young ones praise the sun
And time just slips away

Running into nowhere
Turning like a wheel
And a year becomes a day

Whenever we dream
That's when we fly
So here is a dream
For just you and I

We'll find the Sacred Heart
Somewhere bleeding in the night
Look for the light
And find the Sacred Heart

Here we see the wizard
Staring through the glass
And he's pointing right at you

You can see tomorrow
The answer and the lie
And the things you've got to do

Oh, sometimes you never fall
And ah - You're the lucky one
But oh - Sometimes you want it all
You've got to reach for the sun

And find the Sacred Heart
Somewhere bleeding in the night
Oh look to the light

You fight to kill the dragon
And bargain with the beast
And sail into a sign

You run along the rainbow
And never leave the ground
And still you don't know why

Whenever you dream
You're holding the key
It opens the door
To let you be free

And find the Sacred Heart
Somewhere bleeding in the night
Run for the light
And you'll find the Sacred Heart

A shout comes from the wizard
The sky begins to crack
And he's looking right at you - Quick
Run along the rainbow
Before it turns to black - Attack



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Injuries and my fears of aging

Yes, this is another blog post following a very prolonged gap. Yes, I changed the name of the blog to something more reflective of the general range of topics about which I've been writing. Moving on.

So in the past few weeks, I've had a chunk of my lip ripped nearly off and fixed with stitches (now it's fixed and all that's left as evidence is an irregular spot on the inside of my lip and a slightly loose tooth which my dentist says may die at literally any random time), broken a finger, and apparently had an impact on my knee which caused a little pocket of fluid to swell up along w/the regular bruising. Yes I'm a martial artist, but only one of those three was because of martial arts. The other two were from basketball. Though my Sensei will continue to say all of them are from the latter. Two out of three injuries not being from my lifestyle of electing to get punched in the face is enough irony for me.

But anyway, I've been thinking about my body and aging as I deal with this succession of injuries which each wind up having effects on my ability to engage in regular physical activities in ways disproportionate to their external appearance. Seriously, the bump on my knee has a circumference about the size of a nickle, but the pain after going to class at the dojo last night and playing basketball tonight was unbelievable. And that's saying something coming from me. I think I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and folks who know me know that I am totally that guy who never admits to being hurt or needing medical assistance (much to the chagrin of a few of my close friends -- sorry!).

Ok, back to my body and aging. I hate being physically unable to train the way I normally do when at the dojo. It makes me angry, upset, and when it lasts longer than one single day, it makes me kind of depressed (in the colloquial sense, not the clinical sense).
After my four years at Geneseo, most people know me as an intellectually-oriented individual, someone who spends most of his time working with his mind. And that's true, in a sense. I do identify that way -- I am, after all, on a path to hopefully have a career in academia. 

But I'm also a martial artist. That should make it obvious that I also identify strongly with my physicality as well as my intellectual inclinations. While training and exercise eclipses a bit during the academic year because of just how time-consuming my academic life is, I still work hard to keep myself active and training.

And you know what? I'm proud of that. I'm proud of the fact that I can keep my everyday resting heart rate hovering down around 45. I'm proud of the fact that, while I am an absolute failure at pretty much every sport I've ever tried, I still pass as an athlete of sorts. And I'm proud (evidently proud enough to tout my own horn in a blog post! hahaha) because I know I work hard (not to disavow luck -- I was blessed with a fast metabolism and other genetic factors that help out, as well as others that don't). Being proud of those kinds of things is part of my sense of identity. Part of me sense of self is my self-knowledge of my body's capabilities and a personality trait of refusing to accept apparent limitations (except for when my fears of heights or deep water factor in!). I relish in my martial arts training for many reasons -- martial arts has influenced literally every dynamic of my persona (that's a future blog bost). But one of those reasons is the pure physicality of it.

So that brings me back to the topic of injuries. I get a ton of bumps and bruises and there's always a part of my body that's sore -- to the point where I honestly answer "I don't know" when people ask me where some bruise or bump came from or why my legs or shoulders or whatever hurt. But rarely do these things impede my capacity to train at the level of intensity at which I like to train. When something happens that does impede me, however, I become very upset. And like I said, I become kind of depressed. I know it's not a unique feeling. A ton of people, within and outside the world of martial arts, have felt that kind of depression when you realize your body won't do something it usually has no problem doing. I am lucky beyond belief that I have never had such an injury last permanently and still enjoy the privilege of being able-bodied. But again, I know tons of people have had that temporary state where they can't quite perform the way they usual do.

I don't know about you, but for me, this depression at having my body limited by injury gets me thinking about the prospect of aging. Honestly, I am afraid to age. Not because I'm afraid of living on my own. Not because I'm afraid of trying to find a job. Not because I'm afraid of adult responsibilities. But because I'm afraid of what's going to happen to my body as I age, especially because at some point the effects of aging are outside of our control! (Don't get me started on my control issues!) The day will come when I can't run as fast, fight for as long, or get hit as hard as I can now. I already feel I'm getting older as I wake up each morning knowing whether it will be a "good" day or a "bad" day for my wrists (the difference being measured most accurately by my discomfort in the high plank position). I can tell that I'll have arthritis in my hands at some point (I've broken, sprained, or severely jammed 9 out of 10 fingers).

This stuff scares the crap out of me! Like I said, I'm somewhat mentally prepared (I think) for bills, jobs, and responsibilities. I am not at all mentally prepared for my body to age.

I know this has been a very self-centered post. All about me and my feelings. But I'm curious. How do any of (the two or three of) you who read this feel about your body aging, and more importantly, about the effects of that aging process being at some point outside of your control?