Monday, April 30, 2007


Something over twenty years ago I had a little baby in my arms, and wondered how high I could throw him into the air. Pretty high, it turns out. But I pulled a muscle in my back that put me in bed for three days, barely able to breathe. Ever since then, every few years it would act up. I could function, but it'd get pretty bad. When I started strength training it helped a lot. But if I get twisted or sleep wrong it can still be a problem. It's a problem now. Got twisted a couple of weeks ago rolling with someone who's pretty explosive, and then again yesterday I was put in a tough position and got it reactivated. I worked through it last week, kept rolling and the activity helped. We'll have to see about today. Slept well but carefully last night. Woke up feeling bruised. Weird. Oh, by the way, I did catch the baby.

The problem yesterday, after my little competition, was depression. It wasn't about not performing well. I didn't expect to. I don't think lower expectations was a defense mechanism. I think it was realistic -- no gi isn't my thing. I'm faster, but I have fewer techniques. The let down would have come even if I'd done well. It has to do with anticlimax. Once you're done with a goal or a project, you're sort of at sea. Now what? Is that all? That's how it is with me.

A strategy to deal with this depression, I figured out, would be to be around people for some hours after such an event. Sociability. A way to short circuit the brooding. It's just about the first time I've seen the practical rather than merely human benefit of company. I don't claim to be wired the same as most people.

So yesterday I was replaying an incident from the match, over and over and over. Nothing to do with an actual fight. The referee. Took me about twelve hours to figure out I was angry about it. Unprofessional. Immature. Selfish. That's the sort of thing company would help diffuse. Vent it and be done with it. But that's how I am, a brooder, and I've always been sick of it. I was flopping around trying to think about other things. I learned during a period of great loss, some years ago, that sleep really helps, when it finally comes. It's the distance. So any distraction might help. Company, sleep, a movie. Reading doesn't help. It's too much like thinking.

One of the things I was thinking about, peripheral to the brooding, was about the phrase, not comfortable in his skin. It's used as a fairly harsh, almost existential criticism. Evocative. People like that aren't so great to be around. But that's how I am. My father once told me that one of my brothers had been hard to hold, as a baby. He said it was like holding a chicken. Unpleasant. That's kind of funny. But the baby couldn't help it. He wasn't comfortable in his skin. By the time I came along, they seem to have been done with holding babies. Poor little me. I remember standing in a crib, holding onto the bars, crying to be held. Maybe I just think I remember. Maybe it's empathy for my having seen some other baby. Ah well.

It has to do with confidence and with an easy sociable manner, this skin comfort. You see it in cats. Some are just affectionate. Some you can't touch. There's a big thump, and some cats leap to the ceiling, and some just lie there expecting to be loved. It's obvious which make the best pets. But that other sort -- it's not their fault. It's how their nervous system is wired. It has to do with their bodies, with their skin, with the way input is processed -- sometimes sensory data affect the whole body, like electricity.

Same with people. We have a temperament. We shouldn't be slaves to it, but we have to honor the fact that it exists and has power. I am melancholic. I tend to introspection and isolation. The circumstances of my upbringing and my choices as an adult haven't done a lot to ameliorate these tendencies. It could have been otherwise.

My son was by temperament shy. But his mother and I loved him so dynamically that he had a foundation of security, so that his shyness could blossom into empathy and self-confidence. I'm pleased about that. Now, of course, he's a forceful and hardnosed man. That will mellow over the next few years into well-rounded maturity. In any case, he is comfortable in his skin.

That's how I wish I was. It takes a lot of energy to always have some big emotion. Like a cat that's always afraid, or a man who's always angry. It takes just as much energy to suppress emotion. Emotions are meant to be felt and then to pass away -- like using the toilet. Such processes have their purpose. The object of such purpose is not to be held onto as if it has value in itself. Emotional constipation causes cancer of the soul, where it turns inward and devours itself.

Thus, I have phobias. I have a phone phobia. Huh? There was a time when, almost literally, the phone never rang without bad news. For months and months. It was almost funny. Except for the anguish. Of course a phobia isn't about fear -- it's about avoidance. So I don't answer the phone anymore. Check messages and call back. Just one of my endearing little quirks. I don't like to answer the door either. I always expect crushing news. It happened too many times.

Well, that's hardly being comfortable in your skin. Or in the world. It's kind of pathetic, to be controlled by the past. But it's not only the past. It's the way we're wired. Whether or not we're comfortable in it, we can't escape our skin.

As for the no gi thing yesterday, I did learn a lesson. My usual game isn't very effective with no gi. The few tricks I have don't work as well. I sensed it before, but this drove it home. That's a good thing. I have no regrets. The mistakes I made are inconsequential, and even a pulled muscle in my back just encourages me to start strength training. And I did figure out something about the brooding. The mental script is, What can I do to change this. Maybe the correct line would be, God, help me. The fact that I've dialed that number before and no one seems to answer, well, it may be that God will call back. Wonder if I'll pick up.


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