Boxing Day

Hand Wraps

His daughter sits on the basement floor and colors, if what she’s doing can be called that. The enchanted forest book was among yesterday’s Christmas loot. Green ink creeps in swirls as she embellishes the narrow space between the veins of a leaf. She barely registers the music screeching past as it thuds thuds in time to leather gloves pounding a heavy bag.

This is his three minutes. I squeeze into a corner of the blue mat on my back. My clasped hands are wrapped in ragged strips of fabric and swipe at the air as I curl into crunches, press towards 50 and then surge past. Close to my exposed flank – too close – he jolts and slips and ducks. The weight falls off as beads of sweat hit the mat. Shadows of sinew cut into his shoulders. Ropes braid his neck. He dances with power thrumming along every string.

The earlier chapters are carved into flesh hidden beneath skin. The tongue is lost but the meter of those verses is translation enough. Ghosts jammed their grappling hooks into his jaw and temple and laid their weight against the cables. Claw over claw, they tried to draw him with stubborn resolve down into that pit where they boil the tar and hemlock, where they chant their cold spells. Mother Gothel learned her arts there before planting her garden. You may know the place. The more you lean in, the stronger the scent of oblivion.

On the floor near my shoulder, his daughter chooses a darker green for the branches. “They’re supposed to be brown,” she says, “Like a tree. But I want them to be vines.” She paints the fine strands like jungle dusk.

He keeps his fists in his line of sight. I see how he grows muscle from sources both clear and buried. He laces up gloves and running shoes, of course. He pounds it out on canvas and asphalt. Yet under that, a core strength comes from a deeper exertion. He strains up, always up, forcing momentum to reverse against the compulsion to surrender, resisting that sweet temptation of relief.

To those whose bodies are matched to the pull of gravity, this effort is incomprehensible. But look closely and you’ll see the corrugated skin and voice, you’ll see the cuts like scars across the force field he emits from the moment he wakes even before the sun. You’ll see how his light’s flickering tempo jabs back against the black box of night.

He invites you into that basement where he does battle with an appetite for extinction. He powers up some deeper engine and keeps it running, makes it growl against the silent pulleys they use to draw him in. He keeps it humming, makes it fire, even when the key has gone missing, he pushes it from the hill and pops the clutch. He finds a way to spark it to life no matter how thick the rime obscuring a barely remembered green.

His daughter switches out jade for fern and loops spirals along the wings of a bird. She looks up, pausing to watch her dad’s fists fly against the bag. “Can I have a turn?” She asks.

“Sure, babygirl,” he pants. “Let’s get your hands wrapped after this round.” He smiles in her direction before turning a scowl back on the bag. It sways, creaking its displeasure at the assault.

I bend sideways to force my obliques into submission. I face him now, watch his bare feet shuffle over the mat as he circles his unyielding crimson opponent. He is strength here, he is courage. He is also their opposite. He is the admission of weakness, the acknowledgment of fear. He knows what is at stake. He’s felt the reeling sensation that comes when every treasure escapes his grip. He’s seen how close a man can come to failing to save the most precious.

He chooses fierce. Both coach and fighter, he splashes cold water in his own face and wakes the weary champion. He plays as if brave knight-errant, as if he was born for this, because he’s covered enough earth to know he is not. None of us is, and anyone who believes otherwise is Don Quixote, all fool and bluster.

This is why I love the softness there under the corners he’s trying to chisel back into his armor. Those tender places are just as welcome in my grip as the cut and thunder. Plenty of men are blind to their weak seams and show only scars that come with a good story. They have not been tested yet. They have not broken. It is always only a matter of time.

I want to see bulges and the crude patch job. These are the places where he stuffed whatever gauze and rotgut he could find. These jagged seams map his crossing, and they show him which way to turn if he finds himself back on that familiar route. The stitches hold the reminder of what happens when he loses his footing, when he almost falls so far he can’t climb back. I want to know he’s visited that place. Even if he stayed long enough in that pit to become a citizen, he chose to give up its Neverland promises and rise back up to life.

Evidence of that ascent is written into him. I see the callouses on his hands and know that he keeps them in shape both to hold his domain among the living and to keep climbing, even now, even when he could be justified in saying this is far enough.

The bell clangs, end of round. I stand. He lets out a breath and taps my hip before ripping off his gloves. I pull the straps tight on mine, bouncing on the balls of my feet as I wait for the seconds to tick down to my beginning. He touches his daughter on the head. She lifts her eyes from the twining vines and tangled leaves now waking to lushness across the page. “Let’s get your wraps on,” he says. “You’re up next.”

 

 

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Hold Still

Mental anguish always results from the avoidance of legitimate suffering.
― Stefan Molyneux

Hello day.
Hello desk.
Hello tick
Hello tock.
Hello Yes:
the one
I said
before
I knew.
Hello Word:
the one
I gave
the one
I keep.

 

Choice Words

We must appreciate the power of redescribing, the power of language to make new and different things possible and important — an appreciation which becomes possible only when one’s aim becomes an expanding repertoire of alternative descriptions rather than The One Right Description.

Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

You ask the color of my day.
I ask where will we go.
You say when we are old.
I say you show me this.
You ask what is exciting.
I ask which words
you want to hear instead.

The shadow question could steal
in. Does sometimes
voice
into form, flesh
into golem. Why are you so
Wrong with
Don’t you see
See why you don’t?

Yes is a synaptic response
to stiumli and also
a stimulus itself, an anatomy
not unlike that of
Can’t
and Will.

It is a fallacy
of misplaced concreteness
to claim we are
this way
or even that we are.

You and I are not us.
We make us.

I say this
(touch you here)
is why I do.

You ask what we choose.
I ask what will it take.
 

Happy 100 Days: 57

To get a hug is to give a hug, right? In the interest of sowing a few happy seeds in the community garden, I made a late-night, earnest commitment to hug at least one somebody every day. This will be a breeze when I have a night with Bug. Hell, I can gorge on a few dozen hugs when Giovanni comes around. On a normal day, though, this will require a little extra attention. My fellow metro commuters may not take kindly to an uninvited squeeze. Also, I am apparently not the same gauze-draped sylph of my youth, opening my bejeweled arms to every new acquaintance upon introduction. I no longer expose my vital organs to folks until I have given them a good sniff.
 
A hug a day. Yes. I went to bed satisfied with the quest.
 
Daybreak chased the promise right out of the ol’ noggin. I woke early and raced off to volunteer at a manual work day at Bug’s school. I dug post holes for the new jungle gym and lugged wheelbarrows of gravel with complete strangers. After we had stashed the shovels back in the shed, one of the other moms said goodbye, pulling me into a spontaneous hug. Oh yeah! I was going to do that! What cozy niceness, that smile unfurling down my spine. In that little meeting of our arms and tummies, a fellow volunteer became a potential friend.
 
Also, I had kept my promise without even trying!
 
I managed for two more days to give a few squeezes. Then the commitment wandered off again. Working life has a way of elbowing aside the mammal hunger for closeness. Who hugs, anyway? I mean, in the quotidian clip of commute-office-meeting-supermarket-commute again single parenthood, who does such a thing? Nobody hugs. At least, nobody hugs me, and I don’t seem to remember how to manifest that spontaneous warmth the way my fellow digger did at the work site.
 
Tonight, I had a chance to give a hug (and get one in return. . . How lovely that would be!) to a friend. I blew it, neglecting to recall the commitment or its desire until I was already aboard the metro and well on my way home.
 
I may have missed my chance, but I can’t abide breaking my promises. I got to the house, dumped my stuff, and hugged the dog instead. I threw in a deep under-the-collar neck scratch for good measure. I dug in there until her leg started pedaling and I knew the dopamine was surging. She even groaned a little. It was super fluffy sweet.
 
This was not quite what I was aiming for, but a dog-cuddle will do in a pinch. The goal tomorrow: a grownup hug with a human. I can’t wait to find out who will make me smile!
 

Happy 100 Days: Beginnings

This whole thing started because I was stuck. Two years had come and gone since the Jenga blocks of our little family had fallen all around us. Apparently it was not the most solid construction to begin with, but that’s a different story.
 
I was waiting. Waiting for what is anyone’s guess. Something to change, maybe? For a surge of energy? A white knight? I kept waiting to feel ready for the next chapter. Was I ready to move forward with Giovanni or ready to let go? Maybe I was waiting for Tee to make a decision that would force me into decisiveness. I am sure I was waiting for a better-paying job to appear on the horizon (as if this is how such things happen), or to feel inspired enough to launch the project that haul me out of my financial pit. At the very least, I was waiting to feel something other than dread about the future.
 
I think I was waiting for a sign. Since I do not believe in signs, it will come as no surprise that none materialized.
 
All this waiting contained neither momentum nor acceptance. It was frantic. I kept swirling, spinning my wheels, slipping into the same old vortex of exhaustion and hopelessness. Pick your metaphor. Every one is a different version of a circle turning back on itself. Work was a grindstone. Conversations with both Giovanni and Tee were broken records. The needle never moved forward along the groove of the music to find its conclusion and lift away, making room for the next piece. No, it was all just revolve, skip, repeat.
 
Work was getting done. I was walking and dancing myself healthy, staying on top of Bug’s schedule, calming myself before the reactiveness and complications that seemed to weigh down every interaction with the people closest to me. Sure, I was looking well enough on the surface. “You really just have it all together,” one of my co-workers said to me. I gave her a “huh!” that made her jump. I was holding things together, but only barely. It just didn’t make sense to me that two years into this new life, and everything (and I mean everything) felt so hard.
 
I claimed I did not know how to do anything differently. Those familiar grooves, even the revolve and skip and repeat, were keeping me a kind of safe. Known safe. Nothing-has-to-change-and-I-can-manage safe.
 
But, boy howdy, was I miserable. Oh, and did I mention? Tired, tired, tired.
 
About three weeks ago, I found myself returning to the same refrain of despair after a brief detour. I had gone through a tailspin preparing for a series of interviews for a job opportunity that would have helped me approach self-sustaining. After the dizzying crash when it was offered to one of the other two candidates (the one with 14 years of experience in a field to which I have just returned, so who can blame them?), I brushed myself off, got back to the grind, and heard the mean little voice I had heard at least four thousand times before:
 
No one is coming for me.
 
For two years, this message has left me bereft.
 
But on this day, I woke up. Something sounded different. I looked that voice right in the eye. “Say that again. A little louder.”
 
No one is coming for me.
 
A key turned in a lock. The whole mechanism of my understanding slipped into alignment, and the door fell open.
 
No one is coming for me!
 
I am off the hook! I do not have to keep waiting for vague fantasies of rescue to come pulsing to life. No one is coming. It’s all me, and I get to do this in any way I see fit. No more clutching, grasping, longing, and struggling to endure this in order to get to that.
 
What a relief!
 
The reason I am stuck is not because I do not work hard enough. The reason I am stuck is because I am stuck. The only way to get un-stuck is to lift the needle, remove the worn-out composition, and replace it with music more to my liking.
 
I am ready to make my own happy.
 
I understand that “happy” is not a steady state nor is it a fixed target. I also know that whatever form it takes, it is an ingredient required for that elusive success I feel is so far out of my grasp. Without a little pleasure, I am just stuck in the same groove. Revolve, skip, repeat.
 
Depression, exhaustion, and a worst-case-scenario mindset have done far more damage than all of my professional and relational decisions combined. Or, another way to say it is this: feeling bad makes the universe of options constrict so completely that I make poor, short-sighted choices. And I generally choose inertia over bold steps.
 
So, “happy” may be an insufficient condition for getting un-stuck, but it is certainly necessary. Career success, inspiration, intimacy, and health all demand this one thing. Not harder work, no. I have been working myself hollow. Instead, it is throwing open the curtains and maybe humming a little good-morning tune.
 
Zippety-doo-dah.
 
That’s how this all started. I decided to right then and there to quit kvetching and start taking in the good, as Rick Hanson advises. It was a simple decision to begin the daily practice of seeking out a more positive, loving perspective. To calm my reactions and smile the tension down. I figured that doing this with any intention would require turning the good experiences over in my mind, rolling them around the tongue. First, seek moments of engagement, then collect them, and finally, describe them.
 
For these 100 days, I give over to the possibility of neuroplasticity, and let these practices do what they can to rebuild the tendencies of this long-suffering brain. This was the promise I made to myself when I wrote that contract with joy.
 
I will let in the light. I will find the new song. I will not shy away.
 
I will write it all down.
 
This final practice, I have discovered, kills two birds with one stone (or plants two trees with one seed, as the case may be), because writing makes me happy. Writing about happy things makes me doubly so.
 
Let the signs come. I may not believe, but I will keep my eyes and ears open. If they do not materialize, well, then, I will just have to go and cobble them together from whatever is on hand. Which is, after all, everything.
 

Happy 100 Days: We the Undersigned

Whereas
in 100 days we will say good
night to this year. We will rise in the dark
January morning to a new
beginning.
 
Whereas
I do not remember
my resolution when this year began. I probably did not
find the courage to make one.
This morning,
the cool light of the equinox
returned it to me.
 
This is my contract
With Joy.
 
The agreement is made and takes effect on September 23, 2012 between myself, hereafter known as “first party” and the creative juice of the universe, hereafter known as “second party.”
 
The provisions of this agreement are as follows:
 
During her tenure, the first party will
Stay alive
stay awake
trust her gut.
Greet her sadness
before letting it blow past,
shake hands with anger
then release her grip.
 
The first party commits
to noticing one beautiful thing
for every one that brings her sorrow,
watching her step
for quicksand
and seeking a way
around.
 
Her service requires
smiling
when her face has forgotten how
glancing at the moon
when she would rather stay blind
speaking gently to herself
as if she already is the woman
she is becoming.
 
The term of this agreement is 100 days and shall be open for re-negotiation on January 1, 2013.
During the aforementioned term, the first party commits to choosing a minimum of 100 moments of happiness.
Each one, a pause:
She will submit a record of one each day
in writing
and when possible, speak
her gratitude for it.
 
For services rendered by the first party,
the second party,
maker of joy, will take care of the quality
of the goods
and the timing
of the deliverables.
The second party provides non-payroll benefits in the form of insurance
against despair.
 
Documentation of service will take the form
of punching the clock and ticking
the box.
One glimpse of beauty each day, a promise
small yet signed in a scratch
of autumn light at this, the first of the last of the year
in which two parties give
over
to a single promise
of renewal.