I’ve been off the grid, actively, for about 10 days and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s necessary for me to unplug from time to time to truly recharge the energy that I need which helps keep the family system running smoothly. I held on to the last 10 days of summer vacation with an almost feral grip.
I needed to unplug; “it” (the internet, social media, the blogging) was getting to me. When I’m out of sorts, the house is out of sorts and I don’t just mean that it’s a messy place (which it usually is — we are a very active family of five and everyone has a sport or two they like so that means a lot of zipping and zooming). I mean that meals go unplanned, the dog doesn’t get walked, the clean laundry pours out of rubbermaid baskets.
We have a lot of fitness equipment in our basement which we all use but we prefer being outside. My favorite sport out of the house is rowing. I used to do sweep rowing which is typically many people (usually 8 people) in one boat (also called a “shell”) plus an on-board coach called a coxswain who steers and commands you to do what s/he says. You just do it. This person is usually three inches tall and weighs 30 ounces but their voice makes you get shit done simply because you want to. You don’t want to fail.
In sweeps, each person holds one oar with both their hands. The oars in sweeps are huge, about 12′ and they probably weigh about 8 to 10 pounds each. I stopped doing sweeps because of tennis elbow (the torque and pressure can be immense during competition), but the love of being on the water never faded. So I learned to scull this summer. Sculling can be done with one person (if you rowed sweep with one person you’d go in circles all the time). A single is a much smaller (25′) and lighter (28#) boat that uses two narrower, shorter (10′) and lighter oars and of course the water. Always the water.
From the sculling, my right hand has a new blister in the palm which is an extremely bad sign. It means I’m gripping too tightly, incorrectly and too often. The fact that I’ve had tennis elbow in both my elbows (currently my left since January) is not lost on me. The muscles most involved in that affliction are the ones that we use to grasp, grip, hold, pinch, lift and pull. You know: everything you need to row successfully. I’m not gonna beat myself up too much about the blisters: there are other reasons beside incredibly bad form that could help create conditions where a blister develops: wind, oversteering, overgripping, poor hand placement, lack of balance… hmm. Only one of those reasons is not my fault. A hopeful sign about the blister might have to do with steering because it’s the one used to keep the shell on its proper side of the water. All the other blisters I have are normal and the right kind to have. (Masochists, rowers are masochists too.)
. . . . . . Balance . . . . . .
The other part of rowing that is essential is balance and while I’ve not flipped my boat yet, I’ve come close and when does that happen? When I’m trying too hard. When I’m unbalanced, when I’m thinking, to be quite honest. When I think about what I’m doing in the shell, I screw up every time. I’m pretty hard on myself though. I know this. And you know all that tension helps in the shell. So if you really want to mess up your row, power through everything and be comPLETEly self-critical constantly. They say animals sense us and tell us about ourselves if we’re willing to listen…yes. True. Want to try it without an animal? Try “listening” to a rowing shell. I’m swearing inside like a Somalian pirate about how much a shell tells you about yourself. Masochists. The fatter the boat, the less upset. When you’re sitting on top of the water in an 18″ wide shell you learn to get your shit together quick or you’re going over. So what have I learned about myself so far? That overcompensating messes with the balance and if you mess with the balance, you’re throwing everything off. Just be is the way to be.
The last time I got tennis elbow was six years ago. It was in my right arm. It took a long time to eradicate and eventually I gave in, got the shot and that was that. Not so much this time.
So I’m grasping, gripping, holding on too tightly. To what? Lots of things, actually and guess what? They’re all intangible! Yay! In rowing, this is called “the death grip.” In this sport power is important, absolutely, but what’s more important? Technique. Finesse. Subtlety. Nuance. I think those qualities also translate to successful life off the water too.
I am not a subtle person. I am not finessed. Nuanced is not how I would be described. I can be all those things, but they require effort. Meh. And a headcold. When I have a headcold I am finessed and not forceful. I am beaten. My husband is those things, just like my brothers’ wives are too. They are lovely, poised, paced and composed. I have noticed that being subtle like they are feels nice, almost. But it’s not natural. I’m nice, but I’m pretty firm. Holding on. Gripping whatever slice of reality I can manage to hunt up and hold. Cover all the exits.
So my hands are metaphors.
Metaphors for what? Trying to hard to make something that can’t be made yet; forcing. Pushing when I could just wait, watch and learn. So I hold too tightly because I want to get it right. Or I’m afraid to let (it) go.
So what am I gripping on to? I have been watching helpful sculling videos on how to grasp the oar handles and feather (turn it so the blade is parallel to the water to ease with wind resistance/speed and balance) properly. But today is rainy and my hands need a rest so it’s gonna have to go into the memory banks unless I practice on my son’s light sabers.
The current tennis elbow has become a chronic ailment. “It’s the most prevalent stress injury we treat,” said my orthopedist in March when I got the shot that didn’t work. “Don’t worry so much about it,” he said. Right. He has a staff at his home or he must eat out a lot.
‘Stress injury.’ I don’t have stress! I SWEAR!
When I went to my woo-woo chiropractor several years ago after my first case of tennis elbow, he looked at me as he was wrapping me in kaleidoscopic kineseo-tape to the point where my arm looked like one of those Native American Dream Catchers and said, “Sometimes we hold on to things too tightly.” I will never forget that line. I was all, “whatevuhmuthafletchah, just finish wrapping, I’m Audi 5000,” but I knew he was on to something. We “got” each other right away when I met him and he knew I knew what he was speaking about — metaphorically I was holding on to everything too tightly. But getting this again and figuring it out requires introspection.
I’m so tired of introspection. I want to go on an extrospection binge where I can look at everyone else’s stuff and take notes and feel all superior and whatnot.
. . . . . .Writing. . . . . .
Not ironically, this current case of tennis elbow turned up in my dominant left arm when I started writing my fiction in January. It was also the first time I started to actually consider writing a book. Allowing myself to do something with the writing. I am feeling about 85% better than then, so I know it’s improving, but I suspect I was holding on to fear, truth, lies, success and failure.
Total non-sequitir but true moment: because I am a masochist I also like to use fountain pens. I recently found one I bought when I thought I’d forever lost one my husband bought me when I graduated from college and later found. So I just filled it with an ink cartridge and as I’m waiting for the ink to flow, which it finally starts to do, I’ve squiggled all over a sheet of paper to help the ink to go. And when it finally did, I wrote, “My pen is working!” Well, you have to see it to get it, but there is no right way to write “My pen is working / writing” without it looking like “My penis working / writing.” Here:
Well, it was funny at the time…
Fiction… I don’t do well with writing fiction. While most of fiction may be based on personal experience or truths, it’s also mostly lies. And knowing that parts aren’t lies sometimes leaves me wondering what is true, so I have a hard time with that. Here’s a surprise: when I travel to a different time zone, I always wonder what the folks back home are doing… my husband won’t travel with me anymore unless I stop that behavior. The fact that I was writing fiction (not really) from a who-knows-what-the-what-person point of view was probably too much for me to bear. Plus I wasn’t ready to tell that story.
I’m gonna break down the things I believe I was holding on to:
Fear: hanging on to fear lets us stay where we are; embracing complacency and avoiding growth, reinvention. We can let fear become a crutch. Why? Because if we actually do what we say we want to do (for me, publish a book) then we’d have to be OK with that. I will always compare my feats with someone else’s success. So let’s say it publishes: Well, it doesn’t make the NYT best seller list. Or let’s say it did make NYTBSL: well, it’s not outsold the Bible….
Truth: gripping what we perceive as truth, also enables complacency. We get to say it works for us; it’s comfortable and we know what to expect. If we synthesize our “truths” then we needn’t examine things any further. Growth stops. It’s like math: absolute. You can’t argue with yes. So the discussion ends. But is this truth? Is this comforting?
Lies: grasping our lies helps us avoid developing and winning at life and it’s a form of self-denial. We don’t need that promotion, we don’t need to lose weight, we don’t need to ask that person on a date, we don’t need to want more, better, greater, nicer. The book won’t get picked up anyway, so why bother continuing it? Why bother writing (doing / pursuing / pushing / pulling) anything?
Success: when we clench to our notions of success, as in where we are right now (we aren’t drowning or being mugged or shoeless) then we don’t try harder. But is that satisfying? I express gratitude for everything I have but when I want something newer, nicer, bigger or better I’ve felt like a heel. The point in life however is growth, progress, evolution and development. The byproducts of those actions is more knowledge, more experience, more awareness. Do we say: “stop learning, that’s greedy.” No, and so I am beginning to allow myself (albeit grudgingly) to be OK with what I have and to be OK with wanting more too. That’s tough to do. I take baby steps and my shoes get tighter every day.
Failure: locking in and identifying with our notions of failure can only continue if we do it. Failure is self-manifested, self-generated, self-promoted, self-fed and self-maintained and thus we get to be victims of ourselves. I hate that word, “victim,” it’s self-feeding. Deeper: What is failure? Defeat, no-go, “failure to launch,” dud, a write-off, hopeless. Hopeless…aha. Suddenly that rings a bell. When we hold on to hopelessness, we are letting ourselves give up and then the grip should loosen, and die, shouldn’t it? But it doesn’t. Why? Because hopelessness is akin to dying. And we aren’t dead. As long as we are alive, we still have time. George Eliot said, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.”
Are you still with me? We can learn to let go and see what happens…
So I’ve got another book in the hopper that I started almost six years ago; it’s about parenthood and it’s got potential (because I already outlined the chapters six years ago) and it’s funny and I need to do it. I’m holding on too much to my own expectations and I know that once I do that, once I let go of any expectation, I should be OK.
The point of “writing” is to write. Not to not write. Write about anything. If I grip too hard, my fingers can’t move, can’t hold a pen because the muscles and tendons are spent. And then what? No writing. That sucks. As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Stupid Jedi Master.
The first gutsy thing I ever did which sort of abolished all these thoughts when I started this writing gig was say, “I am a writer” when someone asked me what I do at a cocktail party. And you know what? The person didn’t fall over in laughter. I told this story to Kristen Lamb, an author, writer coach and social media person I’ve only interacted with online. She woot-wooted me for it (she is also the one who suggested in her book that writers do this). I still tell people I’m a writer and they still don’t fall over. But I need to learn to let go and trust myself. I haven’t really let myself down yet.
What are you holding on to? Are you “in the grips” of something too?
Thank you. (This is my 111th post! wahoo! All those ones mean to do something, take action.)