Sucking really Sucks!

I had my first ever tap dancing lesson yesterday. I was really excited about it because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I had new shoes, so of course, that in itself is very exciting and I was dying to try them out:

I was disappointed with the first lesson and I had to fight hard not to get pissed off at myself (I couldn’t follow what everyone else was doing), at the teacher (she didn’t explain things very well [at all really] to begin with) and at the other people in the group (they’d all been dancing together for more than a year and all pretty much ignored me). To be really honest, it was actually hard not to cry because I felt so stupid and like I didn’t belong. The whole entire lesson the teacher and the other ladies talked about their kids or the kids they were teaching (some of them must have been teachers) and because I don’t have kids (or a job) it was like I wasn’t even there because there was no way for me to participate in the conversation. At one point I almost said, “Oh, yeah, my friend’s daughter does that too.” But I stopped myself because it would have drawn attention to how strange it was to invoke a friend’s child when they were all talking about their own.

When I felt like I wanted to cry, I said to myself, “no, fuck you. I’m doing this. It doesn’t matter about any of that other shit. I’m doing it.” This is the same inner mongrel that rises up and gets me through stuff when it’s hard. I wanted to play the brain injury card in my mind. It’s story I tell myself about why it’s hard for me to learn new stuff: I have a brain injury and that’s why I can’t get pattern-based activities (like dancing), but this time, I tried something new and told myself that there would be no brain injury card and that I would act like a “normal” person and just learn without telling myself little stories about why things are difficult. I also made a promise that I wouldn’t reveal to the teacher or the class that I had a brain injury. It’s certainly a fact that I have a brain injury and as a result, face challenges that non-brain injured people don’t, but revealing that I’m brain injured has never helped me in the past, so I decided that it’s pointless revealing that aspect of my life to anyone anymore.

I guess every approach to learning something new is going to have its limitations. If I learn at home on my own, I’m limited because it takes a long time to work out how to do stuff, and even then, I don’t know if I’m doing it right. If I learn in a group, especially a group that’s already formed, like the tap dancing group, it’s hard to fit in because groups have a dynamic and once a group is formed, it’s difficult for it to absorb new members, especially if the common ground is something that is not shared by the new member (in this case it seemed to be kids).

After feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb in the dance class I got to feel like I was on display as I walked back to my car. A group of about 12 bearded, black t-shirted, rum can toting dudes were hanging out in front of a house across the street from where I’d parked. All of them leaning on cars, they stopped chatting and stared right at me, one guy elbowing the nearest bloke and pointing at me with his bearded chin. I got in the car, gave them a huge smile and waved at them as I drove off. None of them waved back. I went and got a pizza and ate the whole thing without feeling one shred of guilt because when you burn a bazillion calories everyday you can pretty much eat whatever the hell you like and still have legs for days.

It’s really very hard to suck at stuff, like so hard. I never really considered how shitty it might make me feel when I decided to commit to a year of sucking. I just told myself a little story of how it’s going to be awesome to learn all this new stuff, and oh, imagine all the new and wonderful friends I will make! Happy days afoot.

The way to manage this is to keep returning to things I know I’m good at or at least I’m comfortable with because to suck 100% of the time, would just, well, you know, suck! I’m 100% in control of my own body and I feel good about that and happy about all the work I’ve done and still do to make sure that I’m mentally and physcially fit and healthy: counting calories, running, cycling, walking, swimming, skipping, hard style dance, hiking, reading, writing, cooking and just generally being creative.  This is what some of that looks like:

A day out of my calorie book. I aim for 1700 calories a day, so this one is a bit over at 1935, but I allow myself this as it’s still in deficit (anything below 2000).

The blackboard where I track my weight lifting sessions. I don’t like weightlifting, but I do it because I like the results, and I’m also comfortable with it. If I didn’t record it on this blackboard, I’d never have kept at it. I rub it off everytime it fills up (like now) and start again with heavier weights. To keep the hatred at bay I never try to change the sets and reps. It’s always two sets, one of six reps and the second of four reps. The abs along the bottom have two sets of ten rep each, so 60 reps in total for each session, plus a one minute plank -ugh 😦

One way I keep my brain healthy: reading and writing. I know I’m good at these things because I’ve been doing them since I was about 3 or 4 years old.

So, in the face of sucking I look at what I’ve been able to achieve so far in my life and use that as a way to get through things when they seem hard. Recording everything I do is a great way to track my progress. Sometimes it feels like progress isn’t happening, but when everything is recorded, you can see that you’re getting somewhere and it means you’re less likely to give up, especially when stuff is new and you feel like you suck because new things are nearly always HARD, and just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s going to be hard forever.

Sucking is finite: Unleash your inner mongrel

Me and the Mountain

Yesterday I climbed a mountain. I almost didn’t do it because I looked it up online and saw that it was only 5km and thought, bah! that’s a waste of time!  It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. It also took much longer than I expected it to and afterwards I felt kind of dumb for thinking that it would be easy and I was glad I hadn’t expressed any of this to anyone before I went and did the climb.

I’d climbed Mt Walsh when I was in grade 10 back in 1992 and I can’t recall it being as hard as it was yesterday. I’m not sure the school would have had us scurrying up sheer rock faces and lowering ourselves into short ravines, only to climb back up the other side across obstacles and slippery rock faces, all without any kind of climbing or safety equipment or really any discernible skill. But hey, it was the nineties and everyone was still clambering their way back to sanity after suffering through the eighties and those horrendous hair-dos. Who knows and who cares, I certainly don’t.  It was really the only useful thing I did at high school (apart from learning how to type). Mr Goodall taught us how to rock climb and abseil and I’ve never forgotten that. Those climbing lessons have come in handy so many times. “Three points of contact Jenny! he shouted at me. “Don’t let go until you know where you’re going to contact next and pay attention to where you’re going. Make sure the path you’ve picked up the rock face isn’t impassable. Geoff! Don’t grab vegetation. Katrina, what are you doing, you’re dangling in mid-air. What’s Chris doing over there? Ohhhh, come on! Don’t climb trees, Chris! What just happened? Ohhhh,quick, get the stretcher. Keith’s broken his leg!” Keith really did break his leg, but I don’t think he fell off the mountain. I think he just tripped over his own feet walking to the toilet.

As I started to ascend the mountain, gunfire from the nearby rifle range (where we’d camped in year 10) echoed off the bluffs. The higher I went the more I began to imagine that the sound would loose an avalanche of ancient rock that would crush and cover me and that my car would sit alone, abandoned and dusty in a carpark in the middle of nowhere. Rusty it would become throughout the years until it would be hauled away by the big flood of 2035. All of this brought on by my recent reading of The Outsider by Stephen King. This kind of thing is the reason why I had to tone down my reading of books by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. My imagination has a “slight” tendency to run away with me. It’s been doing this since I was a little kid.

The mountain was awesome! I got a bit scared when I got to the rope because I wasn’t sure if I could get up that section of the rock face, let alone get back down it and I almost turned around and went back. I said outloud, “No, that’s just being a pussy.” And I made myself do it. It really wasn’t that scary and neither was coming down.

There were a couple of worse sections up the mountain a bit further and I was ever so thankful for my extra, extra long legs and arms. See, the thing is: I’m actually quite afraid of heights and I knew it would be a bit scary doing this climb by myself because I only had myself to rely on. I’ve just finished reading Write Way Home by Hedley Derenzie, and on the mountain I thought of what she said about no one coming for me, because nobody would be coming for me if I got stuck, so I simply had to make it work. I don’t know if I would have pushed myself so hard if I knew that the cool guy I’m married to could come and rescue me if I got into trouble.

Climbing this mountain also made me recognise how important the effort I put into training is. I don’t like weight training that much, because mostly I think, what’s the point of even bothering with this? and it’s a massive effort to force myself to do it every second day. I particularly hate shoulder presses, but it’s the strength I’ve built by doing shoulder presses that allowed me to hoist myself easily up sections of the mountain that maybe once I wouldn’t have been able to climb. It’s the squats and hundreds of ab exercises I do every week that gave me the stability to get down the mountain in one piece (even though I fell over once) and it’s the general tenacity with which I approach my sometimes extreme training regime that allows me to do things like climb mountains on my own and force myself through fears that at some point in the past would have most definitely held me back.

I love it when I can see how all the the little things I do come together in a way that I never actually thought of, creating synergies where none previously existed. I’ll never be someone who is the best at one thing (certainly not shoulder press), but that’s ok because I’m not seeking perfection or the calibre of excellence in anything I do. Rather, I’m active in the pursuit of living a life that matters; a life spent adventuring and climbing mountains both real and figurative. A life where nobody is coming for me, so it’s up to me to embrace fear, discomfort and adversity and get on with being the person I set out to be; someone who never gives in, albeit someone who might have the tendency to underestimate mountains.

“In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” ― Jack Kerouac