Tag Archives: compulsion

Drugstore in the Desk Drawer

I rarely get to bed before 1 a.m., and I’m rarely able to sleep past 6:45.  I’d be in a hospital bed or mental ward were it not for the drugstore in my office drawer. Vitamin C, B12 and D3 do wonders for keeping a sleep-deprived, aging martial artist chugging along – that and a boatload of morning caffeine.


As I groggily stumbled from bedroom to bathroom and back this morning, I ran a quick analysis of time management the previous evening.  After pick-up from the commuter train and a congratulatory chat with my daughter for her most successful academic year yet, we got home to my son and a school friend leaving the house.  I spent a few minutes talking with them before grabbing a yogurt and heading upstairs to change into kung fu clothes. Once fed and changed, I grabbed kung fu stuff and hit the car with Merle and Aaron.

We took Sanshou class, got notes from Siheng Mark afterwards on what we did right and wrong, and stretched out our tight muscles for a while.  I practiced picking up the pace on The Walk from White Eyebrow before finally heading out the door for the ride home.  After a stop for gas, I got home around 9:15.

I took a medium-length shower, tended to my knees with creams and ice, made and ate some food, then made and ate some more.  The clock read 10:45.  I checked baseball scores, emails and blogs while watching a cooking show, and then discussed the monthly calendar with Merle and what we were doing with the kids to celebrate their great school year before Aaron leaves for a month-long summer program.  Somewhere in there, I also balanced the checkbook.  At that point, the big hand was almost on the twelve.

I returned eyes to the television while blow drying hair I’d kept wrapped up since the shower and waited for the laundry to come out the dryer, so I could pack my kung fu clothes in my work bag for today.  Tuesdays and Thursdays we have to go straight from commuter train to guan for the early class; so the clothes must come with me to work.  (I guess I could have just worn the back-up high water pants and the shirt with the hole in the armpit, but not if I can help it.)

I went down to the kitchen for something, wound up in the downstairs bathroom (which is largely the one Aaron and I use most) and was painfully aware that my absence the previous week was particularly obvious in that room.  So I cleaned tub and sink, brushed my teeth and went upstairs to bed.  Merle was still up sorting clothes, and I was just floating into pre-consciousness when she turned out the last light.  It was 1:05.

I could probably shorten the time between meal and bed, regardless of whatever else I have to do, if I didn’t turn on the television.  But a good game or a good laugh goes a long way in a day that could otherwise be a grind… or in the case of Sanshou night, a beat down.

So what’s a woman to do?  I guess just keep popping the B12 and vitamin C until the next non-working Sunday morning sleep-in.  Things could certainly be worse.  Life could actually be boring.

Rich in Blue

It was a beautiful morning in the temporary neighborhood, briefly captured as best as possible from stop lights, stop signs and a parking space the aviators and techies were rushing me out of, once my daughter was safely in their care.




Watching teensy little Cesnas (or whatever make they may be) take off over my car in one-minute intervals, into a sky that just doesn’t seem as rich in blue in my actual neighborhood as it is in the Sunshine State, planted Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” in my head at a high imaginary decibel.  It played on a loop right up until I started fidgeting with the air conditioning in the banquet room turned guan.  And it returned when, on the day’s twenty-third repetition of what I know of White Eyebrow, I obtained the proper pace and rhythm for “The Walk.”  At least it looks that way to me.  If I’m wrong, someone will most definitely tell me.  Many someones, actually.

I had to slow it down to even approach getting it right.  I apparently also had to step out of the shot (oops).   I’ll worry about the up-tempo version, well… tomorrow.  But just for today, it felt pretty good.

More Drugs!

Question:  What does an addict do on vacation?  Answer:  More drugs!!

And so it was that I tacked an extra hour today onto my normal training time, once I found an empty hotel banquet room with high enough ceilings to accommodate my staff.

The timing on The Walk is making me crazy.  So of course I keep taping myself to see if I’m getting it right, which I’m not. The failure compels me to keep trying… and taping.  What’s an addict do on vacation again?  Witness a few seconds of my madness.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the International Speedway, there’s a world dedicated to flight welcoming dozens of math and science whizzes – all of them girls this week (though several brothers came with parents for pick-up).


Just driving through campus for drop-off and pick up made me want to get another degree.  Some shots of the sculptures and views, indoor and out:





Tomorrow, off to old stomping grounds at day’s end.  Maybe I’ll have gotten The Walk by then.

The Breakfast Hour Waltz

I learned a new part to the White Eyebrow form yesterday and was in the gym at 9 a.m. practicing it.  It was the earliest I’ve ever been in the gym on a Sunday, and it was rocking like I couldn’t believe.  Both squash courts were occupied, a spin class was rolling, the step-it folks were climbing and somebody was hitting the bags in the boxing room like they had a vendetta.  So much for having the place to myself to work up an appetite for the brunch my young man was treating me to! But what it lacked in privacy and peace it made up for in ego boosting.

Three people stopped during different points in my practice to watch me spin myself nauseous.  I’m used to people looking over through the yoga room windows as they walk by.  I’m not used to folks actually stopping on their way to wherever to watch for more than a moment.  That’s a testament to the form, mind you, not me.  I’ve finally reached the point in it that led me to want to learn it in the first place.  It’s the section where I must spin the staff and my body simultaneously.

It turns out that it’s easier than it looks, but that’s not saying much.  It’s still quite the challenge to keep the staff moving straight up and down, the torso twisting a full 180 degrees at a time, and feet moving smoothly along a straight line, in a waltz-like rhythm, all at the same time.  When well executed, it looks fantastic!  But I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home without a chiropractor nearby.

I caught myself in the mirror somewhere around the tenth rotation of my practice and was pleasantly surprised that it looks better than I would have expected less than a day after learning it.  Now, if I could just master the strike at the end of the section without looking like a completely uncoordinated dweeb, my Mother’s Day would be complete.  The beauty of being obsessive in my kung fu love and going to the gym during the breakfast hour is that there’s more than enough time to nail the section ending before day’s end.  After all, I haven’t sweat nearly enough yet today.

To all mothers out there, obsessive and mellow alike, I hope you’re having a nice relaxing day – something I clearly don’t know how to do!  🙂

Happy Mother’s Day!

Same Page, Same Time

It’s been a year since my knees have ached this much on a Sunday night.  That’s how rare it is these days for me to feel compelled to practice on the one day of the week that the school isn’t open.  Even when I’ve had the itch on the day of rest not to do so, I’ve kept practice time to a minimum.  But today, the need to conquer the physics and execute to my satisfaction was powerful.  It became even stronger when the answer of how best to execute finally made itself clear.  And so I ran with it.

I still didn’t have what I wanted from my body by the time my brain told me to save my knees for Monday’s beginner class and my long staff work.  But I was thrilled nevertheless, because I’d literally figured out the answer to the bane of my martial arts existence.  I deconstructed a sequence down to minute detail (e.g., which way are my toes pointing when my hand is here?), and I found the answer I’d been looking for since the fourth knee operation.  This epiphany led to the even greater realization of the day.

Kung fu has changed the way I think.  It long ago changed what I think about and when, but it’s now unavoidably clear that it’s messing with the how part of operations, as well.  My martial arts madness had made me, a previous monument to impatience, willing to break something down piece by piece, to determine how to get my mind, body and spirit on the same page at the same time.

Every time I think this love of mine can’t get any better, I get a new box of chocolates.  I don’t see a break-up happening any time soon! 🙂

Lunch time at the office….

I just want to practice kicking combinations.  Is that so wrong?

The Pain of Cessation

Addiction is in the news and so very much on my mind in both a past and present sense.  As a young child, I watched my mother and grandmother fall apart at the news that my uncle was dead.  Near as I could understand from what I overheard, he was attacked when drunk and didn’t survive the altercation.

Fifteen years later, right after undergrad, I slung drinks at a bar by night to supplement the day job.  A co-worker from that job drank himself to death in a hotel room after his partner of twenty years left him.

But the addiction-related death that cut the deepest was that of a former boss, a recovering-addict, white-collar entrepreneur who apparently hopped off the wagon undetected by the dozen or so people he employed. He was a vivacious, warm, kind and abundantly generous person.  He hired me three different times: during my years as a freelance journalist; after being laid off by a network in a buyout restructuring; and as a divorced, single mother of a kindergartener and a newborn. The third time, he couldn’t really afford to hire me back in the post-9/11 recession, but he did anyway.

We got word in the office that his robbed body had been found in a hotel, with bottles and baggies decorating the room, just days after learning from his new, pregnant wife that he hadn’t been sober for months. He tossed a decade of drug-free years out the window, and within months of picking up where he left off, he left us all.

I could go on about others.  People I worked and played with in the bar world during my college years and shortly thereafter.  I know more than I need to about addiction, including that even ones that don’t take your life are no joke.

Addiction, by definition, is a negative thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences;” Webster’s dictionary says it’s “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice…to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”  Neither of these sound like a state anyone should want to be in over anything.  And yet I am currently, unapologetically.

Kung fu is a behavior I continue despite adverse physical consequences, about which even entertaining its cessation causes me mental trauma. It’s not going to kill me, of course, but I acknowledge in the tag line of my blog that it can cripple me.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told I should quit before I end up with limbs not working.  Each time I hear these concerns and warnings, I respond with what I know sounds to some like I’m wading blind in a pool of denial.  I’ve heard drug addicts sound the same way.  At least exercise addictions aren’t known to rob one of the mental faculties needed not to escalate the behavior in the middle of negative consequences.  Drug addicts just keep taking more.

At the end of the day, continuing in my addiction is as simple as knowing that the pain of activity isn’t yet greater than the pain of loss that stopping would bring.  That’s simply how fulfilled it makes me, for lack of a less dramatic word at this late hour, any and every time a training night goes well – hurt knees, hurt back, hurt arm and all.

If only all addicts of all kinds could clearly weigh the pain of continuation against the pain of cessation.  If only they lived long enough to get the chance.

Relieving the Pressure

Sunday was one of those days that needed about six more hours in it for me to finish all that I needed to do.  After the cooking, the house care, the hard drive clean out, the download of the latest video shot for work, the logging of that video, the bill paying and the balancing of the checkbook, there was no time for meaningful stretching, much less a little Pa Chi practice or watching the Sing Yi tutorial video that my boy emailed to me.  Sunday is usually the one guaranteed break from kung fu, the rejuvenation day; but I like it much better when that’s by choice rather than dictated by other priorities.  I had actually planned on getting a little kicking combination practice in, and it didn’t happen.

Maybe it was just the powers of the universe doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself: relieving the pressure on an often kung-fu-performance-obsessed brain and filling it with other items of life that are almost as challenging.  With a tough week and month ahead of training necessities that can’t easily be met, maybe I did it to myself for distraction.  There were only two items on Sunday’s to-do list that aren’t normally on every Sunday’s list.  They turned out to be more time-consuming than I anticipated, but still, I’m pretty good at multitasking.  It usually comes at the expense of sleep, but getting a ton accomplished in a day is pretty typical.

So I have to conclude that the part of me that knew I needed a break was stronger than the part that usually thinks a break is a waste of time.  Sometimes you just have to say thank you to whatever it is that makes you take care of yourself when you weren’t intending to.

To the powers of the universe, thank you.

Feeling Good…

I slept for seven hours last night.  It was the longest sleep in recent memory.  It capped off the second straight day without arthritis meds or an over-the-counter pain reliever for knees or back.  I doubt that’s a coincidence.  I was told to expect only thirty to forty percent improvement from the Christmas Eve shot.  But two days of no pills and real sleep was worth the price of admission all on its own.

And what did I do with this rested body first thing in the morning the day after Christmas?  I hauled it down to the martial art shop to buy my Siheng Aaron his first staff.  It was snowing as we drove over; it stopped by the time we left.  My son and I shared a joint sigh of relief that self-training should go on as scheduled tonight.  My fingers are crossed on still feeling good ten hours from now after first training session since the shot.  Cross them with me, please! 🙂

Perfect Gifts

Merry Christmas, all!  Many thanks to the readers who checked in on my status after the Christmas Eve trip to the doctor.

As you can see below, I received a perfect gift, which I shall cart off to the television studio when I return to work on Friday.  Everybody at home and those closest at the day job know this already; so I’ll happily advertise it to the co-workers who don’t.


Merle and Ava were happy and satisfied with their cash-in (that term applies far more to Ava, of course) – none of which had to do with kung fu.  They’re happy to leave the obsession to me and Aaron.

His favorite today was a gift certificate to the martial art shop.  He poured over the details of it, saying:


“So you know where we’re going tomorrow, right Mom?”

“Of course, dear.”

“And you know they’re going to be more weapons in the house.”

“Yes, I figured the first thing you’ll buy is your own staff; then, probably new equipment for Sancho, if you need it.”

“No.  Staff and a ninja star.”

“A ninja star?  What’re you going to do with a ninja star?”

“Just have one.”

“Aren’t they illegal?”

“No, Mom,” he answered, laughing.

“They have to be illegal outside the house.”

“Hmm.  Maybe.”

I don’t know about a ninja star….

But he’ll be happy with whatever I buy him there, as he always is.  I’m a lot happier when I can talk the proprietor down to a decent discount…but I’ll worry about that tomorrow, and only for a moment, because self-training resumes tomorrow night! 🙂

Shot in the Back

I’m sitting in the waiting room of a surgical suite, awaiting a cortisone shot to relieve the bulging discs in my lower back.  I’m preemptively antsy that the doctor is going to keep me waiting again.

I got this from my mother, this impatient sense of entitlement that I be treated according to the rules.  Whatever those are.  She survived life in a one-horse town of the Deep South during the 1940s and 50s, and when she came north to a New York City suburb, fresh out of high school, she came with an attitude: Don’t tread on me.  Through osmosis, she passed that ‘tude on to me.

Relax, I tell myself.  Doctors keep everybody waiting; it’s not personal.

But I’m anxious anyway.  I’m getting a shot in the back.  My last shot to the back was the epidural when I had my daughter twelve years ago, and that was a disaster!  It gave me a headache so piercing, I had trouble nursing her the first day of her life.  And the day I came home, I couldn’t move my legs without severe pain for several hours.  That’s not a good history with shots in the back.

Mom likely would’ve told me to pass on this option.  She would’ve looked up every herbal concoction known to man that would relieve lower back pain and sciatica and shipped it to me in cases, like the care packages she sent me in college.  She would have lectured me on quitting kung fu back when the tornado kicks began screwing up my back as a green sash.

She already thought martial arts was more trouble than it was worth, after I tore my meniscus in tae kwon do.  That first knee operation almost kept me from being at her side when she took her last breath, her decline came so quickly after it.

I wonder what she would have thought about me starting up again, pushing through three more serious injuries to make it to teacher status.  I think she would have been just like me when watching her grandchildren spar, hit the floor, sometimes even bleed.  She would have winced – albeit through the phone, eight hundred miles away – then found a smile to put into her voice to encourage me to get back up and do what I needed to do.  She would have told me to be careful, to take care of myself…to succeed.  And she would have been in a front row seat the day I earned my black sash and again, nine months later, when her grandson earned his.

She would have hated me getting this shot today and told me to call her the moment I was home.  Then, she would have asked me when I was entering my next tournament.

What’s Changed

My favorite training session of the week is Monday night. It comes after two days of resting the body, so my knees allow me to give it all I’ve got.  But that’s not what’s on my mind, as I plow through the Monday workday schedule.  I keep mulling over the fact that classes are on hiatus this week for the holidays every day except Monday, so today’s class is the last I’ll help teach in 2013, before I hit the floor with my staff for self training.

Instead of obsessing on getting in enough practice tonight to last me until Thursday’s self-training hours, I’m preoccupied by how strange it will be not to see most of the people I see in regular, predictable intervals until January 2nd at the earliest.  Self-training is something few show up for during the end-of-year break, as many are out of town – or are just plain happy not to have to break a sweat.  So it’s likely that my family and I will have the school almost to ourselves during those hours.  I’m already feeling out of sorts about the impending emptiness in the building.

I can’t believe I’m not simply thrilled to have the extra room to swing my staff to my heart’s content.  What’s with this sadness over eight days off the normal schedule?  I don’t recall feeling this way in the previous five Christmas/New Year’s breaks that passed since joining the school.  So I have to ask myself: what’s changed?

Last year, I was one month away from the last of the six tests for black sash, and I was too single-minded to be sentimental.  The year before that, I was just back from surgery to remove the floating cartilage; so my training pattern had already been broken, and I was already missing everyone long before the end of the year. In each of the three years before that, I wasn’t close enough to anyone at the school to miss the people as much as the training time when the holidays rolled around.

And there it is.  It would appear, then, that I am what’s changed.

In 2013, I became a peer of the black sashes I was once expected to speak to with little more than “yes, sir” and “no, sir.”  I got to feel close to people who used to be just instructors to me.  There’s also the unavoidable affection I feel for the people I help teach.  This is family.

There were a few who felt like family members long before the black sash was wrapped around my waist, ones who were nicknamed “little brother” or affectionately referred to as “kiddo.”   But the bond now is with just about everyone who’s been at the school longer than a couple of months.  Somewhere along the line, I became just as attached to the people as the art they taught me.

Would I love kung fu if I didn’t feel bonded to those with whom I share it?  Undoubtedly.  But the unavoidable truth I’ve found this holiday season is that the people make me love it more.