on being an elite athlete

If there’s one thing people always say about me, it is that I am a naturally gifted athlete.

Oh wait, no they don’t. As a child I did not excel at sports. I was not even mediocre at sports. I was very bad at them.

I went to a hippie ‘family school’ that didn’t believe in competition. We didn’t enter into sports competitions with other schools (besides the annual track and field city-wide meet where our school T-shirts featuring flowers with happy faces were roundly disparaged) and we didn’t receive grades in PE. Or in anything! We were instilled with the notion that putting in a spirited effort was the most important thing.

Thus was borne my mistaken belief that I could be a successful athlete if I tried hard enough.

I tried numerous different athletic activities. I was certain that I would be a natural, and an absolute prodigy once I found just the right sport. I hadn’t ever tried Long Jump, so I was fairly sure that the first time I tried it I would miraculously fly farther than anyone had ever jumped in the sandpit, and that my teachers and classmates would nod knowingly: They had found the city’s new long jump champion. The results of my attempts were underwhelming.

I signed up for soccer. I played soccer for like, four years? I DON’T KNOW WHY. My parents didn’t make me do it or anything. I voluntarily took part. I never once scored a goal or assisted in a goal in all of those years, and every game I hoped the ball wouldn’t come my way. It frightened me when a horde of big aggressive jock-girls would come barrelling after the ball, and I tried to steer clear altogether. My big moment came when I stepped right out of my cleat on the muddy field and for some reason was carried off the pitch to put my shoe back on. I was kind of delicate.

Sometimes I joined in the constant rolling game of all boys street hockey at the end of our dead end street. I occasionally played goalie, and I have tried to start an urban legend that I was so tough I never wore any pads or gloves. This is true – but I think I probably played hockey like five times and I just couldn’t figure out how to coordinate the gear.

I went to soccer camp one year, tennis camp another. I tried both sprinting and distance running, but found that neither speed nor endurance was my running specialty. I was not good at any of the sports.

High school was a rude awakening as regards the virtue of putting in a spirited effort. My first PE grade was, I think, a B. I was hella confused, and spoke to our gym teacher about it. ‘So, what would I have to do to get an A?’ I asked, probably slightly aggressively. ‘You’d have to be like Susie Smith (noted jock)’, she replied. I questioned the logic of this argument, but there was no budging.

Another time, later,  J and I received a poor grade in ‘net games’, the PE class that all the elite athletes obviously chose. We were ALWAYS enthusiastic, we argued, particularly when it came to Ping Pong. Another weary gym teacher finally conceded to changing our grades, I think mostly so she wouldn’t have to listen to us anymore. We were an extremely persistent duo and perhaps somewhat of an acquired taste.

All of this is funny because as an adult I am someone who competes in a community baseball league and is at the gym every morning at 6am, without fail.

Oh wait, no I’m not.

When I lived in Leeds my husb and I went through a brief phase of playing badminton after work. Yet again, I had that giddy, excited feeling: Maybe I am a secret badminton prodigy. Incorrect. I always lost, and I was not really great tempered about it either. Once we went skiing and on the first little hill I sped way, way past him and when he finally joined me at the bottom he said ‘wow, that was impressive!’ and I was hyperventilating because I actually just couldn’t remember how to slow down.

I KEEP TRYING. Last summer for a minute I considered joining a friend’s Dragon Boat team, forgetting the fact that I am neither strong nor coordinated or good at early mornings. I would be an actual team liability.

Occasionally I find myself amongst the type of people who like to ‘toss a Frisbee around’ or ‘play a casual game of catch’ and I briefly panic, as though I am about to be exposed. Recently I was out with the niece and nephew and a bunch of friends and family, and a hula hoop appeared. One friend demonstrated a fancy way to throw it, and then others followed suit. I tried a bunch of times: no dice. The hula hoop sadly fell to the ground. Later, I was describing this scene to my Mum. ‘Oh, the snapping it back trick? I can’t do that either,’ she said. I come by it honestly.

on the good women of television

My Mervs (I cannot explain the origin of this term, as it is deeply, deeply offensive and terrible. Suffice it to say that it serves as a collective term for my bests since olden times) and I were recently discussing the question of finding a role model for me amongst the women of television. Things haven’t been so hot lately, and maybe I could use some inspiration. Oh! I had an idea. How about Olivia Pope from Scandal? You know, ‘consider it handled’ immaculate hair and work ethic. This got shot down, hard.

Um, her relationship with the President is problematic.

And she avoids her own problems by solving other people’s problems; you already do that too much.

OK, no Olivia Pope. Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy? That would be great, but a bit of a reach. I do not know of a single instance in life in which someone has been scared of me. I am much more ‘I will smile a lot and nod vigorously to ensure you feel at ease in my presence! I am going to make you feel so fucking comfortable you won’t know what hit you!’ Kalinda Sharma from The Good Wife? She is so mysterious and private and suspicious. I am the opposite of all of those things. I trust you immediately! You can learn everything about me on the Internet and I’m bad at boundaries! My favourite twins  (my sister in law and her sister) have suggested perhaps Leslie Knope would be a good option, so I’m gonna go on a Parks and Rec tear.

I am down, without having even seen this show yet. I LOVE Amy Poehler. This Guardian interview with her is the best ever. Some select grabs:

Female anger isn’t praised much in our culture, but it can be kind of exciting, I say. “It is exciting, isn’t it?” she says, her eyes lighting up. “It’s super-exciting to not care if you’re liked, and to watch someone’s face as they realise that. It’s fun defying expectations about me. It’s a nice secret weapon.”


“I don’t fucking care if you like it!” has since, to Poehler’s amusement, become a modern feminist catchphrase, appearing on T-shirts and in cartoons. “I see life as like being attacked by a bear,” she says. “You can run, you can pretend to be dead or you can make yourself bigger.”

It’s a work in progress. In reality, I have basically evolved with Claire Danes’s TV characters. In the 90s I came over all Angela Chase (as I’m sure did 90% of teenage girls in the 90s. That shit was really really real. It’s worth a rewatch; it holds up).

I angsted and crushed. I dyed my hair and it was meaningful.

In present day times I’m all Carrie Mathison, kind of manic eyed and hard headed and getting all twisted up in weird Brodie business.


Often I look like this. I probably look like this right now, with messier hair.

The lesson? There isn’t one, yo! Be your own role model. Or something.

on getting out of bed

I read somewhere recently that being depressed is like your contact lenses constantly being dry and a bit dirty. I can’t remember where I read this, and a cursory Google search just leads me to weird shit like ‘suicide after LASIK’ and ‘dry eyes can cause anxiety and depression’. So, sorry whoever made that very apt analogy. Your cleverness goes uncredited.

“Willa Cather tells us, ‘There is only one big thing – desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.’ We can honour desire as a life force, but still see how it causes suffering when it takes over our life. Our natural hunger for food can become an ungovernable craving for food – ice cream, sweets, potato chips – comfort food or food to numb our feelings. Our longing for sex and affection can become an anguished dependency on another human being to define and please us. Our need for shelter and clothing can turn into insatiable greed, compelling us to possess three houses and closets full of unworn shoes. Our fundamental longing to belong and feel loved becomes an insistent craving for substitutes.

If we have been acutely frustrated or deprived, our fixated desire becomes desperate and unquenchable. We are possessed by craving, and our entire life is hijacked by the force of this energy. We feel like a wanting self in all situations, with all people, throughout the day. If we are taken over by craving, no matter who or what is before us, all we can see is how it might satisfy our needs. This kind of thirst contracts our body and mind into a profound trance.”

– Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance,  p 139

Kind of a long quote from the wonderful Tara Brach, but it resonated with me, and after all friends, this is my blog, I get to decide how long the quotes are. So much power.

I have these intense bouts of “desperate and unquenchable desire.” I have a big craving for life. I take on a million extra responsibilities, make a multitude of plans, and feel that I can actually fit 30 hours of activity into a 24 hour day. I commit to gyms and committees and conferences and parties. Sometimes I construct a ‘back pocket plan’ to ‘try to be Prime Minister sometime’. I think I can bend life to be exactly how I think it should be.

I start a blog, and decide I have to create new posts every day, as well as study for my exams, as well as teach, as well as having a social life and eating healthy food and using my yoga pass and oh yeah I’m supposed to be meditating and I need to maintain a positive attitude and there are also meetings I’m supposed to be going to and I have no groceries so I’m eating Christmas chocolates for dinner and my apartment floor is completely concealed by old papers and diaries like a legit crazy person and I have all these saved links I haven’t read yet and programs I need to watch and I decide I can make it all be through sheer force of will, but then I end up examining my eye twitching in the mirror at 2am and spiraling: am I looking old, will I fail my exams, how did my life get to be like this, what is wrong with me that nothing ever works out, am I a moron for writing all this personal stuff on the Internet, why do I make bad decisions and how do I know what good decisions are and how can I just push through this part, all of these things, without losing it.

Then in the next moment I am losing it and I’m letting people down and everything’s toxic and I crash.

Then I can’t do any of it. I look around at people doing normal people things like getting out of bed and getting dressed and I don’t understand. I can’t comprehend how I functioned as a person a week ago, getting on the bus, running errands, working.

Now, the weary waiting for it to get better, catching tiny glimpses here and there. My most recent glimpse came in the form of laughing really hard at that amazing 2012 Herman Cain ad (with thanks to D for bringing it back into my life).

So, if you can’t get out of bed this morning, I get it.

If you feel pathetic and useless because you can’t do your job, I get it.

If you’re frustrated and full of guilt and shame and then frustrated by the fact that you’re frustrated and full of guilt and shame, I get it.

While I’m not so great at channeling the care my own way, I am sending a big old virtual hug (or virtual fist bump for those non-huggers out there) and a ton of love to anyone else dealing with this garbagey garbage right now. I also offer this (mild crankiness being another glimpse of life on the other side): It had better fucking get better.