Match

Trying my hand at flash fiction for the first time in a long time…

 

Match (pair/fire)

 

“So what did you think of the apartment?”

The older woman sighs. “Honestly?”

“Of course.” The younger woman nudges the other, “It’s why I brought you.”

The older smirks, but it drops quickly into a frown. “I think you can do better. It’s smaller and older than your current place, which means you’ll have even more problems later on.”

 “True. But what about the feel?” the younger hums.

The older shrugs. “It … matches you, but I don’t think that’s enough to make it worth liking.”

 The younger woman smiles. “You can like something and still admit that it has flaws,” she answers calmly. “And I think it’s worth the effort.”

The older woman rolls her eyes but her lips lift into a grudging half-smile.  “Yeah, it really is your match, you crazy kid.”

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あやまる

Yesterday, I said “I’m sorry” to a snail – I hadn’t seen it until it was too late, my sneaker-clad foot too deep in gravity’s grasp for me to reverse the downward motion. I winced at the crunch that followed and murmured my apology even though it was just a snail, even though it was already too late. 

*

This week I suffered from food poisoning, just as I was congratulating myself on not getting horrendously sick after moving to Okinawa.  But what surprised me more than getting sick was the many well-wishes sent from co-workers and friends.  I was even gifted with foodstuffs that would be gentle on my stomach.  My refrigerator had never been so full before – I’m sure it was just as surprised as I was to have so much stuff.  Although my appetite is finally getting back to normal, I still have yet to finish all the food I received.  

During those moments of unexpected gifts, unconsciously, “I’m sorry” came on the heels of “thank you,” as in “Thank you for your concern, though I’m sorry for worrying you.”  Apparently it was my subconscious revealing its stance on concern, that is something voluntary, requiring an effort better suited for people and things other than me and my sensitivity – to food and drink.

*

If you think about it, the phrase “I’m sorry” is one not to be taken lightly.  Saying those technically three words is an act of defining one’s identity at that moment.  “I am sorry” – if written on one of those generic name stickers it would read, “Hi! My name is: Sorry.” And if we continue this example of names, it follows that saying those three words also specifically defines one’s identity in relation to the person to whom the speaker is talking with.  Meaning, the speaker is not only performing an act of contrition, as in “I am sorry to you [whom I have offended, wounded, etc.]”, it is also the speaker acknowledging and empathizing with the other person’s view of the speaker: “To you, I am [known as] sorry.” 

*

At many points in our lives, we are all Sorry. 

Speak softly (or not at all)

The story goes that when I was nearly 2 years old, my mother was worried because I hadn’t started speaking. Whereas other children were making attempts at speech – cute little gibberish that we often associate with “baby talk” – I apparently was silent. My grandmother, however, said not to worry, that I was merely observing and would begin talking in my own time, skipping the gibberish stage.  Sure enough, when I finally began talking, I was talking in full sentences.

*

I don’t play well with others – I was always called bossy when I was in elementary school.  I think it was more that I was stubborn: When in a group or a team, I’m either all in or checked out.  In group projects, I’m either the most vocal or I say nothing at all. In high school, I was in only a few teams, but was captain of each one. In my current job, my other teachers have apparently given me leeway to plan whatever activity I want.  It seems easier that way, to choose one or the other. The former is much more stress – it always is, being alone – however, it also gives the most freedom.  The latter, allows for much less stress, but only the perception of freedom.

*

The first couple of months in BJJ is spent simply absorbing everything.  It’s not until after the first year, really, that you start to understand things and can give advice to others and/or ask meaningful questions.  I’m still fairly quiet during BJJ classes, but recently I’ve been talking a little bit more.  One reason is to ask questions. This is now my third school and going into my 2nd year (total time, not consecutive) of training, so there are times when I’m trying to remember old techniques or how to connect new techniques with those old ones.  But another reason is also to simply to connect. It’s something I’ve noticed everyone does at this school, taking time here and there to acknowledge improvement, to give advice.

*

I always learned that whenever I was under stress, I was supposed to keep quiet and think before acting, to act not react.  As someone who’s very comfortable with silence, this is something that happens naturally, and I turn often to silence as my contemplation partner.  However, in many places of my life, calm contemplation is simply not possible because the pace is too fast and silence can be taken as worse than a quick answer – but many times a quick answer will lead to disaster.  And then there are other times when regardless of how much thought I put into my words, the story is guaranteed to end the same way.

Walking through the forest

I woke up feeling like I hadn’t slept. Sunlight begging at the curtains, glowing orange like coals about to set aflame, I instead set my alarm for another 30 minutes. I laid down and tried to sleep, but words pushed through my eyelids instead. Perhaps my mind had been too busy writing to sleep.

Words from yesterday came to the front of my consciousness. I remembered something my instructor had said while we were talking about BJJ, how it never stops – and that in the end, really, all you’re left with is your self, and what you’ve learned. On the heels of that memory came the story of the elephant, chapter 23 of The Dhammapada, which I’ve always loved to revisit:

[L]et a man walk alone, let him commit no sin, with few wishes, like an elephant in the forest.

Before I looked up the text, I thought that though this oft-quoted phrase was ultimately about peace with ones’ self, I also thought that it advocated being alone. But just two lines above lies this sentence:

If a man find a prudent companion who walks with him, is wise, and lives soberly, he may walk with him, overcoming all dangers, happy, but considerate.

For me, I’ve added to my initial reading of the elephant as the epitome of self-awareness, moving naturally and without bringing harm to themselves or others, that though solitude is one part of the journey to become like the elephant, keeping company with those who you can spend your solitude with is also important. 

But what I think I love most about the quote about the elephant is that it’s about walking through the forest. It says nothing about some end point, a final destination or goal. It is simply about walking, and, adding the next quote, about who you meet along the way and ultimately, who you become in the end.

Many times I go through the things I’ve done in my life and wonder where it has led me, if I’ve moved forward at all. Perhaps I’ve been thinking of it in the wrong way. Like in BJJ, it’s not about thinking simply in terms of forwards or backwards, but thinking in 360 degrees, of moving through space. Or even, just walking through a forest – where there is no end goal, nor even the pressure to explore everything, just walking…

A rambling about effort

I’ve been trying to be more open about myself lately, to present myself more honestly to people I meet. Usually, I think, “Well, I’ll never see this person again so why try?” But there’s also the other side, the idea that yes, this might be the only time I see this person, so why not be as genuine as you can be?  It’s been really interesting because though I’ve always understood myself to be close-lipped, I never realized how much. It takes so much effort for me to reveal just one piece of information. I go through such a mental back and forth before even opening my mouth – but then afterward, there’s always questions. And that takes the most energy, I think, having to clarify or restate.

It does however, lead to more self-reflection, which has been really … beneficial isn’t the right word, because it seems like it’s only about what I get in return, but it really has helped me better understand myself and my goals.  I feel like it makes life feel more full when I also participate in sharing. I don’t think I’ll ever change from being an introvert, but I think I can become more centered and at peace if I continue to be more conscious of not being *closed up.

Speaking of consciousness and effort, today was a very chill day at my BJJ gym. It’s been very interesting after the tournament. They say you learn more if you lose, but I’ve found that winning has opened my mind to so many new things. It was real confidence boost, winning my weight division, and though there are still many gaps in my knowledge, I feel like I’m starting to get the gist of more advanced techniques.

BJJ is fascinating because it’s very spatial and physics oriented. One of my teammates often says that BJJ is about moving through space – not simply linearly, but in all directions at all times. It also employs your whole body – everything gets used, even your toes.  I’ve become much more aware of how my body moves ever since I started studying martial arts in 2007, but it wasn’t until starting BJJ that I learned how much the body is capable of. At times, BJJ is actually really, really silly. But it’s things like, being inverted and rolling between each other’s legs that reminds me that at the heart of it all, it’s just about having fun.

Anyway, today was a very chill day. It was just my instructor and I and we had a sustained sparring session that was more about flow than any sort of force. It was crazy! We were just rolling around but it was awesome to see how little things effect one’s balance, or how to move one’s body, etc. It was more about feel than anything else.  We were talking afterward, and I mentioned how it was strange to realize that I actually rely on force when I do regular sparring, when really, it should be about going with the flow, using the other person’s energy against them.

My instructor started talking about how he’s noticed that sparring seems to bring out a different side of people, something primitive, perhaps triggering the flight or fight switch in us. We’re primed to choose between the two; relaxing and just going with the flow is something not natural to us as human beings.

(It makes me wonder if that’s connected to sharing about myself – perhaps I’m only now starting to learn to suppress the “panic” mode and allow myself to relax and be genuine … )

*I realize that moving away from LJ and Twitter seems hypocritical, like it’s pulling back and closing up, and in a sense maybe it is. But I feel like in those communities, I had lost sight of the person I want to become, of the path I want to take — that the time was right to move on, so to speak.  I’m hoping that this blog will be a place different from previous “homes,” one more aligned with my goals and filled with more meaningful and honest sharing of my self.

Negative space

Image

I really miss hiking. I’ve always loved going on hikes whenever I go back to Hawaii, usually with my best friend. We’d take a whole morning, our pace and our conversation a slow ramble as we let our voices and our feet ease into the quiet places, dark and older than the both of us combined and multiplied.  We added our stories with those of bird calls, pressed them into the earth for the roots. The day of the picture above, the vog was heavy and made our throats scratchy. But we kept talking, and walking, and met the sunrise from underneath a series of tangled roots.

Image

I’ve been wanting to hike here in Okinawa but between the weather and reliance on public transportation, it’s been near impossible. It’s so frustrating to go online and see so many different mountains and ruins seemingly within reach, only to find out that the nearest bus stop is an hour away, or that the ride would take half a day and cost way too much.  I often feel like a child on the verge of a tantrum.  I should be having adventures!  And sometimes I wish I wasn’t here in Okinawa, because it’s worse to be so close and yet unable to partake.

*

This weekend, there was a writing conference that happened to be in my town.  It was shocking because 1) I actually had no work nor practice this weekend 2) nothing seems to happen on this side of the island.  It reminded me of a convention, really, just on a much smaller scale.  There were many interesting lectures and I was grateful to meet and have an awesome dinner with a couple of really chill and intellectual people.

More than anything, the conference was a reinforcement of things I already knew: Write. Get out there and get published. Self-publishing is a lot of work but can be very beneficial. Write. Networking is key. Push my writing. Get out there and get published. Write.

But it was also an unexpected reminder of what I was not. It was odd to walk into a space where I was the minority, to suddenly have to remember to check the box labeled ‘other’.  There was also this strange moment at one of the workshops when, after we were given an exercise to write for 15 minutes, the speaker out of the blue asks the woman next to me if she had written in Japanese or English.  To be so abruptly yanked back into that world where assumptions are made due to skin color and silence was sickening. It was disappointing, having to remember what it feels like to be stifled and filed under a label.

(There are several things disturbing with that moment. First and foremost was how public it was, a singling out that was completely unnecessary. Second, it assumed a lack of ability not only on the woman’s part – that she could not express herself in English – but also on the part of everyone else in the room – that no one would be able to understand, that although all the attendees had at one point lived or currently do live in Japan, not one of us would have learned the language of this country.  Third, it created a feeling of, “This person needs extra accommodation; this is not what we expected and is a burden,” rather than a feeling of, “This person can bring an added richness and diversity to our group; let’s do everything we can to help them.”)

*

When I was younger, I studied art before I turned to writing, and one of my favorite activities was drawing negative space. The idea that you could reveal something by drawing what it was not seemed revolutionary to my young mind.  Even now, we’re told to accept the things we’re not, and use that to help understand who and what we actually are. But now that feels too much like restriction, too much like building walls where there never needed to be a boundary in the first place. Sure, it’s coloring outside the lines, but it’s still about lines and making sure things stay within them…

感謝

Had a class that started okay then completely fell apart at the second activity – I spent most of my down time trying to revamp the lesson because I had to do the same one for my last class of the day.  It didn’t help that I’ve been feeling very helpless and discouraged the past few weeks; even though it was just one class, it really added to the weight of disappointment on my shoulders.  After going through a frustrating day, I entered my last class with a half-formed plan B, unsure if my previously tried plan A would work this time.  I went in expecting the worst.

Only to have that class be the most enthusiastic and creative of this lesson cycle. It really blew me away and it was amazing to witness not just the students’ enjoyment, but also witness them working hard to complete the activity. I felt so grateful to them, and also felt that tiny, flickering hope steady inside me.

I know every class is different but I can’t help but get down on myself when a lesson doesn’t go right.  All I can do is keep trying, even though I know I’ll continue to make mistakes.

Because sometimes, it can lead to the best surprises ♥

Putting it away in order to put it together

I’m not sure how Mr. Eli Knight found my blog, but I’m very happy to have found his.  He not only has some really interesting technique posts, he also writes wonderful philosophical posts that show a genuine love for BJJ.  For example, I found myself grinning as I read his most recent post, Enjoy The Moment, because it resonated with my own feelings towards BJJ and my current journey to being more present in and aware of my life.  

Part of the measures I’ve been taking is cutting down on my use of social media. For all my talk about being comfortable with solitude and silence, I’ve learned that that hasn’t really been true.  Case in point: Until early this month, I found myself logging into Twitter or Facebook even though I knew there wouldn’t be anything I’d be interested in and, more disturbingly, I realized I was doing this when I had intended to write.  What this told me was that I was using social media as an excuse not to write, to not put in the hard work of practicing writing.  

This isn’t something new, unfortunately.  However, what is new is that I’ve changed my reaction for when I realize what I’m doing. Before, my self-talk was simply a scolding: “You should be writing.” But that just led to guilt and more mindless internet wandering – a cycle of negativity that really hasn’t helped at all.  Now, my self-talk is more of a question, an evaluation: “Is this something that is helping you understand your fear and be more present and/or improve your writing?”  Because sometimes you can happen on really insightful things and also amazing opportunities by wandering – for example, I found out that there will be a writing conference this weekend in my town – and those things shouldn’t be ignored.  Cutting things out completely isn’t always the answer…  

*

That last bit is amusing to me because I’m notorious for keeping certain aspects of my life separate from each other. In my opinion, separation isn’t necessarily good, but sometimes it’s necessary.  For example, when you’re young, you study science and history separately; when you’re older, once you have the necessary background knowledge, you learn how those two subjects constantly affect each other.  Basically, you have to understand the parts before you can put them together.  

It makes perfect sense writing it out like this, but as I’ve been trying to apply it to my personal life, I’ve found it to be terrifying.  For me, it’s easier to look at things in pieces – things are much more manageable that way.  My job is separate from BJJ, my family is separate from my friends, etc.  Each group is separate and each group has a separate “me” that I show.  But in this case, not only is separation unnecessary, it is flat out not good.

Life – and people – aren’t pieces.  Treating others and myself as such is not only detrimental to my relationships with other people, but also my relationship with my self.  Dividing things up like this has not led to me being in control – it’s instead led to me being controlled by others.  It all comes back to being present and aware, accepting flaws, forgiving mistakes, a dedication to moving forward, and a hope that one day, the pieces will come together to create a whole…

Words and actions

Today’s BJJ class was more of a lecture than anything else. Our instructor is away for a couple of days and one of our purple belts ran through a bunch of different situations commonly seen in competition.  Though it was very informative, it was quite a lot and I felt bad for one of the other students.  Our instructor usually conducts class in both English and Japanese, but our purple doesn’t speak Japanese, so the task fell on my ill-equipped shoulders.  While I was translating to the other white belt, I could see how overwhelmed she was becoming.  She understood the techniques, but to be thrown a bucket-ton of new information nearly a week before competition is frazzling.  But I talked to her after class and told her to just focus on what she’d been practicing up ’til now; just trust in her training.  

I know our purple meant well, but like most things, BJJ is best learned by doing.  I noticed something similar in one of my lessons today, where I found myself talking too much and the students doing too little. There’s a time for lecture, but it should be vastly outweighed by the time spent drilling and practicing.  As an instructor, sometimes I forget to trust in the training – that is, I forget to allow the students to practice on their own and trust that through experience, they’ll get better.  Granted, there’s a lot of fine details involved (ex. how to present information and instructions) but the best instruction is not done by the instructor – but by the students.