Snatching Back

“Kaiko,” my coach said a few months ago, as he watched me try to snatch, “stop getting flung away.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And I don’t mean just by guys.”

I stood there, sweaty, with third-degree burns from that roast. The whiteboard declared that we’d be doing snatches, and I’d been attempting to heave the barbell and two oversized, red, plastic plates weighing 2.5kg each, over my head. To accomplish that, I was bouncing the bar off my hip flexors instead of scooping it up, then getting pulled forward before swinging the weight back towards my body to get it over my shoulders. My arms were tensed up and straightened throughout the lift. It seemed to me what a snatch should look like, except it was completely wrong.

calloused hands

Fortunately, the vice grip I had on the barbell and the tension in my arms naturally died after doing about 20 snatches for a WOD. By snatch 26, my coach was impressed with my form enough to be shouting out praise over the increasingly irritating pop music.

“Good snatch, Kaiko!” he said, “you’re not wasting any movements!”

I was sweating uncontrollably and turning increasingly pale. My lungs hurt but everything else was becoming numb and useless. I had stopped concentrating on form, on all the small things that need to come together for a half decent snatch. I was too busy trying not to die.

There’s very little that is more fun than learning the Olympic lifts. But the process can often feel a lot like trying to date in Tokyo in your 30s: first, you spend a lot of time and energy trying to control things you can’t, then, once the deadening exhaustion sets in, you lose all the fucks you thought you could give and, ironically, start getting better at it.

I’ve been learning this the hard way. There were the ghosters, the friends-with-benefiters, the guys who can’t take rejection, and the guys who just want to sext. So far, it’s been a string of failed attempts. Most times, I fix one way I approach things and something else goes completely wrong. Other times, I need to step back, take a break, and re-group.

barbells

In the process, I’ve learned that rushing things can get you hurt or at least make you feel like an idiot, but, taking a few risks isn’t a bad thing. That having more confidence and a little more faith in myself never hurt, and meaningful progress always involves being uncomfortable. And that for every failure, there are ten, twenty, fifty more chances to get it right.

They say you get back what you give. What they don’t tell you is that you can give your best but a lot of the time, you have to wait to get it back. It’s not your day or your timing is off or it’s not meant to be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your best at every try, or half-ass your pulls and expect a great result. As exhausting, frustrating, and infuriating as it can be, you have to keep pulling with the hope that one day, everything will boomerang back to you. And since you miss all the shots you don’t take, eventually, I’ll set myself up at the bar again and try to get something off the ground without looking entirely stupid and/or disposing of my dignity.

back at the bar

A few weeks back, after a crush didn’t pan out, I arrived at the CrossFit box to another torturous WOD.

“We’re doing this ‘Heartbreak’ one,” coach said.

“But, no,” I whined, “I’ve had enough of that this year.”

He laughed, because he somehow believes I’m capable of more than I think, and we did it anyway.

35

I’m 35 today.

It’s a weird feeling, arriving at an age that suggests established adulthood when my life resembles a never-ending vortex of chaos mixed with a good measure of underachievement. 35 suggests an age when people generally have grown into themselves and their decisions; when life stabilizes, at least temporarily. When you feel good about most things that you’ve done; when you make enough to afford small luxuries and most things fit into place. Or, at least that’s how I imagined it.

Instead, I am 35 today and having only been behind the wheel of a car once, I feel like I’m in a F-1 race, drunk to the point where decisions are confusing and laborious, trying to figure out how to drive. I’m technically, miraculously, still in the race, but I’m not sure what lap I’m on, when we’re supposed to stop, or what we’re all racing away from. Given the circumstances, however, I suppose I could be doing a lot worse.

I say that without allowing myself the luxury of being grateful for things that my friends tell me I should take into consideration; that I’m not, for example, a homeless convicted sex offender or a crack addict turning tricks to support her habit. I am aware that my life could be much worse, but I also wonder what it says about my friends’ perceptions of me that they revert to such extreme examples. Couldn’t they choose less desperate hypotheticals?

That’s not to say that they’re wrong. Despite the fact that the bottom fell out of my life recently – or perhaps because of it – my current life can only be described, for better or for worse, as unexpected. It’s not cycling or lifting, but CrossFit, that has become that thing I do to keep my mind off of everything else. And because I need to keep it a daily practice to keep those black dogs at bay, the workouts and WODs have led, to, of all things, preparing batches of broccoli and chicken breast twice a week.

Cleans gone wrong.

Cleans gone wrong.

The birthday menu.

The birthday menu.

I had always seen meal prepping as too rigid and restricting given my desire to be perceived as easy-going and flexible. Who wants to be around someone who is so Type A and neurotic about their food, I thought. Who wants to eat the same thing every day for lunch and dinner? Who is humorless enough to choke down chicken breast twice a day? And then I became one of those people.

meal prep

Let’s be clear; that’s not to say I actually eat well. I follow up that chicken and broccoli with ice cream and potato chips on a daily basis, which means that I am only trying to make up for my otherwise shitty diet at meal times. I call it balance.

Yet, my best efforts at self-sabotage via a half-assed diet have ironically resulted in arriving at 35 looking better than I ever have. Like a cheaper form of liposuction, CrossFit erased the cellulite I couldn’t get rid of unless I was at least 3 kg lighter than my current weight. Everything got tighter. I grew lats and my back got brawny. I actually look like I lift things with my arms and not just my legs. It feels pretty good.

coffee and a cookie
My furriest bestie.

My furriest bestie.

But the best part is that I have people to lean on when times get tough, who will listen and nod and give me a hard time. The same friends that tell me that while I might feel like the emotional version of nuclear winter, “at least you don’t look that way.” The ones that get coffee with me, and sometimes McDonald’s, and who will stay on the phone whether I’m sobbing or laughing. Whatever my underachievements or my failings at constructing an age-appropriate life, those friends remain a sign that I might not be doing it all wrong.

I’m 35 today. Still drunk behind the wheel of that F-1 race car. Still confused, still figuring it out. But things could be worse.

Here’s to another lap, another year of keeping the rubber side down.

Surviving through CrossFit

A couple days after I published my last post, I got my heart broken.

It wasn’t the usual breakup because I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone as intensely. It wasn’t because the feelings weren’t mutual; and so, it completely obliterated me.

The first two weeks, I couldn’t function. To be honest, I don’t really remember much of those two weeks, but for the next month, I woke up with a nervous pain in my chest that would explode into wailing sobs throughout the day. I lost my appetite and stopped eating. I wanted to disappear. Life ceases to have meaning after you lose someone you thought was the love of your life. In a lot of ways, I still don't see the point in it.

It would be nice to say that it drove me back to the bike, but it didn’t. I threw myself into CrossFit instead.

crossfit yoyogi 1

Maybe I was doing it because I had nothing else to do, and the bike had its own share of burdens. Maybe it was a convenient distraction that I’d already paid for. Maybe, in the end, I kept going because he had gotten me into it. But I had fallen in love with CrossFit by myself, and those first few weeks, it saved me. The searing of straining muscles, the feeling of pain reduced to numbness from exhaustion and exertion, the suffocation, the sensation that I might be drowning. It all mirrored my state outside the CrossFit box but somehow, there, there was catharsis.

I started going to classes every day the box was open. I switched classes so that I could stay afterwards to practice everything I couldn’t do. When the memories ripped through whatever healing I’d managed, I practiced pull-up negatives and push-ups at home. Last weekend, I doubled up and went to two classes in one day.

It sounds crazy, I know, or at least, excessive. Overcompensation for a lost love and a directionless life. Seeking redemption from emotional trauma through physical pain. Or worse, a self-imposed punishment for a perceived general lack of worthiness. All embarrassing ways of coping with loss and projections of internal strife.

kettlebells and belts
plates

But isn’t that how we all survive? You put yourself through solitary trials until one day you don’t wake up every day wishing you hadn’t. Until you reach a point where whatever you’re doing, day in and day out, is less of a coping mechanism, and the desire to do that thing or activity overshadows the frantic need to do it. Until that raw, open wound of true heartbreak becomes a more manageable – though lifelong – hurt.

I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m trying.

New Year's Resolutions and Getting Happy

I’d like to say I’ve been waiting to write until most people have either forgotten their New Year’s resolutions or, if they haven’t, are most definitely regretting them. It’s one of those things that you don’t realize until you get older; that instead of hopeful projections of what you’d like to accomplish by the next year, with age, New Year’s resolutions gradually turn into last desperate chances to fix your life before it’s entirely too late.

Resistant to adding more failure into my life than there already is, I haven’t made any resolutions in the past few years. But, like deadlines for the planning-impaired, it’s always when you’re least expecting it that things creep up on you.

Which is to say: it’s been a hell of a year so far, but such a good one.

postcard to jwj

A lucky break in December landed me a full-time job as a virtual litigation attorney. Eight years after graduating from law school, I am finally getting paid to do substantive legal work. A chance freelance editing gig has led to a great friendship; the kind where you get concerned if one doesn’t text back in an hour and plans for brunch always turn into 6-hour hang out sessions. A week into the Giro, I’m more worried about discovery deadlines and surviving the day’s WOD. That’s not to say I don’t still love bikes and pro cycling. Just that worrying about riding isn’t much of a priority anymore.

brunch
Thanks for the deadlift bruises, CrossFit!

Thanks for the deadlift bruises, CrossFit!

Life is different, and I’m happy. Which is – to be honest – an incredibly weird feeling. “Different” and, in particular, “happy,” seem like things that require planning or, at minimum, some type of mental resolve towards a higher goal. I seem to have lucked into both with the simple passage of time into a new year. And that sometimes gives me pause; does my lack of planning mean that this is all temporary?

In these moments when my anxiety suggests I’m living a life I don’t deserve, I like to remember those New Year’s resolutions I’ve made. The ones that have been derailed by pastries or conveniently forgotten within six weeks. They’re a nice reminder that even with the best intentions, planning doesn’t guarantee the existence of a situation or condition, much less its relative permanence. For that, I’ve learned, you just have to work at it.

And because it’s a life that feels genuinely good, most of the time, and healthy, and maybe because it’s not a self-imposed New Year’s resolution that feels like a desperate attempt to get my shit together, I have been. It’s not easy all the time, but it’s the kind of life I'm working to hold on to.

[More stories coming soon, I promise!]

Friday Night Movie Lights

On Friday nights, I have something resembling a standing date.

Every week, unless work intervenes, we go through the same charade. In the afternoon, we’ll exchange a few texts – “are we watching a movie tonight?,” “Still on for a movie?” – as if to confirm that neither of us has anything better to do. I typically choose a genre, ask if I should bring snacks, and show up in sweatpants and my rattiest hoodie for movie night with my gay sister-in-law.

My sister rarely joins us, confirming that Friday movie nights are more a product of my, and my sister-in-law’s, respective lonely and desolate lives, rather than any real desire to spend time together. So, I, incredulously single and gifted solely with friends with more pressing engagements like spouses and children, and she, my sister’s work widow, sit in the dark to deflect questions of how and why our lives have come to this. Instead, we watch movies – Mechanic: Resurrected (terrible, even for a Jason Stratham movie), The Hunt (a fabulous Danish film starring Mads Mikkelson), RoomFantastic BeastsDr. Strange (hi again, Mads Mikkelson), John WickSleepless, – and at the end of the night, promise to do it again next week.

movie chat

Given my own ulterior motives for movie night – mainly to stave off the possibility of suffocating to death due to the boredom of my life – I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my sister-in-law had her own reasons for spending her night off with someone marriage told her she now had to be related to. After a few weeks, I noticed a pattern to how our film screenings ended; namely that they tended to feature monologues about Brad Pitt. Seeming to sense no strong disagreement on my part, her tributes got bolder, pushing their way into the movies themselves.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s appearance in Dr. Strange inspired, “why do straight girls think he’s so attractive? It’s not like he’s Brad Pitt.” When we got our first glimpse of Colin Farrell in Fantastic Beasts, “I like him,” she said, “he’s like a brunette Brad Pitt.” And when Mads Mikkelson took off his shirt for two whole seconds in The Hunt, “ugh,” she said, “men that age shouldn’t take their shirts off unless they’re Brad Pitt.”

This transitioned neatly into her next favorite topic: shirtless Tom Cruise. “It’s so gross,” she said, pulling up Google search images of Tom Cruise’s bare, wrinkled chest. “I agree with you,” I insisted as she enhanced more images, zooming in and circling his invisible pecs angrily with her cursor, “but you know, Brad Pitt just might be genetically gifted…maybe you should compare him to someone else…like, I don’t know, George Clooney?”

Understanding friendships to be a two-way street, I’ve attempted to steer the conversation from Brad Pitt to the nuclear winter that is my social life, job woes, or the most recent blow up currently causing my eyes to roll back into my head for inordinately long periods of time.

“Can I just tell you something about—“ I’d start.

“Are you ruining my movie night?” she’d screech, as if it wasn’t also my movie night, “is it about that guy?”

“Yes, no, maybe, which guy? Just listen, ok?”

And to her credit, she does, for about three minutes, before declaring the room a “whine-free zone” and that “breeders are so weird.” To which I’d naturally respond with more whining.

We watched Sleepless a few nights ago while eating ice cream, my sister coming in and out of the room to ask what’s happening, and more ridiculously, what’s going to happen. I periodically clutched my sister-in-law’s sleeve as a tongue was cut out and balls were nearly crushed and other violence ensued. After a month that involved a funeral, and a date that felt like a funeral for any hope of a love life here, plus the realization that some people don’t want a friend as much as a sounding board to affirm their egos, that comfort and escape are welcome. There are no guys involved, no romantic dinners or shameless flirting, just ice cream, tea, and company I can’t replace.

“Here, just Google George Clooney,” I’d said, months ago.

“George Clooney shirtless” she typed, and we stared at the results. And there was no one I’d rather have fallen into the rabbit hole of George Clooney’s face expertly photoshopped onto gay porn stars, than my sister-in-law.

Motown House

“Are you sure?” the guy asked his friend at the door, “this feels kind of weird.”

We were in Roppongi – the notorious, kind of seedy, club district of Tokyo – at a bar called Motown House, and the Bruno Mars was blaring. A friend had invited us to go out, mainly because a friend of hers was bartending that night. “A trip advisor reviewer claimed he got drugged and robbed there,” my sister had announced the day before, “but it’s Roppongi, that happens. Besides, we know the bartender, she’s probably not going to drug us.”

That same bartender, who was quickly becoming the only reason we were there, had also described the clientele as “an interesting, older crowd.” We’d imagined professionals around our age, in their 30s and 40s, grooving to some soul and offering interesting conversation. We’d been about 15 years off the mark, and the only soul we’d heard in the past two hours was a techno remix of Jackson Five’s “ABC.”

Photo credit: my sister

Photo credit: my sister

Photo credit: my sister

Maybe we’d arrived too early, we thought. Yet, with everything just a bit off – the older women who appeared to believe in the sex appeal of brown, knee high boots with a reasonable heel, the overweight men who seemed limited to staring with half smiles, the working girls that were about two decades past their prime – it made for some fantastic people-watching. Alcohol mixed with blatant desperation turned the slight hip swaying into frantic bouncing to an imaginary beat a fraction of a pulse off the rhythm coming out of the speakers. An undernourished woman arrived in a fur hat three times the size of her head and threw off her coat to dance with the grace of a push puppet on speed. Her much older date shuffled his boot-clad legs to Justin Bieber, his eyes covered by dark sunglasses despite the dim lighting. A Korean girl arrived with her stoic boyfriend, and proceeded to jump up and down, mosh pit style, through every single song. Two Japanese salarymen were doing what looked like interpretive dancing. Another was falling asleep on his feet at the bar. A guy came in high, and pantomimed conducting an orchestra with a glass of red wine.

The bright side of being trapped in a virtual circus was that it was easy to find people who were normal. They usually came in with trepidation, looked horrified, and left within fifteen minutes.

“Is it always like this?” An Australian guy shouted in my ear as he looked around the room, mentally clutching on to his sense of dignity.

“I don’t know, but it gets worse the farther back you go,” I shouted back.

While the harmless drunks and weirdos save Motown House from being completely awful, the bar is still exceedingly creepy. For about ten minutes, a group of us kept our eyes resolutely fixed on different spots in the bar while a guy that looked like Michael Moore crossed with John Wayne Gacy stood next to our table and stared at us. On my way out of the bathroom, a South Asian guy stroked the back of my head. A drunk Japanese guy simply stood six inches behind one of our friends for about an hour.

“I work for the CIA,” a white-haired, American guy in a suit tried to tell my sister.

“No, you don’t,” she said flatly, “if you did, you wouldn’t tell me that.”

“Okay,” he conceded, lamely, “I work for the U.S. Embassy.”

“Yeah?” My sister said, sensing another lie, “what do you do there?”

Our breath of fresh air was the older Asian guy in a Hermes tie featuring bunny rabbits, who, completely wasted, insisted on trying to dance with every butch lesbian in our group. He happily accepted rejection yet remained optimistic and immune to the creepy desperation permeating most of the room. He bounced to the beat with us until we realized it was midnight and escaped the smoky confines of Motown House to catch the last train.

I came home to an anguished whimper-bark and a dog – normally too lazy to get up to greet me when I get home – practically vibrating with happiness.

“Do I smell like an ashtray?” I asked as she jumped and wagged excited circles around me and sniffed my mascara, “did you miss me?”

On the ride home, we had talked through hoarse throats about how terrible Motown House had been, the Michael Moore/John Wayne Gacy serial killer, and the possibility of that bar becoming a part of my future if I didn’t find a life partner in the next ten years. My sister had apologized for dragging me there, as if going out with her didn’t always involve slightly outrageous events. But even with the high percentage of creeps there, it’s hard to write off Motown House as a bad bar. Like watching Hoarders, it’s an experience that can turn your far-from-perfect life into one that is much more worthy of appreciation. Suddenly, I can point to my safe, repetitive life where I spend most nights with an ungrateful dog with pride because I’m not a regular at a bar seemingly designed for the comfortably desperate.

Should I ever need another reminder, fortunately, Motown House is only a short subway ride away.