I’m home today – Alex has a fever. He’s sleeping on the couch at the moment…the end of The Jungle Book is playing on the VCR. His current favorite movie.
But I’m not writing about him today, though I could. Endlessly.
Yesterday I spent a few hours watching my sister, Meredith, and her kids, Calvin and Natalie, compete in a karate tournament. It was really cool.
Calvin, who is 12, started karate classes when he was in the first grade, and a couple years later Natalie, who is 9, did the same thing. Meredith started a couple of years ago. To be honest, I mostly went to see her. But I watched all of them, and took pictures of all of them too, and hopefully one or two of the pictures will come out good – with one of them kicking or spinning around or doing something – not just appearing to stand there immediately after kicking or spinning or whatever.
The whole event began with five different demo teams coming out to center court (this was held in a gym), one team at a time, to do their demonstration – an exhibition of all their best kicks and moves and weapons mastery – and loudness. Loud yells punctuating much of what they did. One team in particular – if they’d been competing at loudness, they would have won. They certainly had the loudness intimidation factor perfected. But they didn’t win. Actually the team Calvin was on won. I didn’t see the entire group though – I spent most of my time peering through the viewfinder of my camera, focused on Calvin, anticipating (or trying to) a leap or kick or spin that would make a good picture. So I only saw him.
After the demo team competition, the regular competitions began. There were 8 areas marked off, and everyone was divided up by age groups (or that’s how it looked to me, anyway.) Age groups, and then skill levels or belt colors or something along those lines. (I should have taken notes…but I didn’t.) Anyway, my sister was assigned to a corner at one end of the court, and both kids were at the other end. So I watched from the bleachers for a little while, with my parents, who had also come, until it looked like someone from my family was about to compete. Calvin was first, so I hurried down to the other end of the gym to hang out and wait for him to go…and at the same time I was keeping an eye on my sister’s corner, because I could see that she’d be up soon…and then it became quite stressful as I looked back and forth from Calvin to Mere, hoping that their turns wouldn’t come at the same time. They didn’t. Fortunately. And after both of them I got to watch Natalie, and then it was back down to the other end to watch my sister spar.
I have to say the coolest part was watching my sister wearing head gear, a mouthguard, a protective belt kind of thing around her abdomen, and padding on her hands and feet…and there she was before her sparring matches…stretching and hopping in place and looking totally focused on what she had to do…and then she went in there and did it. Punched and kicked and all that.
Did she win? Nope. Not at all. But to me that’s not what’s so cool about all this. I mean, yeah, a trophy would have been great. But it wouldn’t have been any more impressive to me if she had won. The fact that she is doing this – and in front of people – that is what is so cool.
And Calvin and Natalie, too…at their age, would I have been comfortable out in front of people? Even in a competition like this, where it’s like a circus, with tons of things going on at once…and everyone who is competing is pretty much oblivious to what everyone else is doing…and the people in the bleachers are mainly watching their sons or daughters or grandkids or siblings or whoever and might idly cast a glance at another competitor, but not for very long or with much thought…would I have done that?
Not a chance.
I took ballet and tap when I was very little, and I was in a couple of recitals…and the famous thing I said to my parents after one recital, when I was so shy and scared that I dreaded going out on stage, was "I kicked up my bravery." Where did that little kicking girl go?
I was thinking a lot about this yesterday, on my way home. And I don’t know if I can describe this well, but here goes…I was thinking about how it would be to be, say, Natalie’s age, 9, and out there in front of a ton of people, trying to focus on my kata and do it correctly for the judges and block out everyone around me, no matter how scary it would feel to have all those potential eyes watching…and I realized that it’s not all the eyes of the people in the bleachers (or in an audience, or classroom, or wherever) that have affected me all these years. It’s all the eyes I carry around inside of me…all the eyes in my own head that are constantly – and critically – watching me. Every little thing is scrutinized. And these little eyes also have little voices (no, I’m not crazy, stick with me on this) that are, unfortunately, for the most part, hypercritical.
That’s what’s scary. To me. And I have to get over that. I really do. They’ve done nothing for me, ever. They have just kept me from trying things. Sure, they’ve prevented me from falling on my face in front of a big crowd of people – but so what? I’ve still fallen down in front of people PLENTY of times under various circumstances and I’m still around. In fact, my falling down stories are part of a collection of stories that my sister and I laugh over to this day.
So who needs these stupid eyes watching me in my head, and their rotten little critical voices. I used to feel like if I could figure out WHY I listen to them, then I could make them stop. But now I’m realizing – who cares? Who cares where they came from? They’ve already received way more attention than they deserve and here I am, facing a BIG birthday this summer and feeling like I’ve got very little to show for reaching this milestone. It’s not the getting another year older that is bothering me – it’s the getting another year older and feeling like I haven’t come very far from the shy kid I started out as.
I know that’s not entirely true. I am a functioning member of society. I can look people in the eye and stuff like that. I’m really good at standing up for other people, like at work or something. I’m great at that for everyone except myself.
And that’s what I need to work on. Much as I love photographing members of my family – and I really do love that – I realized yesterday that there probably aren’t many photos of me doing anything. Okay, I got married. So there I am in those pictures. But it’s not like I worked hard to get to that point, you know? It was like a birthday party. You show up, you get your picture taken.
But most of the time, I’m the one taking the pictures. I’m the one watching. I’m the one capturing other people as they do things. Cool things. Like leaping and spinning. Cool things. Like kicking up their bravery.
I need to get out there and do something.
But anyway, back to my karate sister and her karate kids – I didn’t stay to watch the whole thing, though I would have liked to. But I got to see each of them get out there and show what they could do.
And, inspired by this, I did crunches (50) (with my kids crawling or sprawling on top of me during most of the 50) and some other ab stuff and some yoga. I have noticed that when I work out, those little eyes in my head don’t watch me so much, and their little voices tend to get quieter. So maybe if I just try to focus on doing things – any things – I can make the critical watching eyes and their critical little voices go away. They’ve overstayed their welcome.
Thanks Mere. Thanks Calvin and Natalie. You guys inspire me. Kiai! (did I spell that right?)