It’s 3:15 AM in Sydney, and I’m almost wide awake.
I think my subconscious is more vulnerable to life than I think. I underestimate it, because I’m usually occupied with what’s in front of me. Sheer will makes me into someone completely different from who I am when I sleep– which is someone vulnerable.
I got out of the Administrative Law exam the other day wondering what had happened: I went in there feeling confident and calm. I left feeling cheated. But what did I do? What I always do– pushed it down. Have to stay focused right? There’s still a lot going on. I need to keep moving.
[CM] and I have this recurring discussion every now and then whenever we have breakdowns or just feel tired, in the “life” way. What I mean by this is that, frankly, life is tough. You all know this instinctively because everyone has their ups and downs. But what I mean by “life is tough” isn’t so much relevant by the things that make it tough– it’s the mere fact of mentioning it, with increasing frequency, that connotes some significance.
So it’s time to do a bit of mental housecleaning.
When I start having trouble sleeping, that’s when I know I’ve been neglecting to pay attention to the needs of my soul.
Willpower works well most of the time, but damage accumulates, and willpower is solar-powered.
There’s an anime I’ve been watching for the past little while called “Kids on the Slope.” It’s one of the best shows I’ve watched in a long time– a very long time. How do I describe it? It’s just about growing up, I guess. It centres around a couple of schoolboys in post-war japan, coming upon jazz music. I just watched Episode 7, and it was beautiful. The music in that show is great.
There is a source of restlessness in me all the time that I’ve learned to harness. It’s a conversation which is on one hand fueled by a bittersweet nostalgia of my “has-been”-ness. This has to do with all the great and incredible lives I’ve had the fortune of living before this one. I’m not just thinking of SK 1.0 or Montreal 2.0– I’m also thinking of the things from Montreal 1.0. The little bits of features and dramas of those times.
“Kids on the Slope” in particular reminds me that I haven’t picked up a pair of drumsticks with significant purpose in now over 10 years.
There was a time when I might have gone that direction professionally. I loved music. So how did I ever stray from that path?
Well, life happened. And so all that I was became just that– was-ness. Has-been. Glory days in the bands are nothing but stories to exagerate about in reminiscence.
Well, that’s the first part of the formula. On the flispide of the ‘has-been’ force is the ‘will-be’ force. I know that sounds kind of funny– but let me explain a simple concept: only the past is finite. The fact that I’m a has-been of first degree suggests to me that I was capable of great things, and it also suggests to me that there’s nothing stopping me from continuing to do so. In a strange way, all the things that I’ve left behind over the years, all those passions, I’ve only stopped “doing them” but they’ve continued to fuel my thoughts at all times. I am not so old and incapable that looking backwards makes me sad and to wish for “better times.” On the contrary– looking backwards makes me wonder, what will I do to top that?
It’s a tall order, I think. But I think I’ve managed to live by this mantra.
One of the reasons why I love CM is because she’s like that too, although she doesn’t always understand that part about herself. She’s come a long way from where she started, and by this, I mean way before I ever met her. She’s always sought new stories for herself. She’s always bitten off slightly more than she could chew. So yeah, I guess you can say that it’s inevitable with such trouble-seeking personalities, every now and then we lie down and look at eachother and sigh: “I wish life was easier.”
The truth is though, we make it hard on ourselves. We try new things. I don’t particularly think I’m talented at Law School. She doesn’t particularly think she’s going to excel at Med School. But when you really look at the mechanics of it? When you look at all the things we’ve been through to get where we are? All the things we do to satisfy ourselves day to day– just to get out of bed? They’re incredible stories. We ought to be proud, more often.
The other day, I was at the riverside doing some training with one of my flatmates, [Curb]. He had 12 ounce gloves on, I was wearing 8s, a helmet, and a mouth guard. The exercise? He was allowed to throw a right, then a left. Or a left, and a right. And I wasn’t allowed to hit back. I just had to block, parry, or dodge.
Curb doesn’t at all come from a competitive fighting background– he comes from a background of traditional martial arts that tend to focus more on forms than on sparring. As a result, training with him yields an experience markedly different from training with people who fight competitively. The main difference has to do with the ‘teaching mentality’ of doing exercises– or the lack thereof. Normally when you train with someone, if you’re doing an exercise, you don’t go at full force at the beginning because you want to give the other person a chance to learn how to do it properly. You start slow, then build up power and speed.
Curb on the other hand doesn’t understand this– to him, there’s just this on/off switch that goes from “not fighting” to “kill,” which means that when I train nothing but defence, it really is defence. I mean, he’s not holding back much. I am getting rocked left and right with each hook. He doesn’t hold back because in his world, martial arts is like breaking boards and bricks– and there’s no danger that those’ll ever hit back.
By the end of the night, I can actually see steam coming out of my shirt, and i’m hocking up phlegm around my mouthguard. I’ve spent rounds just deffending, and it’s tough.
Blocking is one thing– but the real test is slipping punches. There is no greater feeling when the relentless assault suddenly stops. When your opponent, instead of feeling the resistence of a block, feels nothing but emptiness, because you’re gone. And for a second? There is time to breathe. There is a moment when the punches stop coming, because all that incoming stuff has been thrown off balance– for a moment, it doesn’t know how to get at you. For a moment, you’re invulnerable because you’ve found a break in time. And you have put yourself in a position to do what you want with your oppressor. For a moment (you’ll miss it if you’re too slow) you are invulnerable and in control– the situation is everything you want.
That’s what life is– it’s tough. It’s hard. It’s relentless and it comes at you nonstop. But every now and then, you manage to really sidestep it, you manage to stop being deffensive and really put yourself in a perfect position to counter-the shit out of it– make it think twice before it comes at you again. In that brief moment, you are not “blocking” or “deffending” against all that stuff coming at you– you’ve just gotten out of the way. You’ve taken yourself out of that game, and you’ve elevated yourself momentarily to one of supremacy. You give nothing to your oppressor, and by not giving the satisfaction, you not only rob him of any chance for victory but you suddenly find that both your hands are free to focus on what’s important– and that is, kicking ass.
From episode 1, Kids on the Slope tracks a protagonist brought up in excellence in classical piano. It’s only when he makes an unlikely friend, who is into jazz, that he discovers a whole new way of doing things. A way of stepping out of reality, of elevation. It’s not to rag on classical that I mention this– but I point out that jazz is a completely different ballgame. It really is about playing with reality– it’s a call and response game of “the way things are” and “the way we’re going to do it.” It’s about breaking rules, and stepping out of the game to cheat a little, just to make things interesting.
Of course, when you develop certain practices, you’re left with this heavy substance. All that history, all that experience– it can be as much of an anchor as it is armour.
But man, isn’t it dramatic? Isn’t that what it’s all about?
I wake up in the middle of the night every now and then and CM stirs next to me sometimes, somehow aware of my consciousness, but not herself awake. It calms me to know that she’s here. She’s become part of my substance. She’s the one who keeps me from going crazy at times, trying to will myself beyond my limits. She’s the one who is at my side, when I’m at the mercy of my subconscious, to comfort me (by doing nothing) when I awaken confused.
But when everything is quiet and the panic subsides, and all there is the call of her breathing: This too is a moment where I step out of the stream of time, and just think– yes, I can do anything right now.