I’m wearing a bathrobe in a Cairns (Australia) hotel. [CM] is sleeping—we got here for our pre-medschool mini-vacation a couple of days ago, but the jetlag from coming back from Canada is still getting to her. So since about 7:45PM this evening, she’s been out cold.
It’s the first time I wear a bathrobe in a long time. I had a thick soft one from when I was a kid in Montreal, but I haven’t worn it in over a decade. Full circle, I’m wearing one now—but it’s all different now, this second time around.
I was recently watching the movie About Time, which I bought for CM as a valentines day gift. She got it while she was in Montreal, so I never had the chance to watch it with her until she recently got back. It’s a great movie.
It reminds me a lot of Groundhog Day.
And Groundhog Day reminds me a lot of me, in a many ways.
Anything that we want to get better at, we get better at it through repetition. One of my earliest memories of practicing something was trying to get a B-flat scale on piano right—the whole idea of using black keys just was totally beyond someone who had been home taught by my mom how to play songs that were all in C major. Learning how to use flats and sharps? Clearly piano lessons were going to take me places. It doesn’t come naturally.
Well, actually, nothing about musical instruments really comes naturally when you think about it. As much as beauty and art naturally exists, our ability to create it or interface with it is anything but natural— it’s a forced act of twisting and bending backwards into a state of discipline that doesn’t exist naturally except in math and chemistry. We humans, being the big clumbsy compound creatures that we are, are incapable of simple things because it is in our nature to be complicated.
What was my point? Right— getting better at something. Practice makes perfect. You just do things until at some point, it feels natural to do that unnatural thing. Getting better at something is basically an exercise in isolation and simplification—you break something down into chunks that your brain can absorb. We are basically fooling ourselves through simple scenarios to train responses—treating our brains essentially like puppies— until we get it just right.
For some things, you forget the mechanics and the novelty of it so that the doing of the thing ceases to get in the way of appreciating the context in which you do it. And that’s the highest form of learning. For example— in badminton, smash defense isn’t a calculated thought so much as it is a muscle-memory bound reflex. Your brain recognizes vaguely that you’re in a bad position, your eyes make out the shape of your opponent’s body language winding up, and without even thinking about it, your body drops low, arching into a slight curl, your empty hand raised even as your racket hand goes forward, ready to either dig under or flatten the attack.
From the point of your opponent’s smash to the point that the bird is in your face, less than a quarter of a second has passed and you’re already done reacting.
How does this happen? Why didn’t you just eat the shuttlecock? Why is it that your ability to play badminton includes the ability to move faster than your own brain can understand what is happening?
Because you’ve drilled it. Time and time again. At first it was novel, it was difficult, it was strange— but a hundred thousand iterations later, it is a natural movement. It’s just another tool in the shed. You being able to use a particular badminton technique doesn’t rob you as much as it did before of the exhilaration of playing badminton.
And that’s what wearing a bathrobe is like.
When I was a kid, my sister and I both had bathrobes. We wore them mostly because television had taught us that bathrobes were something that luxurious adults wore— and they were a gift from our parents that enabled us to live out our fantasies of being bigger than we were. We also grew up seeing pictures of Western kids during Christmas waking up in the middle of the night to find Santa—those kids were always wearing bathrobes. We never quite understood how those things worked, because they were certainly too hot to wear to bed, but I think on some level we had figured out that bathrobes lead to Christmas gifts.
When we didn’t understand, a bathrobe was just a bathrobe. When we were growing up, a bathrobe wasn’t just a bathrobe. It came to mean all sorts of other things—maturity, luxury, Christmas gifts.
Now that I do understand, a bathrobe is just a bathrobe.
And so I wear the hotel bathrobe now, because it’s comfortable. It doesn’t get in the way of me noticing other things in life. Or rather, I’m able to step out of it all and reocgnise—it’s nice to be able to wear this at this point in my life. It’s nice to be at this point in my life.
Times haven’t been smooth lately. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that although I’m graduating this semester, for the last year I’ve been working my ass off to get leads on jobs as a graduate solicitor, to no avail yet. Things might change when I actually get licensed— I have my fingers crossed.
But a lot of this is all frightening and stressful because it’s new. Being a lawyer will be new to me. Graduating law school will be new to me.
Times like this, I find that what keeps me going is the comfort of the things that are still familiar circles. They make me feel grounded and more substantial. They remind me that I have a history and war stories, and am not just defined by a few setbacks due to a tough market.
I was sitting in the hotel sauna for about 15 minutes. I remember when I first started playing badminton, I used to sit in the YMCA sauna for a good half hour after training. It was a way of relaxing a bit, but also to work on hot weather conditions breathing (some summer gyms we used to compete at had no air conditioning whatsoever, so conditioning was quite important).
I’m wasn’t sitting in the sauna for the same reasons today, but it was nice to breathe in that heat. It was like a psychological pick me up to revisit some of the roots in my character.
I was doing some resistance training in the hotel gym— I haven’t really done any significant weight training since 2008, when I was still living with [Terminator]. This time around, things are quite different. For one thing, shoulder and knee injuries make it impossible for me to lift nearly as much as I could back in 2008, even if I wanted to. But on the plus side, as I made my way of a circuit of the small gym, it was pretty apparent that my focus on life had changed.
In the early 2000s, my gym membership was all about supplementing martial arts training. It was, simply put, to develop power to fight. 2014— fast forward almost a decade and a half of martial arts later— and how has my routine changed?
I no longer care about busting out the one-rep-maximum that’s twice my own weight. Now, it’s about conditioning my body for flexibility, stability, and balance. It’s about rehabilitation and prevention—enabling me to continue doing the things I enjoy for years to come.
It’s no longer a suicide run for greatness— it’s a science of discipline and strength of character.
I wonder sometimes if I’m becoming a “has been,” or worse, if perhaps I am a “never was.” But then, what can I do about that? I can only play these cards, right? No need to worry about becoming wise—just worry about becoming wiser. No need to worry about becoming smart—just get smarter. Strong? No— just get stronger.
And with each iteration of something I’ve already done, I try and notice something good that I didn’t notice before.
In the last three weeks, I’ve written a shitload of papers, I’ve filled out a handful of job applications, and I’ve gotten my life back in order. CM is back in town. Life isn’t easy, but I’m still at it.
I might not be there, but with each pass I get a bit better. It’s all I can do to keep trying.