I didn't go to fencing practice tonight.
Practice on Tuesday was cancelled, and so Iago wanted to go to Denver's practice tonight. Since I have not fenced in a few weeks now, I was going to go with him. Then I got home and was very tired. The day had drained me. I stress-ate ALL the things at work (and I mean ALL - leftover pasta, 2 slices of pizza, some potato chips, a drumstick ice cream, small pack of skittles, 3 mini Snickers, a Swiss cake roll, a Ho-Ho, and a bagel), I was tired of yelling at project managers and yelling at my teammates about said project managers, I was tired of bullshit work, and I was tired of Facebook. (My job is so overwhelming sometimes, that I LITERALLY peruse the same Facebook posts over and over again hoping something new will happen). I was feeling defeated, despondent, and anti-social. The event last night had put me off people again.
Then there was the underlying painful dread feeling in the pit of my stomach. The one that I have not been able to shake for a while now. The one that was finally starting to ebb, but was reawakened last weekend. It was opened up so deep that you could probably see all the way to 2007. This time, it was fueled by the fencing community and the one thought I absolutely hate having:
"I'm never going to be as good as I want to be. And I'm never going to get recognized for how good I am."
Brief History: I've been fencing for 17, going on 18, years with a few breaks. Seventeen years, and it was only last year that I got my kingdom-level fencing award. And only a few years before that I got my baronial-level fighting award. It took me 17 years to be recognized at a level that most people receive within their first 1-5 years of fencing.
Now, I'm not going to lie, fencing is HARD for me. I'm not the strongest, most graceful, fastest, most coordinated person on the planet. In fact, I'd say I'm pretty far down. NONE of this comes naturally to me. I have had to practice and drill and fight and lift weights and run to even make what I thought was a little headway. And that was when I was young(er) and healthy. Now...I'm old(er) and fat(er) and broken(er). If I don't go to the gym regularly, fencing is more difficult. If I don't fence for a month, it might as well be back to square one. Maintaining a workout and fencing schedule like this is almost impossible with my workload, emotional roadblocks and physical health. At this point I am honestly not sure if I am physically capable of working as hard as I need to, in order to get what I want out of fencing.
And then there's Iago. He shows up to an event after not fighting for months and places in a tournament. He starts fighting regularly once or maybe twice/week and he dominates. People notice him. Then, he wakes up fine the next morning at 6AM. Whereas I feel like I've gotten hit by a bus, he just prances out of bed. He is naturally good at fencing. I am not. He loves fencing because he doesn't struggle with just getting out on the field and fighting. He doesn't care about little things. If his shoulder hurts, he ignores it. If it's too cold, or (to an extent) too hot, or if his gear is uncomfortable and smelly, he just......goes. He doesn't care what he looks (or smells) like. He loves to fight to fight. It is (almost) that simple. (I say "almost" because that's what he says, but it's obvious that he likes the competition aspect also).
I love fencing, too, but for reasons other than the athletic part. I like feeling powerful, and in control. I like feeling graceful and dangerous. I like feeling good after fighting and I love the adrenaline rush. But I hate competing, I hate tournaments, I hate feeling like I have to continually prove how good I am not just to myself, but to others. I hate the dick-swinging contests of "which dons/masters/good fighters you fought and how well you did against them". I hate talking incessantly about your achievements at dinner after a night of fighting because I feel like my achievements are do not compare.
Guy: "I fought Master Rob and Don John and Bad-ass Fencer Danaerys and Newbie Frodo. And I, like, went 1-1 with Rob and pretty much beat John every time and Danaerys and me, man, we're so evenly matched. I got this crazy behind-the-back shot on her and damn she's good but if I can just perfect my six parry I will get her every time. And Frodo, I felt bad because he's so tenacious but I just totally wiped the floor with him"
Me: "Uh..that's cool. I managed to not get hit in the left boob so much tonight. And the right boob..well, I got hit there a bit more."
Now, obviously, this is an over dramatization (and if any of my friends said that stuff about Newbie Frodo, I would probably go tell them to go fuck themselves) but honestly it's not TOO far off from reality. Do you know how many of the SAME stories I've heard from dudes about their accomplishments on the field over and over? How many women do I know that boast like that? I can probably count those on one hand. And it's FOR sure not because there aren't women out there kicking ass and taking names...
And you know what else I hate...when a fencer fucking POKES one of my bruises. These are real-time conversations I've had with fencers:
Fencer: "How'd you get that?"
Me: "oh I got hit a couple times in the same spot...OW hey! Don't do that!"
Fencer: "Clearly you need to protect that spot better."
Me: "Yeah, I really hate getting jacked in the upper thigh. It's so squishy there!"
Fencer: "You know how to fix that?"
Fencer: "Don't get hit."
Me: "I need to figure out how to not get hit so hard in the hand. It hurts like a MOFO".
Fencer: "Well I take care of that by not getting hit."
DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH LIKE AN ASSHOLE YOU SOUND RIGHT NOW? I mean, what the hell do you think I'm trying to do? Do you think I'm fencing because I just leeerve it when you gack me in the mask so hard it makes me black out for a second? Do you think I have notches on my bed posts for how many times I get hit in a practice? (That bed post would probably look like some kind of perverted Picasso sculpture by now anyway).
Secondly, do you think that's encouraging to me? Do you think that's really encouraging to anyone? Now, I'm not going to get into all the gender differences of blah, blah, blah men being more competitive than women and more suited to whatever. Yes, they likely exist, but who cares? One-upping and boasting is irritating and toxic superiority helps no one. What ever happened to the concept of just being decent, respectful and polite? Anyway...
I've diverged into a rant, but it feels good to say these things. These are things that I don't really talk about because I fear it will make me sound "Too girly" and not strong enough. Because if I "Just didn't care what people thought" this fear and anxiety and questioning of self-worth would all just magically go away. I have worked so hard trying to put on a face of tough bravado when I fence so that I can feel like I fit in more...Again....there's that sense of community.
A community that you can't just be a part of because you love the same things as the other community members. There's this whole other side of playing politics. That is where the recognition comes in. To get recognized, it seems that the best way is to have to have the right combination of placing in visible tourneys, serving the community in visible ways, and having powerful friends and lineages. Or be friends with the king/queen. Or have your don/MoD be friends with the king/queen. Or sleep with someone in power (sadly, I've heard of this). Or be part of a household conspiracy.
This is the last thing I hate about fencing. I HATE the politics. I have gone back and forth from trying to play the politics game, to intentionally NOT playing the politics game, to trying not to care, to leaving the SCA Fencing is the second biggest reason why I have left the SCA. I am not going to go into details about how I have/have not played politics (maybe in a future post) but let me just tell you that it is incredibly demoralizing.
Now, I've seen awesome fencers with so much passion for the game that haven't ever stood on a queen's guard or traveled to an out of kingdom event. I've also seen stick-jock fencers who win the right tournaments but don't really do the service of those positions. I've seen the passionate fencer go years unnoticed (or forever) and the stick-jock get awarded after one awesome act. And I've seen those who don't care about awards get them too quickly and those who care not get them quickly enough. I've also seen the passionate, stick-jock, SCA-lover, charismatic teacher get recognized for their accomplishments in an appropriate amount of time. Sometimes it feels like a crapshoot.
Sometimes it feels like it's something I've done. Or haven't done. Or that someone did to me. Or hasn't done to me. And I can't figure that out. I can't crack the code, because there isn't one. But the bottom line is that I have to decide for myself...why am I fencing? What do I care about? DO I CARE?
The answers to these questions are largely TBD, but I will say that the recognition & feeling like I'm part of the community is a big part. Let me tell you a story of one of my first events I fenced at:
After dragging all of my stuff to the fencing field, I toss it in the shade of a tent next to bunch of other fencers. I had my schleppy, square, potato sack of a jacket on and they all looked so nice with doublets and matching slops, cool painted masks, ruffled shirts. We're all sitting down waiting for the tourney and the fencers start introducing to me. A woman fencer sees me eating a crappy granola bar and offers me cheese and salami. And a soda. I then thought to myself, "Holy hell! This is a community of fencers welcoming me as one of them. Me! A newbie! This is where I fit." I was 17.
I'm 32 now, and that community...it's different. It's all awards and reputation - old school vs. new school vs. new old school....It's divided. I believe that I may have been inadvertently on the wrong side of the divide when the divide was created. Or...and this is the sadder thought, the one that has plagued me all these years...I don't fit into the community at all.
And I never did......