Archive for May, 2011

“To be tender minded does not become a sword.”

Does this lame make me look fat?

When I grow up, I wanna be a fencer. Not a person with a sword and a spacesuit who just happens to find herself on a piste, not somebody who really likes hanging around fencers and volunteers as a pincushion three days a week,  but a real, hardcore, honest-to-goodness fencer who knows what she’s doing and can kill you with nothing but brains, talent, speed, and a long, thin, steel rod if circumstances so require (not that I have any funny-or not so funny- ideas).The trouble is, contrary to my usual vulcan-cool personality, I seem to transmogrify into a proverbial wet hen the minute the ref calls, “fence!”. It’s a vicious cycle, unbreakable once it’s begun. The wet hennery tends to begin and progress thusly:


MYSELF: (aside, to self, in head) HOLYCRAP! Ok, well, what should we do? Umm, here, let’s see…


REFEREE: Attack arrives, touch (insert side on which I happen to not be)

MYSELF: (aside, to self, in head) Well, that was not a very good plan. This time, let’s try attacking the other person.

REFEREE: Ready, fence!

MYSELF: (aside, to self, in head) Here we go! I’m attacking now, I’m going to go forward, gonna keep going forward… wait, why aren’t they doing anything? What am I going to do? What do I do? What do I do? WHAT DO I DO?!!! OHMYGODTHEY’REGONNAHITME!

(OPPONENT counters)


REFEREE: Attack arrives, touch (insert side on which I happen to not be)

MYSELF: (aside, to self, in head) Ok, well, how about this time we HIT after we attack!

REFEREE: Ready, fence!

MYSELF: (aside, to self, in head) Here we go! I’m attacking now, I’m going to go forward, gonna keep going forward… wait, why aren’t they doing anything? What am I going to do? What do I do? What do I do? WHAT DO I DO?!!! Ok, it’s ok, just, umm… I don’t know, beat their blade or something- wait, they’re going forward now, oh my god THEY’RE GOING FORWARD NOW!!

At this point, the wet hennery has gestated and accelerated into full-on Smeegal-esque internal warfare, and a new character emerges, a character I will call My Long-Lost Mind, OR LLM. Of course, I am the only person who can hear or respond to said character.

LLM: Of course they’re going forward you idiot, you just gave up right of way!

MYSELF: (aside, to LLM, in head) OOOh, right. Why did I do that?!! Oh my god, I’m almost at the end of the strip, Oh my god! (flails arms wildly, waving foil in various unpredictable patterns before body, to no avail)


…etc., etc., ad naseum. I think my problem stems mostly from self-conciousness- a vice I’ve fought furiously to overcome, and which I’m proud to say I’ve left behind, at least in most other aspects of my life- to a large degree anyway.

I thought fencing would develop LEAN muscle!

Self-consciousness, aside from being one of the most hateful and limiting and base of all states of being; is the last thing you want to drag onto the strip with you. Self-conciousness is the mother of all idiotic, girly, volatile emotion. And there’s nothing like self-conciousness to shatter your vulcan-cool facade. But it will tag along. Especially when you’re fencing small children- or anyone smaller and/or more graceful than yourself. You feel unwieldy, stupid, slow, bumbling, humongous. And as much as I strive to be an exception, the last thing a teenage girl wants to feel is… humongous, stupid, and unwieldy. And there’s nothing like the bareness of the strip to make a girl feel unwieldy. But the only thing that can make me stop feeling unwieldy is to be graceful. But I can’t be graceful until I stop fussing over how unwieldy I feel. Still more troubling is that fact that I’ve noticed that there’s something about being physically bigger than someone else that makes me very nervous- even in contexts other than fencing- and that really troubles me. I try very hard to think as little as possible about my appearance, and especially my weight, not because I think there’s anything wrong with either, but because I don’t want to be a person who concerns herself with such trivial matters. I mean, I did go through a very long period of time during which I just felt so sad and ugly that I didn’t even care that what I looked like was all I thought about- which, I’m sure, 99.9% of all teenage girls have; but I’m happily over that now, and even then, I never made much of an effort at changing myself, and I never felt fat. I have always ranged from underweight to the low range of healthy- and I haven’t ever had to worry about watching my diet, when I was underweight it was never because I had been purposefully eating less than usual, or even more conscious of my size. I still don’t feel fat, or too tall- at least not consciously- but there’s still that inexplicable nervousness around smaller people (even people who are overweight, but just shorter than me). I used to think that it was a fear of breaking them- and I think that may be true to some degree, especially when I’m fencing younger kids. But there are two other components to the issue, and I think one of them is a feeling of needing to have something to show for every square inch of my volume, and the other is just feeling clumsy, knowledge that my movement is ugly. In the words of Fencing Bear, one of my heroines of the blogosphere:

And then something strange started happening. The longer I fenced, the more fencers I encountered of all body sizes and shapes. Often, more often than I would like to admit, I would end up on the strip against a woman much bigger than me and find that, for all my thinness (relatively speaking), she could still beat me–and well. I might be proud (in those early years, at least) at how slender my legs were, but hers could move faster and be in the right place at the right time, while I found myself bumbling and missing the attack. And when she moved, it was invariably beautiful.
Beauty, it would seem, was not in the shape of the body, but in how it moved. Gradually, still hampered by tabloid images of slender stars, I started looking at all of the fencers I encountered differently. And, eventually, something wonderful happened. I started seeing my fellow fencers simply as different shapes, all equally beautiful, not “fat” or “thin” but simply themselves. My husband had commented to me once that this was the way he looked at women and I didn’t believe him. Now, I was starting to realize how what he said could in fact be true.

My problem is that, rather than “seeing my fellow fencers simply as different shapes, all equally beautiful, not ‘fat’ or ‘thin’ but simply themselves”, I see them as “pretty fencers” or “ugly fencers”, I judge them by the beauty of their movement; and I subject myself to the same standards. While I recognize that beauty of movement is a necessary element of fencing, It’s still wrong to let that form your opinion of a person’s intelligence, confidence, or any of the other things we erroneously associate good looks with.

Anyway, so that’s another dragon for me to slay. And, as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the pen is mightier than the sword- at least when Kimya Dawson is wielding it; so I’ll leave you with her word-sword for the vanquishing of this very Dragon, I Like Giants:


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“…Even a fool with half an eye could see that you will never triumph against good if you are evil.”


I’ve been reading back over Mariel of Redwall lately. I saw it on my bookshelf the other night, and  a Something that is partly a ghost from my childhood, partly just my love of mice and sword-fighting and abbeys, and partly the fairies that come when it rains you to sleep called out to me; and I got out of bed like someone in a dream, or a cartoon that smells something heavenly cooling on a windowsill somewhere- that’s what it felt like, like I was floating through the air by my nose, airborne with the sheer desire for the thing I was floating toward. It’s actually interesting that I should use that analogy, because the first thing I did when I snuggled back under the covers with it was to open it up and just smell it. It’s funny, but as I did it I thought for a split second, why on earth am I doing this? It was a strange, uncontrollable urge that came to me from that unidentifiable Something, the same  Something that made me pick up the book in the first place. I think I know what, or rather who, that Something is.

There’s a part of the child in me that seems to be very much dead, you see. I have always had a problem with nostalgia- ever since, I think, I’ve had anything to look back on and miss. The prospect of growing up and becoming one of those tall people all around me who seem to be so very sad, who seem to be so very… wrong- in every sense of the word- terrifies me. And I have fought valiantly, all my life, to stave off the beasts that try to drag me up into their world. And as I’ve fought, I have learned to laugh in their faces, to be less afraid; to ignore the scratches that bleed through, to believe that I was winning, that they couldn’t win. But even as I’ve fought, I’ve been slipping, unconsciously, into the snare they’ve set for me. They’ve taken part of the child in me prisoner, and I fear I shall never see her again. But if I do, It will be because I will get her back with my foil- this I will get to shortly. She is my faith in goodness. Well, not exactly goodness itself, but the fact that it must win in the end. In real life. I believe in God, and that he is good, and that he can help anyone, in any circumstance, no matter who’s up against them. I just don’t believe so firmly anymore that he will. I don’t say this to make anyone feel sorry for me, or try to make me feel better, or to tell me, once again, to believe in happy endings. I don’t need that. I’m happy enough most of the time- for the Circumstances, which I must acknowledge, but about which I will not write on the Internet. I will leave those who do read this to ponder over the mystery, and perhaps, some day, I will tell them all about it (maybe).

Back to Mariel. Mariel and the other Redwallers were  there every day I stayed home from school sick, every time I ran into my room and slammed the door in a fit of  pre-teen angst and cried over the pages of a book, every time I just felt like treating myself to a cozy afternoon alone, and every time, they hugged me, welcomed me, loved me. I read that book at least seven times over the course of first and second grade. (Is is creepy that my first literary crush was on Saxtus -a pre-pubescent mouse- and a monk, no less?)  I am, and hope always to be, a creature of Redwall. I am a creature of Redwall because I need to be part of something bigger than myself, part of a home. I am blessed to have  grown up with my mum and Mitty. They are the best family a girl could ask for, and I miss them dearly. But a home is different. A home is a community, a family made up of little families, a family of friends. That is what I have found in Redwall and in fencing, and I thank God for giving it to me. Today (while I was reading Mariel of Redwall in Algebra, which always feels a little rude, but I have to sit there for ninety minutes and all she checks is the homework and I finish that in the first fifteen minutes so I’m jolly well not just going to listen to her explain to us how to do it when I can have and A in the class and do absolutely nothing but Spanish homework and pleasure reading in it, am I now?), I came across Brother Simeon’s defiant words to Graypatch:

“‘Alas, I will never see anything for I am blind; but  I can sense a lot. I can feel that you are both evil and desperate. They say you have only one eye. I am surprised at you- even a fool with half an eye could see that you will never triumph against good if you are evil.'”

My foil will win back my faith in the triumph of good over evil because of why I love fencing, because of why I am a creature of Redwall. Fencing is a realization of what I could only read about, what I could only pretend to have in Redwall Abbey. When I walk into the gym, I feel hugged, welcomed, loved. I am in the midst of such a warm community of good creatures, and I love them all. And we are fighting our demons. We must be alone on the strip, but we are really all fighting the same thing. A fencer’s eyes see clearly. They see good and evil. And they glow with the “battle-light”, the same light that shone in Joan’s and Mariel’s and Saxtus’ and Dandin’s and Lucy Pevinsie’s eyes. A fencer wields a foil. I call it a foil not to exclude the other weapons but because that’s what it is. It is a tool to foil the evil with. And whatever I don’t believe, I believe that my foil will win. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called a foil.

Maybe that part of the child in me is much closer than I thought, after all.

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