Underneath my yellow skin

Struggling to Go with the Flow

still waters run deep
Merrily merrily life is but a dream.

I hate change. No, that’s not hyperbole; I really do. I eat the same food almost every day in roughly the same order. I have a morning routine that I’m trying to vary, but not with much success. When I go to sleep, I have a ritual in the way I lie down that I do every night. There are cycles that I have to complete, even though I know they are ridiculous. When I was younger, if I ever did something on the right side of my body, I had to do it to my left side, too. I had a lot of tics, and I’m not yet rid of them all.

In the past few months, there have been several changes in my life, starting with the car accident. I’m mostly recovered from it, but I still have a slight negative reaction when cars come too close to me on the road. I’m pleased but surprised that physically, I’m nearly 100% again. One thing the car accident did to me, however, is make me think about what I really want in life. For one minute, I thought I was going to die. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, however, so that should have been my clue that I was going to survive.

Another change is this blog itself. I’ve been having a hard time writing for the past few years. I’ve done it in fits and starts, but I haven’t been able to sustain it. About a month and a half ago, I made the decision to dedicate myself to writing every day. Well, at least five days a week. I wanted to make money doing something I love, but more importantly, I wanted to actually do the thing I loved on a regular basis. To that end, I decided I needed a clean start, so I started a new blog. This blog. So far, I’ve met my goal of writing at least five times a week, so I’m pleased with that.

The next big change is that I now have a temporary roommate–besides my two cats, I mean. My friend, Ian, secured a position as an intern at Game Informer, the biggest and most respected video games website in the business. They’re headquartered in Minneapolis, so he’s crashing at my place for the next three months. Actually, his getting the internship is a big reason I re-dedicated myself to writing, so y’all have him to thank for this blog even existing. I like having him around, and we have a comfortable rhythm together, but it’s a big adjustment for me to make. I’m used to living on my own. I’ve been doing it for most of my life, and I greatly treasure my solitude. I’ve quite used to it being just me and my boys, so it’s a big change to have someone else around all the time. Well, not all the time as Ian is gone most of the day, five days a week. Still. It’s an adjustment, though one I’m happy to make.

The biggest change, however has to do with my taiji studies. A few months ago, my teacher’s teacher (Sifu) left his old studio rather abruptly and started his own academy. Prior to that, he’d been tweaking some of the forms, and my teacher has been showing us, her students, the changes/refinements. In our last class, she showed us the second one to a posture I call My Fair Ladies, and I snapped. As I’ve said, I’m not good with change, and too much of it at a time is difficult for my brain to grasp. In addition, I like structure when I’m learning something. Take the Solo Form. I’ve known it for many years. When my teacher started introducing changes, I didn’t take it well, as you might guess. She likes to joke that when I’m introduced to something new, I have to automatically hate it, but it’s not really a joke. Part of it is that I grew up in a very authoritarian household in which my father’s dicta were not to be questioned. I had to swallow any objections, questions, dissent I might have had or face his wrath. It’s parallel to the tenor of the fundamentalist church in which I was raised. I was not to question God or His omnipotence, but to accept that He was my everything. Despite trying for years, I never could quite believe in that god, and after I had sex for the first time*, I renounced my Christianity for good.

Many years later, my then-therapist said that I still thought like a fundamentalist, and she was right. I have a very rigid idea of right and wrong, though they no longer align with my old church’s dogma. I have a hard time believing that people would do things that are deliberately cruel, even though I’m not naive by any stretch of the imagination. I know that people can do incredibly awful things, and I’ve experience them myself. And yet, because of my rigid morality, I am still shocked when, say, a Donald Trump rises to power. I don’t care about the morality that was impressed upon me by my church, but I do care when the vulnerable and the weak are harmed.

I think my fundamental upbringing had a hand in my OCD traits. There’s an element of magical thinking to my tics, much like believing in an omnipotent deity who is watching over me. One of my most frustrating compulsions was that any time I saw a clock at the hour, a quarter past, half past, or a quarter to, I had to count to twenty-five as quickly as I could. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal, but I hated that I HAD to do it every time. My ex-therapist asked me what I thought would happen if I didn’t do it, which stopped me cold. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask myself that, and I had no response for her. Well, I had a flippant answer which was that the world would end, but even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t true. She helped me see the folly of my thinking, and I set about trying to break that compulsion. I did it by literally telling myself not to count when I glimpsed the fateful numbers, and after a few months of that, I had stopped the counting for good. I’ve noticed that it flares up when I’m extremely stressed, but I quickly catch myself whenever I do it and stop. I still get a small prick in my brain every time I see one of those numbers, but it’s nothing more than a murmur.

So, back to the changes in the form. A few months ago, my teacher introduced new footwork for the Fair Ladies. It’s one of the more complicated posture, and for the old way, for the2nd and 4th Fair Ladies, you have to crank your foot alllllll the way inward, which is really hard for me. The new footwork is designed to make it easier by turning out the other foot instead, but it feels more awkward because there’s an extra step. I would say overall, it’s easier, but I’m not quite used to it yet. In the 1st and 3rd Fair Ladies, I really like the old way of doing it better because I think it’s more elegant, and, yes, it’s harder, but damn it, I take pride in learning it that way. I know it’s a perverse feeling, but there’s something exhilarating in finally nailing a difficult posture.

Side note: Since my teacher’s teacher started his own academy, we’ve had to change our schedule as well. That’s not very problematic in and of itself since I work from home and have flexible hours, but it’s hard to get used to. We’ve had to change days and times, and I unthinkingly went to the wrong time last Saturday because I had forgotten that we were starting an hour later. It’s OK, though, because I had a delicious egg salad sandwich and a decent iced cafe latte, so I didn’t mind waiting. Still, it’s discombobulating to think about, although I’m sure it’ll settle down in my brain in a few weeks.

My brain is on overload with the changes in class. The one I really don’t like is the beginning to the Sword Form. It’s meant to be easier for people just learning the form, and I can see the reason for the change, but I. Just. Don’t. Like. It. Yes, I’ve bonked myself with my sword more than once doing the beginning posture, but it’s still a beautiful start, damn it. The new beginning is simplified, and I’m sure it’s taiji correct….It all came to a head this last class as I said when my teacher showed us the changes to the hands of My Fair Ladies. It had taken me a long time to finally feel comfortable with the original posture. I’m not quite comfortable with the new footwork, and now I have to change the hands as well? It was too much, and I mentioned my concerns to my teacher. I’m not proud of my negative feelings towards all the changes, especially since I think at least half of the changes are OK. Here are the reasons I’m having such a hard time with it, and remember, I’m not especially proud of them.

One, I feel as if what I’ve learned in the past isn’t worth anything now. My teacher tried to explain that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to the changes if I hadn’t already learned the Solo Form as it was. Intellectually, it makes sense, but I can’t help feeling that way. Additionally, I’m not good enough at taiji yet to feel comfortable with changing on the fly. I want a form that I can practice over and over again, even though I know it’s easy to slip into mindlessness while practicing by rote. I’ve been working on making my forms better, and it feels like a Sisyphean task if the postures are just going to change again. My teacher has told us about Professor Cheng Man-Ching’s tendency to change things all the time, and you just had to go along with it. In addition, the new hand movements for the Ladies is mostly a return to his Fair Ladies, as you can see in the video above.

I know part of taiji is reacting and taking what is thrown at you, but I’m so not good at that. I’m trying to be more flexible, but my brain is not happy with me at all. I feel bad because I’m being such a negative person about it, but I can’t force myself to be something I am not. I incorporated the changes into my practice today, begrudgingly, and it went OK. In a few weeks, if nothing else changes, I should be comfortable with them, more or less. The problem is, my teacher mentioned one more big change, and I’m already bracing myself to deal with it. If I remember correctly, she said it was a change in the way to practice the whole Solo Form. That may not be a bad thing if it makes the Solo Form more palatable to me. I’m trying to breathe through it, but it’s hard, I’ll admit. It’s yet another thing I have to work on.




*I couldn’t believe that something that wonderful was actually going to send me to hell. It was so ludicrous to me, I immediately started questioning everything else I was taught in church. I came up with the conclusion that it was all shit and never looked back.

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