Sunday, February 28, 2016

So busy!


I was fantasizing and motivating myself that I was going to get up super early and run 10k or at least 8k this morning. Then I dawdled and started fooling around on the internet and didn’t leave the house until around 6:30. I knew that the Pumpkin Daddy was going to go running with his friends (he’s put together a running club of a few local dads) at 7:30, and if I tried to run 8k I’d never make it back by 7:30. So, 6k it was, because 6k is a million times better than 0k!

While I was running, I saw a woman about my mom’s age running in sporty leggings and a cool running jacket and a bright pink sun visor hair! You go girl!

The Pumpkin Princess asked me to get the hinamatsuri (doll’s day) dolls out this year (I was lazy forgot last year). The bulk of the effort consisted of clearing off the top of the shoe cabinet. It was cluttered with junk mail and keys and gloves and toys and empty insect repellant spray cans. The actual setup took less than 15 minutes.

Hina dolls 2016

I always get slammed at work this time of year. Plus, taxes are due on March 15th. Going to try to motivate and discipline myself to stay on top of things!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

So was it a good thing?

Hatashite yokatta no ka?

Rowing Ruminations Part 18

Looking back, I can see that I got to do what I said I wanted to do in crew. I wanted to cox (check). I wanted to row (not scull) on a women’s boat (check). I also got to do something I wanted to do but didn’t say out loud, which was cox the first varsity boat (check).

There were guys on the squad who were put in slow boats year after year because they didn’t have the height or the flexibility or the strength or it just kind of worked out that way because there were too many guys who were bigger and stronger and better rowers than them. I was lucky. I got a seat on competitive boats most years.

But there was stuff I’d wanted to do that I hadn’t said out loud, and couldn’t make happen. I’d wanted to excel at coxing, but when things got too hard, I shut down. I wanted to understand the guys better, but I gave up when they wouldn’t open up to me. I wanted to be better friends with my women’s boat, but when they said they couldn’t get close to the guys, I rolled my eyes. Shutting down when things get too difficult is a recurring pattern in my life. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do, and sometimes it isn’t. I know I do it more frequently than I should. Crew taught me I wasn’t as strong or as smart as I thought I was, the way university physics did. This is important information.

I’ve ruminated on and on (thank you for reading), and it’s all ranting and no raving. If you’ve never rowed, you are probably wondering why on earth I stuck with it. I guess the more appropriate question would be why I didn’t leave. 

If you row, or have rowed, you probably understand. You've probably ranted but not raved about it and your friends and family have said to you "so why are you doing this again?"

I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to be the third girl to quit. I wanted to be the first girl to stay. I didn’t leave because if three girls quit, it would seal the fate of any future girls who wanted to row for our school, as in, it would never happen.

I didn’t leave because if I met alumni at work, they would see me as the person who quit, and that would color their view of me. I lacked a penis. That would have been color enough in this line of work back then. It might have colored their view of all persons lacking a penis in this line of work. It wouldn't have been the first time something like that happened.

But most of all, I didn’t leave because it didn’t seem like the thing to do. I know that sounds strange, but it’s something many of my friends who were in athletics in university say. Quitting didn’t seem like the thing to do.

In The Shell Game, the author says somewhat similar about rowing for Yale. The guys who couldn’t handle the training physically were the first to quit. After that, the cerebral guys who had a very clear image of what they wanted to happen, but decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, quit. The guys who were left were the closet fanatics. That’s me. The one who hadn’t put enough thought into the whole crew thing.

(In other words, I was too stubborn stupid to quit.)

A part of me wonders if things would have been different for me now if I hadn’t been in crew, and I’d spent more time studying or travelling or pursuing internships (both domestic and international) or doing something like sing (a music education major tried to recruit me to sing with the main campus choir when she heard me cox. I don’t know what this tells you about my coxing or the main campus choir.). I wonder what would have happened if I’d cut my losses and left when three of my classmates did.

But those are pointless ruminations. The past won’t let me change it. Rowing synapsed into my neural networks long ago, and to this day it influences every job I do and every decision I make and every word I say and every breath I exhale in microscopic ways. And it changes the way I read books. This book would not have coated every single neuron in my head with something more difficult to remove than failed caramel if I hadn’t thought about ergs and power cleans and hatchet blades and rudders and force curves as much as I have.

I can remember the past and think about it, but I can’t change it. It’s all rather one-sided and a bit unfair. But what I do today with what happened while on the water long ago has been and always will be up to me.

(And that’s about 12,000 more words than anyone should ever say about a single book.)


(P.S. There are some minor inaccuracies and omissions in this narrative. I’ve purposely avoided details about some people and some of the things that happened for privacy issues and also because it made my story unnecessarily difficult to understand. If you are a rower, or if you went to university in Japan, you may have noticed some of them. Or, if you know me personally from Real Life or Social Media, you might be thinking “but what about the time you said xyz about abc?” Feel free to PM me and ask, and I’ll probably elaborate.)

Saturday, February 20, 2016




Reunions are for reconnecting with the people you liked, and cringing with horrified delight at the aging processes of the people you don’t. Or so I thought. I went to my high school reunion for my 3rd year homeroom the other day, hoping to accomplish both. Then I realized that the people who have deteriorated terribly do not show up to begin with.

So. Much. Coach logo jacquard and faux pearl. (Fortunately I was only guilty of the latter because I borrowed the Pumpkin Daddy’s new tote bag. And I get it. Coach logo jacquard is relatively affordable and wears like iron.)

I have always been a little ambivalent about my 3rd year homeroom. For starters, the homeroom teacher taught English. Think of 17 year-old Pumpkinmommy, whose English skills are pretty much the same if not better than they are now, and think of high school English as taught in Japan, and think of how Pumpkinmommy could not AP her way out of it, and you can imagine how weird it all was. Mr. M was fine as a person. I just wished he taught physics or history or something.

So at the end of the year, one of the girls said that we were going to chip in and buy him flowers and give them to him on graduation (fine, here’s my 100 yen) and that we’d all write letters to him (wha?).

I was at a complete loss about what to write. “You’re pretty cool but your class was a complete waste of time for me and I really think it would have been better for everyone if you’d just let me cut class and read in the library like my junior high school teacher did” probably wasn’t something I was supposed to write under the circumstances.

So I did the only thing I could think of at the time, which was to change the subject. I wrote about that year’s “Bunkasai” (文化祭) which is like open school held over the weekend and the band plays and the choir sings and the art club shows paintings and the classes present on topics (ours was “cosmetics”).  A few of the girls had covered the windows with blue plastic trash bags so that we could put posters of our cosmetics research on them. They also left markers so that people who visited our exhibit could write comments on the plastic. And some incredibly witty person had written “fuck you.” Because, of course, nothing shows the whole world how clever and cosmopolitan you are like writing “fuck you” at Open School in a Japanese prep school (prep school in this case meaning acceptance was competitive and some of us would go to big name universities). And my friend, who was an exchange student from the USA who went to a private school in another part of town, had come to our school with her dad, who was a member of the school board in my friend’s school district, and he saw the “fuck you” and he and my friend joked that I’d written it.

And then I completely forgot about writing that letter, until Mr. M brought it (and everyone else’s) to our reunion.

Even though people at work accuse me of being impulsive and lacking social skills, this letter shows at age 17 I already understood that my default hard wiring could be abrasive and that sometimes speaking your mind was not the best choice. Or maybe I was smarter at 17 than I am now.

Also, my go-to writing utensil at the time was a fountain pen. And I wrote Japanese vertically. And I wrote it on stationery that I think Annie gave me when we parted ways, the implication being that I would write to her (which I did, but usually not on that paper).

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I don't want to remember


Rowing Ruminations, Part  17

My last year in crew, I became the first woman in my school to cox the first varsity four.

We all wish it hadn’t happened.

Our boat was older than the boats the other schools used. The lineup (including me) was OK, but not spectacular. The big race was held on a river. (I think that sealed the deal.)

One thing we had was a good start. We knew we weren’t the fastest boat, so we decided early on we’d work hard on our starts. “Fly and (hope you don’t) die” is rowing strategy 101: if you start ahead, you stand a chance of staying ahead. Our start sequence was 10 strokes longer than most other boats’. I still remember those starts, and I still think they were good. The top edge of the seat would dig into my back on each stroke, and they’d give me bruises. I was proud of those bruises. I would have shown them to my friends the way I’d shown them my blisters and biceps, and they would have been supportive of them, except they were a shade too far south to be shown in polite company, and during the spring season I hardly ever saw my friends outside classes. I wasn’t about to pull down my pants in the lecture hall. (Even I have standards.)

Two decades later, I have found nothing like sitting in that boat on a day when the guys had found some kind of, I don’t know, swing, and we nailed our starts. That sensation of human power transformed into acceleration is something only a coxswain on a boat starting well can feel (the rowers feel it too, but they’re going backwards, so it’s not quite the same. Plus, their seats don't have backs). The closest thing might be taking off in an airplane, but it’s still very different. 

We had good starts. The rest of our race, not so much. Not awful, just not spectacular. Which wasn’t good enough to do well that season.

(Flat Water Tuesday spoiler alert)

(Although, is there such a thing? If you know what your food is going to taste like before you eat it, do you enjoy it any less?)

(begin spoiler laden rumination)

(You have been warned)

I almost could not read the part about the first race of the season. The crew had hit a slump, mostly due Rob’s technique (or rather, lack thereof). There was also some crappy race strategy by Connor (he rowed too fast at the start) and Ruth (it’s her job to call Connor on rowing too fast, as many times as it takes, until he rows at the rate SHE thinks he should). While they are losing, Ruth makes a lot of really desperate calls about how the other boat is slowing down (they’re not) and their boat still has a chance.

That was me, my last season.

“xxxx is two lengths ahead! (More like four.) We’re still in this! (Well, we would be if there were 500 meters to go instead of 100.)”

Reading that section made me short of breath. I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my throat.

(Does this count as PTSD?)

(Of course, I would never lose my shirt like Ruth did because we never bet shirts.)

(end spoiler)

If you lose a race, it’s the coxswain’s fault, I guess. Even if it weren’t the case, if more people believe that is the truth than don’t, it will be treated as the truth. (That’s probably how wars are begun, but that’s a big tangent that’s material for a political blog and not a blog showcasing Japanese phrases.)

That summer left me with a sense of defeat, the bruises on my back, and very little time to study for my post-summer holiday exams. The first woman to cox the first varsity boat for our school couldn’t get us past the semifinal. Only a few years later, my position as the only woman to cox the first varsity boat for our school would also become secure, when the club failed to recruit new members to replace the graduating class and folded.

Fortunately, I passed all my post-summer holiday exams, and I got my diploma on schedule, and I got the job I wanted when I was thirteen, and I still have it. So, all’s well that ends well, I guess.