Moving On Out

Well, we’re moving to Boxborough.  But first, we backtrack a little bit.

A little over seven years ago, I locked myself in the bathroom of the gym we’d just moved into. This was January 1, 2011, we’d been an official tenant for a little over ten hours, and I was stuck.  I think I only broke the (temporary) door a little bit kicking my way out in a panic.

Turns out I’m a little claustrophobic.

When I look back on these last seven years, it’s hard not to consider that experience an occasional metaphor.  We started small, got a little bit bigger, but we always made do with knowledge and coaching over bells and whistles thanks to some amazing people and a commitment to being deliberate.  Back in the day, there was a kind of blueprint for how you set up your CrossFit gym, from the high equipment turnover to the tenets you were meant to espouse in the name of intensity.  To me, the whole thing always felt like more of a constraint than an aid, and so I’m proud that we found our own way.  We made it work.

But eight-foot ceilings are gonna eight-foot ceiling, and at some point that proverbial bathroom door is staring you in the face.  You either kick it down or you get used to the smell of bleach tabs.

Time to kick it.


You’re Just Like Me, Kid

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been thinking about lessons.  I’ve been coaching for close to ten years now, which is a bit longer than some and a lot less than many others, but it’s only recently that I’ve really started to parse the difference between coaching and teaching.  Perhaps it’s splitting hairs and I claim no great insight, but I think the former concerns itself primarily with management and the latter with lessons.  (We’ll save a discussion of good management, which surely includes a healthy dollop of teaching, for another day.)

Today I’m thinking of an old math teacher who granted me an enormous kindness at a difficult moment.  In seventh grade, I moved from your standard 8:15-2:05 grammar school routine to a junior high several towns over.  My dad would drop me off at school on his way to work (actually it was not really on his way so this was pretty early, like an hour before school started) and I played football after classes, so most days I was there from 7ish to 5:30 or 6.  Couple that time change with a threefold increase in homework and this felt like the end of the world to me.  I remember coming home one night and just bursting into tears, telling my parents that I felt like I never saw my family anymore.

At school, the seventh graders had temporary advisors to get us started.  Every student made a list of faculty members he wanted for his advisor, but in seventh grade you received a temp right off the bat while your more permanent one was in the process of assignation.  My TA was my math teacher, Mr. Carroll.  I was never sure that he really liked me because I think he thought I didn’t try hard enough in class, but he was solicitous and kind nonetheless.

One day we met right after school had gotten out and before practice started.  We sat in an empty classroom–I think it belonged to one of the history teachers–and we went through a pretty standard give and take.  Keeping up with my homework, making friends, enjoying football.  And then, almost in passing, he asked if there was anything else I’d like to share.

So I told him that I was having a hard time adjusting to the time away from home.  I probably wouldn’t have told my history teacher or my Latin teacher, both of whom I adored.  But Mr. Carroll was a small dude, the height of most of the kids in my grade if that, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I thought of him yet so I thought why not?  Maybe it felt like I’d be telling some kid whose opinion didn’t really matter.

He smiled.  “You know,” he said, “my wife sometimes tells me she feels like she never sees me during the school year.”  The thing is, Mr. Carroll lived in the gate house at the entry to our school itself.  So he was never more than a two minute walk from home.  “It’s a hard adjustment every year, after the summer.”

And in that moment, I felt so much better.  My sadness hadn’t immediately passed and he hadn’t said anything remarkable or profound.  But you know what?  He showed up for me in that moment.  And that, to me, is one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever been taught.  We may not always have the right words, the right facial expression, or know how to handle a tough situation.  But we can always show up for someone.  And sometimes, shit, most times, that’s the very best thing.

The Store

After I have been downstairs for an hour or so, the boys come down to say goodnight.  My oldest sits on the arm of the couch to talk while my youngest hops on one foot, gesturing wildly with a new drawing.

They have decided to open a store.  I can order items in advance, if I want.  D has crawled into my lap by this point and I joke that I’d like to buy the thing which guards against farts on my knee.

He laughs and keeps talking.  Yes we can order this item, yes it will be ready soon.  While D and I transact business, L is describing his drawing to me.  As he limns out details, his eyes alight on the cover of the book I’m holding in my left hand.

It’s a paperback from several years ago, something on taking your fitness business to the next level.  Right now I would settle for what I remember to be ground zero: nothing but pure, clean work.  Just me and my urge.  And yet, there’s an outsized picture of a brain on the cover and L is transfixed.  He sees the brain and I see his brain work words to mouth: he speaks the title of the book silently and then looks up at me.

My oldest is still talking and my youngest starts hopping again and I pull them closer to me.  Every second I hold that book I’m just sitting there in the easy chair not really living much anymore.  I ought to throw it off the fucking wall.

It’s funny how sometimes it hits you when you’re not expecting it.  My beautiful boys and their wide eyes and yammering mouths, full of wonder and intention.  They have every dream in the world and I’m sitting in an easy chair, chasing one dream like it’s tonic to all that awaits–slings and separation, sickness, old age, the end of things.  I’m sitting in an easy chair, moldering and lying to them with my eyes.  Like maybe if I can just get things right, if I can just figure out how to work a little less, how to fucking moon over things a little less, and maybe love a little more, be a little more fucking present instead of in a fucking haze of self-improvement because nothing is ever fucking good enough, none of my fears will come to pass and I can look at my boys with love and tell them I’m here, and that being here will always be good enough.

I ought to throw the book off the fucking wall and put on the end of The Color of Money, the part where Fast Eddie says “I’m back.”  That’s what I ought to do.  But instead I go upstairs and look at the sign D made for the store.

“For the time of your life,” it says.

When Sweat Gets In Your Eyes

There are the workouts you specter through in advance, as shadow of who you plan to become.  The fourth week of your linear progression.  The benchmark you’ve been dreading for a month.  The heavy squat.  The time trial.

There are the workouts that come unbidden to your consideration.  The magazine article, the disaster flick training plan.  The thing your brother-in-law told you about.  The gym your friend drags you to.  (Unless it’s Woodshed, in which case you are floated magically to our door on the wings of ambition and honey.)

And then, there are the workouts that look fuzzy in your training log.  You plan to be unplanned, so here are your marching orders:
1) Pen
2) Paper
3) Barbell
4) You

5 or 1a/2a) Fuck the plan, shitcan the notebook

Grab the bar.  WAKE UP!  You will never be more alive than you are right now.  You are blaze, you are aurora, you are ten steps further down the road than the exit sign that reads “This is where you show them who the fuck you are.”

Clean it.  Drive it overhead.  Do it again, and again.  You are all that you need.  Do you get that?  That no one can fucking take that away from you?  No one ever, not for one fucking second?  Own it.  Walk over to the door.  Pull it tight.  Lock it.

Walk back to the bar.  Clean it.  Rack it.  Now squat.  6 reps every two minutes.  This is the list:
1) Set of 6
2) Rest 30 seconds.
3) Change the song.
4) Okay…30 seconds more.  Put your belt back on.

You don’t write anything down.  Only tick marks in the dust.  On the wall.  Streak soap on the laundry table.   Here is where you make your stand.

When you sweat, it will cleanse you of doubt.  In the mind’s eye, ten, fifteen years from now, you will remember the smell of a small, basement gym, and that you stood tall under a low ceiling.  You were there.  You were alive.  Goddamn, you were alive!

Meet The Resistance

Reading Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art at the recommendation of a coach and dear friend, I am struck by what the author calls ‘Resistance.’  It has its own Wikipedia entry, this Resistance; now I think of the voices I’ve accomodated instead of shouting down:

“No one reads blogs…not worth it.”
“The product has to be finished the second you put the pen down.  If it’s not good enough then, you’re not good enough.  Don’t bother.”
“The changes you want to make are too audacious…you need a PLAN to start.  You can’t just wing it.  You can’t just, like, do it.”
“You’ll never lift that much again.  Do something different.  (It wasn’t that much.)”
“You didn’t have kids when you ran that fast.  (It wasn’t that fast.)”
And the killer, the one since forever: “no one cares that much about this stuff.”

Anyhow, after I finished the book yesterday, I went to get lunch.  A boy and his father were in line ahead of me; the boy was 10,11, the dad about my age.  As they made their order, the boy put his hand on the middle of his dad’s back and rubbed it for a few seconds.

I don’t know why that hit me so hard, but it did.  Seeing a kid reach out like that, show his dad some love–the ease, the freedom, the purity of that gesture got me somewhere deep down.

On the car ride home, I realized:

No Resistance.

10 year old kid’s not supposed to hug his dad unbidden?  Nah, no Resistance.
Dad’s on his phone, in his own world, looks like he doesn’t want to be bothered?  Nah, no Resistance.
They’re in line, lots of people around?  Nah, no Resistance.

Like the Spacemen sang…be yourself, don’t hesitate.

Father’s Day 2017

This is a hard one to write.  Ever since I was a boy, I’ve thought about being a father.  At most points if you’d have asked what I wanted most out of this world, I would’ve answered “to be a dad.”  There are a lot of reasons, I suppose–to pass along the things I treasured about my dad, to experience the particular joy of pride, to put strength and love out into the world and aim it at wide eyes and open ears.  To say “I am your dad, and I will always love you.”

The reality is considerably more complex.  We know this.  Thirty years hence, I think of how things have changed.  What are my memories?  They are not of a dad who could fix everything, who was all things to all people and possessed of a supernal ability to attend and document every lost tooth and dribbled single into right field.  My dad worked as often as not.  He coached some of my teams and others he watched from behind the fence.  When he was there, he was there.  Lots of times I played games without anyone in the crowd.  We all did.  And we all went home those days to tell our dads what happened.  (Sometimes we lied and said we threw 3 touchdowns instead of 1.  Oops.)

In the summer he took me to play basketball on Sundays, in the heat.  Hamilton School in Newton Highlands, Mills Field in Needham.  Usually we’d get a soda at Panella’s afterwards.  New York Seltzer or Snapples before Snapples were just fruit drinks.  Other weekends or afterschools, I’d be out in the yard playing by myself for hours.  Every house we ever lived in had an imaginary baseball field I invented.  They were mine, my fields.  I talked to myself and curated fantastical baseball leagues in my head, populated by my friends.  That was mine, my head.  My time.  My run of the yard.  And my dad let me have it.

It’s a hot Sunday as I write now, remembering my dad who was there when he was there.  Dad, you were always enough.   I love you.  Thank you.

And so the crippling thing, the thing I can’t possibly win, is the idea that each day’s enough isn’t enough.  That fatherhood is the stuff of checklists and signposts, a game to be won and a role to be inhabited.  That I am a father before I am myself, that I have to be something with my boys instead of just being with them.

In the name of fatherhood and under the cloud of expectation, I have made some awful mistakes.  We all have.  I’ve spun around in circles of self-laceration and allowed that whirl to skitter out into the world, unchecked and dangerous.  The thing is, what you want most in the world can’t be smothered or gripped too tightly.  You can’t choke your hold on fatherhood and you can’t do your job with an eye on all the things you thought you were supposed to do, or all the reportage from all the other fathers’ PR people.

When I fall into this pit, it is no one’s fault but my own.  It is not the world’s problem.  It is not social media’s problem.  It is not anyone’s to own but mine.  I am working on it, working on just being.  I have a beautiful wife and the two boys I love most.  I’m working on being instead of showing.  On listening instead of talking.  The father I want to be–gentle, strong, kind, present…he is the person I need to be first, and all the rest will follow in its own way.

This is raw and in truth I am only sharing for two reasons:
1) The dads I know out there who are struggling to make things work…you can be enough; you are enough.  Be the person you want a father to look like.  But for yourself first, and only then for your family.  All the rest will follow in its own way.

2) Bringing this back to my occupation…gosh, I see this stuff all the time.  Moms and dads beating themselves up under the weight of expectation.  I wasn’t supposed to feel this way at 35, I want to look like this person, if I don’t do x, y, and z in the gym I am a failure.   NO!  NO!  Stop keeping score.  This is your race.  For YOU.  Do the things that make you happy.  Do the things that make you scared.  Surround yourselves with people who support you but also give you the space to find your own way.  The tighter you cling to the scorecards–your own, your friends’, your feed’s–the quicker you’ll lose what you want most.  Nothing is more useless than a ten-mile sign without directions.  Follow the path and disengage from the destination and pretty soon you end up where you’re supposed to be.

And…squat on Mondays, deadlift on Fridays.  Okay?

How The Light Gets In

“There is a crack in everything,” Leonard Cohen sings in Anthem.   “That’s how the light gets in.”

When things get rough, I like to focus on that line.  There will always be a crack in your everything; maybe you’ve gone too deep into yourself and are pushing out at the seams with your own air, or maybe you’ve been battered by the winds of life.

Whatever the case, here it is and here you are–cracked.  You are an assemblage of unguarded entries.  But what do you let in?  The light or the dark?

The person who says nice job and smiles at you, or the ten friends of friends whose pages you creep to mine resentment?  The sense of accomplishment at a job well done or the ways you feel you should’ve been better?  The clean or the convoluted?

Things aren’t always that simple, of course.  Sometimes there is no accounting for circumstance.  But sometimes when you don’t attend to the cracks, they become caverns.  Black, vorticious nightmares.  Those aren’t so easily remedied.

So here you are–cracked.  What do you let in?  The light or the dark?