201/1

Write what you know.

Moments, usually after dark but sometimes just after sunup on the weekends.  You wonder when it will all come together.  Then you wonder if you’d even recognize together if it bit you in the ass.  And whether that’d be enough anyhow.  Days sink into each other, after all.

You are supposed to rise above.  This is what everyone tells you, what every book says.  But you get into your head and do your work in silence, in dark rooms, alone after everyone has gone to bed.  You dream, and you feel ten million miles removed from the people two flights of stairs up above.  They are at the destination, and you want to bring them something of permanence, then everything.  You want to bring them your love expressed in this work, done in solitude.  In a world where the screamers and attention-seekers always win, always fucking win, you hold to your conceit.  The more people yell, shout, call the world over to their corners, the harder you bite your lip.  The problem is that eventually, you bleed.

So the challenge is alchemy: crimson, thick with iron, into stone.  Stone doesn’t move, but you can carry it.  Maybe this is your rock and there is your hill–that the work may be most of what you get out of the whole deal.  That the work will have to be its own reward.  Now–bite down on it.  Bleed into it.  The acid you taste is resolve.  Make this rock your presentation, what you hold in and bring out of your heart.  You would carry it over hill and dale, in the cool of the plain, under a desert moon, now that you know.

Thanks to SB for the prompt and KM for the read.  Treasure is where you find it.

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200

Seems like a good place to stop.  Didn’t think I’d get to 200 posts here; it’s waxed and waned and I’m proud of some and slogged through the others.

Cheers to those of you who hung in there and thanks to those who provided feedback.  Putting stuff out into the world like this invites silence and it was always meaningful to hear that it had been received on whatever level.  I’d originally conceptualized this as the arm of an online training endeavor, plus writing…something.  Then it was my diary of sorts.  Now it’s just a thing I remember to water every now and again and really just hope my kids will like someday.

Time to bring it back to the vest.  Peace on out.

Beast, Badass, Nightstalker

Yeah, Nightstalker doesn’t totally fit.  Was going for aggro.

We had a great post in our members group today from a fellow who mentioned that he might have wanted to go a little lighter and easier in his formative years of training.  To his credit, he noted that he might not have been able to come to this conclusion without pushing that envelope on his own.

The thing is, showing up three times a week is so much harder than pushing through one hard deadlift or burly squat.  It’s not even close.  And yet, we exalt these singular moments as though there were no preamble; hell, we exalt failed reps if the lifter makes enough of a cacophony and fuss over themselves (hashtag ‘the grind’).  I see this every day.  Beast.  Badass.  Nightstalker.  It’s no wonder our kids think practices are boring and nothing under 90% ceremony is worth doing–we fixate on spectacle.  And it can be incredibly frustrating to swim against that current when day in and day out the most impressive things you see are the people that just keep showing up.

This is perhaps odd to admit and may come off as a humble brag, but one of my proudest achievements is putting in the work it took to squat 450 and deadlift 600 without being told how badass or whatever I was, or to have built a business without hearing some garbage like “you deserve a vacation.”  What does that even mean?  People in steel mills for 30 years deserve vacations, not folks who’d like to have a few more three-day weekends.  I’m proud to have put in the work it took to lay the foundation. That’s its own reward, and not hearing contrived piffle meant to curry favor or flatter makes me feel like I’m acting like I’ve been here before and people are picking up on that.  That’s huge to me.  I hope that we have created a place where that’s celebrated too.

So I guess here’s to walking in the door.   Even if the door is in your own house.  When you show up, even if it’s just for yourself, you’re doing the hardest part.  As the JAMC sang, that’s the hardest walk.  From A to B.

Coach as Caregiver

One of my favorite films is Diary of a Country Priest, directed by Robert Bresson and based on a novel by Georges Bernanos.  I won’t spoil the plot, but it’s a beautifully shot meditation on the nature of care and the integral function of solitude in the life of the caregiver.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of coaching as care, really before it becomes anything that might resemble education or encouragement.  One of the things that we tell our coaches at Woodshed is that their first duty is to do no harm.  From that fountain, you develop the practice of care: about your profession, about the athletes under your watch, and about your fellow coaches.  Sometimes one track outpaces the others for a time, but you get there.

Solitude in the life of a professional coach means a certain distance, particularly from your athletes.  This can be hard to navigate, particularly for the newer coach.  I remember my first few years of coaching, which alas coincided with the first few years of our gym.  I sold, went to sleep, sold some more.   I was on twenty hours a day.  We were building something, and my understanding as a sole proprietor was that folks had to like you, like really like you, if they were going to stick around.  At some point I realized I had bought myself some friends, but not necessarily to the benefit of my business.  When the first domino fell, I was left with the fuzzy notion that folks who had met my family and heard my stories should just be cool, goddammit.  Of course, that’s incredibly narcissistic and bad business to boot.  People-pleasing usually is.

Years later, our community has grown to twice that size.  I care deeply about our members and coaches, and I know that feeling is largely reciprocated.  But while I have shared significant swatches of life with many, in person and virtually, there is now a productive distance in effect.  My triumphs, struggles, and issues shouldn’t be fodder for the relationship between coach and athlete, or between manager and employee (Christ I hate that word)–my job is to give care, not receive it or ask for it.  This is the splendid isolation that Warren Zevon sings about, a position and a vantage you willingly and completely inhabit.

I knew I was onto something when a friend and I jokingly compared how infrequently the folks in our circles check in on us.  This is as it should be in the life of a professional coach; our people should walk into the gym understanding that it’s about them, not us.  This I know.

The funny thing is, I’m less sure than I was ten years ago about how you ought to teach someone to squat or deadlift.  The more you learn, as it happens, the less you’re sure.

Saturation

Saturation…great little album by Urge Overkill, by the way.

If you’re an obsessive like me, you have your favorites.  Your shows, your playlists, your people.  You return to them time and again.  The flip side of that is that there is no flip side.  You know how the story ends.  Your experience is at saturation point, it seems.

This weekend I met a friend at a powerlifting meet and gave him some coaching and handling.  (Yes, that’s the proper terminology.)  He and I had talked privately about doing this meet together; for various reasons, I opted not to compete but was happy to be out there with him.  He did wonderfully.

Powerlifting meets are curious admixtures.  There are the people who are genuinely happy to be lifting and there are the weird aggro glory hounds.  (Usually in a 1.25:1 ratio.)  There are the interminable waits between flights and the folks who step on your stuff and get in your way while you’re trying to make your way to your lifters in the coaches’ area.  The music, with the Cookie Monster vocals meant to signify…something.  The bright brilliant smiles after PRs and moments of joy like diamonds and halos.

And yet, a meet carries with it the odor of sameness.  (Actually many other odors too, come to think of it.)  When you’ve done or helped with a handful, you’ve mostly seen it all.  This weekend, my mind was inclined elsewhere although I was happy to be with my friend; I missed my family and particularly one of my boys who’d been sad about a friend moving out of town.  In a situation like that, it’s easy to feel like you’re at saturation point with the experience.  What more can you see, especially when you’re confident your friend will crush it, as he did?

About two hours into the experience, I got my answer.  I was in one of the sitting areas off the main hallway charging my phone and reading a magazine.   One of the lifters from that morning’s session walked into the room with his two boys and sat down nearby.  He didn’t look to be a natural lifter (who is, really?) and one of his boys was probably 13 or 14.  They sat there for a few minutes, happily chatting as I wondered how the hell a 13 or 14 year old isn’t looking completely miserable in that situation.

Then the dad put his arm around his son, kissed him on the cheek, and ruffled his hair.

Right.  That was it. I wasn’t at saturation point after all.  There is always room for love and kindness, and your openness to surprise and wonder may bear you up when you least expect it.  I didn’t see that guy bench or deadlift but I hope he lifted ten thousand pounds.

The Custodian of Small Moments

The big things, you remember.  Your wedding day, the birth of your first child, the first colonoscopy.  (Well, it’s kind of a big deal!)

But the small things often slip into ether if we aren’t careful.  What it felt like the first time you held your wife’s hand.  (When was it?)  How beautifully spent you felt, taking off your t-shirt after a run through the Fens in 1995.  (It was a very hot summer.)

And occasionally moments elide in memory.  The first time you heard “Lady in the Front Row” by Redd Kross.  (This was not actually during a blizzard’s long drive, though that is how you remember the song and the snow.)

When I am at my best, I imagine being a custodian of small moments–my own, and then those of others under my charge.  Some need a little dusting, some need a full mop, and others?  Others need to be taken out of their corners and closets and given some sun.

The time you were your best self, in that still, small way?  That time you added to another’s day by spending a bit of your own time?  The moment you thought to capture on social media but instead left to trail off into memory?

Bring them out into the light.  Mind that gap.  Your small moments are big.

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.