Friday, January 3, 2014

It was the Beast of Times: A Year in Review

I don't usually go out and party on New Year's Eve.  Most years I'm in jammies and asleep before the clocks flips over to midnight.  It's just an arbitrary marker, really, but it gives me an excuse to take a day off, and that's something I can always get behind.  But as I tack up a new complementary Natural Grocers 2014 calendar above my desk, it's hard not to reflect on the past cluster of months we call "2013" and try to sum up the experiences contained therein to see whether it qualifies as a "good year" or "bad year".  As years go, I suppose it was an interesting one.  It lacked the rosy glow of '82 and the heels-first dive into life of '98, but thankfully it did not sink into the soul-grinding dreariness of '07.  A few big things went down this year -- some good, some crap, and some things that started out as crap and became good.

Started out as crap:  2013 kicked off with my retirement from roller derby after 3 1/2 years.  I didn't officially retire until April, but the last time I went to practice was January.  I took those four months as a leave of absence to decide if retiring was what I really wanted to do.  It was an incredibly painful and difficult decision, involving lots of talks with close family and friends, negotiating with myself, crying, snot bubbles, the whole deal.  The best way I can describe my separation from derby is this: It was like breaking up with the coolest, most fun boyfriend/girlfriend ever, not because they're a jerk or anything, but because you know they are completely and utterly wrong for you.  God, it really f***ing sucked, but I knew I had to do it.  My heart just wasn't in it anymore.  Looking back, I know that all the heartache (and snot bubbles) was really over leaving the people, leaving the derby community.  I do love the sport itself and feel lucky to have been a part of it, but in the end I had a very unhealthy relationship with it and had to walk away.

Good: No more derby meant I had a lot of free time on my hands.  I'm not gonna lie -- it was fantastic.  But being a person who likes to keep busy (albeit with something that isn't totally stressful), I needed to fill these new gaps in my schedule with an activity.  I'd always been interested in martial arts, so Kevin and I began learning Hapkido* together.  I admit it was kind of weird transitioning from a sport where I trained with a bunch of super competitive women smashing into each other, to training in a small dojo with mainly dudes.  It wasn't a bad thing -- just different.  Fate, destiny, quantum mechanics, whatever you want to call it, surely led me here, though.  Derby sadly left my confidence in tatters, but Hapkido put it back together again, thanks in no small part to our teachers -- two incredible human beings that I feel privileged to have met and from whom I have learned so much these past nine months.

[*most people have never heard of Hapkido.  Here is a really cool show that demonstrates what it is:]

Good: This brings us to about the middle of 2013, when one of the biggest things of the year happened: buying our first house.  It happened very quickly, from beginning our search to signing papers, and before we knew it we were moving into our little bungalow.  Even though it is not always rainbows and unicorns and there is a to-do list that stretches from here to eternity, we are overjoyed to have a home of our own.  Even six months later I catch myself thinking, wow, this is really ours.  Teeeee!  It feels great.  It feels like we are finally grown-ups.

As summer slid into fall and we really began to settle into the house, I took up 5k training again and ran the Monster Dash in October.  It seems like everyone and their grandma just goes out and does 5ks all the time, like, "Oh, I think I'll go run a 5k this weekend, ho-hum," but I had to train.  I'm in reasonably good shape, but I've never been a runner and could not run five consecutive blocks, let alone 5 km.  I did Running Mate's couch to 5k program, where you start out jogging in one-minute intervals and work your way up to 30 minutes in eight weeks.  It was sorcery, I tell you, because I ran that entire SOB without stopping.  I still dislike running (mainly because it's hard on my old-people knees), but I was so stoked that I did it.  I thought, well, shit, if I can run this, I can do almost anything.

What started out as crap and became good:  At the beginning of the year, when I was contemplating leaving derby, I read a horoscope (I know, shh) that said something like "You will break the chains that have bound you to something unhealthy and reforge your relationship with it in a positive way."  I know horoscopes are vague and can be applied to almost anyone, but in my sad, vulnerable state, I read a lot into it.  It was clearly referring to roller derby. Darn tootin' I needed to break those chains, but how am I going to reforge my relationship with it?  Can I change my mindset and ever go back?  Not bloody likely.  I received the answer to the riddle when a chapter of Derby Lite started up right here in our neighborhood in October.  It's a once-a-week class offering all the bits of derby I love (hanging out with cool people, exercise, working on skating skills) and none of the bad bits (bouting, stress, burnout, frustration, drama, getting hurt).  I was so happy to pull out my bin of booty shorts, knee-high socks, and legwarmers again that I almost cried, especially the legwarmers my homie MA had made special for me -- the ones that say "Beastmaster" on them.  [dabs eyes]

Really, really bad:  The end of October and beginning of November were awful.  Kevin's cousin Mark passed away suddenly, and less than two weeks later his mother succumbed to Alzheimer's disease.  We flew to Boston twice for back-to-back funerals.  It was absolutely heartbreaking.  Times like that remind you how precious life is and how important it is not to take anything for granted.  It made me want to call my grandma and tell her I love her, and I did.  So should you.  It'll make someone's day.

Unfortunately the end of the year marks a sad anniversary for me, made even more poignant after losing Mark and Eleanor and being reminded that life is uncertain.  This New Years Day makes seven years exactly since the last time my oldest brother spoke to me.  Seven years is a long time for siblings not to speak, right?  The reason behind it is a long and not very interesting story, but I assure you it was a disagreement most "normal" people would have made up over ages ago.  I've tried to reach out to him and gotten no response, so I wait...  I always wonder, will this be the year I hear from him?  After all this time I don't cling to hope, but if he decides to contact me, it will be a pleasant surprise.  Of course, our relationship will never be the same again.  Having your oldest brother act like you have ceased to exist kind of shatters your heart.  But I'm willing, if he is willing, to put the pieces back together.

I don't want to end this on a depressing note.  Despite these sad times, life goes on and I really do have a great deal to be thankful for and look forward to.  I will continue to strive to be a better human being, to do some good in the world, and to learn as many new things as I can.  Luckily, life is easier with great friends and The World's Best Husband by my side.  May 2014 be a totally bitchin' year for all of us.

[Editing note:  I originally wrote six years since last my brother spoke to me, and then I thought about it and realized, holy shit, it's actually been seven.  Either way, it's still a ridiculously long-ass time.]