The Nerve of That Man

Whoever said “clothes make the man” was an idiot. You can have on a well-tailored suit and still spill wine on it because you missed your mouth when you went to take a drink (not that I’ve done that). You can be wearing burnished leather boots and still walk backwards into a door and apologize to it, just as a reflex (again, not that I’ve done that). Probably a better rendering of that classic adage is “confidence makes the man.” A person who’s confident enough could be wearing a giant chicken costume and a sign that says “I eat farts” and still make you feel like the dumb one. Conversely, it’s very hard for a person like me whose default mode is slightly anxious and fidgety to pull off an air of respectability and suavitude.

I think it’s because, for me at least, I tend to think that everyone else seems to have their lives figured out to a decent degree. Other people seem to walk around with a general sense of having their situation on lockdown; they’re not collapsing on the floor randomly or stopping people on the street saying “am I doing it good? Y’know, life and stuff?” And to be fair, neither am I, but I’ve got kind of an inside scoop on me, so I know that deep down, I’m just kinda making it all up as I go along over here and please don’t look too closely at that any one part of my life, I haven’t had time to spruce up over there yet.

It’s not all bad though. For instance, no one can really make me uncomfortable because–joke’s on you–I already am. Also, if there’s a way a situation can go wrong, don’t worry, I’ve probably thought about it. I haven’t done anything about it, but rest assured that when it happens, I’ve already thought about the ways in which it is a huge bummer. If you’re visiting me, and you’re looking for someone to be so concerned about your comfort that it makes you uncomfortable? I’m your guy. And really, no one wants a hangout where everyone is having a good time; you want at least one person to be preoccupied with where your other friend is going to sit if she shows up halfway through.

Herein lies the dilemma, though: I can’t just simply try to stop being anxious. Because then I’ll get anxious about whether I’m trying hard enough to not be anxious. Maybe I need to try to try to stop being anxious? Seems foolproof. The other option is to just not think so much being anxious or about myself in general, but that seems less fun. That navel ain’t gonna gaze itself, after all.

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Do You Krave Maga?

I love me a good opportunity to feel inadequate. So why not start the new year trying the Israeli self-defense art of Krav Maga?

Let me back up. You can buy the classiest clothes on the planet, but it won’t matter if you can’t fit into them because of one (or five) too many figgy puddings around the holidays. This was the situation I faced upon returning from my holiday travels. It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t fit into my clothes, it was that when I did, I looked like a tube of toothpaste that had been squeezed empty at the bottom but still had quite a bit to offer at the middle.

Needless to say, it was time to get back on the workout train. And the most readily available ticket for the workout train was, for some reason, an already-purchased Groupon for three Krav Maga classes (or as Google Voice Search pronounced it “Kraeeve Maeega”).

Let me say, the folks at Krav Maga Federation in NYC were fantastic. They were super friendly and incredibly encouraging. Multiple people said hi to us as we waited for the class to begin despite the fact that we were decked out in full yoga gear and clearly weren’t from around here. The friendliness was enough to help us overcome passing by a young man who had achieved the orange belt rank despite being over fifteen years younger than us (you start, and we started, as mere white belts. Mercifully, we were not required to bow before him as he passed).

Immediately when the class began, I knew I was in over my head. We started without any preamble by doing a circuit of push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks, and leg lifts with no break. I started to think that if this was the entire class, I was pretty sure my heart was going to explode. And not in a Grinch-learning-the-true-meaning-of-Christmas kind of way. Thankfully, this was just the warm up and ended after 15 minutes of unimaginable abdominal effort.

After a short water break, though, the next section of the class didn’t leave me feeling much more boss. We proceeded to practice kick combinations, punch combinations, and choke hold breaks–all of which had at least three steps. The instructor was fantastically patient, but that didn’t change the fact that in order to combine breaking an assailant’s choke hold, kneeing him in the crotch, and twisting his arm into submission, I needed about three weeks of training rather than five minutes. Seriously, if someone let me know a month in advance that they were going to try to assault me in a Starbucks, I would be so ready.

Consequently, maybe the most valuable lesson I learned from Krav Maga was that if someone attacks me, the best thing I can do to defend myself is make peace with God and resolve any unfinished mental business I’ve got kicking around. And that’s a counterattack with the mind–the most powerful weapon we have. Which is exactly what nerds who are bad at martial arts always say.

Crackin’ Nuts at the Barre

Near the end of December, I got the chance to see the Nutcracker performed by the New York City Ballet. Choreographed by George Balanchine in 1954, the New York City Ballet’s version is widely considered to be the definitive production, so much so that no one at the NYCB is allowed to change any of the choreography ever. Ever. You over there–what’s that you’ve got in your hand? Is that a change to the choreography of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker? Put it down! Down! Now get out; you’ll never work in this town again!

All that said, the choreography is really stunning.

It was indeed a delightful experience. One thing that people don’t mention, though, is that all the parts that everyone talks about–the fantasy world made of candy, the dance of the Sugarplum fairy, even the part where a tiny wooden man stabs a rat to death–come fairly late in the play. The first, like, hour and a half is a Victorian-era Christmas party happening in real time. (Although it’s set in Germany, so I guess it’s a Kaiser Wilhelm-era Christmas party.) The hosts wait for people arrive, people arrive, hands are kissed, children are introduced and told to introduce themselves to other children, children are told to go do whatever it is that children do so that adults can have fun, adults drink, gifts are exchanged–all of this happens at realistic, often painstaking, speed. Which, while interesting, is not altogether fantastical and why in the world would you go to the trouble of putting it in a ballet?

Then we get some real stuff. Some stuff we can sink our teeth into. A grizzled old man with an eyepatch(!) named Herr Drosselmeyer shows up. And it is clear that this guy has seen. some. stuff. Seen enough stuff, in fact, to be in possession of a magical nutcracker man that can transform into a real person after tasting the blood of his rodent enemies. I think I can speak for all of us–and by “us” I mean “me”–when I say that we eagerly await a spinoff ballet about how Drosselmeyer lost that eye and how if you think that’s bad, you should see the other guy.

Eventually the Nutcracker, who is now a flesh person and a boy rather than a man for some reason, and the ballet’s heroine Clara enter a world of fantasy and wander around in the snow before entering a magical candy kingdom. This is oddly prescient of Tchaikovsky to know that snow would be rare and fantastical in the future because of global warming. Germans invading a beautiful and peaceful land in order to lord over its people and consume their resources was also a nice farsighted touch.

When they get to the fantasy kingdom made of candy, a bunch of food performs some really beautiful dances for them and a couple of racist ones. (Check out the “Tea Dance”; the egregious bowing and rice-farmer-hat-wearing doesn’t age well.) Then, the Sugarplum Fairy and some random beefy dude whom we have never seen before dance together in one of the most beautiful dances I have ever seen and which made me think about how my body is physically incapable of moving that gracefully. My muscles would get some sort of server error and pop up an “Error 404: Dancing Not Found” message. Oh, and I would fall over and break something or several somethings. But they found two people who are capable of moving that beautifully and do it at the same time, right next to each other! This is a modern marvel, and I think proof that the moon landing was not a hoax.

All in all, I highly recommend the Nutcracker, especially if you can find some kind of Drosselmeyer extended cut.