How is this fun to watch?

So, this is awkward.

Since I started working on my memoir Bark and Lunge, this has become a dog blog. I love all the people I’ve met in the dog blogging community, and I plan to continue blogging about dogs.

I’m working on my second book, a novel about a mixed martial arts fighter who rescues pit bulls. You may have noticed that I post a lot about pit bulls and rescue dogs.

I haven’t written about MMA for a few years, but today I want to write about Ronda Rousey. I’m just going to Trojan Horse it with a picture and a video from last year of her with her dog, Mochi.

ronda mochi

Are Tamagotchis still a thing?

 

Now then. I love Ronda Rousey. I’ve been following her for years, and gained understanding and huge respect from her memoir, My Fight / Your Fight.

It is a solid memoir, thanks to Rousey’s co-writer, her sister Maria Burns Ortiz, a journalist. It tells the story of a little girl whose verbal skills were slow to develop, leaving her unable to explain to her family that all she wanted for her birthday was a Hulk Hogan wrestling doll. When she starts competing in Judo, her mother, a Judo champion herself, instills a confidence and drive to win. The thing I admire most about Rousey is how hard she works. She goes into every fight expecting to win, which is why she took her losses in Judo very hard. Turns out, the sport she was born to do hadn’t been invented yet; women’s mixed martial arts wasn’t even a thing.

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I was fairly devastated on Saturday when Ronda was knocked out by Holly Holm. And I feel defensive about any backlash and criticism of the sport.

People have every right not to enjoy watching cage fights. I don’t like baseball or basketball. But I don’t criticize people who do like it. I don’t ask, “HOW is this fun to watch?”

Still, I will answer that question. Make no mistake. It was NOT fun for me to watch Ronda get punched bloody, kicked in the neck, knocked out, and then punched three more times while unconscious. Just like it’s not fun to watch your sports team get trounced or your favorite player get carried off the field.

Setting that aside (which I have trouble doing because watching the fight was emotional for me), an objective person can see the athleticism and skill behind Holm’s punching and kicking.

Just imagine if, instead of getting knocked out by this this top-notch kickboxer, Rousey had shot in, taken Holm down and submitted her in a choke or an armbar. Everyone would be talking about Rousey’s Judo skills. How amazing it is that a person could defeat such a formidable opponent without doing any physical damage.

That’s what I was hoping to see. And maybe we will see it in a rematch.

**For anyone who compares mixed martial arts to human dog-fighting, for now, I will say only that the difference is, the dogs didn’t sign up for it.

Taking Wonder with a twist of Danger

During a recent martial arts class, Rob asked his students whether they saw the world as a dangerous place with moments of wonder, or a wondrous place with moments of danger.

Definitely a wondrous place, I thought. Then I considered my writing and realized that to move the action forward in my novel, I need more moments of danger. Nobody wants to read a book about a happy well-adjusted young woman in a great relationship who loves her dogs. That’s why I didn’t have a memoir until Isis died. Pain equals conflict equals drama.

A few days later, I made one of my fictional doggie characters viciously bite someone.

I didn’t stay in the dangerous world long. Last weekend, I participated in Stephanie Renee Dos Santos’ Saraswati writing and yoga workshop.

Saraswati

Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science… depicted as a beautiful woman to embody the concept of knowledge as supremely alluring… Saraswati is the goddess of learning, and not a god; the feminine aspect signifies creativity. … Saraswati is known as a guardian deity in Buddhism who upholds the teachings of Gautama Buddha by offering protection and assistance to practitioners

I’ve dabbled in yoga for many years, but never connected it to my writing practice before. We met on the labyrinth at Fairhaven Park, a perfect setting for outdoor yoga. After an hour of poses targeting our hips, back, neck and shoulders, opening ourselves to creativity and culminating in Tibetan meditation, we sat down to write.

Stephanie guided us through writing prompts focusing our attention on the natural world. The yoga gave my writing an awareness of my physical surroundings that I sometimes neglect. We returned to our mats for a few more vinyasas before a final writing exercise to bring it all together. I was quite surprised to find that the stream-of-consciousness observations from the earlier prompts fit perfectly into my novel, and I wrote a short scene that I didn’t even know my story needed.

After that infusion of wonder and beauty, I went to a dark place. Literally. I pulled Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places off my shelf. I tried to start it a few months ago, but wasn’t in mood for dark that day. I read the first line (I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ), and thought “Not today.” Can’t remember what I read instead, but since then I’ve read some Chuck Palahniuk, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I Am Forbiddenthe latter being this month’s book club selection.

Without any sense that this book could help me with my novel, Dark Places looked good to me on Monday. I don’t write violent psychological thrillers, but I sure do enjoy reading them. Once again, my inner reader knew what I needed even when my conscious mind didn’t. The main character in Dark Places is a damaged young woman with a violent past. She is angry and stunted, rather like my main character in Fight Like a Lady.

You find inspiration where you least expect it.

Write what you know

When I started NaNoWriMo in November 2009, I wanted to write something that was actually fiction, rather than a thinly veiled version of my life. I thought, “What can I write about, that I know a lot about, but that wouldn’t be about me?” Of course! Mixed martial arts. Rob’s passion.

I gave up trying to write it in one month, thought about it quite a bit over the next year, then signed up to take a 3-term novel-writing class at WWU starting last fall. The novel has come a long way since then, and I still feel like it has great potential and is totally original and marketable. Plus, I expanded the plot to include my passion: dogs!

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been on a stay-at-home, play-with-the-dogs, write-a-novel vacation. I felt way more productive last week, because it was sunny and warm, so I’d write a few pages, go lie down on the grass with my dogs in the backyard, rinse and repeat. Still, I accomplished what I set out to do, which was to produce 10 pages a day. This is a somewhat misleading goal, since it involves rewriting and combining scenes that already were written. I didn’t write 10 brand new pages each day. But the important thing is that I now have about 100 pages of novel to show for myself.

Yesterday, I felt a little bogged down in the martial arts stuff, which is peculiar, since that’s what the book is about. At this stage of my writing, I have two main audiences in mind. People like Rob, who will read my book because it’s about martial arts, and the people in my writing class (we’re continuing to meet monthly even though the course is over) who don’t know anything about martial arts, don’t really even like martial arts, but who like my writing and have been enormously helpful in developing my book so far.

The people in my class are not going to enjoy reading 30 straight pages about grappling and hubud and cage matches. But all that stuff needs to be written. Before I share it with them, I’m going to have to take a hard look at it and anticipate them saying that they don’t understand my description of what the hell hubud is. How does the hubud scene advance the narrative, other then to show that the heroine likes the way her instructor’s arms feel against hers?

I feel better about it today after working on some dog stuff. The main dog is absolutely a fictional character. He’s a pit bull named Apollo and I love him. I have a vision of what the book cover will look like: A silver pit bull with a pink boxing glove in his mouth. The title: Fight Like a Lady.

Don’t steal my idea, OK?

Don’t cry for me, Ipanema

A few months ago, we were watching an episode of the International Sexy Ladies Show (yes we were). This stimulated a discussion about wanting to go to Brazil.

I went into full trip-planning mode. February tends to be a glum time for me, so we should go then. Oh, except I’m signed up for a weekly writing class that meets through March 1. So we’ll go March 2, and be there for Carnaval! Ignoring the nagging feeling that really, we can’t afford two airline tickets to Rio, let alone the travel between regions, I proceeded to come up with a great itinerary.

Five days in Rio, where Rob will train at a Brazilian jiujitsu (BJJ) studio. Fly to Pantanal for wildlife viewing. Fly to Iguassu Falls for waterfall viewing. Visit the Amazon.

One of my fantasies was that there would be a BJJ camp like the Muay Thai camp we went to in Thailand. It provided lodging and two meals a day for cheaper than most hotel rooms. This would solve the problem of hiked hotel rates and lack of vacancies during Carnaval. Unfortunately, BJJ in Brazil is a bit more expensive than Muay Thai training in Thailand. While camps like that do exist, they’re very expensive.

I had to get real. We can’t afford it this year. Which makes it all the more painful to listen to the four Brazilian music CDs I uploaded onto my work computer.

The castle in my backyard

Construction has begun on Rob’s dream: a backyard building where he can practice martial arts. I have a vague fantasy that I’ll be able to park my car in the garage when all is said and done, but who knows, he may decide that the kettlebell collection needs to stay where it is.

It’s a stressful thing, home construction. I’m in a weird place where I don’t actually have any opinion about what goes on inside the building (please don’t ask me how many electrical outlets and where they should go), but I’ll be damned if the roof is going to be “gray” instead of “stone.”


I’m excited though, to see the frame start to take shape. It makes me want to follow through with some of the improvements I’ve been meaning to do. My last effort at home decor was painting 3 of 4 walls in the kitchen a lemon yellow that Rob hates. I meant to do all 4 walls, but I got tired, and thought I’d save the last wall for another day. Then I decided it would be too much of a pain to paint around the sliding glass door and underneath the kitchen cabinets, so I left the last wall white.

That was President’s Day, I think. For some reason, I schedule painting for days when I’m home but Rob has to work. The green tea library walls were done last Veteran’s Day…the merlot foyer over Thanksgiving and the lemon kitchen on President’s Day. Might have been Martin Luther King Day.

Up next is repainting the peeling eave along the side of the house. Last weekend, Rob’s parents helped me pressure-wash the old paint off with a portable little contraption that I later broke by clogging it with mud. While we were at it, our friend/subcontractor doing the site prep stopped by and said, “Oh, if I’d known you were doing that I would have brought my giant gas-powered something-or-other that would take care of it in two seconds.”

Man, if I’d only thought to ask!

Other projects in mind are staining our little front porch and hanging bamboo shades in the front windows… but the priority might be repairing the little rusted holes in the gutters.

I don’t want to do my laundry

I literally have been losing sleep (people use that expression figuratively, don’t they?) over a couple of issues regarding my house. One involves the permitting for a large accessory building to accommodate the garageful of martial arts equipment currently preventing me from parking my car in the garage. In an unexpected development, I was the more distressed to discover that because something was done incorrectly in 1971, my property was not created legally. Technically. And no one discovered this until last week. Allegedly. Even though it has passed between buyers a number of times since then.

I’m not supposed to take Ambien (the generic equivalent, actually) more than 4 nights in a row, which is a problem, because when I don’t take it, I wake up at 2 or 3 and can’t fall back asleep, worrying about this crap, which I know will sort itself out. But it’s the sorting out of it is that’s creating the stress.

I won’t bore you with the vagaries of homeownership. Instead, I will regale you with the story of my washing machine.

It came with the house and had been making funny noises during the spin cycle for a while. During the first post-India load of laundry I attempted, the thing quit. Today, three weeks from my first call to The Maytag Man (now apparently The Whirlpool Man), I was able to do laundry again in my own home. Tell me again why I complained about it taking so long? Rob’s mom had been generously doing our laundry for us … and she folds way better than I do.

It took that long for the subpump to arrive in the mail. So, Whirlpool sucks. Midway through week two, I considered buying a new machine, like one of those super energy saving front-loaders. But I’m boycotting Whirlpool, and Lowe’s had about two models on display that were another brand. Hello, anti-trust police?

When the repairman came today, I put Isis in the backyard, because you never know how violently she’s going to throw herself at a newcomer. She yips quite a bit if I shut the door on her, but mostly she runs around the yard like a she-demon and entertains herself. I sat on the edge of the patio door, watching her, sort of keeping an eye on the repairman, and pondered what other people do when a repairman is in the house.

Do you stand there and watch him? Do you leave the room and go about your business and wait for him to call out if he needs you? Do you pretend to read a book or watch TV in the same room with him? (or her)

I hate having repairpeople over…and not just because I worry about the unpredictability of my dog. It’s so awkward. But then we don’t ever have friends over, so maybe we’re just awkward people. I figured I couldn’t be the weirdest person this person’s repaired for, what with my sitting on the step staring out into the backyard at my maniac of a dog.

Something started to smell. I mean, really reek. I don’t know if that’s what the inside of a washing machine smells like or what, but there was a distinctly sulfuric smell so strong that I checked my flip-flops to make sure I hadn’t stepped in dog poop.

The repair dude wrapped it all up pretty quickly, ran my card in his portable machine thingy and said, “Have a nice day.” Actually, he offered to vacuum out my dryer for $39.99 but I passed. I asked if I needed to sign for the credit card. He said no. I asked if I could get a receipt. He told me I had to call the office and they’d mail me one, because his mini-printer is broken.

I was sort of glad at that point that I’d remained in the close vicinity (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) the whole time he was working, as this was suspicious enough to make me wonder whether he was really a repairman at all or whether he had made off with my grandmother’s silver. Was I supposed to check his ID or something?

Whatever. My washing machine works.

The Good Girl’s Guide to MMA

Now, I don’t want to drop names or anything, especially since I doubt a single one of my readers has any idea who these people are, but Rob and I have trained with the two dudes who battled it out for San Jose on Saturday night.

Here I am with Cung Le, who broke Frank Shamrock’s arm and took his title.

I kept thinking of this picture on Saturday night as I wondered to myself who I was really rooting for. Except I was thinking Cung had his eyes open, as he does in the following picture with Rob.

These were taken in 2004, after Le put participants in the Martial Arts Super Show through a grueling conditioning workout. That was back in the day when I’d actually participate in such a thing. Now, when Rob has his students jog laps around the studio…I find something else to do, like tie my hair in a ponytail, or drink some water.

Here Rob is with Frank. Rob has trained with Frank a number of times. Rob was pretty clearly rooting for him.

I haven’t actually trained with Frank, per se, but I’ve talked to him a few times and he’s a good guy. In some of his recent matches, he’s put on kind of an arrogant persona, but I think a lot of that’s for show. I respect him as a fighter.

Which is sort of a weird thing for me to say, cus I’m a girl and I’m not really into the “ground and pound” that characterizes MMA. (Mixed Martial Arts. The polite name for “Cage fighting.” The generic term for UFC.)

When I watch a fight, I like to see punches or kicks land. (in Thailand, where it’s legal, I’m also a huge fan of elbows. Ladies, take note. Your legs may be your strongest weapon, but in a self-defense situation, you’re taking a risk when you lift a foot off the ground. I’ve seen elbows cut faces open. Use them.) On the ground, it’s cool to watch the fighters search for and apply a submission hold. When this happens, the submitted guy is supposed to tap out.

What I don’t care for is when a fight goes to the ground, and the person on top really wails on his opponent, raining punches down until the ref decides that the bloody pulp is no longer defending himself and calls the match. Basically, I don’t like to see people get hurt.

This brings me to Shamrock v. Le. While Le is new to MMA, I’ve seen him in stand-up fights (as opposed to those that go to the ground) and his kicks are breathtakingly powerful and fast. He’s undefeated in “combat sports.” So, who could beat him?

Perhaps Frank Shamrock. On a different night. As Le graciously said after winning Saturday night, Shamrock is the “greatest fighter. This was just my night.”

But to watch them trade blows for three rounds…Here are two fighters in top physical condition. They’ve trained for this and they’re evenly matched. Each has a different strength. Frank in submissions, Cung in kicks. Not that Frank’s punches aren’t fearsome. Just before the kick that broke his forearm, he moved in on Cung with some strong blows. I said, “Here comes the monster,” thinking the fight had turned and Frank might even knock Cung out.

After the bell rang, though, Frank couldn’t continue and the fight was called for Cung. Cung accepted victory with a bloody lip and Frank winced with his arm in a sling as he congratulated Cung.

The best thing about the fight, to me, was that the two of them clearly enjoyed it. I don’t think Frank woke up the next morning thinking, “Why? Why? I can’t believe I lost.” I don’t think he feels sorry for himself for having a broken arm. He wanted and sought after the challenge. If he wanted a sure win, he would have taken Le to the ground and submitted him.

And I don’t think Cung thinks to himself, “Ha, I can beat Frank Shamrock with both arms tied behind my back.” These two will fight again, and maybe Frank will win next time.

Connections

I planned to write about my perspective on Mixed Martial Arts today, but I’m not as revved up about it this morning in my office as I was Saturday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., watching a mentor of Rob’s getting his arm broken. It was awesome. I’ll get there.

Instead, let’s talk about travel. In continuing my read-a-thon in preparation for India and Nepal (there’s no way I can finish The Moor’s Last Sigh, Love and Death in Kathmandu and Slowly Down the Ganges by April 10), I’m working on Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar. As you might imagine, it’s about trains. Reading it, sitting in the airport bar, with Rob engrossed in his video iPod, I was “awash in memories of innumerable train journeys,” to plagiarize from a review on this page.

Literally, I couldn’t read more than a page at a time without getting distracted by a flashback of a travel experience. Moments that mostly had nothing to do with the scene I was reading, although I did travel with Theroux yesterday through a European region I’m fairly familiar with. The flashbacks were as vivid as they were vague, and they weren’t even necessarily about trains, although usually a train was how I got there. What kept taking me out of the reading experience was that I couldn’t remember exactly what country I was in, and even whether I was with someone (my mother? a friend?) or alone.

Specifically, I kept thinking of a modern-looking restaurant, I want to say sushi, but that didn’t seem right for Central/Eastern Europe (was I in Russia?), and it was closed the first time I tried to go, but I went out of my way to go back the next day. I kept picturing the restaurant …

Right. As I wrote the above paragraph, about not eating sushi in Central/Eastern Europe … I remembered. We did eat sushi, didn’t we, Chelsea and Matej? And I’m thinking you even recommended this particular restaurant and it had a funny name. Googling makes me think it was “Flying Sushi,” although I don’t find much else about it.

It was Salzburg, Austria. I even blogged about it, although sadly, not about Flying Sushi. Still, it’s all flooding back.

That’s a pretty good endorsement for blog-keeping, even if you don’t have a huge readership and it often amounts to little more than navel-gazing. Isn’t it?

So there’s that, and all kinds of associated excitement about the upcoming India and Nepal trip. And what should happen today, but a friend/coworker from my job in Prague messaged me via Facebook. Someone with a common enough name I never would have thought to search, and whom I hadn’t thought of in years, and probably wouldn’t have ever again if he hadn’t “run across” my Facebook profile.

Awash in memories, indeed. Now I’m having flashbacks of assorted work-related social activities, including having a drink with this particular friend/coworker (really more of a coworker/supervisor, actually) at a newly opened martini bar close to my flat just before I moved back to the States.

Element of surprise

Why do I think it’s necessary for birthday/Christmas presents to be a surprise?

Several weeks ago, Rob saw a book in a used bookstore that he wasn’t sure if he owned. He went home and discovered he did not and he wanted it. Wouldn’t it be neat to get it for him for Christmas, I thought. It would have, if I’d remembered which book it was.

Back at the store, I picked out a book that could have been it and bought it, because I didn’t want to spoil Christmas by asking him which one it was. No no, it’s much more fun for him to unwrap a book he already has two copies of (for reasons unknown), which I could have discovered on my own, if I’d been patient enough not to buy the book that day, but to go home and give our bookshelves a cursory glance.

Fortunately, I also got him some of those energy-efficient light bulbs and a lamp shaped like the Egyptian goddess Isis, so Christmas wasn’t completely ruined. But I did feel like an idiot, especially since I threw away the receipt.

Today, conveniently one day before his birthday, Rob showed me the cover of a similar book to the one he wanted. So I took back the first book, which cost $15, and was all set to beg to trade it for the correct book, or resort to paying for the new book, if they wouldn’t take back the original book. I debated whether to go to the counter first and ask if I could exchange it, or run the risk of the sales lady not believing that I didn’t slip the book off the shelf into my plastic grocery bag. I didn’t even want to get into it though, if they didn’t have the right book.

Very quickly, I spotted the book on the shelf that Rob had showed me earlier, it was next to a similar book. Even though I have about 8 minutes on my cell phone to last me another 5 days, I called him.

“Is it ‘Jeet Kune Do: Kickboxing’?”
“Uh, I think so. What is the one I showed you earlier?”
“‘Jeet Kune Do: The Textbook.'”
Sheesh, if he can’t remember, how am I supposed to?
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Thanks.” Click. 14 seconds. Too bad Cingular counts that as a full minute.

The new book cost $6.95, and miraculously, the lady not only took back the first book, but gave me change. She paid me for my mistake.

And Rob will get what he wants for his birthday.