Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black Belt Bound: Never Fight Alone

"Don’t Break the New Sempai!"

© 2009 Leighann Lord

When I began consistently studying martial arts, I was in awe of the higher belt women, not necessarily the Black Belts. They seemed like exotic unapproachable Ninja’s from another planet. I was more fascinated by the belt just under Black – The Brown Belts. They were higher than moi on the martial art’s food chain but it was easier to imagine that I could possibly someday be one of them.

I remember asking a million questions: "How long have you been training? Do you plan to go for your Black Belt; if so, when? How do you know when you’re ready?" It was a pleasant bit of turnabout when I eventually became a Brown Belt and was asked the same questions. I then realized there are no easy answers.

Being "ready" is different for everybody. Knowing your stuff is, of course, important but so is your discipline, commitment, and physical conditioning. The other not so small hurtle is the judgement of your Sensei. Testing for your Black Belt is by invitation only. This is a lot to explain to a wide eyed new student. Sometimes a simple "I don’t know" or a "Soon, I hope" is all I could say.

When the planets aligned and I was invited to test for my 1st Degree, the excitement and genuine pride expressed to me from my fellow students was startling. I had more than one person tell me – without a shade of pretense – that they had no doubt I would pass the test and get my belt. Their rock solid confidence in me should have been encouraging, but I was bewildered.

I was training harder than ever and all I could see were the mistakes I was making, and all the things that needed fixing before an swiftly approaching deadline. Going for it sounded good in theory, but the reality was terrifying.

As the test date drew near, I increased my hours of training and the rest of my life was put largely on auto pilot. I began asking myself, "What the hell am I doing?" Between the:

- neck and shoulder muscle spasms,
- sore right calf and in-step,
- sprained left and right big toes,
- simultaneously stiff and rickety left pinky, and
- elbows that cracked as loud as low caliber gun shots

I certainly didn’t feel like a Black Belt candidate. I felt like hell. That’s usually about the time when someone would give me some unexpected words of encouragement, tell me how proud or inspired they were, and insist – once again – that they knew I was going to get my Black Belt. Apparently everybody "knew" but me.

"Are you nervous?" was a question I was asked all to frequently. At first the answer in my heart was a big loud, "Hell, yes!" There were moments when I was scared out of mind that I was doing all this work for nothing; that I’d go to the test, do my best and it wouldn’t be good enough. Out loud I just said a simple, "Yes," so as not to scare myself more or the person asking the question. Truthfully though, the real possibility of failure was never too far from my mind.

The Black Belt test is difficult. Many people don’t pass it on the first try. A low and ever so reasonably sounding Whisper in the back of my mind would say, "It’s an accomplishment in and of itself just to be invited to test at all. There’s no shame in having to take it more than once." True, but then The Whisper would go on to remind me that I wasn’t a good test taker. It reminded me of my SAT, Trigonometry Regents and the FOUR times I took my driver’s test.

With much effort, I pushed aside that Whisper of Worry with the voices of the people who missed no opportunity to wish me well. I fastened onto the surety of their words, and the conviction in the eyes until the inner whisper of doubt and fear was beaten back. I borrowed their confidence until mine could stand on it’s own.

When the day of the test finally came I was honestly too tired to be nervous. I just wanted to get it over with. I wanted to bring home that damn belt or know the reason why. I felt freakishly focused and ready. They put me through my paces – a story for another time; I promise – and I earned my 1st Degree Black Belt on the first try. This is a major accomplishment that I worked very hard for, but I did not earn it alone.

Whenever I had class my Parents never failed to dog sit with my neurotic Cocker Spaniel, Rolie. My Husband supported my quest one thousand percent. He dragged me to the gym in the morning with him to work on my cardio, and he put up with the not so sexy smell of Icy Hot® that I wore so often it became my personal fragrance.

Many of my Classmates and Instructors who helped get me ready were there the day of test, standing on the sidelines shouting instructions and encouragement as I fought (and fight I did – a story for another time; I promise). My Husband was in the stands, camera rolling. When I heard the magic words, "You passed!" from the Senseis who judged my test I was both overjoyed and relieved. When they went on to congratulate me on a job well done I didn’t think it could get any better than that, until I turned to see the expectant faces of my friends.

Before I could get the words "I passed" fully out of my mouth, I was mobbed. It was the group hug to end all group hugs. It was amazing to have so many people genuinely sharing in my happiness. The joy of achievement and gratitude washed over all the pain, doubt, fear and sacrifice. It was suddenly all worth it. It sounds eerily like having a baby. I certainly cried like one.

I heard someone in the crowd say, "Don’t break the new Sempai!" Sempai is the title given to all 1st Degree Black Belts. It’s a Japanese word meaning big brother or sister. Irrespective of age you become a mentor to other students; an example of what is possible.

That little Whisper in the back of mind said, "I never want to do this again!" But a more confident inner voice said, "Next stop, 2nd Degree." But that’ll be a story for another time; I promise.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

Please feel free to subscribe or visit
www.veryfunnylady.com again soon to find out about news, Leighann's TV appearances, live stand-up comedy shows or to join the mailing list.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Forgot, I Hate Politics

© 2009 Leighann Lord

I’ve been so caught up the inaugural hoopla, I almost completely forgot that I hate politics. In the seventh grade, we set up my school’s first student council. Being a shoe-in for valedictorian I naturally planned to run for president, until I found out that my best friend, Jennifer, was running too.

I was smart, but Jennifer was smart, pretty and popular; the trifecta. I’m not being self deprecating about my appearance or aggrandizing about my intelligence. It was what it was. And in the harsh realities of grammar school politics the run for president really was just a popularity contest. No matter how good my platform (better school lunches, reduced homework, longer recess) I feared I didn’t stand a chance.

In retrospect, I should have had more confidence, but at the time my self esteem was under constant assault from the awkwardness of puberty and the ravages of hormones. I didn’t have the courage to find out if my classmates didn’t esteem me as highly as they did my friend. If they didn’t, I doubted I could have survived the knowledge.

I also didn’t want to damage our friendship. In the hostile and heartless world of childhood I was terrified of losing one of the few friends I had. Would Jennifer still be my friend if I won? More to the point, would I still be her friend if she won? Knowing, but not liking the answer, I settled for being Student Council Secretary. I took the coward’s way out and I hated myself for it. I’ve never been sure if this was a character creating or clarifying moment. I hope for the latter.

In subsequent years all of my competitive pursuits were strictly academic. I competed for nothing of political or social consequence. If my friends liked a particular guy, I immediately lost interest in him. He was dead to me. Career-wise I chose solitary pursuits – standup comedy and writing – where the only real competition was with myself.

But alas no career path is immune from politics. The amount of political wrangling in the entertainment industry is staggering. It’s the biggest popularity contest there is. In a painfully familiar scenario I’m often up for the same jobs and gigs as my friends. The kid in me cringes but an ever so slightly more mature version of me knows resistence is futile. Play the game and let the chips fall where they may. The best way too really win is by being yourself. I don’t know if that’s really true or not, but it helps me and my inner adolescent, sleep at night. I’m also grateful that Jennifer is not a standup comic.

I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if I had chosen to tough it out and run for Student Council President. What if I had won? Would that have been the start of bright political career? Law school? City Council? Senator? President? A personal invitation to Barack Obama’s inauguration? Maybe, maybe not. At my core – Obama, notwithstanding – I still hate politics.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

Please feel free to subscribe or visit www.veryfunnylady.com again soon to find out about news, Leighann's TV appearances, live stand-up comedy shows or to join the mailing list.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Office

© 2008 Leighann Lord

The New Year is a time to start fresh. For most people this means making resolutions, for me it's cleaning. I'm not a neat freak, but let's just say I'm way more Felix Unger than I am Oscar Madison. I fold my underwear, and sort my wardrobe by season, color and style. I watch TV cleaning shows like other people watch porno. Non-judgmental strangers with organization and carpentry skills who show up and help you clutter control a room in your house for free? I'm sorry, but that's hot!

I pride myself on being tidy and organized but the room I can't seem to get a handle on is my home office. It's a constant battle and The Office usually wins. Office is actually a generous term. It's a very small space barely big enough for one, but currently accommodating two. My husband and I manage to run multiple businesses out of a tiny space that wouldn't even make a decent closet, Sometimes I get so frustrated I just want to leave it all behind. Find a nice empty office with a view and start over.

Every New Year I vow, "This is it! I'm gonna get serious about The Office." And The Office says, "Bring it on, Baby!" The mountainous piles seem to grow even larger, moving and shifting of their own accord.

This year I found bank statements for banks that disappeared two mergers ago; complete with checkbooks, deposit slips and ATM cards. Conventional financial wisdom says you have to keep bank records for at least 10 years, but nobody tells you how or where. Are off-site storage costs tax deductible? Can I put that on my Schedule C?

I found old pager bills for god's sake. A pager. Egads! When's the last time anyone owned a pager? That is so last century.

Over the course of my office organizing crusade, I've managed to kill three shredders. I'm on my fourth: a lovely large basket, 12-sheet, diamond cross cut shredder. Sweet. I dream of having an industrial strength, Pentagon-quality shredder one day. The kind that makes top secret government documents disappear. Page count, staples and paper clips are irrelevant. Just throw in as much as you can carry and strain to hear the whisper quiet purr of the engine. In this fantasy, the shredder has it's own room.

I've lost important things in The Office, like $200 worth of American Airlines travel vouchers. I eventually found them a month after they'd expired. I misplaced cards I bought for my mother's birthday. I later found them in an irregularly used handbag, but I still blame The Office. Why? Because eventually everything ends up in the office, whether I've put it there or not.

I suspect The Office has it's own gravitational pull with a particular taste for mail. In The Office, one piece of mail becomes five. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to open and shred it fast enough. Excavating a recent pile of mail revealed Christmas cards from the previous year.

As I began opening the cards my mood brightened. It was nice to get a little unexpected out of season Christmas cheer. In addition to sweet hand written notes, well wishes and family photos, was a $25 Starbucks Gift Card! I think The Office was trying to make up for the airline tickets. As I sip on a hot Caramel Macchiato, apology accepted.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

Please feel free to subscribe or visit www.veryfunnylady.com again soon to find out about news, Leighann's TV appearances, live stand-up comedy shows or to join the mailing list.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Etiquette of Carding

© 2008 Leighann Lord

I am proud to say – the economy notwithstanding – we sent out Christmas cards. I felt compelled not to let another year go by without acknowledging the holiday. Last year it snuck up on me and I just couldn’t get it together. You know how it is. One minute I’m relaxing at a Labor Day barbeque, the next minute I’m frantically wrapping presents I can’t afford and making New Year’s Resolutions I won’t keep.

Our card is a simple family photo. My friends’ holiday cards always feature a Sears type portrait of themselves and their kids. We wanted to do the same but society sort of frowns on kidnaping. "If anybody asks, my name is ‘Mommy’ not ‘Crazy Lady’. Now stop crying and smile for the camera."

It’s no less awkward trying to cut a deal with the parents directly. "No, no. I don’t want ransom money. I’ll pay you. I just need the kid for a couple of hours."

So, our family photo is me, my Husband and our cranky Cocker Spaniel, Rolie. Inspired by our trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we chose an Amish theme. My Husband wore a black, wide-brimmed Amish hat and I donned a white bonnet. Rolie is forever well-dressed in his furry tuxedo.

Not that I’m keeping score, but we didn’t receive as many holiday cards this year as last. I don’t know if people are just cutting back or if the custom of mailing Christmas cards is a fading fashion. I have, however, received quite a few holiday greetings via email. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I haven’t decided if it is eco-friendly, or plain cheap and lazy.

I’m firmly not a fan of the holiday text message. It presumes I have an unlimited plan or that I don’t mind paying 40 cents to receive your holiday greetings. And if that’s not bad enough I don’t even get the full "Merry Christmas" but the abbreviated "M. X-mas." If you’re texting me on my dime you can’t be both gauche and ungracious. I guess I’m kinda old fashioned. Nothing says you really care like a card send via the United States Postal Service, or so I thought.

My Mother looked at me in horror when she learned I was sending a card to my Aunt Dorothy. "You can’t do that!" she said. Now every family has it secrets. I thought I might have stumbled upon some heretofore unknown juicy feud that I was, at last, deemed old enough to know about. My curiosity peeked, I said, "Why can’t I send a card to Aunt Dorothy?"
"Because your Uncle Percel died," s
he said.

Uncle Percel, my Aunt’s husband, passed away this year. I felt horrible because I was out of town and unable to attend the services. I thought the least I could do was send my Aunt a Christmas card, but my Mother firmly said, "No!" and explained that it’s customary not to send Christmas cards to someone who’s had a death in their immediate family. "Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?"

"It’s intrudes on their grief," she said. Now, I don’t doubt my Mom. She’s my in-house Miss Manners, but how intrusive is a card? Intruding is going to someone’s house unannounced expecting dinner and a show. The holidays are tough when you’ve lost someone. Wouldn’t a simple Christmas card let someone know they’re loved, remembered and not alone?

But my Mom and Aunt are of the same generation. If I send the card anyway, will she think I was being rude? Will my Kwanza stamp clad envelope reveal me to be an insensitive and classless clod? Will my Aunt open the envelop thinking, "Doesn’t she [me] know any better?" Will it signal that I have – as we say in Carribean culture – no "brought-upsy;" no "good home training?" More to the point, will this reflect badly on my Mother? Oh no, we can’t have that!

And so the conundrum: To send or not to send. The decision: mailed the card after the New Year with a note explaining my loving rudeness. I’m hoping it will distract my Aunt from her grief by making her wonder when I, her dear niece, became Amish.

Thank you for reading The Urban Erma.

Please feel free to subscribe or visit www.veryfunnylady.com again soon to find out about news, Leighann's TV appearances, live stand-up comedy shows or to join the mailing list.