Monday, November 4, 2019

The Devil on My Back

Dear Wrestling,

It turns out I probably have ADD. It's nice to have an explanation for why I can't seem to update things like this on even a monthly basis, I guess.

I want to talk about rejection sensitive dysphoria. This can be a mental illness on its own, but it's very often? Most often? seen alongside ADHD, especially in adults and even more so in women.

Essentially it means that when corrected or rejected in even a very normal, mild way, my brain most often responds with something like, "You know you're worst person they've ever met, right? Like they're not saying it because it's rude, but you should definitely never talk to them again, and frankly the idea that you ever talk is disgusting."

Although actually it's rarely in words. The feeling is there, but unvocalized.

When it's something I really care about--when it's writing--it's much, much worse.

I know all kinds of things about writing. I know that making mistakes is part of the process and how one learns. I know that a great proofreader and editor can make all the difference in the world for how a piece turns out. I know that practice is necessary--and lots of it, preferably daily. I know that all my favorite authors wrote things that were objectively atrocious.

And yet, when I think about showing a story--not a letter, or an article, but a story--to an audience, I want to die. I genuinely cannot think of anything more horrifying. I would rather strap a singlet around my rolls and take my first terrifying bump in front of an audience than expose my writing to the world.

It's so overwhelming I drown in it. All the normal yearning for praise and acclaim and recognition from like-minded peers's like it's the horizon. No matter where I am or how far I go, it's never closer. It's never achievable.

And yet I still write. If I can't bear it for the rest of the year, then at least in November. The pep talks from authors I love, the sense of being encouraged to at least try, that if nothing else, it's a bit of practice. All these things and more help me spend one month a year really writing.

Why can't I keep it up after? Because as soon as midnight ticks over on December first, all the horror and pain breaks through the dam and swamps me again.

I think this year it might get better, though. Two years ago I didn't know rejection sensitive dysphoria was a thing. A month ago I hadn't seriously considered that I might have ADHD--I just assumed PTSD had broken my brain pretty thoroughly, and that was that.

I'm meeting with my doctor about it this week. For now though, I have hope.

Love you,

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Trying to Imagine What You Can't Imagine

Dear Wrestling,

I really want to understand why someone with good sense and a conscience would go work for Vince McMahon.

I am coming to the conclusion that I cannot understand this--that who I am, how I'm built, it is not possible for me to understand this.

My hope, tiny and flickering as it is, is that by trying to work this out I either do understand, or I save other people who can't understand a lot of time and anger.

So. Today's iteration of this infinite and perpetual quandary is brought to you by [checks] less than 12 minutes and 42 seconds of Jimmy Jacobs interview on Marty and Sarah Love Wrestling.

That's how much I was able to catch before I had to go to work, and just that was enough that I fumed the whole way there.

This, to me, is the bottom line of the calculus of Working For Vince McMahon: he is the ultimate arbiter of EVERYTHING on those shows, right? So every bra and panty match, every racist promo, every dollop of xenophobia, all of the shit, is just as much his brand as the good stuff, agreed?

Jimmy says in that 12 minutes that sometimes saying the lines isn't about doing good work, it's about trust. Even if it's a shitty line, you go out and you say it because then Vince knows he can trust you.

Wrestlers and the wrestler-adjacent seem to love little more than telling fans, "You have no idea what you're talking about, what it's like, how the business works", etc. Obvious corollary: they do know, understand, etc. They'll never ever tell us, apparently, because...?

But we are told we must understand that we understand nothing.

So. A wrestler going to work for him KNOWS that they will be expected to obey the whims and unchecked worst impulses of a man who thought the treatment of Bull Nakano by commentary was good entertainment. A man who thought that the birth of a hand by an elderly woman was...god, who even knows--worth putting on television, at any rate. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia--if he says, "Insinuate that being a housewife is shameful and repugnant", you say "Yes--and Bobby Lashley's sisters!".

I didn't grow up with a childhood dream. I didn't even grow up thinking I'd live past 18, and I never knew why--I just couldn't imagine a future. So I don't have any clue the power a childhood dream can have. I literally cannot imagine wanting something so much when I'm twelve, that I'm eager to put up with this kind of behavior as an adult.

I also grew up lower middle class, and became dirt poor as an adolescent and an adult. Contrary to what you might expect, this actually had the effect of making me...kind of money-averse, to be honest. I don't trust it, and I definitely don't trust those who have it. I don't trust jobs that gain a lot of it--they seem to pretty much all involve taking advantage of other humans in some way, often while being taken advantage of yourself. I do not understand the pull of being promised (the tiny chance of making) large amounts of money.

I was discussing this all with my husband, who trained as a sociologist. We came up with a metaphor that I think I can make work and unsurprisingly, it's also one about accepting being told to inflict suffering on other humans: being a soldier.

If you sign up to join the US armed forces, you know you are signing up with organizations that inflict suffering, that enforce coups, that have committed genocide, have ravaged villages. You are *hoping* you are part of the force that liberated concentration camps, protected different villages, helped free trapped people...but you don't know, and it won't be up to you.

It's still hard. I still don't accept it. But if I think of the phrase, "Soldier, shut up and soldier", I feel I have at least a small sense of it.

He might turn you into Red Skull...but there's also a chance to be Captain America. It's not the choice I would ever make, but it's one I can at least understand.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Void Shouts Back

Dear Wrestling,

You ever have your therapist explain something as being good for you, necessary, so it doesn't matter if you believe it or not? Like, you need self-esteem for all kinds of health reasons, and it doesn't really matter if you think you're particularly good or not?

I really don't know how to say this, at all. It's dark and ugly and illogical and gross and I hate it. I hate it so much.

When people tell me I'm terrible, I believe them. I believe them utterly and my immediate, automatic response is that I should hurt myself.

I don't believe everyone, thank goodness. If one of my senators said it, I would laugh in his face, because they are both dirtbags and I don't respect either of them at all.

But if it's someone I love, someone I admire, someone I suspect is a pretty good person...I have not yet learned how to mediate that response. How to put it in context, how to be rational about it, essentially.

I don't know why this twisted up, gnarled knot of PTSD is so strong. There are so many I've dealt with, that don't bother me at all, it's bizarre that this one is so powerful! It is, though, and it couldn't care less how much I hate it, how much it embarrasses me and makes me feel broken and alone.

I know I've been dreadful to deal with since Sami came back. I'm really sorry. But he says how bad we are, and I want to reach for a knife. I haven't yet, not for a very long time.

The obvious answer is to sit this one out, and I've tried, I swear to you, I really did try. And I'll keep trying, but wrestling is my joy. It's my life and my love, and he is the best wrestler in the world.

I just wanted to try to explain why...just why.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Zen and the Art of This Overused Phrasing

Dear Wrestling,

It's been awhile. Yes, I am this bad at communication with humans, too--much worse, in fact. Too much of my writing depends on being struck by something and then excitedly rushing to share it.

In this case, I'm struck by this essay by the endlessly wise and kind J.J. McGee:

"Your worries and doubts and hopes, the ones that feel solid and heavy as stone: they’re raw material for wrestlers. Something that could be a weapon to break barriers. Something that could be a foundation to build on. So hold on to them, even if it means being willing to exist fully in those moments of despair, to stand in the dark with your heart squashed and your hopes buried, bereft and lost."

Existing fully in moments of despair is something most of us spend most of our lives trying to avoid. So much of life can be described as running to pleasure or running away from pain.

I've been interested in Buddhism for a long, long time. One of the ideas that most drew me, years ago, was precisely this idea of not running from pain. It seemed so...dumb, frankly, so bizarre, and yet there was also so much obvious wisdom down that path, too--and so many Buddhist leaders were deeply thoughtful and immensely compassionate. It was a puzzle to me.

I've always hated pain, passionately, and even as a very little child--age 8 or so--I was learning about herbs and medicine, whatever little things I could do. A friend got stung by a bee on his lower eyelid, and I mixed up some fresh mud to put on it until he could get home, to draw the venom out.  I am still the person my family goes to for help with injuries, which I sometimes even treat with my homemade salve.

It took one of the worst toothaches of my life to understand the difference between pain and suffering. I'd had to have oral surgery--I can't even remember which one--and even with the painkillers I'd been given, I was in agony. This happened toward the end of my first year studying Buddhism, and so I turned to my texts. 
I reread the passages on pain and suffering in Thich Nhat Hanh, Roshi Kapleau, and others, over and over. It took me that long to find the courage to really try it, probably.

"To suppress the grief, the pain, is to condemn oneself to a living death. Living fully means feeling fully; it means becoming completely one with what you are experiencing and not holding it at arm's length." ~ Philip Kapleau

“Do not lose yourself in the past. Do not lose yourself in the future. Do not get caught in your anger, worries, or fears. Come back to the present moment, and touch life deeply. This is mindfulness.” 
― Thich Nhat Hanh 

So, I gradually started turning my thoughts from "Holy SHIT do I want this pain to end!" to "Hoo boy, this is some pain. Strong, strong pain. Yep, that's still there. Still just sitting here with my pain..."

It was a process, and one I certainly didn't master that night--or any night since. Suffering, it turns out, is trying to escape what you are actually experiencing. Pain is just the experience itself. In wrestling terms, pain is the story, the match, the promo. Suffering is the late night discussion about whether Sami Zayn will still be a heel when he comes back from injury, months from now.

Wrestlers can't do anything with our smarkiness. Our prognostications are not the fuel they thrive on. They can't craft an emotion out of our preoccupation with who's going where and how the story might end. No criticism of a feud or booking is going to thrill our hearts.

They need our presence and our attention. Our enthusiasm helps, I think, but I'm not certain it's strictly necessary--the best draw it out of us despite ourselves.

All the guessing and the emotional games are fun, sometimes, and to a point, but for me at least it's essential that I remember: those games are not part of wrestling. They don't help my beloveds, and as often as not, they harm me and my enjoyment. Granted, I'm a person who is riddled with anxiety, so it doesn't take much to pull my head out of a match and start worrying about the ratio of money to good stories that wrestling seems to insist on, for instance.

Our presence, our emotional immediacy, and our openness. Those are the components we as fans can contribute to this art we love. Anything else, I suspect we do just for ourselves.


*I do not include criticism of sexism, homophobia, racism, etc. in this. I'm referring only to criticism of aspects of wrestling that do not harm others, such as booking or some aspects of character work.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Engraved in my heart and in my skin

Dear Wrestling,

On August 18th, my youngest sister's birthday, I paid a nice man to stab me about 100 times a second for 4ish hours. As a result, I now carry this on my shoulder.

Red pandas are adorable creatures, if you're not familiar with them. They're like cuter, more agile raccoons. They're also quite fierce for their size, they're capable hunters, and are the only remaining creature from their family in the world. Watching them move, one can see certain resemblances to El Generico, especially in his tendency to thrown himself onto Kevin in celebration. I'm not a fan of a portrait tattoo, but I am very much a fan of an inside joke (or loving reference, if you prefer...)

A turnbuckle screw is pretty much my favorite wrestling tattoo. It's simple, elegant, and clear.

Cherry blossoms, and especially in this style, are something I've felt conflicted about for a long time. On the one hand, it can feel appropriative for my white ass to carve them onto my skin. On the other hand...the trees in my backyard were some of my dearest friends growing up. I named them, and our little ornamental cherry blossom tree was my favorite. Her name was Xantha, after a dryad in a book, and she had these two limbs that were perfectly placed for sitting and reading or cloud/branch watching. She was a double blossoming type, and in the spring I would climb up and shake her branches so that the flowers rained down on my little sisters.

When I visit Charlotte, I always check to see that she still stands.

I love English, but there are some wonderful phrases and concepts we lack. Weltschmerz is probably my very favorite, but mono no aware is amazing. I don't even have your classic 'weeb's' understanding of Japanese language or culture, but that idea is very relevant to me, nonetheless. If you're not familiar, it's a big part of why cherry blossoms are so revered in Japan.

Finally, the piece of this tattoo that might be the most meaningful to me: 'a mark who persists'. This phrase comes from an essay by the brilliant and sweet @MithGifs. It's truer for me than she could ever have intended, and when I read it, it rang in my heart like a bell. I am a mark, a wrestling fan. I am a mark, a person who is open to the world, sometimes to the point of being naive and foolish.

And I persist. I persist through third world poverty and mental illness and PTSD and malnutrition. Through joy and its end, through disappointment and hurt, hurricanes and dreams and depression. Through Latin charts and thinking I should get a trade working with my hands since I'm good at trivia, but I'm not a good thinker, and then finding out better...

Normally when I get tattoos, I don't choose ones that are deeply meaningful. Things I care about, but small things--knives and thunderstorms and herbs--but nothing that if it was ruined, would really hurt me. This is the first time in almost fifteen years that I've put my heart and my love on the line--on my sleeve, in fact. It's still relatively safe: El Generico is retired among the orphans, after all. The chance that he'll come back and do something terrible are statistically negligible. But it could happen, and it would crush me...

In those terms, a tattoo like this is like a moonsault: a blind leap of trust. Anytime we trust, we do so knowing that trust could be broken. Life is life, and anything could happen.

But we do it anyway. Because it matters, because we care, because...if we did otherwise, we simply wouldn't be who we are.

Wrestling is entirely made of trust, I think. (It can also be made entirely of art, or love--that's wrestling physics for you) The most urgent is the trust between workers, but the base level is the trust of the audience. We trust them to entertain us. We trust them to tell us stories, and to hurt us in the best ways, with sorrow and with purest joy. And they trust us to show up, to cheer, to shyly say hi at the merch table, to trust them.

So we climb up, unsteady, pulse racing, and we jump off, trusting that they will catch us, as they always have before.

May it always be so.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Note To Kota Ibushi, written before the G128 Final

Dear Ibushi-senshu, 

I am very new to wrestling. I wasn't around for most of my favorite stories. I missed all of Steen and Generico in Ring of Honor, I missed you and Kenny in DDT. It feels like a miracle that I'm here now, and that wrestling means so much to me. It has become my favorite art form.

You're about to compete in the G1 final and I feel compelled to tell you that I am utterly moved and compelled by your storytelling. By your sense of fun and danger, and your incredible commitment to this art form I love so, so much. You seem to have my favorite kind of madness--a madness dedicated to pursuing your quest, regardless of what society or anyone says about it.

The way you move is like magic. It's like superheroes. As a child, I wanted so badly for the X-Men and others to be real, and you're closer than I ever thought I'd see. It's not just the physical motions--many people can do a moonsault, after all. It's the way every line and curve of your body seems to communicate emotion and story. Normally, only storybook characters can do that.

You seem to make sense of movement and force the way I make sense of language--like it's innate.

Like it's my breath.

It's not innate, it's incredibly hard work, and to me that makes the beauty that results even more meaningful.

I find trying to communicate how much your matches affect me, and why, nearly impossible. I almost think that if it could be said with words, you'd be a writer.

In honor of you, your story and Kenny's, I had this tattoo done recently. It is my first wrestling tattoo. I hope it communicates better than my poor words.

With my fervent best wishes,

Autumn Dalzell

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Ich kann nicht anders.

Dear Wrestling,

I've cancelled my WWE network subscription. I have one last ticket, to a RAW before Summerslam, but I'm trying to give that away.

I have a good footing in New Japan now, and I have a beloved local promotion I attend monthly: given that WWE isn't my only source for wrestling anymore, I've decided to stop watching. To be clear, not only is not my only source, it's also the worst wrestling I watch in a week.

"Worst?? I thought you loved Kevin Owens! What about the New Day, they're why started you loving wrestling in the first place!"

Moral calculus is hard and brittle. I'm doing the best I can, and I assume those men are as well. This is what matters most to me, right now, in no particular order:

1. Hulk Hogan is a racist. He said so himself. Some of the best wisdom I've ever heard is Maya Angelou's "When someone tells you who they are, believe them. The first time."  He has made no sincere apology that I have seen, and has definitely not performed any actions that would show such an apology to be internalized and life-changing.

2. Vince McMahon is a fascist. He has his own small empire (and I use that term in the full historical sense, as an entity which has colonies from which it removes wealth while providing nothing of substance in return) and now that we have a fascist in the White House, he has redoubled his efforts to promote hatred and xenophobia--more than usual. His wife works for that evil administration, and he has at least once used its propaganda in a storyline (Sami Zayn and Bobby Lashley's "sisters").

3. My money doesn't go to support the wrestlers or their families practically at all. My understanding is that they get almost nothing from the network, around $3 on t shirts, etc. To be honest, I won't be noticed in my absence, let alone missed.

4. The writing is atrocious. It would have been dated and out of touch in the 90s, let alone now. Last week I heard Seth Rollins make a sheep-shagger joke about Drew McIntyre. In 2018. It was once much, MUCH worse of course, and this is taken as permission to remain lazy and dismal.

5. WWE retain an insane level of control of their workers, while giving none of the benefits associated in the modern world with working for a large corporation--health insurance, vacation, a work-life balance...

6. Much of this to say, these workers need to unionize desperately. I could see an argument for independent wrestlers remaining as they are, but WWE workers are at the (nonexistent) mercy of one man, ultimately, and a man who has proven at every chance that he does not have their well-being in mind.

There's more, of course, but this is what comes to mind easily. I just can't bear paying for the privilege of being disrespected as a human being on a weekly basis, not anymore. If the analogy is that it's 1938 again, and I believe we are in a version of that era, then I can't keep buying Bayer, I'm not buying a new Volkswagen, etc. Not when there are options that don't cause me to have a moral crisis every time the bill comes due.

Finally let me stress most of all that I understand deeply the need for escape in this world. I absolutely approve of that impulse, it is one that keeps us sane, as much as possible. I would never presume to make this decision for someone else: it's painful enough to make for me. I don't say any of this to judge or shame someone for choosing differently. This is my place to communicate with my own little god of Wrestling, and that's all.

I do still love those wrestlers. I hope they do well and stay healthy.


The Devil on My Back

Dear Wrestling, It turns out I probably have ADD. It's nice to have an explanation for why I can't seem to update things like this...