Schrodinger’s Cat

Alive? Dead? Alive? Dead?
It’s a bit less extreme, sure, but we change when we know someone is watching us. Performers perform. Athletes compete. Hell, as much as I am paying attention to my form right now for ME, I pay that much more attention when I notice Chris, or Jobst, or Neil, or Susan, or even a bunch of the newbies watching me. That’s part of why the CrossFit group training formula works: we’re all suffering together, doing the same thing, and sorta kinda competing with each other, so we are observing each other out of the corner of our eyes.
It can be fun also to notice how people’s behaviour changes when they notice they are being observed. How you perform differently when your boss, or your mother, or your girlfriend, shows up to watch your competition or your teaching of a class, or playing with a child. In some ways we’re more pure when we think no one’s watching, kind of like that strange line between actual modesty and false modesty can be blurry sometimes; when we know we’re being watched and we care, we change. We might show off a little. We might smile more. We might become more ourselves, or less ourselves, but we put on a bit of a mask which is that of the person we want to be seen to be, or the person we aspire to be, or the person that we think the watcher(s) want.
I guess I just enjoy watching people, and noticing what they do. It’s all a big dance, right? I love watching Neil jerk, Mona snatch, Jobst do wall balls, Rika row, Chris do butterfly pullups, Grant squat, Jeremy play, Kim move, Peter think. When people do what they’re good at and what they like, it can be beautiful. Whether or not they are showing off. Sometimes that showing off is what makes it go from good to exceptional.
I wonder what I do that’s the most beautiful. Maybe it’s notice things. I’m learning about myself that I’m a thinker, and a planner. I like to see patterns and think through solutions. I am certainly capable of getting involved in the details. But that’s not where I enjoy playing, and when I get sucked into the minutia it’s all encompassing and it’s hard to find the headspace to get out, into what I really like to do.
I also don’t like to feel like I’m wasting time. Going in a direction that’s wrong, or working on things I don’t care about, or trying to help people who don’t want to be helped, or coach people who don’t want to be coached. That sort of thing is just as soul-crushing as anything, as frustrating as an injury you’ve been battling with in one form or another for eight months.
It’s much better now, even with the couple of days of light training over the weekend. Kim didn’t believe me when I told him I was resting. What he doesn’t realise is that I’m also stubborn as sh*t. If I say I’m going to rest I’m bloody well going to rest. If I say I’m going to diet, I’m going to diet. Seeing fast results helps: I was feeling a bit fat after our little road trip, so a couple days of tight diet (excluding wine) and intermittent fasting and I dropped 2 kilos and am pretty much back to my normal training weight. Easy. And right in time to get bloated from plane travel; whee!
Similarly, I am finally to the point where I’m seeing results with my healing. The acupuncture will only do so much if I keep going and doing stupid sh*t, as I’ve been told countless times. But a new form of therapy that stimulates the nervous system to put muscles back where they belong, combined with the stupidly, shockingly painful fascial release, is doing wonders both for injury healing, and just to get my body back into proper alignment so I can be more powerful and less prone to injury. Sounds like nirvana, right? But it seems to be working: my hamstrings keep getting sore.
It’s kind of like when you’re sick and you don’t exactly remember what it feels like to be better, save for the absence of the crap feeling you are having. That’s how having a major muscle injury is: you vaguely remember what it was like to train, to sleep, to LIVE without constant awareness, if not fear: certain twisting movements are going to hurt, or strain, or worse. But I’m coming out of it now, at long last.
I’ve been thinking also about our own tendency to revise the past, to make it fit with how we want to remember it, to justify our own actions. Remember the Benjamin Franklin Effect? How you can look back on a relationship that was probably more good than bad, but have it poisoned in your mind because of how it ended. How you can look back on an employee’s performance and confuse “not always” doing what they should with “never” contributing in a meaningful way. In general how if you are not treating someone well in the here and now, you find things in their present or past behaviour to let you justify your current feelings about them and behaviour towards them. Or, if you are infatuated or obsessed with someone or something, it can do no wrong and you don’t see all the little flaws.
I was talking to a friend recently who seemed to me to be engaging in a bit of revisionist history. It was interesting. Well, in some ways I guess our memories are only our own and don’t really matter to those outside of us, except to the degree that they colour our present and future reactions to things. Geez, sometimes between the looking back and the looking forward it’s hard to know what we even really want, leaving aside all our potential fears about failure or loss or heartache.
Whatever. There’s no telling what our world will be like six months from now, or what we’ll be doing, or what our goals and aspirations will be at that point. We must remember as well that our own forward-looking goals and desires are shaped by others. Sometimes when people speak to me I can sense that they are trying to get me to see myself, or the situation, in a certain light, for their own purposes. I’m sure sometimes I read more into things than is actually there, and at other times I miss blatant manipulations.
One point that my friend Amy made to me on my last night in town was the difference between people you feel you need to have in your life and people that it’s just kind of nice to have around, for company or whatnot. Need is a strong word, and the way I am I don’t like relying on or needing anybody. But, there are certain people I want in my life more than others; certain people that if they died or moved away I would be devastated. That’s close enough. There are friends in the U.S. that fall into that category, people who I am excited beyond words to see, who I will probably try to crush the air out of when I see them (ok maybe not, I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone with a hug, even someone who was asking for it!).
The last few days were a whirlwind of activity. Even work, where instead of doing all the things I really wanted to do before I left, I wound up spending 80% of my time doing stupid stuff trying to sort out the slow internet and the up and down wireless routers. I really thought my days of pings and traceroutes and standing on shelves in server rooms to plug cables into things were done. That put me into a royally bad mood; I’m not going to lie. Also, you can tell I’m really tired when I stop speaking. True story. Insufficient sleep, nuff said.
But my interns gave their midterm presentations and I hope everyone was impressed. I was, and in both cases they contributed meaningfully to the business. Which is the only way to contribute, and the best way is to pick something important and focus on it. Focus, focus, focus is my mantra for the rest of the year. It’s easy to focus on diet, sleep, and training: that sh*t is easy. Trying to focus on the important stuff when there are people around intent on distracting you (not out of malice, but because their priorities are not yours), is hard. I love that office and those people though. Mandy’s cheer, Peter’s intensity, Hollie’s laugh, Anton’s pursed lips when he asks me a question, Jonathan’s voice, Zaheer’s fascination with my extra-curriculars.
Sunday night UEFA Euro final (Spain won), Monday I learned how to get out of a choke hold (haven’t practiced it yet but I know the theory), then dinner with Hermann, Lucien, Andrew, Michelle, and Susan at Hermann’s place. Awesome stuff: good people, good food, good fun. Tuesday night a drink with Mandy at &Union, followed by a coffee with Amy, watching Derek & Kim teach wing chun & shaolin, respectively, over to CrossFit to get my biltong for the plane, give goodbye hugs to Jobst & Chris, and to Lynda who is moving back to Ireland, and generally say goodbye to that environment for a couple of weeks, then back for qigong where I learned the end of the sequence we’re studying, and stayed after for a long chat with Derek about form, intensity, and injury.
Wednesday was a similar rushing around; starting with to Killarney Gardens to drop off Mona’s weights at the transport company. On the way I laughed because I was driving through a notorious township and some guys had a cable strewn across the road and were clearly in the process of stealing electricity (hooking up the shack lands to the grid is kind of a national sport, although of course Eskom discourages it), while a police car sat 50m away. Only in South Africa. One of those funny vignettes like when Susan and I were driving home from somewhere and had to stop for a goose to cross the road … and glare at us, like how dare we get that close to it before stopping for it to cross. Hilarious.
Then, to acupuncture which was as much of a social visit as a medical visit … and I am going to miss that place and those people a lot these next few weeks. I won’t miss CrossFit because I’ll be in the epicentre of CrossFit, but I’ll miss that cold room, everyone’s relaxed but serious attitude, Amanda’s straightforwardness, Bridget’s gentleness, Derek’s enthusiasm, Anna’s look when she’s fascinated, Shirfu’s quiet power, Kim’s laugh and smile.
Happiness makes me happy, and you can smell happiness from a mile away. I have a lot to look forward to when I get back: across literally every part of my life.
Anyway, afterwards, over to Starling Café for a fantastic lunch (both food-wise and company-wise: talks of leadership, ad hominems, cognitive biases, and sport always makes for a happy Ellie). That ran late, and I had to do a little bit of shopping then go home and pack. I was so proud of myself for fitting two suitcases into one (literally: my gym bag is inside my suitcase). I’m ready to bring some loot home! Dropped off a wallet I had found at the Woodstock Police station, then took about the longest possible route to Tygerberg Hospital (thanks GPS) where I picked up Susan and Talia, and from there to the airport where I choked down some food (strange thing about resting … I have NO appetite and am force-feeding myself because I know my muscles and brain need it).
So, leaving the land of rugby and rooibos, biltong and braai, Cape Town and car guards, Vida and driving on the left, for the land of the free and the home of the brave. American flags, Starbucks, catfish, Whole Foods, big SUVs, baseball, and the American dollar.
Should be interesting. Should be fun.
  • “I hope tonight’s aggression night.” – Zaheer
  • “Maybe just not as sweet. Or as fast.” “Or as strong?” – Susan & Ellie
  • “When he came back, he came back with a bang.” – Amanda
  • “You stuck with your team.” – Jobst
  • “It’s the mind that fails the body first.” – Derek
  • “You don’t know kung fu. You shouldn’t be walking around this town alone.” – Derek
  • “Good luck with all the good times ahead.” – Hon
  • “You had a protein bar in the week? That’s it. I’ve lost all respect for you.” – Ellie
  • “If you compete, you must go either to win, or to have fun.” – Kim (TRUTH)
  • “Stay anabolic!” – Kim (best parting words EVER)
  • “It’s about helping.” – Doug
  • “Remember, age is only a number.” – Mona 
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