Two weeks ago Sunday: the second half of the new draft of my and Alice’s now-65,000 word manuscript was due the next morning. (How did we add 15,000 words? When did we find the time?). It needed fourteen more hours of attention before we could send it to our editor and go to bed in our respective time zones. Along with those fourteen hours of editing, Alice had to start packing up her entire apartment and I had to conjure up an additional five hours to take Jackson to his karate testing 20 miles south, in Ventura. I also hoped to find 6 to 8 hours in which to sleep before my new job started at 8:30 the next morning. I have long rued the day that our country rejected the metric system, trapping us in years bloated with 12 months and days that last a mere 24 hours. But I knew that, even though I lacked a clock divided into 100-minute hours, I could cram it all in somehow.
Since Jack had been shopping, cooking, and kid-wrangling for weeks to give me the space to work, and despite the overwhelming pressure that this was the last day Alice and I had to rewrite (and dear God, suddenly it seemed like there was a lot to rewrite), he needed a day off, so I sucked it up to go be a karate mom. It was okay. All that acupuncture I’d been having for my lady parts was having the side-effect of making me supernaturally calm. Plus I heard that some teenage girl black belt was going to be demonstrating the Shaolin Double Chain Whip! It was all going to be very Jackie Chan. I wasn’t going to miss it.
The testing was closed to observers, but after killing an hour (AN HOUR WITH ONLY 60 MINUTES IN IT) at J. C. Penney buying pillowcases and washcloths, I arrived in time to watch the belt-giving-out ceremony. Chinese lion dancers then came out and tossed an orange back and forth between their mouths. Getting hit by the orange would give you good luck for a year! Some karate guy muscled past all the kids to get up front, and then the lion dancers threw the orange right at him. However, the rest of us who had not TOTALLY RIGGED our luck and had thus avoided being bruised by flying fruit could still ask fortune to smile upon us somewhat more safely by sticking dollar bills into the lion’s mouth. Yes, there was shrieking. Adorable shrieking!
And then, of course, there were feats of strength. The sensei brought out a stack of 3/4″ plywood cut into 2′ x 2′ squares for people of various ranks to try and break. Some of the littler yellow belts set boards against concrete stairs and stomped to break them in half. An older brown belt with dyed red hair went KEEYAAAAH! and snapped one in half with her bare hand.
Then Jackson went up to his sensei and said, “My mom wants to break a board.”
Me: “No, I don’t.”
Jackson: “Yes, you do.”
Me: “Why don’t you do it? Mr. Orange Belt. Mr. Bossy Boots.”
Jackson: ‘DO IT, MOM! DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT.”
Sensei, sizing me up: “I can teach you what to do.”
Me: “Buuhhhh . . .”
Sensei: “You can do it.”
This was the guy who’d just performed an archery demonstration wherein he’d shot an arrow through an apple seventy feet away, so I figured maybe if he thought I could do it, I could do it. He told me how to stand and how to pull back with my left arm while thrusting through the board with my right, palm out flat. I took a couple of practice thrusts. They were terrible.
Sensei: “Twenty percent harder.”
I am here to tell you a couple of things about trying to break a board with your hand. One is, don’t close your eyes when you hit it.
Me (hopping up and down and clutching my stinging right hand): “I think I closed my eyes when I hit it.”
Sensei, trying not to smile, holding intact board: “I think you did, too.”
Jackson: “TRY IT AGAIN, MOM!”
Sensei: “You want to try it again?”
Jackson: “DO IT, MOM! DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT DO IT!”
Me: “Jesus Christ my hand stings like shit.”
Sensei: “Twenty percent harder.”
Me: “Uh, sorry about the cursing.”
Sensei: “Push through the board.”
And you know what? On the second try, I did it. I DID IT, I BROKE THAT MOTHERFUCKING BOARD INTO THREE GODDAMNED PIECES.
I was high for about a hundred minutes after I did it, too. Adrenaline is no joke, my friends. My hand wouldn’t feel right until Wednesday and I didn’t even care. I went home and edited the CRAP out of that manuscript, and after five hours of sleep, I went and had an absolutely stellar first day at my new job.