Paul Lord

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"It's all so very alive and jumpin' and in the pauses one can hear the atoms exploding out there in the Milky Way where the grass comes up every once in ten billion years and there are no moth balls, or frigidaires, no box office

receipts, no railroads, no crucifixions, rosy or otherwise...It is very far out, your Lordship."

-- Henry Miller (!) to Lord Buckley (!!)

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I can dig it.
 

[This is edited and hugely expanded from a long twitter thread, so go get your tea and block some time.  Sorry for anyone seeing it twice, I have tried to add enough to make it worth your while]

Ms. 16 and I spent the past weekend in Greensboro NC for the National Ninja League World Championships.  NNL is the bigger of the two competitive leagues that operate in the US, and has a broader international presence; there were kids and adults from over a dozen countries represented here, teams traveling from across Europe, South America, and Australia. It also seems much more connected to the professional crowd, with at least 20 folks competing in the "Elite" division who have also appeared on the American Ninja Warrior show. 

The other big league, UNAA, operates mostly out West and well...we have opinions.  You see, R. qualified for UNAA Worlds when she was 12, the same year she was chosen to appear on the first season of American Ninja Warrior Jr.  Being in LA for the show taping, meeting her favorite Ninjas, being surrounded by her people (ninja training definitely self-selects for a certain type of kid), winning 3 races and making the semifinals, that was all awesome.  But UNAA Worlds was the day after taping ended...The UNAA people knew this and made the absolute minimum accommodations for the kids who were doing both...we chose to take a red-eye rather than go from the airport directly to competing the next morning...the emotional high of the show was fading...not the best circumstances any way you look at it.  Then we get there and the event itself was a mess, wobbly courses seemingly slapped together from spare parts, no stable schedule or run order, extremely hardass referees who made the kids cry.  We wound up sitting and waiting for hours.  Then R. had a toe over the line right at the start, was failed for it, ended up dead last, and swore she would never go back to that event.  Which, we haven't, or even gone to any UNAA events that I can recall.  (Of course we haven't gone to *anything* over the past 2 years until the local and regional qualifiers in February).

By comparison, this giant NNL event was air traffic control at O'hare.  All of the courses were professionally rigged by one obstacle vendor (DGS; they are where I got all the hanging obstacles for the backyard gym I built for R), and structurally similar; mostly the same obstacles, just closer together with easier grips or helpful ropes for the smaller kids, or big gaps and grips that spin for the older kids and adults.  They managed to run 6 courses and 8 challenge skills simultaneously in the enormous Greensboro Coliseum complex, with over 1,500 competitors.  I mean: they got 300 kids aged 6-8 through their course in around 20 hours?  One every 4 minutes, 1:30 of which is the actual course time limit?  That is TIGHT.  They ran everyone through in waves, and the actual start times were never more than a couple minutes off the schedule, that I saw.  The Refs were extremely clear during the course walk through about what was ok, and what was a fail; this is critical, because some kids take bigger risks (foreshadowing) and they need to know "you can grab this to steady yourself, you can use this stanchion so you don't hit your head, but if you grab anywhere on the black part on the top of this widget, that's a fail."  In actual competition, the refs were fair.  Incidental contact wasn't an immediate fail, if it didn't give you some kind of advantage they mostly let it slide.  This is the correct approach, especially for the youngest groups!

The league works hard to give many different awards for different kinds of competitor.  The big one, the "World Championship" trophy, goes to the athlete in each age/gender category who makes it the furthest through the course, in the fastest time, without failing.  This matches the way they choose the winner on the TV show.  The course is split into 3 stages of increasing difficulty; the top 35% in Stage 1 move on, the top 20% in Stage 2 move to the final stage.  Aha, but! the World Championship includes the "without failing" part.  So if nobody finishes stage 1 and hits the buzzer in your age group, then the top % of folks still advance, but the big WC trophy goes to whoever was fastest/furthest on stage 1.

They give separate "Course overall" medals, gold/silver/bronze, like you do, to the people who makes it furthest overall in all 3 stages.  So you could sneak through stage 1 and 2 by the skin of your teeth, then manage to go one obstacle further on stage 3-- which was, honestly, an impossibly difficult looking course-- and you would get the Course Overall gold medal, but maybe not even place on the World Championship podium.

Then there were 4 specific Skills challenges, how well can you do this one specific ninja thing, like move across 1 inch wide "cliffhangers" on a vertical wall by the tips of your fingers, or swing for distance between oddly shaped hanging obstacles.  This is kind of like the individual apparatus events in gymnastics, beam or vault and such, where the course run (or course overall maybe) is more like the gymnastics "All Around" title.  They gave medals for top 3 in each skill, plus an "Overall skills champ" medal for the lowest sum-of-individual-skill-placement...so if you got second in all 4 skills, and someone else got 1st, 1st, 4th, and 5th, you win, because your total place sum of 8 is better than their score of 11, even though they beat you twice. Kind of weird I guess? But it allows a kid with one specialty a chance to get a medal, and also lets the kid who is really good in all skills but not the best in anything a chance to get a medal for their consistency.

Then finally, they add your "course overall" place to your "skills overall" place, and the lowest sum gets the title of "World's Strongest Ninja" for their category.  This is also a trophy, but smaller than the one for World Champion.

[OK SORRY, PREAMBLE DONE, THE STAGE IS NOW SET]

About that foreshadowing.  On Friday night, R was on stage 1.  All of the athletes found out only a few hours earlier that the time limit was 1 minute 30 seconds, an extremely aggressive time!  The league does this on purpose, to weed down the list for stage 2; they know some kids will get anxious, some will try riskier moves, some will just psych themselves out.  R. was moving smoothly through the course, then got over-ambitious, went for a skip move to save time, and fell off the third obstacle.  She got back up and made it through the sixth of seven obstacles before time ran out.  She fell well short of her hopes and expectations of herself, not to mention her abilities, and it was looking like a long rough disappointing emotionally chaotic weekend. Never mind that failing is part of the sport, the pros frequently fall on "simple" balance obstacles, the guy who won a million bucks fell on his second obstacle the next time he was on the show...nobody is perfect in Ninja, and if anyone gets close, they go and invent a new category of more difficult obstacles.  Failure being a defining feature of the sport is a tough thing to internalize, but she will get there. It's a process. But oooh there was a lot of processing happening Friday night.

[It doesn't matter at all or change anything, but I went back through the video on Monday.  Before and after her mistake, she was moving calmly and efficiently through the obstacles, like it was any given Saturday of training.  She landed on the mat and cleared the 6th obstacle at the 1:15 mark.  Nobody in the "young adult female" group completed Stage 1, everyone timed out or fell on the 7th obstacle.  The winning time for your eventual World Champion through obstacle #6 without failing was...1:21, six whole seconds slower.  I waffled on whether or not to tell her this, eventually did, but I framed it this way: Your average everyday pace is good enough.  You are strong enough, fast enough, smooth enough, all you have to do is clear as much of the course as time allows and at worst you will move on to stage 2.  This will be my sports psychology mantra to her from now on.]

We stayed for an hour more to cheer on the other two VT kids who qualified-- her best bud C. moved on to stage 2 for young adult males!-- then went back to the hotel to decompress.  She was pretty mad at herself, so I just waited.  Eventually she started explaining what her inside voice was saying, and we talked through that A LOT, then we talked about how shitty it is to be a 16 y.o. girl in this country, and expectations of girls are bullshit anyway, and she doesn't want to be a dumb blonde (she is a straight A student, basically? what? fuck the patriarchy) and she doesn't want to cry all the time with every little bit of misfortune, and why does her period always start on competition days, and and and.  She worried about her over-busy schedule, why is this one teacher so vague about what she wants on assignments, can she really get off-book for the Spring play this week, she is finally making a big group of friends with the weirdo theater kids and choir kids and the queer kids and there just isn't time for everything and and and.

I got her to admit that this particular event was slightly more than a little bit of misfortune (mentally, emotionally), and anyway "society" isn't in the room with us, so you should cry all you want on this shoulder right here, and Z's mom or the front desk or the pharmacy down the road has pads if she thinks she will run out, and while I can't fix all the stereotypes or expectations for 16 y.o. girls, I am always here and I can support you, whatever you need, or what's a dad for?  We talked about priorities. Ninja is a fundamental part of her self image.  She sets insane standards for herself.  She wants to be competitive with boys her age who are 15 inches taller than her, with a bigger wingspan.  She wants to get on the adult show and go further than other women have.  She trains 3 days a week but that kind of goal is going to require a different level of commitment.  Something has to give?

So.  As soon as they release the next season's schedule of NNL competitions, we will circle dates and make plans. We will travel anywhere a sane driving distance.  She won't quit on the play right now, but Spring theater is missable going forward.  She will still do the fall musical, because she needs that peer group and the singing and the acting and the whole let's-put-on-a-show thing in her life right now.  We will set a schedule to get on the backyard gym on off-days whenever the weather allows. I will look to see if we can get a personal trainer (we both could use one, honestly).  We will look at diet (although she eats pretty clean already just by living in this house).  We will make sure that she can train somewhere not-too-far-away when she goes off to college.  We will probably grab a couple weird grips to add to the mix, because the stuff on the later stages of the course was insane.

 Then she took a long midnight bath, then we switched topics and eventually we were talking about astronomy and biology and the Standard Model of elementary particles until she felt relaxed enough and "smart-blonde" enough to go to sleep, even though she still had questions about whether information leaks out of black holes (A. says, "So does everyone else?").

***

On Saturday we slept in.   Her wave of young adults didn't start the Skills challenges until the early evening, so we could rest, enjoy the bright clear 70 degree spring day in NC, walk a mile and a half to a lunch place, work on a little bio homework, grab a bonus nap, then make our way to the coliseum.

On her first Skill challenge of the night, she did this:

...which-- and she insists that I include all of these qualifiers because she is modest to a fault and also demands precision-- turned out to be the winning run for your 2022 NNL World Championship young adult female "Express Lane Skill" gold medalist.  BOOM!

The two skills in Express Lane are among the very first things you learn in ninja, right after "how to fall safely": keeping your balance while moving across weird slanted or wobbly surfaces, and the lache (la-shay, but I've never seen any ninja or coach spell it with a diacritic?), a swinging release move that you use all the time to move through the air from one obstacle to the next.  This version, the giant monkey bars, is the canonical form. We learned this weekend that the world record for longest bar-to-bar lache is 19 feet, which, what, no way, how did his shoulders survive the landing grab?

In this case, that is a 20 foot run, with 4 bars, spaced evenly but starting a little in from the ends.  Call it 6 feet between bars. Maybe that doesn't sound like it is far? but reader, let me tell you: it's no joke to fling your body that far and catch yourself. If you watch again you will see that R took exactly one extraneous swing; every single other move was linked in a continuous chain. Form-wise, a nearly flawless performance.  After the start, you get a point when you cross the middle of the lache bars and a point for stepping on the last slanted block before turning around; she was the only girl to score a full 8 points for two full "laps" of the course.  She would have beaten ~45 of the boys her age.  She. Slayed. It.

With that, in a mere 42 seconds, the entire weekend turned around. She appreciates the hardware, and the recognition, and all that, but the most important thing is: she was satisfied with herself.  She Did The Thing to her (unreasonable, like I say, she'll get there) standards.  All she wants from this sport is the knowledge that she can put it all together and perform as well as she believes she can (or, believes she can most of the time, and this run shut that inner doubting voice right the hell up). 

For bonus validation, on the next Skill, "Spiral Staircase", she did this:

...which wound up being good enough for third!  For this obstacle, it's basically how many times can you go up and down the upside down small twisting steps, holding your weight the entire time, but as the bigger kids learned: if you can still hold yourself with one hand and reach out from the third step to tap the bottom step, you can save a lot of time and grip strength on each end. 

[The fall at the end looks bad, and you can probably hear me wince, but they are falling onto 10" cloud mats, and that was actually an intentional drop.  I am actually glad she didn't decide to try to lache from the top all the way to the other end to tap the bottom step as she went by, and just dropped to let the last few seconds run out.]

They moved quickly between Skills; maybe 15 minutes between dropping off one and starting the next for each kid (staying on that tight schedule).  The next skill, "Full Swing" was of the "take as many attempts as you can in 45 seconds, we will count the points for your best run" variety, but it had an impossible-to-resist skip move; she went for it and missed.  Eh, I would have told her to try it too, it looked reachable (and might have been if that had been her first skill, with fresh hands).  The last skill was a row of cliffhangers, 1" square rods tacked to a wall at different heights that you move back and forth on while hanging by your fingertips. She did pretty well there! but there was absolutely no way to get a good angle to film it, so you will just have to imagine her zooming back and forth, sideways, 6 feet off the ground.  All I could see was her feet!

Her final four Skill places: 1, 3, 5, and...uh, 32.  For the Skills Overall standings, that put her sixth.  Add that to her Course Overall place (23rd), and for the Strongest Ninja standings, she was 14th.  To anyone else, me for example, 14th place out of the top 56 qualifying young ladies in the whole dang league is pretty good!  But for her, irrelevant.  She plays this game for herself, and she found the joy in it after a rough start.

Photo bombing courtesy of her VT teammates who also qualified, Z and C.

C even hit the stage 1 buzzer and advanced to stage 2!  Which was so brutal only a dozen young men cleared it.  Stage 3: none of them cleared it, and about 80% got peeled off on the second obstacle of 7 😳 If you win Course Overall, you earn it!

***

Scattered other trip and event notes:

Since we were most thoroughly in The South, I took these pale Vermont kids to a Waffle House. Other than the quality of the "syrup", they approved (and the tea-spilling Waffle House staff was *hysterical*. All I know is I don't ever want to work third shift with Duane, he's gonna burn that place down by accident one of these days). We should have gone late night, for that full dimensional crossroads/liminal space/cryptid hostel experience, but this wasn't that kind of trip really.  Instead we went for an early dinner in between the final stages, and I told them tales of the year I lived 5 miles from college and biked back and forth every day, with a Waffle House on the corner of the gravel road that led back to the farm I lived on.  I wrote a lot of papers, drank a lot of coffee, and ate a lot of hash browns at that Waffle House, I tell you hwat. 

The young ladies of our group saw a big billboard for the local Hooters, and were amused for about 12 seconds until they asked me about it and I had to explain 😕 They were both already kind of "why are men?" and this just put another check mark in the "Seriously, why?" column...

I continue to be extremely impressed with the overall Ninja crowd, kids, adults, parents, and professionals alike, which continues to be one of the most supportive and least toxic sports communities I've ever seen. The kids are cut from the same cloth, and the parents who go all-in with them are (mostly) awesome. The one dude who spent the weekend circling the enormous gymnasium complex making sure everyone had an opportunity to see his "I WILL NOT COMPLY" shirt was an aberration.  The professionals in attendance were gracious, generous with their time even as they were warming up to compete.  We went to a Q&A with Najee Richardson, Isabella Wakeman, and Joe Moravsky, where they made sure every little kid got to ask their question (and later, get a signature on whatever garment or limb they wanted).

A moment stands out.  A young (10?  12?) NB kid introduced himself and explained his situation, going so far as to use his AFAB deadname.  He was looking for guidance on what category to compete in, since his presentation no longer matches his birth gender.  This was clearly a new Q for the pros, not one they had any practiced answer for, but Joe stepped up.  It would be kind of risky to give firm advice of the "Joe Moravsky says I should compete with the boys" variety, right?  That is a possible mine field.  The kid seemed to be at this Q&A solo, no parents in attendance, so who knows what the support situation is like at home?

Instead, Joe went to great lengths to validate this kid, welcome them, encourage them to follow their heart, but also: you don't have to have a final answer to this question right now.  "We want you in this sport as your authentic self, but we all-- all sports-- have some learning to do and some guidelines to figure out, just like you are figuring yourself out."

I'm not doing it justice, and I'm misquoting.  Basically it was a nuanced, sensitive, fundamentally kind answer, and the kid was smiling on his way out the door with his signed shirt.  I should write Joe commend him for how well he handled it.  I think I will.

The awards ceremony at the end of the event was looooooooooooong, but a lot of people stayed through the end and gave all these athletes the applause they deserved.  Remember my description of all the scoring and awards, way back at the top of this monstrosity?  There were strange results!  A very young girl, maybe 7, swept first place in all 4 Skills, Skills Overall, and Course Overall, so she got the Strongest Ninja, and...did not even podium for the "World Champion" trophy, because she fell early in her Stage 1 run!  Contrariwise, the World Champion for R's division, farthest fastest w/o fail on stage 1, won zero other hardware of any kind in any category. 

ANYWAY.

This is one of my main Dad jobs now, and has been for a few years.  I am, obviously, enjoying it enough to overshare🤘

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I've only consumed parts of this so far, but I'm bowled over by the emotional intelligence you, R., and that Joe guy are showing.
I loved reading this. I say *chef's kiss* to your Most Excellent Dad Skillz as R processed that rough patch. Seriously, you nailed that. (As did Joe as he spoke to the NB athlete. Wow. Nicely done.)

When I watched that first video of R doing that lache/angular surfaces run, my jaw hit the dang floor at her incredible strength and agility. But when she turned around and came back towards the camera, I said out loud to no one, here at 2:06am in my kitchen: "HOLY CRAP! She did all that in a mask!?" I love masks, yet I will still kvetch because it's harder for me to breathe when I go for a brisk walk while wearing one... and here's R doing freakin' ninja stuff in one. No more kvetching from me!

I'm so happy for all of her successes, Ninja-ing and beyond. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. Y'all are really awesome humans.
Yeah, didn’t she just get over a case of COVID, like, two minutes before competition?
Pretty much. All her symptoms cleared, and she tested negative right beforehand. Sheer luck.
But imagine if she had been at 100% lung capacity, unmasked?
Uh maybe? I mask for my fitness class, and other than being a little more sweaty underneath it, I don’t notice any difference in terms of air.
This is amazing!

BTW, did/do you know the Compton-Meyer family? Acquaintances of mine from Philly. Their 12-year-old son was a competitor but passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in mid-March. I understand some of his peers were there and I wondered if you might have been wondering at any tribute you may have seen for Noah.
I do not know the Compton-Meyer family. There was a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies, and a very nice tribute speech after the medal presentations, for two people who recently passed, an athlete and a coach, but I do not remember the names so I can't confirm it was for Noah :(
Everything about R's freak out after the first day is... well... being smart and 16 and female. There's no way to make it easier. The only way out is through, but she is not alone. I love what this sport offers her and I'm deeply sorry it's not something we knew existed when B and G were deciding how they felt about sports. Softball has been a very mixed bag community-wise. A great pitching coach has kept G engaged, but I have often wondered at what cost. This last year or two we've found a balanced community in the U18 league -- one that doesn't exist in U13 or in the high school or god-forbid in the travel softball community. Anyway, this is pretty amazing stuff. I'm super happy for her!!!
What concerned me a little is that I knew she was just mostly really mad at herself for that one little mistake, but it spiraled right out into a big everything-is-wrong-maybe-it's-me meltdown. Which...that's a pattern I recognize. It took a while (I didn't share all the turns of that part of the conversation), and we took the long way around the topic, but we did finally get back to ninja-related specific goals and tentative plans to address the "one little mistake" and that kind of damped down the "everything" and then we could wind down for sleep after some random, completely unrelated "dad knows things" chatter.
Your concern is understandable -- but also it sounds like you did the best you could with it and got her over the hump. *hug*
 
This is not a self-referential poem.

In fact, it's completely obsessed with talking about all of 
the other poems that influenced it, those poems which

once

were read by poets come and gone, or in other cases come
and not gone so much as moved quite far away, or had their
weltanschauung changed so greatly that this poem is not any
longer
particularly
impressed
as such things go

This poem is extremely, embarassingly well read;
it just finished
the Cantos (that wretched man),
and
the Duino Elegies (translated, sadly (but well-)
and it re-read
The Sonnets
for the umpteenth time just last weekend... this poem has an inferiority complex

It wants to apologize for its existence, but it can't seem
to find the right words. Which is just so...much...a thing It has big important neighbors, this poem, and often gets
lost in the shadows, but at least it's not a self-referential
poem...this poem doesn't like self-reference, and honestly
resents being the work of a poet who does This poem would consider itself a complete failure if it
didn't have something in common with the Iliad, namely,
this poem doesn't end, it stops
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10/28 '19 5 Comments
Well. That was familar. :)
Karen Hoofnagle 10/29 '19
I had forgotten about it completely!

Apparently I made some edits in 1999? So this is the final draft :)
Paul Lord 10/29 '19
Actually I don't remember reading it -- for all I knew it was brand new. However, it is a headspace full of sentiment as familiar as a pair of old shoes.
Karen Hoofnagle 10/29 '19
🥰
Paul Lord 10/29 '19
But I was still waiting for a closing parenthesis!
Brian Rapp 10/29 '19
 

Well now that I'm inviting others to OPW by the handful I guess I better buckle down and write more often than once every couple years...

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12/22 '18 4 Comments
LOL
Thomas Boutell 12/24 '18
*dryly*

That would be nice.
Anne Mollo 12/22 '18
Speaking from a position of experience... don't rush it, man ;-)
Waider 12/23 '18
Let me know how it goes for them, and if any little adjustments might help.
Thomas Boutell 12/25 '18