Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Pathology of Winning

I was out at dinner with a friend once, and he ordered a whole tray of sushi. Now, I'm a huge fan of sushi, its probably my most favorite food ever. And I can put away a lot of it, even though, oh, I try SOOO hard to savor every bite.

When this tray of sushi came to the table, it had all kinds of things I'd never eaten before, and I was excited to start popping it into my mouth. All except the spider crab. That creeps me out. It has an exoskeleton. I'm not sure what it is, I don't have anything against things with an exoskeleton, I mean, we all have to exist somehow, right? And that's a pretty cool way to be. But it doesn't mean I'm keen to eat it.

"Wow. Doesn't eating the shell of the crab creep you out?" I ask.

Now, my friend, being a fairly savvy, intelligent man, with a wicked sense of humor, gets an evil gleam in his eye.

"No, it doesn't creep me out. Why, Kate? Does it creep you out?"

Oh dear. I feel it coming. I can feel it inside. The will to win. In me, it feels like the thrill of putting my will up alongside my fear and seeing which one is stronger. I try to gravitate toward the part that feels fun and funny to me, and let the fear be a component of that, rather than letting the fear swamp me and dampen my ability to do what I need to do to Win.

In this case to win against myself; my fear, my prejudice, my friend's glee, (he'd already won, anyway, he knew I didn't want to do this, and he also knew there was no way I wasn't going to...), I needed to put a bunch of fried, spiky, hairy crab leg skeletons into my mouth. Ugh.

Well, when it comes to deciding to do potentially dangerous things on my skis, bike and snowboard, my fear is my friend, we work together. When it comes to putting bugs of ANY kind in my mouth... blehh! I have goosebumps and heeby jeebies just THINKING about it.

My friend smiles at me. Dapper. Handsome. Totally in control. He points casually at the spider roll.

"I want you to eat it."

"What?" I ask, although I know this is coming. I am stalling for time, checking inside, how important is it to win? What will I be wining against? What will I be giving up in order to win?

Answer: Its not that important to be the victor over him, to win. I felt that come up, so I have permission to back off if I want to, and just say, No way, that's too gross, that's my boundary, I'm not doing it.

But hey. This is dead, deep fried in tempura, I like crab, it is more the IDEA of the skeleton that is stopping me from winning.

So what would I win against? I'd win against my own prejudice that was keeping me from experiencing something. Something I know is safe. I would win against a nonsensical fear. I would win against fear.

"Okay. I will." I say, defiantly, a huge shiver going all over. There is no hiding it. I am creeped out and thrilled at the same time. "I'm totally creeped out." I admit.

He smiles. His teeth are very white. He looks like a movie star or a bachelor of the year, I'm not kidding you. He leans back in his chair and crosses his legs. I'm not sure if, for him, this is about making me squirm, seeing how far he can push me, or watching me eat what he tells me to. Who cares. Game on.

He points a long, elegant finger at the end piece. The one with all the legs sticking out of it like its going to stand up and walk away any second. He can barely contain his mirth, his eyes are laughing hysterically.

"That one." he says.

How did I know it?

Admitting I was creeped out beyond all did two things for me, here. First of all, it put the fear out there. It wasn't a secret that I was scared, for either of us, and while this is a fun game to play, it was a tactical choice on my part. Admitting the fear exists takes some of its power away.

Lucky for me, the only consequence was that I was now faced not just with the crisply sliced cross pieces of some sort of Damien Hurst goes to dinner specialty roll, now, in order to Win, I had to put the creature proper in my mouth. Well, that was the only consequence I was willing to consider. Of course, we are playing more than one game, here.

I reach for it with my chopsticks, feeling slightly out of body. Am I really going to do this? What if it DOES make me puke? What if it is worse than I thought? And then, QUICK on the heels of that negative thought, my tough coaches voice, internally: (it sounds like R. Lee Ermey) ITS FOOD! YOU WILL EAT IT AND IT WILL BE FINE!


It almost drowns my friend out as I casually dip this enormous (much bigger than my mouth) end cap of Spider roll in too much Soy Sauce. Really. Why do they have to call it a spider roll? It looks like a tarantula, all I can think is it could come to life and get out of my chopsticks and bite back, I'd run screaming from the restaurant, some insane amalgam of spider and deep fried crab attached to my bottom lip, which is swelling at alarming proportions, its eyes are gleaming, little bits of sprouts waving tantalizingly from inside its hip seaweed belt... god help me WHY do I always have to win?

On the outside, I hope, I'm all business.

He sees that I'm serious. I'm committed now, its a matter of execution. The place and time for fear has come and gone, now its about tactics. How much soy sauce do I need? How much longer can I wait before the fear comes back? HOW am I going to eat this?

"The whole thing." he says, upping the ante. I freeze and look at him, hoping I look saucy and game.

"I want you to put it in your mouth, and eat it. The whole thing. Right now. And I want you to chew it." He says. The mirth is gone. This game is worth winning for all kinds of reasons right now.

I feel calm inside, exacting, there is a time for mirth and play. There is a time for pride.

Oh, dear. Here it occurs to me that one can loose oneself in one's desire to win. I mean, really. Yes, I could cram this whole thing in my mouth and choke it down and win because I'm a tough chick, and while I'm busy convincing myself that that's true, there is something to be said to enjoying the experience of winning. Or of the journey that you take as you attempt to win. I certainly wasn't going to put this thing in my mouth with the intention of LOSING!

I raise an eyebrow at my opponent, and dunk one more time. "The whole thing? Are you sure?" I ask him, smiling. It doesn't matter what its made out of, I've already decided that I can eat it. Now, there's a new level to win at: can I enjoy it? I mean really enjoy it. Can I get past my prejudice and fear and find something in the experience, whether its me conquering my fear, or the taste of the crab, or even the crunchy texture of the shell that I can savor and enjoy?

It happens on my skis as well, there are times when I feel like, SCREW IT JUST GO! And I'm in, I'm all in, and it looks, and feels like a total goat rope. I'm proud of myself for doing it, but there is something missing in the touch side, in fact, when I go in in this kind of shape, I, more often that not, miss the ride completely!

I look my friend in the eye. He has realized that I'm going to do it. I see his loss, but his victory, and surprise in his dark eyes. His slipper-ed foot, clad in Prada, jiggles slightly, the only concession to his eagerness to see if I'll really do it or not.

I look at my chopsticks. All in. I open my mouth and put that giant, spiky thing in my mouth, as much as I can fit, all at once. My cheeks fill up like a chipmunk, one crusty leg is poking out of my lips, I chew.

"Chew it." he says, cheering me on, now. I can't believe I've done this. Once again, I'm in way over my head. Its MUCH more roll than I thought it would be. There is no way to get this done elegantly. I cede my need to win the finesse part of the game and just enjoy the ridiculousness of the situation, (something else that often happens to me on my skis, just when I realize that the snow is much more like Monkey Snot than I expected, and while I'm going to do the best I can to ski it well, I'm also going to let myself laugh all the way down every time I get off balance.)

Of course, in this instance, if I burst out laughing like I want to, my friend is going to find himself covered in crab and rice, not to mention little bits of skeleton. I smile as best I can, sucking that errant leg inside my mouth as soon as there is room and finish it off.

He laughs, the game is over, and I feel the thrill of victory. I flush with excitement, it wasn't bad, the crab is tasty, the skeleton is crunchy, I'm tempted to eat another piece (but not the end) just to prove that I can. He raises his glass, a laughing smile on his face, and I insist inside that I knew I could do it all along, I own it, I am the girl that ate the spider. Hear me roar.

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