I see the world as a space to evolve and live a life worthy of a best-selling novel. I may never be famous, rich or a perfect idol; those narratives are boring and flat and only worthy of Twitter feeds or Yahoo! News. Instead, I have sought a life that develops with a wide range of challenges and successes. I have failed. I have been hated and mocked. I have been briefly praised, too. For me, Rudyard Kipling’s “If” resounds deeply:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same…
As I drink my afternoon espresso, hold little Phoebe, and wear my blue ranked rashguard because it was the closest shirt I could find after being vomited on, I pause. Why do I even own a blue rashguard when I remain a lowly white belt? Am I delusional? Am I a fraud? No.
Life is difficult; almost impossible at times. Life in the moment is often overwhelming and that chaos causes many great men to lose their path. They simply abandon their dreams to the drama of society. For my entire childhood I did this. I began a great number of hobbies, sports and arts only to leave when I felt challenged. I began guitar, judo, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, Army cadets, cycling, acting, writing, running and even karate. I left them all. I finished nothing difficult until I arrived in Montreal to begin my Master of Arts at McGill University. I began with the awareness that I might fail; I decided that despite having no money to live past February, I would go until I faltered and fell. Like brave Ulysses, I would “sail until we die.”
Feeling the pressures of not being as crafty as my peers nor having Daddy’s bank account to help me appear like a Bohemian, but really be able to access unlimited funds for books, dinners, wine and culture. Hell, I did not own my own computer to write my essays and MA thesis. At the end of September I realized my plight and decided to do the insane: I would spend $300 of money I did not have to buy a McGill varsity jacket made by Roots. Like the Trojans I studied, I knew that the only way through war is to burn the ships at the shore so that the only way home is through. Never look back. If I bought the jacket, then the disgrace of returning home without my degree would be too much, and it was that jacket that helped me visualize graduating from McGill. So I did. Most importantly, I found a way to take on the world. So I do.
In the two decades that have followed I have taken on a myriad of struggles. I picked back up the guitar, then bass at HUMBER College’s Jazz Workshop classes, until I focused on the banjo two years back. I became a professional photographer who shot everything from cookware to axes to book covers and cider promotionals. I became Head of English for eight years at Canada’s leading boys’ school. I traveled across the world in the moments in between, and learned to cook some pretty killer food. I convinced my life’s love to risk it all and marry me. I built a biography filled with valleys and peaks, and met with unfettered success…until I encountered Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the possibility of becoming a father to the little girl I am holding in my arms as I write.
Children are our lives’ greatest joy and struggle. They demand our sleep to disappear, they divert us from all other commitments, and they stretch our abilities. But again, having a child is burning the ship on the shore and knowing that you will be engaged for the remains of your life, IF you are victorious.
Jiu-jitsu has become my counterpoint battlefront. It robs me of complacency and rest. It demands that I take care of my health and schedule my commitments perfectly so that I can make my two classes a week. I use all of my “me” time to make progress and jiu-jitsu has given me back whatever I put in, often more. In the end, I am still that same university student though; he knows he needs to imagine his next level of success and that sometimes the only way to hold on and never quit is to make quitting impossible for the ego to take. So yes…I have a few blue ranked rashguards and a very special belt that sits in a box in my basement. It symbolizes a battle victory for me beyond any other. While I have no right to wear any other symbols of achievements, as I have not achieved them. But I will. And each day’s small victories will eventually achieved the results I visualized standing on these self-same shores a year ago. Until that night when I earn the right to wear such honours, my ships will remain burnt and my dreams remain just beyond my grasp, until they, too, become part of my life’s story. Oh…and on the belt I have had my life’s motto embroidered: solve et coagula…dissolve and rebuild. Words that stood as the foundation of our past’s higher realizations: alchemy. Tomorrow is Open Mat, and I will begin the fight again, after another night of cuddling my little daughter through sleep and back again from the undiscovered countries in her imagination.