Chapter Two; Part One
“Hey, Megan. How’re you doing?” Lydia’s rather saturnine features light up as I walk into the studio. She’s five years older than I am, and yet, she looks twenty years younger. She claims that it’s all thanks to taiji—she’s been studying for twenty-two years—and I can only hope it has the same effect on me. I’ve only been practicing for seven years, so I still have a ways to go. Her sandy blond hair is pulled back in a topknot, and her horn-rimmed glasses frame her green eyes perfectly. I’m the only one at the studio except for her so far because I can’t help but be fifteen minutes early to any appointment. It’s a result of being Taiwanese and perpetually arriving at events a half hour late, only to find said event hadn’t started yet.
“I’m OK. I met someone last night.” I smile at Lydia as I set down my weapons bag on the floor.
“That’s great! Did you get a piece?” Lydia smirks, her thin lips curving into a smile. She’s rather reserved with strangers, and her countenance is placid, but she has a raunchy streak that can rival my own which she only displays when she feels comfortable.
“Nah. I decided to wait. Delayed gratification and all.” What I don’t tell her is that I’m a bit gun-shy about being with a guy again. It’s been nearly ten years, and it’s very different than sexing with a woman. In my past, guys have been more critical of my body with an extra thirty pounds than have women. I find sex with women to be more collaborative, whereas guys either want to dominate or be dominated. I’m fine with some roleplaying, and I’m a switch when it comes to top/bottom (much like being bi), but it’s not something I need to do in order to be aroused. Tessa wasn’t into BDSM at all, and I didn’t miss it while I was with her. I have to admit, however, that the idea of having sex with someone new makes my pulse quicken. There is something almost reverent about approaching a new body and figuring out its likes and dislikes. And, I have to admit that Rembrandt’s ass looked perfect for squeezing. “What’s new with you?”
“I have a new private student,” Lydia says, her voice alive with excitement. She’s always looking to add to her income, so it’s no wonder she’s happy about having a new student. “He’s a coworker of Roger’s who’s going through a messy divorce.” Roger is Lydia’s husband, and he’s a construction worker with a great body. Hey, I’m a woman with healthy sexual appetites, and there’s nothing wrong with looking at the candy in the window, even if I’m on a diet. Which I am in this case because I most emphatically do not fuck around with my friends’ partners. “His name is Liam, and, man. The stories I could tell you about his ex would curl your hair.”
“No, they wouldn’t,” I retort. “I’m Asian.” After Lydia’s laughter subsides, she opens her mouth, but then shuts it again. She’s not given to gossiping about her students because she takes her position as teacher very seriously.
My classmates start trickling in, and I chat with them in an amicable fashion. I like most of my classmates, but I only see them two-to-three times a week, so I don’t know them that well. There’s one, Brandy, who’s a tiny brunette with endless energy, whom I wouldn’t mind getting to know better, but she’s never shown the slightest bit of interest, and I’d prefer not to fuck up my taiji classes if at all possible.
“Let’s get started, guys,” Lydia says, standing up and clapping her hands once. I look at her in envy as she stretches. She still has a dancer’s body, even though she eats almost twice as much as I do. I shove that thought to the back of my brain as I clasp my left hand over my right fist and bow to Lydia. She takes us through the warmups, and I allow my brain to drift to my current blog post about my favorite eateries in NE Minneapolis. I have a problem focusing on what I’m doing if it’s not engaging to me, which warmups aren’t. “OK! Let’s get into a circle for standing meditation. Six postures.” Lydia’s voice breaks into my reverie, and I glance around to see if anyone noticed. It doesn’t seem as if anyone has, which makes me feel slightly better. We’re not supposed to pay attention to our classmates while we’re practicing, but we’re only human. I will admit that I’ve snuck a peek at a classmate while we’re going through a form. I’ll note mistakes that they make, but only for my own edification. It’s really hard for me to notice my own mistakes if they’re structural, so it’s easier for me to notice it in my classmates and recognize that I do it myself.
I clear my mind and put my hands in the second posture, which is cupping them right below my don tian as Lydia’s timer beep. This is a difficult part of class, so I don’t practice it at home. To be more honest, I don’t practice it because I hate it. I’m not often able to keep my mind free of thoughts, but I’m getting better at letting go of the thoughts that enter my mind while I meditate. I breathe slowly and smoothly, dropping my tailbone so that my alignment is better. This is something I’ve been working on lately—making sure I’m not sticking my ass in the air. I find I have to drop my tailbone every time I think about it, which is discouraging. I’ll think I have good alignment, and then I find that my ass is sticking up. It’s less than an inch, but it makes such a difference. I’m able to bring my mind back to the meditation time and time again, and when we’re done, I’m fairly pleased with my practice.
Afterwards, Lydia has us do the first section of the Solo Form. I refrain from rolling my eyes, but I’m not a big fan of the Solo Form. Sadly for me, it’s the base for everything we do, which means we have to put a lot of energy into it. The first section of the form is my least favorite as well, but Lydia likes to go to it frequently because we have a wide variety of years experienced among all my classmates, ranging from six months to eight years, and the one thing everyone knows is the first section of the Solo Form. I decide to focus on my waist this time, using it to move my hands. It’s my favorite way of practicing the form, and it makes doing the first section more palatable. Once we’re done, we get a short break. I check my phone and notice that I have an email from Rembrandt. It’s short, but sweet, saying he had a good time dancing with me last night and wonders if I want to have dinner Friday night. I check my schedule and see that I’m free, so I email back and say yes. I suggest Karta Thai because I’m craving egg rolls, and he accepts with alacrity. We email back and forth a bit, and I learn that he’s a professional photographer. He sends me a link to his site, and I’m impressed with how alive his photos are. He has a knack for capturing the perfect moment; my favorite is a fluffy Chow puppy with his/her blue tongue hanging happily from his/her mouth.
“Advanced students, grab your swords. Megan, will you lead your classmates through the Sword Form?” Lydia asks, startling me back to the present. I had been lost in Rembrandt’s photos, and I slide my phone back into my purse. “You guys can have the back half of the studio.”
“Sure. My pleasure.” I grab my metal sword from my weapons bag and bounce to my feet. The Sword Form is my favorite, and I will never turn down an opportunity to practice it. Five of my classmates know the Sword Form, and they all grab their wood swords before joining me on the floor. I know that two of my classmates think I consider myself better than them because I use a metal sword, but it’s not that at all. I bought it three years ago at a demo at Lydia’s studio. The minute I touched it, I knew it had to be mine. It was the most expensive one there—what can I say? I have good taste—but Peter, the owner of Minneapolis Martial Arts, sold it to me at a ten percent discount, dropping the price to $132.00. Since it’s something I can use for the rest of my life as long as I take good care of it, I consider it a wise investment. I oil it every day with some kind of Japanese oil to keep it free of pits. It still looks brand new.
“Beginning students, come to the front with me. I’ll show you Cloud Hands.” Lydia walks to the front of the room, and four of my classmates follow her obediently. I grimace because Cloud Hands is one of my least favorite postures. Everyone else loves it because it’s so flowy, but I don’t care for the side to side motion.
I start the Sword Form, calling out postures as we go. A calm washes over me as I move my sword. I imagine it slicing through an opponent, neatly removing his head from his shoulders. I was a pacifist before I learned how to use weapons in taiji. When Lydia showed me the first few postures of the Sword Form, I began to have flashes of phantom enemies meeting the business end of my sword. It disturbed me so much, I talked to Lydia about it. She laughed and told me it was normal, which eased my doubts about it. I didn’t want to think I was becoming a bloodthirsty savage, but she assured me that picturing it in my mind was a safety valve against doing it in real life. I didn’t believe her at first, but after a few months of learning the Sword Form, I noticed that I was less bothered by everyday aggravations than I had been in the past. Someone cut me off in traffic? I just let them in with a muted cuss, rather than shouting at the top of my lungs at them. Someone blocked the aisle at the grocery store? I just gave them a gentle nudge and serenely strolled on by without fuming in my head about it. Someone called me a fucking cunt on the phone at work? I hung up the phone without swearing at them, which was a huge step forward. My supervisor had talked to me twice about my habit of talking back to our marks, but I couldn’t seem to help myself. I tried to bite my tongue, but a ‘fuck off’ slipped from my mouth before I could stop it. Now, however, I just keep the curses in my brain and my job isn’t at risk any longer. My shitty, $10-an-hour job that I do just to pay the bills and be able to write in my spare time.
“Black Dragon Twists Around the Pillar.” I pronounce my favorite posture, recently tempered by a change or refinement Lydia had noticed her teacher doing. It’s an elegant posture with an expression of explosive power at the end. I still like it, but not as much as before. “Immortal Guiding the Road.” I don’t get the names correct all the time, and I’ve come up with my own for several postures. I don’t usually care until I’m leading the class because I don’t want to fuck them up on the names. “The Wind Sweeps the Plum Blossoms.” I spin around, carefully holding out the sword. “Present the Tablet.” I feel reverential as I utter the name of the last posture, “Return the Sword to the Beginning.” I hold the end position for several seconds before relaxing. Doing the Sword Form refreshes me every time I do it, which makes me think I should do it more often. I walk over to Lydia, who is still teaching Cloud Hands to the newbs.
“Join us,” Lydia says after she finishes showing the footwork for the posture. I step next to her and go through the posture with my classmates. I notice that I’m not empty stepping properly, so I concentrate on that. After Lydia is satisfied that my classmates have the rudimentary knowledge of the posture, she tells us we’re going to do one round of the second section. “Those of you who don’t know the whole thing, put yourself in the middle of the group. I’ll say the posture names.” I take my customary spot to the right of Lydia and slightly back. I empty my mind best I can and start moving. The second section contains my favorite section—the Kick Section. Most people hate it because it’s difficult, which is why I like it. I’m weird like that—easy things bore me, whereas difficult things engage my brain.
I chat with Lydia for a few minutes before waving goodbye. I stop at the Eastside Co-op to grab a few things on my way home. I heat up a bowl of corn chowder I got from the deli, then feed Onyx and Jet several Greenies each. I have to feed Jet first, otherwise Onyx will scarf down her portion before snagging as much of Jet’s as she possibly can. She’s very food-driven, whereas Jet defers to her whenever possible. He is besotted by her, and lets her get away with murder. I poured myself a cup of coffee, then heat it up as well. I take my coffee and my soup to the dining room, then sit down to eat my impromptu meal. I scroll through my Twitter feed on my Android, but there’s nothing of interest. I have the word ‘Trump’ muted on Twitter because I was becoming overwhelmed with anxiety every time I saw his name. I know I have to keep up on current events, and I know I have to do what I can to make sure we don’t have a President Trump (I hate even thinking it), but it doesn’t do any good to constantly freak out about it. In addition, Clinton will win Minnesota. We’ve voted Democratic for president since Nixon, so my vote doesn’t really matter, despite the protests to the contrary. I’ve voted third party before, but I waited to see that Clinton (Bill) would take the state before voting for Nader. Honestly, I would do the same thing this time, except, despite my lukewarm feelings towards Clinton (Hillary), I do want to vote for the first female presidential candidate. It won’t mean as much as it did when Taiwan elected its first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, but it will be historic.