Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Knee, My Loss of Speed, and My President

This is my most recent soccer injury. I have decided that this is a "moderate level quadricep contusion." I found that on the internet. The bruise is located just above my left knee (to the right in the picture), where I was cleated by a goalie in a co-ed game. He had no reason to be slide-tackling me. I still cannot bend the knee much past 90 degrees.

When I was in junior high, some 25 years ago, I used to play indoor soccer 5 times a week. We'd have games starting as late as 11:30 at night. I played soccer until I was 19 and then didn't play again until I was 25. I stopped again and didn't start again until I was 33. I hate the way my body has gotten slower. Even when I'm in shape, I don't have the speed and quickness today at 38 that I had even at 33. When I was 33, I played indoor on three teams and was always getting hurt, which should have told me something. But I played with a 45-year-old woman who could run circles around the women in their twenties and I figured I should be able to do as well as she. During that period, I went to the emergency room for concussions on two different occasions, one of which came from hitting my head on the wall and the other from catching a shot on goal in the face. The second hit me so hard that I couldn't fully open or close my jaw for two days. The other time I went to the hospital was for my collarbone, which I thought I might have cracked. There is still a hard lump there. My legs are relatively short and muscular, which is why I think I have never had problems with my knees and ankles. When I trained for a marathon in 2005, I did have some illiotibial band tightness and pain, but I managed.
I was about 33 when I started to notice that I was aging. It's an odd thing, since I'd always heard people older than me joke and laugh about their bodies falling or drooping, cellulite and jowls developing, and so on. Certainly, there had been people whom I noticed aging in the face, their hair turning grey or white, usually friends of my parents. But I never noticed any sign of it in myself. There were a few mornings after long nights of decadence in college when I'd looked in the mirror and thought, wow, this is how I'll look when I'm 50, but things generally snapped back into place after a day or two. I don't have much vanity about my looks--I'm not unpleasant to look at, unless I'm crying or angry. But I am certainly nothing to start writing poetry about either. Still, as a member of a society that places such tremendous value on the visual qualities of most everything (except what cannot be seen), I am certainly conscious of how I look and try not to sicken myself or others with my appearance. What was my point? Right, so my body is getting old. I have a little brown spot on my hand that I know will grow into a liver spot eventually. And there are deep creases between my eyes, over my nose from glaring at computer screens and books and students all the time. I have two grey hairs on my head that appeared around my 30th birthday and even one grey pubic hair. The worst thing though are my legs, especially just over my knees. When I stand with both my feet on the ground, all of the skin and fat sort of settles above my knee. I am pretty active so it doesn't fold over or anything, but I can spot the beginnings of some puckers. In principle, I care nothing about aging; I try to regard growing old as part of living. Aged people are often quite beautiful, especially if they are content with their lives and have their health and are able to participate in something that interests them. Happy people, regardless of their features, tend to be beautiful--animation is part of it, but also happiness is pleasant to look at. In principle, then, I am not opposed to aging or to looking older, but still, one gets used to looking a certain way. And it seems like being older hit me suddenly and accelerated quickly. Really, I am more disturbed by how slow they've become than the appearance; I could attribute my short strong legs to my peasant heritage or something. But the slowing down: where's the burst of speed, the stopping and starting, the weaving and darting?

I was thinking about aging last night while listening to Obama's acceptance speech. Presidents always look much older after four years in office. Somewhere I saw before-and-after photos of several presidents--a magazine article maybe. It was striking how profoundly the stress affected the men's appearance.

While listening and watching Obama's acceptance speech on TV, surfing the web for images of knee injuries that looked like mine, and thinking about how quickly soccer-playing women and presidents age, I was also on the phone talking with a friend about the rhetoric of race, or what there has been of it, in this election. I am puzzled by the repeated use of the phrase "first black president," since the man is bi-racial. Is he "black" because he has chosen to affiliate with that aspect of his heritage over the European? Is it better to be "black" than bi-racial? More noble to claim African descendancy than to claim both African and European? If Obama says, "I am a black man," everyone nods. What if Obama said, "I am a white man"? Would that be equally acceptable? It would be agreeable to think so, but I am skeptical about the public's ability to err in both directions. Is he "black" because fathers are more important to their children's identities than mothers? Is he "black" because, as a nation, we still operate by some form of the "one-drop rule"? Is he "black" because for others or for Obama himself to call him "white" or even bi-racial would look too much like denying affiliation with a racial group that for too long has been denied full credit for its part in helping to begin, build, and keep this country going? Is he "black" because that is the least complicated rhetorical road for him to travel at this point in history? Well, none of this is all that much about Obama himself. I would have voted for him regardless of what racial identification he claimed or that others assigned to him. I agree with my friend Joanna, though, that it seems rather late in our history as a nation to still be having so much difficulty with the idea of bi-racialism or multi-racialism.


joanna said...

I once read something about how some of our inability to accept (or even see) the categories of “biracial” or “multiracial” are a result of the differences between Protestant-based colonization/enslavement practices and Catholic-based ones. The Catholics allowed for a certain amount of cultural/racial syncretism or mestizaje, in order to facilitate the whole process of imposing hegemony on indigenous and/or enslaved peoples. Protestants don’t go for this, at least in the official narratives; thus, we are still wedded as a culture to our dichotomous notions of race. (And it’s interesting that the “race issue” is still largely conceptualized as a black/white issue, despite the fact that, arguably, the largest presence of unassimiable, unacknowledged Otherness in our nation is the underclass of legal and illegal Latino workers.)

But here’s another thing—maybe Barack Obama is “black” because he has largely been perceived as black in his lifetime. He has a history of having to negotiate the category, and therefore, to a certain extent, he claims (or others claim for him) affiliation with the category. I very much like your point about how problematic most people would find it to describe him as “white,” despite the fact that he is just as “white” as “black” . . . and was raised by his white family!

BARACK OBAMA IS THE PRESIDENT ELECT!!!! Shout-out to Ann Nixon Cooper.

(p.s.—I love the story of the second time you busted your jaw playing soccer because in my mind it’s associated with a story you told me about going on a train to a job interview in Princeton—right?—and trying only partially successfully to eat some yogurt. I am sorry I enjoy this story of your suffering. I hope you understand.)

joanna said...

p.s.-- I am sorry about your knee!! I will talk it over with my Women and Culture students. We will all write poems about it.

ame said...

I don't know. It seems like the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Catholic explorers from Europe may now (though they have not always!)enjoy a better reputation than they deserve. After all, the same Catholic man, Bartolome de las Casas??, I believe, who argued so heroically to prohibit the enslavement of the indigenous people of North America by the Spanish also advised that the Spanish instead import African slaves. He later recanted. Still, the way I understand it, the Catholics in North America, at least during the seventeenth century, generally did not settle in communities but left administrators scattered around who forced the indigenous people to work for them. Few of the Spanish conquistadors had any intention of remaining in North America; they came to make their fortunes. It seems overly generous to think of these fortune hunters and district administrators, who indeed may have started families with indigenous women, as "allowing" mestizaje. They were so few, they had no choice but to adapt to some indigenous ways; they were so powerful with their guns and horses, the indigenous people had no choice but to adapt to some European ways. I could be totally wrong. I do know that Doris Sommer has written about the development of syncretism in Brazil. She notes a tradition of Latin-American novel-writing that focuses on romantic unions between Europeans, Africans, and indigenous peoples. The novels allegorized and I guess normalized multi-racial unity in the nation after Brazil gained its independence from Portugal. Supposedly the novels helped people imagine unity as possible and syncretism as desirable. But that was much later, in the nineteenth century, and the situation of slavery and race was not the same as in the areas of Spanish colonialism in the North. I very much like your comment about the Latino workers, though--it reminds me how closely race and class twine together.
The jaw injury was the same. I hurt it on a Tues. night, took the train to NY and then NJ on Wed., and interviewed Thurs. I don't remember much problem talking, but during the lunch part of the interview I had to chew my salad like a rabbit because my molars wouldn't meet. Nibble, nibble.

joanna said...

I ain't sayin' the syncretism was admirable, I'm saying it was useful, as per your point about fortunes to be made . . . But, yeah, you're prolly right re: mestizaje as being not so much "allowed" as just, again, an expeditious way for white men to exploit the situation they were in. (This was also a "strategy" that white American pro-imperialists talked about vis-a-vis turn-of-the-century American ventures in Cuba, Mexico, and the Philippines, which sort of contradicts my point. Again, the thought, like you said, was 'it's ok, white men will intermarry with the women and integrate them into our society.') I wasn't thinking biological mixing only, but also cultural mixing-- the Virgin of Guadalupe as incorporating the power of pre-existing pre-Columbian goddesses and such. At any rate, I wasn't trying to make a value judgment about it. It was supposed to be an interpretive point about what led us to this point, rather than an evaluative point about how cool mixed Catholic countries are. I guess my thought-- or my wondering-- was whether our cultural/racial syncretism has been much less an accepted reality than in some other cultures. Like, it's been a reality, but not one that is just widely accepted as an important part of our history. Like Ellison says when he talks about folk tales. Change the joke and slip the yoke.

joanna said...

nibble bibble.