Sunday, 15 February 2009

Rudersporttraurigkeit - aka "Rowing Sadness"

I'm going to tell you about the worst part of my life.

No, not the time that my mom said she "trained" my pet rabbit to come home after he was released from his cage.

No, not the fact that I'm single, living in a flat the size of a shoebox, with a newly-engaged couple who can't even put a goddamned jar of mayonnaise back in the fridge because they're busy being so revoltingly in love all the time.

No, not even the evil passive-aggressive power-tripping departmental admin who gives you a look like you've just given a million orphans cancer by violating them sexually when you heat up your apparently olfactorally offensive lunch in the communal microwave.

No, this sadness is far worse. And, incidentally, it is the sadness that started it all.

"What's wrong?" That's a fairly typical question when I arrive to work.

And last Friday I said, "I...I wish there was a word in English for 'rowing sadness'".

And I think that I actually looked so depressed about it, that my lab-partners didn't roll their eyes in disgust at the mention of the R-word.

You see, I'm the women's captain for my friendly neighbourhood boat club. This was the worst decision ever. Like imagine if you had actually agreed to go all the way with that freckly kid from chemistry class just because he complimented your hair at the grade 10 dance and you were feeling desperate, and then the condom broke. Someone should have handed me a "so you've ruined your life" pamphlet when I agreed to take on the job.

Don't get me wrong--I like rowing. There I said it. I do. I was that unathletic bigger girl in gym class that people generally pitied too much to make fun of, and who was so worried about her gym mark bringing down her average that she would stand on the sidelines and cheer for people even if she didn't know them to get points for participation . (Give me a [awkward pause] blugh! Give me another blugh! What does that spell? Hrmmn!")

After all these years, rowing is a sport that I can actually do - and I'm reasonably good at it. But no one with a human soul should ever be captain of a university level-rowing club.

I could probably handle the fact that 60% of the emails I recieve, and 80% of the emails I send are about rowing. I can also deal with putting my nascent PhD on the slow track for the next few months. Supervisor? What supervisor? I'm trained in secret arts of camouflage. (Actually I'm not. See gingeritis.) The inane captains meetings full of bitchy undergrads are fine as long as I've got solitaire on my phone.

No, my rowing sadness begins almost everyday at 5:45am.

"Doodle-do-do" (that's the sound of an incoming text message, and sound of my beautiful dream about me and Han Solo cuddling up inside a Tauntaun disappearing into the pre-dawn).

"Hey I ate some dodgy beef at noodle bar last night and can't keep food down. There's no way I can make the outing. Should I call someone for a sub?"

At this point, my life becomes a lot like an episode of 24, except that I'm incoherently sleepy and in my pyjamas. I have exactly 15 minutes to make a decision about whether or not to call off the outing, in time to warn the other girls and coach not to come down to the river, and probably in so doing prevent some building from blowing up somewhere I imagine. When dodgy beef is involved, I almost always end up having to cancel.

I also enjoy the text messages that ask about the weather. "It's snowing, are we rowing?" "It's raining really hard, are we still having an outing?" "It's the vernal equinox, which is bad for my chi. Should I still come down to the river?" Yes, yes, yes you fools! We're rowers! That's what we do! We row! If you wanted to join the "wake up before 6am and send text messages to someone about the weather" club I think they still have lots of places available.

There's the super keen athlete rower who thinks that we're all lazy wimps, and who chooses to do different warm up activities than the rest of us because she knows better. She's the first one to get to the outing, and gives me helpful comments like "you're doing that wrong" when I'm trying to figure out how the hell I'm supposed to open the door to the boathouse when the handle's broken and my key's just snapped in half. The hypochondriac is the rower who's been texting me all night with regular updates on her bowel movements. I managed to convince her to come, but I no longer feel comfortable looking her in the eye. She also doesn't help me with the door, but talks to Super Athlete about her stomach problems. The Important girl usual arrives next, just as I've managed to jam a piece of plywood under the door to wedge it open. "Do you know what time we're going to be done? I have a really important class at nine. Also, I don't think I'll be able to make one of the regatta days because we have a seminar that day."

I would have been simmering with rage, except that I'm too busy rummaging through the locker, looking for the all important boat lights. If I've forgotten them it means we've all gotten up early for nothing. It also means that I haven't entirely heard what Miss Important has said, and will forget it in about 30 seconds. The super athlete is now checking her heart rate monitor while she does some jumping jacks. The hypochondriac has asked for the keys to the toilet, but I can't find the keys anymore. I must have dropped them while I was looking for that piece of plywood.

Two Nice Girls show up together, and take the blades out of the rack automatically without being asked. I would kiss them, except that I'm lying on my back under the boat, trying to attach the safety lights. The masking tape isn't working. Go find the duct tape. My phone rings, just as the cox arrives. Good she can handle the lights.

The coach is calling. From across the river. I can see the lights on his bike. Is everyone here? No we're still missing uh...three people. I squint at some dark shapes on the bank. Is that one of ours, or does it belong to a different boat club? It's the Apologetic girl. "I'm so sorry," she says breathlessly. It's fine. I don't have the time, nor the professional qualifications needed to deal with her self-esteem issues. The coach is gently reminding me that we're running late.

I drop my phone. It bounces on the gravel, towards the dock, landing millimeters away from the water. I look up. The Complainer has arrived. Good seven people plus the cox is enough to get the boat out. No, I don't care about how cold your hands are. Once we've maneuvered the gigantic boat into the water I check the time. We should have launched ten minutes ago. And then, I have a sinking realization that the last girl who hasn't arrived yet is... Space Cadet. I phone her. No answer. I send her a text "uh... are you still coming to rowing?" I phone her about eight more times. And then, ten minutes later, while we're all debating what to do, she floates up to the boathouse as though everything is hunky dory.

Meanwhile the Important girl has been FREAKING OUT about her lecture. The Complainer and the Super Athlete have begun whispering dark secrets. It's too much to hope that they're plotting a mutiny though. The Hypochondriac has wandered off behind some bushes, and the Apologetic has probably started cutting herself again, because it's all her fault.

And, for the record, at this point it's now 6:47am, and every other decent person on earth at home or in bed.

It's like this every day. I wish I didn't have to do it. I wish that my lab-mates wouldn't have to see the sad look on my face in the morning. I wish that Rudersporttraurigkeit didn't exist.

I wish I had time to tell you more about how I feel, but I have a lot of really important emails to send. About rowing.

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