Introspective Indulgences: The Author is a Confirmed Zealot

As the latest offering in my questionably-entertaining series of textual self-portraits, I offer you the fact that I’ve got issues. That’s all.

Of course that’s not all. Come now, you’ve seen the other posts. Or, er, if you haven’t, might want to check some of those first. This one is supposed to offer the final, searing injection after the drip-fed crazy supplied by the others. So, I’ll deny it no longer, the title’s assertion has the right of it, and I am a zealot indeed. I use this in the modern context, being precluded from use of the original by the fact that I am not from 1st-Century Judea and I have no gripe with the Romans. My ancestors sorted all the grudges in Teutoburg Forest, y’see.

When I say I’m a zealot, I mean that I attend to certain activities with genuinely fanatical devotion. Not borderline fanatical, because we all know the disdain in which I hold amateurs. Truly fanatical. Swordsmanship and anything pertaining to it are the most obvious ones, but the mindset developed for them has started to bleed through into other things as well. I’ve taken to playing action games (and one shooter) at several times normal speed in order to push my speed of thought, reflexes, and ability to adapt mid-action.

This makes me feel extremely disoriented, I get my ass handed to me, and I might start having seizures as an act of rebellion by my brain. I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise. It turns out that I like pushing my limits. I get a rush out of it and I become extremely discontented if I’m not flirting with either mental or physical collapse (preferably both).

I’m not saying this is healthy. I’m saying the alternative is worse, and even if it weren’t I wouldn’t change my ways.

Over Thanksgiving and into Christmas Break I took to using a 16 pound weight bar to strike dead trees out back of my parents’ house. I cannot, on a rational level, justify to you the satisfaction of feeling the juddering dead-stop shock of my own strength rattle my arm to the joint. It’s violent enough to disorient me in the same way I would be if a tennis ball bounced off my temple without warning. The sole practical reason is that this helps develop hand-eye coordination and hardens the arm not just to generate force but to drive it into a target. Marvelous results there, but not the wellspring of my satisfaction.

I enjoy this type of training because of the very real possibility that I could take it too far and not realize I have until I fall over. In overcoming my urge to quit, and more recently in transforming it entirely into an urge to keep going consequences be damned, I feel I’m defeating myself. I won’t provide specifics, but several times a week I’m visited by a parade of itching memories, every one of them about one time or another that I didn’t control myself and others suffered for it. I have never seriously injured anyone physically. Emotions I can’t account for, and that doubt helps nothing. That’s not the point; the point is that I only briefly remember my successes, but my failures sear as molten lead on my soul. Sounds edgy, perhaps, but grim sentiments always do.

This brings us back to striking practice. At first, the strength of my hands and my calloused palms absorb the shock without trouble. As I get warmed up and my fingers tire, however, they begin to ache. From there they start to lose their grip, and soon enough they let the weight bar slide. Not much, less than a millimeter most of the time, but enough to blister them. Usually, these are blood blisters. Some days I’m in excellent form and for thirty ear-splitting minutes I’ll have no trouble. Some days my hands slip in the first five and within ten those blisters have formed, then burst.

Looking back, I am always proudest of the days when I feel that sting seethe up my nerves with each hit, and I grin.

I know this sounds obscene and psychopathic. I don’t pretend it’s otherwise. I suppressed this zeal of mine for over a year because I recognized all at once how it could frighten people, and I was ashamed. So what changed? It’s not that I want to terrify anyone, but for a while I lived with the idea that other people saw what I was doing. Perhaps they didn’t remark on it, but they saw. In the last few months, I’ve realized it doesn’t matter one way or the other. I’d hoped on some level to gain respect, perhaps even adulation for my calm, determined air at practice.

What I got was three years of silence followed by my own father telling me (on the way back from Thanksgiving) that he thought I wasn’t working. There was more to it than that, perhaps, but that was the gist. It’s true in the most technical sense that I don’t work, in that I’m paid nothing yet for all my efforts. You know as well as I how pitiable a measure dollars are for any human’s struggle. After that I stopped caring.

If others are frightened now, then I’m sorry, but I’ll not subdue myself to sooth their paranoia. I have lost patience for the idea that people may ignore me when I’m slowly running myself into the ground, but gain some right to reproach me with wide eyes and fear-tight faces if I enjoy my practice as I’m inclined to. If I look insane, so be it. I’m not going to hurt them or anyone else, but I will not temper my drive just so they don’t have to feel uncomfortable. I won’t bleed my heart so they can’t convince themselves I might hurt them, as if any caution from me could stop that. It’s likely no one will notice anyway and I’ll at least have a better time of things. I’m not pretending otherwise. For the longest time, though, I intended to make an offering of my exertions. I wanted to hold up my calloused hands to humanity and say, “I did this for you!” Humanity, strangely, doesn’t want my calloused hands.

Beyond all this, the truth is that I’m proud of all the sweat and headaches and fits of dizziness. At some point I seem to have developed an obsession (in the full Aspergian sense) with testing the limits of my ability. I can no longer imagine living any other way and still being me. The strife and strain are reward in themselves. Beyond even this, I know how far my zeal separates me from other people. For a man who prefers any reality to his own and spent most of his time in college griping about the rat-race sameness of “literary” fiction, that’s a victory in itself.

I should probably explain what my zeal actually is. There’s always a trace of the near-feral gleam in my eyes and my brows look strangely flat when not drawn down in ecstatic wrath. I mean no harm, perhaps, but I don’t look it. I can only describe it as a joyous fury in which not just fear but the idea of fear become ludicrous, laughable things for toddlers and cliche politicians. The more likely it is that I’m pushing myself too hard, the happier I am. It’s a thrumming energy that suffuses every tendon of my body. I am swifter, stronger, more focused and more skilled in this state than I could be in a year’s time without it.

Adrenaline is less than half of it. I find myself torn between knowing that it won’t work for other people as it does for me and wishing they could experience it. The fury itself is the strangest thing: utterly cogent, perfectly controlled, pushing me to be the best I can both for my own sake and to spite myself, to spite everyone. Yet there’s no bile in it. I can’t seem to entertain petty thoughts for more than a beat when truly zealous, though I’ll write whole posts about them otherwise. As dangerous as anger can be, as much harm as it does others and occasionally does me, in this form I need it like a warm bed and food. Even if my body kept moving, I, Cullen McCurdy, would die without it.

I don’t know if I’ve explained this well, but I’ve no more words to throw at you for once. All I can say is that even if it expresses itself differently, even if I’d despise you should we meet in person, I hope you can find something in your life that fires your spirit as swordsmanship has mine. Perhaps you’ll be more Shaolin than Berserker, but just because you might never know how much you need it doesn’t mean you don’t need it.

Be well, readers mine. Don’t take it the wrong way if you should see pictures of me snarling. It wouldn’t quite be me without them.

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