I haven't blogged about fencing as much as I wanted to, but this weekend the online writers' class I'm taking gave us an exercise where we were asked to write about anything we were passionate about, as long as it wasn't politics or religion. Since that took my obsession with checking fivethirtyeight.com off the map, I wrote the following:
Sweat pours in a river down my spine. It’s at least 80 degrees in this hall, and I’m wearing sweatpants, a plastic chest protector and a long-sleeved jacket over my t-shirt, a masked helmet with a neck guard, and a thick glove on my right hand. My sword hand.
At any other time I hate to sweat. But this sweat comes in pursuit of a dream and a physical connection to the stories I love to tell.
I’m not a natural fencer. Even if I weren’t overweight, I wouldn’t be the ideal build for the sport, and my hand-eye coordination is average at best. I lose as many bouts as I win, and tonight I’ll go home with a cross-shaped array of bruises on my upper arm from my most ignominious defeat.
But nothing beats the rush of striding across the room, sword in hand, or of standing poised en garde at the beginning of a bout, or the thrill of scoring a touch against a more slender and athletic opponent.
And when I lift my blade in salute, I’m not just offering the traditional courtesy to my opponent and our coach. I’m saluting the little girl I was thirty years ago, who used to pose before her mother’s full-length mirror with her brother’s West Point saber in hand. I’m honoring the hero of my novel, the real man whose life I’m turning upside down for the sake of my alternative history—a man to the manner of the sword born, who learned all these feints, parries, and ripostes as a normal part of his education as an officer and a gentleman, who wielded his sword in battle. When I hold a sword, the barrier of two hundred years between us thins. I touch history and bring it into the present.