Tagged in: autobiography

Three Things That Enervated My Decrepit Bones Last Week

1. Birthdays. I celebrated mine with a lovely dinner out with my beautiful wife. The evening was great. but didn’t entirely stave off the existential dread of realizing that I have been walking this earth for thirty-two years and still feel lost and clueless when it comes to dealing with adult problems (i.e. something beyond not being able to collect all of Ben Franklin’s draft pages in Assassin’s Creed III). Do all adults deal with this much doubt and worry? Did my parents have as little an idea of how to handle this stuff as I do now? Yikes.

2. Movie Trailers. Last week made me excited about the 2013’s film prospects, especially in the sphere of science fiction, comic book-y movies that let me stave off death by feeding my adolescent power fantasies and maintaining my arrested development. That sounds like a somewhat mature self-critique but on the other hand, GIANT ROBOTS! PUNCHING MONSTERS!


And, KHAAAAAN! (maybe?)

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey … one embargo to bind them.

If the worst thing you can say about a movie is that it isn’t as good as The Lord of the Rings, then I guess it wasn’t that bad. Peter Jackson leads another expedition to Middle-Earth with the film version of the early adventures of Bilbo Baggins. Somehow, he has turned the lightest and breeziest of J.R.R. Tolkein’s tales into a six hour epic on par with the LOTR  films in terms of ass-numbing theatre seat occupation. While the earlier trilogy was a nearly flawless adaptation of a genre-defining work, The Hobbit  shows some serious seams where the source material was stitched together to create a trilogy worthy whole. Maybe it was because Jackson and his fellow screenwriters had to look at things to cut for the Lord of the Rings films and were forced to stretch the The Hobbit into a trilogy, but this movie dragged. There were several high points, but despite the enthusiastically varied showcase of beard-ery, axe-based ass-kicking, and people riding animals that are not ordinarily used as mounts (eagles, rabbits, reindeer, etc.) the movie felt like it could have lost about an hour of run time and still been packed with incident. The effect is somewhat surprising because in the previous trilogy, the film makers showed an admirable ruthlessness when it came to cutting parts of the story that had no place in a compelling, breathless on-screen experience. Things like the Tom Bombadil story were excised from The Fellowship of the Ring while there are many scenes and plot lines that should have been cut from The Hobbit. (I’m looking at you, entire sequence with Radaghast the Brown, Middle-Earth Middle-Managers Quarterly Report, and Troll chef trickery.) Still, the Riddles in the Dark sequence is appropriately off-putting and there wasn’t anything on-screen that I hated. There was simply too much of it.

Potentially Telling But Most Likely Meaningless Autobiographical Detail #2

I eschew ornamentation. Not big on jewelry of any kind; rings, necklaces, bracelets or earrings have no place on my body. It’s not so much a value judgment. I’m sure there are many virile and strong men who like to decorate themselves with little trinkets. I would certainly never impugn the Masculinity of someone like Mr. T (indeed I would most likely join him in pitying the fools who did). But jewelry annoys me. Even functional jewelry like watches gets on my nerves and feels unnatural against my skin.

For this reason, I have long been a proponent of doing away with antiquated traditions like the wedding ring. Why should I be forced to wear decorative frill just because I’ve gotten married. I concede the importance of a symbol of everlasting love, so I therefore propose the “Wedding Belt.” It’s circular like a ring and won’t annoy me like other jewelry

Potentially Telling But Most Likely Meaningless Autobiographical Detail #1

Whenever I sit down at a table, I always try to pull the table closer to me rather than scoot my chair closer to it.

The reverse is also true; I push desks and tables away from me instead of sliding my chair away from them. (Often with greater force than is strictly necessary).

Tango Kilo Oscar

Well, Friday came and went. I was unable to participate in Friday Night Fights, because I was busy participating in Friday Night Fights. It only sounds like nonsense. You see, I was participating in some good old fashioned fisticuffs on Friday Night so I was unable to post a scan of comic book characters fighting. The boxing bootcamp culminated in a night of fighting, as we put our six weeks of blood, sweat, and embarrassing encounters to use in the ring.

sean mcgilvray boxing fighting

This wasn’t my first time boxing, but I’m still pretty green. This match-up was much closer than the last time I gloved up. That time I was boxing a man who does this whole “punching hard” thing for a living, and while I think I did all right, it was clear that he was pacing me. Not so, this time. My opponent was more my equal in both size and skill level. I had a few pounds on him but he was quicker and slightly more agile. Our experience levels seemed about the same, so when we entered the fray it was a full-on battle royale. I will never be known for my finesse, either in the ring or in everyday life. I’m more inclined to stand and trade blows like a drunken 19th century Irishman or a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot than to float like a butterfly. I was also slow to respond to the idea that I should actually be throwing punches. I had to eat one or ten jabs to the jaw before I settled down enough to start putting the things I learned to work for me. I may have even remembered to bob, though I almost certainly forgot to weave.

sean mcgilvray boxing too

I landed a number of good solid rights, and worked his body at the start of every clinch. If there were judges, they probably would have awarded the first round to the other guy, but it would have been close. But after conferring with my cornerman and having some water poured on my head, I entered the second round with a little more strategy. I started working serious combos and probing for weaknesses in my opponents defense. I probably still looked a little sloppy, but I was thinking more like a sweet scientist than a back-alley brawler. I was landing serious blows, and I could see they were taking their toll on my foe. He was slowing down and his jabs were less controlled. He started clinching more.

Then, about halfway through the second round, it happened. On the advice of my corner, I threw a low jab at his solar plexus. He rolled his front guard down to cover just a little too late. I followed up with a big right hook aimed right at the side of his head. Time slowed down. The lights got just a little bit brighter. I couldn’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure reality actually shifted into slow motion. When the punch landed, the thump of leather meeting leather and fist meeting skull echoed through the room. I’m told everyone in the crowd heard the hit, and I could hear their collective intake of breath as my hook hit home. My opponent buckled just a little, swaying woozily as the referee started a standing eight count. He didn’t get very far before waving his hands to signal the end of the fight.

sean mcgilvray: victory and wrapped hands

My second foray into the world of boxing ended in a knockout, albeit one of the technical variety. That was something new for me, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good. It was a good thing it came when it did, though, because I was seriously losing gas and I don’t know if I had the legs for another round. Fighter safety is a big concern so everyone made sure he was okay before we hugged it out. There were no hard feelings, and I think he is a consummate sportsman. He’s also a practicing attorney here in San Francisco, so I’m sure I’ll be pestering him for a job when summer rolls around.

sean mcgilvray: sportsmanship

Me Versus My Body: Round Two Leaves Me Taking it on the Chin

I am now at the midway point of my boxing bootcamp, and things are progressing nicely. Timing, strength, and overall conditioning is improving. I’ve lost some weight, to the point where I don’t have to hold the ends of the towel together when I drape it across my post-shower nether regions. They meet comfortably and I can once more roam the locker room with both hands free. I have even shaved my head, both to look tougher and increase aerodynamics.

But it isn’t helping. I still can’t run. Lacking an adrenaline surge from mortal danger, I just can’t pump my legs for any length of time. without panting and slowing to a walk. Its a good thing bears are so few and far between in San Francisco, or I would surely have been eaten by now. I know part if it is psychological. I don’t think I should have to run, for I am large and strong.

I know that boxers, indeed fighters of all disciplines, need the conditioning. I’m not arguing that Road Work isn’t a vital key to success in the ring. I’m just bitching about it because I am so bad it. I try to control my breathing and just focus on moving forward, and that has helped me make improvements. Today, I ran most of the way without retreating to my customary hands-on-hips walking breath-catch. Sure, I was panting. But I did it. Then, we ran some sprints and did some calisthenics. Okay. Then we ran some more, this time in the topographically ridiculous Potrero Hill neighborhood (photo by Toby Silver).

San Francisco’s Potrero Hill, steep inlines for the weary runner.

It’ has the word “Hill” in the title, fer crying out loud. I was doomed. I was reared in the wilds of Florida, a state perfectly sensible in its level uniformity. That is how God intended for us to move about the earth, on a flat plane. None of this ridiculous incline business. I got to the bottom of the first hill, and with all that sideways sidewalk staring back at me, I knew I was doomed. I tried to start running. I really did.

It was like when I was a kid. I remember watching The Empire Strikes Back about a million times. Specifically, the scene where Luke Skywalker is hanging upside down in the snow-beast’s cave. His lightsaber was just out of reach, and the creature was fast approaching. Using his Jedi mind powers, he was able to telekinetically summon it to his outstretched hand. You know the scene. After watching it, I just sort of naturally assumed I could do the same thing if I could juts concentrate hard enough. I used to spend hours (and I mean long hours) staring at objects and trying to move them with my mind. I would stare, squint and hold my breath, but unsurprisingly, the objects wouldn’t move no matter how red my face got.

That’s how I felt trying to run those hills this morning. I wanted to move my legs as bad as I wanted to levitate my childhood matchbox cars, but I was just as unsuccessful. There was no juice. At least not enough to run up the hills. I walked. Again. I guess the force (of running) is just not strong with this one.

Me vs. My Body- At the End of Round One A Clear Victor is Emerging

My body failed me today.

It’s been a rough first week of my boxing bootcamp, since I am more out of shape going in for this round than I was back in January. At the same time, I have decided to supplement the awesome cardio action with some weight lifting later in the day. The idea is that I’ll be a little leaner and a little stronger when the moment of truth comes. My fundamentals are decent if not spectacular. My footwork is passable and timing not totally ridiculous. Still, I’ve noticed I have some trouble delivering punching power. I suspect it has something to do with the comical shortness of my arms and the fact that I get tired so quickly, but I want to hear that killer thump and watch my opponent wince a little bit when the punch drives home. Hence the lifting…

The downside is that my muscles are in full revolt having grown used to the sloth-like leisure they had previously enjoyed. The bootcamp workouts haven’t even reached their full pitch of intensity yet. We are still in what the coaches lovingly refer to as “Pussy Week.” And yet, today my body failed me. I’ve been getting along through the calisthenics, and the boxing drills haven’t made too much of a dent.

But the running is killing me. I am not made to be a runner. I have neither the ability nor the inclination. Roadwork is a part of the game, though and I have to pay my dues. I would say that I am genetically predispositioned to be a poor runner, but my brother was a cross country superstar who ran four miles to warm up. Madness! Sprints I can deal with, but distance? Forget it.

Today, we were running down by the San Francisco Bay and it seemed like it would never end. At a certain point my legs just stopped responding. I could run no more. There is a difference between being too tired to run anymore or being too sore to run anymore and what I experienced today. I was willing my legs to move and they refused. My body has turned against me. I had to walk back to the gym.

It happened again at the corner store. After I was done buying my post-workout bottle of water, I dropped my wallet in the parking lot. When I bent down to pick it up, I was unable to stand. I wasn’t in pain, per se, yet I knew that the act of rising to my feet would send shock-waves of pain throughout my legs. My thighs were already groaning. It took me a full three minutes of kneeling in the parking lot before I was able summon the strength and courage to return to a standing position.

Five days down, Twenty-Five to go…

Back in the Ring to Take Another Swing

Boxing Boot Camp Third St. Gym Poster

The time has come once again to subject myself running ungodly distances at unthinkable hours of the morning and spending more time with a jumprope in my hands than would seem befitting for a grown man. For some reason, I’ve signed up for another boxing bootcamp at the Third Street Gym in San Francisco’s historic Dogpatch neighborhood. And by historic, I mean “pain in the ass to get to every morning at 6:00 am.” Last time, getting there was a snap because I lived just a few blocks away. Having moved literally across the city, I was hesitant about taking the plunge into this pugilistic pastime once again. I had a great time, and I could use the extra impetus to force my ass into shape. I have become rather indolent as of late, and my expanding waistline is a sure sign that I need to take drastic measures.

The last boxing bootcamp that I did was back in January and I’m looking forward to getting back in shape. The good thing about bootcamps is that I feel motivated to see the thing through. I actually feel bad when I miss a day. The fact that the punishment for absence includes a being thrown in the San Francisco Bay is also a strong motivating factor. The fellas who run the thing are pretty cool. They strike a fine balance between meaning business and pushing you during the boot camp and cracking jokes.
I am not a very good boxer. My arms are short and my rhythm is highly suspect. But on the plus side I find a good punch to the jaw an exhilarating way to start the day. I’m mostly in it for the cardio, although these things traditionally end with a public display of fisticuffs. I suppose I’ll have to lace up my gloves when the time comes.

In the meantime, I am sore and tired. Being reliant on Muni, I have to get up at 4:30 in order to make it down to the gym in time for the days boxing lesson. I’m having problems because there are no other buses for me to catch. Not only do I have to wake up stupid-early, I also have to lug my boxing gear with me (gloves, headgear, jumprope, Survivor cd) and my ridiculously overstuffed backpack with me, because I go straight to school afterwards. Then, when I am going to school I have to lug the same crap around with me all day. Lockers don’t seem to be an option, unfortunately…

But I’m not one to let some minor logistical annoyances get in the way of a good exercise regime, so it’s cups of coffee and early bedtimes for me. It seems like my life is either at the gym, the classroom, or the library right now. It seems that way, because it’s true. Two days down, 28 more to go.

Where the Magic Happens

After a quick trip to Ikea and some assembling, I have a work station. It is tiny, just big enough to hold my fat stack of text books, some basic supplies, and my inspirational action figures. They used to occupy my desk at work, but since I am a full time student now they are now part of the apartment decor, much to my girlfriend’s delight. This is where I’m hard at work learning how to think like a lawyer:


Here’s what it looks like when I switch to blogging mode and prepare to regale the internet with my trenchant observations and witty commentary:

My workspace

If I were to describe my appearance…

I would probably just say something like “bouncer-like.” It’s vague but suggestive enough that you probably have a fairly accurate mental picture. But if you pressed me to be more specific I would say, from top to bottom:

1. Round-headed

2. Squinty-eyed

3. Puffy-cheeked

4. Thick-necked

5. Broad-shouldered

6. Short-armed

7. Barrell-chested

8. Beer-bellied (slightly)

9. Wide-assed

10. Stout-legged

11. Wide-footed

“Words are spells against demons.” –Nelson Mandela


I want to study literature because I don’t know how not to. I am fascinated with stories and narrative, as well as the foundation stone upon which they are built: language. Mandela’s quote is a simple truth, or more accurately, a truth simply stated. At some level, I have always had an innate understanding of this but I could never elucidate it fully. Nelson Mandela’s address to the University of Cape Town opened with this succinct, poetic description. I was lucky enough to catch the speech during the tail end of my tenure as an ambassadorial scholar in South Africa. Mr. Mandela’s aphorism struck a chord with me, resonating at a deep, barely quantified level.

Language fascinated me from an early age. In some form or another, the quest to understand the way it works has been the underlying motivation driving much of my personal and academic life. The world is a chaotic and frightening place, rife with danger and mystery. Humans find ourselves with the unenviable task of having to make sense of the confusion. Words are the tools we use to do this. It’s a story as old as the book of Genesis, when God gifted man with the ability to name (or assign words to) the rest of creation. It may be the one uniquely human trait, a self-reflexive means of examining the way we experience the world by describing it. Continue reading…