After a rollercoaster ride with more downs than ups today was the day when Luna finally managed to get back to where she was in the semi-final in 2013. On that day she came fourth in the youngest category with three second years ahead of her. We were really happy that day but it was to be the high tide point up until now. In her first year she came sixth in the final and last year she was fourth again in the semi and fifth in the final. Although she had some good results internationally things were not on track any more despite our belief in her ability.
This season things have gone very well. She came fourth in the Nevis in Sweden and second in the District so we were feeling good about the season but today was the first national qualifier for the A category gymnasts. Luna is a first year so we were really keen to see how she would do. She had the tough job of kicking off the competition with her Free routine. She did a really good job but we could see that the jury were discussing it for a long time. When her mark came we were very worried because it was her lowest of the season. On the second rotation she did Hoop and caught the important catches and ended up with a really good mark. She was looking good in fourth ahead of Ball. One of her teammates had to pull put sick which was a real shame as she was second after two routines. Luna did a good job on Ball considering her nerves. She had a drop but dealt with it cleanly. She had a few wobbles as well but she came out of it with an okay mark.
In the end she came third behind two very strong second years. Luna outscored all of the girls who beat her in the final in June. It took two years to get back to this position so today was a really sweet day for our family.
On Sunday our RG girls had the first group competition of the season for their District. Before this season Luna had never trained as part of a group but the club puts a big emphasis on group work as part of their overall training approach. She did a hoop exercise with her three teammates who are all top gymnasts. They performed well but there were a few mistakes that cost them points. There is room for improvement but they did well enough to win gold. In all of Luna’s years of competition it is the first time that she won a gold medal so it was a really nice first.
Nadia is only six and is in her first season of competition but luckily for her the federation has a trial running where really cute mini groups do a free routine. It is really impressive what these little girls can do in synchrony. It was really nice to watch. Nadia did her routine with two different groups and they ended up winning gold and silver respectively. The other groups were very good too, the team that came fourth was really impressive and I guess that they lost marks for execution because their difficulty was very advance for such young girls.
All in all it was a successful day with a lot less stress than for individual competitions. It is nice for the girls to be a real team together – you can see why the club value the group exercises so much.
I am certainly not alone in being ambivalent about social networks on the Internet. On the one hand you can keep in touch very easily with anybody who is willing to put the minimal effort in to be a virtual ‘friend’. On the other hand Facebook and its ilk don’t spare you from the harsh Darwinian reality of being surplus to requirements for people who may have been friends in ‘real’ life in the past. Life was a more comfortable place in the past when we could invent or blithely swallow reasons why we might have ‘lost touch’. Now the reality stares you in the face from a happy looking Facebook profile more often than not.
Luckily I am in my forties and not my thirties so I have already moved beyond the world that existed in my twenties. You get older and you can look yourself in the mirror a lot more honestly. You know what you were and what you did. You move on and build new lives and existences. I did give up Facebook for a time but I rejoined it to be involved in Open University networks and then it became the default vehicle for interacting with the gymnastics world. It’s also a place where I follow my favourite writers and bands. All these are good things. If I had have had something like Facebook in my teens I don’t think that I would have disappeared into a black hole like I did.
At the same time I see something happening more and more on Facebook and other sites like boards.ie that scares me as a human being. I am a member of various interest groups related to languages mainly. The goal of any interest group is to share thoughts and information on a common interest. In the past this would often have taken the form of one person asking a question and then another member answering and maybe then a discussion would be triggered. Now what I see in so many groups is that a question is answered directly with a link to a website. On Irish language forums I have seen links to the translation of the word dictionary sites like focloir.ie as an answer without any discussion. It’s as if the message is that any question with an objective answer can be answered by Google or an underlying website. From an objective perspective that is true but people do not ask questions just to get answers and not all answers are objective. People ask questions for relational reasons so that they can interact. They expect answers from people based on their knowledge and their experience. If social networks are totally rational and logical then they are anti-social. We are not androids after all, we are human beings.
The demands of the internet age are rather duplicitous. On the one hand we are fully wired. People know about everything right away but the media available to us need original content and that is forever in short supply. With so many consumers of videos and photos and words there is a ravenous demand but it has not stimulated a corresponding level of supply. For me the other anti-social of Facebook and other sites is the willingness to castigate and denigrate. Maybe I am come from a more gentle time but I love the creative possibilities of the wired world but I abhor the lack of respect for those that have put time and effort into innovating.
It might say something about my cultural background but boards.ie is the site I like best even though it is so old school. People talk on that site in such an Irish way. When people step outside of the boundaries they are quickly reprimanded. There are lots of cruel comments there too but also a lot of kindness. That’s what makes a social network social.
I started my OU degree began back in the October of 2010 with the idea of maybe doing a BA in six years. It hasn’t worked out that way because I started to feel that the degree was a burden that I needed to relieve myself of. In a way the degree peaked when I was doing the Level 2 A230 Literature module because that was the time when I was part of a very dynamic group of people who interacted organically and productively. After that module I never had that feeling again and I started to study in a totally independent way. There is no doubt that I have developed intellectually and as a writer because of the disciplined and methodical way I have learned to work. When things are flowing I can now analyse a text and the major critical and contextual work related to it in a way that I could not have five years ago.
In a sense I have also gained a much deeper understanding of the life of a text and its writer. The writer has become human rather than an abstraction which makes the creation of something complex beautiful all the more real. I am so aware now of the blind spots, of the things I miss, the unreliability of the reader. For instance, I read ‘Paradise’ by Abdulrazak Gurnah a while back and I was really underwhelmed by the novel but then I entered the world of the other dimension and I engaged with the critical analysis of the book. I started to see all of the wonder and pain and relevance I had missed. This is a book about me too but I had failed to grasp the universality and personality of the text. Once you know that there is so much that you don’t know then the first reading of a book is just a pebble thrown in the water- the ripples are its afterlife.
I have just one more assignment to do. I will need a relatively low mark to get the grade I need to get a First Class Honours degree. I didn’t start the degree aiming for the top grade but I guess that my instincts are always to do my best. A degree in English makes an for an interesting combination with the other things I have studied. It says a lot that it took me more than forty years to become a graduate in something that actually interests me. The pragmatic streak that always put economic safety first has served me well in some respects but there might have been a lot more joy in my youth if I had have embraced this side twenty five years ago.
This weekend Luna was away in Poland for the Carramba Cup in Katowice. Aga went with the girls to help as our travelling coach was on the jury. The difference with this competition and most other foreign ventures was that we got to watch the live feed from the meet. Normally you just hear the results after the event but this time we had the dubious pleasure of sharing in the stress. We knew that the field was going to be very strong with lots of gymnasts from top countries like Russia, Ukraine and the home country Poland. These countries have a much bigger pool and the top gymnasts train up to 30 hours a week which is more than twice as much as our girls. Basically this kind of competition is about experience.
This year so far Luna has concentrated on Free and Hoop. In the Carramba she did Ball for the first time this year and Ribbon for the first time ever! She did Ribbon on Friday and it went okay but she didn’t make a couple of important catches. She didn’t have her usual confidence but that is all the more reason why getting Ribbon praticed in competition was important. Ball was similar with two big throws going wrong. She just needs to get more practice in with her throwing technique and it will eventually come good. Earlier in the season she was missing her hoop catches but that improved over time. This morning they had Free and it went okay but she did look a little unhappy.
From all accounts the girls enjoyed the event and meeting the other teams. Luna’s results were as expected. She was near the bottom end of the rankings but even with her very best performance she would not have been able to get much higher. At these meets you hope that the girls will learn from what is going on around them. It is like resistance swimming – exposing yourself to a much more difficult environment to get better. Luna got to meet family and new and old friends so she will come back stronger ahead of yet another competition this weekend.
I was at a very pleasant dinner with some colleagues the other evening. The restaurant we were at has real character and we were seated at a larger table in the upstairs ‘library’ area. Quite often at this kind of dinner the conversation is in English because there are one or two people who don’t speak Dutch but on this evening no accommodation was needed. Although most people I know here are very comfortable in English there is always a more relaxed atmosphere when no extra effort is needed to explain any culturally specific concepts. In these kind of gatherings I am reminded of how I feel at once at home and indelibly foreign in my adopted country.
I was asked if I would ever go back and I said that I could never go back to where I am from. The most I could conceive right now was to make it as far as Dublin, a city which always felt to me like a half-way house between the ‘real’ Ireland I grew up in and the big brother across the water. In my home town I feel like a foreigner because I lost touch with its sensibilities and ways of communication a long time ago. Reading McGahern’s ‘That They May Face The Rising Sun’ again I am struck by how well he captures rural life and how people ‘know’ things that defy explanation to the outsider. There are all kinds of hidden rules and codes and when you don’t live there any more you fail to interpret the half of what is going on. I love to read books set in communities where people need each other.
In a way it all seems to link back to a homesickness for a place and time and people that no longer exists for me and maybe never did. Maybe exile and a romantic look at my childhood idealizes the Irish language and songs and rituals and traditions. It just seems so much more than I can give to my own children. When I was telling one of my colleagues about this feeling at the dinner she said that Dutch kids don’t have the things that my kids are missing either but the fact is that they do have other things. There are a lot of parts of Dutch life that we can’t access as foreigners so our children are a step removed by default.
It’s a fact of emigration but there is always a part of you wishing for someplace else. The problem is that you don’t always know where that place is or even if it exists at all.
There has barely been time to catch a breath these last weeks with so much going on. For Aga in particular it has been non-stop because she has been the taxi service for the most part and at home she has been sewing eight matching leotards for the mini groups. It is so much exacting work and luckily there are some other expert mothers who provide useful tips when things get tricky.
So far this year there have already been a few competitions. The club provides lots of opportunities for the girls to get experience so there was a trial competition and then a friendly one with a couple of other clubs. In the friendly Luna did really well in Free but had a Hoop out so that was a good experience in a way. Dealing with mistakes is crucial and how you handle it can change your overall result dramatically because the least disruption means the minimum of points lost.
The first important competition of the year for Luna was the District. It went very well and she managed to make the important catches on hoop. Her handling of the materials is improving a lot and her execution of the elements is also translating into points on the D score. She ended up exceeding expectations coming second but with a tiny points difference ahead of third and fourth. It is definitely pushing her to have teammates who are so experienced and with such a great record of success. The next competition will be in Poland at the Carramba Cup which is as very high level competition in Katowice. The standard there will be top class so we just hope that Luna can put in a good performance and get as far up the ladder as she can. She will be doing ball and ribbon in the main competition so that will be good practice for the nationals ahead. They also have a separate competition for Free which will be beneficial to our girls as they have performed their routines in quite a few competitions this year. The first national qualifier is in March. It’s good that she will have had so many tests before that point.
Nadia had her first Mini competition at the C qualifier last weekend. She ended up coming fifth from thirteen in Free and fifth from eight in Ball. She performed Ball first and it didn’t go very well because she forgot her exercise and ended up looking at the trainers for prompts. Free went an awful lot better and she was better able to show her potential. She has still another year at Mini level so there is plenty of time to develop. She is also in the Mini group which is a great development because the girls get a chance to interact and work together. That is all very useful later when they are doing more advanced choreos with materials. It’s a nice thing to have a group to bond the girls together even though they compete against each other individually. At the end of the day they have the common bond of a sport they love.