On Wrestling with Angels

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Have you ever wanted to do something difficult, perhaps out of frustration, or to beat fear?  Maybe you ran a marathon, or took up biking, or read a long book or worked out a difficult puzzle.  What you in all likelihood did not do was have men ten years your junior punch you in the face and break some of your bones, while you — of course — were trying to do the same to them.

But this is precisely what J.D. Daniels — pictured dragging a tire to train — did for over two years, and he writes about it in the fall edition (not the winter edition, which is just on the stands) of the Paris Review.  His account, with the decidedly understated title of “Letter from Cambridge” is well worth your time, and I’ll break my non-commercial policy to encourage you to buy the magazine.  As Lorin Stein somewhat refreshingly reminds us, it is not meant to be surfed.  Daniels’ piece you’ll have to shell out for.  You can get a Houellebecq interview for your dozen clams, too.

But most importantly, you will get the sense that you are at home, instead of having someone who puts “Big” in front of his name with zero sense of irony dislocate your shoulder, break your nose and arm-triangle you into submission.  You might be relieved about this at first, but then you might wonder what it means that you are sitting at home.  You may find yourself pondering the words of the Brazilian dojo-master who asks Daniels in one of several explanatory asides, “without fighting, when you feel this in your life?  […]  Two, three times?  It make you a more major person.”

Some people wrestle with their demons.  By his own admission, Daniels wrestles with angels.

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