Weekend nights are for writing — that’s what I tell myself, at least. Why bother with parties, bars and crowds when I’m perfectly capable of being awkward and weird all by myself? I got back to my studio in Escondido Village last Saturday night and the blank pages splayed across my desk called to me like a lover calling me to bed (just kidding — I don’t actually know what that’s like). Just as I was getting ready to sit down and pick up my pen, however, other voices chimed in, these ones like children waking up from their naps and needing attention — procrastination babies. I don’t think this cup of pens is organized. Should my bookshelf be alphabetical or by book height? I should shower first — I’m in the bathroom now, might as well clip my nails. Ooh, there’s my trimmer, is my chest hair getting too long? I finally picked up my toothbrush for what I promised myself would be the last distraction, and that’s when I realized … I’d forgotten my new tube of toothpaste in my buddy’s car, four whole blocks away at Kimball. And it was raining — hard.
Of course, I could have pretended I didn’t really care about brushing my teeth, but that would have been a lie because I could almost feel the bacteria constructing little cities in my mouth out of Arrillaga’s soft-serve ice cream. I didn’t have a jacket because I’d forgotten it on a plane and never replaced it, nor did I have an umbrella because, well, people who use umbrellas always remind me of people who wear fingerless gloves to the gym — they’re just overkill. I had two choices: Let a bacterial business district be built in my gums, or have water droplets assault my skin like tiny insects — and I was so warm and dry and cozy. As I weighed the options against each other, the embarrassment I felt over my reluctance to brave a few minutes of rain showers for the sake of oral hygiene made it impossible for me to not think about military training.
Picture yourself intentionally lying face down in the dirt. The accessorized camouflage uniform you’re wearing has burlap stitched to the back to break up your silhouette and you’ve woven branches and leaves into it. There’s canvas stitched to the front to reinforce the friction points and you have a nylon rope tied to your belt that’s dragging your gear bag behind you. Up ahead is your objective: a hill, a shack or a building where you’ll set up your secret observation post. You dig your gloved fingers into the soil and pull yourself forward a few inches at a time in a crawl that would make even Spider-Man jealous, except your entire body is sliding on the ground and even your face is turned sideways to keep your head as low as possible. As you creep along, your biggest fear — even more than getting a sudden urge to use the bathroom — is that you’ll be spotted. It’s the fear that somebody will see a misplaced color, a shaking branch or a moving shadow and sound the alert to whomever you’re trying to sneak around. With every crunch of leaves that sounds like a footstep, every crackle of branches that sounds like a radio, or bird call that sounds like a shout, you shudder a little and imagine: If you were to get caught, would they beat you, imprison you or kill you on the spot? That’s what it’s like to be stalking as a sniper.
The question is: If you were that person slithering around on the forest floor, would you want it to be raining or not?
“Well, Nestor,” you might be thinking, “Since you won’t let me have an umbrella I very much don’t want it to rain.” And while that’s perfectly understandable, here’s why you should:
The enemy is all around you. They’re standing in sandbag fortresses, perched in lifeguard-style towers, or sitting around campfires outside of tents. They’re the ones looking for unnatural shadow, shape, shine and silhouette — they’re the ones you’re trying to sneak past. Hopefully they’ve been there for hours, or someone forgot to bring their lunches out, or their cigarettes won’t light in the wind, because every inconvenience to them is a distraction that takes their focus away from detecting you. With that in mind, wouldn’t you want the biggest distraction of all, the onslaught of those hundreds of tiny water insects, to be on your side? And if you want the rain to fall when your life depends on it, shouldn’t you also want it in training so that you can get accustomed to it?
As we round the bend after everyone’s midterm number one (and how is it possible to have multiple mid–terms?) I can’t help but notice the abundance of exam stress advice: de-stress, beat stress, reduce stress, manage stress — listen to music, eat dark chocolate, play with a puppy — but I don’t think stress is something to be avoided. I think stress is something to pursue. For most of us average people who haven’t been recruited to national teams or written symphonies by the time we were 13, the difference between whether or not we achieve our goals is rarely a matter of skill or talent, but rather of a willingness to do things that others find uncomfortable. We should want the rain to fall and to turn the dirt into mud because rain — like stress — reminds us that we’re doing things that others wouldn’t as we inch ourselves closer to our objective.
If you’re wondering whether or not I went to get my toothpaste … I haven’t yet — I found a travel-size tube in my backpack. But since I’ve written this, I suppose I’d better go outside for a run because now I can’t get the words out of my head:
If it’s not raining, it’s not training.
Contact Nestor Walters at waltersx ‘at’ stanford.edu.