Down Time is a Jezebel series in which we ask our favorite artists and authors what art, books, and activities they’re turning to in this moment of isolation and uncertainty. Author Laura van den Berg spoke to Jezebel about getting her mind to focus with shadowboxing.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Boxing has been a huge part of my life for maybe the last two years. It’s not just about the training, it’s also community. Boxing is not a team sport per se, but you train in a team or group setting and you really bond with the people that you train with. It’s such a difficult sport, you’ve worked so hard to claw your way, in my case, to a modest level of confidence and you don’t want to lose those gains. One of the best things that you can do if you don’t have access to a gym, and you want and need to keep training on your own, is shadowboxing.
I started writing fiction kind of by accident, and I also started boxing sort of by accident. Two years ago in Boston I was having a lot of trouble with anxiety and some other mental health stuff and I was seeing a therapist who at a certain point was like, it really seems like your life is completely centered around your writing practice, you have no outlet. I tried a couple of things that I took it up and put it down in short order and then I signed up for a boxing class. I didn’t know anything so all the coach had me do is just step forward and back and left and right to start working on that very basic foundation for an hour. On the one hand, it was maddening, and on the other hand, I was sort of enthralled. It reminded me in a way of writing and that kind of maddening, exhilarating feeling that comes with writing the same sentence over and over and over again until you land where you’re trying to land.
Shadowboxing helps me focus. It takes a lot of concentration to do it right and it also takes a lot of imagination because the idea is to move as though you’re sparring with another fighter. You’re not just kind of stumbling around and throwing punches at random, you’re inventing a sparring partner for yourself. I know that I’m not really in the zone if my mind is still wandering around, but if I can get to that very focused place everything else kind of melts away. It’s a little bit like meditation. There’s also something about being able to create a map for this particular chunk of time in my day, and then being able to follow the map to its ending, is deeply satisfying. I think the layers of uncertainty are really profound right now. We’re in a situation where we don’t really know if it’s going to be two months, four months, etc. There’s something so anchoring about having this map I can follow from.