I started boxing because of writing. I was working on a novel about young queer women being angry and boxing their way out of their small town. I needed terminology, so I went to a boxing training class. I…
I am predominantly a fiction writer, so it was a surprise to me when I realised the thing I was writing in my head over months at the gym was an essay. As mentioned in the essay, I have written about boxing, the body, and gender in fictional contexts, but fiction, and particularly the short story, requires endings. During my past fiction workshops a lot of time was spent talking about epiphanies or moments of truth; in fiction the expectation is that by the end something significant has changed. I chose to write about my experience as an essay because, for me, it opened up more space for questions. I was writing in order to accept the fact that there were no answers, no endings. The only epiphany I reached was that there would be no epiphanies for me about my body.
Once I knew I didn’t need to reach a ‘moment of truth,’ I felt more freedom to be vulnerable within the essay and to use it as a space to make sense of a time that was very intense and felt all-consuming. The essay form began to feel more like an exploration, which allowed me to report my thoughts and experiences without having to decide what they signified. By resisting the idea of a conclusion, I found myself coming to realisations more organically, whilst knowing that they were not definitive and were unlikely to remain fixed beyond the moment of writing the essay.
Mostly when I read the essay now, I am aware of how I am reading about a healthy person. I see huge amounts of privilege in the questions I was grappling with. In the time since I wrote the essay, the global pandemic put all amateur boxing training on hold and I experienced COVID-19 and then long COVID. If I were to write the essay now, it would be very different, further evidence that things do not end when we stop writing. There can be no epiphanies about the body, which is constantly changing and only partly under our control. What good is a conclusion, when it can be unpicked by illness or aging or the creation of new language to talk about ourselves? Now, as I again recalibrate my relationship with my body, I am grateful that by taking a more investigative approach I was able to leave space for evolution. I reached a point where there was not just acceptance of uncertainty, but also the potential for joy within it. There is joy in fiction, in epiphanies and revelations, but I needed to write this in nonfiction so that not only was it true, it was also real.
CLARE FIELDER has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. She has taught EFL and creative writing in Hanoi, Tokyo, and the UK. She currently lives in Barcelona, and is working on a novel about queer pirates.