Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Autosportography

So sports don't come naturally to me. Not playing, not watching, not understanding their crazy rules. Partially this is just my family culture, although I did have a sister and a brother who played soccer in high school. I just would never be Sporty Spice is all. I've been trying to make myself more literate, like those Great Works requirements for the Honors Program: watch X number of games, play in X number of sports. I even subscribe to ESPN the Magazine, which, I'm willing to defend, contains some of the best writing in journalism. Here, by, is a brief psychological association of my experience with sport.

I only learned to play tennis this summer. My awesome roommate Danger taught me. We'd practice together, play a little, and sometimes we'd play with her brother, and sometimes he'd bring his roommate. I'm not great at racket sports: I run fast for the ball, but never stretch my arms out.
My dad played tennis in high school--there are pictures, so there's proof--but I don't remember watching him play ever. My across-the-street neighbor played. I was best friends with his son "Davey", and sometimes he'd take Davey to play tennis in the park. Mostly, though, I remember getting yelled at with Davey for being too loud during a match on TV. Davey's dad got flesh-eating bacteria (really) and they almost had to amputate his arm, but he pulled through by a miracle. A few years later, he left the Church and his family anyway.

Track and Field/X-Country
Easily one of the things I'm most ashamed of. It was an open-team, so I decided to run track in high school instead of taking PE (in jr high I had dealt with a bully in PE, so it seemed reasonable to avoid the class later). I was lousy. Not only was I dead-last in most heats, but I didn't even practice that hard. It was the last period of the day and, regularly, when the bell rang I would just go home. I was pretty awful. This is even worse because my entire paternal cousin side are track stars. I think track was the worst grade I got my entire high school experience. I don't think I redeemed myself until a couple of years ago when I ran my first 5K and did pretty good. Really pretty good. Running is probably the sport I do with the most frequency now, although if running is a sport, couldn't elliptical also be one?

Ah, heavens, football is also kind of shameful. I played in the powderpuff game as a junior in high school. "Played" is to strong a word. I sat on the bench and read a book about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don't remember why I signed up if I didn't care. I have been to my first live college football game recently. It was actually pretty great, but mostly because I had someone to explain what was going on to me. Games are just so long.

I feel a lot better about my experiences with basketball. I was actually in the top six or so of players in my basketball class at BYU. It was kind of a surprise, but not too much. Basketball plays to my strengths (running around quickly, invading people's personal space) and I had a little experience with it. I used to fool around with "Davey" from across the street on his basketball hoop, but it wasn't until I was at the MTC that I really learned to play and like basketball. I was in the MTC in winter, and so it was either basketball or volleyball...

I am really, really bad at volleyball. I never know when to "call" for the ball. I'm timid about running into people. I have no idea when to hit the ball with the spike or the set or whatever. You do not want me on your picnic volleyball team.

Soccer is probably the sport that I most enjoy, playing and watching. It helps that it's a short game--I have the attention span of a 4th-grade chipmunk--and I admit that I have the "Stuff White People Like" satisfaction of liking a sport that everyone in the world but Americans love. I played soccer against some young hooligans in Russia and --let me remind you that in Russia (and most places) soccer is not a girl sport--thoroughly impressed them. I took a soccer class and played intermural soccer, but I don't just like to play. I've been to a handful of Real games and have a Real sticker on my car. I watch European championships and follow the conference games and know who Donovan and Mathis and Beckerman are and their playing history. However, during the MLS championships, one of my roommates asked me about how many players are on the field at a time and I had to stop and count off positions. Lame.

My grandpa and Tiger Woods play golf. Not together--that's just about all I know about golf.

The sport I can never spell correctly on the first go. Also, I never thought that I could play racquetball, but Boy taught me how. Our second date was racquetball--he bought me my own racket! We played a lot, actually as percentage of dates. It was fun, he discovered that I'm a backsweater, and I never, ever, tried to do worse than I actually could. Racquetball is still kind of associated with Boy. I went yesterday to practice by myself and I thought of him.

I still don't like baseball. Or get baseball. I'm willing to have my mind changed, people, but am still flummoxed by this sport.


There is a special place in my heart for hockey. I watched the Women's Olympic Hockey semi-finals just a mile away from my high school. I followed the Capitals (still my favorite hockey team) as part of a statistics-gathering project my freshman year. I even took a hockey class at BYU (at which I was definitely in the bottom third, but it was a class of mixed skill-levels). I like to think that I could be a hockey fan, but it hasn't blossomed because I don't know anyone else who follows it.

I'm not hip enough to surf.

(see surfing )

I had long had the idea that I'd like to be a snowboarder, but it turns out that I'm too cheap. It's just so dang expensive. Still, I like snowboarding, and felt like I was getting better at it by the end of the season when I had a pass. If I had a sugardaddy, I'd probably still snowboard. Skiiing, though, is a disaster for me--I'm always crossing my skis, which reminds me...

X-Country Skiing
I actually love X-country skiing. My sister took it up out of desperation while her husband was at medical school in Wisconsin, but I find it very pleasant. All of the swish, swish of skiing without the lift passes and major bodily harm. Most of the major bodily harm, I should say, because I once fell and had to get stitches. The doctor who stitched me up asked, "so how'd you hurt yourself?"
"Cool--I was a nationally-ranked skier in high school and skied by helicopter in the depths of the Alaskan wilderness." (I'm paraphrasing here.) "Where were you skiing?"
"Er, Aspen Grove..."
"Aspen Grove? Isn't that just a cross-country skiing place?"
The doctor proceeds to laugh at me while jabbing a needle through my bloody chin.

Now naturally you could say, "What about your experiences with sailing? And kayaking? and hiking? and roller-skating?" I'm sorry, but I've got to be a little selective here. This post is already too long. Maybe I'll hit some of these other sports later. Until then, though, it's amazing how much sports are a part of my life despite around 20 years of efforts to the contrary. I guess it's all around us, then...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Interview with a Manpire

Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek, the grumpy Slovene Hegelian is possibly serious. Possibly not.

In any case, I suspect that The Guardian got these questions from one of those "fill in your answer and send to 10 people" email.

When were you happiest?

A few times when I looked forward to a happy moment or remembered it - never when it was happening.

What is your greatest fear?

To awaken after death - that's why I want to be burned immediately.

What is your earliest memory?

My mother naked. Disgusting.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the twice-deposed president of Haiti. He is a model of what can be done for the people even in a desperate situation.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Indifference to the plights of others.

Aside from a property, what's the most expensive thing you've bought?

The new German edition of the collected works of Hegel.

What is your most treasured possession?

See the previous answer.

What makes you depressed?

Seeing stupid people happy.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

That it makes me appear the way I really am.

What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?

A mask of myself on my face, so people would think I am not myself but someone pretending to be me.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Watching embarrassingly pathetic movies such as The Sound Of Music.

What do you owe your parents?

Nothing, I hope. I didn't spend a minute bemoaning their death.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

To my sons, for not being a good enough father.

What does love feel like?

Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.

What or who is the love of your life?

Philosophy. I secretly think reality exists so we can speculate about it.

What is your favourite smell?

Nature in decay, like rotten trees.

What is the worst job you've done?

Teaching. I hate students, they are (as all people) mostly stupid and boring.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

My birth. I agree with Sophocles: the greatest luck is not to have been born - but, as the joke goes on, very few people succeed in it.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

To Germany in the early 19th century, to follow a university course by Hegel.

How do you relax?

Listening again and again to Wagner.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

The chapters where I develop what I think is a good interpretation of Hegel.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

That life is a stupid, meaningless thing that has nothing to teach you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Statement of Intent: Draft 1

Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please let me in.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Somewhere There is an Angry Head-Counter

I'm not quite certain how it happened, but the young man who takes count of people in the rooms of the JFSB hates me with a fiery passion that I have never encountered, even with people who have more than a 40-second encounter with me. I thought I was being cute and flirty and funny when I invited him to stay in our class when he stuck his head in. Then he slammed the door. After class, I ran into him randomly and tried to apologize and he walked away. I think I have made a powerful enemy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An Incident South of Campus

So I was sitting at home, feeling lazy, when I decided that if I really wanted to take a long, leisurely bath, then I was going to need some trashy (in quality, not in content) fashion magazine. The neighbors being fresh out, I walked down to the local 7/11 and picked up my InStyle for $3.99 and while I was there, why not, got 5 bucks cashback.

I walk out, holding my umbrella in one hand, trying to put my money in my wallet with the other, and clutching my magazine under my arm, when I see this woman pushing a baby carriage, a man besides her holding on to the stroller with one hand, his other hand loosely holding one of those red-and-white canes. You know, the kind blind people use? The woman, passing me, says, "Excuse me, can you help us?" With my wallet now in my back pocket, but still navigating my umbrella and magazine, I lean over. It's drizzling and I might as well share my umbrella a little.

"Yes?" I ask, expecting her to ask where something is located.

"We're raising money for our baby's surgery tomorrow--would you like to buy a hair clip or a hair-tie or a key chain?" Ordinarily, of course, this is a hoax. But things are different here. For one thing, her blind husband is right there, keeping silent and just kind of staring around. It's probably for the best that he didn't address me first--not that I'm discriminatory, but it's dark, it's night, it's 7/11...I'd really rather a woman made first contact, you know? Secondly, she has the baby with her. I look into the baby carriage. Who can blame me? Everyone likes to take a look at babies, and the baby for whom the surgery was intended was right in front of me, so what if I looked over to check out the baby? It's not like I was judging the veracity of her story or anything.

I don't know exactly what's wrong with the baby, but something is wrong. She has a tube up her nose, helping her breathe, but that's not what I first notice. Her eyes are protruding out, staring around wildly with an intensity that I'm not used to seeing on a little baby, max, max, 10 months old. Every so often, she arches her baby back and flops her head to the other side.

I don't know if the mom knows I'm checking out her baby. I don't think she'd be mad; everyone likes to look at babies, right? Besides, I think she isn't under any delusions that everything is okay with her daughter.

Psychology aside, she probably isn't worried about what I'm doing, because she's pulling out these gallon-sized Ziplocs with the things she's selling. The hair clips are one dollar each, the hair-ties are two dollars. I think I say something encouraging like, "Oh, those are cute." Cute is an okay description, but I think the most accurate word might be pathetic, in the sweetest, saddest sense of that word. She's taken artificial flowers, artificial leaves, and connected them to bobby pins and elastic ties--maybe she's hot-glued them; it's hard to tell in the dark and the rain.

I had gotten out one dollar when she started her pitch, which I hadn't been able to put in my wallet easily anyway, but as she shows me the most expensive items, the keychains, I decide what I want to buy. "That one," I say, pointing to the first one that I can easily make out, a chain of randomly-colored pony beads on a metal ring.

"That's a special one," she explains appreciatively, helping me hold my umbrella as I negotiate my magazine to get out my wallet and remove three dollars. "My husband made that one." I look over to him, with his one hand on the stroller, but he doesn't seem to be paying much attention to either of us.

I think I say something like, "It's nice," and give her the money, sticking the keychain in the same pocket where my apartment key is. I could have given her 5 dollars, but what would I have said? "Here's a two-dollar tip?" "I hope these two dollars help you pay for your baby's surgery?" "These are going to make a big difference, I'm sure?" Anyway, she wasn't begging; she was selling useful items. I don't know if she would have accepted my lousy two dollars more. Still, when you're nickle-and-diming your way into medical procedures, don't the collection jars always say every little bit helps.

The money, though, isn't the half of it. She's a stranger. I'm a stranger. Her blind husband is a stranger. The baby's a stranger. I have nothing I can really give to these people. I can't hug them in the dark and the rain outside the 7/11 with my umbrella and my wallet and my $3.99 fashion magazine; besides, I'm not her Relief Society president. So I just say something sincere and ineffective like, "good luck." "Good luck," incidentally, is my default sign-out when I write email, a more than dozen email a day, to my students and acquaintances, "Good luck," or else "Best wishes". I meant it more when I said it in front of the 7/11, but that's all I can say. So I go home.

I don't end up taking my bubble bath. But it's not like I start taking up a collection, either. I don't know her name; I don't know her husband's name; I don't know her baby's name. I am a completely insufficient stranger. I don't even use my keychain.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On My English 150 Students

They're learning...they're learning ...they're learning!!

(lightning, thunder, a wolf howls in the distance)