Thursday, September 2, 2010
Though I’ve been away from this for almost two months, I’m not ready to give it up. However, my reading and writing inclinations have undergone a surprising turn during that time. Whatever path the writing in this space takes, it will have to account for this unexpected turn.
Claire and I planned to spend most of our summer bouncing around New York. Besides being close to her family, there were archives she wanted to consult in conjunction with a couple of articles she was writing, and I had work to do on a project I had previously announced here with an overblown sense of epiphany. We've thought about this region of the country as a place we might want to settle some day, but I'd never spent any extended time there. So we wanted to experiment with living there for a while, not in but within easy commuting distance of New York City.
So we left in late June, spent about a week staying with her grandparents in Ellenville, NY, a sad, dying (or undying) town nestled beautifully, poignantly at the foot of the Shawangunk Ridge
where we rented a little cottage on Cayuga Lake for a week.
Then, sometime in late July, my reading finished, I set to begin to write and I found myself unable to finish even a paragraph, so bored was I by my own project. A bunch of other stuff was going on too: my kids weren’t speaking to me except to ask for money, their mother, my ex-wife, was sending me abusive e-mails, and Claire and I were staring down the rapidly approaching barrel of another academic year in which I’d be commuting weekly from our home in St. Louis to my job in Ann Arbor, Michigan. All in all, I was feeling weighed-down, numb and close to depression. Around that time was my 45th birthday. Claire had prepared a wonderful day for me and, while I was certainly grateful and able to enjoy much of it, I also threw several fits over the course of the day, like a small child overwhelmed by the stimulation.
|Me on my 45th Birthday|
Patiently as always, over the course of the next week, Claire accepted my apologies and listened to me try to unravel the source of my anger and frustration. I don’t remember the blow by blow and it probably wouldn’t be that interesting anyway. But what I recall emerging with clarity from that dark messy combination of sulky depression, numb aloofness, and infantile tantrum was Claire’s question; why are you writing that book if you aren’t interested in it? This question, when explored in further conversation, not to mention in my individual therapy, helped to reorient me in some deeply important ways.
Among other things, Claire was pointing out that I had spent so much of my adult life making sure that I was fulfilling my responsibilities to others that I seemed almost compulsively to seek out and construct projects that would permit me – now – to avoid exploring the question of what I might want to do if I weren’t devoting myself entirely to the fulfillment of others’ real and imagined needs. What if I didn’t have a project? What if I could observe more minutely my visceral inclinations, both transient and lasting, the better to sift out the one from the other?
This went hand in hand with my therapist trying to help me adjust my attitude toward the upcoming year of commuting. While understanding of my dread of the impending separation from Claire and the physical and emotional drain of commuting, he hoped, I think, that I might come to see this year as a means by which I could achieve a transition toward a more satisfying vocational and professional situation for myself, one that also allowed Claire and I to live and work in the same city. After all, he pointed out, you are only going to be up there in Ann Arbor three days a week, you just have to teach a couple of classes, do a little administrative work, draw a decent salary, and use the rest of your time and energy to explore what else, if anything, you might want to do with your life and to put yourself, practically, in a position to do it.
On my birthday, Claire and I had gone into this excellent little used book store in Kingston called Half Moon Books. We both got a lot of stuff. As an afterthought, almost an impulse purchase as we got ready to leave, I strolled past the sports section and picked up a book by Gary Pomerantz called Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era. I had never heard of the author or the title. But readers of my June review of Andre Agassi’s Open will recall that reading that book had released for me some deep memories of my early childhood and adolescent love of sports and sports writing. Indeed, Wilt Chamberlain, one of the dominating basketball players of the 1960s and early 70s, figured largely in those memories. At the end of July, in the wake of these conversations with Claire and my therapist, in the ruins of yet another couple of book projects that I realized I didn’t want to write, faced with the unreasonably and even embarrassingly scary prospect of just contemplating my own desires, I picked up this book. I read it in two days, the only book from that binge of books purchased on my birthday at Half Moon that I have read. The book provoked a rush of memories, stored trivia, personal experiences and excitement and it led me to want more of the same kind of thing. So I did a quick search to see what basketball books people had written and been talking about lately. I made a top ten list and marched back to Half Moon, delighted to find that three of the top ten were there, used, on their shelves.
Those three books – Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season, Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Miracle of St. Anthony, and Darcy Frey’s Last Shot – I devoured over the course of the next week. By that time, we’d left Kingston and the Catskills behind and were in Brooklyn. There, I took advantage of the proximity to go to Strand in Manhattan. There I picked up David Halberstam, Playing for Keeps, Ira Berkow, To the Hoop, Jack McCallum, 07 Seconds or Less, David Halberstam, The Breaks of the Game, John Feinstein, A Season on the Brink, Phil Jackson, The Last Season, and Terry Pluto, Loose Balls. As I’m writing today, about a month after that visit to Strand, I read both Halberstam books, Berkow and McCallum, and I’m just about done with Feinstein. So I still have Jackson and Pluto to read, but I’ve also checked out another 8 books on my growing basketball reading list from my local library. In sum, in the past five weeks, I’ve read nearly 9 books about basketball. I can’t remember the last time I read 9 books in five weeks. More importantly, I can’t remember the last time I read so avidly, enjoyably, or was so stimulated by what I’d read.
Over the course of this same period, I’ve been remembering a lot about the role that basketball, which I have played, coached, and followed, has played at different times of my life. I’ve experimented with trying to explore some of this in writing and, perhaps most enjoyably of all, I started playing pick-up ball regularly again.
This last is something I hadn’t done since around 1995, with a brief one month except around 2003. I’m thinking that maybe I’d like to try to get into coaching a middle-school or high school team, and to writing about basketball (I might even write down my thoughts about some of the books I’ve been reading). But I don’t know for sure. I still don’t really know what I want to do with my life, I don’t know when or even if my kids will ever speak to me again to share some happy or sad feeling, I don’t know how Claire and I will resolve the uncertainties of our work and living situations. But I know that the past four weeks of playing, reading about, and talking (thanks for that, too, Claire, for listening to me talk about basketball) basketball have made all these other uncertainties feel less daunting and oppressive, have made me feel less cramped and numb; lighter, more open to other joys and desires that have nothing to do with hoops, more accepting of myself, and ultimately, more joyful, and optimistic.