Who doesn’t confuse themselves with the book they are reading? Why read if you don’t?
So I was not much beyond the first half when I found myself borrowing lines from Zelda’s letters to Scott and working them into my own letters to people I missed or people I talked myself into missing. I wrote about remembering the time I touched the back of so-and-so’s neck, “where the hair is short and mossy.” Wait a minute, I thought. Is that true? Did it feel like that? But then I went on to something about sitting in a cemetery “under big dead moons.” The cemetery in Broken Arrow is a field of flat plaques and plastic bouquets pinched into dirt. To the right, a rusted water tower once painted to look like a pencil. To the left, wheels of hay to be picked up by one of the tractor-trailers passing down County Line. Had the cemetery been otherwise, I would have written about “weepy, watery blue flowers that seem to grow from dead eyes.” I was dying to write about flowers growing from dead eyes.
If I could intervene now, I would say, Crowd the cemetery with too many moons and blue flowers! With ferns that roll out toward you, fronds like reptile tongues! I would say, Go ahead and let letters be fantasy. Because in the end it always happens anyway, when you’re finished and you’ve signed your name and you’re reading over what you’ve written one last time and even though you’ve tried to be so good there it is again, the discovery that what you have expressed is not the way you are but the way you want to be.
You’re not just playing basketball anymore. You’re an artist. You’re creating something that you want people to remember. Every arena is filled with people who may not have seen you before. On the road, you love silence. That’s your favorite sound. You want to hear cheering and yelling, you want to hear the panic, and then, you want nothing. Just a sound vacuum other than your teammates yelling and screaming. You want them dejectedly filing out of their arena, feeling like someone just hit them with a wrecking ball. You want them muttering that you’re the best player they ever saw, and that they have absolutely no idea how to stop you. That’s your goal on the road.
My Cleveland is a city of losers — and I mean that as a compliment. No royals retire here for the skiing. The people I grew up with were the descendants of stiff-necked troublemakers from County Mayo or the Abruzzi, men who never bowed to royalty — peasants to everyone but themselves. They were the children of proud women who realized they’d never get a fair shake in Hattiesburg, Miss., or Selma, Ala., and besides, how brutal could a summer in an east Cleveland tenement be?
They came from a long way off and collected here, pushed by hard times and pulled by a desire for home. They toiled in the steel mills and, over time, put down roots. The newcomers sat shoulder to shoulder at Cleveland Arena or Municipal Stadium, eating hot dogs, tasting brown mustard and defeat, learning to say “wait till next year” in many languages.
The wheel surely does spin. Four years after being tossed under the bus, we’re back on board, all doubts and suspicions stored in the luggage compartment. Our hopes are pinned on a rookie quarterback from Texas, Johnny Manziel; a casino owner from Michigan, the Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert; and now a homegrown baller returning from South Beach. They have arrived from a long way off to work hard, not in the tire plants or on assembly lines, but on our fields of dreams. I don’t know how they feel about brown mustard, but I hope they have no taste for defeat.
Like it or not, life just keeps going, and loneliness is always a part of the package. No matter how great your commitment to self-improvement, you don’t ever get to shed your shadow. You can do yoga, see a therapist, make more money, drink more water, delete all your accounts, or throw your computer off the side of a mountain, but there are still going to be moments where you feel alone and afraid, where you make weird, bad choices because of that fear.
So much of our culture is about striving toward an impossible standard of self-improvement. So much of our living demands that we chase down closure, elide or attempt to erase the parts of ourselves that feel and fear the presence of the void. The best art is a panacea against the interminable anxiety this myth of easy self-betterment engenders: it gives us permission to be vulnerable and fucked up and afraid and imperfect, to empathize and push past ourselves.
But the part of me that is anxious–the deep part of my sometimes-scared soul–wants to keep going, keep moving, shark-like, because if I stop I’ll have to face the fear that runs like a machine in my stomach. What if who I am isn’t good enough? What if I never write the things I hope to write, never become the person I want to be? What if I’m a huge disappointment, needy and aloof at the same time? What if God and the rest of you only love me when I’m shiny and on, tap-dancing my way through life long enough to make you smile? It’s an exhausting routine, but sometimes it feels like the only one I know.
Part of being a person who experiences anxiety is learning to listen to what the anxiety is trying to tell you. I am often beholden to fear about never amounting to much, and my best response cannot always be to get up and leave town to experience something new. Sometimes, that will be just what I need. But more often than not, what is called for is probably something a lot more boring–a long obedience in the same direction. Staying put, writing regularly, working at my church, volunteering or serving other people, and listening to God in the quiet and noisy spaces of home.
Home may not be a place where I’m free from anxiety, or where I’m always happy. Home, right now, is 500 square feet in San Francisco with beautiful views of the city and a couch that’s too old and a husband who loves me so dearly. But home is also this thing in me, this thing I carry with me wherever I go, and sometimes, in order to develop that home, the thing I need to do is the thing I least want to do. Stay put.
Watching sports is, among other things, a special way of experiencing time. Sport is like music or fiction or film in that, for a predetermined duration, it asks you to give it control over your emotions, to feel what it makes you feel. Unlike (most) forms of art, though, a game has no foreordained plan or plot or intention. The rules of a game impose a certain kind of order, but it’s different from the order of an artwork. A movie knows where it wants to take you; no one can say in advance where a game will go. All of its beauty, ugliness, boredom, and excitement, all of its rage and sadness emerge spontaneously out of the players’ competing desires to win. For however long the clock runs, your feelings are at the mercy of chance. This happens and then this happens and then this happens. You’re experiencing, in a contained and intensified way, something like the everyday movement of life.
Brian Phillips, Full Time: Fading Images of the World Cup
I love sports and I love sports writing, and this is why.
Then, with his children, clothed in skins of brutes,
Dishevelled, livid, rushing through the storm,
Cain fled before Jehovah. As night fell
The dark man reached a mount in a great plain,
And his tired wife and his sons, out of breath,
Said: “Let us lie down on the earth and sleep.”
Cain, sleeping not, dreamed at the mountain foot.
Raising his head, in that funereal heaven
He saw an eye, a great eye, in the night
Open, and staring at him in the gloom.
“I am too near,” he said, and tremblingly woke up
His sleeping sons again, and his tired wife,
And fled through space and darkness. Thirty days
He went, and thirty nights, nor looked behind;
Pale, silent, watchful, shaking at each sound;
No rest, no sleep, till he attained the strand
Where the sea washes that which since was Asshur.
“Here pause,” he said, “for this place is secure;
Here may we rest, for this is the world’s end.”
And he sat down; when, lo! in the sad sky,
The selfsame Eye on the horizon’s verge,
And the wretch shook as in an ague fit.
“Hide me!” he cried; and all his watchful sons,
Their finger on their lip, stared at their sire.
Cain said to Jabal (father of them that dwell
In tents): “Spread here the curtain of thy tent,”
And they spread wide the floating canvas roof,
And made it fast and fixed it down with lead.
“You see naught now,” said Zillah then, fair child
The daughter of his eldest, sweet as day.
But Cain replied, “That Eye—I see it still.”
And Jubal cried (the father of all those
That handle harp and organ): “I will build
A sanctuary;” and he made a wall of bronze,
And set his sire behind it. But Cain moaned,
“That Eye is glaring at me ever.” Henoch cried:
“Then must we make a circle vast of towers,
So terrible that nothing dare draw near;
Build we a city with a citadel;
Build we a city high and close it fast.”
Then Tubal Cain (instructor of all them
That work in brass and iron) built a tower—
Enormous, superhuman. While he wrought,
His fiery brothers from the plain around
Hunted the sons of Enoch and of Seth;
They plucked the eyes out of whoever passed,
And hurled at even arrows to the stars.
They set strong granite for the canvas wall,
And every block was clamped with iron chains.
It seemed a city made for hell. Its towers,
With their huge masses made night in the land.
The walls were thick as mountains. On the door
They graved: “Let not God enter here.” This done,
And having finished to cement and build
In a stone tower, they set him in the midst.
To him, still dark and haggard, “Oh, my sire,
Is the Eye gone?” quoth Zillah tremblingly.
But Cain replied: “Nay, it is even there.”
Then added: “I will live beneath the earth,
As a lone man within his sepulchre.
I will see nothing; will be seen of none.”
They digged a trench, and Cain said: “‘Tis enow,”
As he went down alone into the vault;
But when he sat, so ghost-like, in his chair,
And they had closed the dungeon o’er his head,
The Eye was in the tomb and fixed on Cain.