Thursday, April 28, 2011

Old Men and Basketball

      There comes a time in every ball players life when we should gracefully leave the court and take up a game that does not involve grinding our knees into pulp. We don’t of course, but we should. Instead we find new ways to become effective on the court, by which I mean we cheat.
      It starts off innocent enough, a little shuffle and lean while setting a pick, a few extra steps on the way to the hoop. But then it gets ugly. Let’s just call it, for sake of argument, DG ugly.
         DG ugly means camping out in the paint for hours beyond the three-second rule without even pretending to move your feet. DG ugly means calling a foul on every single shot you take regardless if anyone is near you. DG ugly means criticizing every move your teammates make while standing still on a fast break. Let’s just avoid the entire subject of elbowing your opponents in the post.
       When I was in my thirties I swore that I would never become one of those guys. But last night with the game well in hand, one point away from the walk off shot I crossed over to the dark side. It could have been a foul, the kid didn’t argue the call, but I knew it was cheap. I was chasing down a loose ball, and got one hand on it, when out of nowhere this twenty something flew by me and stole the ball. True, he took half my arm with him and he reached in, but I never would have called it ten years ago. I just would have shrugged and said to myself “self, protect the ball next time”.  I called the foul and then hit the walk off shot next time down the court…………it was not a proud moment.         So what’s the moral of this tale? Cheaters prosper? Of course they do. In fact, it’s part of the game. No one even raised an eyebrow! ARRGGGGG!!!!!

         It is not too much of a leap to say that basketball mirrors life.         I’m reminded of a moment I shared with the lunch lady in my old school. Cathy is a big-hearted Eastern European woman with a very thick accent. One day I came into the kitchen and said, “Hey Cathy, I’m stealing an apple”.

         “Corey, you know vat happens vhen you steal?”
         “Yeah, I get stuff for free”

         Sigh…..why is being bad so rewarding?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Scarlet "J"

         In February of 2008, the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants in the final moments of Super Bowl XLII. The loss solidified my place in the family as “THE JINX”. [1] Whenever I make a sports prediction the universe has an equal and opposite reaction. I swore, after being teased relentlessly, that I would keep my mouth shut. But my family still insists celebrating my faults. I kept my mouth shut since that humiliating day[2]. That is, until last Monday when the Celtics played the New York Knickerbockers in game one of their 2011 playoff series.  While the aging Celtics were generally outplayed by a rapidly improving Knickerbockers, Ray Allen drained a three point shot in the final seconds of the game to put Boston ahead.  I posted one innocent word on my Facebook status; “RAAAYYYY!!!!!”.

         My father and brothers responded by writing me long letters about how happy they were that I was rooting for the Celtics. Once again they dusted off the old Corey Jinx and wrapped it around me like a straight jacket. Stupidly, I responded. I took the bait and wrote back.

         I think if I sat down with my father and four brothers and said “hey enough with the Jinx”, they would say it was all in fun. They would, rightly so, point out what an insufferably big mouth I had and that I was practically  begging for their ridicule. Point well taken, even if it was not actually made.

         So what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that when they play the Jinx card, they are putting a spotlight on a fault that I have been working pretty hard on. I know they don’t see it that way, I’m not sure I was fully aware of it until this week. You see, I have been trying to cultivate a more keen sense of humility, which in part means keeping my mouth shut on things I really don’t know much about. This is harder work than you might imagine. My oral cavity is a foot magnet.[3] Still, I’m working on it. So when I say something that I think of as pretty innocent like “RAAAYYYY!!!!!” and the reply I get is, “hey Corey remember all the times you said really stupid things about sports”, I find myself way back at the starting line of that journey. Part of me wants to lash out and say, “yeah, I remember that- thanks for the reminder, I appreciate it. Hey, while we are in the neighborhood, shall we go visit some of the moments you wish you could take back?”

         I took the bait and responded. Dumb, dumb, dumb…….. It’s like taking that old soup of sports angst that you were about to throw away and putting it on the front burner. I set the table by saying anything regarding sports. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could acknowledge Ray’s achievement without inviting the Jinx Card. He is a class act. Now for the remainder of the NBA playoffs, win or lose, I will wear the scarlet J.

[1] I suppose it bears repeating that I support New England teams while my father and brothers support teams from New York.
[2] @Adam: just for the record, I think three years of silence is a huge achievement. I sincerely invite you to match that benchmark..........starting last Monday.
[3] I suppose it could be worse, but there is only so far I am willing to go with an orifice analogy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

“Stories are data with a soul” – Brene Brown

Recently I watched a YouTube snippet of Dr. Brene Brown speaking at a TED Conference[1]. She said a few things that resonated with me, besides how cool her name is. If you don’t know her, she is a researcher and a story-teller who studies issues like vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.

I’ll cut right to the chase, Brown says that you can’t selectively numb. When you numb yourself or repress an emotion, it impacts the whole system. I’m pretty sure she is right about this, which is a shame. Why can’t I just be open-hearted and loving without also being angry and cantankerous? It would be so much easier just to live in a bubble of the good stuff. But the truth is, I find people who have banished negative feelings and just float along in a fluffy cloud of happy really annoying. Particularly if it is an evangelical-religious or new age cloud of fluffy-happy.

No, life is messy. Very, very messy and you have to get your hands dirty to live it fully. So here is my dilemma; I am like many men; socialized to repress anger, shame, and fear. Stuffing these emotions into an over-full cerebral closet has become a reflex. Like blinking, something makes me angry it gets buried before I even have a chance to see if it is a real threat. How does one begin to turn off that switch? It’s like a fist that has been clenched so long that the muscle memory of how to relax is gone. I’m not saying that I am an emotional cripple, far from it. But as I get deeper into the work of being in the real world, I am aware of this huge internal vault of repressed emotions. Right now I do not have the key, nor am I willing to use a sledge hammer hard enough to penetrate much further than the Celtics last losing streak. I have to admit, back-to-back losses last month against the Clippers and Philadelphia cut deep.

I hope you all forgive me for the posts that are likely to follow. I’m going mining for deep down emotions. It’s slow going and I’ve got a hard head to crack.

Well worth the twenty minutes if you are interested in watching the whole thing.