At work today, I was furiously concentrating on a project, zoning out to The Decemberists while my coworkers chatted. It was around lunch time, and past the time I should have taken a break, but I hadn’t gotten to a decent resting spot. In an effort to start drawing myself out of the zone, I took out an ear bud to listen to the conversation around me. “Did I ever tell you about the time I shut down three volleyball games because I biffed it so bad that the refs couldn’t even talk?” “Nope.” “Oh my god…it was so funny.”
I had never heard that story, but its introduction reminded me why I don’t participate in group sports. I admire people who do, but I just don’t understand the motivation. Failure in group sports is so public. The entire audience knows what you have to do and they get violent when you didn’t do your one job: catch the ball, block the person running your way, etc. I consider myself a fairly confident person, but I’m just not willing to risk that level of embarrassment just for the right to say “Yeah, my team won.” If I’m going to win, it’s going to be because of my own work. The same goes for my failures. Sure, I get embarrassed about things momentarily, but I have no problem moving on. It’s because I’m smart about what I do. I don’t do things that people would talk about years later if I failed. Few of my failures have been theatrical.
Once, when I was living in Milwaukee, I was walking down Oakland in the rain. I had no umbrella, just a coat with my hood pulled over. I was listening to something beautiful and sad, most likely (it was just what I did), and I had my arms crossed tightly over my chest when I saw that a good-looking boy was walking towards me. Feeling girly and oddly confident, when we passed, I locked eyes with him and smiled. His eyes lingered for longer than I expected.
“He’s going to go home and daydream about me,” I thought contentedly. I was feeling pretty good about myself as I rounded the corner to my street. “I should always wear ballet flats when it rains. It’s so practical,” I probably also thought, because I was 19 and an idiot. When I got home, I put my things in my bedroom, then went straight to the bathroom to take a hot shower. In the mirror, I saw why his eyes had lingered. Black streaks of mascara stained my cheeks. “I don’t think he’s going to daydream about me,” I thought aloud.
I’m not an athlete. I just don’t really have faith in my body. I don’t run fast. I have no arm strength, core strength, or any physical strength now that I’m listing it all. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m clutsy, but I’m only aware of my body movements enough to not injure anyone. I don’t trust myself enough to be on a team where people are counting on me to throw myself in front of a ball or another human who is going a place my team doesn’t want him to go.
In school, kids who were good at sports were also the cool ones who weren’t very smart. I took a personal pride that I read better books than they did. You know how teenagers are always beefing about that. My one athletic moment took place my junior year of high school during a softball game in gym class. I took my usual spot out in left field, as close to the batter’s opposite wall as I could get without the gym teacher telling me I had to pretend to participate. I was zoning out, probably thinking about which emo lyrics I was going to write in the margins of my algebra notes, when I realized the ball had been hit high and far and was headed straight to me. Not knowing what else to do, I just stuck my hand in the air. I didn’t think I would actually catch it. But I did. I caught the damn ball.
I was so impressed with myself. I actually considered it when my gym teacher encouraged me to go for softball. “Maybe I’m a natural athlete whose ability is just now surfacing at 16,” I thought. Then I remembered the time I tried running around the block without stopping, and I decided to just play violin for 2 hours a day instead.