It occurred to me recently that it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on my hand. I miss the days when my life was so busy that I couldn’t remember everything that I needed to do in a day without jotting down little reminders to myself. These days, I spend most of my time sitting in my room working my way through an endless stack of books and a Netflix queue that never seems to get shorter. It’s not a bad way to live, but there’s so much waiting. I used to be such an overachiever that an entire month would go by in which I never once went home after school. Every day, I had a meeting, a rehearsal, or something. Free time is nice, but one should have something else on one’s plate. Like sports.
It’s been a long time since I’ve played or watched a sport. As a child, I played football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. At one point, I even dabbled in gymnastics. I never showed much promise in most of those, but that was largely because my heart wasn’t in it. In high school, I had a brief stint as part of the bowling club, which allowed me to say that I had been a part of student government, performing arts, and athletics. I was, as they say, a well-rounded student. Does anyone realize how boring that is? I really hate overachievers. One of my good friends during that time was a handsome, modest, mild-tempered football player whose grades were comparable to mine and who, later in his high school career, began to intrude into what I had always thought of as my domain: theater. What’s worse, he was good at it. Our junior year, he scored a role that I thought I would have been a lock for. To say that I was irrationally angry would be an understatement. This was my house, dammit. Why did he have to come in here? Wasn’t football enough?
Most people seem to have a desire to be “egg-shaped”—that is, to be good at a lot of things and really good at one thing. I don’t. I like only about five or six things. Everything else can go to hell. One of those five or six, I recently discovered, is gymnastics. It’s a very elegant sport, more than a little similar to dancing. In my four years as an undergrad, I never went to a single football, baseball, basketball, or soccer game, to say nothing of swimming, lacrosse, or what have you. That’s not to say I don’t like them (I used to be a huge college football fan), only that I haven’t yet worked up the energy to get into (or back into) any of them. Part of the appeal of gymnastics, for me, is that it isn’t a big spectator sport. At the events I’ve attended, the crowd has been relatively small. At least half of the spectators, I would estimate, are the friends and family of the athletes. I just think it’s a great sport (it doesn’t hurt that gymnasts make for great masturbatory fodder.)
I was an actor for many years. I was quite successful in my own way, but not too long ago, I decided to take a break for a while. Put simply, what I got out of it never quite equaled what I put into it. One of my acting teachers, after sitting in on one of our classes before our regular teacher went on vacation (she was a substitute), handed out monologues for us to perform for the class during the regular’s hiatus. She gave me a monologue from Red Light Winter in which a painfully insecure writer spills his guts to a prostitute who gave him a handjob a year ago and one from Angels in America in which a closeted Mormon husband almost comes out to his homophobic boss. At the risk of oversharing, I know all too well what those characters are going through. It distressed me that she could, after observing me for only a couple hours, assign me two characters who collectively told the story of my life. Some people can do that: pour out their soul for an audience of strangers night after night, then go home and eat frozen pizza. I can’t. Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m not a theater person. But I think I might have more appreciation for sports than I used to know.
In his book Man in the Middle, former NBA player John Amaechi makes an interesting observation about basketball. He says that it’s a myth that one can only devote one’s life to playing basketball if one has a passion for the sport. Amaechi was quite successful, but by his account, part of what held him back from greater success was his refusal to pretend that he loved basketball more than life itself. Some people play for money, some for fame, some to impress the opposite (or same) sex, and some because they truly love the game. But they’re all professionals. When they get out on the court, their reasons for playing are irrelevant. They just play.
Gymnastics tends to get short shrift in the world of college sports (at least, it does where I live.) Everybody talks about football, quite a few follow basketball, but when my university experienced funding problems last year, men’s gymnastics was the last sport out of several dozen to be reinstated as part of the athletics program. Maybe I’m unique in my admiration for it. All I know is that I’ve never seen anyone making an idiot out of themselves at a gymnastics meet while shirtless and wearing paint. Maybe that would destroy the mood. Then again, maybe not. The smallest audience I ever acted in front of consisted of seven (yes, seven) people, at least two of whom had friends in the cast. Whatever. We had a good time anyway. At the very least, it gave me something to write about.