The Day We Were Americans

Six days before one of the most infamous elections in US history, in a time when there had never been a wider trench between Democrats and Republicans, when an unspoken cold war breathed its icy breath down each of our red, white, and blue spines…the curse of the billy-goat was broken.  And without our realizing it, a nation came together, if only for a fleeting moment that tasted like cracker jacks, and smelled like cotton candy.

Let’s roll back the clock to 1945.  Come with me…Sinatra on the radio, Pin-ups on the walls, and Wrigley Stadium pregnant with the roars of the fans.  William Sianis rolls into the stadium on the north side of Chicago with his smelly pet goat.  After many complaints about the odorous beast, he is asked to leave.  At which time he declares, “Them cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”  And they didn’t.  Not a World Series.

Flash forward 71 years.  Rihanna on the radio and the walls, Wrigley Stadium still pregnant with the roars of the fans…it’s 2016.  A new war, one that has nothing to do with Nazis or surprise attacks, fills our lives.  Bitter diatribes are at every turn.  Our smart phones in hand, we peruse Facebook, Twitter, Instagram….any platform we can, to find a supporting argument for our passion or our venom.  We all worry about the future of our nation with different moral compasses, different lifestyles, and different core beliefs.  How will any of us ever feel patriotic again in these unsettling times where we all, regardless of our affiliations, seem to know this year will define a new future?  We all sit under the curse of the elephant and the donkey.

However, Wrigley Field is unchanged.  Criticized for not updating, that emblematic red marquee still ushers the fans inside.  The ivy-covered walls stand proudly as elders of the National League.  The hand-turned score board reminds us of a time when technology wasn’t king, though few of us have enough candles on the birthday cake to remember such a time. I certainly don’t.  I’ve experienced it only as folklore.  However, the outdated field reminds us of the great AMERICAN pastime.  It is one of the last remaining simple things we have…and man, don’t we need a little simplicity?

On November 2, 2016 all men and women, of all races, religions, and political parties held their breaths collectively.  Could the Cubs, still under the billy-goat’s spell, get that last out in the 10th inning?  Could they win the game, so long and painstaking, that it had now carried over into November 3rd?  Could the billy-goat be wrestled to the ground in the wee hours of that Fall night?

Indeed he could, and with one swift throw, and a man out at first, it happened.  The players stormed the field, pairing laughter with tears.  They were boys again, jumping up and down, for the love of the game.  The crowd thundered with praise and all men stood together, singing the song of the full-grown bear.

I don’t know the outcome of the election yet.  I don’t know what our country will look like just months from now.  However, I have the tiniest hope that we are all still Americans.  I hope that when we take off our baseball caps and put on our suits, or uniforms, or badges, that we remember who we were.  It took the Cubs 71 years to tackle that goat, but they broke the curse.  I now have but a shard of faith that as a nation we can wrangle a donkey and an elephant.  I’ve seen it now, in my own lifetime, with my own weary eyes.  There was a night at Wrigley field, where we were all Americans…and it was sweet.

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Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

 

 

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Cleveland Tears

Writing is a hard, hard, thing to be in love with.  To actually sign a great agent, have a book sold at auction, get a great editor, or see any materialization from the labor is far-fetched.  Writers have to believe in long shots going in, nothing but net, in the ninth hour.  We have to believe in exceptions to every rule, records being broken, and pots of gold at the ends of rainbows.  We have no choice but to believe in leprechauns and unicorns, centaurs and demigods.  If we don’t, then what do we have?  A mental condition, maybe?

Last night when my heart was pounding out of my chest while I watched game 7 of the NBA finals, I saw a centaur leading a supportive cast of unicorns.  I saw beings that were supposed to be men, find the animal, the regality, the x factor inside, and defy statistics, odds, and wrathful warriors to become champions.  I saw a man of 6’8, 250, morph into a beast of immeasurable proportions.  I saw his teammates grow wings, and fly. I saw a labor of love and passion begin to spin, snowball, and catch on fire.  I saw a city who hadn’t seen a victory in over 50 years  finally get to celebrate the fruitions of faith.  I saw a team become the first in history to ever deliver that victory from such a deficit.  I saw a group of players become more fierce when 99% of people out there wouldn’t have seen the point of stepping up, and would be ready just to try again next time.  They were down 3 games to 1, with 4 needed to win.  They were in an arm wrestling match with their knuckles almost touching the table.

As a writer, I feel like it’s part of my job title to inspire people, to give them a reason to hope, to make their next breath worth while.  We’re the dreamers, the innovators.  What I realized last night though, is that we need fodder.  We have matches, but have to have some sort of flint to touch that fire to, and start a blaze.  I was given that spark last night by these individuals who didn’t just talk the talk.  They proved it.  They did the impossible, and gave me hope that I can too.  They stepped up and showed me irrefutably that rejection, criticism, and low low odds DO NOT MATTER.  They wrote a memoir that I will forever reference when I need to remember how to fight.  With every jump shot, free throw, impossible block, and wood-burnt elbow sliding across the floor, these men wrote a story that I’ve been moved to put words with.  It is them, running, sweating, and dribbling all over my keyboard right now.

What I’m saying to the Cavaliers is not only congratulations, but THANK YOU.  Oh, thank you from the depths of my weathered writer’s soul.  Cleveland wasn’t the only one dreaming, hoping, needing a sign.  I needed it.  My trench mates needed it. Because of your performance last night, a young writer in South Carolina, no more than 5 feet tall, with manuscripts begging for the shelf time, has hope.  More than hope.  Defiance.  Courage.  Refusal of quitting.  I will play game 7, and I will fight until the buzzer sounds because YOU did.   What you’ve done doesn’t end on the court.  Your tears of joy have filled the building, swollen it to capacity, and now seep out.  Your dauntlessness has spilled onto the nation, and it’s a tidal wave.  Hold hands and take your bow, enjoy your title…the rest of us have some work to tend.  I hope when mine is done I will cry Cleveland tears, the ones that still stain the Golden State arena today.  I hope I will cry the tears that only come when daring to be great, the tears that only come when achieving the impossible dream, the tears that come from pure uninhabited need for greatness.

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Picture courtesy of NBA

The Turn

I used to have a certain cockiness about me, that I knew I had, wouldn’t admit to having, yet couldn’t wait for others to notice. It’s strange, because in one sense I’ve spent a life being insecure. I was terribly preoccupied with my looks, worried constantly how my body might look as I slink away from a crowd. I was terrified of not being fussed over. I don’t know exactly where it comes from. I’ve blamed it on different things over the years: having beautiful friends, hearing my father talk about how blonde women are unattractive, always being in front of people cheering or dancing, my formative years, adolescence. The truth is, I’m 27 years old now, and it doesn’t matter where it came from anymore. This isn’t really about overcoming that either. This is about the other flaw I developed to over compensate for my fragile ego. I decided to never screw up and to use my wit to flaunt it. I didn’t know what a monster I was about to raise from little monsterhood deep inside of me.

I became good at not screwing up. I had to be the best at whatever I did, if for nothing else to remain in the limelight. It was warm in that light, and I liked it there. In that light, for a moment, inadequacy doesn’t matter. When I was a young cheerleader I demanded the spotlight, always dancing right up front, focused on none other than stealing the show. I had to make the best grades, just to hear my grandparents praise me in front of the whole family. I discovered I was witty, and had to use it to charm anyone I could. I hadn’t found anyone who could rival me either. My secret cockiness was born. The monster was here, and I thought he would slay my short-comings. I would simply refuse to have short-comings. I found solace in this cocoon I’d made.

I must admit though, I did have pure dumb luck on top of the things I’d conjured myself. I could be in a room of a thousand people and win a drawing. I’d play my husband and his buddies in poker, throwing a flush down every time. I’d flash a sultry wink at them, and sweep their chips into my corner with a devilish grin. I’d then say something innocent, and bring up the fact I’m short to temper the sting, while still stirring the charm. I’d have the button on my phone cued to start playing a Bob Seger song I swear he’d written about me in prophesy, forcing everyone to quietly absorb the lyrics, “you always won every time you placed a bet. Still damn good, no one’s gotten to you yet.” I’d giggle, watching the others contemplate whether to smack me or love me. Things like this was how I coped with the world. It felt good at times, but bad more often.

After a random bout of panic attacks knocked me rather cruelly off that horse I’d been riding so pridefully, I needed a change. I needed a goal to feel good again, and I needed a real one. I realized that a man who only does what he is good at by nature, only beats others by default. I wanted to do something hard, that would take guts, and maybe give me some real confidence for once.

I decided to go back to my dancer roots, but do something crazy with it. I would audition to be an NFL cheerleader. This level of competition and intensity would be foreign to me, and I would treat it like a doomed bull at a Texas rodeo. Part of me was scared, but part of me, that cocky part,thought somehow it wouldn’t be possible for me to screw it up. I wasn’t a screw-up.

I trained for months, getting in the best shape of my life. I spent my days dancing, running, spray-tanning, bleaching my teeth, and eating things that look like they should be growing under pontoon boats. My audition dance was perfected, and I’d spent hours working on dance technique. Having come from a cheerleading and hip/hop background, my turns (pirouettes and such) needed work. I overcame my frustration with this, and nailed them in warm-ups. Now I just had to prance out in front of the judges, in an outfit I would normally only sport at the beach, and shine, shine, shine.

I had no idea what I had gotten into. I looked around at a room packed full of incredible dancers, with bodies that would make Megan Fox question herself. Judges were famous choreographers, fresh from Hollywood. The audition platform was featured on huge screens everywhere, and they were herding us in like cattle on Speed. That insecure little girl that I thought that monster had conquered was still alive. I felt like I’d found a ghost that had been living in me for years. I was terrified.

When I got to the audition area I knew I had to bring it…but, for the first time in my life I couldn’t. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t get my registration paperwork unfolded. When I took my mark, and the music started I could feel my convulsing body limiting my motions. I knew I wasn’t executing the moves like I should have. Then it was time for the pirouette I’d been dreading. I knew I had to focus on this because it was my weak point. I went for it, and came out of my turn early, with a bit of a stumble. I’d blown it.

After getting cut, I knew what it was like to not make a team. In an instant I knew what it was like to work towards something for months, then crack under pressure. I knew what it was like to fail after giving all I had. The strange part, was I was still proud. I used to looked at people who were proud of themselves “just for trying” like they were morons. However, I was wrong. I learned so much about guts, blood, sweat, and tears, while training for that. I learned about having to fight, and not necessarily winning that fight. Sometimes we have to give all we have for disappointment. The bull threw me off his back, but I truly wouldn’t have missed that right for anything. The greatest lesson, was probably the humility. I accepted it of myself. I realized that the whole time, this process was so personal, and more about facing parts of me I’ve muted…and realizing she isn’t half bad. Blowing that turn in my routine was a gift I never thought I wanted. It ended up being my turn…for the better.

Swinging from the Brush

I have written about, on several occasions, the special brand of joy I get from watching people’s dreams come true.  Somehow when I see others taking their dreams by the hand for the first time, I think if I get close enough to them, that some of the energy will splash onto me.  It’s like getting close to a waterfall…You know you can’t stand underneath it, but as you near it, the mist finds you for a little taste.

The Masters is my favorite sporting event of the year to watch, partly because of its homage to southern tradition, and partly because it is a breeding ground for impossible dreams coming true.  With 150 some odd contenders, anything could happen.  There’s always some guy out there, in that sea of plaid-wearing men, hoping for his first time to wear that green jacket beside the greats to come.  He knows it’s about as likely as seeing a shooting star, but that the right number of swings will put that shooting star in his lap, and that jacket around his shoulders.

This year’s winner was Bubba Watson, and he let his dream do a victory lap down his cheeks when that last little putt sealed the deal.  However, when he hit the ball off the tee in the second round of his sudden death match, it wasn’t looking good.  He swung that self-expressive pink driver with incredible speed as usual, but it landed him deep in the woods, without that coveted short grass in sight.  At some point or another, in the ninth hour, every human has taken that shot in some way.  To twist the knife, though his opponent didn’t hit a perfect shot, his position was much better.  Some people thought Bubba might have just kissed his victory goodbye.  He was, for that moment, the underdog.

However, the man who had never even taken a golf lesson or watched himself swing on camera, waded into that thick brush with a steady hand, and catapulted that ball out of the heavily staggered trees that were begging to keep his ball away from the green.  He was unmoved.  With an emotionless expression, he shot his dream living in that little white ball all the way to the place the waving flag beckoned him.  Two putts later he was a champion.  He pursed his lips together and looked into the sky, for a moment too spiritual to recount.  Then the tears flowed, paying respect to his dream for clawing its way out of that thicket, and riding the force from his club out of the gates of hell to freedom again.

I can only thank Bubba Watson.  I tip my hat to dreamers who still pursue their dreams when they wake up, when it hurts to fail, and when real eyes are watching all around.  It was beyond inspiring, and was like catnip to me.  I craved what he was feeling, and the writer in me grew thirsty. If he can hit a wild shot from the bowels of Augusta National, I can surely keep throwing my words at literary agents in New York City.  One of those wild swings will, against all odds, land on the right desk.  If I keep knockin’ the hell out of it, with my unique driver and rugged swing, I WILL wear my jacket too one day.  It will just wrap itself around my words instead of my body.  It will have my name on front, under the title of my novel, and it will sit on a shelf next to the ones who have already earned their jackets. It will be my moment of greatness that teases me now from afar.  I just have to remember, I’ve gotten far enough to stand in the hazard.  I’ve written the novel.  I swung the club from the brush.  Now its up to me to sink that putt.

We weren’t meant to live in the brush…we don’t belong there.  We are fashioned by nature to inevitably find the hazard, but we are equally fashioned to rise from it.  We have arms made to keep swinging.  However, we are mortals, not magicians.  We have to organically, with sweat, blood, and tears continue to swing.  Whatever we do, no matter how deeply in the woods our balls are buried we MUST swing over and over.  We were built with a driver inside begging and battling with us, to make it to the green.