Friday, May 23, 2014

One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

Photo: Christian Yves Ocampo, Flickr Creative Commons

First, before we get any further into this post, if you're a regular reader of this blog (do I actually have any?), could you take a moment and post a comment below and tell me what type of writing and writing topics are my best? I recently applied for a part time editing position with a publication I actually respect and my rejection e-mail included a line suggesting I come up with some freelance ideas and send them to one of their editors. It even included an actual email address to someone with an actual name for sending said pitches. The forms of writing they suggested were pretty broad (from essays and news to humor and lists), so I'm having complete idea block just coming up with something I do well.

Actually, let's face it. There's a chance that the veil of self-effacing pessimism and ironic detachment that I developed in the 90s may have to do with some serious self esteem issues about my writing, this despite the fact I was accused last year of having an excessively large ego for having the gall to express differing opinions and trying to explain my positions with facts and logic.

I may also be harboring bitterness about that incident as well, it turns out.

But anyway, if I've ever written anything you like (or a type of writing that you like), let me know so I can figure this thing out. So far my only idea is about being a semipro rugby team groupie. I could write about teaching, but there are many problems with my writing on that topic, especially if I'm trying to be funny and wanting to keep my day job. You know, food costs and everything.

Insert transition that makes the sudden change in topic and tone make sense here.

This is going to seem like a weird thing to include in the same post as a light-hearted request for suggestions, but two of the guys who graduated high school with me died this week. The truth is, when I heard, I didn't really feel anything. Despite growing up in a very rural area and graduating with a class of only about 120 students, I didn't really know either kid. I actually recognized the name of the first one to die and had a vague impression of the kind of person he was in school, but the second was a name I don't remember and even a visit to his Facebook page where he had photos of himself didn't ring any bells. This is normal for me. I've never been very outgoing and unless we're close, share some major interest or you make an effort to keep in touch with me, I spend very little time thinking about you. It's not elitism or dislike. It's just that social interaction is work for me and I'm a naturally lazy person. I'm only really comfortable with relationships where I know exactly where I stand and the other person puts in at least half of the work. In other words, if I've ever e-mailed or texted you, you're really important to me. If I've ever called you without having a very specific and practical reason, then you're probably my wife. If you're not my wife and remember an actual phone conversation with me that wasn't about a specific need or question, you called me.

Because of that, I'm often embarrassed when approached by former classmates or get asked by my students if I remember their mom/dad/cousin/brother/sister/aunt/uncle/whatever. Show me a picture and I may recognize the person, but probably not the name. I don't remember them. They weren't important to me, not because I looked down on them but because I had no more reason to emotionally connect with them than I do some random dude in Syria. Sure the civil war there is depressing and I hate the loss of life it entails, but I can't get too emotionally worked up about it. I only have so much social capital and I have to be careful where I invest it. The deaths of those two guys who happen to be my age and from the same hometown feel the same to me as the deaths of a Syrian villager or a South Sudanese refugee. This may seem cold, but tell me how many tears and thoughts you've spent on specific individuals in Syria or South Sudan.

This social detachment makes it ironic that I got my feelings hurt at a school sports banquet last night. At the end of the banquet the seniors made their farewell speeches and they always make sure to thank the coaches. This year I didn't coach the high school, I coached the middle school so I was there for the middle school portion of the banquet, but I had coached those four seniors for three years before this. I liked all of them. These are kids whose names I probably will remember in four years. These are kids whose fates will be of more personal interest than random Syrian strangers. That's why when only one of them actually thanked me in their speech, it bothered me a little. Even though I was sitting right next to their coaches for this year and even though the kid who actually thanked me went first, two didn't mention me at all and the fourth only thanked me by way of showing just how awesome the woman who replaced me was.

Except that's not an accurate portrait of what happened. It's an accurate portrait of what that emotional intuitive part of my brain felt and I've always been extremely skeptical of that part of who I am. My feelings were hurt, but I have trouble ignoring multiple sides and explanations for things. This makes me annoying if you're trying to talk through your feelings with me and it's even more annoying when it's me with the stupid emotions. This slight can easily be explained away. First, these are kids. I know from ten years' experience how tactless and accidentally mean teenagers can be. (They're rarely capable of being this subtle when they intend on being mean.) I also had almost no contact with these kids this season. I went to a couple of matches, but I don't teach seniors and never went to practices. They probably thought about me no more than I thought about them and that would be fair. Second, being used as an example of how great the new coach is shouldn't be insulting. The girl's entire point was that having another woman there who could understand her better was a nice change from the all male coaching staff she'd always had before. It's an entirely valid point. I am not a woman. I don't think I come off creepy, but it probably was nice for our girls to have someone of their own gender in a leadership position for them. For any kid looking to personally connect with their coach, I'm not the best candidate. I understand that. I don't go out of my way to make connections with people. I stay in a social comfort zone, and don't reach out to them. When I was coaching the high school, I was just about tennis. I didn't concern myself with their social lives. When I talked to them it was always related to the team and the sport. Because I don't talk about my personal life with them, they're not going to come to me with theirs.

I should be immune to feeling this way. After all, I understand it's my fault. If I'd been more outgoing, more personal, more open with them, they would have liked me better and thought of me more when I left. But I think this taps into something that was part of why I left the high school team to start with. The other male coach is just like me in his social connection with the team, but he sits higher in their thoughts. Why? He's the tennis expert. I was a competent coach by small-school standards, but I wasn't the expert. I never played or coached at the levels he played and coached at before retiring to be a part-time high school coach. The kids knew that. I knew that. I was okay with that. The problem is that the only way to make up for that deficit is to be more parental, the guy who shows true warmth and caring and makes them feel a part of a greater group, but I'm not that guy. I actually did feel that way about most of my players. I cared about their success on and off the court, and that's why I think this hurt a little. The feelings weren't mutual because I wasn't able to make them mutual.

Luckily, at the lower level where I coach now, I am the expert. I don't have to be the daddy. The other guy can do that. I just have to coach. And if you're worrying about my kids, don't. I have no trouble being open and warm with them, no more than I do with my wife, but then they make it easy. I know what a dad should be. The aloof, reserved man my athletes have always known will always be a stranger to my own kids. That's the way it should be.


Theresa B (of Nebulopathy) said...

The post that I find myself still thinking about during random moments is the one where you talked about dealing with the kid who refused to participate, because it really struck a nerve with me. I don't consider myself a bully, but there are certain situations where I really have to force myself to stop and think about what I want to do.

Other than that, I tend to enjoy the more regional stuff. I enjoy reading about things that are somewhat foreign to me. (Okay, yeah, actually that applies to all of the athletics and competition related posts as well, now that I think about it...) I'll never live in the South again (because one year in Baton Rouge has left more scars than I care to admit), but I find it fascinating to read about other places.

Sid said...

The transition from favour to death of high school mates (and I'm using the word "mates" loosely here) wasn't as flawless as you'd like.

Jacob said...

Sid, it wasn't flawless, but it was intentional. I think it works to illustrate the lack of connection I felt to the stories of the deaths while still allowing me to be a lazy writer. Win-win, you know?

Also, I can never have this sort of experience without have Garrett Hongo's "The Legend" go through my head.