Why I Give Up On Sports

For years, I’ve been saying that it’s tough being a fan. The loss, the heartache, the cyclical hope. Nothing compared to a hurricane or other legitimate tragedy, of course. And I mean it in jest. However, losing hurts. Your team losing hurts.

I was never a true die-hard fan, truth be told. I’ve never owned season tickets. I’ll never make it to the Super Bowl. A flat-screen at the local pub is probably the closest I’ll get to any packed stadium for a championship game.

Playing

Without a doubt, I love sports. There’s a purity to much of it, and I believe it brings out the best in people. My wife and I have kept the kids rolling through athletics for much of each year (with soccer, my favorite, being the default activity). At this level, as an assistant coach, I can connect with the kids, encourage them, and see correction for obvious errors or tactical problems. Last year, my son’s soccer team, Orange Crush, ran the table going into a state tournament. His head coach brought out the talents and best use for each sixth-grader, and the results were an awesome 13-0.

The other day, my daughter’s squad pounded their opponents 5-0. There was no attempt to run up the score. The other team simply didn’t have much of an attack (despite my daughter’s letting them through on a hilarious defensive whiff).

The Debacle

Contrast that with what happened that same night, a continent away…

Pen sketch of a USMNT soccer player kneeling and covering his face

The USMNT basically phoned-in an effort against Trinidad & Tobago–a game that should’ve put the Yankees in the 2018 FIFA World Cup for a ninth consecutive tournament. The American side lacked hustle and cohesion. Going by the highlights (or lowlights) our men didn’t look ready to compete on the world stage. Aside from Christian Pulisic’s goal, this seemingly rock-bottom showing paved the way for a much-needed housecleaning at US Soccer. And while us fans had so much hope for 2014, with Klinsman at the helm, we’ll be watching 32 other countries try to advance in this mother of all tournaments next year.

And these guys…

For years, I’ve been a fan of University of Tennessee football. Under Phil Fulmer, there was enough success (one national title, a .750 winning percentage) to keep Rocky Top happy during lean years. Then his offense got stale, he was canned, and a carousel of coaches has made the fan-base reminisce about the winning days in the rearview mirror. To become accustomed to such success is, inherently, a problem. Losses become crushing, embarrassing, disheartening–especially against the same squad every year, or just when your team appeared to have gotten its act together (see US 4, Panama 0).

Spikes of success, a packed stadium and ‘Believe’ banners aren’t enough to influence a miracle touchdown grab or stoppage-time goal down. It can be said a true fan wagers a lot of emotional capital on an outcome he or she can’t influence. At the end, half the players who walked on the field will walk off as so-called losers. Moral victories are a nice sentiment, but they’re hardly enough to sustain the faith in next season, for the next tournament.

Conceding defeat

So I’m turning in my expectations card. I’ll watch the Super Bowl, I’ll catch highlights of WC ’18 and I might make it to an MLS Sounders game next season. If the Mariners make it to the playoffs or Seattle gets a pro basketball team again, great. Call me a sports curmudgeon or fair-weather fan, that’s fine. I’ve got too many other things to worry about than a ball making it into a net.

For now.

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Dreams Defied

Hours ago, I had a dream in which a family of vacationers assumed my house was the VRBO they’d rented. In the middle of a sunny school day, they started hauling in bags and cases of orange juice concentrate and asking where the beach was (not anywhere near this house). And they were annoying as hell.

If this was an anxiety dream–I’m not an anxious person–at least it was rather benign. My OB/GYN wife recently dreamed that, during a delivery, the baby’s head popped off. She had to put it back on–quickly–with the medical equivalent of duct tape.

My dreams used to take me to very dark places. Munched by big sharks (numerous times), thrown off a cliff, shot (for a bewildering number of reasons, one of them logical), munched by giant spiders (before I read “It” or “The Two Towers”), set on fire, blown up, crushed, minced or sometimes just left in a setting with Darkness from Ridley Scott’s “Legend” film. Fear of the dark? For years, I was terrified of falling asleep. My brain was not my friend.

The one consistency through all these dreams (and as many as I can remember) is the issue of powerlessness. It’s a theme that pervades my books: Heroes (or other characters) are thrust into situations they have little ability to control. That’s a fun, safe trajectory for story-telling. Greed tales would lean toward parables, and veins of apathy or bigotry would be exceptionally difficult for a man who can’t truly understand either. (For capturing the GOP in novel form, I wouldn’t be the right guy.)

In my dreams, I’ve realized, I’m often not me. There’s usually a moral component–I feel bad, or I want to act in an ethical way–but I don’t act. I watch. As if my inner self is really just a giant chicken. ‘Hey, look at that. That’s kind of awful. No, don’t come my way!’

Or maybe my dreams are a kind of reminder, a guide to what what I should or shouldn’t do. My job is to act, to defy that inner pathetic weakling.

My wife is, of course, an extremely careful and thoughtful provider. I still don’t go too deep in the ocean (guilty) and I wouldn’t enter a nightmare-worthy cabin in the woods. If others are in peril (especially kids) I’d know to get them to safety, first.

Justin Edison's front door, through which pours...

And I’m sure, if a bunch of mistaken vacationers tried to waltz in here with their attendant crap and attitudes, I’d raise my voice pretty damned loud.

As the kids remind me, my inner ogre is always standing by.

Oversimplifying

On FaceBook the other day, there appeared an ad which a younger, less-mature me would’ve gotten really pissed-off about. It was for a weekend writing retreat (hundreds of starry-eyed writers crammed into a conference room) where someone could ostensibly learn to write a novel in 40 hours. Four-zero hours.

When I thought about it (and this feels like a gimmick sale) this would only make sense if someone gets the bones and structure and a few character details in place. Then, their story is done. (Well, not really.)

To get the bones and structure worked out is to simplify the overall narrative and arc into elemental terms. “Man falls in love with woman” becomes “boy meets girl” and so on. Naturally, life is that simple, isn’t it?

For fun, I decided I’d try it with “Endgame,” a war/sci-fi novel told from the perspective of my heroine, sniper Captain June Vereeth. (Probably 2,000 hours of work, all told.)

(The story starts in the middle of a battle, when Vereeth and company are defending a fuel dump on a Hoth-like world.)

snowy mountain peak with treetops in foreground

Girl (Captain June Vereeth, in the midst of battle) shoots bag-guy enemy commander.

Girl meet boy (Dhani, equipment tech) in cave during battle.

Girl re-joins best friend (Prubius) and boss (Joffe) in battle.

Girl is nearly killed by falling, exploding enemy craft.

Girl and best friend are nearly killed by cave-in. Boss dies (crushed).

Girl, best friend, boy and two others are trapped, cut off from battle. Boy’s arm is pinned.

Girl, as ranking officer, orders removal of boy’s trapped arm (lest boy dies).

Girl tries not to panic, orders party to find a different route back to Base (main route is compromised).

Girl and party are saved from cataclysmic blast (fuel cache detonation) when bad guys penetrate the Base.

Girl wonders what to do (party is without maps or radio and is stranded 70 million miles from friendly territory).

Girl orders party to push on, mulling options and the war itself and the opposing side.

Girl and party emerge from cave tunnels, look back to see volcanic-blast aftermath of Base explosion behind them.

Girl and party are surprised to see planetary defense rockets (which were delayed by cyber attack) suddenly launch skyward, aimed at bad-guy cruisers in orbit.

Girl and party are nearly crushed by many tons of falling debris (those bad-guy cruisers).

Girl and party move on, knowing bad guys will be back (and will be as surly as ever)…

 

Okay, so this story doesn’t break down into really simple statements, after all. But it sure was fun to write!

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

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Mishap

It’s going to happen–that catastrophic rip or crunch. I’m not a graceful person to begin with (ordera drunken moosae) and the statistics don’t work in my favor.

The other day, minutes into my pickup soccer game, I collided with another, more experienced player named Paul. It was nobody’s fault, as we were going for a loose ball. He held up a little bit (it is a pickup game where we don’t even keep score) and I’m grateful that he did. His knee went into my upper shin. That he was a step farther into his run made his body the hitter and mine the “hittee,” I guess. If it had been knee to knee, it could’ve been catastrophic for me. If he’d been going a little faster, as in full sprint, his patella could’ve snapped my tibia in two. It hurts. It happens.

(Ironically, contact took place above where the shin-guard I wasn’t wearing would’ve ended, so there’s no if-onlys regarding a few ounces of molded plastic.)

Justin Edison's legs showing a lovely soccer-related bruise

Ouch

Keith Jackson was fond of saying football (American) is a game of inches. In truth, all of sports (and much of life) has outcomes depending on tiny distances covered–or not–at a high velocity. Lionel Messi, the absolute wonder, has made a career of juking defenders and squeaking the 22-centimeter ball through with the slightest half-centimeter margins. For someone like him, that’s the difference between an attack interrupted and a keeper thinking obscenities (as he tries to stop what is largely unstoppable).

A teammate named Alex once took a rocket-ball to the face–hard enough to bloody his nose. As a slow-motion camera would’ve shown, if the opponent hadn’t struck it cleanly, or at just that moment, the ball would’ve scraped Alex’s cheek or ear, instead. He was fine, after the leaving the field, but I’m sure all he remembers is the blur coming faster than human perception allows.

For myself, this time, I got lucky. Though I’m not a high-traffic player (people with better skills are suited to that) some unfortunate collision or foot-twist is going to happen. Pain and injury are part of the risks.

The best advice I ever got from someone outside the family was, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” For sports, as I tell my soccer-playing kids, the risk of injury qualifies as small stuff.

When I take the field tonight, like always, I’m going to focus on the fun of the Beautiful Game. It’s a healthy addiction, as guys put it. Amazingly, the second I step onto the field, I won’t be limping or considering the what-could-happens. Sports are sports, and I’m happy there.

 

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Tick-Tock

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

–Time, by Pink Floyd

 

I have a couple irrational fears in my knapsack–plus a few that aren’t so irrational. My recent 42nd birthday was neither a panic moment nor a boot in the arse, but it did seem to herald middle age. So, again (with feeling): What have I done with my life?

Copied image of Pink Floyd in concert

Pink Floyd concert from Pulse CD booklet

When I look around my house–and it is undoubtedly messy–the first part of the answer is easy (responsible for 85% of the mess), two great kids. Happy, well-adjusted, confident and fun to be with. (My wife, Luanne, is a huge part of this, naturally.)

The second part is also easy: My books. Three down, a fourth (“Tempest Road”) planned for September release, and the fifth (“Destruction”) and sixth under way.

Justin Edison's three available books on a shelf

Justin Edison’s three available books on a shelf

For the sake of sanity, I’m bypassing the questions of value or worthwhile investment these things occupy in my world and the hours of my life. (The Churning probably took 3,000 hours, all told.) This is an issue that all artists wrestle with–unless they’re an arrogant ass–yet the answer is defiantly evasive. (I’m a storyteller. Does anyone benefit/learn/see the world differently through my work?) Suffice to say, this is what I know how to do best.

Back to that irrational fear, though. The Pink Floyd song “Time” scares me quite a bit. “Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled line.” Call it a poetic urging to do something! (For each of us, that something is different, of course.)

I’d be kidding myself if I said my time was unlimited. Statistically, the fact that I’ve personally avoided cancer and bad auto accidents and death by violence, so far, doesn’t favor my avoiding them all in the future. Factor in my upcoming work plans and, well, my window of opportunity may be slamming shut. Only so many hours in a day. The fear of not doing enough looms large, every day.

A song calls. How do I answer? One turn on the merry-go-round, after all.

B&W pic of Justin's watch showing 4:10pm

 

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