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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Celebrating Differences

A couple weeks ago, a bunch of parents and teachers accompanied my daughter’s entire elementary school to Camp Seymour north of Olympia. As Transportation Coordinator (a job title more impressive-sounding than the actual task) I was driving my minivan full of gear for my cabin–six boys and two adults. The Sienna’s a big vehicle, so there was plenty of room for another parent. A dad I’d met once before, T.L., needed a ride, so it worked out great. I’m always up for company, and I’m definitely keen to utilize the HOV lanes. (These days, Seattle traffic seems so bad that the presence of either rain or sun seems to be sufficient reason to slow it all down.)

I didn’t know much about T.L., other than he had a first-grade daughter at the school and both of them are soft-spoken. He needed to return his Honda to his house, 20 minutes away. After the full school buses took off, I followed him home and then we got underway.

T.L. is younger than me, thin and tall, and is probably more handsome (I’ve stopped asking my wife about such comparisons). As a software developer, he makes a hell-of-a-lot more than I ever will, and he seems happy with work. [So there, in the span of two sentences, we’ve covered the bulk of how men hold themselves up to other men on paper.] Because I’m a modern man with no ego left (or any to begin with) I can plainly say I’m not jealous. And such comparisons are stupid, anyway.

Another World

T.L. and his wife (whom I briefly met after the trip) are from Pakistan, which is like another world to many of us. Before the drive, I knew embarrassingly little about his home country. Hot. Populous. Split from India not long after India’s independence from Britain. Predominantly Muslim. Lots of political turmoil. Islamabad rules with an iron fist. There’s a slew of lawyers in Lahore (T.L.’s home city) pushing for reforms (they’ve been in the news), stuff like that.

So, naturally, we spent the bulk of driving time comparing his home country to his new one of five years, the United States. For one, they speak Urdu as the official language, but Urdu is one of dozens of different languages spoken in different provinces. T.L. wouldn’t be able to communicate at all with people from a mountainous region (the Himalayas, capped by K2) in the north. Also, it’s bloody hot. In Lahore, summertime heat will push the thermometer to 49 degrees Celsius, which equates to 117 degrees Fahrenheit. He observed that widening use of air conditioning (in affluent areas) is a bit of a problem. Pakistanis are becoming “spoiled” and losing their tolerance for extreme heat.

Naturally, there are other problems of the first-world and third-world variety, but what strikes me is how similar he and I are. Obviously, we’re both English-speaking men who are concerned about our children’s futures. Questions linger about the environment, politics, policy, the disparity between rich and poor, the availability of jobs–all of it matters. But hope, for most any parent, flows in one direction.

Working for the Future

Without picking his brain, I can safely assume the biggest reason T.L. came to the U.S. (after earning a master’s degree in Germany) is the same reason my Persian “family” left Iran, which is the same reason my potato-farming ancestors got on a western-bound steamship several generations ago. This is, of course, the Land of Opportunity. Here, our children (especially our daughters) have the chance to grow into doctors, physicists, propulsion engineers, soccer coaches, teachers, or whatever else they want. The best way to foster such possibilities and dreams is to offer a world of diversity and inclusion and ideas. The more options on the table–wherever they come from–the wider range of directions to consider. Maybe T.L.’s daughter grows to become a veterinarian or a flight manager for Space X. Maybe my third-grader goes on to be a farmer in Uganda. It’s all open to them. That’s what makes this country so great, and that’s why so many people want to come here.

Backlash

As I was writing this blog, there was a xenophobic act of violence on a train in Portland. Two men who believed in equality or diversity–or at least weren’t going to watch women be hurt–died while stopping a crazed assailant (a white male) from doing what angry men like him so often do. It obviously wasn’t the first attack of this kind, and it won’t be the last. Across the globe, there are daily news accounts of people who turn angrily on their neighbor, the new person in town, worshipers of a different faith. What seems most important is for the rest of us to not give in to irrational fears or ridiculous notions of have versus have not–to not give up hope for an egalitarian future. We have the strongest say in what kind of world we want.

That, in my book, may be the most American ideal of all.

 

The Idiot

A funny (un-funny) thing happened the other morning. I unwittingly missed a contest-entry deadline (foolishly thinking any such opportunity could be the big one). “You idiot!” I said it aloud, without thinking, the only person in the house (not counting the cat). Why has that reaction become my default?
It’s become automatic. If Justin hasn’t screwed up yet this morning, wait a half-hour.
Really?

I’m about to turn 42 (not The answer to the Universe is 42 but Hmm, you’re approaching middle age 42) and still, daily, I call myself an idiot. Why? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with me that I have to ask that very question, What is wrong with me (sad echoes in a quiet house)?

Mistake-free Zone
Somewhere in my brain, not unlike Cloud Cuckoo Land from “The Lego Movie,” there’s this plane of existence where nothing goes wrong. Nothing I do will be incorrect, insufficient, or just plain wacky. I aspire, smoke-tendril fingers reaching for this plane, even though I understand it’s a laughably ridiculous and fictional place. There will never be a time in my life when look back on the last 24 hours and say, “Yup, that was perfect. Nailed it.”
(For those who don’t know, nothing will trigger ego-realignment more than parenting.)
So, I make mistakes–a lot of them–but my blunders don’t seem any more frequent than most people’s. Also, they don’t belong in the car-accident or forgot-a-kid-at-camp categories, so I’m usually the only sufferer of consequences (plus attendant headaches).
And yet, I’m still me. And I seem to have a problem with me.

Inside-Outside

Let’s be honest: most people’s natures are not easily seen. We don’t strut around the world like Alonzo from “Training Day” or the inimitable Hannibal Lecter or even baseball star Alex Rodriguez. In fact, reading books like “Gone Girl,” it makes sense that there’s been a bit of machinery at work, here. Subterfuge U. We’ll teach you how to talk and act like a witty, charming and intelligent modern male (pro women, organic kale, wage injustice, all that jazz) even though you’re an anxious fight-dodging mess on the inside. Cover it up, bury it deep, keep those quivering stripes out of sight, because nobody likes a dumbstruck waffler, you know. Oh, and that gift bottle of Reposado that costs two hours’ wages? Don’t freaking hesitate. Whip out that plastic like a smooth operator. Because life costs. Even if you can’t justify it and can’t deal with it, you gotta deal with it.
Fortunately, I happen to sorta like the person I am on the outside. He could use some streamlining and a better wardrobe, but his beliefs and hopes are aligned with the ones on the inside. He’s positive, fun to be around (much of the time) and laughs. Despite the current bullshit political mess in this country, he’s staunchly optimistic. That inside, on the other hand, could use some work.

Author Justin Edison after a run

How We’re Coded
Human psychology is incredibly complex. How we think and feel is almost a whole different ballgame compared to the hundred zillion amino acid chains we actually know to exist. Theories and studies and schools of thought run in this direction or that one. Occasionally, things are pinpointed–Eureka moment!–and then tried out on subjects. To me, it’s the non-physical nature of the field which defies true understanding. Engineers can disassemble a Boeing 747 into its 6 million individual pieces, and locate a flaw in part or process. We can’t exactly do that with a living person’s brain.
Closer to my understanding (very limited, I admit) is computer code. (Yes, I know so little about it, I’m likely to get nothing wrong and inadvertently raise the hackles of some developer eager to correct my flaws.) Somewhere back when the Modern Era (the Information Age) truly began, there was BASIC and COBAL (no, I don’t recall what either of those acronyms stand for, and it’s not really relevant here). From what I’ve heard, almost every computer language we have finds it roots in these two forms. So maybe pieces of those two code types still play a vital role in all the C#s and Pythons and so-ons of today. Is it too clumsy to compare the human psyche to them? (Just let me run with it, now.)
In that case, the source code for us, as individuals, would be all that emotional and intellectual input during our Formative Years. Everything since then–in my paltry understanding of psychology–would be built on that source code. Our behavior and emotions and personalities change as we grow and develop–switching to new code, morphing and re-writing and adding channels to increase bandwidth, etc.
But what about the original source code? From what I’ve read (again, limited) it stays the same. There’s no program (short of utter brainwashing) that would go in and strip out or re-write the original code. Therapy can add improvements or accommodations, or even ‘programs’ to counteract it, but doesn’t touch the original source code. Same goes for anti-depressants and religion.
Justin, We Have a Problem!
So, in a way, we’re stuck with who we became during our Formative Years. It’s beside the point to say that’s good or bad (and I’m an inadequate thinker on the subject). The matter isn’t even as simple as looking (through the fog of inaccessible memory) at what happens during the first five years of a person’s life. We’re not lumps of biological clay taken fresh out of a sterile barrel (pardon the rhyme). We come with baggage, the genes of our parents, and their parents before them. Manic depression runs in my family. Severe anxiety runs in my wife’s family. Despite our best efforts, these are truths which cannot be denied.
Is it any wonder I’ve tried to make sarcasm and laughter the Lingua Franca of my household? Something funny, something interesting, something sarcastic–every single day. Yup, something self-deprecating, too.
And yet, any time one of my kids says something bad about themselves–“I’m an idiot!”–Luanne and I pounce on it like tigers. C and E are not allowed to think that way. I know, from experience, that the more you say something about yourself, the more you believe it (with limitations). It is my hope that, by preventing C from verbalized self-deprecation, he won’t actually believe it. That enough coaching and encouragement and reassurance can steer him and his sister towards fruitful, happy futures full of positive choices. I don’t cringe when I wonder about his source code or her source code. As parents, though never perfect (“Cloud Cuckoo Land holding on Line 1!”) Luanne and I did the best we could.
Am I Right?
Have I done the best I could? It is one of the tragic shortcomings of the human condition that we cannot truly know what effect our influence has. We can guess and speculate, but there is no real certainty. We have examples of both extremes of incorrect parenting–from mass shooters (neglect) to the septuagenarian child in the Oval Office (spoiled). What about everyone in-between? How much finger-pointing is worthwhile? (In cases of violence, where these questions most-often arise, everything is in retrospect, anyway–the deed done.) In “Gone Girl” (spoiler alert) toddler Nick Dunne could not have gone up to toddler Amy Elliott’s psychologist parents and warned them, “You’re creating a monster by making her the center of the universe!” Life doesn’t work that way.
And while we can suspect something is wrong out the wazoo…that’s all it is: Suspicion. This seems like the most elusive truth of all. What do we really know about another person? What is truth? Certainty?
“How Would I Know That This Could Be My Fate?”
A week has passed since rock star Chris Cornell took his own life in a Detroit hotel room. Incredible, talented, passionate, troubled. Once again, an artist has departed the world prematurely. Once again, the rest of us are left with an endless string of questions that are simply, maddeningly unanswerable. At the core of these, I suppose, is how Mr. Cornell really felt about himself. We can’t ask him. Tragedy has already struck.
As a fan of Cornell’s work and of the Soundgarden song “Fell On Black Days,” I often hear the above line playing in my head. It’s haunting, it’s desperate, it’s real.
For myself, I think it’s best to focus on, and follow, other lyrics:
“So don’t you lock up
Something that you
Wanted to see fly,
Hands are for shaking
No not tying,
I sure don’t
Mind a change.”
[copyright Chris Cornell/Soundgarden]

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