Thursday, May 7, 2015

on not quitting

When I started middle school, I decided I would join sports teams. To me, this was the way to make friends and be considered cool, though I really just wanted to gain that persona by association. I wasn't actually all that interested in being friends with most of the girls on the teams (most of them were intense and intimidating). And I wasn't all that interested in the sports themselves, either. I'd barely played team sports before. The drills made me feel self-conscious, I usually froze when it came time to make a play during a scrimmage or game (overthinking, of course), and while the point of most of those games - field hockey, basketball, lacrosse - was to aggressively go after that ball and put it in some kind of net, most of the time I just didn't care that much where the ball went.

Fall was field hockey, so that was the first sport I tried out. It didn't take long for me to realize I wasn't having fun. Controlling a heavy white ball with a long stick isn't all that easy, especially when the grass gets in the way and you have to run while doing it (and in a skirt! I thought that part would be fun, but it wasn't). I don't know if it was my lack of skill or my size or both, but early on I was tapped to try out goalie. This is pretty much torture for a seventh grade girl for a few reasons, the top two being: (1) no 13-year-old wants to look even bigger than she already is (all that equipment!); and (2) no 13-year-old wants to have the pressure of saving or sinking the team by moving her body to somehow, in any way possible, block the ball (that she doesn't care all that much about anyway). I wasn't playing sports to stick out, I was playing to fit in.

I started to dread practice. My stomach hurt for the last two periods of class every day, and I would try to figure out whether practice would be easy or hard based on how we'd practice recently or how soon a game was coming up. I moved into self-protective mode and just tried to get through the whole ordeal. One day, I stood on the sidelines and suited up in goalie gear while the rest of the team prepped for a scrimmage game. Down the hill, the cheerleading squad practiced their cheers. I looked on at their practice and the fun they were having, carefree. Then, I realized my coach had been calling me onto the field. I turned away from the cheerleaders and hobbled onto the field in my gear, stick in hand. I just wanted the whole thing to be over.

So you might see where this is going. Soon, I told my mom that I wanted to quit. But she wouldn't let me. I remember standing in the kitchen with her one night after practice, shoving bread in the toaster to eat with my dinner. Outside, the evening was dark, and the windows reflected ourselves to us. I demanded a reason to not quit, and her reply was that she wanted me to learn to stick with something. At the time, this seemed like the most ridiculous reason to me. And in the years to come, I wondered why she didn't trust me to know myself.

Here is where I'm really going: when I think about writing, I sometimes feel like that girl standing on the hill in goalie gear, gazing with longing toward where the cheerleaders are practicing. My stomach is in knots, I know I won't be able to block the ball, or write anything that makes sense, and I want to be on the other side where I might have fun and be popular. The metaphor breaks down somewhere, because I really didn't like field hockey, while writing gets me kinda wired, in a good way, when I get really into it. I wonder how my mom

became so convinced that persistence was valuable to learn - was it more than a general lesson she knew to be good, or was there a story, a desire, lying underneath it for her, too?

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