Winning, Losing, and How You Play the Game

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game!”  Uh huh.  Ten out to ten people polled have heard that expression.  Zero out of ten believe it!  The expression makes sense existentially, but it doesn’t jive with the western yardstick.  Winners take the trophy, the ring, the money.  Losers take the agony of defeat, the shame, and the debt.  No one hits the singles scene on a Saturday night looking for a loser.  No one interviews candidates for a job position hoping for less than a “winning” hire.  Stats are easy to digest, easy to access and to use in the making of decisions about a person’s value.  Is judging a life really that simple?

Winning is glamorous, glorious, and more importantly ephemeral.  Losing too has no set anchor in perpetuity.  How many “rags to riches” stories have we heard?  How many “lost it all” stories follow?  If we’ve spent time on top, we know it feels good.  If we’ve lived long enough to feel our position threatened by time, rising challengers, or failing health, we know the true essence of being a “winner.” That essence is fleeting.  

Losing is ass!  It feels like the world is crashing in around us and that as the weight bears down our strength wanes.  If we’ve spent time on the bottom, we know it is the shits.  We feel trapped, desperate, and we question our self-worth.  The human spirit, however, is a resilient force, and so most often we lift, we reach, we find the strength to rise.  Most of us have had our time of doubt, our time of loss, and somehow we’ve overcome.  If we’ve lived long enough to feel our circumstance changed by effort, patience and time, we know the true essence of being a “loser.”  That essence is one of painful, but passing misery.  

So it is that the measure of a life well lived may ultimately comes down to “how we play the game.”  Of the three concepts, it is the only one that escapes the temporal trap of the ephemeral.  How we play the game isn’t about moments, win or lose.  It is an ethos.  No one can truly count on a continuing steady state of outcome from either a “winner” or a “loser”.   We can only count on those for whom we have respect based on their philosophy concerning “how to play the game.”  I’ve been on top, which is fantastic.  I’ve bottomed out, which is the shits.  I’ve stood on the podium, then fallen to the poor house, only to rise again.  The same ethics and approach lead to each more and less desirable destination.  Why?  Because, and I’m guessing here, that’s the game!  

Trophies often become paperweights or doorstops.  Failures many times lead to stories of the rise of a phoenix. These are moments in time of victory or loss are fleeting states in a short, though sometimes seemingly endless tale that will ultimately vanish with our passing.  So it is that the wisdom of “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” comes into focus.  Unlike winning or losing, consistency of mind, fortitude, and focus on a life well lived escape the transitory black hole of “results.”  And unlike titles, these qualities cannot be taken from us.  More importantly, they are ever-present, awake and alive, truly defining each of us as the people we are every moment of our lives.

The First Day of Autumn

Autum by John Hussey

Where we live, September 22 is a placeholder. An astronomically inspired bit of mathematics that has been used to define the turn of the season, and for our purposes here the first day of Autumn since the time of Julius Caesar. While September 22 is technically the first day of Autumn, at our house, we reserve the right to proclaim Autumn’s arrival based on temperature and/or the first turning of leaves. Every season has its splendor, but in my mind, Autumn offers the most effusive display of change in the world. Many Autumns I’ve been fortunate to see, and each year I find the magic of this turning in the world breathtaking.

A peculiar mix of warm color, cold air, brilliance across the landscape and the coming of darkness adorn this time with an intoxicating sense of denouement. So much has happened across the present year that will soon be relegated to memory. The garden falls to slumber and things once so bright green and forthcoming with sustenance find their way into withered repose. The canopy that shrouds our humble home dons regiment fit for royalty on high holiday. The heavy clothing that had long ago been stowed away at the last breath of spring again finds purpose as the morning dew turns to frost; the warm days trading their humid gravity for chilling wind.

During these days of true Autumn on the dark early mornings in our household, Vince Guaraldi can be heard playing Peanuts jazz from “Linus and Lucy” to the “Great Pumpkin Waltz,” the soundtrack to the season. The boys and I dance, and laugh, and remember all the Falls we’ve lived in the past; leaf pile diving, pumpkin carving parties,  Halloweens, and Thanksgivings that this breathtaking season has afforded us. The end of daylight savings, soon upon us, will bring a new brightness, but no respite from the biting chill of these Fall mornings. Somehow this precursor to Winter has become our most memory-laden season; both beautiful and heart-wrenching in that time moves so quickly, and so beautifully. We have only so many Autumns left to relish.

Harvest time, the work is to be done, but the rest and reflection are soon to follow. It is a time for the celebration of another year lived and hopefully made the most of.  May your Autumn as our’s be full of friendship and family, bountiful harvest, appreciation, and gratitude for the sheer miracle of our ability to know we are alive here and now surrounded by the spectacular transformation that is Autumn.

I have nothing to say…

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Vintage random thought

I have nothing to say… Oh wait, that can’t be right.  The voice in my head never stops yammering, so perhaps I should just share a bit of that monkey din.  Let’s see, I was super uptight with my kids this morning in response to their less than “militarily precise” approach to preparing for the first day of school.  My fluster-faced antics were unnecessary and as it turns out, super unproductive.  They watched me rant with bemused looks of teenage indifference.  Suddenly it dawned on me that I was “choosing” to be an ass.  “Thank god,” I thought, and just like that, I chose to change my choice.  I decided that I no longer wished to be a “that dad,” so I stopped my foolishness, and apologized to my sons.  Breakfast and the ride to school were lighthearted and fun.  So that’s all I have to say…

Wait, I do want to mention that while I was acting like a child, they were keeping their distance, staying emotionally clear of the bad mojo vortex.  They had decided it seems, to give me the space to work through whatever ass clown hair shirt I was knitting without engaging.  Well done boys.  

I have nothing to say, that needs to be said, at the moment.  That said or said thrice perhaps, I like saying stuff.  When I was a young boy I had, as some parents might say “a lot of energy.”  My father was a man of few words.  Of those few words, the ones I often heard were “stop babbling.”  What?  Not enrich the world with my eight-year-old prattle?  You can’t be serious?  Poor guy’s ears must have been near bleeding!

I have a couple talkers in my house.  The suspects are male, ages 13 and 16.  While they both can go on serious verbal tears, the 13-year-old is exceptionally gifted.  He can speak incessantly for such extended periods that we’ve actually coined terms to describe his gift.  When he’s been thinking out loud at the speed of sound for some interminable period, we call it ‘streaming’…he calls it “broadcast mode.”  I used to talk, or “babble” like that when I was a boy, ha!  It doesn’t hurt anyone, so I just let him blow that horn.  

Some folks don’t talk much. Some folks do.  Some are great listeners while others don’t seem to have the ability to give two stray shits about what anyone says, even as they pretend to listen.   What?  Ha, just kidding.

So it seems I have nothing important to say, but I’m damn happy to be here, to have another day on this planet with opportunities in front of me and most of the “learning the hard way” behind me.  Babblers, quite folk, grumpsters, and joy monkeys, may you find wildflowers and spring water along your path as you walk to the beat of your own personal expression drums.

Freestyle

1970s High School Dance (4)

“Freestyle,” now there’s a vocab jack in the box bursting with “what the hell!”  The term Freestyle can be ascribed to a variant version of almost anything we humans do. Let’s say for the purposes of this rant that “freestyle” means “acting in the absence of rules or generally accepted protocol.” Now that’s a relief unless one happens to be a rule hugger, in which case it would, of course, be disconcerting.

In a valiant effort to save my marriage, I agreed to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. For context, up to that point in my life dancing had not been numbered among my strong suits. Relying on a glaring weakness to change the course of a dissolving marriage may not have been putting my best foot forward, ha, but I donned those creepy felt soled dance slipper shoe things and gave it my best.

Ballroom dance presented me with a calculus problem that, as it turns out I was ill-suited to solve, graphing calculator, youtube videos and hours of practice notwithstanding. I guess I’m a freestyle guy. I put in the effort though. I really did. However, the combination of regimented movement and rules left me shaking my head. Apparently, the head is not the right part of the body to be shaking in the genre. All that effort and money bore a shallow harvest, and that’s putting it politely.

Freestyle dancing is a natural gift that all humans, and many pets (see youtube) have at their disposal for the purpose of celebration. Freestyle skiing emerged when lovers of the sport found that the sanctioned practices of those “judging” the events did not fit their natural outpouring of self-expression while rocketing downhill on two snow supported slabs of glass/metal composite. Freestyle poetry, and then rap found the stage when traditional structure could not contain the expression of writers who needed undefined space to share their ideas. So it is that many of the constructs we as a culture use to define excellence have been bent or broken by a new wave of creators who have stretched a newly expanding canvas for the work of self-expression.

Let’s break it down.

Free: definition
Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

style: definition
A manner of doing something.

According to the combined definition: Freestyling is basically the outcome of deciding to do one’s own thing, regardless of the established norm. Freestyle expression in the aforementioned genres has survived and thrived long enough that they are now considered “established.” Once accepted, they too are subject to judgment. People enter “freestyle competitions!” Oxymoron?

I can distinctly remember “freestyle dancing” in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church at an 8th-grade dance. I was dressed like an ass thanks to my complete lack of fashion sense. I was all in, having a blast. It wasn’t until the girl I was dancing with; I had used all my human courage credits to ask her, commented that I had a very “unique” style that I realized I was a pioneer. This 14-year-old Betty was making fun of me. She danced away to the next song with a football player, and that was that. Oh, judgment! For years I thought about it every time I danced sober, but unlike the dances that came soon after that incident, now I smile.

These days I freestyle in my living room, first thing in the morning. The scent of brewing coffee wafting through the house, glass of salt water and lemon in hand, tribal drums blasting over the Spotify airwaves, I dance, white boy freestyle. Sure, Beyonce won’t be tapping me for her next tour, but fuck it, why not let my awkward dance flag fly? I’m free!

Old Friends

UCSB boys 2Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy.  (c.2001)

These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.  They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.  Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.  All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.  However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.

Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.  Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.  They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.  They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.  

If you have old friends, you are blessed.  If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.  Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.  Some say that real connection is a dying art.  Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.  Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.  In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

Broken Things

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Broken things, some we are quick to cast aside, some are not so easily released.  A Van Gogh, a toy doll, a locket, a person; all come into existence with the sheen of shiny fresh brand new ‘here I am.”  Over time that bit fades, ultimately replaced by the thing that most often happens to things that persist in the act of existence, some sort of brokenness.  A locket or pocket watch have sentiment on their side. If these become broken a fix of some sort is possible if the owner is sufficiently motivated by emotional attachment.  What of broken people?  As I glance to my left wrist, I see my great grandfather’s watch.   He, a broken thing that ultimately could not be “fixed’ left this working timepiece as a memory.

Hearts are regularly broken; so are bonds of friendship, vows, and refrigerators.  The casting aside and replacing of broken things happens when we lose faith, often rightly so, in the possibility of repair.  Other times we simply must do the work of restoration or so parish, as with our hearts.  I have a sentimental streak that has caused a light hoarding behavior at times.  I hold onto my collection of five old runner sleds even as the warming of the earth no longer offers winter in my part of the world.  The sleds aren’t broken.  However, their usefulness is but a memory.  Still, like a locket bearing the picture of a loved one, in my case winter, they hold value, hope, promise, or nostalgia, that I am reluctant to release.

I’ve walked some of my days with a broken heart, many adult humans do.  Fill in the blank as to the details with your own experiences, and we will likely be in understanding of one another.  It is a scar, or a badge, or a shitty outcome that clings to the soul like a limpet to the hull of a sailing vessel.  It by itself will not plot the course of a journey though it may slow the runnings.  So it goes with we who have minds made of chains that rattle and dance each morning when we decide to once again rise and face the day. 

I learned yesterday that my best friend of thirty-eight years, Dr. David, (mentioned in a previous Random Fiction blog post “Free Fall,” irony included) has acute leukemia. He has passed, at least temporarily from the realm of shiny new things into that of the broken.  He wore a brave face Thursday as he entered a month of hospitalized solitude to face down his indiscriminate adversary in a firestorm of chemotherapy.  

Interestingly, several months ago, before this category 5 shit-storm reared its ugly head, Dave and I spent a weekend visiting the college town where he and I met. Our in the moment state of unbrokenness found us commenting that we both felt as though we were still the same boys that had made acquaintance there those many years ago.  Alas, as some friend of Anne Lamott’s said, “we are all born astride the grave.”  Acknowledging that fact is ultimately both a curse and a relief… at least for me.  That said, I will give any and all of my time, money, and bone marrow to fix this particular broken thing.  Love to you my dearest friend.  My heart is with you all the way.

My Last Dime

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Let’s say I’m down to my last dime?  Let’s also say that I have to make that dime go as far as I can seeing as it represents the totality of my remaining financial resources.  What would I buy?  Not much probably, seeing as a dime doesn’t go as far as it used to.  I’m not even sure I could buy a gumball with a dime today.  So here I am down to my last dime.  Let’s also say that you too are down to your last dime.  Are you anxious? Scared?  Or are you exhilarated, confident, sure that you can turn that dime into a fortune?  If you’re the latter, I’ll be wanting some of the magic dust you’ve been huffing.  I’d also be curious to know how, with such confidence and aplomb, you came to have a total net worth of ten cents.  But I digress.  

Back to our predicament, or at least to me, it would undoubtedly feel predicament-ish.  Do you have a safety net…family with means, friends, standing by to catch you if you fall, people who care?  If so perhaps being down to your last dime is difficult for your pride or ego, but not a threat to your health or safety.  If that is the case then ‘lucky you.’  Let’s say for the sake of argument that I have a safety net too, puts us on an even footing as we walk this road of destitution.  But if we both have a safety net, I submit that we’re not truly down to our last dime.  We have the social circumstance of connectedness which we may very likely take for granted day to day.   However, that to which we may give little thought, that which seems ‘normal’ to us… is not normal for everyone.  If you don’t believe me spend a few minutes researching “poverty” on the internet…wow!

How does one determine the value of a safety net?  Unless one actually ‘falls’ the net may as well not exist.  Without a slip, a stumble, mistake, calamity, wrong turn, poor choice, bad luck… you get the picture, a safety net is conceptual,. It’s an idea.  Does having it help you sleep better at night?  I never thought about mine until now…now that I’m down to my last dime… suddenly it’s all I can think about.  How grateful I am that people care enough about me to reach out to catch me should I fall.  

Back to the notion of “normal.”  What if our ‘normal’ was “safety-net-free”?  What if this was indeed the last dime.  What if by some twist of fate we were falling through the cracks, and no one noticed?  How would that last dime feel between your fingers?  How would the world around you look as you held it?  How would you spend that last dime?  Would you find yourself entering a shop meekly asking the clerk to change your dime for ten pennies?  Would you find a wishing well?  Would you stand there and earnestly make ten consecutive wishes that somehow you would be saved from this fate before you walked away to sleep under a bridge that night?  I might!