Saturday, March 06, 2010

Seventeen

Mann: What was the awful thing you said? To your father?
Kinsella: I said I could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal.
Mann: Who was his hero?
Kinsella: Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Mann: You knew he wasn’t a criminal. Then why did you say it?
Kinsella: I was seventeen.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner plays a character, Ray Kinsella, who goes to great lengths to re-connect with his long dead father, without even understanding what it is that he’s trying to do or why. I saw the movie in a theater soon after its release, with my then girlfriend. She found the movie laughably sentimental and utterly unbelievable. I, on the other hand, found it to be genuine and moving. At the time I attributed the difference in our experiences to the fact that I love baseball while she does not. It wasn’t until many years and many viewings later that I realized that a more likely explanation for my emotional connection to the film was my status as a son who also has a complicated relationship with his father.

My father is not dead, although he’s not well. I have spent much of my adult life alternately trying to make sense of our relationship as it is, or shape it into the relationship I have always hoped it would be. I have not enjoyed success in either endeavor, and it would be difficult for me to over estimate the amount of time I have devoted to the effort. Such is the nature of the always powerful and often confusing bond between father and son. I have long since given up the hope of trying to turn my father as he is into the father that I wish for, but I am still trying to come to terms with our shared reality. That is, as they say, my cross to bear, and though it would be inaccurate (and not a little grandiose) to say that I bear it proudly, it is probably accurate to say that I bear it resolutely. I once received a greeting card that said that selecting a pet is the only time we get to choose a relative. In contrast, my father is the only one I’ll ever have. So be it.

Because it is the best tool I have for the job, writing is how I process life’s conundra, and my relationship with my father is no different. In fact, much of my recent writing has been devoted to a pseudo-memoir, a piece of creative non-fiction that details our tortured relationship by having the character of the son (that’s me) spend all of father’s day meandering through a series of seriocomic reminiscences only to discover that in doing so he has let the entire day pass without ever calling his father. Wracked by guilt at his failure to execute even this simple responsibility of sondom, the son (that’s me) crawls into bed to endure yet another year of inadequacy. No, it’s not exactly the most uplifting story you’re likely to read.

For those of you who don’t know, writing, like other creative pursuits, is an arduous undertaking, always lonely, sometimes painful, and invariably inadequate to the task at hand – knowing the unknowable. In an obituary of Ruth Kligman that appears in today’s New York Times, the artist Franz Kline is quoted thusly: “They think it’s easy. They don’t know it’s like jumping off a twelve story building every day.”

Throughout my five year stint as a North Carolina public school teacher, I wrote about the experience for the local newspaper, the News and Observer. I can’t even remember how many times, in response to my articles, editors, relatives, friends, colleagues, or assistant principals at my school came to me and asked, “Are you trying to get fired?” I wasn’t, but as a writer I had made a commitment to being the only thing that really matters, in life or art – honest. In time, that honesty burned enough bridges at my school to make my position there untenable, so I left. I harbor no resentment to the administrators who did their best to force my hand; they did what they felt they had to do, just as I had done. Life goes on.

Recently, I have been embroiled in another controversy that also involves my writing and how some readers (or reader) have interpreted it. The controversy is UPA HOF selection, and the reader is Henry Thorne.

For the record, I think Henry should be commended. While many members of the UPA hierarchy in general, and HOF voters in particular, have been reluctant to engage in substantive “discussion” with the masses, Henry has put himself and his thought process “out there” for everyone to see. For this alone he deserves our respect. But (and you knew this was coming) having read a portion of what he has written, I feel compelled to respond.

First, some background: I am sick. It’s your basic flu bug, but it has knocked me on my back for a couple of days and, because I don’t own a TV, has left me surfing the web looking for something to occupy my time between Nyquil induced naps. That is how I found myself on RSD and, subsequently, on Parinella’s blog, scrolling through an astonishing number of comments on the subject of my HOF deduction (the opposite of induction, yes?).

Second, at this time I am only responding to a specific comment that Henry made in response to a particular post. A more thorough response could follow, one that might address the many interesting angles reflected in the myriad comments posted thereto (save those of a certain poster who rarely plays more than one note, and not a terribly pleasing note at that).

So, somewhere between the lengthy list of comments to Parinella’s blog and the exhaustive “analysis” contained in the RSD posts, I came across a comment from Henry Thorne that characterized a post on my blog as “damning” in reference to my possible induction into the HOF. There are a number of reasons why that comment gave me pause, and I will try to address them in some semblance of logical order.

To begin with, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to Mr. Thorne. Try to avoid using words like “damning” unless you’re planning to assume the role of the almighty in the near future. Consider for a moment how your comment might have been interpreted differently had you used a phrase like, “His post gave me pause,” or “His post led me to question his candidacy.” Better, don’t you think? But let’s not quibble here. After all, I already said you deserve our respect; I may come to regret that statement as well.

Next, I have to question whether it is even appropriate for a HOF voter to take my blog posts into consideration when evaluating my candidacy. The HOF asks each candidate to fill out a questionnaire, and in turn asks them to have persons of their choosing submit references. In addition there is the Call to the Community, where individuals can anonymously lend the weight of their recollections to the decision making process. It is generally understood that a player's history in the game will determine whether or not that player deserves induction into the HOF. But I don’t see any place where it is expected, encouraged or even understood that a voter will seek out the writings of a candidate in an alternate forum to determine if those writings might somehow inform said voter in his or her effort to arrive at a conclusion as to the merit of that candidate.

As I have indicated previously, writing can be a brutally honest endeavor, and anyone who has read even a portion of my blog can attest to the honesty to be found there. If every HOF candidate were required to submit a personal journal of his or her reflections on his or her career, what might we find therein? But since no such requirement exists, how can one justify using his or her interpretation of my blog posts to judge my candidacy?

It is impossible for me to know how much of my blog any voter out there might have read. More importantly, it is equally impossible for me to know how much of what they read they have actually understood. For that reason, I feel it is necessary to engage in a little bit of review.

In my series on Poppy, the greatest dog in history, I pointed out that certain elements of the story were left out because they were not germane to the story that was specific to Poppy. The implicit point is that all writing, other than straight reporting, is inherently selective. This is why we actually have a term such as creative non-fiction. Yes, the basic facts are true, but we unfurl them in a manner and with such adornments as to make them more entertaining to our readers.

With this in mind, my question to you, Henry Thorne, and to anyone who puts so much weight to my words as to call them “damning,” is how can you distinguish among fact, fiction, and a combination of the two when you are reading my blog? More to the point (since I know that you can’t make such subtle distinctions), how can you use such a dull instrument (your understanding) to make such precise cuts (your assessment of my candidacy)? The point here, of course, is that you can’t. And yet you already have. And that’s a pity.

For the record, the play in question, the one involving Phil “Guido” Adams, occurred at April Fools, in the very earliest stages of my playing career. At the time, I doubt that there was even a strip call in the rules. Regardless, the play in question, a caught goal, resulted in exactly that: a caught goal. No contest, no do-over, nothing but a goal.

In the years that followed, I did some serious soul searching over why, in that moment, I pulled that disc out of Guido’s hand. Nothing that I did changed the course of the game, but I still had done something I couldn’t feel good about. Many years later, I wrote about it on my blog, and then someone who knew nothing about the circumstances or the outcome used it to pass judgment on me and my entire career as a player.

So why did I do it?

Like Ray Kinsella, I was seventeen.

4 comments:

ulticritic said...

If i may answer for henry....."its because he's a spirit zealot". Plain and simple, nuthin more, nuthin less. ya see, as a desperate and insecure spirit zealot one resorts to(fishes for AND USES) anything and EVERYTHING they can to help preserve the very flawed sotg philosophy......and thus thwart the progress of ultimate as a "normal" sport. Its kinda like hydrolics in that the preasure it will take for ultimate to evlove(into a normal reffed sport) is the same negitive presure that will ultimately kill off sotg/refless ultimate.

Now, as for you, if i may be so bold as to answer the question of why you stripped guido......"its because you can(could)". Its the same reason steve dugan called a bogus foul call in crunch time at worlds semis against an up and coming japan team when the marker contacted him AFTER he had released his throw.....which is "because he could". Its the same reason we all cheat....."because we can". The rules enable it.....so what does anyone really expect? we are all human after all.....flesh and bones, right? How does that saying go again...."the spirit is strong but the flesh is weak". How would this concept not apply to humans that play ulti?

I had an untraditional psyc teacher in college that had a weird twist on "candy stores and shoplifting".....his take was that its the candy stores own fault for the shoplifting that may occur in a store due to the fact that the store owners make it both so tempting and so easy to steal by displaying their candy in the way they do. He had many other unconventional and interesting philosophyies but this is one that i definitely filed away and always used it as an analogy with the whole idea of the self policing sotg meathod.

Fortunately that kind of cheating isnt allowable in reffed sports.....in which, thanks to the uoa, ultimate seems to becoming one.......finally. If only we would have had those uoa style rules(specifically with active travel calls) back in 1990. better yet though, if only our team had of learned the sideline trap with our standard zone D.

oh, and sorry for singing the same ole song ("the times they are a changin") and hitting that unpleasing note over and over. I guess, luckily for dylan, beauty is also in the ear of the beholder, cause lets face it, that dude couldnt hit a note if his life depended on it. So maybe i will have similar luck(with some "ears"....or, at least enough to make a difference) as bobby d did. So on that "note"(pun intended) guess i should also appologize to ken directly for using his induction as a platform to further wage my war on the upa and spirit zealots in general (which are one in the same to me). Because, in reality, as much as i truley believe that Ken should be in the ultimate hof AND be a 1st timer......i dont "really" care that he isnt. I guess i see it as there being a much larger issue at stake here than just kens hof status. So, sorry for prostituting your hof canadacy out like this ken.....but i gots to do what i gots to do.....i'm sure you of all people would understand.

i AM diein to hear henrys reply though......lets get ready to ruuuuuummmmmbbblllleeee.

DH said...

Lord, what a godawful comment (see above).

Tim O'Brien differentiates between "story truth" and "happening truth," even while suggesting that the line between the two isn't as crisp as we'd like to believe. When I read your original post (years ago, it seems) on this "unspirited" play, I found it brazenly confessional. It sent the strong message that you were not in the business of dissembling. That this may have been one or two intellectual moves beyond what the average reader of your (or any) blog might be able to accomplish is not a surprise, even if it is a pity. I always find your attitude toward the past to be inspirational, in that even when you are not proud, you are accountable, forthright, and unsentimental. I'd settle for being any one of those things.

(I have, on the other hand, burned more than my fair share of bridges, so we have that in common.)

A former teacher of mine (who has since become famous and no longer has the time to issue such pearls of wisdom) told me that writing was the hardest job on earth and that anyone who could quit, would. He also told me that most writers, nearly all of them really, were so terrified of the truth that they were destined to write crass Hollywood bullshit to the end of their days. This may be inspiring, or it may be depressing, or it may just itself be a part of that same difficult truth.

I'm always glad to read these posts, and hope that pseudo-memoir continues to move forward.

beatty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beatty said...

beatty said...
you got some more to learn, friendo.

" ... much of my recent writing has been devoted to a pseudo-memoir, a piece of creative non-fiction that details our tortured relationship by having the character of the son ... spend all of father's day meandering through a series of seriocomic reminiscences ..."

no one asked, yet you felt obligated to tell and so now that you've opened the box, next time you set yr ass in the chair, the writing won't be the same.