“I’m sorry, I’m just being mean.”
“I know. And you like feeling mean, so you’ll continue to make generalizations without looking for the reality. Because if you saw the reality, you couldn’t be snarky.”
“I really, really like being snarky.”
Remember when I suddenly realized I hated lots of types of ribbon I didn’t even know existed until shortly before my loathing of them began?
Horrifyingly, the same recently happened with a certain sport that a certain someone in my life may or may not be very into right now.
For 31 years of my life I never thought about tennis. Just like I’ve never thought about basketball, or soccer, or football, or foosball or ice hockey, or non-ice hockey (does that exist?), or volleyball or synchronized swimming or ice dancing or ping pong or any other sport. Then one day, someone in my life has a little time home from tour, and decides to pick up a sport he used to play in high school. He used to play a lot of sports in high school. He was (I’m just going to say it, there’s no other word for it:) sporty.
My position on sports is, basically: leave me the hell alone because sports are beneath my contempt. If forced, I’d say that sports are yet another tool the capitalist/patriarchal/hierarchical/etc. system uses to pit people against each other, and to use up valuable time that could better be spent working on real problems. Sports are just another name for nothing left to lose. Sports are the last refuge of the weak-minded, the feeble, the too-stupid to decide for themselves how they like to spend their time, so, just like with religion or being an idiot Democrat or idiot Republican, people fit themselves into a readymade box of rules and live by them.
In my more lucid moments, I can admit that this position is utterly ludicrous.
Also: mean, patently false, short-sighted, and willfully ignorant.
In my even more lucid moments, I will also admit that (big surprise) I was the kid in school who whined until I got permission to walk around the track endlessly instead of playing sports.
I have literally never played any sport, ever, anywhere, with anyone.
Once I played catch with my friend Katy’s 7-year-old son. Does that count? Just thinking about, say, playing volleyball on the beach with some friends (people do that, right?) makes my palms sweat.
So I have this big chip on my shoulder about sports. The deeper truth is that having these insanely reductionist beliefs makes my life simple: people who play sports are over there (the idiots), and I am over here (sane people). I am a great big fan of stereotyping people according to things they control (not so much of stereotyping people over things they don’t control, i.e., their skin tone.). It separates the wheat from the chaff, all that. I can walk around with my nose held high.
And when you’re 32 and work alone and aren’t really in the market to meet new people and don’t have any family to speak of, no one is really going to tell you you’re full of bullshit when it comes to certain things. This is a tragedy, because I really need to be called on my bullshit more often.
So someone in my life being into tennis is making me examine my bullshit views about sports, and I am kicking and screaming all the way, because I really, really want to keep hating sports and the people who play them forever.
As it turns out, it appears I loathe tennis more than most sports. Who knew, right? I guess it makes sense. I appear to have a sort of 1955-era view of people who play tennis: I assume they are all white (in my experience, they all are, but then again, most people in our fucking town are), wear polo shirts (most wear t-shirts, which, you’ve got to admit, is worse), work as investment bankers or something, are men, are boring, have wives and kids (like I said: are boring), and are, in short, utterly disposable members of society.
I can readily admit that this is not entirely true. In fact, the leader of the tennis pack in my town is the owner of our local indie record store and a very good pal of mine. He’s hardly a disposable member of society, and is known for throwing parties bursting with fascinating people of all stripes. (I believe I have recounted here the lovely story of how, at one such party, a gal pal of mine thought I was hitting on a dude she hoped to mack on and viciously satirized me in a story set at one of these parties? I was a fast-talkin’ loose woman and my morals were called into question for the unforgivable crime of talking to a single man. It was hilarious, and I cried for days, and I learned my lesson: just because they are Women’s Studies professors doesn’t mean they understand the first thing about feminism. The good news is that the (now married, & I even went to the wedding!) man and I are still pals, and I avoid the Women’s Studies professor like the plague every time I run into her in town. In a truly hilarious twist, last week my own mother emailed me [“if you have any editing suggestions, let me know!”] a short story in which a very thinly veiled Lagusta-like character actually is a Women’s Studies professor [why yes, that is the career I had picked out before cooking stepped in. Good memory!] and goes around yelling at everyone in her life, particularly her kind, sweet, long-suffering mother. Art could imitate life a wee bit less in my life, I certainly would not mind. And while I’m on this David Foster Wallace-esque endless parenthetical note, might I throw in here that for some reason [YAY! THANK YOU!] chocolate world has been blowing up and chocolates are really really hard to make during summer sweltering heat and also that The Big Project is STILL not all tied up? In short: I am trying to keep secret that I am massively stressed out right now, am not on the best terms with my only two family members [one plays tennis, one is apparently taking out her issues with me in passive aggressive short story form] and suddenly am not sleeping much? [OK, wait: in truth, Mr. Tennis Player and I are just fine. I don’t want you to worry. But I feel terrible about the fact that I am so fucked-up when it comes to tennis, and this bit of ridiculousness is my attempt to get over it. To show my affection for this man, allow me to share with you this adorable story, which happened one hour ago: there was a bee on top of our car, which we were in the process of entering. I would have just driven off, figuring the bee would fly off. Mr. Tennis Player scrutinized the bee and determined that it didn’t appear to be in fly-able condition, so he got a leaf, scooted the bee onto it [a bee! with a stinger!] and carefully deposited [her?] onto a flower. This is the same dude who spends endless time catching every moth that flies into the house in his hands and escorting it outside, lest the cats eat [then puke] them. “You can feel them fluttering in your hands. It tickles.” he told me once. Come on! This is my favoritest, bestest person in the world. I gotta calm down about the fact that he likes to play a sport.])
Back to the bile:
The time spent preparing for playing tennis (washing special tennis clothes, making plans to play tennis, buying a huge ugly tennis bag and rackets and balls and little tape to go around the bottom of the racket, and little rubber things I don’t know what they do and a million other accessories and of course special extra-hideous shoes [but vegan and apparently USA made!], etc), as well as the time spent actually playing the game, as well as the chit-chatting that happens before and after the game, and the shower required after playing: all of this seems to me obscenely wasteful. It horrifies me that people could have this much time and not spend it doing something useful.
I fully recognize that people who play tennis view it as something useful.
However, I am so far from understanding how anyone could think this that I can’t even agree to disagree with this view. It just doesn’t make sense to me: you’re hitting a little ball. Who cares? Why are you even alive?
It has been pointed out to me that tennis can be an intellectual game, much like chess.
It appears I am too stupid to understand how this could possibly be true.
Seriously. I guess I can see how it could involve some math. That’s about as far as I can go.
I keep knocking my head against the same old wall: people are starving all around the world, and you’re playing tennis? This thought reverberates through my head endlessly, and, again, I can see how patently idiotic it is, but there it is. I don’t feel this way about people who spend hours designing outfits and making the hems of all their skirts shorter or cutting up their t-shirts so they fit differently, or people who spend entire days planning dinner parties for their friends, or people who garden or make ugly little crafty things or play with their cats or read books or write blog posts.
Of course, these are all things I do. I give the activities that I deem sufficiently useful a pass for taking time away from revolutionary zeal, but I can’t grant sports the same pass. It’s a very terrible thing.
Then there is the exercise thing. Tennis is exercise! Exercise!!! Exercise is always seen as something virtuous in American culture, and guess what? Big surprise, I fucking hate exercise. I mean, I hate it personally in that I do not find the act of pushing my body to physical limits to be pleasurable (outside of certain very specific activities that, yeah, are exercise in their own way), and I sort of think (here’s where I offend all the people who weren’t offended already) exercise is for losers who have loser jobs that aren’t active enough, so they have to go to a loser gym to run on little loser wheels like hamsters. The problem is that our lives aren’t aerobic enough, so we fetishize “exercise.”
Again, even as these horrible words are pouring from my keyboard I can see how ludicrous they are, how not true for even some of my dearest friends. Some people who work at sit-down jobs do actually contribute wonderful things to our society. It’s not their fault that they need to work at a desk all day. Not everyone can bike to work (I, for example, can’t). Sigh.
And also: tennis in the lovely fresh upstate air is a hell of a lot better than running on a hamster wheel inside a sweat factory overflowing with nasty dudes. So why do I hate tennis so much? Sigh x2.
And again: I see all of this, I fully see how idiotic I’m being, and how it’s really hurting the feelings of the person in my life who is newly into tennis, and I can’t stop it.
Can I sigh again?
Maybe it’s the people. Let’s go back to that. Tennis is, by definition, sort of a team sport, and this makes me nervous. I don’t trust teams. I work mostly alone, I live alone for long stretches at a time, and I still hoard solitude the way my cats hoard catnip toys. I sometimes wish I could be part of a team that was a part of doing something inspiring and wonderful, but then I turn off The West Wing and remember that in real life working with teams means working with a lot of losers. But still, I must admit: the someone in my life who is into tennis has met a lot of awfully nice people through tennis.
The problem with this, naturally, is that I sort of loathe awfully nice people.
Awfully nice people are, again, usually married with kids and work at moderately interesting jobs and know how to function in the world. People like this, while, again, awfully nice and maybe even fascinating, in their own way, are just the sort of people I love to judge without getting to know. Because, again, getting to know them would be mean I couldn’t judge them, and holy fucking hell, I love to judge.
And here we are again, stuck where I always get stuck: I love my bad qualities. In order to become a better person, one needs to want to work on their worst traits. I believe my worst traits are actually my best traits, which doesn’t make me want to spend much time working on them.
In short, I am mightily fucked-up, in an admittedly pleasantly snarky way.
Wait, did you notice that my own mother recently wrote a short story portraying me badly, then sent it to me to edit? Meanwhile, my drug dealer father is enjoying what I am sure will be a brief bout freedom between incarcerations by living with his mother deep in the desert of The Hot State, where they drink bottle upon bottle of supermarket whiskey every day (direct quote from my grandma: “‘Gusta, let me tell ya. When I turned 70, I decided, fuck it all! I’ma drink as much whiskey as I want. So I drink, oh, maybe thereabouts a bottle a day or so. I also decided I’m leavin’ the baby Jesus and the Santa Claus and all the Christmas decorations up all year.”).
It is any wonder I have no role models for how to be a sane person? I think I do pretty OK most of the time. Most of my real life pals would say I’m a pleasant, fun pal to have around. I don’t hide my secrets, I try to work on myself as best as I can. But the fucking tennis thing (let’s get back to that, lest I keep talking about my family and literally explode from incredulous rage) is ridiculous. How can I dislike that the person I love most in the world is getting exercise in the fresh air with (at a minimum) moderately interesting people?
It has been pointed out to me that perhaps I am jealous. I, after all, rarely do anything but work. I have pointed out that I like working, and I don’t need to literally run away from my job and define fun as something society says is fun.
I probably am jealous. At least a little bit. Maybe I wish I was the sort of person who could work in a team with someone? Maybe I wish I had some athletic skill? I don’t know. Maybe tennis just seems so…not hardcore. I mentioned this once to the person in my life who plays tennis, and he said, in his simple, non-angsty, perfect way that is a huge part of why I love him:
“I’m not hardcore.”
And so he is not. He’s just a good dude, one who doesn’t worry about how things look. One who does what he wants to do. Sigh again.
One time I went to watch the person who is now into tennis play tennis. It was a perfect day, breezy and not too hot and not too cold. I sat on the bleachers and read a book and watched the action. About halfway through the game I got unaccountably angry. I took a little walk around the court to calm down. My anger grew and grew until I was filled with rage, and I still couldn’t put my finger on why. The rest of the day the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns” ran though my head and I had to use a lot of Le Tigre to get it out.
Maybe this is it: tennis is utterly without angst.
How could I trust it?
So I can’t trust it. But I also can’t avoid it. I had hoped to go my whole life without bumping into sports-people, but it looks like that is not to be the case. So I need to make my peace with something I can’t understand and don’t trust.
It’s a tall order for an intolerant old misanthrope like me. I guess I’ll keep chipping away at it.