Know thyself….. then make your free throws

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Yesterday Jason Collins, an NBA veteran of twelve years and multiple teams, publicly announced that he was “gay”. At least judging by the amount of media coverage it generated, this was big news. He was said to be the first player in the four major sports, which surprisingly does not include bowling and table tennis, to “come out” while he was still actively involved in the sport. A handful of other players have made similar confessions, but only after their careers had ended and they weren’t particularly well known..

However, in spite of how news-thirsty the media is, the amount of airtime this story generated and will continue to do so does surprise me a bit. After all, this is 2013. Change has come in spades. We have an African American president, 1/3 of the Supreme Court is female, Indian and Asian-Americans are some of our nation’s top scholars, not to mention influential figures in major institutions. On the homosexuality side, there are gay senators, CEO’s, college presidents, film and TV producers and rock stars. It’s normalized. Why should professional sports, of all spheres, be immune to the winds of change, particularly involving sexual preference? If any profession encourages male bonding, competitive sports is it.

Besides as an English teacher, I can’t help but analyze the semantics of the term “gay”. Gay means happy, and I would assume that most athletes, considering they get to play a sport for a living, are pretty happy individuals,even the Marlins players. So by that definition alone, most athletes are gay.

Perhaps semantics is not the issue here. Regardless I applaud Jason Collins’ decision as it seemingly took a lot of soul searching and fortitude to be so open in an ubber-machismo world. But I would probably respect him just as much had he not disclosed his sexual preference. He is a smart guy, a good athlete and has endured a long and productive NBA career. What is there not to admire? What Jason Collins or any other person in the limelight does behind closed doors is entirely their business. We live in a free country and have the autonomy to be who we want and choose whatever lifestyle suits our tastes.

Unlike other hyped stories, I will fight the urge to read more about this “watershed” moment in big sports or listen to the talking heads. Technically, Jason Collins simply admitted he was happy. And if Shakespeare’s adage “to thine own self be true” still has currency, I really hope more athletes admit they are “gay”, regardless of what connotations are implied. After all, the pursuit of happiness is the cornerstone of this nation’s founding.

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A little time in the sun

  

 The fact that we are in the dead center of poetry month is probably not common knowledge. “Rendering unto Caesar what is due Caesar” and similarly pressing matters take precedence for good reason.

Still for the few of us who were silly enough to major in English and even more audacious to teach it, it’s comforting to know that there is one time in the year when our esoteric passions are appreciated. I can’t speak for others but I’m definitely glad poetry gets put on the pedestal once in awhile. It’s hard to imagine a life without it and my sense is that there are many other searchers and romantics who feel similarly intoxicated by the written word, particularly when used so deftly.

Poetry, like music, is odd and often quite shocking to the senses. The existential origins of both are inescapable. The human condition is a challenging experience to say the least and I guess self-expression helps us realize it’s better to try to reconcile the tensions creatively then let them overwhelm us.

That being said, I can’t imagine any poet, musician or artist for that matter who feels like he/she has a conventional thought process. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be as good at their craft.  Poetry and poetic living require a tremendous amount of solitude, self-consciousness and risk taking, which is both good and bad when trying to navigate the confusing waters of the world around us. It’s not easy to be self and socially conscious simultaneously.

I have read about the various ways we can celebrate National Poetry Month. Like many other hackers, I have tried my hand at writing at least a couple of poems during this month and the results have been mixed. But just as in poetry, there really are no set rules, so I’ve decided to use this blog to give a little plug to two of my favorite poems. Rather than giving my spin on them, I prefer to let the poems speak for themselves. Great poems endure for a reason.

I certainly hope that you like them, and if you want to comment, any feedback is appreciated.    These works have not just inspired my various forms of writing, but have really given shape to the way I think and live. 

These are just two of hundreds of awesome poems that deserve limelight during this special month. The way I see it, every day should be a celebration of poetry but a full month of recognition sure is a good start. 

 

 Since Feeling is First, e.e. cummings


since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool

while Spring is in the world


my blood approves,

and kisses are a better fate

than wisdom

lady i swear by all flowers.  Don’t cry

—the best gesture of my brain is less than

your eyelids’ flutter which says


we are for each other: then

laugh, leaning back in my arms

for life’s not a paragraph


And death i think is no parenthesis


~ e.e. Cummings

 

The Waking

BY THEODORE ROETHKE

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

Just another day

ImageOnce upon a time to me, even in the not so distant past, today used to be the most important day of the year. For good or for bad, my birthday might actually be included in that statement.

No this is not a reference to April Fools, though that has fun manifestations, nor some type of self-help proclamation which rightly affirms the power of the present.

This is a baseball reference. Today, (at least I have been told so) is Opening Day and when one grows up in New England and/or is a die hard baseball fan, the beginning of baseball season presents a feeling of optimism and excitement that is hard to match.

One of the beauties of baseball is that we really don’t know what is coming next. Take today for example. Try to predict the scores for any games or who will hit the first home run for our favorite team. No matter how clairvoyant we think ourselves to be, it’s probably far easier to predict the price of Apple stock or the number of times we will have to dodge distracted drivers using their cars for anything but driving. If there is any sure thing about baseball, it is that nothing is sure. Who could have predicted that the San Francisco Giants would have won the World Series last year or that the Yankees despite their steroid induced payroll, would win so few World Series over the last decade? We know how exciting it is to wake up and discover our team won a game we expected them to lose.

Yet for multiple reasons, I’m sure a lot to do with aging, today is not the most exciting day in my annual calendar. At least not for anything related to baseball. Last year in particular really doused the flames of hope. My two favorite teams, the Marlins and the Red Sox, both finished in last place. In and of itself, that is no big deal. Any realistic sports fan knows that teams experience highs and lows, both within and for complete seasons.

I am trying not to sound too cynical here or lose whatever shred of adolescent enthusiasm still remains, but last year did make clear several disappointing realities of the baseball world. In Miami, the Marlins are not as much of a baseball franchise as they are a corporate construction. The fans don’t really have much say in what the baseball team does, including what stadium they play in. It’s a bit like going to a casino. There is a gigantic welcome mat and plenty of enticements once inside, but if one does go, don’t blame the house if it lightens your wallet and leaves you questioning your better judgment.

As for the Red Sox, even the world’s foremost psychologist could not properly cure the many maladies of the team and its rabid fans.

 I am sure there will come a point where I get caught up in baseball fervor again (this certainly has to do with my bandwagon tendencies) and the nature of the city in which I live. But my guess is that we as sports fans experience the ebbs and flows of enthusiasm, in much the same way that the teams we root for experience the ebbs and flows of success. Nothing is fixed in this world. Not our love for a sport or the more symbolic aspects that sport represents. Living in a tropical climate does limit some of the seasonal connotations of Easter, but if you live in New England or the Midwest, it’s hard to ignore that just as Easter represents a rebirth, so too does the onset of baseball season.

I suppose in a strange way, it’s exciting to experience a baseball season with tempered enthusiasm and relatively no expectations. For one, I can’t really be disappointed though I run the risk of not having anything or anyone to scapegoat.

Only time will tell. I hope that’s a risk worth taking.