Monday, November 28, 2005

Spectator Sports

Living in a college town with a huge football following has led to some interesting observations lately.

I’ve never been a big sports fan myself. This lack of interest and inability to connect with a team has always left me wondering why others so eagerly rally around these events. In particular, I’ve noticed that men, and often the most emotionally inaccessible ones, become inflamed and loose all rational ability when the team doesn’t play well.

The place I’ll start is probably the most obvious. Again and again I hear people describing their team’s performance, “We played a great game today…our defense was really on…”…etc. The choice of wording here is clearly not accurate. To use the word “we” implies that the speaker had some part in the success (or poor performance) of the team playing. The spectator feels an emotional connection to the team and the outcome of the event. The reality, of course, is that the person speaking simply observed other people as they played a game that had nothing to do with anything outside of the people on the field.

I’ll accept the idea that one might object to my last statement. Perhaps the spectators’ support (or heckling) had some impact on the psyche of the players. Maybe a well timed hiss caused that last free-throw to miss the basket. While this is all possible, it seems a little bit like manually flapping the wing of a butterfly in hopes of causing a hurricane on the other side of the world. In most cases cheering and booing have little effect because athletes are trained to tune out this noise. Even if there was a measurable change in the outcome of the game, one would think that spectators wouldn’t really want their actions to influence the game because this would be unsportsmanlike. If we could change the outcome of a game with how loud we yell, then why in the world would we pay athletes as much as we do? We want the best team to win, right?

So, for sake of argument, we want the best team to win and we want “our” team to be the best team. In fact, we truly believe that our team is the best team in a lot of cases (even though they can’t possibly all be the best). We’re back to the original question then: Why do we use the word “we” and why do people get so involved in these uncontrollable events?

I have a theory. I believe that sporting events (and mad spectators) are an outlet for people’s pent up emotions. In addition, I think these events are perceived by sports fans as a very safe way to express their emotions. The idea is that a guy can get all riled up, have a few beers (maybe a brawl in the stands) and then go home. No one got hurt. No harm, no foul.

I disagree though. I think that dealing with emotions in such a way is actually quite detrimental to the emotional development of the rabid spectator. Imagine you are a huge fan of your local football team. The team is on a winning streak and with each subsequent game your spirits are lifted higher and higher. What happens when your team finally loses? You are on the edge of your seat for the duration of the game. Standing and gesturing wildly at all of the appropriate moments cursing all of the while. When the game ends you are truly angry and upset. It may have ruined your whole afternoon! The bottom line though, is that you don’t have to deal with anything. You can spit and curse, but eventually you have to accept what has happened. You do so, and you move on (until the next season).

What have we learned? That there is nothing we can do about our problems. When we are emotional it is okay to lose control completely. Rational process does not have a place. In fact, it is more appropriate to lose one’s head and then later shrug one’s shoulders and hope the team pulls it together next time. There’s not a thing that a fan can actually do to influence the future outcome. The spectator may claim to have all of the solutions, but in the end, they step aside, allow someone else to take responsibility and watch the chips fall. There is no point where personal accountability plays any role. It is literally a way to kill time.

I’m certainly not saying that people shouldn’t watch sports. One pastime is as good as the next so long as no one is being hurt. All I’m suggesting is that the emotional involvement is not healthy. Perhaps it’s time we start teaching children to take responsibility and understand the consequences of their actions rather than emphasizing that emotions are not to be controlled or made productive.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I can't even ride a horse.

Okay, so I started this blog with the sole intent of saying something meaningful. I wanted to spout my wisdom (from mountaintops, if you will) so that others might benefit from it. From my high and mighty perch atop my high horse on the top of a mountain I had forgotten one, very important thing. Fun socks.

The other day I was in Old Navy checking out the little girls section for XXL clothing at low low prices and I happened upon the the fabled wall of socks. They had fun winter socks in every holiday and secular design that a little girl could ever want. I was "sew heppy!"

I've always loved wearing silly socks. They're my protest against matching. I figure the more hideous my socks are, the less possibility there is that I might coordinate. Some may see this as a bad thing (or a "faux pas"). Personally, I see it as freedom. Even if I wanted to, I could not match my blue and red and pink "smiling and frolicking dogs" socks to any outfit in my wardrobe. Obviously I'm going to wear said socks, therefore I have to free myself of the illusion that matching is important.

How is it possible for the world to require that we coordinate "pieces," yet fun socks also exist? The simultaneous existance of these two things is virtually impossible. I therefore would claim that perfectly coordinated outfits are the fallacy (because the fun socks are a constant).

Really, there's not a lot that makes me happier than wearing a lovely outfit, taking a seat, and seeing that little candy cane stripe peeking out from between my pant leg and my shoe. It screams, "There is individuality! We may dress as we please! Social norms exist only in our minds! We are free!"

Yup...that's what I get out of wearing my fun socks.

In conclusion: I'm generally pretty level headed, but from time to time I can get a bit wrapped up in myself. When that happens, feel free to knock me down from up here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


For my whole life, over and over again, I've been told that people don't change. People are as they are and there's not a thing that will change that. In old age, this amplifies. A person who was slightly rigid in youth will become completely stiff as they mature.

This may be true, but I'd like to examine the root causes and the implications of this chosen behavior pattern. First, it is important to consider that change is difficult. It requires that a person make an effort to examine his/her own behavior and reflect with a level of criticism. Basically, one must admit to imperfection. One must admit to being wrong. How many people are really able to do this without suffering a blow to the ego? So, we've established that change is not instinctual. Change requires a great deal of effort.

Why then, would someone want to change? We can agree that our environment changes constantly. We can also agree that the people within our environment change along with it. As most people view human interaction as an important component of their daily existence, it is therefore important to be able to adjust to these different types of people. One must flex and bend in order to function.

Imagine the following analogy: A child’s bones are flexible. The child will run and play and bump and bruise. Occasionally the child will break a bone, but in most cases, the bones are able to take a good stretch. As this child ages and moves into adulthood, the bones become less flexible and more brittle. A bump that would have yielded a little bruise in childhood now requires a hip replacement. The difference? Brittle, inflexible bones. The bones are unable to adjust properly to the corner into which they bumped. The lack of adjustment is a detriment to the one unwilling to flex rather than the environment. The point here is that even a predictable environment will not remain static. Adjustment and flexibility are necessary to function normally.

I would also argue that a person who asks "Can people change?" is really asking, "Can one person make another change?" The answer to this question is, "No." But this only extends so far as the other person is unwilling to adjust. A person who is willing to adjust can do so up until the last day of their life.

So the question really becomes: Can a person change? With those who would insist that the answer is no, I would adamantly disagree.

Change is a matter of choice. One can always choose to make him/herself a better person. One would always benefit from such a choice. People who are unwilling and stubborn are hurting themselves. We are not bones. We are minds with the ability to use rational thought in order to train and retrain ourselves to move throughout our existence. I only recently learned how to cook a great risotto. Just a month ago was the first time I tried to play guitar. My age was not a hindrance. In fact, my ability to discipline myself and engage willpower (through the callus-forming stage) increased the speed with which I picked up these new skills.

My father would always have said, “Mind over matter.” What he meant was that one can do anything he/she chooses (aside from breaking physical law). He’s right.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Can't Stop

She pulled out Poem by Charles T. Griffes. Tentatively she slid the interlocking pieces together. She filled her lungs and breathed life and warmth into the instrument she hadn't picked up in what seemed like forever. The keys felt stiff and clicked when they moved. Had it been too long? A two octave chromatic scale proved that her fingers still knew their places. It was time. She began the piece.

In her mind she heard the orchestra come in. The theme lamented in a swelling song that had no clear beginning or end. Over the orchestra she entered with her own line. The clear and silver sound of the flute drowned the rest of the world in its wave of movement. Each note stretched slightly longer than dictated by the black symbols on the pages. A sudden flitting here and there reminded her of past moments - In a rich blanket of sound as she swayed and ached with each note.

A sudden change in tempo and in tone set her heart to racing. It felt as if her fingers would not be able to keep up with her mental accompaniment. Runs of sixteenths filled with accidentals. The pace becoming increasingly frantic and then suddenly shifting to an iteration of the main theme. The flute practically whispered in its lowest range. The tone had a sharpness that mourned some indescribable loss. Just as she had a chance to become comfortable another run took her to a set of shrill trills that led to the syncopated and most melodious portion of the piece. It was a deceivingly simple rhythm that mingled subtle complexities and a juxtaposition of contrasting ideas.

Jumping octaves, soaring high above the staff, tumbling up and down the scale to end as abruptly as it had started. Again. Staccato double-tounging followed with a meandering transition that led her finally to the climax. She was now wrapped entirely in the piece in what seemed like a passive involvement in complete brilliance. The descent back into the final theme was a screaming animal finally giving in and allowing itself to be tamed. It ended as it began. The long, slow, biting siren of the final phrase echoed in her mind for days.

Friday, November 04, 2005

My Quirks, eh?

I’ve been tagged by Jason Evans at The Clarity of Night once again. This meme encourages that I list and discuss my quirks. Wish me luck.

I have a feeling that there are a lot more quirky things about me that I’m unable to recognize simply because I’ve always thought they were normal. I will do my best to expose what I believe to be my oddities though.

  1. I thoroughly enjoy a good obsession. I like to find something that really gets me excited and then take it one step too far. For example, I write poetry each year singing the praises of Cadbury’s Crème Eggs. I also read and re-read (and re-read…) certain children’s books about a boy with a scar on his forehead. Oh, and beef jerky. Did I mention I love beef jerky?
  2. I believe in my ability to train myself. This means that with the right level of discipline combined with an open mind, I have gone from world’s pickiest eater to the girl who will eat anything. My only remaining dislike is whole, raw tomatoes. After that, who knows? Maybe world domination?
  3. I am completely obsessed (please note the theme) with music. I harmonize in the shower, wail in the car and join every band I have access to. I’m really not complete without it.
  4. I do standup for my friends. What’s odd is that they don’t know it. I’ll make my clever observation privately and then, when the moment is right, do my routine for the group. It’s all in the timing people!
  5. I am generally enraged by the concept (or at least the common definition) of humility. I know that the preferred attitude is to downplay one’s accomplishments and act as if they were no big deal. I feel that this is detrimental to one’s motivation and as a result, I embrace my awesomeness.
  6. ColdStone Creamery, Marble Slab, Maggie Moos. What do I say? How about, if I want ice cream with toppings in it, I’ll ask you for rocky road? Why would I want to stand in line and then wait for you to mix them in, effectively taking more of my time and money to do so? I’ll go to Ben and Jerry’s, thanks. I like my toppings already in my ice cream.
  7. Vegetarians and stupid people frighten me.

That’s what I’ve got. Again, the big quirks are probably the ones I don’t even know about. I hope this has been interesting.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


This was a man who had held the fate of thousands in his hands. This was a man who wined and dined with world leaders. This was a man who had accomplished mental and physical feats that most would only dream of. He had seen the world, found love, attained the highest levels of success in his chosen career and was financially able to do “whatever the hell he wanted” for the rest of his life.

This was a man who stood at the front of a classroom of students. A room full of minds thirsty for knowledge and innocent enough not to question a source so outwardly sure of itself. He lectured and they listened. They scrambled for every bit of advice. He had been so successful. He was so rich! He must have all of the answers.

Other men came in to speak each session. Some cited good luck as the source of their success. Some cited hard work. Most stated that the classroom inhabitants were smarter and more able than the speakers. All were filthy stinking rich enough to admit to something like that.

Of course the implication was that each of these men had done something extraordinary to be in such a position even without the mental capacity of these bright young minds.

“I’ll open the floor to questions.”

This was the signal to which the students responded with hands shooting upwards. Hands, attached to arms, attached to shoulders that tugged in their sockets from the jolt. Questions ranged from, “How did you get to be so great?” to “How can I be great too?”

From a corner she sat back, somewhat stunned the first time, but thoroughly amused by the third session and on. The questions stated “How do I become great?” but the subtext was clearly, “How can I get others to acknowledge my greatness?”

No one tries to gain recognition without first assuming they have something to be recognized for. Was power really about recognition? Were the people most prominently in the public eye simply the ones who needed the most validation? What undiscovered greatness existed that the world would never see because the owner desired no such thing? One had to wonder what the real motivation behind these huge successes was.

This man, who had done great things, scrambled each week for the attention, affection and approval of 19 year old students.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Someone Like Me

She should have been studying. Instead she spent the evening watching a romantic movie. She had sighed and cried, just as any hopeless romantic would. Then, she started thinking - her philosophical side taking over.

She had convinced herself that these love stories were pure fiction. That people were unable to feel and act so freely. Why? Why, when behavioral patterns over the ages show that love and security are exactly what we want? The reason was that she also had observed so many wonderful people punishing themselves and hardening themselves to the world.

She scribbled in her journal, furiously:

I want to meet someone who is not afraid. I want to be madly in love without fear of hurt. I want to simultaneously know that the person to whom I have devoted my life is the one who makes it worth living and could completely wreck me. I want to have enough trust between us to know that he wouldn’t do that.

I want someone who will work when things are hard. I want someone who will commit the same amount of heart that I will.

I am so tired of not caring. I want to care. I want to feel. I want someone to feel with me. I don’t want a coat of armor. I want nerves and skin and heart. I want to touch someone and be touched in return.

I don’t want someone who is keeping his options open. I don’t want someone who is playing it safe. I want someone to dive in with me and risk it all. I want to make that risk the biggest payoff of his life.

I will find this. I will continue to live and feel, even when it hurts. I will not numb myself like so many I see. I will be so happy. I will settle for nothing less.

Now she understood what she wanted. The philosopher and the romantic were not intrinsically opposed. Human desire and rational process could actually work together. She would find what she was looking for.