Neighborhood Sports

I’ve been enamored of the Kingston Stockade since reading Dennis Crowley’s announcement of the team, but as time goes on, and as my nostalgia becomes more of an affliction, I wonder why, other than insufficient hours in the day, there aren’t teams in all of the river towns along the Hudson. It seems there should be in Beacon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson as well as in Kingston.

Or, why, for example, is there such strong support for local football teams in Texas — and by strong I mean that high school games draw as well as the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — that isn’t matched elsewhere?

Or, why, for example, if there is a team in the community, no one other than the players knows? There are, I know, amateur adult sports leagues, the Men’s Senior Baseball League and U. S. Adult Soccer to name two, but where is the rabid discussion of town rivalries? There may be; I may just be out of the loop.

Or is it that the organization, what there is of it, of local sports is uneven and hard to comprehend, while that of the national sports is well administered and, for lack of a better word, professional?

It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.  — The Federalist, No. 17

Or are our athletic passions reserved for the young and the professional alone? Why?

Leah Cox (no relation, as far as I know, though Leah is a family name on the Bell side) of Bard College, remarked in a 2017 Poughkeepsie Journal article on lifetime learning that “[u]nfortunately, dance is a discipline that quickly gets categorized as something for the young. Consequently it’s taught primarily to the young. This is such a disservice to everyone….”

This echoes the way I’ve felt about sports and movement since becoming the parent of dancers, swimmers, and soccer stars, yet it wasn’t until a back injury from sitting that I rediscovered what I’d wanted as a child: to run and jump and move. And realized while watching my sons tumble through gymnastics routines that I still wanted to learn how to flip.

Why are we relegated to the sidelines and couches, the audience of life? It’s almost as if in the same way that recess and gym are systematically cut out of a student’s routine as they age, movement itself is cut out of an adult’s, and granted only to the professionals.

“In sports we have created not a participatory culture but a Roman gladiatorial system in which most of us end up as passive spectators watching a few individuals on the playing field.” — Leon Botstein, “Music in Times of Economic Distress,” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 90, Issue 2, 1 July 2007, Pages 167–175, https://doi.org/10.1093/musqtl/gdn023

I took some ballroom dancing classes, and stumbled through them, but they fell to the side when schedules intervened. Meanwhile, I’d taken to lifting weights to stop a precipitous weight loss, encountering CrossFit and the Spartan Race along the way, and the novel idea that everyone is an athlete. It resonated.

No. 1 Son decided that soccer was his thing. He loved to play. He loved to run. He loved to turn cartwheels. (Baseball doesn’t offer much opportunity for cartwheels.) His coach left in the middle of the U9 season, and I, having no experience playing soccer, picked up the slack. My across-the-street neighbor from when I was 8-12 played soccer, but I don’t think that counts as experience.

I set out to learn.

The first thing I learned is that the organization of soccer in the United States makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

I mean, really, how is it that Team A and Team B, from the same town, playing similar players of similar ages and similar skills, play in different leagues, never play each other, and Team B is considered better than Team A because they pay more to play in League B? And there’s no way in hell that Team A will ever be able to play Team B without paying to do so. How fucked up is that?

And there are umpteen million different premier leagues. Premier, by the way, means first, so there should be only one, like the Highlander. Instead, not counting youth leagues, of which there are legion, we are confronted with the National Premier Soccer League, Premier Development League, the United Premier Soccer League, the Elite Premier League, the Premier National Judean People’s Front, the Judean Premier National Peoples Front, and the Monty Python Fund for the Implementation of the Possibility of There One Day Being a Premier League in the United States. So, obviously, Major League Soccer makes major sense.

I’m just looking for a local club to play with, while my son plays with the Beekman Soccer Club. The United States Soccer Federation says I should look at the United States Adult Soccer Association which says ask the Eastern New York State Soccer Association which OMG now I have to click among these various leagues just to figure out which one covers where I live is that what the Internet has come to since Google can’t differentiate between youth and adult soccer in Poughkeepsie and no one talks to their neighbors these days yes. It was easier when I worked in New York and I made fun of my co-workers playing pick-up soccer every Friday in Central Park.

It turns out that I live in the area covered by the Eastern District Soccer League, founded 1928, and invisible since.

This is absurd.

I live in Beekman, New York. If I, or my progeny, want to play soccer there should be an obvious choice: the Beekman Soccer Club, offering teams for anyone interested from /n/ to /n+1/. Or maybe we don’t play for Beekman. Maybe we play for the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Club of Beekman while those Others play for the Irish Club of Beekman or the German Club of Poughkeepsie or who the fuck cares as long as I don’t have to call the national director to find out what the fuck local club offers an O40 team.

Instead, we have this situation where there’s no obvious progression from playing with a ball at home to a local club to the local club’s first team which plays in a regional league and eventually gets promoted to a national league because they are so damn good. What we have is I, the parent of a soccer player, not the player himself, will make decisions about the rest of his life based on how much I’m willing to pay for the possibility that he might one day be “identified” by the one scout for the U.S. Men’s National Team or get a Division I scholarship.

Fuck that shit.

He just wants to play.

I just want to play.

And when I’m not playing, and when he’s not playing, we want to watch someone else play. Here.

No way in Hell are we driving two hours to New Jersey or paying $170 per month to Comcast. I could start my own league for that.

To Do List

  • Wake up
  • Empty the bladder
  • Brush teeth
  • Make the bed
  • Feed the cats
  • Your son writes his grandmother
  • Write your lover
  • Insulin
  • The school bus
  • Breakfast
  • Dishes
  • Laundry
  • Dinner plans
  • That book under your skin
  • No, I already fed you cats
  • Write museum ask what was that poem
  • Laundry
  • She doesn’t want more college advice
  • Maybe she does
  • Why don’t factory towns in New England resemble coal towns in West Virginia?
  • Sweep
  • Pick up soccer kits and distribute: game’s tomorrow
  • Grocery store
  • What was on the list?
  • Do this first
  • No, the litter box needs changing
  • Sweep
  • What was that about lunch?
  • Laundry
  • Sweep
  • Vacuum
  • No homework today
  • Bon-bons
  • Idle chatter that’s how you learn about another’s day
  • Guests!
  • OK. You cats never give up, do you?
  • Dinner
  • Insulin
  • Will they want to read tonight?
  • Dishes
  • No, you can’t stay up: game’s tomorrow.
  • Bed
  • Wait: weren’t you supposed to work today?

Proud to be an American, Where What?

I overhead part of an odd conversation between No. 1 Son and No. 2 Son that came while they were preparing for bed after we’d watched The Gamers: Humans & Households.

No. 2 Son: Which would you rather be: American or Canadian?

No. 1 Son: Canadian.

No. 2 Son: Me too.

Ah, the corrupting influence of the Internet that causes such young souls to have a strongly positive opinion of Canada.

Though I must admit Lucy Maud Montgomery did convince me that Prince Edward Island would be a lovely place to live. And I did like the Montreal Expos (though not the Mets) because of Gary Carter (and the Reds because of Johnny Bench–apparently I wanted to be a catcher). (There was trouble in the household due to my divided loyalties.) And the Maple Leaf is an attractive flag.

But how can one cultivate the love of one’s country and its people when the actions of its, supposedly representative,  government in the world and at home are of such low character?

Apt

Courtesy of her grandfather on her mother’s side, No. 1 Daughter took the aptitude tests offered by the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. We accompanied her to New York City this past weekend to discuss the results. I’ve not done any research in the area, but my opinion, having suffered other aptitude and personality tests, and the daily horoscope, is that they have some usefulness as descriptive tools, but little to offer in the way of prescription. Since they intend to sample her aptitudes every five years, I’m intrigued about what, if anything, this will show.

Imagine my total lack of surprise then when they confirmed what I already thought: she’s just like her father.

Or, as they put it, a diagnostic generalist.

She scored in the 70th percentile on the inductive reasoning test, and in the 99th percentile on the foresight and analytical reasoning tests. They group personalities by word association and call her “objective.” There are longer descriptions of each aptitude in their book.

We believe that those who [score high on Analytical Reasoning] are “born organizers” who tend to enjoy the process of shuffling concepts into place, classifying data, and creating systems.

A high score on our Inductive Reasoning test suggests that you have the ability to think diagnostically, rapidly evaluate situation or data, and quickly solve problems.

Scoring Objective on our Word Association test suggests that you would tend to prefer working with and through others to accomplish a variety of tasks. …[And] tend to be generalists who like to be involved with multiple aspects of a project, assignment, or team.

It was an annoyance when one of my sisters had everyone take the Enneagram a couple of decades ago, but I can understand the impulse: I wonder how the tests would describe the rest of my family. We do all insist that there’s a correct way to load the dishwasher.

Patience, Grasshopper

A little attention goes a long way.

I’ve come to believe that a great deal of unnecessary coercion, what one might call excessive use of force, is directly related to impatience; to a misplaced urgency; to the idea that something must be done now, when I command, not later on its own time. We see this in the daily challenges of parenting, those quotidian sins of our life, beating the weaker as that merciless master the clock beats us: yelling at No. 1 Daughter to get in the car so we get to church — or anywhere – on time; shoving No. 2 Son on the bus every day for the first years of schooling; yelling at No. 2 Daughter to clean her room; throwing No. 2 Son in the water at swim lessons; threatening repercussions if the room is not clean, if the teeth are not brushed, if the music is not practiced, if the homework is not done, if the lights are not off. We see this present systemically, in ever earlier compulsory schooling, for example, with the requirement to read on schedule rather than when the child desires. It’s in our language, when we equate listen with obey, or when we force a plant to bloom.

It backfires. The bed goes unmade. They fail out of college. They stop singing. We express puzzlement and alarm at why a large percentage of adults give up reading when they have the option. The blooms fall off so quickly.

No. 1 Son started a fire on the sidewalk yesterday. He was so proud. He tells me he knows the secret to using flint and steel.

His grandfather has taken an interest in No. 1 Son’s scouting. They go to the meetings together. Each week Pop-Pop helps him with one of the rank requirements. Together they’ve come up with a plan to make Eagle Scout. No. 1 Son set the goal. Pop-Pop encourages and guides him along, helping to shape the vague intention into slow, steady, methodical action.

I sat this morning with No. 2 Son. He gets frustrated quickly with his practice, and angry with anything that isn’t immediately easy. After he calms down, he’ll return to the drums and continue, but it takes some time for his inner John McEnroe to pass. Watching this from behind the safety of my pressing tasks is both frustrating — he’s not getting it done! — and easy for me: the burden is all his.

But this morning I sat with him. I was interested in what he was practicing. I tried to play it. He showed me how to do it. I held the sheet music for him. I listened carefully. I followed along. He played without difficulty or complaint. We enjoyed our thirty minutes together. And then caught up with Ash and his Pokémon.

Such a small thing, attention and time.

Observations on Compulsory Schooling

Walking back from the bus stop, No. 2 Son, who is only just 10, looked thoughtful. A few steps later, he remarked, “School is slavery.”

“It isn’t,” I replied.

“School is like slavery.”

“How so?”

“You are ripped away from your family.”

“But at the end of the school day you come home.”

“That’s true.”

He turned to his friends who were walking alongside: “School is like prison.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“You are forced to go there and you cannot leave.”

My First Meaningful Project

Browsing through old photographs and found this one from 2000 of hope for the future.

showing No. 1 Daughter a bookstore

Her mother took the photograph. We were in Colonial Williamsburg, probably at Mermaid Books, because chief among the things I like are books, old brick, and boxwoods. No. 1 Daughter was three months old at the time. Some days it’s hard to believe that she’s almost done with secondary school. There is one semester left.

On the days when I feel I haven’t done enough as a parent, I pretend a benign neglect is sometimes best. The next step is hers.

Envy

Looking at my résumé, I feel like I have to justify the decisions I’ve made. It’s not the curriculum vitae I thought I’d have. At each step along the way, each fork in the road I took made sense. Looking back, there’s some regret — and envy. Regret that I didn’t see opportunities, not of my decisions. Envy of those with different luck, who happened to be in the right place at the right time. And envy of my children, who have a long road still ahead of them, full of possibility.

I, on the other hand, often feel hedged about by my past, such that I’m lost, and almost paralyzed by expectations.

Which way do I go?

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Need-Blind

The ocean of the Internet tosses up interesting flotsam, and then it sinks below the surface again. I read some passing reference, perhaps by Niall Ferguson, to the British Empire needing a lot of clerks to do the computing, and thus schools to train them in the essentials of empire: completing and processing forms, and thus neat handwriting and arithmetic. (I’d like a citation.) We’ve since invented mechanical computers to tabulate and process the forms, and outsourced the completion of the forms themselves to the end-users.

In this otherwise excellent discussion of AT&T’s Workforce 2020 program, an employee training initiative intending to re-skill 100,000 employees in the next three years, Randall Stephenson makes a throwaway comment that, of course, the student has to learn the new skills on his own time. Because, we’ll help you help yourself, but only if you’re interested in keeping up with the changing world. (My experience of layoffs at AT&T has been that when jobs are eliminated, the people are generally given the opportunity to apply for any remaining jobs.) The coursework that Mr. Stephenson mentions is available at Udacity and Georgia Tech. It’s an exciting program. These are, for the most part, skills that didn’t exist less than a decade ago, using tools that were pooh-poohed by big companies like AT&T. But what about general purpose skills? What about the world beyond the virtual?

I spent today assisting with completing the FAFSA and TAP and PROFILE and now I’m tired and wondering what would be the harm in disregarding parental ability to pay and considering only the student’s assets, if those. Though I suppose then colleges, trade schools, and such might either lower their fees in order to attract students, turn elsewhere for funding, and go out of business. Is it really optimal for adolescents to guess what the labor market might demand in four years rather than for an employer to train an employee to do what needs being done now or in the relatively near future? It’s unreasonable to expect any student to take on debt based on the assumption of future earning potential. One, they’re not in any position to make an accurate assessment of their prospects; and, two, robots. In four years 9.5 million truckers will be looking for new work. Meanwhile there’s a shitload of clerical work that’s purely inefficiency — healthcare billing, for example — and doesn’t require a college education in order to complete, though one might consider lawyers essentially to be clerical help of a particularly specialized kind, not to mention the skilled trades. What’s wrong with apprenticeship? Besides, many adolescents are impatient: they are ready to go and do. They are done with waiting.

If college is to prepare one for a job, then why is the student paying for it instead of the employer? And if it’s not necessarily to prepare one for a job, but rather to work together to enhance our understanding of ourselves, of this world and the next, then why would we limit who can undertake that quest to those who’ve won the parental lottery? Or, to be frank, given the existential threat that robots pose to humanity, why would we limit learning at all, since increasing understanding is the only thing we will be for (maybe not even that)? Perhaps we need to ask, where else is there a community of scholars but at college?

Anyway, apply first and meet all the deadlines. You will have no idea what college will cost until three months after all the forms have been filled out.

In Living Memory

Number One Daughter got her first college acceptance today, from Wells College on the shore of beautiful Cayuga Lake. I need to get that FAFSA submitted. Some of its assumptions are annoying, but one is correct: She is heading to college directly from high school, at least for purposes of this form. However, Inside Higher Ed notes that almost half of college students are “non-traditional,” meaning that they don’t come along to college directly after high school and between the ages of 18 and 24. It almost makes one wonder if perhaps there’s some disconnect between what’s assumed to be normal and what is, or some lack of understanding of how traditions change over time — the traditional student may not be the normal student, nor even traditional.  We’ve been misled by the past fixed in our memory, pretending to be inflexible. But it makes sense that institutions which pride themselves on traditions might see everything from that perspective, though one might expect them to use a more accurate label, such as “young adult,” instead of “traditional.”

Today our families gather to be together and give thanks, on a holiday which is either a celebration of survival or of death, depending on whom one asks. Once a day of fasting and reflection, Thanksgiving has become almost a celebration of gluttony — though to my mind that’s tomorrow. Odd that until the coming of mass media, Thanksgiving was somber. But my experience of what other families do is entirely from stories told in the movies. Have I read a novel set at Thanksiving? Is there one?

some of the pies

What I recall is more recent than my childhood. Earlier both Thanksgiving and Christmas blend together: black walnuts, pumpkin pie, ham, green beans almondine, and congealed salad. I spent most of any party alone, reading. (Family holidays at my in-laws’ were a bit more explosive.) Today we had remembered receipts and conversations about family origins. Dad told the story of a young John Bell who ran away to western Virginia with his Cherokee wife instead of heading off on the Trail of Tears. It puts some context on the 23andMe results:

Traditions change with time. They aren’t fixed. Each iteration offers something new. But is it not a bit odd that gratitude for plenty becomes gorging to excess?

Our society appears to place great stock in buying, in consumption. They talk about it on the news a lot. The advertisements tell us there’s lots more to buy. But I’m not sure where the money to buy things comes from. (Actually, I am sure where it comes from, but it’s unevenly distributed.) Spend the time with your family. Buy nothing. Let the rich trickle down their purchases.

Impropriety

News of the world is daily maddening, full of pointless cruelty. We must take our moments of joy where we find them. My sons are in the bell choir at Trinity United Methodist Church. Before the service, the congregation sings hymns as randomly suggested by the congregants. Number Two Son had been looking through the hymnal and apparently found a song he liked: Angels We Have Heard on High. He confidently raised his tiny hand. “It’s too early for Christmas songs,” I whispered. He slowly lowered his hand, and we sang some other song.

After the song finished, the choirmaster asked for one more. One of the congregants had noticed the little hand, and pointed him out.

“Yes? What number?”

He spoke loudly and clearly, “Number 238.”

I couldn’t sing along very well overcome with emotion.

Missing

Like the rest of the postcards received by PostSecret, this one reveals an anonymous sentiment, one perhaps more common than not, and surprising.

My 8 year old son's pillow. So I can touch it and whisper goodnight to him. Divorce is HELL on Earth. (I'm the Dad.)

Why should that be?

It’s a simple image: A well-made bed, pillows neatly tucked; a typed caption describing the scene; a comment.

All normal, except the handwritten note: “I’m the Dad.”

Why does this surprise us?

Attention Must Be Paid

My work — the employment for which I’m paid, that is — is invisible. Nothing to see here; move along. Long ago, the company asked us to let undergraduates, prospective employees who were interested in the field, shadow us for a day so they could get a sense of the job. Instead of an internship, looking over my shoulder while I type. Had they seen Office Space? Do we really need to impress on the young how accurate Waiting for Godot is? At least Kafka has a giant cockroach.

Number Two Son is nine, about the age at which I began playing Dungeons & Dragons. He wasn’t feeling well and stayed home from school today. After waking and breakfast, he asked me to read with him, but I was working. He read to himself a bit then puttered around with math and the slack line while waiting. Then at lunch we read The Lorax.

He asked questions a lot while he was puttering. I was inattentive at first, but wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a while to remember that he was there with me in real life, a real person; that today was special because he wasn’t normally at home during the week. Then I took the time and gave him my attention.

As we chatted at the lunch table after reading, I wondered what about my work could be interesting to him. Or, if not that, what about what I’m thinking about anything. When he asks, “what are you doing?” and I answer only, “work,” what does that say? I’m not writing video games: It’s not like he can see how moving a semi-colon changes a syntax error into a functioning for loop, or a comma changes meaning. And he’s not reading what I write, so my rants online about whatever don’t register — that may be a good thing. But how can I say he learned anything at his father’s knee if I don’t talk to him? My work is invisible; he can’t watch.

What if we tried talking to our children as if they are people and interesting, instead of waiting for them to leave home first?

What if we gave them the time of day?

Maybe tomorrow we can talk about how The Lorax is a tragedy not a comedy.

Publish, or Die Trying

My father is a Presbyterian minister, and has been for fifty years. Sometimes I hear rumors that he’s retired, but it’s a working retirement. His labor is a calling. Each week is a new sermon. I remember Saturdays reading on the couch in his study while he wrote, first long-hand and then on the Smith-Corona. I didn’t read the sermons; they were performance pieces, meant to be heard, not read. The churches recorded the sermons, so those who couldn’t come on Sunday could hear the Word of the Lord. I doubt any of those recordings still exist, though perhaps they do in a basement somewhere. Once he mentioned that some preachers didn’t write their own sermons: they bought them from a catalog. Publish yours, I said. Perhaps, he demurred, but not for preaching. Each has a place and a time.

I’ve been a reader since I learned how, and an aspiring writer. It might have something to do with being surrounded by words and books — and procrastination. You know the difference between an aspiring writer and a writer? A writer writes. I’ve written, but what I’ve written has been small works of little discipline: e-mails, pithy blog posts, the occasional technical documentation. None of these match my ideal of a writer. (Nor did writing copy for the inside of a book jacket, which is probably why I only lasted a day as an editorial intern.) I should stay away from Platonic ideals.

This next month is November; that is, NaNoWriMo. I’m not inclined to write a novel, but writing something each day is a start.

I Wish I Could Go Back to College

No. 1 Daughter is a junior in high school this year. My how time flies. Her next act on the world stage approaches. Last year, to be helpful, because she was really not interested, and didn’t take the PSAT, I signed her up for the mailing lists of a couple of colleges. Specifically, I signed her up for those which I was interested in when I was looking at schools.

That’s not wrong, right?

Not all of them, though. I didn’t put her on the mailing list for Deep Springs or Hamden-Sydney because she’s, ahem, female. Or for Stanford, since this isn’t about me: it’s about getting her interested in the possibilities.

Yeah. Right.

Maybe I could visit her far too many times if she chose Bard (or, better yet, Simon’s Rock) or Vassar or Fordham, or even just a few too many for a modicum amount of comfort if she chose Mary Baldwin or St. John’s College. Perhaps the better choice, beyond a semester at sea, is something far away, like Oxford.

A community college is right out. I’ll be there every day.

School, a Poem

Locks us inside

3 minute breaks in between

42 minutes

“School,” a poem by Number Two Daughter (13)

Number Two Daughter brought this poem home from school today. She’s expressed this unhappy sentiment several times before, more frequently since the recent increase in lockdown drills and procedural restraint on the movement of students.

I have particular opinions about how the schools are structured, which I may share vocally now and then, but I believe my children are developing their own opinions based on observed experience rather than any ranting I’ve done. The subjects of the system notice what the system is doing, even if they are powerless to prevent or change it. Later, as adults, they might forget, or perhaps accept it as “just the way things are,” and send their children through the same system. As has been remarked in other contexts, this is a feature, not a bug.

To the Stranger in a Strange Land

All are welcome here.

My father did not approve of locking the doors to the church. Anyone who needed to was welcome to enter. Anyone who was passing through town in need of money, or food, or clothing, or a place to stay was welcome to what they needed. Anyone, without question, was welcome. Many were the nights that a stranger joined us for dinner.

Some were concerned. But what about the thieves? What about the rapists? What about the murderers? Aren’t you afraid for your family?

No. God is love.

In all the years we helped those in need, some passed themselves off as people they weren’t, some were on the run, some weren’t, yet no one took more than they needed, no one stole from the offering plate, no one killed. And perhaps down their road, they realized that they did not trick us; we were willingly doing as we ought for those in need. And, perhaps, they were changed as a result.

Fight the Power

Why do I hate compulsory schooling, do you ask?

There are two reasons. First, I’m against coercion on principle. But, more importantly, it makes mornings a living hell as I become a complicit actor in projecting State power–and an awful father.

So what did I teach Number Two Son this morning?

Did I teach him that one of the great joys of life is learning? No.

Did I guide him in disciplining himself? No.

I taught him that the Bigger and Stronger One gets what he wants through fear and force. Perhaps a more useful lesson, considering that power relationships pervade life, but not the lesson I wanted to teach.