It’s important to forgive yourself, when you’re trying to get back into writing. Case in point: this is the first I’ve written today, and it’s after one in the morning, and I’m already exhausted and ready for bed. The dog has been out and out again and still I didn’t go to bed because I hadn’t written yet. If I’d forgiven myself a long time ago I could’ve been asleep by now and woken earlier and gotten the daily tasks done earlier and written at a proper time tomorrow, or today, I guess. Instead I’m here, now, self-coaching.
I watched sports again tonight because I grew up on sports and some of my earliest role models were coaches. I had a lot of them, not all of them role models. Somewhere around fourth grade I had a soccer coach named Kim, a male coach, Asian, I noticed the cross-gendering of his name, didn’t understand that cultural implications at the time, just knew he was a man named Kim, but that’s not why I thought he was not role model worthy. For starters, his daughter was on the team, Autumn, and she wasn’t that good or any good at all if I’m being honest but that’s why he was coaching, because his daughter wanted to play, which was fine, it happened all the time, parent coaches, but two reasons I couldn’t respect him, one, because his family was of a particular religion which mandated females wear skirts or dresses at all times, even during sporting events, so even if Autumn had been good she would’ve inevitably been hampered by the ankle-length denim thing she always has on in my memory. I have this distinct recollection of us doing trapping drills and her dad punting one up nice and high and his daughter waiting for it to come down and summarily taking it pretty hard in the face. I don’t know if wearing normal shorts would’ve helped her there or not.
Second, because his name was Kim and I thought it an original name for a man, possibly embarrassing if one would let it be, but if I’d had a name like Kim in this country I would’ve felt emboldened, I thought, not so much in words but this was the lasting impression of Kim, was that he wasn’t taking advantage of his circumstances. Because what can you expect of a man named Kim? Not a damn thing, I thought or felt, which ought to have provided him with a certain freedom, to be as badass as he wanted to be, and he wanted, as it turned out, not to be so very badass at all. He had opted for a more under-the-radar personality, quiet, reserved, and not because he was an Asian in America, I got the feeling he’d been here his whole life, so the immigrant reticence thing was out, but besides that there was something about his personality that made it clear the self-restraint was self-imposed. He was not looking for any more attention than absolutely necessary. And not that I’ve ever considered it before, but old as I am now and recalling his face I want to say he was Phillipino, possibly Indonesian. If that matters I don’t know why it does.
But. I had plenty of good role-model-type coaches along the way, probably first and foremost was my friend Casey’s dad Jay, who started coaching our basketball team in fourth grade and stayed on for fifth and sixth, all typically parent-coached levels of the game. The junior high teams had more regular coaches (still parents but they’d been on for a few years, after their kids had left), so Jay got bumped after that, but his workouts and practices and scrimmages and games remain the best coached activities of my memory.
I blew up on a kid, once, a teammate, who during a game got mad at me for being in the wrong position during a play. We were the tallest ones in fourth grade so we often swapped the four and five positions in the offensive set-ups. This kid David, during the game, my teammate, after we started running the play he came to the spot where I was and told me I was in the wrong spot, and I said no this is right, and he said no go down there, and I said no, this is number five, I’m supposed to be right here and you’re supposed to be down there, and before we could get it figured out we’d turned the ball over and as we were running back to play defense he was still on my case and so I started yelling. Loudly. Like the whole gym could hear. David had a much quicker speaking mind than I did, funny as fuck if often inappropriate and inconsiderate, but I was just as competitive and stubborn. I don’t remember what happened on defense but as soon as we got the ball again Coach Jay called a timeout.
It wasn’t anything to do with the game, we were up by plenty (Adam the gifted eight-year-old pretty much ensured we won every game, he could hit three-pointers when most of us couldn’t hit the rim from that distance), so I knew this wasn’t normal, but it didn’t dawn on me how bad we’d fucked up until the coach took a knee and gathered us in as tightly as he could. He was hopping mad but he didn’t let his body language show it to anyone, not even us. Just his eyes, and his fierce whisper. He said he was embarrassed by what just happened, and I realized he was talking about me. Even though I was right. I was still culpable. He said we were teammates and we needed to act like it, and he put the fear of god into me never to let myself act out like that again, never to lose my cool, and certainly never to let on that cool has been lost to the other team.
In high school I quit the basketball team. We had a good team, good enough that I didn’t make the varsity my freshman or sophomore years. I wasn’t exceedingly physically gifted, plus I hated lifting weights, plus I had been putting a lot of energy into other sports as well, namely soccer. So the summer before junior year, when I expected to finally make varsity, we were scrimmaging Bloom Carroll and I was guarding this kid and they kept setting a double screen for him, getting him an open look. Like three times this happened, two fucking monster post-pubescent hulking piles of stank coming between me and my man, who buried the three pointer every time. Finally the coach took me out. We’d had some success in recent years and the coach I thought had gotten a little full of himself when really it had been all Andy C’s shooting, and Andy C was going to be a senior this year and Coach you could just tell had eyes on some kind of state title or at least a deep run in the tourney, and so here’s this never-has-been scrawny junior letting his man score nine straight points, and he yanks me out of the scrimmage. I know exactly why he’s mad before he says it, You ever gonna get out on him? and I say Coach they’re setting a double screen on me, like one guy I can figure out after a play maybe two, but this is a fucking Berlin Wall of China over here, what am I supposed to do? The last part of which I actually said out loud, I don’t know how, what am I supposed to do to get out there on him? I prided myself on my defense, or anyway I thought it was my best shot at getting some playing time because I never was a significant scoring threat and since I’d stopped growing in sixth grade but didn’t accept the fact until freshman year I was little behind on acquiring the ball handling skills of a point guard, but defense was defense, no matter where you played on the floor, and I’d been a solid defender for years, lockdown you might say, in fact just the previous season a kid I’d been shutting down for the whole game ended up just pitching the ball into my nuts trying to take me out he was so flummoxed, and I loved it, not the getting nutted but being a cantankerous pest and getting under the other guy’s skin. So I really, really wanted to figure out how to stop this punk from draining threes on me all game.
All the coach would say to me was Just get out on him. How? Just get out on him. And he turned away from me. Not worth his time.
I knew already I wouldn’t be starting that year. Andy C played my position, unless I could figure out the point guard thing. But now I didn’t know if I’d ever get in the game. I told people I quit because the man didn’t know how to coach, but I’d played for morons before, much bigger morons than this guy, and I knew, or anyway I know now that I would’ve stayed if I’d had the slightest hope at seeing some playing time. I loved basketball. I just wanted to play.
So here I am now, without a coach, and I put off writing for so long today but you know what, as soon as I put the keyboard into my lap I remembered that it doesn’t matter I don’t have a coach, or a guide, I don’t have an editor telling me what’s working, what I should be turning into her next, what my deadlines are. All that stuff helps as motivation, and the more I do it the better I’ll get at it, and eventually I will finish this novel and hopefully another one after that. But come on, man. Keep your cool about this. You have to forgive yourself. How, coach. I’m a nobody. I’ve got two publications of the same damn story, no interest in my novel game, and what’s more I’m so out of practice I’m forgetting how words are spellt and how sentences are constructed at.
Look, okay. You’ve made mistakes before and you will again. It’s not important, whether you’re good or not, whether you’re right or you’re wrong, you never let the blank page see you sweat, you do not lose your cool.
I should’ve stayed on the team. I should’ve tried that nut shot thing out, seemed to have an effect on me. Should’ve demanded the time, demanded the ball, should’ve practiced harder, should’ve drilled myself more. This kid Brad ended up being the point guard our senior year, and I knew in my soul if I’d put in the time I could’ve had that job. I could’ve played, then.
I can play now. Ain’t nobody stopping me but me. So let’s put in the time, shall we.