I was recently asked by Justin what I wanted to do, that is, with my life. He had suggested, since I like to write, that I should write. Indeed, I think it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to write. One reason I started a blog was to write, and blogs give me an opportunity to write.
The one great feature of blogs is the audience. To be honest, I don't know my audience. Most people I know don't regularly follow my blog because it delves into topics that are alternately interesting and boring to them, and if there's a rut of articles that are boring to them, they simply pass it by, and then don't come back.
That's short attention span theater for you, but that's fine. I don't write for a particular audience, though I understand there is an audience. If there weren't an audience, I might choose to make my words more abstruse, my thoughts even less coherent than they are now. I wouldn't try to elaborate on certain ideas in more depth because I already understand it.
Some of my inspiration, and this is an odd inspiration, for my recent writing comes from one David Foster Wallace. I might not have cared that much about Wallace, who is well regarded as a writer, had it not been for two things. First, he died. That's a sad event for many Americans that cared about his writings.
Alas, death has a way of making certain people's lives stand out more as people start to eulogize the person, write about what made them special. It makes you wonder why they don't do this more often when they are alive. I believe Johnny Cash gained more fame after death than he had immediately preceding it, because people who just thought of him as another of those old country legends began to see a darker, more troubled individual, who nonetheless found love. People who otherwise wouldn't have paid Cash any heed began thinking "this is a pretty interesting guy" and gave his music a chance.
All on the account of him being dead.
The second compelling fact of David Foster Wallace was that he loved tennis. If he hadn't been so talented as a writer, or had he been more talented as a tennis player, the world may never have been graced with his words. Although he wrote huge tomes like Infinite Jest, he also wrote a great deal of non-fiction.
He understood he had an audience, that that audience might care little or know little about tennis or whatever subject he was talking about, and he was surprisingly willing to use his intimate knowledge of words and how to string them together to produce a compelling narrative and explanation of, well, tennis. And not just tennis, but any other of a myriad of topics. Beyond the need to simply storytell, Wallace also wanted to explain.
So I have to say, in what little capacity I've had to read Wallace's work, which is quite little, these few things have been, in no small measure, inspirational.
There's another thing that's inspirational and that's the TED talks. I remember bumping into TED talks maybe 2 years ago. This organization is what Republicans would term as elitist and what liberals would term as elitism of the best sort. You see, Republicans love the us vs. them mentality. The "us" are simple folk who are God fearing, who work hard, but obviously not hard enough that we cared about education and independent thinking and embracing the diversity of the world and, to reiterate again, about education. They're hard working in the industrious physical labor sort of way. That education stuff kinda flew over their heads, and so they weren't so hard working there.
Liberals, frankly, want everyone to be elitist, but not because they feel elitism is us vs. them. Frankly, liberals complain about the salt of the earth not because they want to be separate from them, but because they want them to open their eyes, to understand what education is really about. And when people say that the working class is uneducated, they don't mean that they can't do math or conjugate a verb. They mean they don't know how to analyze someone's argument, nor construct one of their own, nor find information on the Web (or whereever), not evaluate the truthfulness of the information. They don't find ways to stretch their understanding of the world. They don't question why things are a certain way. They don't question their own beliefs.
The idea that the beliefs you grew up with are the right ones is the essence of conservatism (with a small "c"). It is about familiarity and comfort drawn from what you've always seen and it's the disdain for people who tell you your life is all wrong. You can understand, to an extent, why people are reluctant to change when they see nothing wrong with how they live.
But I seriously digress.
If you've followed me this far, then I've perhaps tricked you, because I want to talk about something that is likely utterly mundane which is to talk about tennis.
Oh noes! You tricks me!
I'm not really going to talk about tennis in the way you think. It's not about how to hit a forehand or how I've learned to hit a better volley. It is the entire endeavor itself.
And it has to do with the word of the day: control.
Why are sports so compelling to so many people? To a person who doesn't watch sports, the odd fascination of people running around or hitting one another or trying to get a ball to do something that most humans can't even begin to comprehend so the eventual score changes. That seems utterly preposterous (ah, our love of extreme words to convey extreme ideas!).
The fans want to do something that humans would love to do, which is to control the outcome of the world, at least, to some small extent. And to the extent that sports is so popular, they delve into this make-believe world where they believe, with enough of their fellow fans, that if they fervently believe hard enough, it will come to pass. Does that sound familiar?
People are often asked, if they had one superpower, what would it be. I have no idea if non-Americans would answer this differently. Maybe they don't understand superpower in the way we understand it. They might imagine doing something they already do, like farming, but much better. Or they might imagine being rich. We're informed by our comics, and then only the earliest most rudimentary ones at that, to tell us what superpowers are and then because this question is hardly original, by the same answers people keep giving to the question.
The most common answers are: flying and being invisible. Flying appeals to our desire to be freer than we are now. Gravity's a bitch, don't you know. And walking is too. It takes us forever to get anywhere. Wouldn't it be nice to skip the cars and busses and be truly green, and fly to where we need to go? Of course, once you free your mind that way, you wonder what kind of sports you'd even have.
Being invisible appeals to our desire to know, our desire to hear things about ourselves or to observe people in their most unguarded moments. Needless to say, most people would probably have pretty mundane lives of them watching TV, them sleeping, them making something to eat, them eating. Only a few minutes a day, if even that, are salacious enough to follow unless the kind of person you'd like to stalk are into a huge amount of gossip every day, and you want to get into that dirt.
Being invisible is not entirely right because it means the possibility someone could hear you, could punch you out, and all sorts of harm to your physical self. What they mean is something more ghost-like, the ability to be wherever you want and then to otherwise not interfere with what you see so they get to be their most honest selves.
Anyway, these salacious moments would probably amount to catching them showering, or moments of self pleasure, or moments writing in unbridled (if clumsy) ecstasy. And for some, these happen too infrequently to be patiently hanging around waiting for it to happen.
But there is another kind of superpower people might want to have and it relates to control. How many people fantasize that some person might fall in love with them, or perhaps more mundanely, have sex with them? I need to digress a bit because there's an amusing bit with Ricky Gervais and Patrick Stewart.
Stewart is classically trained Shakespearean actor, but most people know him as the captain of the Enterprise from the second Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gervais is visiting Stewart in his dressing room and Stewart is pitching an idea.
Stewart imagines he has superpowers and that is to magically make women's clothes fall off unexpectedly at which point he's taken a glimpse of "everything". Each show would primarily focus on this idea. Part of the amusement of this is how faux serious Stewart seems to take the idea and how much kid-like joy he gets whenever he says "but it's too late, because I've seen everything" while Gervais looks in mock horror at what sounds like the worst idea for a sitcom ever, but in deference to Stewart, he tries to look like he thinks it's interesting, but can't bring himself to that point.
In this sketch, Stewart is talking about godlike control. The ability to make the world conform to the way you want it to, albeit, in this case, with the minor ability to make women's clothes fall off. It's just short of being lewd, about being in control of the situation. and transforms what might be an ugly situation into something naughty. And only a wee bit naughty too. That way, it's palatable. The woman isn't being forced into actions against her will (though if you had such powers, you'd probably make her agreeable to the action on top of the action itself). In this case, she's embarrassed as well as being bewildered at the oddness of this hypothetical situation.
People understand that such powers don't exist, but it doesn't mean they don't want it. What lonely geek who, due to weight issues or lack of self confidence, doesn't imagine that some girl will eventually pay attention to them? Indeed, speaking of Star Trek, that series indulged in these ideas of fantasy with a recurring guest character, Reginald Barclay.
Barclay goes into a holodeck which is the best virtual reality simulator ever, and yet despite the fantastic-ness of this device, is hardly ever used, and lives his fantasies in them where he overcomes his stuttering and shyness and woo the only women that we ever see on board, namely, Crusher and Troi. It's funny how they decided to make the one fantasizing a male (why didn't they pick a fantasizing female? or why is Barclay straight?), but then they know their audiences, don't they?
Indeed, to indulge the fantasy powers even more, Barclay gets superpowers in one episode, in Star Trek's own variation of Flowers for Algernon (that book probably killed the name Algernon for use as a child's name, or maybe it was never that popular).
The kind of fantasies that Barclay has, G-rated as they may be, reflect the kind of fantasies many a teen has. They want to be liked. They want the popular ones to like them. They may resent those that seem to get the women as being assholes who, if they only got to know them better, would really appreciate them (this is something a roommate of mine said many years ago--I can only hope that he has had some success finding someone as that was 20 years ago).
The ability to find a significant other is a form of control. This problem is so challenging that societies have found other ways to handle it. Take it out of the hands of the people it involves. Namely, arranged marriages. For the rest of the world where arranged marriages aren't as common, the burden lies to the guy to try to find an appropriate mate, at least for those who think it's important. Because of our biological need to reproduce, certain incentives have been placed in our genetic makeup to skew this likelihood. People get horny, people get lonely. All these things make us more likely to want to find someone special.
But how to do it? Society also begins to produce imagery of who is desirable and who is not, and much of that comes from advertisers, but also from the film industry who must trot out their vision of beauty and talent to adoring fans, and the sports industry where wealthy skillful athletes are prized as desirable, to the entertainment industry (music, etc). Even to some extent, the business world, successful professionals, intellectuals, they all have some appeal to someone.
There are several factors (and I have to admit bias here, so I will tell a one-sided story) that appear to make men appealing to women. The first is attractiveness. Men find women sexy, and women find men sexy. Just not every man. Some men are very good looking and it overcomes nearly every flaw about them, in particular, if that person is very shy, or possibly, very rude.
Attractiveness can really be all over the place. The person need not be muscle-bound. Generally, people look at the face. Sometimes they want more, like a shapely body. But the face is king. Attractiveness can range the gamut of "hot" as in you'd want to go to bed with them immediately to the merely cute, as in you'd want to hug them and pinch their cheeks.
Another factor is personality. What if you find yourself not blessed with good looks where women want to talk to you just because of how you look? They can still like you a great deal because you're fun, you have lots of interesting things to say, or you know how to make someone feel special, or laugh, or you're supportive.
When you're not born with good looks and haven't frittered it away by gaining too much weight, then you have a huge problem that is, more or less, under your control. I say, more or less, because people have certain personality flaws. Some of the best looking people are awfully shy. If they were more outgoing they would have slept around with a lot more women (not that this should be a criteria for a successful life, but just saying).
But if you lack good looks, and you don't have to overcome incurable shyness, then one avenue available to you is making yourself more interesting, more desirable. Part of that has to do with doing things, either reading stuff, going to parties, what have you. It helps to be extroverted, and to be extroverted, it helps (though is not fully required) to understand how the world works, how to be funny, how to point out interesting stuff. It helps to have a good memory so you can regale people with something you read, or sing one of the hundreds of songs you've heard. Basically, this interestingness is a form of self-confidence, and for some reason, this is pretty compelling stuff to potential mates because it shows evidence that you can not only manage your life but possibly theirs too.
As I said, this take a great deal of awareness. If you love video games and crave them and read up all about them and that's all you can ever talk about, well, that's going to make you a lot less desirable, especially if you lack the looks too. Humor can be a way to attract folks, but how can you learn humor? It takes a lot of practice, it requires paying attention to the world, it requires a quick mind. Indeed, one thing you might notice about the funniest people is how smart they seem to be, and part of it is how quick their minds work because they spend a great deal of time trying to find humor.
But that's hard, isn't it? Hard to be funny. And when you're not good at it, wow, do you ever fall flat.
Now it turns out that people are often willing to settle. You don't have to look great, as long as the rest of your body is in pretty good shape. If you're not too short (and even shortness may not matter that much), but you are in physically great shape or at least decent, which means you have a decent height, and aren't particular chubby, and maybe even have nice chest, or nice arms, or nice ass, that can overcome even mediocre looks (and what's mediocre to you might be good enough for someone else).
There are some things about yourself that you don't control, namely, how tall you are, what you look like. There are things that are somewhat under your control, such as your sense of humor, how much you work out, how friendly you want to be. Personality is something that can be developed, but you're also born with a certain personality too, and the way you are raised has some influence on that.
Your personality affects things like how impatient you are, how willing you are to learn something, whether you think it's OK to get into fights or get into arguments, whether you mind offending someone. Your personality traits can make it easier or harder to try to develop the social skills that will hopefully win someone over, to essentially package yourself so someone will like you, and that can sometimes be through aggression on your part, where you try to really engage someone directly rather than to passively hope they will notice you.
We build these skills to try to do something that we wish could happen by magic. And that something must still lie in the realm of socially acceptable. For example, you might really think it's cool to be into leather and whips. Whoops, you've just eliminated a great deal of the population that finds that weird or worse, deviant. Or maybe you have a hunkering for three people to be involved. Again, too few people in society find that perfectly normal, and so all the smooth talking you do might not help you out. You have to seek a much smaller crowd and hang out with them.
Although we lack magic superpowers, we have some control based on our knowledge of the world, based on the personality we have, based on how we think people might find us charming or wonderful.
This talk of being more attractive to someone seems like an odd segueway to why I find tennis compelling.
We try to develop our minds, but doing that is honestly quite hard. What we're trying to do isn't clear. Something about physicality, the controlling of our own bodies, to make it do something that has no evolutionary advantages, but only because we find it fun and because it's tough.
Why are video games compelling? Because the more most of us work at it, the better we get. There is satisfaction when we achieve the goals we set for ourselves, and those goals, with enough time and skill, seem attainable. Far more attainable than some of the real world goals which involve, well, people. We don't know what to do to achieve the goals we want with other people. Some of those goals are probably far from realistic, summed up by a song called "Jesse's Girl" where the protagonist wishes he could have "Jesse's girl".
I have to digress there to recall a story from college. I knew a guy who had a thing for this girl. Problem? She already had a boyfriend (and I knew a guy who had a thing for this girl who already had a fiance!). What did he say? I bet I could beat up her boyfriend.
I told him to imagine this scenario. She is with her boyfriend walking down the street under pale moonlight murmuring words of idle affection. Then, out behind a tree (you need the surprise factor), you jump in front of them, point your finger at the boyfriend, and then proceed to beat the everliving tar of his now rather befuddled and soon to be bloodied boyfriend. After the ensuing mayhem, she rushes to your side and says "My Hero!".
I've embellished this more than is reality, but, heck, it's my story.
But that's about control. He didnt tell me that he'd be more interesting, more compelling, more exciting, more of everything for this girl so she'd be smitten and change her mind (after all, isn't it kind of silly to just say that that guy saw her first so he gets dibs, or maybe it her that saw him first).
Being more interesting is tough. How do you do it? How long does it take to get there? Why do some people fail more miserably at it than others? Is it there whiny voice? Why do people persist in having whiny voices when they should know it turns people off? Why does it turn people off?
Instead, he opted for the solution that made the most sense to him, or really, had the most opportunity for success if the world simply worked the way he imagined. He'd punch the guy out. It reduced the problem to something totally ridiculous, but made the goal realizable were the rules simply changed this way.
With tennis, I look for a measure of control. One reason that I admire sports is to watch people who have attained a high level of control, and partly they can do that because the sport succeeds, that there is some reason to waste your time doing this because money can be made, because there's a population that care enough to watch it, and cares enough to get better at it themselves.
And tennis still has secrets. Some of these secrets reveal themselves in slow motion. Perhaps like some people find conspiracy theories compelling because they like the idea of knowing something that everyone else doesn't know and doesn't believe (and with good reason), I believe there are lots of things in tennis I don't know and that with study and practice, I could learn and get better at. In this respect, it's like playing a video game except I play the same game over and over, simply trying to get better at it.
Although control is illusory, there is an appeal from gaining some small measure of control, something rewarding. It sounds dastardly, but it isn't.
It is the way of the world.
corrections - - Chick Corea (note the spelling) was a member of Miles Davis' band. - Graham Chapman, the only Graham in the group, is the only deceased mem...
1 month ago