Soccer and Cross-country: ‘burb Living Edition

Two Saturday’s ago, I debuted as a soccer coach for my son’s team. I haven’t played soccer in any official capacity since seventh grade, where I was lucky enough to be a starting defender on the Stallions. Most of the members of the Stallions had been harnessed together since they could strap on shin guards, so I was lucky to join them for the ride. We walloped the teams we faced due to our great chemistry and forwards that could fly up the field. We ended up winning the Saguaro league championship (very AZ name, eh?) at the end of the season. My assignment as a defender was to not let the ball get past me, and in the rare event a player managed to accomplish this feat, run him down.

I even picked up a few yellow cards for tackling a player from behind. This always stunned my teammates, who had me pegged as a squeaky clean, decent sort of chap. I didn’t like people getting by me, though. Held a bit of a grudge about it.

Flash forward thirty some odd years and I’m coaching my son’s team. Thankfully, I’ve got “assistant” in front of my title, because otherwise I don’t think I’d be doing the position justice. The head coach and I have players with a range of skill levels from: “Can kick soccer ball in general direction intended,” to “Can frantically dance around soccer ball in semblance of strange magic ritual without ever actually touching it.”

During our first game, we were surprisingly competitive. The most amusing moments occurred when I was walking the players who had volunteered to serve as goalie for the quarter out onto the field. I asked each one: “Do you know the rules for being a goalie?” One kid gave me the classic blank stare. The next said, “Oh yeah” like the guy with the deep voice in the Ferris Bueller song. He had so much confidence oozing off of him you could have bottled it. But I wasn’t the assistant coach for nothing. I said to him, “So, tell me what the rules are.” Blank stare. I explained how he could use his hands within the defined box laid out on the field in chalk. He gave me a squint, trying to discern why I was bothering him with these petty details, and noted, so as to alleviate any confusion I might have about the matter, “I am an excellent soccer player.”

We won the game 2-1. I can’t say that it was our excellent goalie play that made the difference. Perhaps our confidence put us over the edge.

Flash forward a week and my ten year old daughter participated in her first cross country meet. I have no hidden cross country past to report, so it was as new for me as it was for her. I joined the throng gathered at the starting line. The cheering there was fairly muted, because the weather was soggy and the female runners from our team had inexplicably taken off prior to the starting whistle. I asked a parent close by: were the teams supposed to start at different times? No. They all start together. Well, where were our girls? Apparently, our coach had sent our squad off to “run the course.” More confusion on my part. Isn’t that something they should do, say, a half hour before, not right before the race is to begin?

After a few more confused and anxious moments, the girls from our squad poured back to the line, out of breath, red-cheeked, shrugging shoulders, looking at each other with some embarassment, apparently as confused as I was. Turns out the coach had not asked them to run the course. He’d asked them to “run to the pavement.” By this, he’d meant the sidewalk about 40 feet away to get a feel for starting out, but the girls had taken him to mean the street, which was a half mile distant. They hadn’t known which pavement he meant and had been too scared to ask. Lesson for my daughter: don’t fear the coach. Ask!

I moved to the finish line to see her return. I learned that day that the finish is nearly always painful for the runner and celebratory for everyone else. Shouts of encouragement echoed around the park as the runners came in. That same anguish you see on elite marthoners’ faces as they struggle for the finish line was written all over the faces of these kids trying to finish a mile or two. My daughter cruised in with a time that was better than any she’d done in the past for the distance. Like the other parents, I went to full-throated cheering section as her face flickered between anguish and determination with the finish line in sight. She placed 11th out of 57 girls.

Afterward, we stood together by a tree. She was crying because she felt like she was going to puke. I wondered then if she’d ever do this again. She seemed stripped down by the whole experience. Then, the congratulations from her teammates and other parents began to roll in. “11th out of 57 – at your first race? Wow!” Interest flickered in her eyes. I don’t think we’ve seen our last cross country meet.

I often talk with other suburban parents about how many sports they have their kids in, and am usually shocked at the schedules they keep. Don’t get me started on baseball. Those parents are saints. My wife and I are in total agreement that we don’t want our lives consumed by our kids’ activities. But, so far, the schedule isn’t too bad, and between the comedy on the soccer field and the exalted anguish at the cross country meet, sporting events in the ‘burbs appear to be worth it.

Goodreads Reviews on Stung

Check out some reviews of Stung here.

Stung is my first book and it is amazing how much of a charge a positive review can give you. I read any review, whether it is negative or positive, with a feverish intensity, gleaning the salient points, and then it’s over so quickly. Did I take anything in really? Well. I must reread it. What did this word mean? Do I know this person? What can I learn from this? More!

I’m slightly addicted, but I think it’s good to use the positive feedback to push you to write, write, write some more.

You can get that charge again, Chad-the-writer, but only if you do the work!

Advice at the Gym

An interesting psychological game plays out on occasion at the gym between guys. This might go on between girls, too, but I’ve never been involved in it. It involves unsolicited advice and action.

You’re there, you have your program, and you see someone doing something so wrong, it can’t possibly be benefiting them, and might actually be hurting them. Or, conversely, you have your plan and it only looks like you’re doing something wrong, that actually does benefit you, even though it appears you might be in extreme jeopardy of injuring yourself.

What to do if you’re either one of those two? My general rule is to never comment on someone else’s routine. I live in my cone at the gym, and I’m there doing what works for me, and I expect others to live by the same guideline.

But doing something different from the norm – say for example, following the Mark Rippetoe system of training which involves heavy lifting and pushing yourself to add slightly more each week – can elicit the odd comment now and again, and the odd action. Here are some of the usual suspects and how they behave:

  • The Questioner – This guy asks you about your routine, but not with real curiosity. He’s asking because he wants to tell you what you’re doing wrong. An example of this: “Hey, man, I noticed you’re looking at the floor on your squats. Why man? Throws your back out of alignment. Now, if you want to do a real squat, etc.” I usually cite Rippetoe’s method, and leave it at that. I’m not trying to make a convert.
  • The Recommender – Your set is done, you’re feeling good, if a little spent, you’re ready for a nice long sit. Old dude with a bandanna circling his head, either wearing jogging pants that hit him too high at the ankles or possibly jeans, says, “You know what works for me…” And I’m sure it does work for him. But if I’ve got something working for me, why would I switch to his routine? Because I aspire to his reach his sartorial levels?
  • The Hoverer – This is the guy who thinks you might need a spot, even though you know you don’t. I’m not afraid to ask for someone to spot me, but if I know I’m fine on the weight, I don’t. This happened to me with a young kid a few weeks ago. He would just linger during the entire set, a shadow that I found distracting. I didn’t end up saying something to him, but I was sorely tempted.

Here’s why: I don’t mind the Hoverer so much. I think the inclination to save the life of your fellow gym member is a good one. It’s like when my wife warns me about something while driving. My inclination is to say, “Yeah, I see it,” with some reprimand in my tone to send the message  “hello, I’ve got this driving thing, you don’t need to give me the extra pair of eyes routine.” But I try to keep that biting tone in check, and say thanks. An extra pair of eyes could save your life, and a hoverer could save your neck.

In general, I don’t fall into any of the three roles I mention above. But who knows? As my pants get shorter and my inclination to give people personal space erodes (does that happen to everyone past a certain age?), maybe I’ll start advising the heck out of the whippersnappers at the local Y. “I’ve got some questions and recommendations while I hover, and don’t you forget it!”

Supper Club

Here’s some original writing. A little vignette:

“Supper Club”

We ate the Artist.

He came so highly recommended. When he first showed up on the scene, we had our doubts, even though his handlers entered with ribbons in their hair and trumpets on their lips. He was something to behold: skin like milk and eyes flashing furious scorn. A god enraged. He was young and we panted at his prospect, but we noted he was worryingly tough. Who wants to chew on iron? Could he escape us?

His handlers reassured us. They patted us on our hairy arms. In the end, we did not dismiss him, though we doubted any salt would season him properly. He delighted in exposing our wickedness. He rubbed our pretenses in our faces and this stung. It could have fouled the meal. Time and again, he found the mediums (he even blogged and tweeted) and insisted he was an “Artist” and, gesturing in our general direction, claimed he was “above all that.” This kept us interested. We knew the signs. He could not tear himself away.

Nothing tenderizes like fame.

And we are patient. He had all the basic ingredients and time is on our side. He flung himself out and about and, like Ruth in Boaz’s fields, we plucked up his offerings eagerly with only a hint of shame. (Yes, we have read the Good Book, though we are pleased to forget the point).

We remember well the film he directed and starred in, with its pleasing lack of both a point and clothing. It was consumed like his TV Guide channel interviews and his rancid college short story collection and his unauthorized biography. We recognized these as signs of more to come, more of his essential self, and we gobbled them all, his leavings, their juices dribbling down our necks. Yes, they were tart and rude and objectionable. We admit to struggling to swallow some of it. His nascent and pungent political stylings in particular caused some heartburn, but the antacid slew of light romantic comedies he condescended to perform in with the “It Girls” of the moment helped keep the rest of it down. It boiled in our stomach and we craved ever more.

The halcyon days came. The big budget films and the adulation. He willed himself to power and we loved it. More and more he let slip out and we scarfed it all down.

Finally, he was forty-two and fading and for us he had reached his most delectable state. We gathered round tables and winked our knowing eyes and tucked napkins under our chins.

The Artist peered at himself in the mirror, a wasted cliché, empty, like the bottle of pills lying there next to his shaking hands.

One last performance. One final meal.

Anti-fragile Christianity

Just a little follow-up on yesterday’s post on anti-fragility. Taleb’s book hasn’t gotten to this issue yet, and maybe it won’t, but it occurred to me how this concept could be applied to our own spiritual lives.

The classic question – why does God let bad things happen to good people? To take a specific, famous example from the Bible itself – why does God take the devil’s challenge and allow Job to be tested even if he is a godly man?

The answer isn’t that God is a closet sadist, eager to let his people suffer. Instead, I think it’s tied up in anti-fragility. God knows you need to grow spiritually, and suffering makes you stronger. That, in effect, we need it to be better.

Check out the end of Job, Chapter 42:

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things;
    no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.

Are You Anti-Fragile or Fragile?

Have you ever had a book blow your mind in the first ten pages? Well, I’m seventy or so pages into Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder and my mind’s been blowing up like the last thirty seconds of a fourth of July fireworks show.

Taleb talks about how Antifragility is the one central idea of his life. It is the opposite of fragile, which most people improperly define as “stable, resistant, long-lasting, unbreakable, etc.” Instead, anti-fragile things, such as our bodies, naturally become stronger when they are stressed. Think about our immune systems. They do not break under stress, they improve.

One interesting note, for the Russian language major in me, is that Taleb scans all the major languages and none of them have a word like “antifragile” to capture this concept. It’s a literal linguistic blind spot. (Did I make a half pun there?) And as we’ve sought to lower the stress we experience in modern society, we’ve protected ourselves and become, ironically, more fragile in the process. We have put our happiness and health at risk.

We know about antifragility intuitively. We have the old adage: “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But it’s more nuanced than that. Sometimes a stress will indeed kill you (see knife, directed toward chest). But totally eliminating stress from your life? Extremely bad.

How does this apply to you? How it applies to me is what’s making my brain go kaboom. How often do I avoid risks because I fear pain/loss/backlash/stress? How much more full would my life be if I risked more and received the necessary feedback stress incurs?

Taleb talks about how the antifragile person/system/thing makes many small recoverable errors, is stressed by them, recovers and becomes stronger because of them. So, it’s time to stretch and “stress” myself out.

Judging Others

Does the title of the post make you uncomfortable? Especially if you are a Christian? It makes me uncomfortable. I’m supposed to leave the judging to God, right?

Jesus was certainly judgmental. He offered salvation, but he wasn’t scared to call people out on what they were doing wrong. He didn’t tell the woman at the well “hey, you’re terrific just like you are” after discussing her checkered past. No, he told her to “Go, and sin no more.” He was kind, AND he judged her. Judging her was part of his act of kindness. We like to apply the idea of “What would Jesus Do?” to how we live our lives, but I’ve never heard the idea that judgment is included in that application. The WWJD fad is more about kindness, doing good to others, being the picture of benevolence, as if Jesus was just out there petting animals like a Disney princess, and we’ve got to emulate that.

Christians certainly don’t have a monopoly on judgment nowadays, anyway. It’s a human activity. But I would argue it’s the wrong kind of judgment. Whatever you think of Ryan Lochte, you can’t deny that the man was judged in the court of world opinion. We undeniably live in an era when people are judged, not by God’s standards, but by the world’s evolving standards. In the good old U. S. of A, you can lose your job for the wrong tweet. This weakens the truth of the oft cited, “Welp, it’s a free country” when it’s de facto censorship and people are scared to say the wrong thing.

But whom should we most fear being judged by – God or man? And what happens when we’ve set up a society where we fear the judgment of the tweeting hordes more than the judgment of God?

And who can provide that judgmental (and not always gentle) voice when it’s needed most? We don’t all have a nearby well where we get to meet Jesus face to face. We go to get living water at our local sanctuary. But if a church family does nothing but tell you, “you’re ok just as you are,” and doesn’t advise you to go and sin no more, the church might be lacking in ability to really guide and grow a Christian heart. Adding to the danger, if the church has defined sin down so that nothing qualifies as sinful anymore, what hope does a Christian have of hearing the correcting voice of God?

Questions, questions. I believe it takes courage to provide guidance (judgment, gasp) to your fellow Christian. It wasn’t just Jesus who judged. Paul wasn’t scared to rebuke those who had strayed, and neither was Peter. I don’t believe we should spend our time in church constantly telling our fellow members what we think is wrong with their lives. But I think an important element of what a church actually is is lost if no voices exist to provide the correction God intends.

And even more frightening, what happens when that voice of correction comes at you? It takes even more courage, compared to offering criticism to a fellow Christian, to not be defensive when someone points out sin in your own life. Before blowing up at someone offering loving Christian criticism, hear them out, do some self-examination, and bounce their words off of what you can glean from God’s own word.

Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but a few years ago I stopped reading a book if I was no longer enjoying it. Taking this approach felt like both a luxury and a violation at the same time. Up to then, I was the good reader doobie who finished anything he started. But, maybe around the time you hit forty, and you start to see the end of the life’s road approaching, you put a premium on your time. Bad books don’t cut it.

Whoa (said Keanu), just went a little existential there…but it’s true nonetheless.

I can’t think of a time when it has happened for two books in a row, but it did recently, and I thought I’d post about why. Usually, I pick up a book because it’s been recommended somewhere, by either a friend or on another blog written by someone I respect or in a writing book. I’m no longer a willy-nilly, “hey, this cover looks nifty, maybe I’ll give it a try,” kind of joe. So, I’ve become choosier about what I even pick up, AND become much more judgmental about what I’m reading as I’m reading it.

I think the basic rule is: if I’m not completely lost in the story within the first fifty pages, the book isn’t for me. But for it to happen twice? Maybe I’m crossing the line into being too harsh… Continue reading “Two Books that were a “No,” and Why…”

Go Read the Chet and Bernie Mysteries

View this post as a love letter to some “easy-listening” books I have picked up at the library starting a few years ago. Ever since listening to the first one, I’ve been on a recommendation rampage. (Yes, I’m a car book fanatic.) I started book number five, A Fistful of Collars, yesterday.

For those of you not yet in the know, the basic premise is a dog (Chet, plain and simple) working with a detective (Bernie Little) to solve mysteries around “The Valley,” which is sort of a stand-in for Phoenix, AZ, although Spencer Quinn, the author, never spills this particular bean explicitly.

The essential charm of the books is that they are told from Chet’s point of view. Comedy and drama spring from this choice, and Quinn never strays from it. Oops, bad pun alert; however, if you liked that pun at all, that’s another reason you’ll love these books.

Chet’s observations about the environment around him (the sights of course, but particularly the smells which are emphasized because he’s a dog) are constantly bouncing off of the reader’s own human point of view. We fill in the blanks left by the dog’s charming naïveté, and all we need are the hints about the human behavior he picks up to gather the complete picture. It is a masterclass in showing, not telling, the reader the story.

Really, you could accept just about anything plot wise when it comes to these books. The lesser of the books, To Fetch a Thief, is about an elephant kidnapping. It closes with a set piece that is outlandish bordering on the farcical, and a resolution that is ultimately unbelievable under the cold light of day. It feels more like the plot resolution from a bad Hardy Boys book. But who cares? If Chet’s involved, ever striving to be a “professional” detective (even if he fails when there’s something interesting to eat on the ground), you don’t care too much as a reader. His love for Bernie, the relationship they have, is unshakeable and makes the whole thing hum. You root for them to succeed.

One other note, Quinn isn’t scared to give Bernie human flaws and foibles that might be more off-putting if Chet wasn’t the one describing them. Bernie is painfully bad with women to the point of being a wimp, horrible with money, and obsessed with environmentalism to the point of being nannyish. All these things would be unpalatable if the books had Bernie as a narrator. But these flaws are softened when they are described by Chet, who is confused about Bernie railing on about the overuse of water to deplete the aquifer, among other things. You end up forgiving Bernie for his foibles. He’s a do-gooder, who isn’t necessarily the smartest human in the room, but Chet thinks otherwise, so bad guys better watch out.

The first and second books are the best to-date (as I said, I just started the fifth). But for pleasure reading, you can’t do much better. Start with Dog On It and enjoy.

Reading Ender’s Game with My Daughter

My daughter (10) has outgrown me reading to her. Man, one of those dreaded transition times has hit. I get that same sad/happy feeling all parents experience in those moments as the child disappears and the young adult begins to emerge. She also asked recently to stop going up to the front of the church for children’s message. I tried not to show it, but ouch.

We finished Watership Down at the beginning of summer, and I had started reading The White Dragon to her by Anne McCaffrey – a favorite of mine from around eighth grade. But it was a slog. Busy schedules, mine with work travel and hers with being a typical ten-year-old meant that we had a hard time finding the time and there were big breaks between readings. Finally, about half way through, I asked her if she was over this whole “Dad reads to me” thing. She’s a sweet one, so she tried to break it to me gently, not looking me in the eye, she said, “Well…” I wanted to save her from her awkwardness so I told her it was fine, that whatever she chose was not going to hurt my feelings. The answer was she was done.

But she’s a book nut, like me, and I wanted us to keep that connection fresh.

So, I’m currently conducting a little experiment that I’m enjoying and so is she. We’re reading the same book together, and I’m preparing discussion questions on the latest couple of chapters we read, and we are discussing them in the evenings. I’m also listing a few vocabulary words because I don’t expect her to know the word “fastidious” at this age and because I want her to remember me fondly always.

The book I chose is Ender’s Game, a favorite of mine from around the same time I read The White Dragon. Fun fact, I was once in a play with Orson Scott Card‘s daughter when I was acting in LA. He came to a performance and I geeked out.

Like I said, she and I are enjoying this little experiment so far, and she’s had some thoughtful answers to share. One of her most interesting answers involved bullying. I asked her what she thought about how Graff and the other adults in the novel allow Ender to be bullied to the point that he gets in situations where it is either kill or be killed, and how our current school system is vastly different. I followed that up by asking if our current school system, with its zero tolerance policy to bullying with adults constantly intervening in situations, would ever produce a child like Ender. She said she didn’t think so, but that that wasn’t necessarily bad. She told me, “Sometimes you should get the teacher, but mostly you should try and work it out yourself.” I asked her if we would ever need someone like Ender, someone ruthless who was able to do whatever needed to be done to save himself and the people he protects. She wasn’t sure, but her wheels were spinning.

Here are a few more of the sample questions.  Continue reading “Reading Ender’s Game with My Daughter”