Heroes and Heartbreaks

leoI have spent the past month pretending to dribble a soccer ball while walking to and from work to the subway. I’ve watched so many videos of Lionel Messi highlights, that I think I might know how to speak Spanish. I read article after article and listened to hours upon hours of sports analysis in the dumb hope that somehow that would give me some oracle-like foresight to figure or influence the outcome of the World Cup. The storybook ending I wanted didn’t happen, my team lost, my hero didn’t get his prize. I am horribly depressed over it. This would have seemed like an impossible reaction a month ago. The look on Messi’s face, when his free kick went wide and he recognized that it was over, it made my heart sink.

That’s the wonderful and ridiculous thing about sport, isn’t it? The British have this expression when they are bitterly disappointed, they talk about being “gutted” which is really the perfect illustration of the feeling of loss you get when your team, your team loses. It’s as if your fiercest enemy in the world has taken a jagged knife, sliced you from navel to nose, all your insides have fallen out in a steaming, beating, bloody mess all across your feet before the rest of your hollowed out body crumples into a limp heap atop it. It’s probably going to take at least a week for me to pull myself back up, piece it all back together and recover.

I’ve played sports for as long as I can remember. My parents kept us involved to keep us out of trouble since we lived in a questionable neighborhood. I know how thrilling competition like that can be, that a team can become your family, how hitting that clutch shot/goal/homerun can make you feel like anything is possible. I also know the flip side of that, how crushing it can be when you choke or there is a missed opportunity to score or your team just couldn’t get it together for some reason, you lose and you feel like this is a pronouncement on your place in the universe. I never thought I could feel those things just by being a spectator. Sport is so overwrought with emotion and drama. The business of sport knows this and takes a lot of our money exploiting it. I definitely get caught up in those Adidas and Gatorade commercials that turn athletes into predatory animals, games into battles, trophies into moments of destiny. At the very heart of it I think following a team/player allows us to recapture a little bit of the youthful hope that we might have lost along the way. Watching athletes do things that not only make the impossible seem possible but make it look easy, makes me want to break out in ebullient shouts or go out and recreate historic feats of athleticism. You forget your cares just for a while and bask in the glow of a thing doing what it was meant to be doing in a perfect moment in time. Consider this once social sports fan a converted soccer fan, you’ll see me in my Barca jersey (obviously Messi’s #10) in front of the tv this La Liga season.

P.S. One of the additional, wonderful discoveries this past month are the Men In Blazers who are two British guys who care passionately about soccer, especially about soccer becoming popular in the U.S. specifically, and offer hilarious commentary on games. They were an absolute delight.

P.S.S. Don’t worry this isn’t going to turn into a soccer blog.

The Beautiful Game

 

Messi

I am a soccer fan now. I played for a little while on an indoor soccer team so understand a little bit about the joy of running around and the exhilaration of the ball hitting the back of the net, but I’ve always played sports that primarily depended on my hands (e.g. volleyball, softball, basketball) and virtually zero exposure to soccer on the professional level so the love of the game didn’t resonate with me until this World Cup.

By pure dumb luck I got Argentina in a World Cup sweepstakes draw with my old co-workers. I’ve tried to do fantasy football and soccer and just got bored and stopped paying attention. I don’t really like watching sports. I don’t feel that affinity with a team because it’s my hometown, or get excited about crunching the numbers. The only times I’ve gotten excited about watching sport is when there is a compelling narrative centered around a person or group of persons, something that adds drama to the proceedings. I’m that person. The person that is in it for the personalities and the relationships, the person that will cheer for the underdog just because it will make a more interesting ending if they win. Anyway, I figured at least with the sweepstakes all I had to really worry about was following the team and not individual players and their numbers, it didn’t take much effort on my part to figure out if my team made it through to the next round.

Enter Lionel Messi, namely the profile piece in the New York Times Magazine, The Burden of Being Messi. It had all of the ingredients to get me to not only to follow a team but to care about it. Messi has a compelling and sweet backstory – kid with unbridled talent who had a hormone deficiency that left him smaller than the rest of the boys, but didn’t stop him from owning the competition whenever he stepped on the pitch. He was so small (and is still pretty small) that they nicknames his “La Pulga” (the flea). The hormone deficiency required treatments, treatments that his family couldn’t afford and none of the Argentinian teams wanted to pay for. He gets scouted by the Barcelona team, who after seeing him at one try out decide to take him not only footing the bill but bringing his whole family over to Barcelona to train at their academy. His contract was drafted on a napkin and signed when he was only 13. He is 27 now and has played professionally since he was 17, he’s considered the best futbol player to have ever lived. He’s broken record after record, but he hasn’t gotten the World Cup.

Not only is this cup big for him in that it’s one of the only real prizes in soccer he hasn’t gotten, but he’s doing it playing for a country that doesn’t seem to like him very much. From the many many articles I’ve read, Argentina seems to resent Messi for leaving so young and not coming up through their system. They see him as a traitor, winning championships for Barcelona while playing poorly and getting knocked out early in his past two World Cup performances. Personality-wise he’s also the complete opposite of Argentina’s soccer hero Maradona whose name always comes up when talking about Messi and his legacy. He shies away from the spotlight seems kind of embarrassed by it actually and is a family man, openly doting on his son even tattooing his name on his left leg and putting his name on all his shoes. The Argentina National Team has made it to the semis, they’ll face the Netherlands on Wednesday, the way things have been going they might as well call it Messi vs the Netherlands. He’s scored 4 out of their 7 goals himself and had a direct hand in 6 out of the 7. He’s carrying that team on his shoulders. I have basically been eating all of this up. I didn’t even mention how amazing it is to watch him by this time I’ve watched a lot of youtube videos with his highlights and it’s just incredible to see him weave in and out of multiple defenders who are throwing bodies in his path and pulling on his shirt, he makes goals at impossible angles, he’s also a play maker and one of the most effective passers in the game. The FiveThirtyEight blog even wrote this awesome article crunching the numbers on his efficiency as a player – Lionel Messi is Impossible .  He’s pretty much everything I want in a player to root for.

Getting lost in the black hole of Messi articles and videos, I’ve actually had a lot of fun reading the analysis and seeing the numbers get broken down. It’s made me really care about what is happening in the World Cup overall, I haven’t missed a game. The thing about the World Cup, Messi and the story aside, is the really interesting microcosm these games are of the world. I’ve learned a lot about the history of Argentina just by reading about Messi and the complicated relationship his country has with him. The really long history of the rivalries between teams and countries. There’s this extra weight about a loss in soccer that seems heavier than even the Olympics. Anyway this is just what’s on my mind right now and friends around me is probably tired of me trying to engage them in conversation about it. There are only 3 games left of the World Cup (Germany vs Brazil – Tuesday, Argentina vs Netherlands – Wednesday, Final on Sunday) but I have a feeling I won’t stop watching futbol once the cup ends. For now I leave you with one of my favorite Messi goals.

 

Growing Pains

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Whenever I realize it’s January 16th I involuntarily wince. This date has always been weighted with past hurts and can be counted on to be a generally crappy day. Today was the first January 16th in about a decade that there was none of that. I guess this will probably be a reflection post on the past year and a rather late new year hopes/resolutions thing. Ready…

Also, hello! If anybody is even reading. I think since the last time I posted Google reader shut down and most people tend to just use Instagram, Facebook and/or tweet, or are grown ups with kids and no more time for blogging.

Anyway so January 16th, I won’t get into the long and mired association in my mind with this date and just say it reminds me of the person that raped me in college. It’s taken me years to even come to a place where I could say that out loud, let alone face the fallout of it. Looking back I see the ways that I retreated from people, the panic and fear in which I walked through the world. Especially with men, I still find it difficult sometimes to remain in long embraces. The threat of being physically forced to be in a situation, even fairly innocuous ones, sounds my internal alarms and causes intense panic. I’m sure my friends and family wonder why I haven’t had a boyfriend in a loooong time. It was easy to explain that away in my 20s, now that I’m in my 30s that question has gotten more pressing. The answer is that I was scared. Every man had this sort of flashing danger sign attached to him. That if I let someone in, I would give them the ammunition to wound me and I would never recover. I barely got out alive the last time.

I’ve spent a lot of years wrestling with this fear, to exorcise it, to somehow develop some sort of armor that would protect me from it. My instinct was just to run, to push any sort of meaningful romantic relationships away, to build impenetrable walls, and nest in my fortress of solitude. This would never do though. I am a person who craves deep and meaningful relationships. I don’t take friendship lightly. I have a lot of friends (not trying to be braggy) because I spend a lot of time asking probing and sometimes awkward/hard questions. I relish in this and get a lot of fulfillment and support from my network of good friends, I love these people. But I realized that I was really stunted in the romantic relationship department and I knew why, so I decided I would examine that broken part of myself and try to piece it together so it could be operational again. I’ve been seeing a therapist for a couple of years now. I’ve cried a lot, gotten angry, even found humor in unexpected places. The biggest breakthrough though is that I stopped blaming myself.

I allowed myself to get vulnerable with someone last year and was ultimately disappointed. This was a really scary place for me to be in the days following that initial blow. Once I emerged from the haze of that panic though, I realized that I was in tact and the shattering that I thought would happen never did. This was a surprise and caused me to pause and ponder why I was still ok. I realized that I’m probably a lot stronger than I thought I was. That those fears I had in my early 20s of losing myself in disappointment that had seemed so monstrous back then; I  had unwittingly vanquished those monsters by finding myself over the years. Now in my 30s, I have a pretty good sense of who I am, what I stand for, and what I won’t stand for. Don’t get me wrong I still have a lot of insecurities, but I think I’ve come to a point where  I’m not going to let someone’s opinion of me, define me. This is probably something I should have learned long ago if I wasn’t building that fortress, but even though it’s taken me a while I’m here and I’m pretty freaking happy about it.

So 2014 resolutions etc…I decided this year that I instead of listing out stuff like eat better, write more etc. I would think of a discovery theme for the narrative of this year. This year is the year I try to find my voice. I mean this mostly metaphorically but in some literal ways as well. I signed up for an 8 week French class to have an excuse to say things that are kind of uncomfortable out loud (I have trouble with the rrrrs). You’re going to read some of my stories this year. I’m going to work on not being such a social loafer. I’m going to try and not be afraid of showing my true self anymore. I’m really excited for what’s in store this year. Bring it 2014!

California knows how to party

It is almost 2am and I’m still awake thanks to the jet lag. It was really hard to leave California this time. The last couple of weeks have been so much fun. Got to see so many of my friends and family both in northern and southern California. Got to see my good friend Mike get married to Val(pac). Thanks everyone for making my visits to California so nice that I don’t want to leave.

Vball Crew

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The Address is 221B Baker Street…

and it is ruining my life. I love TV. British telly has an especially grand sitting room in my heart. My current obsession is the BBC’s modern day adaptation of Sherlock (showing stateside via PBS). The show stars high functioning sociopath Sherlock Holmes as played by Benedict Cumberbatch and the ever faithful companion John Watson played by Martin Freeman running around London solving crimes with the science of deduction. There have been many adaptations of the beloved character of Sherlock but this one is by far my favorite.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are two of the co-creators and writers of this show and coincidentally are also involved in another one of my TV obsessions, Doctor Who. I love them and simultaneously hate them. I love them because they have created characters that I care about and have weaved thrilling stories together on their loom of madness.  I hate them because they push me off a cliff of a story and just leave me hanging there and then they mock me by letting on that they know how it works out but that they just haven’t gotten around to filming it yet. They relish in our suffering.

Each season consists of 3, hour and a half long episodes. So far only season 1 has been shown in the states. The UK already has season 2. The 2nd season is scheduled to air on PBS sometime in May (why the delay PBS?). Thanks to my inability to wait for anything and a little app called Tunnelbear I was able to watch it with all the other Brits via BBC’s iPlayer.  The writers refer to them as mini-films which they cite as the reason for the limited number of episodes per season. Combine that with the fact that much of the principle staff of the show is tied up with other projects and you get a huge question mark as to when the next season will be ready to watch. I have been reduced to commiserating with people on Pinterest and trying to get as many of my friends to watch it as I can. If you haven’t seen it yet, GO NOW and rent it or watch it streaming on Netflix then let’s talk about it. I am also looking for a new TV show to watch so suggestions are welcome.

Fan Girl Rant Over.

A Perfect Saturday

My Happy Place taken by Twin

I tend to do a lot during the week; book events, soccer, volleyball, dinners with friends, prayer group, bible study etc. By the time Friday afternoon rolls around I’m crossing my fingers that the outlook for the weekend is a big blank on the calendar. I need a lot of time to re-charge and Saturday is my time to do that. My perfect Saturday starts with sleeping in, only opening my eyes when I’m good and ready and not when the alarm begins to blare. An hour of answering emails and messing around on Pinterest. Then a nice, full home made breakfast. This time I made a baked egg dish with sauteed spinach, a side of bacon and a cup of orange juice. My perfect Saturday always includes time spent with a good book and a good friend. This time I went with Book Twin to Lennox Coffee and dove into The Fault in Our Stars by John Green along with a latte and lovely company. After spending a few hours there chatting and reading I like to come home and relax. This time I indulged in beloved British television (Downton Abbey). I have introduced Book Twin to the wonderful world of British telly so we watched together and gasped at all the right moments. I almost choked on my water when they found out the bad thing they thought happened actually didn’t. Then again when there was a big surprise (I hate when tv is spoiled for me so I won’t give anything away in case you watch Downton). A nice home made dinner and finishing up the book I started earlier is how I like to round off the day (as I did this past one). I sometimes forget how serene it is to spend quality time with a book and a good friend. I am constantly bombarded with a non-stop onslaught of things to do, people to meet, places to go etc. that I feel endlessly harried. So when I get a Saturday to myself this is how I like to spend it.