There’s Always Next Year

I’m not very good at hope.

I’m a worst-case-scenario kind of girl. (I can tell you 100 ways I’ve imagined getting a flat tire. I don’t need WebMD to tell me how the mysterious pain will kill me. I can sabotage a relationship before I even say hello.)

I have a hard time imagining life as ever being different than it is at this exact moment.

I haven’t always been this way. And I’m not this way every moment of every day. But the past 9 years have been hard. The daily wear-and-tear of living with diabetes and the loss of too many beloved family members and a volatile political climate and the sinking realization that a career in higher education is a difficult one to sustain…

Baseball has been teaching me to hope again.

I fell in love with baseball when I was 11 years old, but when I went to college, I found that it was difficult to keep up with the game. None of my friends cared about the sport, and it’s hard to devote that much time and energy when you’re the only person in your life who cares. (Plus, you know, I had to do all that reading…)

When I started following the game again, when I decided that I missed the game enough to figure out a way to fit it back into my life, my beloved Atlanta Braves were no longer the same team. Chipper Jones had retired, Bobby Cox wasn’t the manager, and the Braves weren’t even a .500 team anymore.

The Braves have been bad. Almost unwatchable at times (although the last half of this year was an incredible turnaround). My friend John suggested I start paying attention to prospects, and I started paying attention to what else was going on around the league, too. And I celebrated every single time the Braves did something good.

The 2016 baseball season could have been a nail in the proverbial coffin, a season that could have had me believing that enough was enough. At one point early on, the Braves were on track to lose 134 games…out of 162. But before the season even began, I  vowed to make it a summer devoted to baseball. And I have six months of incredible memories:

  • Three opening games in 10 days: MLB Opening Day in Atlanta, minor league opening day in Greenville, and the home opener of the inaugural season of the Fireflies in Columbia.
  • Absolutely incredible pitching: I saw Max Scherzer (this year’s NL Cy Young winner!), David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon (now a Brave!), and Justin Verlander (runner-up for the AL Cy Young) all pitch at Turner Field. And for the Braves, I saw Julio Teheran pitch four times this season!
  • I saw Freddie Freeman and Bryce Harper and Adonis Garcia and Daniel Murphy all hit their first home runs of the year on Opening Day. In September, I saw a Matt Kemp home run fly above my head, out of reach because he’d hit it so hard there was never any doubt. That same game, I watched the Braves beat the Mets in the 10th inning, my first time present for a walk-off win. There was incredible joy that night.
  • Between Greenville and Columbia, I managed to see the Rome Braves (and tons of future Braves) five times. I can’t WAIT for these guys to be playing at the major league level.
  • I started the season at Turner Field, and I ended it there, too. There were a lot of tears that day. Turner Field, as we know it, doesn’t exist anymore. I’m sure I’ll eventually grow to love SunTrust Park, but I probably won’t love it for awhile, and Turner Field will always be immensely special because it was my first ballpark, home of the first team I ever loved.

After the Braves’ season ended, I set my hopes on the Chicago Cubs. I spent a lot of late nights, coffee cup in hand, papers spread out on my lap, grading and watching baseball and crossing my fingers and praying for a miracle. I almost lost the faith a few times. But around 1:00 a.m., on a Thursday morning a few weeks ago, I cried my eyes out as decades and decades of waiting from the true, faithful fans were rewarded. I love the game so much that I wanted, desperately, for their faith to come to completion.

All this to say, baseball brings me hope. But if I had stayed the same fan I was when I was younger, that probably wouldn’t be the case. If I focused on win-loss records, on division titles, on home runs and batting averages, on All-Star appearances, I wouldn’t find much to bring me hope. The Braves just don’t have those things in spades, not now, not yet.

But changing the way I follow the game has made me more hopeful. I’ve started to understand that the future is not yet here, but I see glimpses of it: in a young, Gold Glove-winning centerfielder; in a hometown shortstop with really great hair; in low-A minor leaguers who can get lots of strikeouts; even in a ballpark that’s still under construction.

Not that long ago, baseball brought me great anguish. I despaired at a losing record, at the trades of so many of my favorite players to far-away teams. Baseball hasn’t really changed all that much. But the way I follow the game has, and that’s made the difference.

If the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series, then the Braves can be good again. And I can find hope again, both in the game I love and in the rest of my life. After all, there’s always next year (and next month, and next week, and tomorrow).

Spring training starts in just 96 days. I’m already ready.

#104: Ty Cobb Museum

It’s been awhile since I’ve marked something off my List of Things to Do Before I Die, so I took the opportunity in December to stop at the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston, GA. I was on my way home from a trip to Atlanta, and a detour of about 20 miles off the interstate was all it took.

First of all, the museum is in an unusual location. Cobb donated a lot of money to the medical center in Royston, which is named after him, so the museum is actually housed inside the medical center, just off the waiting room. I stopped in on a Saturday afternoon and was the only visitor thus far that day.

Ty Cobb was an amazing player, but not necessarily a nice person, so the museum focuses primarily on his accomplishments on the diamond and not on his winning personality. But it was still super fun to see lots of old relics from the game.

Ty Cobb’s Tigers Uniform

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A seat from the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit

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One of Ty Cobb’s many American League Batting Titles

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The town is small, so it wasn’t far to the cemetery where Ty Cobb is buried. (Fun fact, at the cemetery, I realized that Ty Cobb died on the exact day my mother was born.)

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And Ty Cobb now has the privilege of being the only non-Atlanta Braves bobblehead in my collection.

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2016 Reading Challenge

2015 was a good reading year! My book club chose some excellent books, and while I didn’t hit every single one of the books I challenged myself to in this list, I got most of them–including some that I likely wouldn’t have read otherwise. And I did hit my book count–100 on the dot (unless I finish another one today)!

For 2016, I’m creating another list, too, but shorter this time, and I’m setting my reading goal at 60 instead of 100. The purpose of this is to read longer books that I’ve always intended to read but that I’ve passed over in favor of shorter books that I could finish sooner (and also meet my challenge). And some of my favorite books this year–specifically Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin and The World According to Garp by John Irving–were long books worth savoring.

Among those 60 books, I want to read the following:

  1. A work by a Russian author
  2. A work by an African author
  3. A work by an Asian author
  4. A work by a Caribbean author
  5. A science fiction novel written by a woman
  6. An Arthur C. Clarke Award winner
  7. A book longer than 600 pages
  8. A book set in South Carolina
  9. A book set in a bookstore or library
  10. A book featuring a road trip
  11. A book about baseball
  12. A book set at a lighthouse
  13. A work of nonfiction about an event that occurred in my lifetime
  14. A work written by a woman under the age of 30
  15. A book set in New England

15 books–a manageable goal! I’m thinking of setting up some mini-challenges, too–like only reading books I own in one month (instead of buying new ones or checking them out at the library) or something like that, but I’ll decide on a case-by-case basis.

And soon, I’ll post an update of my favorites from 2015. On to 2016 and more books!

Moneyball

MoneyballsbnI became a fan of Major League Baseball in the summer of 1996. I was 11 years old. I had watched my brother play tee ball and coach’s pitch, and I had played softball in our tiny little town, and when I caught a Braves game on television one night, I knew enough about baseball to follow the game. The first batter I saw walk up to the plate was Chipper Jones, and he hit a home run, and I was hooked.

When I went to college in 2003, I suddenly found it difficult to be a baseball fan. There was no time to follow the game as closely as I had, and I knew no one else who loved the game, and so I found other interests that replaced my love for baseball.

A few years ago, I decided to come back. I missed following the game, and I decided one day that a girl shouldn’t have to give up the things she loves just because she’s alone in her passion. (And, of course, thanks to Twitter, I’ve found fellow baseball fanatics.)

But in that decade that I wasn’t obsessively following baseball, a lot of things happened. Of course, Barry Bonds broke Mark McGwire’s short-lived, single-season home run record. And the use of performance-enhancing drugs sharply declined. And people hit fewer home runs, and all these other stats became more important. And the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino. And the average payroll across MLB increased A LOT.

After hearing Billy Beane’s name thrown around enough, I decided to read Moneyball to try to fill in that decade-long gap in my baseball knowledge. And the book was a joy for me to read. Michael Lewis does a great job getting inside Billy Beane’s head–what is it that made him fail as a ballplayer? What is it that makes him so great as a GM? Why are the metrics so important during a regular season and suddenly less important during a postseason run? And how can we change the way we look at the way the game is played and the ballplayers who are playing it?

This book has a lot packed into–not just the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s, but also the story of the draft that year (which I was sad to see was left out of the movie), and the story of Billy Beane’s draft and career in the minors and MLB, and the story of Bill James, the first real sabermetrician.

Michael Lewis handled the story incredibly well. I was absolutely captivated, and the book was a quick read (which I find is a rarity in most nonfiction I choose). I can see why this might be one of the most important books about baseball ever written.

In Search of Joy and Truth

2015-06-09 19.36.02There’s a photograph in a silver frame on my desk at home: one that I took at Turner Field on June 9, the last night I spent in my 20s. I snapped the photo, intending to send it to my little brother, to show him I was wearing the awesome customized jersey he’d given me as a birthday gift. But I never sent the photo, and I never posted it on any of my social media profiles. I later stood at the photo kiosk in Target, debating whether to print it out, before deciding that I would. Then I bought a frame and debated again whether to choose this photo or another one.

When I look at the photo, I notice a few things first: my eyes have bags underneath them…all the time now. A sign that my 30th birthday was the next day? My Atlanta Braves necklace is flipped inside out. The grin on my face is wide and silly, and my expression is goofy and weird. I wonder why I can’t have a normal face.

I see the flaws first.

But then I ignore that and start to pay attention to all the reasons why I chose to frame this photo:

Everything I’m wearing: a Braves t-shirt underneath a bold, red Braves jersey. A Braves ballcap on my head. Braves necklace and earrings. When I love something, I go ALL IN. That’s one of my favorite things about myself. Despite the fact that the Braves are nearing the end of the worst season in franchise history, I’m still supremely proud that I’ve chosen to be a Braves fan.

Next, I notice my best friend, leaning over with a goofy grin on her face that is equally as silly as my own. Several rows behind us are other fans, most looking bored. My gracious, was I excited to be there that night, and I didn’t really care who knew. It was the last night in my 20s, and I was in my favorite place in the world with a few of my favorite people. And we had great seats in the second level behind home plate! It’s easy to look at the grin on my face and think how silly I look until I remember how deliriously happy I was in that moment. And then I wish that I could have that goofy grin on my face all the time.

***

I had a bad afternoon a few days ago. I called my mom and woke her up during her Sunday afternoon nap, and then I sobbed on the phone. I don’t know what happened that day specifically, or if it was just a culmination of days of feeling worthless and ugly. I cried about being a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding. I cried about being 30 and single. I cried about things I’m not even sure I can put into words.

Social media makes being a female hard. It probably just makes being a person hard, but I only know what it’s like from the female perspective. Almost daily, I see ultrasound pics or engagement photos. And when I post images of baseball diamonds or references to books I’m reading or articles on the Syrian refugee crisis, I feel like just another voice lost in mass of people who are living ordinary lives with nothing to celebrate, with nothing worth saying. And even while I recognize the fallacy in that thought, I have a hard time stopping it. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are—or should be—tools to let us celebrate and rejoice alongside those people. Instead, I let social media add to the pressure of never being good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. I lie awake at night and wonder why I haven’t gotten to achieve those milestones that other people have.

I minimize the value of what I have achieved when I make these comparisons.

I’m reading a book right now called The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. I just finished a novel called Dietland, by far one of the most radical feminist texts I’ve ever read. And on my desk is Jesus Feminist, which I’m excited to read as well. And all these theories, these ideas about beauty and femininity and spirituality, are in the forefront of my mind. I think about the fact that every woman I know has been gifted with a unique beauty and style. I think about the fact that a person’s body doesn’t exist solely for the pleasure of others, and that we aren’t given the right of judging another person’s physical appearance just because we’re displeased. I think about the fact that Jesus clearly cherished and valued the women in his life, and that I’m blessed to be part of that holy tradition.

This topic of beauty keeps coming up, not just in the books I read. It comes up in really edifying conversations with my book club, a group of strong, beautiful, faithful, intelligent women who never back down from the hard issues. It comes up when I’m teaching a class on argument, and I want my students to start thinking about perception, and I encourage them to reconsider the way they look at the people around them.

And then I cry on the phone about a dress and makeup and hair and all the things that I feel like I just can’t ever freaking do RIGHT. Because, somewhere along the way, the way I’m going to LOOK on the day of the wedding became a stumbling block to being able to celebrate with my little brother, my favorite person in the world, and the wonderful woman who is going to be my sister-in-law. And because, for so long, I’ve been given subtle hints from people—from men I’ve wanted to date, from strangers in coffee shops who check out my friends and ignore me, from conversations I’ve overheard in public spaces—subtle hints that I’m too short, too fat, not pretty. I’ve been afraid to cut my hair for fear that I’ll lose the only attractive quality I have—or at least the only one people seem to compliment.

And there seems to be that unspoken connection, the connection that we can SAY isn’t true but that we somehow BELIEVE anyway: beautiful women get what they want. And the rest of us just have to put up with the leftovers.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who legitimately believed she was beautiful—or, if she does, she hasn’t gotten to that point without wrestling through all this garbage first.  And that makes this pain somehow worse. I want to stop feeling this way. I want to feel valued and cherished, and I want to be able to extend that to the other women in my life. I want to be able to have conversations without feeling like I’m judged for my appearance and found sorely lacking. And I want this, too, for every other woman in my life.

Maybe it happens in baby steps? I don’t know. But I put the framed picture from June 9 in a place that I see it every day, to remind myself that finding joy is far greater than finding flaws. And even when I sit in front of that photo and sob on the phone to my mom, I’ll look to the photo to remind me that maybe true beauty is something different than anything we’ve ever really seen. I really hope that’s true.

Book Challenge Update

It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted any reviews, and I just haven’t made the time, despite having watched quite a few movies and having read some great books. I’ll just blame my absence on all the research papers that I grade in between the reading and watching.

So, briefly, here are some of my recent favorites:

StationElevenHCUS2Reading Challenge #3: A Book with a Number in the Title: Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

A dystopian novel that has been nominated for the Clarke Award (the British Award for sci-fi books). The novel begins on the night that a terrible flu begins to wipe out the population, and the novel moves back and forth between different characters’ perspectives and the timeline of the apocalypse–from several years before all the way up until 20 years post-flu pandemic.

Mandel creates a fascinating cast of characters: a medic who tries to save a famous actor who collapses on-stage during a performance of King Lear; that actor’s best friend and ex-wives both pre- and post-apocalypse; a young actor on stage who becomes part of a traveling theatre/musical group; a “prophet” who kidnaps and threatens various members of the group. And all the narrative centers around the interconnectedness of the characters as well as a futuristic, sci-fi comic book called Station Eleven.

This book is wonderful. It contains so much that I love about postapocalyptic stories: what happened on the First Night, how people survive, the effects of such a harsh reality on both individual and community psyches. But it is, ultimately, a story about people with the apocalypse as a backdrop, and it is very effectively done.

oryxcrakeBook Challenge #14: A Book Recommended by a Friend: Oryx & Crake, Margaret Atwood

I read this book and Station Eleven in the same week, back in February. Two very different postapocalyptic novels by Canadian women. That’s what I get for lamenting that dystopian novels just haven’t satisfied me lately: I manage to read two really stellar ones back to back!

My friend Tyler and I both love books, but until recently, we didn’t actually like very many of the same books. But one that we both loved was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a brilliant, searing, feminist dystopian novel, and the first winner of the Clarke Award. So when Tyler loved Oryx & Crake, I tracked down a copy and started reading.

Oryx & Crake is the first book in a series called the MaddAddam trilogy. I have since read the sequel, called The Year of the Flood, and will soon get to MaddAddam to conclude the trilogy. These books focus on what happens when a society gives all its power to the corporations, when we become so focused on having everything better, cheaper, faster. The books are far more complex than what I could possibly summarize here, and there’s a strong understanding that everyone is in some way complicit in allowing a huge tragedy to happen. Margaret Atwood’s work is prescient and haunting, and I’m thankful when fiction can make me consider the world more critically.

***

I’ve watched a lot of movies, too (many while grading papers so that I feel less guilty–it’s the plight of the English teacher, I’m afraid). So here’s a very, very quick review of some of the best, even if they didn’t fulfill a challenge:

Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater

boyhoodI wanted this to win Best Picture at the Oscars, but I’m at the very least grateful Patricia Arquette took home the Best Supporting Actress award. I admire, first of all, the dedication that it takes to make a film over 12 years. This movie felt like flipping through a scrapbook of a person’s life or reading a series of journal entries. At the end, you’ve seen some important and seemingly unimportant moments in a life, but when they’re all considered together, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. We get a boy growing up, but the development of his parents and the characters around him is just as fascinating to watch. It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s moving and thought-provoking and has stayed with me.

Whiplash, dir. Damien Chazelle

Brody-Whiplash-1200No lie: I’ll probably never watch this again. It was painful. I love my students, and to watch a movie about a teacher who berates, belittles, and damages his students hurt a lot. However, this movie has some of the best acting I’ve seen this year; J. K. Simmons earned every bit of that Best Supporting Actor award, and Miles Teller matches him pace for pace. I can’t wait to see how Teller continues to develop as an actor. And as painful as this movie was to watch, it was incredibly effective at raising the question of How far is too far? and Does the end justify the means? Do we celebrate this teacher for demanding (and receiving excellence), or do we punish him for his methods?

If you can’t handle the whole movie (which is likely to happen if you are a deeply caring person, especially one who teaches), then at least find the last scene in the movie, when Teller and Simmons go head-to-head in one of the best cinematic endings I’ve ever seen.

***

Ideally, I would have been grading more of those research papers instead of posting this on my blog. However, one thing I’ve already realized about these book and movie challenges is that stories are hugely important to me. If I don’t make time to read and watch movies, I feel myself losing focus, getting angry and discouraged about life. After watching Boyhood, I had a conversation with a friend about how strange it felt that most of the things that I care about most in life are fictional stories. And there have certainly been times when I’ve privileged and sought out fictional stories as a replacement for stories in my own life. But when I’ve sought out great, well-crafted stories and I’ve found others who appreciate those some stories, my real life becomes fuller and richer. In the past year or so, I’ve developed solid relationships with people who also appreciate stories, and our connection transcends what we see on a page or screen.

So for the next few hours, I’m going to go watch another version of Beauty and the Beast with my friends who love fairy tales, and then I’m going to have dinner with my small group friends, in which we’ll talk about life, but also probably about movies at some point. And I’ll text a few friends in the meantime about a movie I watched last night and a book I’m currently reading.

And eventually, the papers will end up graded, but I’ll be a better person for having taken the time off to rest and appreciate a world outside of the job that I devote too much time to and the expectations that are placed upon me.

Book Challenges #9 & #33

More books for the challenge. I’ve completed 6 out of the 35 and read 11 books total this year so far!

stone mattressBook Challenge #9: A Short Story Collection

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, Margaret Atwood

This book was released last year, and I was thrilled to read a short story collection from Margaret Atwood. Until this, I had only read (and loved and respected) The Handmaid’s Tale (although I’m now over halfway through Oryx & Crake).

This collection is, for the most part, thematically addressing aging although in a wonderful variety of ways. The first three stories are interconnected, following a group of writers who lived and wrote together in the 1960s folk-era NYC. At some point, each character has to confront the role that those early years in New York played in who they became later. It felt like I was sort of reading about some of the people who could have been in the lovely, but dark, Coen Brothers’ movie Inside Llewyn Davis.

But other stories also addressed aging in fantastic ways. My favorite, above all, was the very last story, called “Torch the Dusties.” The protagonist is an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home; she has an eye disease called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, in which her blindness causes her to hallucinate tiny people who dance around. That fact alone begins to blur the line between fiction and reality. But then the residents in the home realize that someone is picketing and blocking the entrances into the facility, a group who believe that the elderly are using up all the resources and should be left to die. The situation worsens, and finally, the residents are alone in the home, with no food and no assistance or medication. It’s what I love about Atwood the most: a hauntingly relevant dystopian setting that gave me chills. I love dystopia, and no one does dystopia like Atwood. This collection was marvelous, even for a reader in her 20s who hasn’t yet begun to really consider the aging process.

inhimBook Challenge #33: A book I started but never finished

I Never Had It Made, Jackie Robinson and Alfred Duckett

This book was on sale on the Nook last summer, and I started it in July after finishing Mariano Rivera’s The Closer, and I was so desperate for more baseball. I made the mistake of starting, however, while teaching summer school, so I stalled out after about 75 pages and finally started reading again in late December. I read the last 160 pages, however, in the last few days. Somehow, I was just as riveted at his life post-baseball as I was about his historic career with the Dodgers.

This book is one of the most authentically straightforward books I’ve ever read. It’s not the easiest book to read in that sense as I sometimes felt like someone was sitting in front of me, staring straight at me, and speaking with an uncomfortable level of candidness. Once I got used to the writing style, however, I found this autobiography to be refreshingly honest with more emotional depth than I imagined.

So many aspects of Jackie Robinson’s career are covered here: his close relationship with Branch Rickey, his tense relationship with some of his teammates, his decision to retire from baseball at the same time as he was traded to the Giants. But there was so much here that was unexpected: I didn’t realize how powerful politically Jackie Robinson became in the years after baseball. I never would have guessed his strong ties to the Republican Party and his role as NY Governor Rockefeller’s assistant. I had no idea about his roles in the various businesses and banks, either.

And I didn’t know the story of his oldest son, Jackie, Jr., who served in Vietnam, where he established a drug addiction that followed him back to the States. He was arrested and spent several years getting cleaned up in rehab and beginning to work with youth and addicts in a beautiful, powerful way before dying in a car accident at the age of 24. The last chapters of the autobiography, in which Jackie Robinson talks about his relationship with his oldest son and his family’s grief are beautifully written and devastating and a powerful testament to the love of family.

And Jackie Robinson’s work in the black community and fighting for the rights of blacks in America is, I think, his most notable legacy. His voice, speaking out against injustice and for his people, is strong and clear and inspiring.