Monday, April 25, 2016

"A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To Writing Something Else (Though On A Similar Trajectory"

I was on my way upstairs to write a highly anticipated post about the relationship between obsession and excellence when I was blindsided and then successfully sidetracked, deciding instead to tell a story with myself as its protagonist. 

It is always better in such enterprises to enrich your narratives with self-generated anecdotes instead of exemplifying stories involving strangers.

Besides, I enjoy seeing my personal biography in print.

Okay, so here’s what happened.

Recently, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant played the last game of his twenty-year, eighteen All-Star-game-appearing, five N.B.A.-Championship-winning career, willing his team to victory in the final game of a season in which this year’s embarrassing L.A. Lakers won seventeen games and lost sixty-five.

During the post-game – and post-career – celebration, Deavean George who had played with Kobe Bryant recalled his newly retired former teammate, saying,

“I remember just that he was a serious, psycho competitor.”

I thought, “Whoop, there it is.”  My ideal prototype of an obsessively driven professional who, through a combination of talent and “psycho” intensity propelled himself indisputably into the conversation concerning “The best who ever played the game.”

I then, by comparison, thought of former Boston Celtics superstar Larry Bird.

Although lacking the expected physical attributes – he was not fast and, perpetuating the “White Men” stereotype, he could also not jump – Larry Bird was perhaps even more nutso crazy motivated than Kobe Bryant, taking hundreds of shots from all over the court…

After every game!

Okay, so it’s a basketball-driven extravaganza about the prerequisite necessity of intensity to, if not be the best – which, you know, there is always going to be a gunslinger who’s faster – then to achieve the optimal results you can possibly deliver.

Yup, I thought confidently, I had a reliable pathway for completing today’s (self imposed) blogal assignment.  Then I headed up the stairs… and I thought about myself. 

And I abruptly altered the course.

Suddenly, my mind flashed on a story I had heard at my summer camp reunion, told to me by a fellow counselor from my unit – the “Ookpik” Unit, campers six to nine – named Gerry Skrow. 

Finding a break in the festivities, during which I had delivered a monologue to a gratifying response, Gerry took me aside and she related this recollection.

It was a camp-wide program – a “Color War”, if you will, but, because it was unapologetically “Lefty” Camp Ogama, the games were inevitably politicized – we had, for example, a “Hungarian Revolution” program where the vying entities were the “Workers”, the “Doctors”, the “Students” and the “Farmers”.  (During the program’s closing pageant, playing the Chairman of the Council of Ministers in the Hungarian People’s Republic Imre Nagy, I recall being summarily executed by my friend Shelly.)

As supervising counselors during the program in question, Gerry Skrow and I had been assigned to the same team.

Our specific responsibility one day as members of a committee was to devise cheers for our team, which was… maybe it  was a camp-wide program whose theme was “World Peace” and we were, I don’t know, “Argentina.”

The committee, made up of maybe six counselors, met under a tree, to come up with a handful of snappy, funny and inspiring cheers to help root “Argentina” on to victory.

When Gerry described my demeanor, I could easily recall myself acting that way.  The committee members were goofing around and I took them angrily to task for not taking their responsibilities seriously. 

Then Gerry related something I had not heard before. 

At some point in the proceedings, one of the counselors on the committee whose feathers I had inadvertently ruffled in the process whispered to Gerry,

“Why does he act like this is important?”

To which Gerry sagaciously replied,

“Because, to him, it is.”

With this story in mind, I called an “audible” in my post-writing intention.  Why go to Kobe Bryant for an example of nutso intensity when I can just as easily use myself?

As an exonerating alternative to feeling terrible for my behavior, I retroactively rationalize my actions as applying a striving athlete’s “psycho competitiveness” to an arena where I had interest and ability.  I may be a dismal failure at the “Hop, Skip and Jump”, but, by Jiminy, no one would outdo me at manufacturing cheers!

That camp’s director, whose name was Joe, recognized I was a writer before I did.  And Gerry Skrow recognized that, in areas that mattered to me where I had recognizable talent, I was also a bulldog.

This ferocity, I would say undoubtedly, though I could be self-servingly mistaken, made me a better writer.

But I would never, either at camp or in Hollywood,

Be “Mr. Popularity.”

Oh well.  As a person I once knew and liked would resignedly say,

“What are you gonna do?”

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