On prowess.

It applies to everything.  To writing, to sports, to anything you do.

You will never be good enough.

I did not start out awesome at hockey.  I took it up when I was 35 and failed pretty miserably to get a job as a paid firefighter after trying for three years, volunteering, doing any number of pretty awesome things including commanding a division of some 30 volunteers and being a firefighter instructor.  I’d responded to calls, been in a wildland burnover, done a bunch of EMT work but it wasn’t good enough and I finally had to quit. I was burned out and demoralized.

So I took up a highly physical sport that I had no experience with, presumably as self-flagellation.

No, so seriously. Picture me, my first day on the ice. “Beginner boot camp,” it was called but it was me, the lone beginner, and a class full of mostly Russian and Canadian guys, all of whom had come at 0700 to play hockey not because they were beginners but because the class time didn’t eat into their Saturday plans and it was the only time their wives and girlfriends would let them play.

So me. In borrowed gear, none of which fit and all of which smelled like cat piss.  Shoulder pads riding up around my ears, stumping out on the rubber on the ice on skates which felt bulky, awkward, wobbly, unfamiliar.

All the guys skated around.  They flew through drills I couldn’t even complete.  I’d skate a few feet then fall down, stick flailing.  They’d skate around me, like another pylon.

I’d look at the clock each week and say to myself “one more minute.  Just stay one more minute.”  Then the next minute, I’d say “another minute.  Hang in there another minute.”  I’d promise myself once I was off the ice and out of gear, I could cry.

And I would, I’d go out and sit in my truck and bawl. About feeling like that, fat and uncoordinated and lacking skill and strength, and about more general and deep personal failure.

*

You think that moment is over.

You project ahead to some future, idealized you.  You place your own value on some future person you want to be, instead of this person here struggling and failing.

You put your sense of worth on that future self.

She doesn’t exist.

That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

*

I started playing hockey when I was thirty five.  I was fat, and depressed.  Now I can skate, and play decently.  I prefer center, I play mostly in coed leagues, and by coed I mean I play primarily with men.  I play pickup with guys who play college hockey, or who have played or are playing semi-pro.

I’m good, I’m really pretty good considering.

A guy who used to skate Division 1 said I’m “solid.”

But compared to the people around me, I often suck.  Like I might as well still be a pylon sitting on the ice, comparatively, suck.

Last week at pickup I was being humiliated by sixteen year olds.

I kept looking at the clock and thinking “one more minute.  You just have to stay one more minute, that’s all.”

*

New writers say “if only I could get published.”

But then you’re published and you want to sell a novel.  Or you want bigger magazines or more stories out, or better reviews.

You want that award you still haven’t gotten.

You want that other writer’s level of success, where they quit their job and are self-sustained.

You compare, and your progress seems meaningless.

There’s an answer to this.

It’s not “stop before you start because you will never be good enough.”

It’s this:  acknowledge your success.  Then raise the bar for the sake of raising it.  Do this for no one, nothing, but you.

*

I’m trying to tell you: now, those skates are an extension of me. I put skates on and I feel fast, powerful, invincible.  I feel awkward without my skates, like some raptor walking, flightless, wingless.

I can be the worst player on the ice and no one can take that feeling away from me. That feeling of unfettered, total elation.

And that part? Those things you own, and they only get better as you go.

2 thoughts on “On prowess.

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