Shenny: We're Writing About Sports Now
My Fellow Shennyer:
I fly today to the AWP Conference in Seattle, and then Sunday I fly east to Virginia, the land that made me. I am eager to get a break from San Francisco, which for one reason or another has not felt in 2023 like home. Likely I need to get out more.
A city is not a place to just sleep and work. A job is not a place to just email and administer. A school is not a place to just grade and teach. Last schoolyear, in the late fall of 2021, amid so much teaching and grading and administering, I started to miss what drew me to the idea of being a lifelong academic: talks.
People just give talks all the time. They talk about fabric details in the novels of Wharton and James. They talk about pro-Palestinian sentiment among diasporic Jews. If you, like me, like ideas, let me tell you that people in academia have a lot of them. Are they good? To me, the only bad idea is an old one.
Missing talks, I started a Contemporary Essay Reading Group in the MFA Program. The first meeting was me and 12 grad students, and we dwindled as the semester caught up to us. But all we had to do was read and essay and talk about it. We read Gwartney, Tadepalli, Abdurraqib, Kushner, and more. (Here’s a link to the essays.)
It wasn’t class, but it was school. I need the version of school that isn’t the going-to-class of living/working in the city. Maybe I’ll find it after the break.
Anyway, this Shenny’s about sports.
1. Rugby Shirts
Have you heard the 90s are back? Not just for American Girl dolls? Back in the 90s, I was 14 and wearing my favorite rugby shirt to Frying Pan Park, which hosted every October a haunted hayride us teens got dropped off by our parents for. My shirt had very-90’s stripes of mustard yellow, forest green, and plum, and once our tour got underway, the older Iranian teen leading us called across the crowd and said, ‘Sir, I like your shirt. Your shirt is cool beans.’ She seemed to this 14yo like someone who knew from shirts, and I basked in her compliment for the rest of the fall. That shirt’s long gone, but I recently found this winner online:
Rugby shirts let me wear a collar without resorting to plaids. They’re thick enough to sit kinda sturdily and structured, like a well fitted crewneck sweater. That insignia over the breast? That’s the logo for Tîm rygbi'r undeb cenedlaethol Cymru, and as you may recall from Shenny’s very first issue, I’ve got a lot of Welsh in me.
2. A 2-parts/1-part water/baby shampoo solution for swim goggles
Swimming’s the only sport I do, if you can call going back and forth in my own lane without paying attention to the clock a sport. Used to be I’d spit in my goggles and rub it in with a finger, or sometimes even lick around the inside, so as to coat enough saliva to prevent them from fogging up. It was a trick I read about online, and it’s repellant (esp. knowing the time those goggles just spent next to wet towels and used jockstraps in my gym bag). I see folks do this at my home natatorium, and I want to tell them about the effectiveness of a baby shampoo solution. Mix two parts water to one part shampoo in a little plastic spray bottle you can pick up for cheap at most food co-ops (or maybe the internet will have one), spray twice in each goggle, and rinse along with your body under the shower before you swim. (Please agree that you rinse your body under the shower before your swim.) Crystal-clear vision underwater for at least the 30-40 minutes I’m able to swim without wanting to die.
I’m Writing About Sports Now?
Last week, I put the memoir aside to work on a short essay I’d pitched to Defector, a sports-culture-politics website started by some editors from Deadspin, which from what little I know of media was (is?) the sportswriting rag in the Gawker universe. Here, for those who may find it useful, is the pitch they bought:
Every year for March Madness, my older sister Jenny drives down to our parents’ to watch the tournament’s opening games with our dad. They each do a bracket; it’s an old tradition between them. Jenny’s the jock of the family, like Dad was back in high school. In high school, I preferred books and music and staying away from athletes, but last year I joined Jenny on her annual trip.
“We’re only going to be watching basketball,” she warned me. I thought I was prepared, but after three days of Jenny yelling “Buckets!” at every three pointer, and Dad getting cranky about something he kept calling “street ball,” and that endless sound of squeaking sneakers, I learned something about the roles and scripts the myth of the Black Sheep locks us into.
While the essay is framed around a sporting event, its focus would be on the ways us queers often struggle to fit in with our families. I’ve got about 10 pages of notes from last year’s trip that I’d use to write this piece, which I envision coming in at around 1200-1500 words. Given that March Madness starts March 14, I'll be sure to turn this assignment around quickly.
Does this interest you for Defector?
I dwindled 4,900 words down to 1,900. (Over the limit, but editor was cool with it.) That work wasn’t too hard; a lot of those notes were a mess. But I did need to lose some gems (well: ‘gems’), which I’ve decided to share here with y’all.
A field goal in basketball is any basket made during play. A regular jump shot is a field goal. A layup is a field goal. A ‘3-pointer’ is a field goal. A dunk is a field goal. A free throw is not a field goal, but a free throw. Despite encompassing the same overall action and result as a field goal’s ‘shot’, and despite them calling the clock ticking away the seconds in which a player has to make a shot a ‘shot clock’, when a player is fouled and given the chance to make a shot, basketball calls what they do a ‘throw’.
It used to be that the arc outside which any field goal would score 3 points would touch the top of the key (an otherwise functionless semicircle that extends from the free-throw line) at a tangent, but now there’s a couple feet between the top of the key and the 3-point line, given I guess, how drugs and conditioning have changed the bodies of athletes in the last howevermany years since I last watched a basketball game, and how relatively easier it soon became to sink a 3-point shot.
There’s now also this other semicircle under the net which echoes the key’s, and it marks a zone where a defensive player can stand in advance of an offensive player rushing to the net, and if the defensive player gets within the semicircle before the offensive player does, then it’s the offensive player’s foul when he runs into the body of the defensive player. (I could have that one wrong. My family did their best to explain and I’m for god’s sake not looking it up.)
When, in college, I learned how to watch sports on TV, it was football we watched, and that set the pace for me. Other sports felt like they were doing televised sports wrong. Baseball was mostly shots of clear skies and men standing. Ditto golf. Hockey was unwatchable because I couldn’t follow the puck, and in soccer they never scored. Soccer is this for 3 hours:
The problem with basketball—I’d announced a dozen times in my life, with who knows what authority I mustered up—is that they score too often. Look, another basket. Now it’s time for the other team to dribble it to the other side of the court and … yep another basket.
My default move, in trying to be close to people I care about, is to ask them questions about what they care about, letting myself seem assuredly impressed. Impressing is different from expressing, and last year I did very little expression of my actual thoughts on college sports.
Why? I’m the youngest child, and that role lingers. Expressing myself—the youngest, the only queer in the family—would, I feared, put us at an impasse—not Not A Family Anymore, I’ve come to understand, and not Now A Family With A Conflict (because lord knows there’s plenty among us), but A Family In A Mood Of Goodwill That’s Now Been Soured A Little By The Fact Of This Difference In Our Ranks. This feeling would, as it always had, get compounded by the fact that I’m the youngest member of my family, and I would feel once again humored, at best, by the older heteros, but definitely not listened to. Likely outright dismissed.
So I play along, and I impress the people I care about with my thoughtful questions. I elicit them to share their love and expertise. And I share so little of my own. Again, deaf ears, but then again the idea for this essay was Jenny’s. Or maybe Dad’s? Memory doesn’t serve, but I recall both family athletes endorsed the idea that I write about watching basketball with my family.
So am I doing all this—watching basketball, writing about basketball, writing once again about my family—for them? Or with them? Among them? As a part of them?
Not sure exactly when the piece will be out, but I’ll bring the link to the next Shenny. In the meantime, for those of you who get to see your family soon, enjoy your time spent together.
This week’s natatorium is the Amalienbad in Vienna. Clearly, I can’t get enough of these multi-tiered swimhalls with changing rooms overlooking the pool.