If I were Dante, I’d be writing about waking up in a dark woods, alone, and then wondering about the divine journeys I’m about to take with questionable guides. You know, midlife crisis stuff about life, destiny, and damnation.
Fortunately for all of us, I’m not Dante, and we’re not about to do a full cosmic cycle (especially the trips through purgatory and paradise; how boring were those? nobody remembers them). I have no Virgil, or Beatrice, for that matter, either.
It did occur to be not long ago that some of the hobbies / pursuits / sports / leisure activities / obsessions / amusements / disportments I pursue follow a strange calendar, constituting a devolved form of the jet-setters following golf, polo, Ascot, skiing season, America’s Cup, and what have you. A quirkier devotion than the typical American sports season of Football, Basketball, and more football and basketball interrupted by occasional bouts with baseball, hockey, and drinking a mint julep on Kentucky Derby day.
To be more specific, I curl (stones, not my hair) mediocrely; I play pinball, reasonably well and semi-professionally; I disc golf, badly; and I am a somewhat retired semi-professional umpire. (I also do some rotisserie baseball, on which I may comment from time to time in the spirit of the thing, but that’s not quite an athletic pursuit). I have, in short, a sequence of activities that constitute a full sporting year in a twisted, reduced sense of athletic competition, that have no relation to one another and no bearing on the fate of the universe.
Or do they?
At the risk of ruining a joke by explaining it, I’ll describe the chosen title of this blog as a way of explicating the reason for its existence. The movie “This Sporting Life” was a well-thought-of-at-the-time English film, pretty much forgotten now, from the early 1960’s about a brutish coal miner who’s recruited to play rugby. He’s not skilled, per se, but has a way about the more thuggish aspects of the game that makes him a valuable player, even as he muddles his way towards learning the sport. There’s other stuff, I don’t remember well (I haven’t seen it in years and years) having to do with some botched interpersonal relationships, but you and I have seen enough sports movies to figure that out, eh?
Now, to disport oneself, is to amuse oneself. But sports, these are not, in many people’s minds. The degree to which true athletic prowess is required in them — pinball, curling, and disc golf (we’ll punt on the meta baseball sports for now, because I intend to address the more armchair aspects in a more cerebral way) — is a matter of debate, defense, and admission of relative sensibilities about the nature of competition, self-improvement, skill, and the rather zen nature of such pursuits. (Sorry, Dante, I’m more with the Eastern spirituality when it comes to making pretentious pseudo-profound intimations as to the self-justifications of the days of my life.)
Hence, I chose the archaic “Desport[ing]” for a dual reason. First, to harken back to the old French origin of the word, “to give oneself pleasure”, but also to suggest I’m interested in de-sporting sports. There’s much to criticize about sports culture in this day and age and place, and as much as I enjoy the odd professional sportsball contest, it must be said that the joy of the thing has very much been subjugated by the culture (and the pernicious influence of money) on top of the thing.
Since I pursue one of these sports (very) semi-professionally (pinball) (I do play for money), and another of these sports (curling) is in that odd state of having been around for 500 years but only recently been sucked into the yaw of a “real” sports culture and all that entails (only recently, in the past few decades, have curlers been able to make a living at the sport — and not even entirely, except at the very top levels, and then not much of a living), and the third (disc golf) is in its own odd mixed state of beloved DIY bootstrap let’s-invent-it-as-we-go amateurism and semi-professional bro-culture (not unlike surfing, not that long ago), the question of money, professionalism, and why we do things is very much on my mind.
But more to the point, I like writing about these things and their challenges and why they amuse me and thinking about their value. Life unexamined, etcetera etcetera. They’re fun. I like to improve at them, even as age eats at me (as does it to all) and my faculties decline. To me, this is the mini challenge, an ultimate quest, behind any pursuit humans take up, the race to find the innermost beauty of one’s own performance in a realm before we’re working on the worm farm.
Running three or four blogs on all of them seems like an exhausting, not even to say pointless, exercise, most especially because I’m an expert in none of them. So, my thought is, under the banner of some imagined world where there might be season to season coverage of such sports and pursuits (see also: the world in “Kingpin” where the nation waits with bated breath each year for the crowning of the Million Dollar Bowling Champion, or perhaps more accurately, that of “The Big Lebowski” where the Dude abides at his alley with his team), I might combine random thoughts about these things in an otherwise disjointed set. Whether they make sense together to anyone but me, we’ll have to see.