The Summer Of (Not) Dating

I gave up dating for the summer.

This was a self-imposed “No-Dating” rule, and as someone who spent the better part of three years as a serial dater, this decision was more difficult than it sounds.

I never considered my dating life as busy, but I realized that every time I went out with girlfriends they would ask about how the dating life was going, and I’d have a handful of stories to recount—most of them terrible.

Somehow I had developed the idea that dating, and dating often, was just what single people did. Single people that did not go out and have drinks with members of the opposite sex at least once a week just seemed odd to me.

What were they doing with all of their free time?

But after looking back on the past three years of dating, short-relationships, and heartbreak, I felt it important to go back to square one: no dating for the summer.

And when I said no dating, I meant it.

There wasn’t to be any interaction that could be confused for dating. No getting drinks with a kind gentleman from Twitter that I had a crush on. No meeting men at my favourite bar. No getting coffee with the classmate I’d been interested in throughout my whole graduate program. And absolutely no surfing Match.com.

And surprisingly, I only broke the “No-Dating” rule once. And honestly? I didn’t miss it.

By shifting the attention from other people back to myself, the results were tremendous. When I embarked on this dating-free journey my friend Sarah gave me a piece of advice that became the mantra for the summer: If there’s no one there to spoil you, spoil yourself.

…and spoil myself I did.

The summer’s mission was to see how much happiness I could create for myself (and those around me) and I would consider that mission accomplished. Since I spent most of the summer hesitant to write, here are the highlights from the Date-Free summer.

The City: I started this summer realizing that it could very well be the last summer that I ever spent in Chicago. With the completion of school and the desire to relocate, the prospect of never living within walking distance of all of the places and sites I love struck a sense of urgency in me to do and see everything.

  • I went to the remaining museums I had not seen.
  • I spent evenings down at the Harbor with Lola watching the sailboats.
  • I finally went to Kuma’s for one of those obscenely large (and delicious) burgers.
  • I stayed out until 4am one night, just to go to Carol’s.
  • I walked around my favorite neighborhood and chased tennis balls in Welles Park with my dog.
  • I had cupcakes twice from my favorite cupcake place. And while those calories might be regrettable, there’s something about enjoying every cupcake like it could be your last.

School: I completed the last two classes of my graduate school program. Since I had a bit more free time than usual (see: no dating) I really dove into my final semester and enjoyed it to the fullest. I completed the most in-depth research project of my educational career, something I’d spent three semesters working to complete. Having a beer with my classmates overlooking the Art Institute the night we handed in our final projects is easily the proudest moment of the summer.

Traveling: It’s a bit difficult to travel on a shoestring graduate student budget, so this became the summer of road trips.

  • I saw the Black Keys in Milwaukee.
  • I surprised a friend in Indianapolis by showing up for her birthday party.
  • I visited family in Michigan.
  • I spent one impressive summer evening on a beach in Indiana (I didn’t know they had beaches, either) with a flask of bourbon and one of the best girlfriends.
  • I drove the 12 hours to Washington, DC to see my sister for two weeks.
  • I went to Boston, which was one of my favorite weekends of the summer.

While some of those trips involved other people, some of them did not. There’s something to be said for vacationing alone, and I think embracing being alone is something that most of us are not capable of doing.

But this time, something was different for me.

The countless hours in the car with my own playlists were perfect. No one to tell me to turn it down or stop singing, I put the accelerator to the floor and sang like Mick Jagger for hours on end.  And the prospect of walking the streets of Boston agenda less (and alone) brought a genuine smile to my face, as I ambled along Newbury Street. It was in the moment that I sat on the cobblestone patio of a small coffee shop sipping a café au lait that I realized what it meant to truly embrace happiness in solitude.

Baseball: Easily the best part of the summer free of dating was the baseball. And there was a lot of it.

It’s amazing for someone who writes as much as I do, that I’ve never developed much of a memory for things. I put my journaling skills to good use this summer in an attempt to remember more baseball. Along with the scorebook I use at every game, I kept another notebook in which I logged all of the games I attended. This notebook has a pocket, so I kept all of my ticket stubs and random baseball cards I’d collected along the way in there.

29 games at 11 different ballparks*

And having the opportunity to see so many games this year has really helped evolve my love of the game. Going alone allowed me to focus on keeping score, studying pitchers, and getting back to the fundamentals. Being there gives you the time and the angles to study the shift and the fundamentals of the game that you can’t always see on TV.

When I watch a game at home, my tendency is to focus on things like on things like sabermetrics and the pitch(fx), but at the game, the focus becomes simpler– like did the right fielder remember to back up the throw to first?

While I’m not sure I will ever have the opportunity to see this much baseball again in the future, I will embrace this summer of baseball as one of my greatest memories of this stage of my life.

I’ve been hesitant to do any writing lately, but when I woke up this morning to 61 degrees and the beginnings of that fall smell, I knew it was probably time to reflect on the summer and look forward to all of the changes that come with this fall for me.

In two weeks my time in Chicago will be over. Just in time for fall, I’m relocating to a place where I can appreciate the leaves changing, cider mills, and eat those delicious apple cider donuts.

I am trading the city noises of trains and sirens blarring for a quiet porch that backs up to a completely silent field (I plan to listen to the playoffs on the radio from this spot).

And I’ll spend the fall trying to figure out what changes I need to accomplish by the following summer…because it seems like my life will be dramatically different by then.

*This number does not include spring training games.

Never Got the Timing Right

I came in second place in a basketball skills challenge in fourth grade. While I don’t remember a lot of the specifics, I still have the plaque that was presented to me by the administrator of the Nike basketball camp in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s my first recollection of ever coming in second place at anything sports related that was based on individual skills. I prided myself on being an accurate and precise Center, practicing hundreds of shots a day, including left-handed layups. My dad always told me that if I wanted to be the best basketball player in the leagues, I hard to learn to shoot left handed. And for hours at a time I’d plant my feet firmly on our concrete driveway, and practice with my right hand tucked into my pocket so I couldn’t cheat.

And yet, I came in second.

I had every intention of taking the day off of work on July 23rd, 2009. I requested the day off in the usual way–put it on the shared calendar, emailed my boss to let them know I would be gone that day. And I spent the morning catching up on projects, sipping coffee on my back porch while I stole wifi from my neighbor who always kept the network unprotected. The guy I was dating showed up with lunch, roses, and tickets to that afternoon’s White Sox game (which for future reference, is the fastest way to most girls’ hearts). And just as we approached the train to go to the game, my boss called to say there was a major issue with a client that I needed to return to the office and address. I regrettably sent the boy to the baseball game by himself.

On July 23rd, 2009, Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game…and I missed it.

I am sure everyone has these stories of being a day late and a dollar short, and that mine aren’t unique. I am also sure everyone has stories where things worked out exactly as they should have, or were aided by the mysterious karma of the universe–somehow making things better. But for me, it seems that I have continued to live my life as a series of miscues where I never seem to get the timing right.

I have only told one person I was in love with them in the last three years. It turns out that he loved me as well, but he just loved his fiancee (I didn’t know about her) a little bit more. And had it not been for the fact that she was pregnant with his child, he would have considered leaving her for me (his words, not mine) as though it was some sort of consolation for being wonderful, but just late and infertile to the party.

When I told my boss in Louisville that I was leaving my ex-boyfriend, and subsequently leaving the area, she laughed. Not because the situation was funny, but because that day she has finally been given approval to give me a long anticipated (and much-deserved) promotion.And while I suppose I could have stayed, the truck was already booked, the boxes were packed, and the memories of a city that was the first place that felt like home (partly for a love of the city, and partly for the person I’d lived there with) made it just too unbearable to stay.

Three years later, deciding to leave Chicago never seemed like a mistake. In fact, it was well-calculated, detailed, and things did fall into place with relative ease. The first person that responded to my craigslist ad about my apartment is the person who ultimately rented it. When I asked my parents if I could move in with them while I searched for a new job, I did not even finish my sentence before they both said ‘yes.’

And my going away party happened much like my Chicago experience began–intoxicated, surrounded by friends, and hopeful that the one person I wanted to notice me since I had arrived three years earlier would finally seize the opportunity to feel the same way I did.

But as smooth as the transition out of Chicago was, my duration in Michigan was the complete opposite.

When we unloaded the moving truck, everything was put into the garage. Pillows, furniture, baseball cards: all stacked in boxes, all in the garage. Lola sat in her favorite chair in the garage in near-silent protest as everything was unloaded and haphazardly placed on those wire plastic shelves, growling when anyone would walk closer to her. And while I just took the essentials inside, not knowing how long I would be there, I got that answer very quickly.

The night after I arrived, I went out for drinks with a man who is easily the most interesting and engaging had dated (or met) in a long time, possibly ever. As singles girls are wont to do, I have a long list of things I’d ideally like in a man, because when it is all in the fantasy stages, we have every right, obligation even, to shoot for the moon. This man had all of them, down to the fact that he handed me the remote and told me that he wanted *me* to have it, so I could flip back and forth to both playoffs games. And when he woke me up hours after I had fallen asleep with my head on his shoulder, instead of telling me he was tired and I should leave, he kissed my forehead and said, “Leave? You just got here. Stay awhile. Stay forever, if you’d like.”

And the moment he uttered those words, I knew I would get the job.

The job was exactly what I was looking for in a post-graduate position. It was presented as a job that could use my abilities in analysis and programmatic design on a program that really makes a difference in people’s lives. From the first time I read the job posting, it seemed like an amazing opportunity, one that someone with my experience and education would be lucky to land–and yet, they were contacting me, of all their applicants, for interviews. And while I had been nervous on all of the phone interviews, after the night of bourbon, baseball, and bearded company, I knew there was no reason to be nervous–because timing has a way of offering us glimpses at things we could have, if only the situation were different.

When I told my best friend I had met a boy AND had a job interview, he remarked, “Oh, not only will the company offer you a job, they will make you Vice President.”

In less than a week, I had three phone interviews, a trip to DC to meet with the decision-makers, and an offer letter in hands less than 24 hours later. Sometimes, life is funny.

Even though I accepted the position, I still had a desire to see the guy again. When I texted him to tell him I accepted the offer, he was genuinely happy for me, though expressed his disappointment that I would be leaving so soon (24 days, to be exact) after we had met. Instead of sulking,  we made the best of the situation. And though our busy schedules only allowed us to have four (amazing) dates, we cursed the time we could not spend together because of other obligations but embraced each moment we could spend together. We had dinner. We stayed up until sunrise talking. I saw his band play at this incredibly tacky college bar, where he embarrassed me in front of everyone by telling them all he thought I was beautiful over the PA system between songs.

And while all of my belongings remain in my parents’ garage, with Lola nearby to guard them until I find a place to live here, I am now living 547 miles away on a leather-sectional in my sister’s living room. There is a real urgency to get settled in Washington, DC, not just because I am living out of Rubbermaid containers and sleeping on a sofa in a mid-rise that has fire-alarm issues and too much train noise, but because no matter how difficult timing, missed opportunities, and what-could-have-been weigh on my mind, embracing the present seems like the only option.

I left earlier in the morning on Saturday to start my drive to DC much earlier than I had originally anticipated, so when he texted to tell me goodbye and travel safely, I was already in the mountains of Pennsylvania, trapped in a heavy snow and ice storm. Talk about timing.

You Deal In Beginnings

Cee,

There is something I realized months ago, but it never seemed worth mentioning until today.

I bet you can guess what I’m going to say, can’t you? If you can’t guess, I’ll tell you anyway, but I just need you to guess.

(Probably that I always end up back where I started and it’s my fault, I guessed.)

That’s not what you write about, I wouldn’t say something so vindictive.

You write about beginnings. You write about the feelings of adoration you get from people and things that come into your life and make you feel good… by knowing how they find you special. Conspicuous by its absence is much discussion of how you want to do for them.

Write a blog for long enough and display it publicly, and people will start to offer you free psychoanalysis. It’s one of those days that unsolicited advice waited around every corner.

A friend emailed this morning to tell me that she hoped I’d find a boyfriend by October, since her wedding is soon and she didn’t want me to feel the pressure of attending alone. She also was hinting that I hadn’t sent my RSVP yet.

While signing up for a gym membership tonight, feeling awkward and insecure while I answered a litany of questions about my assumed sedentary lifestyle, the salesperson insisted I smile more. When I refused, he insisted he could tell that I just wasn’t, “the smiling type.” Anyone who can smile as they sit in an uncomfortable chair discussing their insecurities with a complete stranger is not only the smiling type, but also likely pumped full of lithium.

And tonight, on a 35-minute-and-five-second conversation on my commute home, I said goodbye yet again to someone who has meant quite a lot to me this year, citing irreconcilable emotional differences—he’s in love with me and I just want to be friends.

No goodbye has ever final between us, because he still has hope that we’ll be together. Of course, in true Cee-form, I have no idea if we’ll ever be together, but I like to keep him close as a friend, regardless of the emotional duress that causes for him.

Apparently feelings do not operate on a binary switch for most, which comes as a great surprise to me, though it shouldn’t.

His parting words tonight haven’t been about judgment. I certainly don’t feel harshly judged reading the things that he’s said, holding a mirror in front of my face while he reminds me of themes that occur not only in my writing, but also in my life.

Knowing you the way I do, I always wonder, why you’re this way.

Get in line. As the third person that’s given me emotional advice today, I can say it’s easy to wonder these things. Hell, I wonder these things often, and I still don’t have an acceptable answer.

But let’s not over-react, it’s not as though I’ve got serious problems. After all, I finished my education, as planned. I’m successful in my career. I pay my bills on time, I floss everyday, and I always take the trash out. The closest I’ve got to addiction is a bourbon cocktail every now and again. My desk is organized, my projects are finished on time, and I’m working out more often.

Still, it’s fair to say I live on my toes, crouching to pounce on new opportunities. I’ve spent years focused on instant gratification, on generating happiness in the short-run, while throwing long-term happiness on the bottom of the pile.

And I’ve done it all alone. Sure, there have been men. And friends. And family. There have been dates, there have been beginnings, and there have been moments where I’ve felt that I’ve finally found the things that complete all of the social norm equations. But then it fizzles; my feelings disappear, and I continue on the path of building my life alone, always with short-term goals in mind.

Perhaps the greater question: Am I afraid to commit to people, to things, to jobs, to houseplants because I’m insatiable, or simply because I’ve not found anything worth dedicating myself to?

I assure myself I’m a good person. I care deeply for my family; I’ve had the same best friends for years. Lola gets regular walks and her favorite peanut butter bones every night after dinner. I’ve certainly committed to baseball, to reading, to writing, to favorite beverages, and I’ve even finally chosen favorite toothpaste.

I’m able to commitment, I swear.

Was it the moving all the time?

Sure, that probably has something to do with everything. Survival mechanisms kick in when life is reinvented, sometimes by choice and others by happenstance, and all of your belongings are shoved into boxes and totes and shuffled from state to state. There is inherent longing in frequent changes. It’s easy to want the things you no longer have, but in the same breath it’s even easier to miss the things you’ve never had. If I resign myself to a city, to a man, to a mortgage, to a ritual, what happens when something better presents itself?

When opportunity knocks, I don’t want to say, “Sorry—already committed.” I want to pack my bags for a plane, I want to have a first kiss, and I want as many opportunities to see no-hitters as possible.

Is that wrong?

Who made you feel ugly and unattractive?

Myself, mostly.  Well, strangers too. Bullies in high school. A stranger who once called me fat while I was walking the dog late at night. Glances where I can’t tell if someone’s judging my appearance, leering at spinach in my teeth, or just thinking they really love my sweater.

Hard to say, but easy to assume the negative.

Who or what made you feel so self-protective that you could need love, but not want people?

I lost myself in my longest relationship, and he knows that. He’s well aware of the years I spent in a small town, feeling suffocated by staunch conservative rhetoric and judgment, while placating the wishes of someone who barely loved me. I abandoned my hobbies, my desires, even my family. I gambled on love, threw myself hopelessly to him, sticking around and loving blindly in a manner that is so ridiculous that when I recount our relationship to others they can’t imagine that was ever me. Countless days of loving a partner that was too oblivious, too busy, too critical to love me back. There is such a thing as conditional love: He loved me when I was blonde, when I was thinner, and when I cooked his favorite meals. Wishing and hoping finally disappeared, and I started fighting with him to love me.

When he didn’t, I moved on. As you’re reading this, you’re offering your free psychoanalysis of the day: You’re thinking, “Well, now we’ve figured it all out. She’s scorned on love and terrified of relationships! She’s full of beginnings and no endings because she’s had one terrible ending and is afraid to feel hurt again! Why doesn’t she see what’s so obvious?”

Except, it’s not true. I’m not afraid to fall in love. I fall in love all the time, with people and things and places and moments. I’m not adverse to feeling pain, if it means that I can experience temporary joy. I’ve embarked on numerous relationships that I knew had no feasible end game. It’s never been about pain of losing or loving or giving too much.

You always write about beginnings.

Now you’re not being fair. I don’t write about beginnings, I often write about the ENDING of beginnings: Big difference. It’s easy to write about how things go from fantastic to miserable in short-spans of time. Producers and writers have gotten rich off lesser stories, because that’s just how human nature works—the ending of the beginning is the story, in life, in love, but especially in dating.

Dating follows a script so perfectly and becomes the most exploitable, most obvious way to convey and control emotions—it’s the story everyone knows, and as readers, as writers, and even as curious humans living out the events, we want to know how it ends.

The Beginning

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl; he tells her so. Boy does everything in his power, and sometimes things beyond his power, to let the girl how he feels about her. Girl, if the boy is lucky, reciprocates. Then, there’s a decision.

The Endings

Boy and girl continue to put in the effort. They preserve the precious gift they’ve cultivated. They buy houses, have babies. They see concerts, go to ballgames, travel the world. They buy Christmas presents and bigger cars with their dual incomes. They live together until one dies, or someone falls out of love—either of which could happen at a moment’s notice, reminding us that all relationships are volatile.

Or, that stage is skipped. Boy and girl continue to put in the effort, until one decides that they no longer care to put in the effort. Just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean they are made for you. Boy or girl, or maybe both, realize that sometimes it’s easier to re-heat a dinner for one than it is to worry about peanut allergies. Boy or girl, or maybe both, see the value in spending Christmas alone on Michigan Avenue, locking eyes with a curious stranger, looking at the lights while everyone else is with their families.

Boy or girl, in this case girl, want love, just not from those people—and choose to be alone.

But fear and wanderlust are not the only paralytic here: So is compatibility. I have never experienced enough happiness with anyone or anything that making sacrifices didn’t feel like settling. It’s not about anticipation of what could be, but the reality that things could be better from the beginning–why embark on journeys that seem doomed from the start? Why are we expected to make sacrifices and negotiate to create fulfillment, rather than just trying to cultivating it on our own?

Endings are always biter. Endings are terminus. Endings are just awkward moments between beginnings, when good feelings start again. The events in the middle, those are just life. The problem is that plans are flawed. My plans are flawed, and your plans are flawed. And you over there? Your plans are flawed, too. You can’t beat the system–you’re going to fail. You get married, and you’re miserable, so you get divorced. You find the love of your life and they die unexpectedly. You stay single and that’s judged, too. It’s melodramatic to say that we all end up alone, but there’s pretty sharp evidence to suggest that’s true–it’s just a matter of where you fall off the continuum. Eventually momentum is lost somewhere between good, bad, and numb.

There’s a baseball analogy about how you live your life. You don’t have any middle-relievers. You never GO to your middle relievers. Not to mention your closer, I haven’t even gotten to your closer yet, but you’re living everything in the first few innings, on repeat.

Why can’t you trust the middle relievers?

He’s probably not wrong. I’ve never felt the need to use the middle relievers, because my starters usually give up ten walks in the first three innings and I’ve gone straight to bringing in Nick Green to throw a few innings. I have good intentions; I have an arsenal of arms ready to throw should there be a leverage situation, but life is full of under performance and rain delays.  The question I can’t answer to anyone is if that’s such a bad thing. Does life have to follow convention, or is it acceptable to build as you go, living life on-demand, and hoping that eventually the cards remain standing on a rather fragile house of cards that rests on a tight rope above a shark tank? It will always remain acceptable for strangers, for lovers, for gym salespeople to give their two-cents on how the lives of others are structured. It’s about gaining the strength and conviction to realize the flaws in our own plans and adjust accordingly: Sometimes the judgment can eye-opening.

The (Subjective) Art Of Keeping Score

The crowd was sparse in section 226 at Wrigley Field that Saturday afternoon, even after the game had started. The row in front of me was completely empty, and the eight seats between me and the aisle were vacant–except for one.

He was an older man. He had obviously dedicated his life to eating right and exercising regularly. Though his biceps and face sagged, revealing some age, he was in impeccable shape. He reminded me of my grandfather’s friend, the one who always took delight in asking people to guess how old they thought he was.  When they’d guess 65, he’d squeal with delight and clap his hands exclaiming, “I’m 78! I sure fooled you!” This old man sat alone, but conversed politely with the young couple behind him. He limited their interactions to the moments between innings, so as not to distract from the game, each saying just enough to temper the loneliness of section 226.

He sat cross-legged and sideways in his seat, enjoying the space that being alone affords, a scorebook on his lap. He kept a pen tucked next to his ear, the tip resting just under the bill of his felt Cubs hat. He would score a play and in one fluid motion tuck the pen back over his ear—something he’d no doubt mastered only after years of practice.

Our seats were too far removed for conversation, but in the second inning, he noticed me sitting in a similar posture to his own. I too was alone, scorebook perched on my lap. He nodded in approval, I responded in kind. We returned to our respective pads, each writing, in the scorekeeper’s secret code, “BB” to denote a Wellington Castillo walk.

While I can thank my father for teaching me to scoop balls from the dirt without turning my head and for knowing how to properly block home plate, my earliest sports memories involve my mother, who worked tirelessly as a Little League booster. When I was very young she coached our teams, but when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she traded her fungo bat for a pen (always pen) and a scorebook. If there was a game, she would sit behind the backstop and keep score—every detail, including balls/strikes, recorded permanently. On the drive home, I’d hold her book and ask her what the hieroglyphics meant. Soon “1B” “K” and “6-4-3” became part of my everyday vernacular.

In my late teens I started keeping score, a hobby that blossomed out of evenings alone at Louisville Slugger Field, content in solitude so long as I had a paper companion. The first game was stressful at first, as I tried to recall the lessons of my youth, but the rules and methodology flooded my memory without a cheat sheet. After scoring a 7-5-6-4-3 double play, I thought, “I guess my mother did teach me something.”teens I started keeping score, a hobby that blossomed out of evenings alone at Louisville Slugger Field, content in solitude so long as I had a paper companion. The first game was stressful at first, as I tried to recall the lessons of my youth, but the rules and methodology flooded my memory without a cheat sheet. After scoring a 7-5-6-4-3 double play, I thought, “I guess my mother did teach me something.”

Years later, I was still using those lessons in the language of scoring in section 226. Following the sixth inning, the old man took the seat next to me. He said hello just like my grandfather always did, with a weird hesitation and hum just before blurting the words, a habit I think many developed in the early years of telephone usage when they were waiting for an operator to make the connection. “It’s nice to see the younger generation keeping score at a game,” he said. “I thought it was a lost art. I taught my sons to keep score when they were your age.”

“He thinks I’m 15,” I thought.

If it’s not a burden,” he said hesitantly, “would you mind keeping score for me while I run to the warsh-room?” Warsh. Just like my grandfather.

“Not a problem at all, Sir. It will be here when you return.”

I’ve been asked to do this often enough that I have perfected the art of keeping two books at once. To be asked to mind a scorebook is a hard-earned honor in my circle of baseball friends, most of whom treat an afternoon at the ballpark as a scholarly endeavor, not a keg party (though sometimes we sneak a flask of bourbon). It wasn’t until a game early this season, in which I broke down Bryce Harper’s hitting mechanics with words, gestures, and diagrams, pondering this important matter with my companion (also a baseball writer), that I realized how different we were from other attendees. With such company comes the responsibility of keeping score honor in my circle of baseball friends, most of whom treat an afternoon at the ballpark as a scholarly endeavor, not a keg party (though sometimes we sneak a flask of bourbon). It wasn’t until a game early this season, in which I broke down Bryce Harper’s hitting mechanics with words, gestures, and diagrams, pondering this important matter with my companion (also a baseball writer), that I realized how different we were from other attendees. With such company comes the responsibility of keeping score the right way when entrusted with someone else’s book;  not only is it the polite thing to do, it is a showcase for your own baseball knowledge. One would hate to mind a friend’s, stranger’s, or in some cases, a lover’s book and denote something incorrectly in pen (always pen). That permanent record of ignorance, an “E-10”, error on the score-keeper, is embarrassing and destroys credibility.

As the old-timer departed for the gentlemen’s rest, I l scoffed inwardly: “Of course I can keep score for you old man. I have a knack for this.” It had always been the truth…until that seventh inning at Wrigley Field, when I looked down at his scorecard and was completely befuddled by a mess of scribbles, scratches, and abbreviations I’d never seen before. Not only did it seem like we’d been keeping scores at different games, I wondered if he’d handed me a scorecard from a cricket match or the launch code for a nuclear missile he’d acquired in the Cold War, because none of it made sense.War, because none of it made sense.

I put our scorecards side by side looking for similarities, but observed mostly differences. We had how we documented walks and strikeouts in common, but little else matched. Where I used a line to show a base runner, he used dots. I used “1B” to acknowledge a single. He used a dash. In the third inning I marked a fly ball to centerfield as “F8,” a small number one in the lower left corner to denote which out of the inning it had been. In his box was a giant number 8, with nothing else.similarities, but observed mostly differences. We had how we documented walks and strikeouts in common, but little else matched. Where I used a line to show a base runner, he used dots. I used “1B” to acknowledge a single. He used a dash. In the third inning I marked a fly ball to centerfield as “F8,” a small number one in the lower left corner to denote which out of the inning it had been. In his box was a giant number 8, with nothing else.

If the seventh had been limited to a 1-2-3 inning with strikeouts and fly outs, I would have been able to mimic his style easily enough to fake competency,  but of course it was an inning of complex and unusual events that I found impossible to capture in his style. There was a pitching change. On my card I knew exactly where to put it, but on his card I left it blank. I wasn’t sure how he would score Starlin Castro fielding the ball, stepping on second base, and throwing to first for a double play; I considered 6-6-3, 6-3, and 6u-3 as possibilities.easily enough to fake competency,  but of course it was an inning of complex and unusual events that I found impossible to capture in his style. There was a pitching change. On my card I knew exactly where to put it, but on his card I left it blank. I wasn’t sure how he would score Starlin Castro fielding the ball, stepping on second base, and throwing to first for a double play; I considered 6-6-3, 6-3, and 6u-3 as possibilities.

When he returned, I handed him his scorecard, relieved for the exercise to be over.

“ I’m usually pretty good at this, but you’re scoring the game much differently than I do.”

Apparently puzzled, he took the seat next to me, removing the pen from behind his ear with a twirl. I talked him through the events of the inning.

“I didn’t know how you’d mark a pinch hitter, so I left it blank.”

He muttered something, wrote the name on the blank, but did not indicate which inning the pinch hitter had entered.

Ten minutes later, I was still recapitulating what he had missed during his long sojourn to the bathroom. “…Then Starlin Castro fielded a ground ball, stepped on second and threw it to first for a double play.”

He thought for a moment, then scribbled 6-3 across the center of the box, confirming my suspicion that we’d score that occurrence differently. When he was all caught up, he shook my hand and thanked for me for minding his book, then returned to his seat on the aisle. It felt like a rebuke.center of the box, confirming my suspicion that we’d score that occurrence differently. When he was all caught up, he shook my hand and thanked for me for minding his book, then returned to his seat on the aisle. It felt like a rebuke.

After his departure, my mind dwelt on the nuances of scorekeeping. I’d encountered subtle differences in scoring  before, but nothing like this. Sure, at times determining what actually occurred on a play (a hit versus a error, for instance) can be subjective, but I had never considered that clearly defined events allowed so much room for variation. I had incorrectly assumed that we all maintained our meticulously detailed artifacts in the same.

Like any curious-minded individual with too much free time, I decided to conduct an experiment. I sent a list of questions, a blank scorecard, and a link to an MLB Gameday/box score to 10 people, and asked them to score the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning of the game I’d scored for the stranger at Wrigley Field.

The participants were of varying backgrounds and skillsets, but none are professional scorekeepers. Their scoring experience ranged from six months to 25 years, though the average participant had eight years of scoring under his/her belt. Once I received all of the scorecards, I printed them and pinned them up around my office, all in a column, so I could review the results.

And then I laughed. A lot.

Of the 10 scorecards, there was only one that closely mirrored how I keep score, and I recognized the handwriting immediately: It was the scorecard of my best friend and frequent baseball seat-mate. The rest were incredibly different.

I never laughed in judgment, nor did I ask aloud, “What the hell was he thinking when he scored that?” I laughed at just how different the baseball experience and the scorekeeping was for each participant. I read the origin stories of how they learned to keep score: The more traditional cards were kept by those who were taught by former coaches, in the press box, or had careers as scorers in high school, filling in Little League scorecards for nickels. The more avant-garde cards were kept by the self-taught and the newest scorekeepers. They challenged tradition with every out, submitting creative (and in some cases very colorful) scorecards.

As you can see from the examples I’ve included here, the responses were varied, but decipherable. While there is a guide that contains examples of how to keep a scorecard like an official scorer, after looking at the research, I’m not sure I’d advocate for conformity. If you want uniformity and easily identifiable information, visit Baseball Reference and Retrosheet and read the box scores. If you want the narrative, it’s tucked between the tattered corners and warped pages of a rain delay. It’s in the mustard stains from a Chicago dog in the fifth inning, and in the boxes that are crossed out because I scored in the wrong column…again. It’s in the unique way I misspell Mark Teixeira’s name because I’m dyslexic, and it’s in the squiggly numbers that I filled in on the crowded train to complete my book on the way back to the city’s center.

One thing is apparent from the narratives I received in response from the participants: We all have the same mission, documenting games,  but  have different ways of doing it. Some keep score because their father taught them; others keep score to establish a deeper engagement with the game. Some share a book with their spouses, others use it as a tool to fight their loneliness.  One person admitted they don’t even know why they keep score, it’s just what they’ve always done. In all of the reasons, there is a great joy and pride in creating and sharing their books.

Personally, my biggest motivator remains the day that I will finally be able to rush home after a game and frame my scorecard and ticket stub from my first no-hitter, but so far all of my scorebooks remain  intact. If they lack historically significant events, they maintain a personally significant record of my games, my travels, and time with friends. It’s likely I’ll continue to keep score. Some folks take pictures and put them in albums, but I have a shelf dedicated to books of 6-4-3s, 3us, and F9s to tell where I’ve been.  I think about teaching others, my unborn children and nieces and nephews, in the same way my mother taught me. For me, keeping score at a game is about patience, passion, and engagement.

The sweetest thing of all, though, is what I learned from conducting this experiment: scoring is something anyone can do and yet there is no right way to do it. It is a completely individual form of art. In short, scorekeeping is exactly like life, and if an old man’s scribbles in a corner of the world that is section 226 at Wrigley Field don’t match up with my aesthetic sensibilities, who am I to criticize? Each game we score is a way station; we make our mark and move on, cave-painters at the stadium. We have a record of our passing, and no one can judge us.

A special thanks to the following, for submitting scorecards, sending narratives, or just for talking baseball: Nick Tavares, Matt Hegarty, Ryan Pavlicek, Kyle Worrell, Nicole Haase, Daniel Yaussi, Brett Myhres, Adam Brown, Ruhee Dewji, Josh Nelson, Mark Primiano, Harry Pavlidis, and Michael Bates. 

The Pinwheels Made Me Cry

My office is windowless and it has a broken air vent that creates a violent force field of air that can shatter even a thick stack of papers. The door is thick, a slab or steel with chipping paint and its propped open by an upholstered chair, a paisley print that only a grandmother could love.

I rarely close it, but yesterday, the pinwheels made me cry.

To be fair, I woke with a bad attitude and days that begin with negativity are magnets for broken copy machines, circular references in spreadsheets, and clogged toilets; yesterday was no exception. From the moment I parked my compact car in a space the size of a Vespa, there was tension in my neck. I idled in the car for eight minutes and three seconds, long enough to hear “Ride into the Sun (demo)” and “Ocean (outtake).”

I was waiting for something that I didn’t recognize at first. What I wanted was a reason to pull out of the space ever so carefully as not to scratch my boss’ BMW, but there was nothing; no reason to stay, yet no reason to go, either.

The worst part of even a good morning is the trip up to my office in an elevator with reflective walls, a 360-degree mirror of shame. As the elevator ascends, the harsh lighting makes every wrinkle, every roll, every unkempt hair apparent in a way that regular mirrors cannot, and each day begins with the lasting memory of my flaws as I listen to my heels click and slip on the tile floor as I try to sneak into my office before anyone notices that I’m nearly twenty minutes late.

In the evening, I take the stairs.

There are days when I love my job. After all, I spent six years gathering four degrees and convincing myself that this is what I was born to do, in a voice so convincing that I often believe it. But when I say it’s “my calling” it also has an asterisk.

My day job is what I was “born to do” only because it’s the career that I picked because we all have to do something for a living. I do find it interesting and, at times worthwhile, but there is nothing that I bring to this field that anyone with a similar education couldn’t. In fact, as I’m made aware regularly, there are probably people with less education and determination who skate their way in through luck or nepotism. Still, of all of the careers in the world, this is the one I’ve chosen, and while I would never say I regret the decision, it was a decision bred by the pressures of being a conforming corporate America cog; the type of decision that may fulfill Young Republicans, but not ones like me that make the leap instead of trusting the instincts of more creative pursuits.

The paralysis of spending money—in undergrad, my parent’s money—to get a Liberal Arts degree which might mean managing a Cinnabon in a strip mall or spending an eternity of refolding chinos for entitled yacht-kids at GAP was my Scared Straight moment in choosing a future. I wanted to go to culinary school, I wanted to be a journalist, and I wanted to write novels, but the bitter truth is that I grew up in the wealthy middle class, a life of country clubs and sprawling suburban houses with walkout basements that backed up to man-made ponds. On the other side of the pond were neighbours like Bunny and Stanley, who continually inherited money as their rich relatives passed away.

I’ve never had the desire to replicate that existence—I ran from the suburbs for a reason—but I did trade the dream of the white picket fence for a condo in a mid-rise apartment in a neighbourhood with good schools, Michelin-star restaurants, and weekend trips to warm climates. I had it all for a time, but following a breakup in which I went from the financial flexibility of a dual-income that afforded biannual trips to Napa and nightly trips to restaurants to an under-educated (and single) early 20’s female in a broken economy. In a quest to avoid a life of constantly paying overdraft fees, I binged on education and signed up for 60 hours a week for the rest of eternity a decision I try to justify to others who say, “you should be writing”, but mostly to myself. The financial security, in theory, was supposed to be a substitute for imprinting the world with beauty and art, but since I earned my degrees faster than the economy righted itself, I’ve spent years in purgatory, waiting for the opportunity that makes it all seem worth it.

But, that opportunity doesn’t exist now. I spend most days in a straitjacket wanting to love the work I do, but continually frustrated by the fact that I’m not a bigger contributor. While some lack ambition, I feel confined by the fact that my ideas can’t always be heard and my instincts can’t be acted upon. There are intricate models that exist within my mind that are silenced by a narrow scope of work. There are days where I feel like I’ve made a breakthrough, days where I feel like promotions and happy days are imminent. Then there are days like yesterday, where my soup got cold because I was too busy writing down the thoughts and directives of minds and salaries much greater than mine when I realize that work is not what I want it to be.

Those are the days where my mind comes back to unfulfilled passion; those are the days where I punch bathroom walls out of anger about my station in life. Those are days when I check my bank account and wonder if it’s all worth it.

Last night, my mother reminded me that I’m a writer. I always knew that I was a writer, but sometimes it takes someone other than an editor to remind you of that. When I told her of my frustration, she didn’t silence me with a platitude of “Corporate America Needs You!” as I expected. She simply said, “you’re a writer; you’ve always been a writer.” And she was right, though now I have a couple of three-letter business titles affixed to my name that might suggest otherwise. But those are letters of fear, a reminder that I am paralyzed and petrified at the prospect of failure.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I never know what to respond. Do I tell them what pays the bills, or do I tell them what fulfils me, what defines me? Usually, I say both, then I mumbled, “but my heart is writing full-time.”

It’s sad to tell strangers how you’ve chosen to live within the prescribed boxes, a slave to convention and cable bills. I spend five nights a week tethered to a laptop living out my passion, but I can’t make the leap to full-time because I’ve achieved solitude without a safety net. I saw people on Twitter recently discussing how to become a freelancer, and the harsh truth that so many echoed was, “marry someone with money.” For me, there are no dual incomes, there is no one to lend me extra money when the rent is due, and there’s certainly too much pride to ask for it in the first place. There’s also a layer of vanity, manifested inexpensive haircuts, designer glasses, and a slight shoe fetish which make it all seem unreasonable. Though I could temper my own vices for a chance at something greater, there’s a realistic fear that I won’t be able to buy groceries, visit my niece, or afford to fix a flat tire. Then there’s the complication of health insurance, 401(k)s, and chasing down checks that always seem to get delayed for freelancers.

But, I think about it constantly.  I lose sleep over it. It nags me when I wake up six after writing until three, and it calms me as I spend weekends at coffee shops outlining a novel instead of spending it with friends. I keep grinding about baseball because it’s a passion, but it’s my hopeful point of entry to the world of words forever. Perhaps I’ve romanticized it to the point where if it were my livelihood I’d come to resent it, but I don’t think it’s possible. There’s an unbridled passion for writing that I don’t have about anything in my life…not work, not people, not even hypotheticals. The longing for writing and quality time to do it is creating a cycle of self-resentment that forces me to ask myself ad nauseum, “What the hell are you waiting for?”

Mostly, I’ve been skating along hoping that a path would choose me. Maybe I’d find the right freelance opportunity that could bring a big enough check; maybe I’d get more accomplished on the book and get an advance. Perhaps I’d meet someone who could give me the confidence and stability that we could make the leap together. I’ve thought it for over a year now, but usually silently for fear that if I actually said that I’d rather be doing this full time out loud that people, myself included, would judge me if it never comes true.

After an incredibly rough afternoon of feeling underappreciated, inferior, and aesthetically exposed by the damn elevator, I returned to my desk defeated.  I clicked a link to take a look at a work of art that took countless hours of work and even years of planning. In someone else’s dedication and commitment, I felt a lot of personal sadness for unrealized potential.

Competition

It is fair to say I enjoy competition.

I knew I liked competing from a young age, but in many ways I internalized competition. As a child athlete, of course, I wanted to win games, but overall I think I was more interested in morphing myself into the best athlete I could.

That meant hours in the weight room in high school, even though the guys in there spread rumours that I was a lesbian and said horrible things to my face involving four-letter words, I kept going because I had weight-lifting goals that I knew would translate to better performance on the field. Apparently, varsity baseball players find it intimidating when a girl can bench press more than they can.

It also meant Saturdays in a freezing gymnasium in Wisconsin working on catching skills. Setting up a couple feet from the wall on the hard gym floor, while softball and baseball pitchers twice my age hurled fastballs and changeups in my direction. I hated the noise my shin guards made when sliding across the wood floor, just as much as the time I had to spend after practice scrubbing the area behind the plastic home plate to remove all of the scuff marks I had created diving for pitches. If I couldn’t stop the ball with my glove, it would bounce off the wall and come back and hit me. After several fastballs to the back of the head, I became very good at catching things.

And though I am intelligent, all of the academic competitions of my childhood came with keeping my grades above average and staying engaged in the classroom, instead of reading Johnny Bench biographies and issues of Sports Illustrated. My fear for crowds made me an early departure from the spelling bee. I knew how to spell the words, but I was more interested in sitting down in the auditorium than standing on stage.

I never really cared for trophies, nor did I rush home to put every A I got on the refrigerator. I suppose that humble attitude followed me to adulthood, where I am finding there are really two ways to categorize people and their love of competition: the ones who internalize their successes, and those who make everyone around them miserable with their boastful attitude for every achievement.

As an awkward and shy child, who bloomed into an even more awkward and shy adult, I’m a master of internalizing competition.

I put myself through graduate school as some sort of self-competition. The challenge? Finish two degrees in fields that I found interesting, but were extremely challenging beyond my entering skill-set. As someone who was never quite sure that going to college, in general, was a good idea, it was a bit of a stretch, not to mention I decided to study Finance–which began as another competition: could a severe dyslexic become the master of all things numerical? I’m not sure what happened along the way, but fortunately for my wallet and self-esteem, I found that I do love numbers and spreadsheets. And while I can analyze data with the best of them, if you give me your telephone number orally, I will struggle to write down the numbers in the correct order.

I did finish those degrees–and since I am seemingly finished collecting college degrees like trading cards, I found a job post-graduation. But the job never became an opportunity to beg for congratulations and attaboys. Sure, I mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter. I told some close friends I would be leaving Chicago–but beyond that, I don’t think anyone really knows what I do for a living… not because they are not interested, but because I become a bumbling mess when someone asks me to describe what I do for a living. Not because my work isn’t challenging and interesting, but I got the job and the education for myself–not to impress someone else.

I use my business card holders for baseball cards. I wish I were joking, but when someone asked me for a business card the other day at a coffee shop, upon seeing my work ID, I reached in my bag, fumbling for the new business card holder that I received as a gift recently, I pulled it out to find it full of 2011 Topps Heritage Cards. I suppose in some situations it’s best to be confident in ones’ abilities and titles–because I don’t think he would believe that I was actually Jon Lester, from Tacoma, Washington with a 3.53 career ERA. Resourcefully I wrote my work email address on his coffee-sleeve. A memorable and awkward experience, which seems to categorize most of my interactions, really.

And for those who know me well, they know that being overweight has always been a struggle. And though I have always been active and focused on being healthy, it wasn’t until last October that I had the support I needed medically to focus on that. And that meant running daily, at least five miles, even on days when I felt my legs would fall off and I felt like puking. And it meant no longer drinking beer, partaking in Chicago’s deep dish traditions, and no more late night runs to Margie’s for ice cream. And fifty pounds lighter, I feel good about all of the hard work I put in to improve my health. And while I’m slowly working back into a work-out routine after an unexpected back surgery, only a few close friends realize I have been so fixated on improving my well-being…. because sometimes the only person we are competing against is ourselves, Orville Redenbacher, and his friends, Ben and Jerry.

For me, in most situations, it’s enough to be proud of myself.

Sometimes there is a propensity, on my lowest and most insecure days, to reach out and seek validation that my decisions are on the right track, but I am struggling in a world where I am surrounded by people who must continually assert how fabulous and wonderful they are.

Have you ever met someone who went to Harvard? While I have a small sample size and as an aspiring statistician I should be warned of making conclusions for such, but it seems that within the first five minutes of conversation, somehow, it’s going to come out that they went to Harvard. Perhaps I mention I like the Red Sox, and they mention that they used to go to games when they could sneak away from their demanding class schedule at Harvard. Or perhaps we are having a conversation about the weather, in which they pipe up about how cold winters can be in Cambridge, on the campus of the university they attended (which by the way is called Harvard). Or even still, maybe it’s in the signature line of the emails they send. Which seems absurd, but I have seen it happen.

What came first? The education or the attitude of competition that they were somehow better than everyone else? (and I’m sure someone reading this is an incredibly humble ivy-league graduate…who wants to leave a comment telling me that not everyone from those schools would respond this way, but then you’d have to mention you went to Harvard, thus furthering my point).

But the art of competitively throwing every achievement in someone’s face can start on any level.

Perhaps you are a really good cook and insist on sharing your recipes even though no one is listening.

Or maybe you too have lost weight and feel the need to shove your new workout routine and diet down everyone’s throat, when weight-loss is really just as simple as burning more calories than you eat.

And I am sure your toddler is incredibly advanced for his/her age, which is exhibited by the fact that they do something that is so ridiculously cute that you must alert anyone who will listen because it is important that toddlers are good at things.

And yes… your blog has a lot of unique hits a day, the shampoo you use really does smell better than anyone else’s, and the guys that pass on the streets really are smiling at you because you are the prettiest girl that has walked by all day (not because you have something stuck in your teeth).

It is human nature to want to be good at things. I’d also submit that it is probably human nature to want to share your victories with others, especially when your victories can be weighed against your peers and you can rightfully claim yourself as the most spectacular person to ever be spectacular… but what is it all for?

And in the age of humblebrags, blatant brags, and arm sprains for perpetually patting oneself on the back, it is important to remember that the best source of competition comes from within: in those events where the victories are for no one other than yourself.

The next time you get a promotion, your toddler makes exceptional macaroni art, or you finish a marathon you’ve been training months to finish…. do us all a favor: pop the cork on a bottle of champagne, pour yourself a victory glass, and think about what the accomplishment means to you personally, rather than demanding everyone around you to partake in the celebration…. because the person whose life is affected by your wonderfulness is your own, not those around you.