12/27/10

In Correspondence

Dear Blog,

Thanks for the congrats on the golf tournament.  It was just a dinky men's association tournament at the Pines.  Another player and I both shot a +3 70, but I ended up with second place because of a "match of cards," meaning whoever shot lower on the back nine won.  I still count it as a W, or I guess as a T1.  Teeing off at 7:30 a.m., the conditions were wet, windy, cold, and rainy.  Basically miserable.  But in a perverse way I enjoyed the four hours of exposure to morning rain that looked and felt like snow flurries.  My equipment was all wet, my feet in their sandal cleats and saturated socks were freezing, and I cursed and complained harder and more sincerely than I have in years.  The utter miserableness of the round brought with it something of a stunning realness, an inescapable and persistently pounding nowness that tested me to really stay present with myself.  Many players quit in the middle of the round, but I stuck it out, fought and battled hard, and got my first W in one of these tournaments in almost two years.  A long dry spell for a former club champ.

So yeah, I guess you could say I'm very committed to golf.  I was the most committed in 2007 and the first half of 2008. My instructor Rodney, who was missing an ear (but that's not why he was a good instructor), would video tape my swing and load the footage on the computer and compare me to pro swings, so I'd know exactly where the club should be at every position in the swing.  I'd practice for hours on end every day and played all the time.  I was so wrapped up in golf that after a good round I'd be extremely happy and satisfied and riding a high that carried over into my everyday life.  But whenever I played below my potential (which all golfers eventually realize happens most of the time) my life would suck and I'd hate everything and feel like a failure, even off the golf course.  I was super-competitive and had some good finishes in some good tournaments, but wasn't very happy otherwise.  And I had dreamed of being a professional golfer since I was a kid, so I figured the way to get happy was to practice more and get better, but it just led to more frustration and a worsened self-perception.

But at some point in 2010--I was reading a lot of books on tape about happiness, satisfaction, and personal awakening--I became aware of the commanding influence golf had over my life and I quit playing.  Didn't touch my clubs or even want to for about four months.  I decided to be happy and satisfied no matter what state my golf game was in, and I had some sort of pleasureful artistic explosion.  I rechanneled all that energy I had put into golf into finding the positive and beautiful in my life, and I found a lot of it.  On an impulse, I started painting.  That June, I threw myself a birthday party and all of Orlando and Winter Park came.  We painted our own name tags and party hats, and everyone got hand-painted gift bags with bouncy balls and thumb wrestlers.  I had set up the fake Christmas tree and we all decorated it with our paintings, and I bought these flashy letters one thumb tacks together and hung a banner in the living room that said "WELCOME TO YOUR PARTY."  And people were using the extra letters to make messages of their own.  I had also bought a bag of little plastic gold "winner" medallions on red white and blue necklaces--there were 23 of them--and very late in the evening I took them off the tree one by one and gave them to people and declared them "winners."  One friend, Randy, when I deemed him a winner looked up and said, "I feel so good about myself right now!" and I'm sure he meant it.  After the party some people hung the winners medals from their rear-view mirrors and those medallions might be hanging there today.  Oh, and there was keg beer.

A few months later, must've been fall by this point, I got a hankering to play some golf.  Not to go out and practice all day and play a money match or enter a tournament, but to just hit some balls on the range and roll some putts and play a few holes.  Plus at this time I was meditating using this book Quantum Consciousness by Stephen Wolinsky (who, by the way, on youtube looks exactly like the caveman from the Geico commercials--"I'll have the roast duck with the mango chutney") which outlines findings in the field of quantum physics and applies it to psychology and leads you through about 100 exercises where you close your eyes and wait for the first thought to come and notice its size, shape, color, composition, etc.  And you do the same with your feelings and emotions, identifying their dimensions and unique qualities.  I would wake up every morning during this time, make my coffee, and inch my way through the chapters and exercises of this book.  By the end I could identify thoughts as they came in my mind, disperse the ones I didn't like, relish in the ones I did, and as a result be present in body and mind.  When I went back to the golf course I was never more aware of exactly what I was doing while hitting a golf shot.  I could shut out every negative thought and distraction and tell myself "hit it straight," or "roll it in the hole," and watch and feel myself do it.  I entered a tournament soon after and, even though I didn't win, played really well and shot even par and placed third, which exceeded everyone's expectations for a guy who hadn't played in four months.  And ever since, when I get bored or frustrated and don't feel like playing, or just plain suck, I go home and don't think about golf anymore.

So those are my thoughts about being seriously committed to golf.  I've come to a point where I try to commit myself more to happiness than excellence, and an organic excellence often follows unsullied by contrivance.  My mantra nowadays is "play for fun."  If I'm not having fun on the course, I either shouldn't be there that day or am drifting back under that cloud where my golf ambitions have wrested control of my happiness.  But I also say that playing good golf is among the most fun I've ever had in my life.  And playing bad golf isn't a whole lot of fun, and I've got a lot of pride invested in my game.  So I still practice and work on my swing (I think my swing is better today than it ever has been--it's the short game that suffers when you don't play much) because doing so will result in lots of fun when I play.  I've lost a bit of my competitive edge but gained a ton of perspective.  And I've come to terms with the fact that I probably won't become a professional golfer, but my other boyhood dream was to become a writer, so I think my boyhood self would be very satisfied with where I'm at today.  (As for my 22-year-old self, I'm not sure.)

And Blog, that might be more than you wanted to know about my experiences with new age spirituality.  These days I take a bit more skeptical approach to their philosophies, like I'm not sure you can really think things into existence, or that by not paying attention to the negative aspects of life they disappear--sometimes they fester and grow large and unmanageable.  Plus many subscribers to the new age movement think shit's going down in 2012 and I just can't subscribe to that.  I recently read Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich which presents a valuable perspective on how the capitalist machine fuels the movement, and how "Positive Thinking" is based on empty promises and untenable science, but I can't completely agree with her either.  For me, authors like Chopra, Gawain, Dyer, and even Julia Cameron gave me a spiritual anchor in an otherwise existential existence.  Though science doesn't support their claims, that sort of perspective adjustment was valuable for me.  And after reading Wolinsky's book, I more in control of what I think, feel, and believe.  So many people go through life awash in a sea of thoughts, and everyone berates themselves in their heads, but some people learn how not to submit to the berating.  If one can objectively examine the composition of consciousness, approaching unfounded but time-tested principles with the proper skepticism, then one can identify what elements of life--for me golf--influence one's happiness.  And I think now that commitment to happiness rather than commitment to excellence will result in plentiful amounts of both.

12/16/10

The Continuum of Holiday Joy

As I’ve advanced to a certain age in life, I’ve found the need to define within myself the kind of person I am, and choose to be, when fumbling through the holiday season.  This time of year between Thanksgiving and January 1 provides copious opportunities to prove oneself as an arrant grouch with a distaste for brotherhood and festivity, or a lighthearted redeemer whose cup runneth over with merriment and charity.  One must know where one stands on this continuum of holiday joy. 
When confronted with Salvation Army supplicants jangling their bells outside the grocery store, do you scowl and push your way through as one of society’s extreme grouches?   Do you smile humbly and politely before averting your eyes and dropping your head as you journey forth toward the automatic doors plastered with red candy canes and green mistletoe which you hope to god will open for one with such a piteous soul as yours, joining the middle-ground majority who endures such abasement one month out of twelve?  Or are you among the charitable Messiahs who greet the bell-ringer with a smile, a handshake, and a hug; one of those gregarious redeemers who open their pockets in repentance for the rest of our selfish lot and reside at the extreme reveler end of the spectrum?  Where do you stand?
How do you react when the woman rings up your groceries, a grandma with grey hair, immaculate makeup, and a decadent sweater says “Merry Christmas” through her dentures, especially emphasizing Christmas while thinking of herself as a soldier in the army of Christian preservation in the increasingly heathenized battleground of America?
Do you reply: “Happy secular holiday celebration of your own choosing indeed” with a righteous and smirky smile while the bag boy loops the plastic handles around your fingers?
Does she answer: “May God bless you, sir” with raised and ostensibly cheerful eyebrows shadowed with Christmas red, while the corners of her mouth shrink in and betray an underlying disgust for your kind? 
After which do you say, “I wasn’t aware that I had sneezed” and body check the Salvation Army supplicant as you barrel toward your car? 
You really ought to know these things about yourself.
If you attempt to go about your life’s normal routine during the holiday season—shopping for groceries, putting gas in your car, attending satanic cult gatherings—without a firm grasp of your holiday personality profile, you’ll encounter people who demand from you a certain holly-jolly demeanor, and instead of responding with a self-respecting reaction of your pre-choosing, you’ll find yourself awash in a sea of societal expectations and may feel like Dylan’s Joker who says, “There’s too much confusion / I can’t get no relief.”  Conversely, if you’ve defined yourself along the continuum of holiday joy, you’ll maintain your integrity in those build-up days of normal life and requisite sacrifice to the capitalist machine of consumerism, and (please excuse the Christian exclusivism here--I can only write what I know) thrive in those climactic moments of holiday festivity: the Thanksgiving dinner, the company holiday party, Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, New Year’s Eve, each celebration demanding you be on your game as the most compelling version of your festive self.  You’ll follow Bill Shakespeare’s impertinent counselor’s directive, “To thine own self be true,” as you don a consistent comportment to endure the season and wield a game-plan for the big events.  No longer will holiday expectation catch you off guard, because you'll know for yourself just how much to grouch, and how much to revel.

12/10/10

Been Looking for This

Found this list I made in Spring 2010. The heading is "Plan for Summer Tournaments," and it breaks down what I would need to compete in amateur golf tournaments, and the costs.

Equipment:

New Driver, $400
New 3-Wood, $250
New 18-Degree Hybrid, $180
Checking the lofts and lies on my irons, $75
Regripping my irons, $75
Two new wedges, $300

Accessories:

Three dozen ProV1 golf balls, $150
10 gloves, $100
New pair of FootJoys, $100
100 bags of range balls, $350

Instruction:

Weekly sessions for four months with Randy, my faithful instructor, $1000
Book stipend, $100
(I think Phil's Secrets of the Short Game had just come out. If anyone's looking for a Christmas present...)

Tournaments:

Weekly skins games at the Pines, $500 (with, of course, the probability that I'd get some of that money back)
Six Men's Golf Association tournaments at the Pines, $240 (to keep my competitive juices flowing; and, again, with the hope of getting some of that money back)
Five events on the Moonlight Tour, $600 (no guarantees there--all for sake of experience)
Five other tournaments, $750 (these are the biggies like the Orlando City Amateur, The Pub Links qualifier, qualifier for the U.S. Amateur, etc. These are the tournaments where you play for pride and accomplishment alone.)

Total: $5,000. Which means, of course, that amateurs need sponsors (and they can't be wearin' no logos on their shirts), or to come from a rich family. Anyone want to help me make a run in 2011?

12/7/10

Randy Newman

Last night I dreamt
That You and I
Sang a Randy Newman tune.
If I could only remember
Who was the You,
And which song we sung,
I'd give a call
And ask You whether
Or not You knew that one.