February 2, 2023

Tennis lesson

We went on vacation a couple of weeks ago, to Mexico, to escape the cold and snow of an Ontario winter.

Prior to the pandemic—and prior to having a child—we traveled a lot. L and I get joy from exploring new places and trying new things, so travel was high on our list of things to do. Since the pandemic rolled around, and since having our daughter, our travel plans have quieted: other than going to see family in different parts of the country, we haven’t really taken the opportunity to escape very much. During the early years of the pandemic, safe travel was impossible; now, traveling with a toddler requires much more effort and planning than just leaving on short notice.

That’s why this trip to Mexico was a welcome one: it was a chance to escape not only the doldrums of the winter, but also to experience something new, go away somewhere, as a family. We planned it months ago (knowing that January in Ontario can get bleak) and spent a great deal of time preparing for taking a trip with a two-year-old.

Our daughter loved the trip, as did the rest of the family. It was not without its mishaps, but no trip is ever perfect. Overall, we slept well, ate well, enjoyed sunshine and warmth, swam in the ocean and in pools, and just enjoyed having a little bit of downtime amidst what has turned out to be a busy winter so far.

During our trip, I decided to take a beginner’s tennis lesson.

I had taken a tennis lesson years before, when I was younger and spryer, but everything I learned in that lesson had already left me. I was starting fresh and anew. Luckily, I watch enough tennis to know the rules and gameplay, but the mechanics of hitting a ball with a racket was still foreign to me.

Xavier, our tennis instructor, was jovial, always cracking jokes and laughing out loud at them. He made us all feel comfortable (though I quickly learned that I was the only true beginner in the class, everyone else had played before) and made sure that the lesson felt like fun, rather than a chore. The sun was out, the wind was still, and everything was perfect for the class.

Hitting a tennis ball isn’t easy. It’s easy enough to make contact with the ball with your racket (and even that escaped me sometimes), but having the wherewithal to make the ball move to a certain place after contact, to hit it with the right amount of force and direction, is not the most intuitive act. (Don’t even get me started on trying to hit a backhand.) Sure, I was getting better as the class went on, but I started to feel a bit of frustration creep into me as I failed often to make the ball do what I wanted it to do.

The frustration gave way, soon, to an important realization: that it was okay to fail and to struggle, as long as I kept trying. It was silly of me to assume that I’d get it all on the first try, and ridiculous of me to expect perfection so quickly. This was something new to me, and like all new things, it would take practice and diligence to build my skill.

I spend a lot of time in my daily life doing things I’m good at: I’m fairly proficient at my work, a decent (and fast) writer, competent in the kitchen. I don’t often take chances and do things where I’m not naturally skilled—like playing tennis. That tennis lesson reminded me that it was important for me to try things that are new and strange and foreign, to use my muscles (both literal and metaphorical) in the service of something I haven’t done before.

It’s too easy to fall into complacency when you do the same actions, and I was reminded by that lesson that I enjoy learning, exploring, trying new things—and that I need to keep challenging myself to learn, explore, and try every day to keep growing and thriving. And I think I might take another tennis lesson once the weather gets better, too.

A poem

Louise Glück

You want to know how I spend my time?
I walk the front lawn, pretending
to be weeding. You ought to know
I’m never weeding, on my knees, pulling
clumps of clover from the flower beds: in fact
I’m looking for courage, for some evidence
my life will change, though
it takes forever, checking
each clump for the symbolic
leaf, and soon the summer is ending, already
the leaves turning, always the sick trees
going first, the dying turning
brilliant yellow, while a few dark birds perform
their curfew of music. You want to see my hands?
As empty now as at the first note.
Or was the point always
to continue without a sign?

There Is No Break Coming for Parents — Ever:

I started the New Year on a deficit, still playing catch up, still on empty. And while that feeling itself isn’t new, it is becoming physically impossible to ignore that I’ve felt this way, nonstop, for three years now.

Out of time:

The brick is a metaphor for something that does not or cannot move. But I like it because it also suggests something weighty, something heavy, something you can stack into a fence, a wall, a road. My house is made of bricks. The sidewalk outside my front door is made of bricks. The narrow street my house sits on—bricks. The tiny park across that street—brick lined. I am surrounded by bricks. Bricks are sturdy, dependable, unchanging.

i think my son hates me:

Truly though - I was pissed. Hurt, and deflated and sad and broken and mad at myself for being so, all of which I only realized when Wilder walked back into the living room and I felt myself wanting him to see me upset so he’d feel bad and apologize.

Just to make sure we’re all following — I am now playing insecure mind games with a 567 day old child. Despicable stuff.

Trying to Live a Day Without Plastic:

Since its invention more than a century ago, plastic has crept into every aspect of our lives. It’s hard to go even a few minutes without touching this durable, lightweight, wildly versatile substance. Plastic has made possible thousands of modern conveniences, but it has come with downsides, especially for the environment. Last week, in a 24-hour experiment, I tried to live without it altogether in an effort to see what plastic stuff we can’t do without and what we may be able to give up.

The Strangely Beautiful Experience of Google Reviews:

Google Reviews taps you into a nearly infinite community of people who have, out of the goodness of their hearts, shared their experiences so that others might learn from them. It’s like having millions of friends around the world who can give you a reliable recommendation on literally anything.

The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books:

When you read these books as a child, your process was always the same: you started by following your intuitions, trying to approximate what you would actually do in these far-fetched situations, and—once you’d reached that first ending, the one you probably deserved—you let yourself try anything you wanted. You let yourself make reckless choices that ran counter to your intuitions in every imaginable way. It was like wearing brave-person drag. You let yourself rummage through the rest of the book to find every single ending, the same way you’d rummage through a bag of chips (if your nutritionist mother let you eat chips) to find every single shard.

The Loneliest Man in the World:

Actors’ lives do tend to mirror the imagined arcs of their movies, but Khan’s trajectory seems ultimately more redemptive than the elusive men he portrayed. To those of us who grew up in India at the turn of the millennium, Khan first proved that it was possible to be a protagonist in a popular film and not sing and dance in the rain; that a character could be brought to life as much by what they said as what they didn’t; that a scene you watched unfold swiftly on screen often involved years of contemplation and restraint.

Citrus Paradisi:

I have never liked grapefruit. They are hard to peel. A friend of mine once used them to practice tattooing: the leathery skin can stand up to the action of the gun, it turns out, plus it holds ink well enough and provides a sizable canvas. I suppose any fruit that can mimic human skin has the right to resist my fingers as they try to reach its flesh. A large knife would do the trick, but I don’t believe fruit should require butchery.

and then?:

If you’re trying to get through your work as quickly as you can, then maybe you should see if you can find a different line of work. And if you’re trying to get through your leisure-time reading and watching and listening as quickly as you can, then you definitely do not understand the meaning of leisure and should do a thorough rethink.

In Defence of Garlic in a Jar:

The culture that surrounds cooking today is one that lends itself well to casual ableism. It’s a culture that prizes specific ways of doing things over others, constantly pitting methods and recipes against one another: French-style scrambled eggs over American; minced garlic instead of pressed, nonstick pans against those made of cast iron, bouillon cubes against broth cartons against homemade stock. It’s a culture desperate to identify serious cooks as opposed to casual ones, assigning value to almost everything we do in the kitchen.

My Seatbelt Rule for Judgment:

Now whenever I’m tempted to judge something as stupidly designed, I try to check myself and remember my seatbelt experience. My rule of thumb is:

My willingness to judge something should be proportional to how much I know about it.

How to Reject Bad Stories About Who You Are:

Happiness depends on the quality of story you tell about your own life. If you’re a fearful storyteller who gets tripped up on humiliation and shame, you’re going to emphasize all of your so-called shortcomings and failures while ignoring your true accomplishments and affinities. If you’re a lazy storyteller who buys into our culture’s shallow assessment of what a full life includes, you’re going to fall into the habit of judging yourself as inadequate based on someone else’s criteria for success.

And a few more:

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