Jekyll.

Off the coast of Georgia there is an island that seems to have come out of a children’s storybook.  The weeping branches of the live oak trees are covered in Spanish moss. The moss like a lace adding even more charm to the winsome canopy above.  The entire island a mystical place. The kind of place ripe for stories to be dreamt up and evolved. One can imagine it was once a home to pirates who left buried gold deep within the island’s terrain.  Finding the lost treasures a quest only the bravest dare to attempt. I can only assume fairies and unicorns dwell in the enchanted surroundings. In reality there was a point when wild horses roamed free here, although they are no longer seen running through the marsh the way they once did.

At dawn golden rays of sun peek through the trees and moss.  Hidden forest nymphs seemingly coax it back from it’s night time hiding place.  Coral colored flowers grow on the vines climbing the trees trunks, the golden hue illuminating the various pinks and oranges in their petals.  You find yourself wishing to be a wren so you can make a home in the canopy above. Blue bells and small palms grow on the ground. Pathways of fallen leaves guide your exploration of the terrain leading you to small ponds that appear unannounced through the brush.  Turtles sun themselves on logs and elegant herons perch on the water’s edge. Deer feed on the flowers and grass growing from the surrounding land. The canopy above begins to sway as if in a delicate dance when the wind blows, so different from the harsh jerks of the pines on the mainland.

Eventually the maritime forest makes way to picturesque sand dunes.   Small mountains of sand and plant growth giving only a peak at the blue waters of the Atlantic.   Green sea grasses pop up shielding sea turtle nests in spring and summer. Closer to the water the growth on the pale hills becomes sparse, the sand becoming soft beneath your feet.  Sea birds fly over head and the sound of crashing waves lead you forward to the shore.

Meeting you on the east side of the island are long wide beaches.  The tide migrates a wondrous amount through the day, the push and pull of the moon dictating the constant waltz.  During low tide sandbars allow foot travel far out into the waves granting you the ability to look back at a distant shore in wonderment.  At the water’s edge pastel colored clams dig their way through the sand, only to be pulled up again by rolling waves. Whitecaps dot the water when storms form off the coast and the wind whips past.  Ships can be seen coming in and out of port taking the northern chanell leading inland. Fishing vessels and large cargo ships loaded with crates are spotted far out in the Atlantic. Pelicans scoop down toward the water in front of you and small plover birds take quick steps through water pooling in the sand.  Dolphins pass by from time to time, if you are lucky you will catch them frolicking in the water. Their fins peek at you as they flip and spin, seeming to turn catching their meals into more play than work.

The beach at the top of the island is slowly erroading away.  The currents carrying and depositing the northern sand to the south end of the island.  The island is rolling itself down the coast, allowing us only a brief glimpse of its current state.  The erosion causes the northern tree line of the forest to push back resulting in mighty trees that once grew tall and free to wither and grey.  Left behind is a graveyard of driftwood. Ghosts and skeletons haunting the sand in a mesmerizing reminder of what was. Fascinating mazes of geometrical roots create natural lines that can be traced for hours, and ladders of bare branches beg to be climbed.  When the tide recedes pools of salty water collect at the base of the phantom trees. Small fish swim in these warmer pools, waiting for the tide to rise again and sweep them back to sea. Hermit crabs crawl on the roots and trunks, using the wood as shelter.

Slowly city dwellers are discovering the magic of the Island.  While historic buildings show proof of years of settlements, the Island was never largely populated.  The addition of luxury hotels and shops now drawing in suburbanites looking for a brief escape in the spring and summer.  The location no longer quite the whispered secret it once was. While I hesitate to share this secret I will still invite you to come and find the fairy tale for yourself.  See the resorts, follow the bike paths, help build the tourism economy in this tiny piece of heaven. Me, I was never one for the resorts or fancy shops. You’ll find me with the wood nymphs and fairies camping in the forest.  I’ll wake to the golden sun filtering in through the branches and moss, and the sounds of the lucky birds who spend their days in paradise. I’ll follow the unpaved paths wondering about buried gold, and eventually find that the treasure was always the island itself.

Baseball.

It’s baseball season, and apparently I have A LOT to say about baseball.  Today alone I’ve made three attempts to write one simple blog post about the good old national pastime.  Up until now I’ve ended up with two short stories and a rambling page of baseball themed nonsense. So, yah, it might take me a while to fully work through this topic. Don’t worry I’m going to try to keep this post to just the basics.  At least my basics.

Wait!  I see the fear in your eyes, don’t run!  No need to panic, I’m not a fanatic, I promise.   You’re not going to be subjected to pages of player stats, playoff projections based on spring training standings, who’s on the DL, or who we should trade.  Nope. Trust me, I don’t care about any of that. Yes, my baseball is the same box of cracker jacks on a warm summer night game as yours, but I’ve never gotten the chance to experience a game as just a fan.  I come from a sort of baseball mafia, if you will.  My Grandfather played baseball, my father played baseball, and my brother plays baseball.  When I say “play baseball” I don’t mean they were the first baseman on their High School team senior year when they won State.  I mean middle kid and I happened to leave the TV on a network channel last night, a game came on and we ended up watching my brother face down The Braves.  Don’t ask me what team he’s on, if I tell you I’d have to kill you (mafia and pseudonym remember?).

Growing up baseball was a constant. We spent weekends at the fields practicing, or in my case fielding balls once I made it clear softball was no longer in my future.  There was always a game taking over our living room television, a running commentary of my father’s take on the mentality of the sport it’s soundtrack. The sounds of Vin Scully’s voice or the Braves Tomahawk Chop would probably put me right back in front of that set at ten years old.  For any baseball aficionados following along the family has southern roots, but we lived in Dodger territory, hence the references. The family schedule revolved around trainings and games. Eventually “vacations” were taken to tournament locations. We just kind of became…the baseball family.

This is where the story turns.  Where I start to get stuck each time I begin on the topic of baseball.  I want to explain what it’s like watching the career of a professional athlete take shape.  I want to explain the importance of the mentality of the game, and that all you couch coaches out there don’t actually have the inside understanding of what’s happening on the field.  I want to explain what I know about players relationships, many that begin as teens. I want to explain that these players were nationally ranked kids far before you ever heard their names.  I really want to explain chronic injuries and how stats don’t matter the way everyone wants them to. I never can quite get to any of this though, I think it’s because I have a more important topic I need to tackle first.

In our family baseball was never a choice.  It was a given. It was stereotypical. You had the parent that couldn’t separate his inability to make it out of the minor leagues, his fate due to lack of either will power or skill.  His failure possibly, even sadder, due to lack of confidence. Like I said, stereotypical. Although, we never did recreate that whole coming of age movie moment with the kid tearfully saying, “it’s your dream, not mine.”  There was no real rebellion, since a major league career was, in fact, my brother’s goal too. Now, there was a turning point for sure. Sometime around the beginning of my brother’s high school career it was made clear to my father that it was time for him to start stepping back.  My brother didn’t need him anymore, he had outgrown the coaching my father was able to offer. This was something I don’t think my father was ever able to fully accept, that he wasn’t needed anymore. He began trying to push himself into my brother’s world. He couldn’t let go, eventually his bleacher coaching became so disruptive he was banned from sitting near the infield at games.  He couldn’t stop himself. The situation became increasingly somber. My father somehow lost his entire identity in his son’s ability to play a game. While our family had been built on shaky ground from the get go, this codependency was the unstable fault line underneath that made our weak foundation begin to crumble. My brother got better. My father lost more control. Son would get moved to a higher level team.  Dad would get reckless. He got called up. Dad had no purpose.

Eventually the only relationship that lasted between the two were post game text messages of advice from a man who had nothing better to do but obsessively watch baseball games.  He desperately clung to a purpose by to give critiques to the players, men who were closer than he had ever been to being experts in the game. Inevitably his desperation caught up to him and created a self destructive breakdown.   This period, wrought with addiction and desperation, resulted in the whole structure of our family crashing down. We were all left to pick up the pieces from the rubble. My brother and I dealt with the instability that followed by constructing a wall blocking us from ever building over the fault again.  My brother and I on one side, my father on the other, trying to make sense of the shambles in front of him. Broken glass and mortar he had built and torn apart himself. My father was never a good man, but a few years after the dust has settled I think I may have a better understanding of how his life snowballed the way it did.  The catalyst always being a stupid game.  

The why of it all we can leave for a four hundred page case study I’ll work on writing once my novel is done.  Right now let’s just focus on the fact that a grown man lost himself so deep into the idea that the only way to succeed in life was to turn his son into a professional baseball player.  This belief was so ingrained in him that when said son no longer needed him he suffocated son. The suffocation to a point that he was pushed out of son’s life. Eventually losing his entire family and own job in the process.  I’m not kidding guys, this was the result.  All over a freaking game.

Do you understand now why it’s so hard for me to just talk about baseball?  It was a slowly burning fire in the basement of my life, eventually rising up and swallowing us all in it’s flames.  For a long time I took all this out on the game itself. I HATED baseball. To me the game symbolized everything that was wrong in my home.  I am pretty sure I didn’t watch a single baseball game from 2005-2011. Then something crazy happened. My brother had been stuck in AA for a while and wasn’t getting any younger, he had decided that this was going to be the last year he played.  He almost walked away mid season. Ironically, or maybe expectedly, the best advice that was given to him was from our father. He said to my brother what I can only imagine he wishes someone had said to him, “If you can walk away and never look back then, awesome, do it.  If you’re going to look back and wonder what if, don’t.”  My brother decided to give it the season.  In September he got called up. I went to my first game in years at Chavez Ravine, home of our childhood summers, to cheer on my little brother.  I still cry sometimes when I see him in person in the middle of a giant stadium fans of the team cheering and supporting him, because you guys I am SO FUCKING PROUD OF HIM.  He always had talent, but when you get to a certain point everyone has talent.  He achieved his goal with sheer hard work, sacrifice, and unwavering determination.  Plus a little bit of being with the right team at the right time. I used to feel like my brother achieved his goal despite my father, but I don’t anymore.  He had the chance to chase his dream because of our father, then suffered the loss of that father in the process.

I am finding now that the bitter feelings that once kept me away from the game are gone, in their place pleasant twinges of nostalgia.  Over time I think my brother and I rewrote our story regarding the game. It helps that he sees the absurdity of it all. He describes his work as, “chasing a ball around a field with other grown men.”  When I think back now to the baseball of our childhood I remember warm summer evenings at Dodger stadium with big silly foam fingers and backwards caps. I remember little league games with the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of cheering parents.  I remember fielding batting practice in the outfield at our school with our Golden Retriever. I remember my brother’s smile when he won, I remember hours upon hours of watching him bounce a ball against a wall because he just couldn’t stop.  I remember that for him and I there was a time when it was just a game, and it was fun.

We now live in this weird existence where I can watch a recap of my brother’s day at work on ESPN.  Seriously, I have never once asked him how work is going. All I have to do is look up his hashtag on twitter, some guy with a handle like @StickAndBalls will be happy to let the whole world know how awful/amazing he thinks my bro is.  We don’t really get to see each other during the season, because even when we do meet it’s for an hour or two for breakfast and then he has to go to the field. It’s impossible to see him at the field because everyone wants a piece of him, and it’s his job to give that to them.  We still dutifully wait by his team’s dugout before the game starts, just to lend our support. We understand, but we miss him and he misses us. This won’t be forever though. Eventually it will be his son’s turn to play, or not play. He’s going to let his son decide for himself.

My kids?  They don’t love baseball, but they don’t hate it.  They think it’s totally normal to see your uncle on TV and that everyone gets to go to the players club at games, or down to the family room.  It just hit middle kid this year that he was being asked for autographs when we stood outside his hotel in San Diego. We discussed plans to meet up at the game for a few minutes (third baseline, right after BP, always) while boys with sharpies in their hands shyly murmured requests for a signature.  He couldn’t say no. My kids like the cotton candy and peanuts, they don’t love Suntrust Park, it’s too hot. They like PNC Park and Federal Street, they’re over long scoreless innings. They like wearing team tshirts, backward caps, and foam fingers. They say “oh cool” when I tell them to “look at the TV, your uncle is on it!”  Then they usually keep on walking out of the room. Yet sometimes, like last night, one of them will sit next to me and route for their uncle’s team for a few innings. They’ll talk about the plays and the calls, they know all the basics of the game but wonder about the intricacies. They’ll ask about players, some of whom I’ve known since we were only a little older than the kids are now.  Others I’ve met over the years at games, restaurants, and hotels. The rookies now look like babies to me, when did that happen? I remember always thinking how the players on TV all looked so old. I sit with them and talk, about the game, the people, and my memories for as long as they’ll listen. Eventually a commercial break will come on and they’ll wander away.

My kids may never have as much to say about baseball as I do, and that’s probably a good thing.  I have realized that I don’t want the family baseball book to close after me. I want them to remember warm summer evenings and “flossing” on the jumbotron.  I hope they someday realize how cool it is to have a player who always meets you at the third base line with a ball to toss your way. I hope they come to understand that in this rewritten version of our family this game has found a way to morph itself into a tie that binds us together, not push us apart.   It’s ten o’clock and the top of the ninth. Middle kid just sat down and asked who’s winning. Her uncle just came into the game, she’s gonna watch him close this thing down.

Grace.

In my youth I was a ballerina.  I spent minutes, upon hours, upon days, upon years criticizing myself in a mirror.  Watching for the slightest flaws and imperfections, striving for an ideal of beauty and a grace that I would never find.  That was the nature of the beast, each one of us pulling and twisting at the bar, pushing ourselves harder to give even more effort across the floor, never having a chance of achieving our absolute goal.  Eventually, at one rehearsal or performance we would be at our best. Maybe that day we would know that this was it, the moment that all the work had been for, the top of our peak. For most of us it snuck up and away quietly, we collected our “good jobs” as we iced our feet and packed our bags ready to go back to the studio to continue our chase towards the perfection that we would never come that close to again.  Whether we had already reached our peak or not we realized that we would never actually perform a dance impeccably. There would be a turn that we came out of a hair too early or a jump that could have been higher, such is the life of a dancer. You wonder why we’re all so wound up. Over time I learned to create lines with my body that would give an illusion of fluidity and ease. I would grab my legs with my hands and pull them into angles that would make them appear more beautiful to my audience, meanwhile stretching my joints to a point that they would never fully recover from.  I learned to balance myself only on the very tip of my toes breaking nails and skin in the process. In the beauty and grace of my dance was the somewhat morbid underside of the cause and effect.

I now have a daughter who is striving for the same ballerina perfection.  She spends most afternoons in class pushing, bending, sweating. She watches the girls around her and uses their success to drive herself forward.  She wants the long high extension, the clean triple pirouette, the over split in the grande jete. Her weekends have been sacrificed for rehearsals, and her social life now centers around the other ballerinas she spends all her time with.  She too understands that she will never be one hundred percent perfect but continues to strive to get as close as possible. Her blisters and muscle pulls battle wounds she shares proudly.

Outside of the studio two of the traits most often attributed to this daughter are grace and beauty.  People watch her because she is, in fact, beautiful and as human beings we enjoy things that are aesthetically pleasing.  Even her movements are beautiful, she holds herself and moves through her world in a way that only comes with years of ballet training.  We tease her regularly for running into walls and tripping over stairs, but watching her tell a story with her hands is like watching an art form.  I supposed that would make sense, dance being a performing art. An art that has been slowly infusing into every aspect of her life. I wonder though, what if the focus on the ideal beauty and the grace she and I have spent so many hours trying to achieve is blinding us to the beauty and grace inherently in our lives?  While this daughter is being complimented on encompassing the ballerina archetype, I look at my other two children and see a beauty and grace in them as well. Just not the versions you are going to find in an opera house on a Saturday night.

We all have our own definition of both Beauty and Grace, most of which are inherently intertwined.  Sometimes we find examples of these qualities it in movement, such as in the ballerinas mentioned above, or in the way a gazelle runs across an open plain.  Daily examples are found in the sky when the wind blows shapes and spirals in the clouds, or when it causes the sway of leaves and branches on a tree. I find grace and beauty in words.  Words that hit me deep in my core. I find examples in books and poems, in some works the entire story or prose striking me, in others just a phrase. At times I find these traits in words that are simply said aloud.  Those perfect pairings shared with you right when you needed to hear them. Some religions find grace and beauty in forgiveness. While I am not someone who tends to find any peace in the act of forgiving and forgetting, I can appreciate the allure.  I imagine this like a grace and beauty in the soul that, much like the ballerina, they are working to consistently perfect.

In our attempts to find and quantify grace and beauty in our lives we often overlook some of the most obvious sources.  Are grace and beauty not inherent in the older woman who has learned from her experiences? She has lost and laughed, watched the world change and observed the people around her as she has lived her life.  Maybe these traits are found in her attempts to share the lessons she has learned, with anyone willing to slow down and listen. Maybe they are in the feet and joints of the dancer. The pain and bruising a simple reminder that she is human, and not invincible.  Perhaps they are in our day to day lives, the warmth we feel when we first sip our coffee in the morning. In the way that I as I sit and edit I wonder if my words are too contrived, then having to remind myself that I have promised to freely write releasing myself from the fear of judgement.

Perhaps we are trying too hard to achieve the ideals of grace and beauty and in the process are losing out on the pieces of these traits we are granted as we live our lives.  Perhaps if we listened to the old woman this is what she would tell us. Her message warning us that in every moment we live and every emotion we feel holds an opportunity we are usually so quick to overlook.  Hopefully we can remind ourselves to pay heed to the little occurrences and observations that hold the beauty and grace we need, while we continue to strive for the ideals and perfections we want.