The Realization of the Situation
“Oh my glob, what to do. 50. 50 orbits of old Sol. 47 billion orbital kilometers plus who knows how many around the galactic center and away or towards the galactic ecliptic. So how do I celebrate this lifetime landmark?” That’s a fairly good approximation of what was bouncing around in my head in December of 2010, when I passed 50 years old.
I’d long made a habit of attempting one big new thing each year. It always had to be something I’d never before attempted. Never attempted because I’d never found the time to do it, or because I was convinced it was beyond my innate abilities, or because I was simply afraid to do it out of fear of failure. That’s how I’d ended up in grad school. That’s how I’d ended up moving across the continent from sunny Southern California to New England. That’s how I ended up learning to strap a highly engineered composite plank to my feet and slide down snowy mountains sideways. That’s how I started volunteering as a worker and panelist at cons.
I wanted something special to celebrate the exit from my first half century of life and entry into the next 50 years. I decided to steer clear of the stereotypical male mid-life crisis insanity. So no selling of my possessions to go live in a yurt on the Mongolian steppes. No adoption of strange religious practices. No running out to purchase an insanely expensive and insanely fast sports car. No illicit affairs with young men half my age.
The Search for a Solution
So then, what do do?
I decided that I would be guided by things I was afraid to do and that others around me would find uncharacteristic. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as surprising others even as you pleasantly, simultaneously surprise yourself.
I’d grown up as a queer, geeky, science fiction loving kid who hated playing sports, in particular organized team sports. I’d totally bought into the stereotype of the anti-sports bookworm. My heroes had names like Niven, Harrison, Silverberg, Ellison, Asimov not Goodrich or Robinson or Namath.
I was too short for basketball, plus, I intensely disliked the cultural expectation that I should love, play and excel in the sport. I was too lightweight for football. I didn’t have enough upper body strength for baseball. As a closeted young gay kid, I found wrestling, gymnastics and swimming far too emotionally and sexually dangerous. Far too fraught with the the danger of outing.
Plus, even at the tender age of 13, I thought I saw in my parents the germ the possibility of their becoming the type of overwrought, overenthusiastic sports parents that make the lives of their kids into hell. Adding the pressure to exceed in a sport on top of barely endurable pressures for exemplary academic performance would have been disastrous.
All of this added up to decades of studiously avoiding team sports. Big stuff. Fertile ground from which would spring my personal foray into unknown territory. Team sports.
The Achievement of Action
But which team sport?
I do not remember where I first came across the quote attributed to Oscar Wilde; “Rugby is a barbaric played by gentlemen. Football is a gentlemanly game played by barbarians.”, nor do I remember where or how I was first made aware of the Boston Ironsides Rugby Football Club. What I do remember was my first workout with the team on a winter’s night at a high-school gym in Cambridge. I thought I was in good shape. I was oh so wrong. I didn’t make it though 1/2 of a not particularly tough workout. In spite of the reassurances of the guys at practice (“Don’t sweat it. At least you didn’t throw up like lots of guys do”), I was embarrassed, chagrined, humbled. But I promised to come back in 6 months at least ready to practice, if not to play.
What’s a geek to do? Here, I’d found a sport and a team open to a total neophyte, open and eagerly welcome to LGBT members, and I wasn’t ready to play. So I did what any good academically oriented geek would do. I studied. I learned. I put into practice what I learned.
I kept my promise to myself and joined the Boston Ironsides rugby team 6 months later and set into motion chains of events I hadn’t foreseen.
The Consequences of Choices
All of this could not help but have knock-on effects across the breadth of my life. Some foreseen, some welcome, others not so and not so much.
Even though camaraderie was one of the things I was seeking, I wasn’t quite prepared for the intensity of the feeling. I’d argue that something intensely primal is awakened when a discrete groups of humans strives towards a common goal, particularly when that striving involves struggling through ignorance to understanding, through physical exertion and exhaustion towards strength, through physical discomfort and injury to healing. I was surprised to find myself thinking thoughts like, “I’d bleed for these guys”, and equally surprised by the depth of feeling mixed in with those thoughts. It even re-ignited my interest in guided imagery, hypnosis and NLP through my discovery of Michael J. Emery’s audio files for athletes: “Advanced Sports Imagery for Athletes”. Who knew?
The End of the Beginning
Time to bring this to an end. What better way than with the typical “lessons learned”? So then, what did I learn?
- I learned that here in the U.S., rugby harbors it’s own form of geekery. This is a big difference between U.S. rugby and rugby in other countries.
- A sense of belonging is a powerful thing for a primate. I guess I have more tribes than SF Fandom.
- I’ve long been more than a bit afraid of my aggressive side. I’ve been afraid of losing control, of doing something horrible. It’s a bad lesson I’d learned from my parents. The fear is still there but attenuated, restrained by the evidence of praxis.
- I’ve come to believe that the UFP would have an awesome rugby side. So would the Klingon Empire. The Klingon’s, however, might need to be reminded that no weapons are allowed and that the limbs of opponents are not to be ripped off.
- United Federation of Planets rugby jerseys would be awesome. Klingon Empire rugby jerseys would be off the hook.
- I had to learn how to train towards a specific goal.
- I had to learn how to recover from an injury.
- I had to learn when to acknowledge the march of time, admit the increasing length of recovery time, and retire.
- I had to learn how to lose gracefully, something I’d never before been good at.
- I learned that there are things I’ve never before considered doing, that I can not just do, but love doing.