The System

In college basketball-crazed Kentucky, being a fan of the NBA makes me something of an anomaly. Most of the time when I mention I like professional basketball, the responses will almost always be the same…

“They don’t play any defense.”

“It’s a thug league.”

“Too much one-on-one basketball.”

“I don’t have time to follow it.”

Almost all of those assumptions are untrue. Defense in the NBA is actually pretty intense on most nights. Yes, there may be some thugs, but show me any professional sport that doesn’t have its share of bad apples (I’m looking at you, NFL.). There are some isolation plays, but no more than you would see in the average college game these days. And with the internet, apps, and 24-hour sports television, a person can basically be a follower of any sport they want.

san-antonio-spursTo me, the best example of how entertaining the game of professional basketball can be is the San Antonio Spurs. Granted, the Spurs have not quite been the juggernaut they were in the NBA Finals last June when they were steamrolling the Miami Heat, but they do still possess the sixth-best record in the loaded Western Conference this season. But, my goodness, the Finals! I don’t know that I have ever seen a basketball team, professional or otherwise, share the ball like the Spurs did in that series. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

I had a chance to watch the Spurs play the Chicago Bulls today on ABC, and I was reminded of that series. In addition to the ball movement, though, I remembered another thing that always amazes me about the Spurs – the way they can fit nearly any player into their structure and turn him into a valuable part of the team. I’m not saying players like Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, and Patrick Mills aren’t talented, but would they have the kind of impact on another team that they do for the Spurs? It’s difficult for me to imagine they would.

Even though I feel like the term is overused these days, the Spurs certainly posses a “system” of some sort. Everyone seems to know their roles. They seem to get along with one another. They don’t mind taking a backseat to each other. They don’t appear to be selfish. And despite the fact that they’re getting older (by NBA player standards), they keep on winning. Whatever the system is in San Antonio, it works.

I’ve wondered for years how certain people can be total failures in one place and then go on to success somewhere else. I think maybe my bewilderment stems from never quite feeling like I fit in. Everyone has weaknesses, everyone has flaws, everyone has strengths, and everyone has areas they excel in more than others. Somewhere inside me, I’ve always felt I work better as a part of a team, drawing upon the strengths of others to make up for where I am lacking. I have been looking for a system.

There are definitely times when we are forced to stand on our own. For instance, being a writer forces you to put yourself out there in a very individual kind of way. Even outside of work-type situations, though, there is a system somewhere we’re all looking to plug into. It may be a lifestyle regiment to bolster us. It may be a support network of friends. It may be a regular routine of giving. Whatever it may be, it involves accentuating strengths and reducing weaknesses. It reduces selfishness. Most of all, though, it wins.

I haven’t found my system yet. I’ve caught little glimpses of here it here and there, but it never seems to last. I either break it down myself or someone or something else does along the way. When I see a system working, though, it gives me hope that the right one is out there for me somewhere. It may take me a while longer yet to discover. Even the Spurs weren’t always the way they are now, and they don’t win a championship every year. A system that works, though, is a winner every time, if you ask me.

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Super Weird, Part 1

(As I’m writing this, I’m at home with either the flu or strep throat. Tests for both came back negative at the doctor’s office yesterday, and I’m currently on medication for both. I don’t think I’ve been this sick in a long time. I meant to have this up yesterday, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it. So no “Tuneful Tuesday” today. Just pretend it’s Monday with me.)

I used to write every now and then on the blog I maintained before this one about how I had basically given up on watching the Super Bowl. The main reason for this was because I just don’t like watching football very much. The game is too slow, I don’t get the rules half the time, and I hate the way people in America are utterly obsessed with watching it all the time. The secondary reason is that people just sort of stopped inviting me to Super Bowl parties, which were really the only way I saw any of the games at all. Perhaps they figured out my main reason. Hmmm…

This year, however, a good friend and co-worker invited me over to his house to watch the Super Bowl, so I thought I would give it another shot. I am no fan whatsoever of the New England Patriots, but I did appreciate the Seattle Seahawks taking down Peyton Manning last year, so deciding which team to root for was a fairly easy choice to make. Maybe one day, I’ll explain the dislike I expressed in that last sentence, but that’s probably another post for another time.

By now, primitive tribes in the deepest heart of Africa probably know how the game ended, but just in case you don’t, here it is in a nutshell: Seattle has the ball on the 1-yard line with 24 seconds left in the game and decides to run a pass play, despite having three downs to get the ball into the end zone and Marshawn Lynch, one of the most feared running backs in the NFL, in their backfield. Patriots intercept the pass, massive brawl breaks out on the next play, Patriots get to move the ball out of the end zone, take a knee, game over.

I may have mentioned a dislike for Peyton Manning earlier, but I’ll give the guy credit for one thing: He controls his pete carrollown game. Why in the world Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t audible out of that play the second it was called in to him is beyond me. Since he didn’t, though, that only leaves one person to blame – Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll.

One of the things that has always fascinated me about professional sports is the almost insanely high confidence level of the people who coach and play them. Did Carroll back down from the call he made at all? Nope. Not in the least. “We had a terrific call, but it didn’t work out,” he told a reporter after the game. The man actually used the word terrific. Even if I did not regret my decision one iota in that instance, I would never, ever use the word terrificTerrific calls win games. No, Coach, this was not terrific.

As I was driving home from my friend’s house, I began thinking about how I would respond to making a bad play call like that, one so completely wrong that it cost my team the goal it had been working toward the entire season. My conclusion didn’t take much thinking, because I know myself; I would still be on television, radio, the internet, whatever, apologizing to anyone who would listen to me and self-flagellating myself to an endless degree. I don’t know if I could call another play again. I might just leave football altogether.

Yet, there was Carroll, a man who has won a collegiate national championship and a Super Bowl, talking about his “terrific” play call immediately after his team lost the big game. Where does that confidence come from? Is it born out of a complete aversion to reality, or is it the makeup of someone who is completely comfortable in their own skin and able to live with their own decisions? I grew up believing that type of confidence was pure arrogance and should be avoided at all costs, and in many instances it is and it should be. There is a definite elasticity to it, though, which allows people to shake off their mistakes and move on to whatever happens next.

Before anyone thinks I’ve lost my mind, I’m not advocating that we all try to be more like Pete Carroll, because most of the time I think the guy is a pompous jerk. What I am saying is, we could probably all stand to go a little easier on ourselves and not wreck ourselves over every mistake we make. Yes, professional athletes and coaches sometimes display irrationally high levels of confidence, but they’re able to move on to the next play, the next possession, the next game. I guess, in a weird way, I do want to be more like Pete Carroll.

Tomorrow, Part II: Commercials!

Self-Diagnosis

I must be getting old. I found out I was going to have about 30 minutes to kill at the library this afternoon while I waited for my oldest daughter to finish her summer reading program activity … and I was actually excited about that.

For someone who spent so much time studying fiction in school, I hardly ever read fiction anymore. I’m much more into biographies and educational books these days. And since my goal is still to return to college to study psychology, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to pay for said goal, I often find myself perusing the various titles written on matters such as depression or addiction or any mental behavior that is otherwise out of the ordinary.

I know, I know. It’s not exactly light reading, is it? That’s just the track my brain is on at the moment. Of course, one of the dangers of reading so much about mental disorders is that there is a very high likelihood you’ll run across at least one you think you might have. I mean, if you dig deep enough, there are all kinds of maladies we could ascribe to ourselves. For instance, one time after spending all afternoon trying to straighten one bookshelf, I was convinced I had Attention Deficit Disorder. Turns out I didn’t, but … wait, what was I talking about again? (Just kidding…)

brandon marshallSo today, as I browsed the 600 section of the library, I came across a book titled “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me,” by Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus. The tagline for the book is “Understanding the Borderline Personality.” My only real knowledge of Borderline Personality Disorder was that NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with it a few years ago, so I was curious what the authors had to say on the subject.

Of course, it didn’t take long for me to start ticking off the traits I identified with: Mood swings, impulsive actions, lacking identity, etc., etc. And then there was the kicker: The most common type of depression associated with BPD is Dysthymia, known now as Chronic Depressive Disorder … which I was diagnosed with. “Holy crap,” I thought to myself, “it’s worse than I thought!” I got through as much of the book as I could before my daughter was finished, and then I put it back on the shelf because if I took it home I would just obsess over the concept even more.

Now, do I actually have BPD? I don’t know. Self-diagnosis is a dangerous road to travel, and it’s not one I particularly want to go down. You almost become a sort of psychological hypochondriac, jumping at every shadow. Does it hurt to ask, though? Should we stop exploring, stop seeking out new information? How many diagnoses are too many? How many are not enough?

These are just some questions I’ve pondering since this afternoon. BPD is a subject I am definitely not qualified to tackle here, although I would love to hear some testimonies regarding it. Or you just could tell me if I should get a school loan or not. Maybe if I got back in school I’d feel younger and stop wandering around the library so much.

Why?

Build hospitalAs I mentioned here Friday, my father-in law has had a myriad of health issues over the last few years. He spent a good portion of the past weekend in the hospital, and he was released to go home Sunday afternoon still not knowing exactly what was wrong with him. Could have been arthritis flaring up. Could have been an allergic reaction to something. Could have been something brand new. No one really knows for sure at this point.

My father-in-law does not deserve to be in this kind of shape. He was always very active. All of the jobs I ever remember him having involved some type of physical labor. He loved to hunt. He loved to work on projects around the house. He’s done tons of stuff for me, Mr. Couldn’t-Change-A-Light-Bulb- Without-Instructions. He took reasonably good care of himself, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink. He’s not even 65 yet.

For some reason, though, he can hardly seem to string two days of physically feeling like a normal human being in a row together. Maladies such as this should have some type of reason, shouldn’t they? He should have been pounding back beers every weekend or cheating on his taxes or playing in the NFL. This shouldn’t happen to everyday people. Unfortunately, though, it does. In fact, a lot of things much worse happen to people all the time.

For example, I have a relative who is a narcoleptic. I have very clear memories of being young and watching him nod off in one of my grandmother’s recliners right in the middle of a conversation. As far as I know, he didn’t do anything to cause his narcolepsy; he just had it. That always seemed sort of cruel to me. I mean, doesn’t a guy have a God-given right just to be able to stay awake? Seems like that should be right up there with, oh, I don’t know, breathing.

How about the guy with born with Tourette syndrome who blurts out words he doesn’t mean? Or the woman born without sight? Or the autistic child who has to work twice as hard as the other kids in school just to keep up? And then there’s mental illness. How do we explain someone being bipolar, suffering from seasonal affective disorder, having a split personality, or, in my case, nursing a low-grade depression for years at a time?

There are factors that can cause some of these issues, but they can also just appear. They aren’t limited to any particular kind of people, either. Bad people, good people, rich people, poor people. “For (God) … sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” On my list of questions when I get to Heaven, the one of “Why did you make some people have to go through this stuff, God?” will be at or near the top of mine.

A wizened, more seasoned blogger would probably stop here and offer an answer to that very question. I will be honest, however, BIBLE-Joband say, “I have no stinking idea.” I’ll tell you how much this question of understanding has bugged me over the years. I may be the only person who ever read the book of Job and actually got angry at the end of it. I couldn’t understand why Job wasn’t ticked off, too. Job had a bunch of questions, but God didn’t answer any of them. I don’t know about you, but that would irritate me a little.

What I’ve noticed from reading the book more than once, though, is that Job is pretty mad nearly the entire time. And even though God speaks to him forcefully, He doesn’t wipe Job out and even blesses him in the end. Job never receives an explanation, but God does show the He was unmistakably in control of what is going on. And, as we the readers of the Bible know, He really was in control of what was going on, even if the majority of what happened to Job, well, sucked.

Again, I have no answers to the questions I’ve posed here. I have seen humans unwind themselves through medicine, therapy, counseling, even prayer alone. It took me nearly 40 years to begin to unravel some of my mysteries. I pray that my father-in-law’s questions are answered soon, and I hope yours are, too.