An Olympic-Sized Disappointment
On douchlordes, jealousy, and what it means to win.
I’m nostalgic for the days when I used to care about the Olympics. Like really care. There were five TV stations. Three really big ones. And one of them was ABC. The Olympics were always on ABC. We’d gather (if three people can “gather”) in the den, with a fire in the winter, riveted except for commercial breaks. It was so moving, even if you didn’t quite understand the sport (how could you be better or worse at luge, once you worked out daily and got on that thing, accompanied by gravity?), and we rooted for America first (always) followed by any good story, an athlete who overcame obstacles and stood for our American values.
Now Michael Phelps carries the torch. I don’t know. Is anything about him moving? He’s the winningest. Period. But doesn’t he just — seem like a vapid shit? Maybe I don’t understand swimming enough, but nothing about him inspires me. At all. Then there’s Lochte. A winner if I ever saw one. On opposite day.
Then there’s Brazil. Which I used to have romantic notions about. You know piles of meat on skewers, and tall and tan and young and lovely (I know, sheltered). And I now associate with despair, Zeka, and sewage floating through the water towards some sad breast-stroker’s open mouth.
And then there’s our American values. I’m confused by them right now. We are looking at (and not laughing at) the possibility of a President Trump. I thought our values always would include, at the very least, the promise on the Statue of Liberty, to “Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Now it’s more like — give me a big wall to keep the huddled masses the hell away from me.
The other thing I think about the Olympics is my own Olympic jealousy. The work I do is work lots of people think they can do. Creative is subjective — and everyone has an opinion about it. In particular, writing! Anyone can do the craft, technically. We all can put words on a page. Yes, I have things that tell me I’m “good” at it (no medal, though), but there’s nothing to stop anyone from thinking they could just as easily do what I do.
The Olympics make me jealous! And sad! When you’re a luge-r (is that the term?) or I guess to be more seasonally appropriate, when you’re a swimmer like Phelps, your talent is very black and white. You have the fastest time or you don’t. And no one watching Phelps ever says, “I grew up with a pool. With a little training, I could totally do that.” It’s like Mariah Carey hitting that super high octave. Even if you think you sound pretty damn good doing Lady Marmalade in the shower (just as an example), you still just have to stand in awe knowing you’ll never, ever hit that note. The Olympics are full of people doing things I flat out could never do, creating records that exist forever and that no one can ever question.
I’m not a one-note person. I believe in my talent as a writer. But I also was a good litigator (even though I cried every day). I’m not a one-side-of-the-brain person. I’m strategic, and I like that. I find it another outlet for creativity and I like the way it makes my head work, and I like seeing results. My life has been a winding road, picking up skills along the way, exploring possibilities, not the straight shot of Phelps or Mariah, this one talent propelling you to a certain end goal. That sounds so much purer, so much more straghtforward.
I love writing — but every kind of writing. Not just fiction. I didn’t go to Iowa. Or start sending out short stories at 13. I’ve liked writing screenplays, stories, long form copy, short form copy, ice cream names, an article for InStyle about a beauty emporium. I’ve liked ghosting bylines for lawyers on employment law issues, writing about the Red Sox for Boston Baseball. I like creating the voice of a new brand, across every platform. I just love words in every form.
I love fashion, but I love experimenting with it and expressing myself with it, reading about it and writing about it, observing it, collecting it, delighting in it, obsessing over it. I didn’t start off as a gopher at a Conde Nast magazine or move to New York to write copy for a fashion brand.
I think I’m good at being a friend to the (few) people I really care about. I’m good at not being a phony (can “not being” ever count as a skill?). Good at bargain hunting on eBay (would that this could be a small Olympic event!). Good at thank you notes. Good at editing (not at proofing). Sometimes good at being funny. (Though not stand-up worthy.) Good at knowing what I like and what I want. Good at making my son feel loved.
All good things. I like my life a lot.
Still, there’s that part of me that longs to be the best at something measurable, unassailable. To throw something the farthest its ever been thrown. To lift the most that’s ever been lifted. But I guess your forties are for understanding what you love, hoping it coincides with what you’re good at (I suppose it generally does) and kicking ass as much as you can with passion, with effort, with Olympian dedication. It’s also about accepting that you’re a shower singer. And at least having a great frikking time in there.