Band Wagon

All hockey season long, I’ve been trying to recruit fans to NHL hockey. Whenever a friend expresses boredom, or is fed up with the politics in their favorite sport, or fed up with the paucity of winning games among the professional teams in their city (mostly Chicago), I suggest they try watching hockey. For 82 games, since the beginning of October, I’ve been saying “try watching a Blackhawks game! We’ll watch together, and I’ll explain it to you!”

No takers.

Not one.

But tonight, somehow all those people who fawned over the Bears and Cubs (only in April), arguing for their team or their sport despite evidence that they suck, somehow all those people are Blackhawks fans.

Tell ya what, guys.

When you have watched a whole season of the Chicago Blackhawks THEN you can say “we won.” Hell, when you’ve watched even HALF a season (still more than an NFL season, I know, but you can do it!), you can say “we won.”

But now?

Now you’re just bandwagoners.

My family bleeds hockey. My tiny fragile daughter is the loudest hockey fan on her whole campus. She explains the sport to her guy friends. She wears her Blackhawks hat and screams and cheers the anthem and watches every game she can find. No TV? No big. She’ll find a way, a sports bar or streaming on her laptop.

She never played hockey. She’s never played a single sport. She hasn’t even been to a Blackhawks game. She went with us to prospect camp a couple of years ago, but hasn’t even seen a game in person. And yet she manages to understand this sport. And she’s devoted to them.

And maybe that’s what irritates me tonight. All these people I know not just congratulating the Blackhawks, but acting as if they’ve been fans all along. Yeah, but no. They haven’t watched the Playoffs. Some haven’t watched a single tame until tonight.

This is a long and brutal season, with ups and downs and injuries and trades and heart-attack games. It’s not easy to be a hockey fan. It’s a lot of work, much more than being a fan of other sports.

I was raised in a sports household, watching season after season of football, basketball, track and field, and swimming. I was a baseball stats freak for years. Yes, MLB plays more games, but even a three-game home stand isn’t as taxing as a single tight hockey game. Basketball comes close, but nothing beats the pure intensity of hockey.

So on some level, the fans who have been with the team all along have earned the right to say this is “our” team. The fans whose hearts dropped to their stomach when Kaner got injured earlier this year, the ones who watched in dismay as Carcillo was brought back to the fold, who had a little leap of excitement to hear that Versteeg had returned. Those of us who know the players’ kids’ names, and which player’s wife is about to give birth, and which player is likely to be traded in the post season. The ones who carefully observed every game-day good-luck charm, who read all the playoffs previews and kept track of every starting lineup, who argued Corsi scores and +/- long into the night. They’re the ones who get first crack at this, the ones who should get some acknowledgement of their devotion. They’re the ones who have even a slim claim to the phrase “we” won.

So yes, enjoy the fact that Chicago has won another Cup. Applaud the effort the team made to get to this point, because it wasn’t easy. But for crap’s sake, don’t say “WE” won.

No you didn’t.


Taking Flight

To take flight.

It’s the goal of many of our endeavors. To master a skill or talent or job so that when we do it, we soar, effortless and powerful, self-sufficient, peerless.

Good musicians achieve this occasionally. Great ones do it regularly. Michael Jordan did it, and Wayne Gretzky. Swimmer Maritza McClendon just did it. Artists and chefs and scientists, authors and carpenters. Dancers fly. We can actually see it. Have you ever watched Misty Copeland?

It’s why we watch professional performances, why we marvel over their magical “play” and wonder how they did that. But their play (a term we use for musicians and athletes, but not for others) is a result of years of work, dedication, practice, concentration, study, experimentation, mistakes, re-dedication, competition with themselves — ourselves — to push, to leap, to attempt repeatedly to take off and stay aloft.

To Daedalus. Without the “flying too close to the sun” part.

It’s enough sometimes to get an inch off the ground. I’ve done it once or twice in the Brahms Ballade and the Khatchaturian Toccata. In writing, occasionally. I saw it last weekend at the Community Music Center Anniversary Recital, during the faculty performance. It’s stunning to see people you encounter every day transforming into a collective effort pushing skyward, the music creating an updraft, the chamber orchestra following. Like the house from “Up” affixed to a million balloons. The musicians stood, seemingly earthbound, connected to one another in tempo and rhythmic pulses and eye contact, but if you weren’t watching, if you took your gaze from them for a second, you would be sure they had taken off and were dancing far above, beckoning. Come with us, leave your gravity and fly, you can do it too!

And so, after watching in wonder, many of us head back to the practice room. To the desk, the lab, the palette, the workshop, the top of the key, back to our repetition and promise to the research and failed attempts, to the possibility of lifting off even an inch at a time. For the chance someday to not be earthbound. The feeling of liftoff, the tickle in the stomach, the butterflies so akin to falling in love or off a cliff, into danger, is the joy in life, the “ah-ha” moment, energy of danger and excitement and realization of our haunting dream. The elusive sense that we have touched that magic that skitters out of sight, around the corner, in our periphery.

And maybe that’s the point of Peter Pan. Not just retaining childhood innocence, but the belief in ourselves. Belief that if we never forget our magic, we can truly fly.


Maybe not like Peter and the Lost Boys, but in our way, in the manner we were designed for. I will never fly like Misty Copeland, but I can fly as I am; with words, or in E Major, or with my voice.

But I can’t stop trying. For those of us who keep falling in the attempt, we can’t stop trying. Because deep down, I know it’s possible. I won’t give up the attempt, even when I keep falling. And I see this is true for my scientist friends, and artists and actors, my musician friends and authors. For those of us who just can’t stop pursuing this crazy idea, even when it doesn’t look like we’re getting very far. We do it for one reason and one reason only.

For the persistent belief that, just for a moment, we can fly.

Superiority Complex

I saw this the other day.

The phrase “like a girl” has influenced my thinking since I was young. With three older brothers, I’ve had cause to think about what it means to do anything “like a girl”, and to consider why gender has been ascribed to activity, and why one gender is judged to be inferior to the other. These considerations affected how I raised my children, particularly my boys, as it was important that they understood that the genders had no inherent superiority or inferiority. Since language shapes and reveals how we see the world, I chose consciously to focus their view of gender as merely biological constructs, not societal.

My upbringing was a different story. Continue reading