We get it, nerds. You don’t like sports. Now hush.

This is a strange essay for me to write. I grew up hating sports and athletes. I was a band nerd and very tired of the way athletes were lauded in my high school while the band struggled with busted instruments and old uniforms and the jibes of our classmates.

Then I lived in Japan twice. The second time, my then wife and I got into soccer. We started going to Yokohama Flugels soccer games, and we watched the World Cup on TV. When we moved back to the US, we started going to minor league baseball games in Savannah, Georgia, and eventually ended up as season ticket holders for the former NY/NJ MetroStars of Major League Soccer. My sister and wife and I also followed the US Men’s National Team around the East Coast and Midwest, and my whole family got up at stupid o’clock to watch World Cup games from distant time zones.

In the 15 or so years since then, I’ve become a fan of listening to baseball on the radio. I read books about sports. I follow soccer sometimes, though not as much. Every couple years I go through a period of sports talk radio listening, though these periods always end. I love going to minor league baseball games. I’ve even watched some college football games to stay in touch with friends in one of the college towns I lived in.

Recently, as in the past few years, I’ve noticed a trend among my fellow nerd friends to be very dismissive about sports. Lumping every sports into “sportsball” is a common expression of this. And this fall, this meme was very popular (insert “sports” or any particular sport for “football”):


When I first heard “sportsball” years ago, I thought it was funny. Nowadays I’m starting to find it tiring. I get it, you don’t like sports. But you know what? Many people do, and in healthy ways. And just like it would make you angry or hurt to have people be dismissive of your passion, it probably bothers some people to have you be dismissive of theirs.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to criticize about sports and sports culture. And I’m in no way suggesting we shouldn’t turn the same critical eye at the sports world that we should turn on every other facet of our shared lives. From the injuries in football, to the sexism and racism that pervades some sports, to the corporate behemoths who control much of the sporting world, you don’t have to look hard to find things to bemoan and to work to change. And you should.

But you also don’t have to look hard to find examples of bravery and heroism and compassion. From Muhammad Ali refusing the draft to this era’s Muhammad Ali, Serena Williams, breaking every tennis record and doing it proudly despite the racist, sexist culture of the tennis world, sports provides a public platform for some people to transcend the advertising and the hype and become true leaders. John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Martina Navratilova. Jason Collins. Billie Jean King. Jim Brown. Arthur Ashe. These are just some of the people who’ve used their fame and success as athletes to stand for something larger than themselves. Our world would be a poorer place without them. And they took their stands in the one place most Americans end up looking — the sporting arena.

It’s fine to not like particular things about sports, and I don’t want you to keep your specific and necessary criticisms to yourself. For example, I don’t want my younger son playing football after this season is over because I think it’s too dangerous. A lot of the culture here in State College, home of Penn State, disgusts me, including the lionization (see what I did there?) of the football team at the expense of so much else. Ditto for the previous place I lived: Auburn, Alabama.

But don’t cast the same aspersions on all sports or athletic activity. There’s a real place in our society for sports. And good people who love them and do so in a healthy way. Let’s all work on remembering that. And let’s also work on making the sports world better for everyone involved.

Posted in Sports | Leave a comment

Why Kids Should Study Music

sax Tonight I went to my fourth-grader’s instrumental music orientation meeting. It was very professionally run and contained everything we needed to know to get started. And it was only as long as it needed to be, which was great. One thing I noticed, though, was that nobody talked about the reason kids should learn to play music.

Don’t get me wrong, they definitely talked about the ways music can help kids in other areas of their lives. Things like problem solving and practice habits and stress relief. I completely understand that in this day and age, when more and more school districts are cutting back on the arts, music and art teachers have to justify their existence and this is how they do it. Kudos to them, and I’m not at all suggesting they stop talking about practical reasons to study music.

But it would have been wonderful to also hear a few sentences like this:

“Your child should study music because nothing in the world is like it. It opens up the mind and heart to new ways of looking at the world, and to an ability to think and feel and experience more deeply. Music is a universal language in a way few others things can ever be. If you know how to play an instrument, you’ll be part of a global community of people who realize that beauty is as essential to life as breathing. Your child should learn to play an instrument precisely because it doesn’t immediately have a practical value. It’s a quixotic campaign against the idea that everything they do has to prepare them for life as a worker and consumer. Making music is a revolutionary act. Learning to play and appreciate music is part of what it means to be human.”

Posted in Family, Music | 2 Comments

Trust vs. Vulnerability

[Photo source: http://managingcollections.blogspot.com/2008/07/fragile-objects.html]

[Photo source: http://managingcollections.blogspot.com/2008/07/fragile-objects.html]

My default mode is to trust people. I tend to think the best of people and to believe they are who they claim to be. I like living my life this way and want to keep doing it.

In the past few years, though, I feel like I’ve been overly trusting. Not protecting myself enough. Part of this is my habit of being too revealing of my thoughts and emotions. I talk to people about my hopes, my dreams, my plans, my misgivings, my desires. Sometimes these same folks then talk to other people, and I find my confidences coming back to me in the form of recriminations or gossip.

As a result, I’ve been slowly shrinking the circle of people in whom I confide. It’s a small enough group now that we could all fit comfortably in a car together. These people have become precious to me as a result. I need – absolutely need – people in my life with whom I can talk about the things that matter most. People who get my story, who know how I work, who understand the way I talk and act and feel. Without them, I descend into an inner monologue that’s unhealthy and limiting.

I was unpleasantly surprised recently to learn just how few people I really do trust. Even some to whom I’ve told my deepest, most intimate stories have then passed them on to others. Is anything more disappointing than learning that those you love and depend on don’t place the same value on the situation?

I wonder if there are people who I’ve disappointed in this same way. I hope not, but I expect so. I love to gossip. It’s the thing I work hardest on changing about myself. Every version of the Buddhist precepts, which are guidelines for living an awakened life, mentions wrong or false speech. The Buddha understood that loose lips sink ships, so to speak. Gossip weakens communities, strains friendships, and makes it more difficult for all of us to engage with one another without fear and suspicion. I’m trying hard to eliminate unskillful speech. It ain’t easy.

This is tough territory to navigate. How do I keep an open heart but also take care of myself? How do I build community without leaving myself too vulnerable? Is “too vulnerable” even a danger?

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments on this topic. Oh, and here’s “Trust” by Prince from the one true Batman film:

BATMAN 1989 VS PRINCE TRUST from Denis Gilbert on Vimeo.

Posted in Random Musings | 3 Comments

Advice for new college students

11147062_462854910541237_9158612717607468137_nLast summer I wrote a letter to someone I knew who was about to go to college. It was full of things I wish someone had said to me when I was 18. Or ever, really. I thought others might benefit from a depersonalized version of this letter, so here it is.

/ / /

1. YOU DON’T NEED TO FINISH COLLEGE RIGHT NOW IF IT’S NOT THE RIGHT THING FOR YOU. Sure, it seems exciting and great. But if it turns out not to be exciting and great in a year or two, and you realize there’s something else you need to do for a while, this is the time to do it. No responsibilities, few debts, no kids, no spouse – in short, you’re as unfettered as you’ll ever be. You’ve been in school since you were at least 6, probably even younger. It’s OK to do something else. It’s hasn’t been that many years since people were traveling the world with a backpack or shipping off to sea at your age. Don’t let anything pass you by just because it isn’t what you expected.

2. TRY EVERYTHING. I don’t mean every drug. Unless you want to, of course. I mean every opportunity. There are so many things I didn’t figure out to try until just a few years ago, and I should have been doing them for years. Or I should have at least crossed them off the list. Live outside your comfort zone. Treat the whole world as one big hike and keep going, snakes and all.

3. IF YOU WANT TO, DATE TONS OF PEOPLE AND HAVE LOTS OF SEX. Nobody else will say this, so I’m going to. Be safe, of course, and keep your wits about you. Not everyone wants to sleep with lots of people, but if you do, DO IT. This is a great time to find out what you’re made of, what you like, who you’re looking for, etc. Don’t wait till you’re in a long-term relationship to realize that you have no idea what kind of person you want to be with. Trust me on this one. It’s big.

4. EAT WELL AND SLEEP. You’re probably going to push yourself, and that’s great. Don’t settle. Keep moving forward. But be sure you eat well and get enough sleep. If you don’t, you’ll eventually know it when you crash.

5. MAKE TIME FOR QUIET. Get out in nature if you can. But even if you have to find space on campus, find five or 10 minutes a day when you can just close your eyes, follow your breathing, and stop taking in or processing data. If you can find 20 minutes to do this, even better. And try not to do it in your dorm room. Find a quiet space with trees and birds or a nice bench or someplace that isn’t where you always are. You might need to find a new space in the winter. Or just bundle up.

6. KEEP IN TOUCH WITH A COUPLE GOOD FRIENDS. This is invaluable. You’ll need people to talk to about what’s happening in your life. You’ll make friends at school, but it’s great to have some people in your corner who aren’t on the same campus and therefore aren’t in the same social circles.

7. TRAVEL. Yes, take big trips to faraway places. But also just get on your bike or in a car or on a Greyhound and see some other places. Even if it’s the next town over or some little hamlet on the lake. Get out of your normal surroundings and see how some other folks are living.

Posted in Random Musings | Leave a comment

What I Read In July


My reading slowed down in July, at least partly because I started working 60-hour weeks. I really enjoyed what I read, though. It was fun to read Dune for the second time, and I think I got even more out of it this time. My acquaintance Jessica Smith’s excellent book of poetry Life-list was both a challenge and a joy to read. As The World Burns is a funny and terrifying graphic novel. Thomas Merton’s selection of Gandhi’s writing is inspiring. And Letters From Yellowstone is a very engaging epistolary novel. I started, and subsequently gave up on, The Watchman’s Rattle. And I’m partway through about five other books.

Posted in Books | 1 Comment

POEM: where the sidewalk ends


Posted in My poems, Poetry | Leave a comment