Friday, August 17, 2012

A Day Late, A Buck Short

In a constantly connected world, I’m decidedly disconnected.

And honestly, this is largely by design. I only check my email every so often. I check my voicemail even less. And I was probably one of the last people on the planet (with the financial wherewithal) to get a smart phone – which I now almost exclusively use to look at weather forecasts or to read about sports when I’m waiting at a doctor’s office.

It’s not that I’m antisocial. Okay, well it kind of is, but there’s something more to it than that, something much deeper – and something that’s not all that healthy.

There’s this fear I have about what’s potentially waiting for me in each of my respective mailboxes. Is there going to be bad news? Am I going to get sucked into doing something I don’t want to do? Would I really have to pay $69.99 in order to grow four – six inches in all the right places?

My mind conjures up all of these nightmare scenarios, and instead of taking the messages head on – and most likely discovering there’s nothing to worry about – I avoid and evade them for as long as possible, until I’m mentally and emotionally ready to deal with whatever (perceived) peril or danger might be lurking inside them.

It’s the “Ignorance is bliss” strategy – what I don’t know can’t hurt or burden me.

I concede that this behavior is a little ridiculous, and more than just a little rude. It’s led me to leave people hanging entirely too long for a response, and it’s made me abhorrently late with birthday wishes (those reminder emails don’t help if you don’t read them on time). It’s even caused me to miss out on seeing friends who were in town, because I didn’t know they were around until it was too late.

But despite all of the bad it causes, there is actually one area where it does do me some good:

Watching sports. Or more specifically, watching recorded sports.

For a lot of people, watching a recorded sporting event is a devalued experience. It’s just not the same, they say, and if they can’t see it live, they don’t want to see it at all. They’re fine with checking the score on their phone or catching the recap on SportsCenter.

I am not one of those people.

While I get the dissenters’ argument – that you’re not witnessing an unwritten story unfold, that one of the best parts of being a fan is that communal sense of knowing that, at least for a little while, there are countless others out there having the exact same experience as you – nothing trumps actually watching the game. Nothing. Above all else, I follow the teams I follow because I love watching them play. I love everything about it. I love the rush of game day, I love living and dying with every play, and I love being able to see (and subsequently recount for years and years) those subtle-yet-significant twists and turns that aren’t glamorous enough to make it onto ESPN. Besides, you can’t truly get to know a team unless you’re down in the trenches yourself, riding the highs and lows, the ebbs and flows right along with them.

Simply following a team through box scores and highlights would be about as satisfying as dating somebody by just monitoring their Facebook page.

So as long as there’s a way for me to watch – recorded, replay, illegally through some foreign website – that’s what I’m going to do. What does it matter if the world already knows what happened? I don’t. I’m seeing it for the first time, so it’s live for me, and once things get going, the only noticeable difference in the experience is that I get to run through all the commercials. Win-win.

I’m even delusional enough to believe that my sports superstitions can still have an effect on the outcome.

The only downside to this approach is that it’s entirely contingent upon my not learning the outcome of the game I want to watch before I’m actually prepared to watch it. And that can be a challenge. After all, I’m not watching it live because of a commitment that’s excavated me from the safe haven of my living room couch, meaning I’m out and about amongst the people, where the very information I’m trying to elude can be seen or heard at any turn. And in order to successfully duck and dodge my way through this perilous jungle, it takes an almost military-type mindset and focus.

And that’s where my social avoidance tactics come into play.

While there are numerous ways to control my environment from the inside – plugging my ears and vacating the area if somebody starts talking about sports, taking my glasses off while walking by a TV (along with cleaning the bathroom and using public restrooms, this is the one time it pays to have flawed-yet-functional eyesight) – there’s only one way to effectively protect it from outside infection:

A full-scale communication quarantine.

That means no radio, no phone, no email and no texts. Nothing gets in, and nothing goes out. One careless call, one rogue text message, and the whole operation is screwed. If I expect to make it back to my aforementioned living room couch with my mind clean and my DVR locked and loaded, I have to be willing to remove myself from the world as much as possible, no matter how long it takes, until the mission is complete. That’s the discipline.

This past basketball season, the Texas Longhorns – my alma mater – were playing one of their biggest games of the year while I was in Chicago for my niece’s birthday. Because my family is so spread out across the country, we only get to see each other every so often, making the times we are together that much more sacred. Thankfully, my brother had finally gotten DVR, meaning I wouldn’t have to miss a minute of anything – not of family time, and not of the game.

And my plan came together perfectly. I hung out with everybody, I played with my niece, and once they all went to bed, I got to watch the Horns under optimal conditions – on my own terms and with no distractions.

When I finished the recording a little after 1am, I checked my phone for the first time since going into lockdown 12 hours earlier. Typically these blackout periods don’t leave me a whole lot to catch up on. My life’s not that exciting, and I’m not that important.

And that’s why I was so thrown off when, after a couple of clicks, I saw the following message from one of my oldest and closest friends:

“I’m engaged!”

Wait…what? Had I really read that correctly? Granted, she had been in a serious relationship for a while, and she had said things were headed towards this conclusion, so this really shouldn’t have come as a shock. But for whatever reason, it still caught me off guard.

As I stood there in the dark, out of breath from my victory dance (Texas 75, Kansas State 64), I was hit with a wave of emotions that was equal parts excitement and confusion. How had it happened? How did he propose? Was she surprised by it? And why had she told me something so monumental through a text? Weren’t we closer than that? Would she now make me one of her bridesmaids as restitution?

I was stunned. I was thrilled. I was happy.

But I was also a little empty, because I couldn’t share any of this with her. Not then, anyway. It was the middle of the night, and that window had closed hours ago. And while I could still get the details later, and I could still celebrate with her going forward, I had missed the opportunity to be a part of an exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime moment for somebody who’s incredibly important to me.

That’s the price you pay, I guess, for trying to control your intake of life, because the world ain’t slowing down for anyone. It moves quickly and impulsively and without regard for who is ready and who is not. It works on its own schedule, and the more you try to dictate its pace from inside your own protective bubble, the more you risk running up a tab of regrets for those things you missed while you were checking the weather on your smart phone.

Unlike sports, life isn’t quite the same on tape-delay.  

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?