Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah.
The third week of January, 2017
Snow on the ground, clear and cold by day and night – periods of rain, sleet, wind, fog, and several varieties of snow, compliments of Old Man Winter on a roll.
One item was missing from last week’s journal entry on “Living In the Yellow.”
It didn’t quite fit into the essay, but it fits into my life – and has for as
long as I can remember. It’s the answer to a survey questionnaire I received:
“What tool do you most commonly use in your daily work?”
My reply: a #2 yellow pencil – the one with the eraser on the end.
All my writing still begins with notes on paper written with a pencil.
Seven inches long, it can draw a line 35 miles long, write about 45,000 words,
and is easily re-booted with a sharpener. It doesn’t crash or accidentally delete.
I mention this now because I felt reproached by the one on my desk for having left it out of the essay.
THE HAKUHO SHO FACTOR
Here’s an encounter with a woman at a holiday season cocktail party noshup.
She’s middle-aged, well-educated, well-informed.
I know her well, and I like her.
“Where’s your husband?”
“He’s home watching some damn game on TV.”
“I take it you’re not a sports fan.”}“I hate sports. I never played sports when I was young – my kids weren’t into sports – I never watch sports – I hate teams and conflict and violence.}My birth certificate came with a non-compete clause.”
She smiled, sipped her wine, peered over her glasses at me, lifted her eyebrows, and fired her challenge:
“Okay, Mister Fulghum, what do you say to that?”
“I say bet on Clemson in the BCS and on the Patriots in the Super Bowl.”
And our cocktail party game was on.}
She looked at me like I had admitted I was part of a criminal conspiracy.
“What? You? An intelligent, thoughtful, nice man like you?”
“Sorry, but . . . see . . . I’m a guy. Sports are in my genes.”
And then I fired back at her:
“Your husband, by the way, says you play solitaire – and cheat.
He says you work the NY Times cross-word puzzle every day – and shout a lot when you’re defeated. And, moreover, you buy lottery tickets sometimes.
And I’ve seen the complicated jigsaw puzzles you work at all alone.
You do compete in games – with yourself – because you probably hate to lose.”
“Oh you want to play dirty now, do you?”
“No, I just like to play.”
Another lady at the cocktail party overheard the conversation and got in the game.
“I go to football games with my husband, and I scream and shout with him.
Then I go home and scream and shout at him.
Games are cathartic.”
“Football saved my marriage.”
(As a disclaimer, I should admit here before becoming profoundly philosophical later on, that while I have been writing this I have been watching the January Hatsu Basho from Tokyo. The first tournament of the New Year.
That’s Japanese Sumo wrestling – it’s day 7 of 15 as I finish this, and my man, Yokozuna Hakuho Sho is undefeated. Yay!
And, no, I don’t want to be a Sumo wrestler (ha) I just like being a spectator.)
Sports. Games. Play. Competition. Entertainment. Cultural Ritual.
All those words are fingers pointing at something basic to being human.
We like that all that stuff – sometimes participating – sometimes watching.
It’s not rational or even conscious – we don’t analyze it – we just do it.
We like winners – because we’d all like to be one – and like to identify with one.
Even more, we like underdogs – because we feel we often are.
Which is why I root for Hakuho Sho.
He’s not even Japanese. He’s Mongolian.
From Ulan Bator.
He’s a foreigner – an outsider – who has risen from the bottom rank to the top.
A Yokuzuna – a grand champion – attracting admiration and discomfort from the tradition-bound Japanese.
Westerners usually don’t get it.
As the woman at the cocktail party remarked when I confessed my Sumo interest,
“You mean big fat naked Japs wearing diapers and bumping bellies in public?”
“Well, yes, but that’s a long story for another time.”
Now I’ll wade off at least into the shallow end of the very wide and deep pool of thought where the subject of games and play and sports has been seriously considered without consensus for thousands of years.
I’ll try and keep it simple and personal.
However you consider it, whatever part it plays in your life, games, sports, and play are a universal part of human experience – present in all cultures as far back in human history as we can see.
For one thing, sports entail structure and resolution.
There are rules, goals, and rewards.
Plus the hopeful notion of “wait until next time or next season.”
Sports and games are distinct from the unresolved quality of ongoing daily life.
Sports and games allow us to identify with a group, a cause, a community, a hero –
something larger than ourselves.
Games and sports engage us in rituals not unlike those underlying religion, drama,
The lady who watches football with her husband is affirming the human need for catharsis – the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. It’s a form of psychological cleansing.
All life is a competition with all the forces working against it.
On the one side is Life and arranged against it is disease, war, poverty, accidents, war, failure, and ultimate defeat.
Anything that keeps our spirits up – anything that engages energetic optimism –
is a welcome ally on our Way on.
As I said, our interest in sports and games is seldom rational or conscious.
It’s idiosyncratic – specific to the individual person.
To each his own, with acceptance, not disapproval.
That’s why I can tell you about Sumo and Hakuho Sho.
How is it that a standard-sized man who grew up in West Texas should have an abiding interest in the Japanese sport of Sumo?
How is it that a mild-mannered woman I know can be a hard-core hockey fan?
How is it that my neighbor – a university professor of history – can care so much
about bicycle racing?
How is it that my brilliant computer tech is mad about her college team?
And is an explanation or a justification required?
And you – what about you?
What games do you play? What sports do you follow?
If you can’t exactly answer, it’s OK – following or participating in a sport is not
illegal, immoral, or sinful.
It’s just part of the mysterious, contradictory, and amusing aspect of being human.
For me, I just call it “The Hakuho Sho Factor” and I just sit back, and enjoy.