Things are a lot better than they were Friday and even better than they were before. And while I can attribute a lot of that to the passage of time or mental adjustments or even a variety of positive events (including having a relaxing weekend that included two fireplace fires and two visits to Waffle House), a disconcerting amount of it seems to be about winning.
I have long been a competitive person and this combines rather extremely with being both emotionally expressive and emotionally turbulent. Thus I not only fluctuate wildly between perceived highs and lows, but my actual gestures and body are likely to do the same as I flail about in victory or defeat. Fortunately this competitive streak tends to apply most pervasively to things that don’t actually matter, such as loosely organized sporting contests, board games, and video games. I tend to be slightly less expressive but more overtly invested in larger pursuits such as, most currently, the debate team I coach and the success or failure of the books I’m writing.
Not always is my mood impacted by the more important stuff alone or even primarily, however. This was more notable in the days when I was working in day job pursuits rather than things I feel more passionate about, like debate and writing. There was nothing, for example, at Glide to be competitive about. I might get angry about some internal office conflict that seemed intractable or giddy about some well received report, but it carried none of the competitive weight of a contest with winners and losers or the triumphs and failings of the effort to get one’s voice on important matters to the masses. As a result, I had to push my competitive energy into things like video games and following the Mariners, one of which doesn’t matter at all and one of which is both impossible to control and seems generally doomed. This was, as can be guessed, not a great recipe for joy.
Fast forward to this weekend wherein, on a bit of a losing streak (I just had to play ultimate frisbee, for chrisake), I thoroughly drub a competitive field in both Boggle and Clue, two of my favorite games, shortly before leading my team to victory in a nerve-wrenching match of trivia newcomer Know It or Blow It. Sound trivial? You bet. But nevertheless, such things fuel a perception that all is right with the world, that I have things to offer, that there is momentum building around me. It’s not rational nor particularly important to put such stock in irrelevant contests based on varying ratios of skill and chance, but I nevertheless can’t underestimate what a real impact such have on my moment-to-moment outlook. My perceptual reality is awash in the tide of my ability to prevail at things which have virtually no ultimate value.
But of course the real energy fires up when I get home from the weekend jaunt to discover that Rutgers has not only broken to octofinals at one of the largest tournaments of the year, but prevailed therein over a heavily favored MIT team currently ranked 3rd in the nation, before being ousted in quarterfinals. I actually yelled so loudly when I saw the results on my screen that Emily thought something was seriously wrong. And in some sense, maybe there was. But in another, all suddenly again seemed right with the world, like order and hope had been restored. Was I overvaluing this single performance? Absolutely. But was this also a crescendent cracking through to recognition for a hard-working team long overdue? No doubt. And does that potentially put them on a whole new trajectory looking forward, one that looks very different than where they seemed even a week ago? Of course.
And so I maintain my faith in the value of competition and my submission of so much of my will to its whims. Undoubtedly there is some tension between my competitive nature and my personal societal values of socialist communitarianism, just as there is a strange dichotomy between my desired global cooperation and my personal individualist, separatist tendencies (especially, as also highlighted this weekend, around food and taste). But perhaps it is my manic-depressive core, my fundamental commitment to ride the ever-bobbing waves of emotional authenticity and fervor, that drives my passion for spirited strife. I am certain that this unstable jetsam gives birth to much of my creative ability, and even more so to my desire to pursue it, distill it, and dry it for future observation.
And yet, in moments of reflection and observation like this, it can’t help but strike me how fragile it is. How it doesn’t take many spills and misfires to resemble the local NBA franchise, winning just nine times in 74 tries, spinning out of control toward a destiny that feels like determined self-destruction. How a boat on the seas that refuses to ever dock might eventually turn under the waves.
Next time that happens, though, and the deck starts compiling a salty mix of sealife, perhaps I just need to play another game of Boggle.
In the meantime, I’m off to the races.