In pool, you use english to control the speed and impact of the cue ball after making control with the object ball (a.k.a. target); you control spin by hitting it to one or the other side of center. You also learn tricks--essentially, applied geometry--to line up your bank shots. When I was very young, my father taught me these techniques using the same language that my grandfather had used to teach him some many years before.
And I was good. I was short, I didn't always follow through, and I hadn't decided between and an under-index or over-thumb grip. But I was pretty damn good. Enough so that my uncle made a sawed-off cue stick (appropriate to my height) and carved "Sandy B." into the handle.
Somewhere in my early 20s, I lost it. Maybe it's just that everyone else got better, and I had plateaued. But I have a more spcific diagnosis: I started overthinking. I took too long on my shots, and was too afraid to fail. I'd lost faith in my instincts. I chose postures that were sexy, as I leaned over the table, versus effective.
Our teenage years are a time of constant improvisation. We are at the whim of our seemingly cruel parents, the looming demands of college and careers, fickle friends, hormonal love. Sometime in our twenties we reach a point of control and think this is adulthood. We have a paycheck. We use recipes. We make time to work out.
Then, sometime in your late twenties or early thirties, you take a risk. Maybe it's having a kid. Maybe it's moving in with someone, or quitting a job you tolerate but don't love. And everything goes...haywire. Your place gets dirty. A bill goes unpaid. You answer a friend in a way that's quick and rude--honest, sure, but quick and rude. You think am I regressing?
This week, a juggernaut: class at the Corcoran, reading at the Arts Club, article due to the Washington Post. Things that could go wrong did go wrong. I had to be curt. Cars broke down. People flaked out. I bridged with my thumb, and when that didn't work, I steadied with my index, and when that didn't work I (so to speak) employed my middle finger. I may still be waiting to learn how very wrong some things went. But I'm here, I'm fed, I'm clothed, I just discovered my book has been reviewed by Sarah Vap--a poet I really admire, and therefore a particular thrill. Thank you, Hayden's Ferry Review.
Tonight, a poetry reading. Tomorrow, horse races.
Maybe I'm reclaiming my english. Maybe it's okay to not always make the perfect shot; maybe it's okay to take the slop sometimes. Just sink it in the damned pocket and move on.