String Theory by David Foster Wallace
Published On 5/10/16 by Library of America
“I submit that tennis is the most beautiful sport there is, and also the most demanding. It requires body control, hand-eye coordination, quickness, flat-out speed, endurance, and that strange mix of caution and abandon that we call courage. It also requires smarts. Just one single shot in one exchange in one point of a high-level match is a nightmare of mechanical variables… The sort of thinking involved is the sort that can be done only by a living and highly conscious entity, and then only unconsciously, i.e. by combining talent with repetition to such an extent that the variables are combined and controlled without conscious thought. In other words, serious tennis is a kind of art.” – David Foster Wallace in “Both Flesh and Not.”
On Sunday, June 5th 2016 at Roland Garros, the Serbian Novak Djokovic toppled the feisty Scot Andy Murray in a 4 set match that was over 3 hours long. Both players prefer to stick to the baseline and grind their opponents down point-by-point, to the point that the thought of having to make 6 more balls than in a normal match seems unbearable. They force their opponents to go for low percentage winners, and both players force more errors than the time limit for a standardized test.
Things get interesting when Murray and Djokovic play each other, and the points are incredibly long. They effortlessly trade groundstrokes with each other, Murray baits Djokovic in to the net with his signature drop shots and subsequently hits lob winners over his head, or Djokovic gets to these drop shots and hits even more ridiculously angled shots for a winners.
But, the flip side of this beautiful display is the sheer madness that drives these athletes to be absolutely perfect at what they do. Novak, for instance, regularly sits in a pressurized egg-shaped chamber so his body can recover faster. Looking at him in one of these pods looks just plain silly, and it makes me wonder how long it will be until they ban these things. Andy Murray, on the other hand, is arguably as good as he is due to this dark, mad side of his personality that only comes out in intense competition. His pure talent is certainly top 15 in the world quality, and his speed and trickery are top 5 quality. But the thing that sets him apart and allows him to be truly world class, and inexplicably come back and win matches that he seems almost certain to lose, is his crazy edge. For example, it looked like Murray was going to be going home early in the tournament in his second round match to the unknown 22-year-old French qualifier, Mathias Bourge. Playing on center court with a packed French crowd, Bourge played with absolutely no pressure and was being willed to win by thousands of fans who cheered everything that he did right. He was out-Murraying Murray, mostly through his insane drop shot winners. But at some point during the 4th set, Murray started getting fired up. Something woke him up and after almost every point he won, he’d yell things to his coach in the crowd. He screamed, telling himself to focus. It was an incredible display of self-talk. As he slowly came back into the match and turned everything around, and as Bourge started to unravel and realize how big a stage he was on and how big a deal this upset would be, Murray repeatedly looked up to his coach and pointed to his head. He was saying that the reason he had gotten back into the match was due to mental toughness. While most tennis practice their mental toughness by being as calm as possible on court, Murray’s craziness, and his yelling at himself, is weirdly his equivalent to being mentally tough.
Tennis is primarily a game you play against and with yourself, and if you can win that battle, you are much more prepared to win the battle against your opponent. It is a battle to break out of stressful, self-analyzing paralysis and shift into a trance-like state. It is within this state that beauty can emerge through these athletes. These feats are not necessarily coming from conscious efforts. The best athletes seem to best be able to get into a trance and be seized by some mystical quality that allows them to perform the unthinkable within situations that would normally seem incredibly stressful and suffocating. The kind of performances I’m talking about are similar to an episode of Spongebob Squarepants, where Spongebob and Patrick the Starfish have lit a fire under the sea. The fire rages inexplicably. But as soon as Spongebob realizes that this is impossible, and comments on how a fire shouldn’t be able to burn underwater, the fire goes out. Or think of Peter Pan. You can only fly if you believe you can fly. Or, there is Søren Kierkegaard’s notion of the leap of faith, from a less authentic version of selfhood to a truer self-hood that relies on an abandonment of control and a trust in some greater power than you better being able to constitute who you are than you can . Becoming yourself through giving up conscious control over yourself. Or, finally, take the poem Man and Camel by the late Canadian poet Mark Strand:
On the eve of my fortieth birthday/ I sat on the porch having a smoke/ when out of the blue a man and a camel/ happened by. Neither uttered a sound/ at first, but as they drifted up the street/ and out of town the two of them began to sing./ Yet what they sang is still a mystery to me—/ the words were indistinct and the tune/ too ornamental to recall. Into the desert/ they went and as they went their voices/ rose as one above the sifting sound/ of windblown sand. The wonder of their singing,/ its elusive blend of man and camel, seemed/ an ideal image for all uncommon couples. Was this the night that I had waited for/ so long? I wanted to believe it was,/ but just as they were vanishing, the man and camel ceased to sing, and galloped/ back to town. They stood before my porch,/ staring up at me with beady eyes, and said:/ “You ruined it. You ruined it forever.”
There is something mystical and other-worldy about this man and camel, and the man on the porch smoking takes this situation to be a sign of some redeeming other-worldliness making an appearance in his seemingly dull, non-magical existence. But as soon as he consciously marks it as being the thing he was waiting for, mistaking the Man and Camel for some Godot that has arrived, instead of just being at one in this moment perceiving the movement and sounds of the Man and Camel, they tell him that he’s ruined the moment. Forever.
Inexperienced players like Bourge can play with a certain magical quality that is necessary to play beautiful tennis, but they ruin their channeling of this energy by recognizing what they are doing as being “incredible” or “unbelievable.” This is when they descend back to earth and play like mere mortals. But Murray, Federer, Djokovic, know that their playing is not other-wordly. It is very much of this world, and they are able to play at a high, sublime level through allowing whatever it is that strikes and inspires them to weirdly play the match with and for them. By recognizing their high-level of playing mindset as illusory, lesser players make it illusory. By treating it as being par for the course, the best players affirm its realness.
But it takes an incredible amount of sacrifice and discipline, as well as years of suffering and practice, to get to this state. Yet, the truth of this mindset that can’t be pinned down is that it takes absolutely nothing to achieve this state. But this nothing means sacrificing almost everything.
Enter David Foster Wallace. DFW has a well-known relation to tennis, mostly due to his magnum opus, Infinite Jest. In the novel, one of the two main characters, Hal Incandenza, is a highly ranked junior tennis player who goes to Enfield Tennis Academy in Massachussets, which his father started. Much of the plot takes place here, and tennis becomes a way of meditating on overcoming psychological struggle in life. The Library of America, in a beautiful hard cover bound book, published a collection of Wallace’s essays on tennis, titled String Theory. While there are five essays here, the best three are without a doubt “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm for Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Limitation, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness,” and “Federer Both Flesh and Not.” A major theme that runs through these essays are that the kind of sacrifices made by tennis players can create a crazy, almost autistic subject, but also give rise to redeeming moments of metaphysical beauty. The kind of intense loneliness and suffering of a tennis player, that begins at a young age, is redeemed by triumphs and moments in matches that are felt equally intensely as these lows.
In “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” Wallace recounts his time growing up in central Illinois, where he was a “near-great junior tennis player.” Wallace got his kicks as a Junior tennis player by beating kids who were more talented than him by being unrelentingly steady and average. The conditions were always very windy during matches in Illinois, and Wallace would beat kids who were much more talented than him by hitting the ball down the middle of the court and not having a woe is me attitude toward the wind. Eventually, his opponent would miss a shot due to the wind blowing the ball out of play. Wallace witnessed a particular kind of suffering by watching his opponents react after situations like this. Wallace writes,
It drove some kids near-mad with the caprice and unfairness of it all, and on real windy days these kids, usually with talent out the bazoo, would have their first apoplectic racket-throwing tantrum in about the match’s third game and lapse into a kind of sullen coma by the end of the first set, now bitterly expecting to get screwed over by wind, net, tape, sun.
Wallace would win by having a “weird robotic detachment” from the unfairness of the wind.
But it wasn’t just Wallace who made people sad through tennis. Tennis made him sad as well, and after the age of 15, kids started to become much better than him. Kids he normally beat had sudden growth spurts and got much stronger. These random factors led some of these kids to ascend to a much higher level of playing while Wallace remained where he was.
This essay seems to be far removed from Wallace’s meditations on Michael Joyce and Roger Federer, because these players found a home on the professional tennis circuit. Both of these men made it, whereas Wallace and most of his friends never found much success outside of Illinois. However, Wallace’s reflections on kids throwing their racquets and being more frustrated than seems bearable for a 12 year old opens up space to meditate on how a tennis player is formed. As is seen with Andy Murray there is a specific form of madness that is developed in tennis, with one side of the coin being craziness itself and the other side being an ability to perform calmly under pressure, leading to sublime moments of athletic achievement. So, before diving into the “sublime moments of athletic achievement” that result from the best of the best conquering their tennis-specific inner demons, I’m going to investigate my own formation as a tennis player that lends me a unique perspective on madness in tennis, and an understanding of just how impressive it is that a Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic is able to emerge. Tennis players are impressive and successful to the extent that they conquer these inner demons.
Without me knowing it, tennis was without a doubt my introduction to the world of insanity. I began playing tennis when I was six years old, because there were tennis clinics at the swimming and rec club my family went to growing up, and I enjoyed it. In fact, I became very good at it. I had excellent hand-eye coordination, and was gifted a high degree of natural speed, probably due to my father being a college soccer player. Things would only get more intense as I progressed into the world of competitive tennis, as I worked with better coaches, travelled around the country to increasingly more difficult tournaments, and took the game more seriously.
There is a vicious triangle in junior tennis, whose existence essentially constitutes the subjectivity of a junior tennis player while they are on the court and affects how they view themselves and approach life off the court. The three points of this triangle are the tennis parents, the coach, and the part of the kid that experiences pressure. Now, some triangles aren’t vicious. Everyone is synced up and wants the same thing, or all points recognize that a kid isn’t going to be the next Federer and they all have realistic expectations. It is healthy. But, much of the time, this isn’t the case. Most tennis players come from wealthy families, who value success for the sake of success. The parents have made it to the upper-middle or upper class, are often doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, and view athletic achievement as a special kind of virtue. Much like Americans in general, they view athletic achievement as having a one to one relationship with hard work, and largely ignore things like natural talent that can’t be explained. Achievement on the court, and in school, becomes a moral thing, something earned. It is everything. And they expect their kids to adopt this mindset.
As a result of being rich and valuing success, these parents spend all kinds of money on the best of the best coaches for their kid to train with. The best friend of hard work is the right work, and if you are working hard with a really good coach, then results should follow. Again, natural talent is pushed aside here. If the kid has good results in tournaments, the system between parent, coach, and player seems to be working. But, if the system stops working, it is always the coach’s fault. It could never be little Johnny’s fault for not being good at tennis, nor could it be a lack of effort or talent. The coach, who forms an emotional bond with his students, can be ripped away from his student at a moment’s notice due to lack of good results, as deemed by the parents. I’ve talked to many coaches about this phenomenon, and they are always blind-sided by these moves. There is a profound sadness in knowing that your relationship with a student has an expiration date, that date being whenever the parents decide to pull the plug. The reaction of many coaches in these scenarios is a feeling of sadness, and an appreciation of the students that they do have. The students coaches remember are not necessarily their most successful students, but those that have stuck with them for years and years. There is something to the sentimentality of this bond, rather than viewing any life lessons or good memories from the bond as strictly secondary to athletic achievement. But quite often, this dynamic between parent and coach leads to a more intense and success-driven relationship between the coach and player, rather than awakening everyone to the viciousness of this triangular relation that makes junior tennis feel torturous.
Of course, there are many types of coaches. My coach growing up was a wise Indian man who got a PhD in philosophy from a little-known school in Virginia, and created and cultivated a pretty large community of tennis players (and families) within the greater Cleveland area. This group of people probably played a hand in about 70% of the positive emotions I experienced growing up. I also had some pretty average coaches, who were just sort of content to hit with me, be friendly, and collect their sixty bucks an hour. Then there were the incredibly intense coaches. There were various components that led to their intensity, such as having experienced the great highs of success at a collegiate and pro level, and truly believing that through hard work, anything was possible. They lived their glory days through their students. But, the other component of this intensity is due to the triangular dynamic: because coaches were always on the chopping block, the intense coaches needed to be unrealistically hard on their students because if they didn’t, the kids wouldn’t achieve positive results, and the coaches would subsequently be axed. Coaching kids to achieve greatness literally became a mode of survival. And unfortunately, these pros really flirted with crossing “the line.” One of my pros in particular, even at the age of twelve, drove me to my mental and physical limits. When I was mad, and specifically mad at him for making me work so hard, he would tell me to deal with that anger through directing it back at him. I would have to do crazy intense conditioning. I would get berated for undisciplined playing, and for acting out during matches with my behavior. One time, as punishment for poor on-court conduct, he made me run back and forth in a Wisconsin parking lot for half an hour in the winter, while my fellow tennis playing friends walked in and out of the facility and witnessed me running. I felt all sorts of embarrassment. I would cry. He would say that I was “soft” and I would cry some more. It was around this time that I decided to quit tennis (I started playing again a couple years later).
It turns out that having a grown man berate you for making even the tiniest of errors caused me, a young tennis boy, to create a critical voice in my head that urged me to do everything as perfectly as possible. This is the third component of this system. The young player bears all of the pressure on his shoulders, and he must carry this burden like his cross. You end up internalizing this pressure, and begin instructing yourself to train and perform in a certain way so that everybody is happy. I put an enormous amount of stress on myself as a result of feeling the pressure from coaches and parents. I now had some sort of functioning super-ego that at times went overload on me by the age of 11. I guess this is growing up and adapting to whatever is socially acceptable in our constructed reality, but it can really mess with that kid when the superego isn’t, as Freud would say, just focusing on allowing the subject to smartly operate and survive within the constraints of what is socially acceptable, but is rather directing the kid to reach perfection in a specific activity.
As I continued to play, I realized that, unlike what most people say about tennis, it is not just you out there. Due to the development of a coach-like super-ego, and being alone on the court, most players talk to themselves. Sometimes players will address themselves by their first name when they miss a shot, as if the person that missed that shot was not really them, but rather some child that was acting out of line. Tennis reveals that you have a concrete relation to yourself, and made me very ready to understand what certain philosophers were talking about when they were theorizing “the self.” Take Kierkegaard: “The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.” The tennis theory of the self, similarly to Kierkegaard, locates the selfness of the self not in the self that berates the player for missing a shot, nor the undisciplined self that misses the shot, nor in the player that the critical self criticizes. No, the self is some weird complex relation between all of these factors, and it is never stable. As I said, tennis was my introduction into madness, and I recognized the yearning for pseudo-divine success on the tennis court as being a parallel to Kierkegaard’s striving for existential authenticity in the eyes of God. Further, thinkers like Nietzsche pointed out that maybe the logic of success-at-all-cost inculcated in me was somehow more correct than the logic of conformity reinforced by society. Madness results from the tension between these two competing logics within the superego itself. One view is ok with imperfection but makes life much easier to bear, while the other berates this mentality, insisting that there is something higher worth striving for. Ones that resolve and live with this tension the best are those that ascend to the top of the rankings.
Further, there are many spiritual/self-help books that directly attempt to help people quiet their minds and become successful on the tennis court in ways they restrict themselves from doing. People want to crack the code which would resolve this tension. The best known of these books is The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. The main thrust of the book is that the tennis-playing self is split into two: one which is hyper-critical and intellectual, the other which operates purely based on muscle memory and unconscious intuition, and through quieting the creatively named “Self 1” from paralyzing “Self 2” from doing what it knows how to do, we can play better tennis and feel more fulfilled in our playing. The best we can do is allow Self 2 to do its thing, and if a win results, that’s great. But if not, that’s ok too. Some of the chapter titles of this book include, “Reflections on the Mental Side of Tennis,” “The Discovery of Two Selves,” “Quieting Self 1,” “Trusting Self 2,” “Concentration: Learning to Focus,” and “The Meaning of Competition.”
It is clear, from David Foster Wallace’s writings and from the rhetoric involved concerning the psychology and philosophy of tennis in general, that resolving and overcoming this psychical tension is extremely difficult, and that the pressure put on the player is very high. Wallace’s whole project was about finding a way to be content and at peace in a world that overwhelms the subject with stimuli, making it very difficult to draw the line between inner and outer. Wallace’s post-modern world affects the minds and subjectivity of people such that their humanity is reformulated, and one can’t tell what is affecting them, from where it is acting on them, and how it is affecting them. Hence Wallace’s fascination concerning players who have seemingly figured out the tennis-specific tension, and the energy behind his essays on Roger Federer and Michael Joyce. Perhaps Wallace saw a clue to unlocking the secrets of the western, post-modern mind within the psychology of high-level tennis players.
Wallace’s essay on Federer, “Both Flesh and Not,” very clearly describes a player who has not only conquered this psychical tension that most tennis players have experienced, but has also found a way to consistently allow the sublime to emerge through his play, and create what Wallace has dubbed as “Federer Moments.” Genius is always tied to the unconscious, and, in Gallwey’s terms, Federer’s game is completely run by Self 2, pulling off shots that the rational Self 1 could never dream up, and would consider as being, perhaps, impossible. The surrealists would certainly enjoy these “Federer Moments,” and point to the unconscious mind as being the thing that makes Federer less of a tennis player and more a magician. If you don’t have an idea of what I’m talking about, I encourage you to look up some footage on YouTube of Federer playing.
Wallace attempts an explanation of Federer’s exceptionalism. The major reason, for him, involves mystery and metaphysics. Wallace writes,
“The metaphysical explanation (of Federer’s success) is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws. Good analogs include Michael Jordan, who could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows, and Muhammad Ali, who really could “float” across the canvas and land two or three jabs in the clock-time required for one. There are probably a half-dozen other examples since 1960. And Roger Federer is of this type- a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar… he looks like what he may well (I think) be: a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light.”
The reason that Wallace chooses the metaphysical explanation of Federer is that what these elite athletes are doing is not purely earned by hard work. As Wallace expresses in the essay, most tennis players train ridiculously hard, and practice their shots so many times that in the match they are operating almost purely on instinct. The speed of the ball, in many cases, “makes conscious thought almost impossible.” Federer may be a little bit more technically gifted than other players, or work a bit harder, but the thing that sets him apart is this extra metaphysical something. But whatever this metaphysical something is can only be expressed in reality. It is not metaphysical, it is grounded and immanent, and the thing that embodies and expresses that immanence is Roger Federer.
What’s also interesting about Federer is that he has not simply won the inner game of tennis. Winning the inner game of tennis is the condition Federer needed to meet in order for his “genius-like” game to fully express itself. His winning the inner game is what allows his prowess to shine forth. Then, there are players like Michael Joyce, who Wallace writes about in a different essay, who has clearly won his inner game of tennis, but remained a player that never quite made it to the top of professional tennis, and was mostly ranked just inside the top 100.
Just because Michael Joyce did not play in the finals of Grand Slam tournaments like Federer does not mean that his matches involved less pressure. Any type of professional tennis is ruthless, both mentally and physically. He had to travel around and play tournaments in random places just to be able to stay in the top 100, and keep his hopes of progressing further up the rankings alive. As Wallace states, most top pros have cemented their spots at the top of the rankings and only really need to play the grand slams, and then a handful more, tournaments each year, mostly to fine-tune their games for the grand slams. Players like Joyce are forced to play much more in order to garner enough points to scrape by.
The two major concerns in Wallace’s essay, “Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry,” is how Michael Joyce became who he is, and how he copes with being who he is. Joyce tells Wallace about his training routines growing up. He would play for about five hours per day with the best coach in his area, and pretty much had to, from an early age, sacrifice other parts of his life. He was molded into a tennis player, and was a prodigy. He won the USTA boys 18 and under national championships in 1991, which is the most prestigious junior tournament in the country. Then he played on the pro circuit for the 90’s and early 2000’s, and coached Maria Sharapova during most of the 2004-2011. The man lives and breathes tennis, and he did not have much of a choice whether to play or not.
Joyce tells Wallace that it doesn’t matter whether or not he chose tennis. Certainly, his dad, by spending (according to Joyce) over $250,000 on his training growing up, could be labeled as the prime mover who chose Joyce’s yellow-ball-filled path in life. But that does not matter to Joyce, because he loves tennis. He is tennis. As Wallace writes in one of his infamous footnotes, “It’s the sort of love whose measure is what it has cost, what one’s given up for it. Whether there’s “choice” involved is, at a certain point, of no interest… since it’s the very surrender of choice and self that informs the love in the first place.” And the sacrifices Joyce made, or was forced to make (it doesn’t matter) were extraordinary but worth it.
While Wallace and I continually reference what is “otherworldly” and transcendent about tennis players at the highest level, what they are achieving is real. It is of this world and anti-transcendental, and should make us more astonished at the range of possibilities that do and can emerge in the world around us. Seeing Roger Federer play, it is amazing that someone like him can exist and do the things that he does. And it is incredible that players like Federer and Joyce can remain composed enough to allow themselves to play as well as they do.
Wallace emphasizes the anti-transcendence of Joyce at the end of his essay. He writes:
“Michael Joyce is, in other words, a complete man (though in a grotesquely limited way). But he wants more. Not more completeness; he doesn’t think in terms of virtues or transcendence. He wants to be the best, to have his name known, to hold professional trophies over his head as he patiently turns in all four directions of the media. He is an American and he wants to win. He wants this, and he will pay to have it- will pay just to pursue it, let it define him- and will pay with the regretless cheer of a man for whom issues of choice became irrelevant long ago. Already, for Joyce, at twenty-two, it’s too late for anything else: he’s invested too much, is in too deep. I think he’s both lucky and un-. He will say he is happy and mean it. Wish him well.”
Through these investigations, Wallace finds that hard work and mental toughness alone do not explain the kind of beauty displayed by the best of the best tennis players. It is these players, for whom there is no “after tennis” that are able to transcend the pressure-filled dungeon of tennis, and transform it into a beautiful home. No, it is not transcendence, but an ability to simultaneously dance with their inner critic that berates their every negative move, yet points toward perfection, and move past this inner critic, so as to play in a way that allows something that could never stem from effort and willpower alone to emerge, and makes them what they are. It is talent plus some indefinable remainder. There is something else, and that’s something that the ideology of “hard work=success,” as well as modern late-capitalist society, drastically overlooks.
The point, in the end, is not that Federer and Joyce play tennis, but that they have found the thing they are blessed at doing, and are lucky enough to express their “something else” through doing it. There is no science to this “something else” and no way of rationally figuring it out. Unfortunately for Wallace, he did not realize how anti-intellectual this endeavor truly was. But through his infinite struggle, he illuminates that it’s about finding the things that “click” with you, and continuing to do them. Continuing to do those things is what constitutes you and your becoming, just as playing tennis makes Joyce Joyce.
Federer and Joyce become themselves when they take the court. I, unfortunately, have not forged the meaning of my life through tennis. I was not good enough to make my stamp on life as a tennis player, and so are most of us. If we take the inter-super-ego tension again, Joyce and Federer found a way to make their realities conform to the demands of their tennis-playing selves. The logic of success and competition found a way to merge with the super-ego’s normal function of healthily reinforcing a subject’s adaptation to his environments, and make it become a servant of itself.
I had to side with the latter, more earthly and human mode of life. I go to school, play on a college tennis teams, and am well adjusted to the roles I must play in society. But, I have found a way to merge a new sort of thinking with the role my super-ego plays. The reason I am grateful for my intense coaches is not that they temporarily made me a better tennis player, but that they reinforced within me a sense of what perfection feels like, and the kind of mindset it takes to go after it. I have a general sense of the passiveness of inspiration, and how to, at times, give life and create things (pieces of writing, moments) that feel sublime. I know what it feels like to have a Federer Moment, and know that these moments are not reserved for tennis courts. I apply this sense of perfection and pure quality to the things in my life that I do now. Within my normal life, I have found a way to insert the logic of success in a way that merges a crazed, glory-driven person with a dude who calmly goes about his business. For this quality, I am grateful to all of my coaches.
I am also grateful that somebody like Roger Federer exists at all. Even though I could not make it to the top, it brings me much comfort to know that some people progressed to the highest level. It does not mean that they are other-worldly talents, but rather worldly talents, and it’s somewhat redeeming to know that the kinds of things I could only dream of doing are possible. Finally, I am grateful for all of the fun I had and continue to have playing tennis at a level that is certainly not the highest.
I understand that the crazy intense coaches I had growing up taught me how to build and work towards a notion of perfection in whatever activities I ended up truly loving and choosing to pursue. The voice inside me that was once so critical, and threatened to take over my sanity is now my coach, myself-as-coach, urging me to pursue perfection in my own ways while being aware of how things around me are affecting me. My tennis-playing self may be split, and may cause me pain, but that is inevitably what has made me me.
Tennis, for better or worse, chooses you, and if you stick with it long enough, it will drive you crazy. While this craziness causes suffering, it is also an immense asset. I would not, and could not have, had it any other way. For that I must be grateful.
Loosely Cited Sources
- https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/man-and-camel- Mark Strand
- 2.Infinite Jest- DFW3.
- Inner Game of Tennis- W. Timothy Gallwey4.
- String Theory- DFW (Tornado Alley, Both Flesh and Not, Professional Artistry)
- Sickness Unto Death- Kierkegaard
1. Cover of book taken from its Amazon page.
2. Image of Federer taken from New York Times article by DFW, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.”
William Lennon is a writer based in Cleveland and the editor of CRB.