Saturday, June 18, 2011

yo-yo #88: caitie's flying v

today i was yo-yoing with my daughter. it's father's day, but that's irrelevant.

it's a funny thing to say, in part because i never really thought she'd want to play yo-yo at all. oh, sure i gave her one when she asked me. in fact, i've given her a few over the years. but having a yo-yo somewhere in your room (under the bed or in dresser-drawers) and actually playing with it are two very different things. a few weeks back, i gave her another new yo-yo; this one. it's one of my green, first-run, star-grade flying v's. i don't remember what precipitated her asking to try it, but for whatever reason, the synapses in her brain were prepared to gel with some new-found small-motor awareness, and she was off and running; able to play 'for real'.

she's got maybe 20 tricks down now, the most difficult of which is probably trapeze. she's still getting split the atom and double or nothing dialed, and frankly, i don't care if she ever does. i LOVE that she's an eight-year-old playing with a toy, and that she delights in picture tricks, around the world, and creeper. she's at a point where i've seen countless school-age kids (mostly boys, i guess) 'make up' a dozen tricks in the course of an afternoon, playing with an unbridled glee that will almost certainly atrophy into sad oblivion later on in life [/depressing].

there's something reflective in watching your progeny do something that you, yourself love. you evaluate it with a fresh understanding, and the desire to shake off your own calcified routines and molt from a caked-on adherence to to non-existent rules seems unavoidable. caitie isn't very 'good' at yo-yoing by the prevailing standards, i suppose. i wonder though, what does an old major leaguer think when attending his son's little league game. does he suppose, as johnny connects weakly with the ball and sprints the 45 feet to first, every fiber of his being crackling with vitality and excitement... that he's not very good at baseball yet?

i watch her giggle and invent tricks like 'ballerina', in which she lifts the yo-yo overhead and slowly pirouettes en pointe... and i wish to hell that i could be 'good' at yo-yoing someday.

the ways to be 'good' at yo-yoing are so vast and numerous that really, none of them have any significant meaning. it goes without saying that if you're going to play for any length of time at all and NOT pull out all of your hair, at some point you're going to have to reconcile this and submit to defining 'good' for yourself. i'm a parent and a school teacher, and it occurs to me that the vast majority of yo-yoing that i see gets done by kids. and since a person assigns value based on what he/she experiences... i guess i define 'good' in increments of joy.

there's not much in this world that's more difficult than appreciating the perspective of 'the other', by which i mean true empathy and not just a vague ability to tolerate different views. when you consider that most yo-yo players are youngish males, simmering in the kill-or-be-killed environment that is high school, is it that surprising that the dominant standard of 'goodness' is competitive glory? when you consider the explorative, iconoclastic, define-yourself-now subculture (actually, there's nothing 'sub' about it) which pervades the internet, and so the world... is it surprising that the next most popular standard should be innovative and groundbreaking?

there are as many ways to be 'good' at yo-yoing as there are yo-yo players. in all aspects of life, i think it's important to dig into the views which you, yourself don't understand. what are the circumstances and motivations which drive them? how do others define 'good' and why?

last week, my friend drew asked a terrific question: 'what do you have to do to be called a 'great yo-yoer?' ... now, i see a big difference between the qualifiers 'good' and 'great', but i'll get to that later. when i thought about it, i came up with some fairly high standards. my response wasn't intended to read like my 66 rules (which are really a sort of personal take on goodness)... but it kind of ended up sounding like the cliff notes:

a. make it look great. by which i mean unquantifiables like 'impossibly fun' or 'unbelievably stylish' or even 'holy-shit edgy'.
b. push the art forward. boldly go.
c. care about it so deeply that your love for it leaks inescapably into your playing.
d. be able to yo-yo for a crowd (any crowd) and truly hold them.
e. win. a lot. beat the game.
f. teach in a way that people hold on to it. yoyo evangelical.
g. see 'inside' and make associations with other arts, or better, make people watching you do the same.
h. know the history. tricktionary.
i. don't let being perceived as a 'great yo-yoer' be your motivation for yo-yoing.

i know that's a pretty tall order. honestly, i don't believe that there ARE many great yo-yoers out there today. maybe a handful in a generation can really, truly live up to that kind of standard. they're the folks i see in my head when i think of the word 'champion', though hoisting a trophy is only the meanest of that list's challenges. so many of us spend our childhoods dreaming of someday-greatness, in everything we learn to do. unconsciously, we begin to assign value to ourselves based on a comparative rubric delineating 'what we've achieved'. is it enough? am i great?

the truth is that you don't need to be.

true story: my dad is good friends with the poet, dr. maya angelou. she's a wonderful, fascinating person, and deserves more attention and fame she receives (which is considerable). i don't know her well at all anymore, but when i was in high school, i got to speak with her regularly (and, of course, did not appreciate what a blessing it was at the time). on one occasion, when i was a few days away from my high school graduation, she and another professor were over at our house for dinner. i was sitting on the stoop under the mantle, and 'auntie maya' was grilling me on the sort of person i thought i'd be some day. i said something like, 'i don't know what i want to do exactly. i'd like to teach and just... be a great person.' i've never forgotten her response: 'no, dear. the world is full of people wishing and vying desperately to be great. be a GOOD person.'

the point was basically lost on me at the time, but it stuck with me regardless; the distinction between goodness and greatness. to me, it's the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic reward. being 'good' doesn't get you the fabulous cash prize or legendary glory that being 'great' will. being 'good' (either as a person or in the context of some skill) is more humble, more subtle, and ultimately, more important. don't get me wrong: i have no problem with greatness. i think that all of those skills i outlined in response to drew are essential, and i'm putting my nose to the grind to achieve them every day... but the only one that i think really, truly matters is the last (go ahead and read it again).

the point of yo-yoing, for me, is to keep practicing every day, even though i understand i'll probably never be truly 'great'. just to throw down, to invent fun little tricks and giggle about them with my girl or with the kids at school... to receive my flying v's chastising knuckle-smacks with a smile when my mind wanders, or the blessing of a fly-away dismount when i find the way through the trick... to find the courage to play with joy and let the rest fall away... to me, that's what being a 'good' yo-yo player is all about.

and 'good' is good enough.

1 comment:

Joey Fleshman said...

This is right along where I'm finding myself settling in. I don't want to be a champion yo-yoer with what requires of them these days. My favorite times are just spending time with people, young and old, sharing the enjoyment it brings. Finding personal peace and relaxation from a simple toy is wonderful. I want to keep that.

Thank Ed, I always wish I could spend more time with you and pick your mind.