It’s been a long time since my last post for reasons both good, bad, unexpected, and honestly by choice. This post and the subsequent parts after will hopefully clear up some of the things that have occurred to me in St. Vincent since living on my own, some travels, admissions, and hopefully some insight into what it is like to be a PCV in SVG. In the weeks, days, and months that have passed since my last post I am often reminded of the advice from one of my best friends and teammates from Ursinus College.
“Don’t overthink it. You’re thinking too much about it all,” my then roommate and one of my best friends says to me as I struggle through the motions of my lineout throw. It was another late night at the indoor track at Ursinus College, and instead of drafting essays, reading lecture notes, or pretending to be academic cultured student, I was struggling to throw an odd shaped ball in a straight line.
It’s one thing to be frustrated at something entirely new to us be it language, skill, or craft, but when we falter at something we were seemingly “good at”, and comfortable with, it can crack us to our core. We’re never going to be 100% perfect at things be it playing a sport, cooking a dinner, planning a lesson, creating a piece of art, being an adult (I still get sucked into the Meme stream K-hole for hours somedays). Perfectable definitely, but learning to grow at something and progress takes time, and sometimes the biggest skills we need to learn are shutting out the white noise around us, and in our heads.
I’m no D1 athletic phenomenon in any way shape (literally), form, or height for that manner, but I was confident in playing rugby during my college years ( little more so now), and especially with a simple responsibility that my position had, throwing a ball straight down a line. It was becoming more and more of an issue so much so, that on the field and under pressure I was beginning to doubt myself, which is not something you need in your mind when 14 other players on your team are relying on you, and 15 from the opposing team are actively trying to maim you.
For those not versed in rugby lingo my position in college as it is today is that of a Hooker, please try me on jokes I guarantee I’ve heard them (‘Support your local Hooker, Play Rugby!’ etc.), and was graced with the nickname of ‘Piglet’, so already there is comedic equation in play whenever I would step onto the pitch. A lineout is similar to an out of bounds throw that you see in soccer, except you have opposing teams lifting other players into the air to try and fight/contest for the ball creating a tunnel of airborne violence and/or grace. Imagine Cirque de Ole with heavier, hairier, and sweatier acrobats, and less nightmarish clown makeup. The hitch with throwing a lineout is that is has to go straight down the center, not towards either team, even your own, to ensure it is ‘fair’ for either team jumping. The way that some of these mini contests sway can totally change the next play, and flow of the game dependent on who wins it and where on the field; games can be won, and lost in the defining moments after these plays.
The hooker has the same role as most players on the field, except they also transform into a human battering ram come time for scrums (think the antithesis of tug of war, throw out the rope, and replace with 16 players driving against each other to claim a ball), but they also throw the ball down the ‘tunnel’ when there is a time for a line out. Without going into a play by play I wasn’t operating in the fashion that I was used to, and it was leading to some crucial mistakes on the field, and some rather unpleasant remarks off the field by teammates and onlookers alike.
I would practice with my roommate at night a few times a week away from other players, to try and get some semblance of comfort away from the tempo of the game and fatigue, but still I had the same problem. Even though I could practice the position, direction, and parts of the play in separate sections, when I strung them together it would overshoot, miss, or the ball would magically wobble into outer space.
We all have pregame rituals. From what players eat, some would have to have fruit, or a Wawa Hashbrown, entire hoagie, or remain on empty until after a game. Some folks had to listen to certain music be it Dropkick Murphy’s, Rammstein, A$AP Rocky, or a personal favorite was when we arrived to a game blasting Pavarotti’s Nessum Dorma. Some folks get all quiet and 8 Mile like on the field, some joke, nervously laugh, apply tape or paint, or blood, or whatever deity they prayed too, and then some didn’t do anything at all.
I was in such a funk with my throw that during a game I could feel the torrent of thoughts hit me like a wave of malignant ideas. My pregame ritual for each throw would totally knock me out of the moment and into my own head. I would look down at the straight line and my brain would get flooded by the path the ball needed to follow, the ball’s tacky grip itself in my hand, adjust my feet to lean with my chest up, alway’s have your chest up, don’t jostle the ball the ref will ding you for that, that ref sucks, he hates us, that last call was BS he totally going to call this line out, think about the next play, where do I needed to be?, the rubber taste of my mouth guard building up saliva akin to a dentist appointment without the sticky little vacuum tube in the side of my mouth, the importance of the field position, the people watching, the friends on sideline, and family who drove out to see us, to see us lose?, who was hosting the party after, do I need to shower for that?, the smell of musty jersey’s that needed to be cleaned or firebombed, I better not mess this up, I can feel the heat of the players eyes in the back of my head, don’t mess this up, and so forth.
Now how does this connect to Peace Corps service 5 months in, and 4 months into my own site you say?
I was plagued during that time in college to fall into the cycle of over analyzing, over thinking, and building heaps upon loads of pressure internally, that was affecting my performance. Yet, I was graced with an extremely lucky lesson from a close friend, that put it simply, “Don’t overthink it.”
The less I looked at the end point the ball needed to get to, and shut off the intricacies of it all around me, the more I could feel present in the moment, in the goal at hand. This over thinking and over focusing was really the bigger issue of me struggling with taking on more responsibility as a student, player, and team leader making it’s ways into my actions. It is great to have a high standard for yourself, and to hold yourself accountable, but we run the risk of mixing our focus from the game in front of us, to the bigger picture if we keep that pressure on for too long.
We face that here every day in site during service, the issues or the needs of our day to day in the classroom, or at our small homes, the bigger picture of our work, the development work ahead for the PC, questioning if we made the right choice, holding ourselves accountable, responsibility towards something bigger than ourselves, our friends, our family, loved ones at home who we are away from, our country, paying it forward for them, not wasting your time here, and eventually what comes next after service finishes.
This isn’t just a PC related issue, anyone can sink into that rabbit hole and tune away from the present with clouds of white noise. Seeing that, understanding it, and moving on will help dampen the noise and bring you back to loving the things you love to do, be it getting back on your game, feeling better about your service, or bringing yourself to writing and creating art again.
I don’t throw at 100% accuracy, we didn’t win state champs, or save our rec center, or beat the bad guys from Mighty Ducks 2, but I am lucky enough to remember now whether it is on the field or off of the field when I am interfering with my own head, so thank you Joe.
Overthinking came to mind, ironically, when I was pressed as what to write about and update in my blog here. I don’t want to follow the George RR. Martin scheme of writing by releasing a blog every time a dying star goes supernova, and I won’t kill off any of my main characters when least expected. So much has happened, with myself, the community I live in, my house (I live in a house now not and adultish frat house), the school, island, at home in the states and abroad that it would be very GoT-esque if I wanted to cram that all into one amazing blog piece of online literature, which I will not be doing.
I was stressing for weeks about how to tie a bow on what I have been experiencing these past months, but doing so would be a Herculean sized article, and honestly wouldn’t do any of this experience or people justice . After talking with a fellow PCV, my awesome girlfriend, and seeing my friends being happy back at home it reminded me of lesson’s I’ve been blessed to learn from some of these truly great friends. I’m going with the less is more route, and will be rolling out some more posts later this week. I can highlight some of the things that have happened both weird, wild, and entertaining these past few months since moving into my own place with these next three posts: Part 1 what I actually do out here, Part 2 what I’ve learned thus far, and Part 3 what’s next. Stay tuned for more and thanks for reading.