“He can’t get anything done. His hands are always groping his heirlooms.”
Who are we when we are not who we are?
“In 1969, Abdul-Jabbar was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, where he would perfect his signature sky hook — a balletic feat that involves an explosive one-legged leap before flinging the ball into the hoop with one hand — and win three of his eventual six M.V.P. awards.”
Some people, even someone famous like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, are out of place where they find themselves (not geographically, but in the lives they inhabit). Living, thriving, but always on the edge, a bit out of place and uncomfortable in the confines of what they do and are expected to do. KAJ was a master of basketball but seemed uncomfortable, preferring writing and intellectual pursuits.
You sell yourself every day as something and someone you are not. But how to break free of that persona and its incumbent expectations to become what you really want to be? (Moreover, how do you figure out exactly what you want to be in the face of the cacophony of voices telling you otherwise or praising your current station?)
It’s a strange dichotomy: people project identities, traits, attributes and activities onto you that may be assumptions or based on natural talent you don’t care to fulfill, but at the same time other people are often the only ones who see the beauty, potential, wells of brilliance and ideas, intelligence, depth, warmth and possibility in us – so much more clearly than we can see any of these things in ourselves. How can others see us so clearly and unclearly at the same time?
One woman who saw me very clearly – to the extent that I grew terrified and pushed her away – comes to mind. She pushed me – a lot, which is probably why I never tried to reconcile with her. I pushed her away in a way that I knew would close the door forever. In some ways she knew precisely what I needed and wanted, but went too far, becoming a kind of salesman herself, touting all the possibilities: “It could be like this all the time.”
But no, it couldn’t. I don’t want to be sold a bill of goods and pressured into something – even if it feels good. Sometimes in my own rare zeal and excitement I fear I am doing something similar.
But these days are at least content, if not happy, lying in bed talking about rhubarb or pressure and all manner of other things, reading about the history of Congo, listening to music, all before falling into a restful sleep, dreaming about all those people who perhaps filled roles they never asked for or onto whom I projected the wrong or misinterpreted expectations – like my friend T, whose absence comes to mind more frequently than it should. Today reading about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and his “sky hook” made me think of an 8th grade prank our teacher (yes, our teacher!) played on T. He sent her across the entire school during class to ask the gym teacher to give her the sky hook. She had no idea what the sky hook was so was expecting to receive an actual thing. She got all the way to the gym and forgot what she was supposed to ask for. She returned to the classroom to get a reminder and headed all the way back to the gym, where the perplexed PE teacher imitated the classic KAJ move, and when T returned, our teacher expected her to demonstrate the sky hook move in front of the class.