Friday, May 10, 2013

(Sports) Seasonal Homesickness

For context, you need to know just a few simple things about me. First, I grew up outside the city of Pittsburgh and, therefore, bleed black and gold. Second, I moved to Tacoma, WA, 20 months ago in September 2011. I've experienced a good bit of homesickness from time-to-time which grows and fades and has been less severe each time it creeps around. Lately, for you statistics nerds, I've realized a positive and direct correlation that explains the cyclical nature of my homesickness. I'll call it SSH, or, Sports Seasonal Homesickness.

This concept may make sense to some and make no sense to others. If you're a sports fan, you know what I'm talking about. I mean a REAL sports fan. One that reads articles in your local paper after games, follows your team's beat writers on Twitter, and watches every game you're capable of watching. Folks from cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, or Boston might know a lot about what I'm talking about.

I have gotten to the point where I can predict when my depression will set in each year. Late December through early February, most of March through early April, early May through early June, and mid-September, or, NFL playoffs, March Madness, MLB Opening Day, NHL playoffs, and the start of NFL/NCAA football season. Thankfully (kinda), the Pirates have never given me much to care about aside from the start of the season, so October is sorta safe.

There's no way around it. It's a simple formula that I am 2500 miles away from the center of my sports fandom. People in the northwest simply don't care about sports as much as the east coast or midwest and that's okay. It stinks, but it's okay. It makes it hard for me to really get into the teams I've followed forever because I don't have as many folks to talk to about the Penguins, Pirates, or Steelers. They like other things and that's cool. I don't love hiking (yet) or dogs (ever) or climbing stuff (dangerous), but I knew that was the culture coming into this chapter of my life. 

The homesickness doesn't come from the teams as much as you'd think, although I do love a good walk down memory lane with Soixante-Six. No, it's the memories tied to them that really hit me. 

With the Penguins, the memories are abundant. Walking into Police Station Pizza on Friday nights with my dad to see the Pens game on a 19-inch color TV sitting on top of the Coca-Cola fridge for the cooks to watch. Recording portions of TV or radio broadcasts on cassette tapes so I can listen again the next day while mom carted me around running errands. Creating our own wooden shooter-tutor for my hockey net so I could re-enact games from the night before. As an adult, creating lifelong friendships over games at the Otto or Redfield residences, remembering that we don't talk during play unless it's to instruct ("PINCH!"). Vowing never to eat Mrs. Malkin's red borscht without beets again because it jinxed a Stanley Cup game against the Red Wings. Drinking nothing but Pabst Blue Ribbon during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup because that was my good luck charm.

For the Pirates, so many memories of trips to see the worst team in baseball for about 40% of my joyrides in my first 2 years of driving. Joking about the oft-forgotten pieces to the longest seasonal losing streak in pro sports history (20 years), such as Jermaine Allensworth, Francisco Cordova, or, my personal favorite, Rob Mackowiak. Playing wiffleball in my backyard with my closest friends picking different eras of Pirates teams to be (with 1992, of course, being the most popular). Spending most summer evenings with the game on the radio or the TV for the last 20 (losing) seasons.

The Steelers are the biggest unifier. My mother does not watch sports, but she surely knows if the Steelers won or lost each week thanks to the mood of my father. Watching games with my dad at Grandma's house. Watching playoff games with friends in high school and putting our jerseys over our faces for each field goal attempt. Yelling obscenities at Ike Taylor. The list goes on.

It doesn't stop there, either. Pitt sports have been a staple in my life the whole time, as well. Going to games at old Pitt stadium after I'd go play video games or mess around with AutoCAD while dad worked overtime at his engineering job. Choosing games against crappy teams like Rutgers or Temple because we knew there'd be tickets available and Pitt might actually win. Shooting hoops in our driveway with my friends to let off steam after Pitt would lose tough games. The good years in the early 2000s when the unthinkable happened and bowl games and March Madness became staples year-in and year-out. Tyler Palko. Larry Fitzgerald. The list goes on again. (re: It's Tough Being a Pitt Fan).

Needless to say, these memories and feelings creep up when each season reaches their pivotal points. I've spent the last 2 years searching for anywhere to watch games at bars or online. Subscribing to MLB.TV because I couldn't imagine a summer without Pirates baseball. Finding a Steelers bar where I could watch games with people who aren't still bitter about a pathetic Super Bowl with the local team. Finally moving into a house (with Canadians, no less) that has cable where I can watch the Penguins. These are necessary evils to maintain sanity in these times of depression.

There's really no way to alleviate this depression. It's something I'll have to live with forever. WebMD says there's no cure aside from moving home, which I don't have any plans to do any time soon. God says I can't go back yet. Thomas Wolfe says you can't go home again, but I don't trust him any further than I can throw him (which probably isn't far because dead bodies are heavy, I hear).

So, every once in a while I'm going to be sad. I'm going to miss entire Saturdays and Sundays spent on the Redfields' couch watching games. I'll miss the assumed case of Yuengling sitting in Jordan's fridge when the Pirates are on 90% of summer nights. I'll miss the no-nonsense attitude of Pittsburgh sports fans and their hate of everything Philadelphia. Until the Lord calls me home (Pittsburgh, not heaven, although they may not be mutually exclusive), I will do whatever it takes to create a pocket of my life for the black and gold (or blue and gold) to give my sanity some relief every January, March, June, September, and each month in between.

It's not just sports. It's the only life I've known.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Being Who We Were Created To Be

I'm not going to lie, friends. Life has been a struggle the last month or so. I'm at a constant internal conflict over so many things and rarely feel like I get a chance to let it all hang out. There was a time in my life when I was an open book; saying the things I thought without much restraint and doing whatever felt right at the time without much thought. Following my emotions got me into some good situations (packing my car and moving to Washington) and into some difficult situations (packing my car and moving to Washington).

To be frank, I've lost my edge and kept my mouth shut far too much as I've settled into the passive Washington state of mind and it's driving me nuts. I haven't verbally processed things much because I am so tired at the end of the day that I don't want to talk about anything of significance with anyone. Besides, how am I supposed to tell my community that I feel like I'm lacking community or my girlfriend from Washington about the things I don't like about Washington without feeling like some judgmental self-righteous know-it-all prick? I don't know. Maybe there's no way.

Here's the thing, though: these things are true. I miss the community I had in Pittsburgh (where I spent the first 26 years of my life, of course) and there are plenty of things that annoy me about Washington (balanced with cool things like the current immaculate weather and general presence of bodies of water).

I've been a verbal processor all my life and need to embrace who I am. I talk when I think. I have opinions and like to share them. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong. It's who I've been made to be.

When I first moved here, the first thing I made sure people knew about me is that I'm from Pittsburgh. I bleed black and gold and always will. It probably annoyed people how much I talked about Pittsburgh; what life was like there, how we did things, how great the Steelers/Pirates/Penguins are. I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not. It's who I am and always will be.

A few months ago, a friend of mine pointed out something incredibly significant in my life. We were talking about how people in Biblical times worshiped idols, how we still do that today, and how those idols tend to be our identity instead of Jesus. When talking about what it was that we identified with instead of Jesus, I jokingly/seriously said Pittsburgh. My friend Ashley pointed out a few weeks later in another conversation that Pittsburgh definitely is an idol for me

It's the gold standard of what a place could be in my eyes. The ethnic communities founded by Italians, Germans, Irish, etc. The unified black and gold colors of every team. The healthy balance of a low cost of living with a big city arts scene. The way that small ideas like the Saxifrage School (which I spent a few months helping to plan) can get big-time recognition in the Wall Street Journal (as well as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; recognize the skyline in that Death Cab shirt on the left?). 

I've kept my eyes on Pittsburgh instead of Jesus when choosing how to do anything in my life. Instead of focusing on the community around me in Tacoma, I'd always think about the community in Pittsburgh that I left behind. 

For the last few months since that conversation, I've shifted. I've been living more in the world around me and investing in the community I have here. Here's the problem, though: Pittsburgh is still and always will be who I am. The decisions I make, the way I see the world, how I interact with people; it's all Pittsburgh. No matter where I am, I'll always be a yinzer. I'll always want to watch a Steelers game instead of going to church. I'll always pine for Yuengling no matter what amazing craft beers are nearby. I will always seek hard-nosed, genuine people and music who don't give a shit about holding back who they are for any reason.

I've been slipping slowly into the lukewarm passivity of the northwest as a result of not being true to myself. While I don't find any fault or problem in addressing the fact that Pittsburgh has been an idol of mine, I'm learning that it's also important to not remove it from my identity. I owe it to the city that raised me.

So what does this mean for my life and the Kingdom of God? Hopefully it means going back to being a genuine, outspoken, community-focused individual. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I was always the person rallying people together for parties and gatherings. While I don't have a killer back deck for these gatherings anymore, that doesn't mean I can't still be a party-starter. Bringing people together has always been a gift of mine and I'm doing the Kingdom a disservice by keeping to myself.

It means going back to being the dry, witty, sarcastic individual who's hard to read if you're not familiar with me. I'd be sorry for being this way, but I'm not sorry. I used to make people laugh. Sometimes at other people's or my own expense. Worrying so much about my own image or the over-sensitivity of others has never been much of a concern until I moved here, so it's time to go back to my old ways. It's who I was made to be.