Making Friends With Failure is the Game
My parents had this really incredible approach to our childhood activities, we always had to be in a sport and something artistic. My Ma would drive us all around town to our dance classes, singing lessons, basketball tourney's, bowling leagues and baseball games. I started playing fastball at 4 years old, I have a memory of lining up my bat to the tee and whacking the shit out of that ball and taking off to first base and I was hoooooked.
I played "A" ball with the best clubs in the province, I had the goal of going to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and I was on track. I was doing well at the World Cup juniors, won MVP shortstop at the Canadian Nationals and was hitting grand slams against Team Australia Jr's. I'd taken my SAT's and was starting conversations with Universities in the states for scholarships. I remember looking at the Long Island Uni website and they had written that Jlo sometimes used their track for runs and I was like SEND ME THERE! I had a scout from Princeton chat me up in Denver at a tournament and was like hmm could I be a Princeton Tiger?
But ultimately I did not go to the states and I didn't make it to the Olympics. I had a long conversation with my parents about how I was tired. How my body was literally breaking down, my knees were (and still are) battered, I've broken almost every kind of bone in my body and had a collection of surgeries to prove it. I had been playing ball for over 15 years and at a varsity level it would only get more demanding with 2 a day trainings and conditioning. There is nothing outside the sport at the uni level and I was a woman, there was no MLB, nothing for me to work towards. Females weren't even given the opportunity to coach at that time. The first MLB female GM was literally just hired this year, and I am so fucking proud of Kim Ng.
So I went to UBC to study theatre and I am very happy with that decision and on top of that I'm so grateful for what baseball taught me, continues to teach me. Being given the opportunity to excel at something, put well beyond the 10, 000 hours in (I was hitting 500 balls a day at my peak training), gave me the insight and embodied experience of how to commit, work, and deliver on a process. Even if all I ever got out of it was the work ethic, to deeply learn what's required to excel and perform I would be beyond grateful.
My commitment to baseball is also why I struggle to empathize with people who want to be great but have not put the work in. Rain or shine, I would grab three buckets of balls from the garage, a few of my fave bats, lug my gear outside and start swinging. Hit the ball into the fence, hit the ball off the tee, throw the ball up and hit it, practices swings one handed, switch hit to better understand my swing, slow motion swings, adjusted form swings, visualization swings. I would swing and miss and do it again and hit and I'd do this for hours, over and over and over, constantly adjusting because practice does not make perfect - high level athletes know - perfect practice makes perfect and I was practicing 6 days a week.
Now perfect is almost impossible to sustain, it's why perfect games are so rare, but with regards to hitting, it's an embodied feeling. When you make contact with the ball, the world slows down, you can feel the muscle memory ignite and stage by stage your body aligns to connect and thrust that ball like a bat outta hell onto the field. I knew that feeling so intimately, I could tell a hit before it left my bat, any hitter knows a good connection by the vibrations. That's knowing a thing. So yes, I struggle to accept excuses for not being prepared, trained and ready - I'm working on being less brutal to myself about this. But remember I've 10000 hours plus for baseball slaxts and I didn't do that excusing myself from the work required.
One of the greatest teachings ball gifted me was learning to love pressure. I was a 3/4 hitter in the line up which means I'm positioned for high stress scenarios. There was either 1/2 out and I had to get on to keep the inning going or there were runners on and I had to get them in to score. Striking out was never an option but it happened often because striking out is a big part of the game. Let's say that again, striking out is a big part of the game. And this is a lesson we all need to apply to our work. The Work of unlearning the racist conditionings of the canadian state.
Remember in the movie Arrival, when Louise speaks to the impacts of how we learn a language with a game and it becomes the comparative structure for how we see the world. I've realized I see the world in baseball. I don’t think I can get through one zoom consultation without at least one baseball anecdote. From training and work ethic, reflective practice, mind and body conditioning, batting averages, leadership, roles and responsibilities baseball covers it all.
Yesterday I compared canadians white fragility to a baseball player striking out and blaming the baseball. It’s nonsensical, egoic and shirks responsibility. High level ball players would take that strikeout, reflect on how to have a more effective outcome next time and say thank you for the feedback. This disappointing reaction by white folks in their unlearning is often self centered and looks like someone throwing a bat and blaming the ball for their strikeout.
There's no logic in that, no accountability, there is a severe lack of ability in that response. I know re-learning something is more difficult than learning something new. Correcting a bad habit is down right fucking frustrating, especially when it's embedded in muscle memory - or societal conditioning.
As a hitter I developed a bad habit of hitching my front leg before the pitch - which undermined the integrity of the swing and it was painstakingly brutal to correct. The mental consciousness it took to "keep the front foot down and wait, keep the front foot down and wait, keep the front foot down and wait" took so so so much deliberate attention, critical reflection and energy. Ultimately I rewrote the muscle memory and re-conditioned myself to a non-weight transfer hitch swing but it took a lot of attention and work.
Socially, the dogmatic conditioning of white supremacy can be like a bad hitch. We do racist chit over and over and then when we get called out for striking out, saying something racist and or ignorant and then we throw a tantrum and blame the system and other people. Yes it's a positioning but the conditioning is something we can and must transform and hold ourselves accountable to. I couldn't stand players blaming the pitch or the bat - the bat didn't striked out you did. Yes canada is racist but that doesn't mean you get to blame canada or "the man" it's you, its us.
In a theatrical sense, actors often get bad habitual ism's. Like exhaling the inspiration breath before they say the line - this one kills me when I see performers do it. I was fortunate to have an acting teacher early on nip this habit - they asked why did you do that? Why did you exhale all that work, energy, drama, conflict, emotion before the line. And I consciously put into my training to never let emotional breath work go underutilized. The complex part is knowing that the bad habitual conditioning can feel "good" while in actuality it's extraordinarily ineffective.
I once directed an actor who was constantly doing the exhale breath before the line but it felt "right" to them but it undermined all their power. It was ultimately such a deep conditioning it was never corrected because re-conditioning takes a lot of conscious work and a commitment to consciously and courageously fail. This failure is the process of transformation, it is scary and not everyone has the endurance and capacity to engage with it and then sustain it, so we just let the old conditioning of the bad hitch and racism go on cause it's easier.
I remember this one player getting into a bad hitting rut, and without conscious attention and training, that rut eventually became her conditioning. Mentally and physically it took her over. She could not hit the ball. She blamed everything and everyone, "my uniform got in the way, I didn't get a proper warm up, the box was too muddy, you didn't tell me blah blah blah" and she totally and completely self-sabotaged and eventually wasn't even rostered. She could not consciously commit to and execute on a re-conditioning process. It was such a twisted experience because striking out got comfortable, she normalized it. She was so afraid to hit the ball she prefered striking out.
You know any of those people in your life?
Baseball taught me failure is a big part of everything, it's how anyone gets good at anything and I wanted to be a great baseball player, and I want to be an effective creator and I know failure is a part of that. It's why I'm on draft 6 of Break. I'm building a compelling story on drafts and drafts of success and failures. Parsing success and failure in process takes detailed attention. And is a muscle to build and you want that creative muscle to be big and strong so we can flex on conjuring like, that line is impactful but the stage direction could be working harder.
The no hitch on the swing was successful but I failed to follow through. When I was hitting I would pay so much attention to the ball I could see not just the spin and rotation of the ball, I could see the red seams. Success is built on failures, and failures are transformed by paying deep attention to the details of why something failed.
I believe the reason I've had success at coaching, directing and leading is because I have trained and continue to build my capacity to pay attention to details and how they intersect with results and impact. Ultimately I can unpack a scene or strikeout without getting butthurt or being a fragile and laborious writer because I know it's a process. I know a good avg is 300. Which means 7 out of 10 times I will strikeout, failure is a part of the game folks and I need to be grateful for the feedback in order to keep my batting avg at around 335 (which was my retirement avg.)
I still want to make my old coaches and teammates proud. I don't ever want to be a player who blames the baseball. I want to be a player (I also love that player works for baseball and theatre) who keeps the teams avg high, loves the pressure, gives high fives and cheers on the success of the team. Whose proactively training to ensure I prepared for all scenarios and would never come close to blaming my strikeout on the uniform or something that embarrassing. This egoic of a response, if repeated becomes the conditioning and fails now not just ourselves but the team/company.
A wondrously complex part of ball is that it's a team sport but it's built on individuals success. Winning or losing becomes a chain reaction of individuals performance. We don't all bat together, it's one pitcher, one ball, one batter and the game is a result of the collection of these isolated moments. The process can be distilled down to a collection of successes and failures and the result, the play/story's impact, is a result of creators having the detailed and rigorous capacity to identify, adjust and transform failures into opportunities to connect - with the ball and the audience.
I'm going to leave you with a great scene from one of my favourite movies, Moneyball. This scene captures the rigour it takes to dissect and examine one's game. I learned the analytical process from ball and apply it to everything. Critical reflection and making accurately informed and detailed decision making is a discipline I work at everyday.
I hope that we can all make better friends with failure, knowing failure does not reflect our worth and ability but is a process that's required for any success to be accomplished.
Here's to striking out 7 outta 10 times and loving it.
For the love of the game and with love to you,
p.s big shout out to the Siminovitch finalists. Espesh to the Matriarchs Carmen Aguirre and Tara Beagan! Much love and deep respect to your commitments and contributions to the stories, community and our spirits.
p.p.s Here is a deleted scene from A League of Their Own, that you MUST watch!!
It's of Dottie and Jimmy kissing and I had never seen it before and I love and hate it and really glad they cut it but grateful I just got to watch it!!!!