Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

The Melancholy Body

I've been watching as much of the World Cup as I can. Given where I live -- currently on the same time as California -- that hasn't been as much as I like. Sometimes I will stir enough at 5am to remember that there's a game underway that I can drop in on. But the desire for sleep often overwhelms me.

By the time the second game is on, my daughter is up getting ready for summer camp. Not until she is out the door does it make sense to turn on the television. And even then I usually have it on as "background" to the many tasks I need to accomplish. The same goes for the final game, which overlaps with the end of her camp session.

Yesterday was an exception to this pattern, because I'd either come down with a bug or bitten by a bug -- the symptoms can be similar -- that had me feeling too stiff and sore, physically and mentally, to do much of anything other than stare at the screen. It wasn't until the middle of the day, as the day's action was winding down, that I was able to overcome my feeling of fatigue and do something productive.

As captivating as I found Drogba's dramatic return to the pitch and the diminishing returns of Christiano Ronaldo's attempts at drama, as enjoyable as the Brazil-North Korea contest was, I still couldn't let myself give in to the experience. The burden of my to-do list was too heavy to shake off, even temporarily.

That's why I'm looking forward to this weekend, when I will be able to watch without feeling bad about the fact that I'm watching. In the meantime, I am coping with my soccer jones the way I've learned, over the years, to satisfy other sporting passions: by reading. I might not be able to see a whole match or be concentrating during those stretches -- all too infrequent, according to most commentators on this year's World Cup -- when something truly exciting happens. But I can experience the action indirectly, through a match report, blog entry, or detailed analysis of tactics.

Because my friend Steven Rubio has done more than anyone to remind me how much I like football "un-American style," in addition to being one of the people whose opinions I most respect in the world, I follow his special World Cup Blog with great care. And I have become hooked, thanks to his advice, on the superb site Zonal Marking, which makes nuances I would otherwise overlook come alive. I also check in daily with The Shin Guardian, an excellent blog that focuses a lot of attention on the USA side, one of our few national teams that I root for without reservation.

The deeper I sink into this routine, however, the more I miss the wonderful -- and dreadfully exhausting -- experience I had back in 2002, when I watched matches with my friends Sean and Eric in the middle of the night. That was a singular event for me. Even those days when we didn't convene, I often found myself up most of the night watching matches, both because my circadian rhythms had gotten completely out of whack and because our house was subjected to a tremendous invasion of biting ants that had me spraying various points of ingress and getting unpleasantly high off the toxic fumes that accompanied this line of defense.

I wasn't fully adjusted to the heat of a Tucson June back then. I remember the strangely compelling dread I'd feel when the sky started to turn light, that knowledge that unbearable conditions were on their way. Now, by contrast, I find myself actually sitting in the garage to read some afternoons, because I'd rather have an honest -- but still shaded, naturally -- sense of the weather than mask it with the environmental painkiller of air conditioning.

I wonder, though. Could it be that the sense of existential fatigue I feel right now, this sense that the simplest tasks are monumentally difficult, be the result of a deeper failure to acclimate? Or is it, rather, that my body remembers the discomfort of my first years and, more specifically, the June of 2002, as a perverse form of pleasure that it is trying to simulate for me? I do believe in the force of body memory, its intransigence in the face of new circumstances.

I had a partner once who would become profoundly depressed every September, even though she was not conscious of any trauma associated with the month. It was as if the change in light were enough to trigger bodily responses that were otherwise held in check. Maybe the World Cup, even if it only comes once every four years, has a similarly unsettling effect on me, one exacerbated by the brutal weather -- for me, anyway -- that accompanies its return.

Back in 2002 I was pretty miserable. I disliked most of the people I worked with. I disliked much of the place where I was living. And I was still homesick for my former home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, eight years later, I still get pangs of regret for leaving California, I still dislike much of everyday life in Tucson, and I remain unhappy, though with more specific and justifiable reasons than in 2002.

The midpoint to all this was the 2006 World Cup, when I was under the greatest strain of my life in many ways, but too numbed by pressure to do anything other than react, like a goalie guessing which way to dive for a penalty kick.

The goalie's anxiety at the penalty kick as an autobiographical allegory

At least in 2002 I could still look forward to a day when life would finally be better, when the intense adjustments occasioned by my move to the desert would have turned into reflexes. Now I spend a good deal of my time looking back on that summer with powerful nostalgia, as the period right before I took a wrong turn that I still haven't been able to right.

In 2002, however, my knowledge of soccer and appreciation for the subtleties of the World Cup were decidedly more primitive than they are today. I might not be better off than I was back then. I might not be happier. But I'm at least a whole lot wiser in the way I watch sports, not to mention people. The paradox is that this wisdom can only be expressed, most of the time, through reflections on someone else's reflections. World Cup Soccer, like my life, has become something I engage with in the past tense more often than the present.

Is that necessarily a bad thing? It depends what you regard as an "authentic" experience or, indeed, whether you regard the authenticity of an experience as the prime index of its value. Perhaps my ongoing struggles to embrace the world in "real time" betoken a crucial flaw in my character. Or maybe it's simply that the melancholy body is the only one that makes the time of history feel real.

It occurred to me, as I was proofing this entry, that the summer of 2002 was also when I moved from reading personal blogs on an irregular basis -- an hour one week, two the next -- to checking in on them every day. Steven's was one of them, along with the first users of LiveJournal that caught my eye. But he was the only person I read regularly who was writing about sports and, naturally, the World Cup.

Looking back on what he posted about that World Cup, I was struck by a short entry that took up the theme, more or less, that I've been exploring here:
One thing sports do is serve as a kind of calendar. For example, I remember when it was that we moved into our current house, because the Twins and Cardinals were playing in the World Series while we moved, which means it was 1987.

The World Cup reminds me of living conditions, most specifically, where the teevees have been. My memories of Cups past are connected to the rooms where I watched each of them. In '94 our teevee was in the bedroom in the basement; in '98 it was in the upstairs bedroom. Meanwhile, I can calculate how old my friends Dale and Ginger's daughter Megan is, because her first birthday party took place during England-Cameroon '90. And my sister-in-law Katie got married four years ago, during France '98. This year, there's the big living room teevee and the Wega in the computer room, and I expect both to get a workout as I try to watch all 64 matches.
I'm still watching on the same low-budget 20" television I bought shortly after moving to Tucson, but everything around the set -- not to mention my mindset -- has changed since 2002.

This last aside is a prelude to musing whether my nostalgia for the summer of 2002 is also a nostalgia for the time when I was a reader who felt no obligation to produce regular content myself. Sometimes I get the same uncanny sensation thinking back on my life before I began actively blogging that I did as a child trying to imagine what life was like before electric lights, refrigerators and flush toilets. The image I included above is a shot of my television screen during the 2006 World Cup, right before Sweden took a penalty kick against Germany. I keep thinking I should have similar documentary evidence of the 2002 affair, that not having such proof calls my having seen it into question.
Tags: autobiography, everyday, nostalgia, sports

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