Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lessons from the (Badminton) Net

Reading: All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis
(Bethany McLean & Joe Nocera)
Watching on TV: Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)
Re-watching: Clean & Sober (1988; Michael Keaton, Kathy Baker)

Last month, David and I rediscovered badminton (which I always want to spell “badmitten” and which is probably not a good thing to admit since in my other career, I’m an editor).

David wanted to get off the treadmill up in his office and go outside for exercise after our brutal winter and nippy spring. I wanted something to raise my heart rate that wasn’t called Liam Neeson.

As children, David and I both loved to play badminton —minton. It was one of the few sports I was naturally pretty good at. In fact, when I look back, I had some talent for high-net sports. But volleyball could only be played at school in gym class, and then you had to deal with the girls who didn't want to go after balls if it might make them sweat in front of the boys. The closest I ever came to brawling in school.

David found a portable set in a catalog, and early in the morning, before it gets too hot, we will set it up in the backyard and play for about an hour (40 minutes of play + 20 minutes of gasping and sit-down-with-water breaks).

At this stage, David refers to our game as Worseminton.

Badminton’s history is a bit vague, including why it was named after Badminton House, the home of a guy called the Duke of Beaufort. The game was probably blended from games played in India and the Far East, and it might have been brought back to the UK by Brits who, as was their wont back then, were continually marching armies off to foreign shores looking for some sunshine.

But back to the present day. Let's get out our rackets.

The first lesson I learned was that playing at age 12 is a lot different than playing with bifocals. The birdie enters my peripheral vision and then the Bermuda Triangle.

The second lesson is The Ugly Truth: For exercise to work, it has to test you. It doesn’t have to render you drained and nauseous — that’s what your commute is for — but it has to make you work. In one month, I’ve lost 3 pounds by doing nothing different except playing badminton 2 to 3 times a week. In a year of a regular routine of walking, I got sore knees.

Probably because I was light-headed from lack of oxygen, one morning I began to see parallels between badminton — minton — and writing.

Lesson: As in writing, forces beyond your control can make you doubt yourself.

Think your game’s improving? Here, have a little wind. Have some humidity. Have a day when your legs are totally unfamiliar with the concept of acceleration. Have a day when after you’ve told someone at a cocktail party what you write, they feel compelled to tell you how much they hate amateur sleuth novels because they are so contrived.

Lesson: When a problem comes right at your head, you don't rationally consider your options.

You do what you can to protect yourself and remain rooted to the spot. Ask any writer who’s been told by their publisher that the next book in their series isn’t being picked up.

Anybody who tells you they didn’t react that way for a while… Well, think twice before you loan them money.

Lesson: There are times you shouldn’t keep score.

When a writer friend gets a rave review in a publication that has trashed you, it’s best to celebrate her success. The alternative is not going to do anything positive for your career or your character.

David and I have decided instead to see how long we can keep the rally going. We're at 35 years and counting.

And this winter, I’m playing in my badmittens.

© 2015 Sheila York


  1. Sheila, you've translated some good thoughts here. tjs

    1. Thanks. Good to know brain is still working even when knees aren't. We had another game this morning, and we hadn't played in days because of humidity and rain. Now, when readers ask if I'm a plotter or a pantser -- well, pantser has taken on a new meaning.