Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Forgetting The Good Times

It is difficult to write about things that you don't remember -- difficult but not impossible.

Take the 1960's for example. It has been often said that if you remember the sixties, then you weren't really there. Yet many musical performers, as well as others whose self-described chemical usage would lead you to believe that they should have little (if any) recollection of that time, have nonetheless shared their memories of it -- in pretty significant detail.

Just for the record I have perfect recall of that decade.

Obviously the sixties-memory-loss-as-certification-of-participation is meant hyperbolically. But effective hyperbole is rooted in reality -- in this case a recognition that during intense involvement in an activity our self-awareness is oftentimes significantly diminished.

Except for Woody Allen. Yesterday Mars and I saw his latest movie "Vicky, Christina, Barcelona". And a few weeks back we had watched "Cassandra's Dream." Allen directed both but does not appear in either. But as our son Bram commented to us, "he's always there."

Some may wonder why we willingly subject ourselves to ninety minutes plus of angst-filled, Upper Eastside New York City dialog -- even if it is spoken with a charming Spanish or faux working-class English accent. In the most recent case it was truthfully the setting of the movie, which we visited in 2002. Without going into any more detail I would say "V, C, B" - four stars (five for Barcelona), "C D" - two and one half.

In both cinematic works, as in every Woody Allen film, all of the characters seem to be able at all times to perfectly, albeit somewhat psychotically, articulate their feelings and motivations. And so they do -- ad nauseam -- as if they are experiencing them and recounting them to their shrinks at the same time. Actual people -- or at least the ones that I know -- are just not like that.

In fact, much of the time in real life we are largely unaware of many of the details of the act we are performing -- never mind what motivates us to do it. Sometimes this has dire consequences, as when we nervously pour the red wine on our guests sleeve instead of into the goblet. Other times, as in deeply ingrained habits, nothing bad happens at all. And occasionally absolutely wonderful things happen because we, for whatever reason, are able to shut our minds off from outside distractions and the inessential aspects of what we are attempting, and focus in on the bare essentials of getting it done.

I myself seem to remember every excruciating detail of every bad golf shot I have ever hit -- what I was thinking of, any pains in my body, the bug that landed on the ball, the copse of trees on the right, the water in front, the preceding shot that I just topped, yada, yada, yada. Probably because at the time it was happening I was equally, if not more, aware of each of them. Yet all that I can recall about the good ones is seeing the path of the ball and the final result.

As another New Yorker, baseball legend Yogi Berra, purportedly said, "Think! How the hell are you gonna think and hit at the same time?"

I had two of these good swings during our recent Golfing Elderhostel at Penn State University. I like to think that I actually had more than that. And I probably did. I'm just not aware of them. But these particular ones seem to persist in my long-term memory because they were shots that I would have not even attempted just the day before.

Both of them went between two trees that were probably a couple of driver club-lengths apart -- although now in my mind the opening has shrunk to about one and one-half golf balls wide. In each instance I was probably twenty to thirty yards away from the barricades. But the truth is that I never really saw the impediments -- just the open space between them and the path that the ball would take to get to its target. I took one practice swing, aimed, and hit the shots cleanly through the trees. Each one landed where it would have if I had hit it perfectly from a totally open fairway. And that is all that I remember.

The next day, attempting similar if not simpler shots, my mind was picturing the trees even as I pretended to be focused on the target. And my thoughts were anxiously analyzing and delineating all the mechanics of the simple swing I was hoping to perform. Of course I hit the trees. And I immediately began to agonize about my golf game.

In a personality profile in our local newspaper ESPN Sports Anchor Georgie Bingham is quoted as saying "I play a lot of golf.....My skills ranges from truly terrible to wonderfully brilliant....."

At a social gathering -- or even writing this -- brilliance can come from having the observational abilities, self-perception, and verbal talents of a Woody Allen. But on the golf course you are much better off with the skills of a man who can't think at all -- at least when he is hitting.

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