My old boss and favorite bowling instructor, Tom Reid, spoke daily of the relevance of bowling. According to Tom, you could cross-list his course with any department in the school, and he was only half joking. There’s counting–hey, that’s math! Coordinating the form and rhythm of your steps and swing is reminiscent of fitting two dance moves together. There’s physics involved, too, and–believe it or not–a little bit of religion. Bowling really is everywhere, and I think it’s time we just give up and cross-list it with life as well.
I turned to bowling my senior year of college as an escape from the stress of thesis research. It was a slow-paced, validating, social kind of atmosphere. The goal was simple to understand, the means a physical exercise. Everyone started off at different levels of terrible, and we all learned together. There was no intellectual one-upping practiced in the Lanes. In fact, it was a 100% handicap deal. As long as you improved, you would triumph. I had a lot of fun. I won a trophy and a cute little patch that says “I Beat My Coach.” But what I didn’t realize at the time was how much I had learned about being a human being simply by rolling a heavy round object down an oiled lane at a bunch of evil wobbly things.
Life lately has been rocky. There is no denying the vast emptiness and perpetual misdirection of navigating life after college. Every step I take seems to land my foot on an ill-placed banana peel or garden rake. Unfortunately, falling on my ass or getting smacked in the face has begun to lose its comedic charm. After literally bringing this terrible metaphor to life by simultaneously spraining my ankle and contusing my foot, I found myself contrasting my negativity with the most positive people I know. Naturally, my mind turned to Tom Reid, who is pretty much a superstar. Sitting with my foot propped up on a pillow, I chuckled when I remembered the first piece of bowling advice he ever shared with me. “Bowling is a sport of walking and rolling,” he told me after witnessing a spectacularly terrible attempt, “not running and throwing.”
Now, remembering that line has rescued many a game from dire straits, but remembering it the other day was when epiphany truly struck. I’ve been running and throwing again. Not just in bowling, but in life. Something I’ve learned waiting for my injury to heal is that I am hellishly impatient if I’m not in control of a situation. If something is not working, be it a job or a relationship, I will force it to work or die trying. I cannot simply leave things alone. If I have mismanaged a friendship at all, I become even more frantic about fixing it and increasingly need to be around that person. As soon as I notice a pimple, I need to pop it. A string is loose on my sweater? The whole thing will be unraveled by sundown. While these methods have definitely worked before, it’s not working now. Imagine a frightened polar bear in a shop full of tiny crystal unicorns and you’ve only barely scraped the surface of the havoc I’ve managed to wreak this year. So I’ve decided it’s time for me to try walking and rolling, and focus on what matters. I need to just accept things as they are, lay back, and let them take their due course. The extra muscle won’t ensure a strike anymore than an eleventh, cloying text will ensure the restoration of a friendship.
This is getting pretty deep, and maybe I’ve lost you already, but here are a few more Tom Reid Bowling Words of Wisdom I would like to implement beyond the score-sheet…
1) Stop! And Be Positive: Literally, that is what Tom had us doing one lesson. If we found ourselves facing a difficult spare, and we started thinking of all the other spares we’d miss, he wanted us to say “STOP!” and spin our negativity into something positive. For example, “Oh no! I am so bad at ball-side spares! I never get them–STOP!–but if I take the time to actually pay attention to where I’m standing, I bet I can get it this time.” As a very emotional bowler, I found this to be one of the most difficult activities. Each and every shot was an opportunity to rail against myself. I’m not going to lie and say I ever managed to conquer my nature, but I am going to try and give it another go. Mornings lately have been increasingly difficult. I wake up and the first things I think are always negative. How will I find anyone to love me if my tummy sticks out so much when I lay on my side? Why didn’t this or that work out? Ugh, what was I even thinking when I did or said that? Cringe, cringe, cringe. Hate, hate, hate. STOP!!!! Enter positive thoughts; commence smiling.
Note: I am incredibly skeptical of this working, but it’s worth a shot?
2) Let Gravity Do 1/2 The Work: This has to do with walking and rolling as well, which is to say that letting gravity have its say in your roll has as much impact as the amount of muscle you apply and when you apply it. If your arm is too overbearing, it can wreck everything. In life, I often need to remember that relationships involve two (or more) people. That’s not to say that I’m wholly selfish. I often go out of my way to send people little things or cute motivational messages because that sort of stuff makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I just like doing it. However! In the process of doing what makes me feel good, I often ignore how it makes other people feel. Bowling involves two forces–natural gravity and controlled application of muscle. Relationships involve giving, of course, but it needs to be appropriate and respectful, which might require stepping back for a moment and letting others breathe. I just have to trust gravity, or, in this case, an affinity for each other’s company, to do its job. And if it doesn’t, well, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. (I doubt bowling would work in a non-gravity situation anyway.)
3) Let a Song In and Don’t Discriminate: Tom once spoke of the benefits of having a song in your head while you bowl, but warned that this phenomenon was not something you could control. If Michael Jackson’s Thriller is what drops in to the beat of your steps on the approach, don’t banish it for your favorite sea shanty. You have to be open to whatever the lanes send your brain that day or it won’t work. I can actually attest to the truth of this. My “bowling song” has often been It’s A Hard Knock Life from Annie, a song whose lyrics I honestly don’t know at all. It just happened once, and I bowled a strike. And then another. And then another. The next game I bowled, I tried to force that very same song in there, and it was one of the worst games I bowled that semester. So I’m taking a few things away from this lesson. First, you need to be open to whatever opportunities come your way, because they won’t always be what you expect. Second, just because something works once doesn’t mean it will work again. Avoid complacency and taking things for granted.
Honorable mentions: always give high-fives, it’s worth it to take the time to learn to do things right, and don’t score your strike streak until its over.
(proof that Tom Reid is a superstar)