Is This What it Sounds Like When Doves Cry?

when-doves-cryPrince died today. He wasn’t my favorite artist nor did I ever have the chance to see him perform. But he was certainly a touchstone for a time in my life that was peppered with equal measures of excitement, angst and emotional upheaval.

That time was the 1980s. I was at UCLA and life seemed to be spread out before me like a banquet, ripe for the tasting. You didn’t escape Prince on the radio or on the newly-launched MTV back then whether it was “Little Red Corvette”, “Controversy”, “1999” or his masterpiece, “Purple Rain”. In the early 1980s, when I turned my borderline obsession-compulsion with going to aerobics classes into a part-time job, Prince’s “I Would Die for You” was featured on my very first aerobics tape (that’s right: cassette tape). It was a fun time to be young. I think Prince knew that.

This isn’t just about Prince, though. It’s about David Bowie, Glenn Frey or any of the many talented musicians out there that bring us joy, pain and sorrow through their art. And it’s about the actors, writers, painters, athletes that are all part of the fabric of our lives and to which we form an attachment. It’s about emotional investment.

Some people call me “passionate”. I am ultra-aware that I am often too emotionally-invested in things that bring me pleasure, but in equal measures, pain. It’s why I am an easy target for taunting when my Los Angeles Kings or UCLA Bruins lose. It’s why in my work life, I often follow my clients to their next job and their next, and why I sometimes go to bat beyond the point of reason for a decision I disagree with. It’s why I cried when David Bowie died. And again when I heard about Glenn Frey. And again, today, for Prince.

Partially, it’s about feeling your own mortality. If Bowie and Frey and Prince are gone at ages that are now not too far from my own, I am suddenly cognizant of how fast time is moving and how little time might be left. In part, it’s the reminder of people I used to know, places I used to go, things I loved and lost, memories that are stored away but brought quickly to the surface just by hearing a few notes. I’ll never hear “Young Americans” and not remember a particular summer between junior and senior year of college when two of my friends – one, a summer love – painted my Mom’s living room in exchange for beer and that song blared from the speakers. I’ll never hear “I Can’t Tell You Why” and not think of my college roommate who loved – and actually possessed the vocal chops – to sing it around our apartment on Gayley Avenue. I’ll never hear “Baby I’m a Star” and not think of the little aerobics studio in La Jolla where I first started teaching and where my summer was a blur of teaching classes, riding my bike to the beach and drinking margaritas at Jose’s Cantina.

Certainly, it begs the question: is such a fervent emotional investment worth it?  My girls sometimes make fun of my intensity watching hockey games or my excitement at a concert. Or wonder why I would cry over the death of someone I never knew personally. I tell them it’s not just about the game or the team or the artist or the song. It’s about what it all represents. And it’s simply inevitable that anything that gives you so much happiness when it’s all going well, is going to bring you sorrow when it doesn’t.

Is it worth it? As I listen to “Purple Rain”, feeling a familiar pang as the memories shelved long ago flood over me, I want to say no, but I know that’s not true. For me, the answer can only be yes. A resounding and emphatic yes.

Post Play-off Depression: It’s All About Connecting

UnknownWhen I was nine years old, my family moved to Atlanta, GA for a couple of years, settling into a lovely little apartment complex called Windy Hill Village, notable for nothing much but its proximity to downtown and the newly built Omni Center. The Omni Center was the home of the then-Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames hockey team. Because of its location, Windy Hill Village boasted not only the Rubin family as its residents, but also most of the Atlanta Flames hockey players. Somehow, my parents became friendly with a few of the players and next thing I knew, we had become hockey fans. I could name all of the players (to this day, I remember Captain Keith McCreary, Ernie Hickey, Jacques Richard and goaltender Dan Bouchard) and loved boasting to my classmates that I actually knew these guys personally! For the first time in my young life, I felt the excitement of attending a live sporting event, the bonding that occurs with a crowd of people all chanting the same thing in a great big arena, the emotional connection one develops with a local team – particularly, when you know the players personally.51LTCH15-9L._SL500_AA300_

Cut to many years later, after living in a hockey-less San Diego for most of my teens, attending UCLA where football and basketball were front and center, finally settling down to love, life, marriage and kids with a Swede who played hockey growing up. The fires were rekindled a bit and then, when our oldest daughter went off to college, befriending a couple of Canadian hockey fans (yes, I recognize that’s redundant) and realizing that she also enjoyed the game, it was time to really reconnect with the sport and our local team, the L.A. Kings. It didn’t hurt that the Kings were experiencing a resurgence that would soon lead to a 2012 Stanley Cup win – just in time for us to remember what it was like to be part of an entire city rejoicing over a shared victory.

Cut to this year when after watching nearly every game either from our couch or at Staples Center, after heated rivalries with friends and colleagues, Twitter wars, Facebook posts and many evenings of bonding over the details of a game, our beloved Kings have just been pushed out of the play-offs, after a valiant effort to win game 5 against a powerful Blackhawks team. There is a sudden empty feeling now that our team’s season is over – not just sorrow for their loss, but a definite void where it feels like something more important than just a hockey series is missing.  It made me wonder what this hockey passion is really all about.  What is it about this weird, emotional investment we humans make in a sports team that is so compelling and at times, all-encompassing?   Is it as simple as sharing a common interest with other humans? Is it living vicariously through the players, being competitive in a way that you might never get to experience on your own? Or is it deeper than that, the thrill of being part of something larger than ourselves, a connection to humanity that sometimes goes missing in our everyday lives, particularly now that connections are less face-to-face and personal, and more online and distant.

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Even if you have no passion for hockey, football, baseball or any other sport, you may still understand this urge to be part of something larger than yourself. If you have a favorite band, think of how it feels to be in a crowd of people at that band’s concert, all singing the same words to the same song, surrounded by a shared connection that seems to transcend a simple concert performance. (Anyone who has seen U2 live must know what I’m talking about, right?)

I’m sure in a few days, I’ll go back to “life before hockey season” where I am not racing to finish up my work so I can don my jersey and join my hubby on the couch or pick up our younger daughter early from school so we can battle the freeway traffic down to Staples Center to make it to our seats before warm-up starts.  There are plenty of things to occupy all of us until the fall and soon, the normal routines will again take over and my Twitter and Facebook posts will not longer be all about that bad call or that amazing goal in the last 10 seconds of regulation. But I’ll still be looking forward to the next season, the next game, the next opportunity to share in that connection to something bigger than me – a way to share an experience that is all at once exciting, emotional, aggravating and compelling with my family, my friends, my team, my city, with the other humans who share the planet – and a passion for hockey with me.