Monday, November 30, 2009

Recovering Eeyore

A few years ago, when I’d just started playing in Laura The Tennis Pro’s Monday Clinic, we all came together after Thanksgiving Weekend and one of the Marys asked me how my Thanksgiving was. I proceeded to tell her how I don’t really like Thanksgiving, that it’s a hard, depressing holiday for me, that I wish my extended family were physically closer so we could spend it together like we did when I was a kid. Marybeth listened graciously as I went on and on and suddenly, as if someone stepped in and slapped some sense into me, I just stopped.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her. “I haven’t yet learned to just answer that question by simply saying, ‘Good, yours?”

We were all just starting to get to know each other back then. The two Marys had been in a semi-private with Laura for a while and they wanted to play in tournaments together in the summer, so Laura asked me to come be a fourth on the court so they could work on doubles strategy.

When you’re invited into an already formed group, you worry about whether the other players are going to like you, whether you’ll be asked back. This has as much to do with your playing ability as your personality. And I feared that with that Thanksgiving response of mine, I was bound to get the heave ho.

Maybe my mea culpa was sufficient, but just to be safe I spent the next several weeks trying to be positive and upbeat. A recovering Eeyore. I really loved being in this group and I was sure that, with a little mindfulness, I’d be able to answer benign, polite questions as people were expected to: benignly and politely.

The following year I spent the whole drive to the tennis club practicing what I would say if someone asked me how my Thanksgiving was. And when Marybeth asked, I delivered my line with (perhaps too big) a smile. “Good,” I said. "Yours?”

Last year, I felt an integral enough part of the group that I’d given myself permission to answer the Thanksgiving question honestly. But we had made a few changes to our yearly tradition in our house and in fact it wasn’t the grueling experience I usually dreaded. “Not bad,” I said. “Yours?”

Today I showed up at tennis eager for play, completely forgetting that Thanksgiving was only a few short days ago. We played for an hour before I even realized that no one had asked about Thanksgiving at all. Which is curious in that mysterious way the universe works. Because this year, I could have said with enthusiasm and candor, “Thanks for asking…my Thanksgiving was actually great.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hot 100

Just about two years ago, I answered an ad looking for a “funny mom” to write a monthly column for a magazine. In a moment of bravery, I sent the publisher an email that said something like: I don’t know if I’m “funny” exactly, but I can be amusing. And I attached an old Holiday Letter that I’d sent out with my Christmas Cards in 2004.

The publisher called me almost immediately. This was his favorite part of the letter, he said:

Last night Joshua asked for potato chips for dinner. When I explained that potato chips are a snack, not a dinner, he burst into tears, sobbing and glowering in that way that only Joshua knows how. I suggested pasta, chicken nuggets, or peanut butter and jelly (thereby covering the only three foods that he’ll deign to eat) and he reacted as if I’d just slit his throat, howling and seething. (Think Golem in Lord of the Rings.)
“What’s wrong with chicken?” I said to him. “You like chicken.”
“I don’t want chicken!” he bellowed.
“Ever?” I asked.
“No, not ever. Don’t ever give me chicken,” he wailed. Then, just in case I thought I was having a conversation with a sane person, he added, “Even if I ask you for chicken, don’t give it to me!”

The publisher offered me the job.

When I got off the phone, I panicked. How would I ever be able to write up a column for a magazine every month? That would mean I’d need to be amusing on 12 separate writing occasions, and then if that all went well, there might be another year after that.

That magazine folded last January (I guess I wasn’t so amusing after all) and February 1st I started this blog to take up the writing slack that I had become used to. And this here that you’re reading right now is my 100th post.

I didn’t think I’d be able to write 12 pieces in a year, and I’ve just completed 100 in 10 months.

Listen, I know it’s not rocket science, but I figured out how to post pictures and change backgrounds and make those nifty little lists on the left. I even figured out how to re-do my posts when they started randomly (and out of nowhere) coming through with weird spacing and errant HTML code.

Maybe I just need a little something to celebrate right now, so Yay, me!!!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanks Giving

Hey, I just wanted to take a quick second to thank you all for visiting, reading, commenting (sometimes) and for all the encouragement you have sent my way in emails or phone calls or stopping me in the supermarket. Every time I was ready to walk away from this blog, one of you said something to me that changed my mind. So thanks for that.

Really: Thank you.

The Green Eyed Monster Strikes Again

I just received this email from one of my Friday tennis mates:


I just read the "Dream" Blog...what the hell is up with being giddy with Monday tennis?

What the hell is wrong with Friday tennis?

Is it Gina? So, she's gone...we all had to deal with it. OK, i will give her the great forehand-crosscourt shot. But other than that, what could it be? I could go blonde. I could wear glasses.

I am searching my soul...shaking my head...furrowing my brow (which is not helping my youthful appearance).

My mind is clouded with uncertainty.

(is crosscourt one word or two?)


It’s true. Sometimes the Friday players feel threatened by the Monday group. In fact, everyone seems like they feel a little insecure about pairings and groupings and who’s playing whom. Tennis seems to take us all back to a scary, primal place (think: middle school) where, when we see each other playing on a different day with a different group, we think: Does she like that group more than our group? Is she having more fun with them?

I sometimes wonder whether the older women on the adjacent court feel like that about each other. Whether Mabel is looking wistfully two courts away at the Widow VonHoff because Widow VonHoff seems to be smiling a little more this week than when she and Mabel were partners. And if they do, I wonder whether that’s just because we’re women. And women are petty and insecure.

Or whether it’s because we’re women, and we’re built to fall in love. Over and over and over again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part V

I don’t know if this time will be for good. I’m taking it day by day. But aside from the toll that popcorn was taking on my teeth (not to mention my constant fear of the hulls becoming esophageal implants) I could delude myself no longer that my daily trough of popcorn was truly a two-point snack.

In the Land-o-Weight Watchers, every food on God’s green earth has a point value and those points are determined thusly. One can look up in the Weight Watcher’s Guide Book (or online) and, based on the portion size listed, acquire a point value. Or, if it’s a packaged foodstuff, one can use the handy Weight Watcher’s calculation tools, which are based on Serving Size, Calories, Fat Grams and Fiber. Either assessment is fair, and ideally, should yield that same point value.

Last week, after fearing again for my molars, I decided to try microwaved popcorn instead of my Orville R stove-top method. I popped up a bag of 94% Fat Free “Butter Flavor” and hoped, as I poured it into my popcorn bowl, that it would be a softer kernel experience overall.

Rude Awakening Number One occurred when the entire bag of micro popcorn barely filled my popcorn bowl. The bowl that is daily overflowing with my stovetop corn. The bowl that I sometimes fill twice.

Rude Awakening Number Two
was a result of my infuriating need to calculate points. I looked up the points value for the micro popcorn. The whole bag would be three points. Three points? I easily eat twice this much popcorn every afternoon, and I consider it two points. I’m really eating 6-points worth of popcorn every day? Say it ain’t so!

It was so. I know this because after cutting out the popcorn and replacing it with an actual two-point snack, I instantly dropped three pounds.

So, to Claudine’s friend, who, from 3000 miles away raised a skeptical eyebrow about my “2-point Vat of Popcorn” – I hear ya, sister. You don’t even know this, but because you were Claudine’s inspiration and she was mine, I regard you as my Weight Watcher Inspiration Once Removed.

Consider me intervened.

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part IV

Last night I woke up at 2:18 AM and the whole house smelled like corn to me. Not popcorn; Green Giant tender niblet corn. But still.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Walk In The Woods

It’s days later, and I’m still thinking about the raccoon. We didn’t even know it was a raccoon at first. It was Laurie who figured it all out: the raccoon saw her dog and scared-to-deathedly dove into a hole in the tree. High, high up in the tree. At least twenty feet. So all Laurie and I could see when we looked up was its furry, rotund buttocks and its back legs sticking straight out, like Superman. I kept thinking of Winnie the Pooh, how he jammed himself into that hole and was so chubby he had to diet for days to get himself out of there.

I don’t think this raccoon is going to meet a similar fate.

First of all, there was nary a Kanga nor a Roo in sight to help heave or ho. Secondly, even if there were, they would need a fire truck ladder to get anywhere near him. I was hoping Laurie would write about the raccoon so I wouldn’t have to, but so far, she has not.

Laurie writes an excellent blog called My Big Walk. One Woman, One Year, One Thousand Miles. Basically, it’s a chronicle of her daily walking adventures and somehow I was invited to join her on one of them.

She took me to a county park, accompanied only by her dog and a granola bar. She has a three-mile-a-day walking goal, which basically means we walk for an hour. I don’t often walk in the woods and I now realize why. There is too damn much to pay attention to. Sticks, rocks, uneven terrain. The rampant thorn bushes shredded my knit gloves. The creek I stepped into muddied my new sneakers and left them smelling like poo. I prefer concrete and asphalt. They’re so much more civilized.

Both of us were happy to ignore the fact that the trails didn’t take us very far. They’d end abruptly and we’d backtrack to a new path. “Two markings on a tree mean TURN,” Laurie explained, as she’d hang a random left. She was completely confident navigating the woods. “I was a Brownie,” she said, as if this explained anything. I was a Brownie, too, but all I remember from that experience was learning the Mexican Hat Dance.

This was my first time meeting Laurie, so I wanted to be a good sport about the whole thing. She’s got a great sense of humor, is easy to talk to, and generous with advice and ideas about writing and walking and life, all of which helped to mitigate how envious I am about her blog. She loves to walk, loves to play tennis, loves to write. It was almost like being with a more disciplined, more accomplished, more woods-savvy version of me.

Neither of us found it easy to leave the raccoon. “Do you think we’re watching him expire?” she said at one point, and then, “I’m a little afraid he’s going to fall on me.” Those were the exact two thoughts that I was thinking at the time. Along with “God, I hope I don’t feel compelled to write about this.”

She has written about it. And has pictures, as well. Here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

But Who's Counting?

Last night a friend of mine went to see his 100th Bob Dylan show. This is impressive on a few different levels – the main one, for me, being that he even knew it had been one hundred. When did he start keeping track? (How did he even remember?)

I guess I’m not a counter. I like playing tennis (which I’ve mentioned once or twice) and I love playing in my two weekly clinics, but I’m not even sure how many years we’ve been playing together. Although I’m pretty sure it’s not a hundred.

Laura the Tennis Pro once told us that in order for a shot to be consistent – that is, for you to rely on being able to hit a forehand groundstroke and get it to where you want it to go – you need to execute the shot correctly ten thousand times. How did that research come to be? Is someone actually counting?

Many of the things I like, I find it easier to have just one of. A few weeks ago my Neti Pot broke and I couldn’t bear the thought of a single day without a sinus rinse. So I went to Whole Foods and bought a replacement. I considered buying a second – a backup – but that seemed a bad idea. I thought I would take better care of the new Neti Pot if I didn’t have another waiting in the wings.

I only have one Barbie Doll. She sits on top of my pencil sharpener in her lavender crinoline and tights. I always know where she is.

Conversely, we had three copies (maybe four) of The Catcher in the Rye, and I can’t find any of them.

I was wracking my brain trying to think of something I could celebrate 100 of. And then it occurred to me: I’m just a few short Takes away from a hundred blog posts.

Hot damn!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part III

I was embarrassed to tell my husband that my Period Key was sticking. I’ve had the same problem with my 8 Key in the past, but I can go for days without typing an 8 so it’s something I was easily able to ignore. I knew once I told my husband about the Period Key, we were going to have to have The Popcorn Discussion.

I know popcorn is ultimately not my friend. I can feel enamel cracking under my crowns and am often vexed by hulls wedged into molar gums. And last week was not the first time I’ve had popcorn detritus caught in my throat. I know some people think I was overreacting to that, but I do personally know someone who had to go to a doctor to get a popcorn hull removed. Not only that, but if you Google “popcorn hull stuck in throat” there is some scary information available about not only infections, but asphyxiation.

I confessed to the popcorn in the same sentence as I lamented about my Period Key. I hung my head and giggled, a sure sign that I am wracked with shame.

My husband left the room and reappeared almost instantly with the Electrolux. He ran the wand over the keyboard once or twice, turned it upside down and shook it a bit (the keyboard, not the vacuum) and, like magic, my Period Key was back to its old supple self. My 8 Key also worked like new.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I swear I won’t eat popcorn in here anymore.”

“You said you weren’t going to eat popcorn anymore at all.”

“I know, I know,” I whined. “I’ve been trying.”

Even I could hear how pathetic I sounded.

I know that the first step in overcoming an addiction is to admit you have a problem. I feel like I have done that. I guess, deep down, I wish that were the only step necessary. That the rest of it would take care of itself.

I don’t know any other way to get through my 3 PM to 5 PM slump without an enormous bowl of popcorn. I need it. Even though it turns me into something primal and ugly.

My name is Jessica. I am a popcorn addict.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What A Nightmare!

Last night I had a dream that I missed tennis. I play on Mondays at noon – I’ve played this slot for four years – but for some reason, in my dream, I thought I was supposed to play at four. I spent the whole dream biding my time, taking on a little chore here and a little errand there, but mostly just waiting for four o’clock to roll around so I could go and fill my heart’s desire.

At about quarter to four (Dream Time) I was donning my tennis togs when I got a call from my mother. She needed a ride somewhere at 4:30 and I told her I couldn’t do it, but I didn’t tell her why.

I was too ashamed to tell my mother that I wouldn’t drive her to a doctor’s appointment because it conflicted with my tennis clinic. The tennis clinic that I anticipate all weekend long and that often singlehandedly gets me through the rough or tedious parts of the weekend. Even after all these years, Monday Tennis makes me giddy. I might be folding my eighth load of laundry, or watching my son try to perfect his Disappearing Coin trick for the four millionth time, and just when I think, I can’t do this for one more second, I remember that it’s only some two-digit amount of hours until tennis and I become so happy I could do a little jig.

I feel more entitled to my Monday Tennis than I do practically anything else in my life. I won’t schedule meetings at that time – even if it’s the only time that the other ten people can meet. I’ll put off doctor’s appointments. If finances are an issue I’ll happily forego all restaurant eating and movie going.

When (in the dream) I realized that my tennis clinic was actually at noon, not at four, and that I’d missed it, I was distraught. I went into a kind of dreamworld panic and irrationally began grasping at ways I could repair the mistake I’d made. There must be a way to turn back time, I dream-thought. And then, This must be some sort of bad dream!

I woke up sweaty and agitated, the way people sometimes do when they emerge from general anesthesia.

The whole thing would be funny except for this: I continue to believe that tennis – playing it and thinking about it and even writing about it – is actually the thing that’s keeping me sane.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Knock Knock

I was in the shower this morning, listening to GlassWorks and trying to remember an old Knock Knock Joke I’d heard about Philip Glass. I knew it played off his repetitive musical structure, but I couldn’t remember exactly which part of the joke repeated – and I kept getting it confused with the “orange-cha glad I didn’t say ‘banana’” punchline. It occurred to me that I could probably finish my shower, hop down to my office, type in Philip Glass Knock Knock Joke and get exactly the information I was looking for.

And for some reason, this realization made me a little depressed.

Not remembering the Philip Glass Knock Knock Joke is frustrating, yes, but it gives me the opportunity to suss out which of my friends know such silly nonsense. There’s a whole world of arcana that bonds me to people, it’s like Cultural Literacy Glue. Someone who knows and gets that Philip Glass Knock Knock Joke is a kindred spirit in some small way. It may be someone I play tennis with, or someone at my kid’s bus stop, but now I won’t ever find out because my question will already be answered before I even leave the house.

We all have our little repertoire of phrases that somehow communicate about a hundred times more than the words that they’re comprised of. They reference a time and an experience – presumably a shared experience – and bond us together, like secret passwords. But having that information so accessible on our phones and through our keyboards, it’s almost like it’s not our little secret anymore.

Does anyone understand what I’m talking about?

Anyone? Anyone?


Confessions of A Popcorn Addict - Part II

When we last left our hero, she was worried she might have a popcorn hull stuck in her throat.

I left my son’s Saturday soccer game to take a quick trip to the doctor – just to see if she could see any popcorn action down my throat. (She couldn’t.) She had complete faith that whatever I was feeling would eventually wend it’s way down and out of me. But because Dr. K had obviously warned her that I was wound a little tight, she gave me a scrip for an x-ray that I could have done on Monday in case my symptoms hadn’t subsided.

I went home and started boiling water. I drank hot water with lime all afternoon and I ate more bagels and more honey. One of the suggestions I’d come across over and over again online was to eat more popcorn. Popcorn, it seems, is the most effective remediation for “popcorn stuck in throat.” Part of me suspected this was someone’s idea of a joke, so I didn’t try it. Also, by then I had lost my taste for popcorn entirely. And I found the bagels and honey maddeningly delicious.

If you are wondering whether the honey I was eating came from the half-full jar that mysteriously appeared in my living room, the answer is yes. I’d found the honey on a Tuesday – the day that our cleaning woman comes – and since she is usually the source of many things lost and most things broken, I convinced myself that she was also the source of the mystery honey. I convinced myself that it was not Enemy Honey or even Abandoned Honey. Simply Forgotten Honey.

It was two weeks before my cleaning woman returned and when she did, I showed her the honey jar and asked if it was hers. It wasn’t.

So the source of the Mystery Honey remains a mystery. I can attest only to the fact that it’s not Poisoned Honey.

As for the popcorn hull, no x-ray necessary. By Monday, I no longer felt anything in my throat and in order to remain that way, I swore off popcorn altogether, a boycott that lasted from Friday until yesterday (Wednesday) at 4 pm, when I sat down with a huge bowl of perfectly popped, delectably salted Paul Newman’s Organic stovetop popped corn and took a conscientious moment halfway through the heap of it to ask the Popcorn Hull Gods to please spare my throat this go round, because, boy, did I need a fix.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Catcher in the Rye: The Mystery

Yesterday at 5:30 pm, my 15-year-old asked me for my copy of The Catcher in the Rye. He said he needed to bring it in for a school assignment. I looked on my bookshelf, which is only somewhat organized, and couldn’t locate it among the S authors on the fiction shelves. Then I looked on the other shelves. Then in the other half dozen places in the house that books reside. Then back on the fiction shelves in my office. It wasn’t anywhere.

This troubled me because not only is it my favorite book, but I’ve bought at least three copies of it over the years. Also, my husband had a copy. I could see its cover in my mind’s eye.

Last year, my book group read A Separate Peace, and again I knew that both my husband and I brought a copy of that book into our marriage. Yet I couldn’t find it at the time and ended up buying another one. As soon as I finished it, I found a place for it on the fiction shelf, and guess which other two copies of it were sitting there, right where they were supposed to be?

Had I simply overlooked them? Both of them? I like buying books, but I hate buying books that I already own. And I feel like we do that here, over and over again.

At 6 o’clock, my son asked more urgently for the book, leading me to believe that he not only had to bring it to school the next day, he also had to read some of it. The local bookstores close at 6, and I was holding fast in my principled decision not to buy this book a fourth time. So I started making calls.

I know Nancy has the book because she’s told me that her husband read it aloud to her son a year or so ago. She called me back at 6:30. She can’t find it. The family across the street – son at Stanford – can’t find it. The couple around the corner – ”yes we definitely have a copy of it somewhere” – can’t find it.

I posted my plight on Facebook and got similar results. “I was going to offer you my copy – my son just read it – but I can’t find it.”

I started calling up and down the street, and then to my most literate friends. No, no, no, no, yes. Okay, a friend has a copy but it’s from her high school days. “I’m taping up the cover now, but it’s like an antique,” she said. “I’m a bit afraid the pages will turn to dust when you open it. I definitely want it back.”

This is too much pressure and responsibility for me, especially given the fact that once my son is finished drinking a Poland Spring water, the bottle is barely recognizable as such.

Finally, another call – probably my 20h – yields a relatively intact copy.

Mr. Salinger, we all know you to be an elusive guy, if you know what I mean. But whatever is happening to your books is just crazy, goddamn it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Confessions of A Popcorn Addict

I saw Claudine at the soccer game and cornered her. “You have to talk me down,” I said. “I need to get some perspective. I’m a wreck.”

I went on to tell about the popcorn hull that might be stuck in my throat. I told the story chronologically and in real time, beginning with the bowl of popcorn I’d eaten Friday at 2 pm.

I told her about how my little tricks didn’t work: eating a bagel, slurping down honey, hot tea, cold soda. Nothing was dislodging it.

Claudine was more interested in the popcorn itself. “So, when you say you’re a popcorn addict, what exactly do you mean?”

“I eat it every day,” I said.

“For how long?”

“At least a year.”

“Every single day?”

“Pretty much.”She’s taking all this in as I continue my hypochondriacal tale of woe, which includes the doctor’s appointment I just made with Dr. K’s associate (my beloved Dr. K being on vacation) and my fear of needing emergency throat surgery to extract the clingy little hull. But also included the pesky fact that I’m not even sure if I still feel the thing anymore. My throat feels still feels odd, but the popcorn may have passed.

“How much do you eat?” she asked.

“I eat it every day,” I repeated.

“No, I mean, how much do you eat when you eat it.”

“A lot.”

“What, two cups? Five cups?”

She was asking this less to determine the extent of my addiction, than to assess how many Weight Watcher Points I squander on popcorn each day.

“I eat a vat of popcorn daily. I take a big bowl – big enough to contain all the other food I eat in the entire day – and I fill it with popcorn.” This confession got the attention of the man sitting on the other side of her. Claudine just nodded. She began doing some mental math.

“How much do you take for that?” she asked.

That’s Weight Watcher Talk. I’m not even offended that she’s less interested in my impending tracheotomy than my Points Balance. We’re always trying to find new ways to stave off hunger, we Weight Watchers.

“Two points,” I said, and continued my story, fashioning my hand into the shape of a clinging popcorn hull and mimicking how it probably latched onto the interior of my throat, never to be pried off.

From throats we started talking about lungs and she mentioned how her 9-year-old seems like he’s having a relapse from his bout of pneumonia in August. The doctor checked him and his x-rays are clear, but there’s still that unexplained crackling on his right side.

And just like that, I shut up about my popcorn.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lost and Found

Last Tuesday I found a jar of honey in the living room. It was just sitting there on the stereo cabinet beside a framed photograph of my kids. I snatched it up and marched straight into the TV room.

“Whose is this?” I demanded, holding it straight out in front of me. I tilted my wrist side to side for emphasis. “Whose honey is this?”

My kids just looked confused. Why is their mother yelling about a honey jar? Why is she treating it as if it were contraband?

I’ve been losing a lot of things lately, and that troubles me. But finding things almost feels worse.

I recently lost my favorite RayBan sunglasses, while talking to a crazy woman outside the pet store. Poof. Gone.

I lost my copy of The Kite Runner, my black Halloween cape, a white tennis skirt, a digital camera, and the combination lock I bought my son for his locker. Long ago we lost a pair of kitchen shears – we called them “the snippers” – and ever since then we pronounce every missing thing as “being with the snippers.” The Snippers have become our symbol for mentally letting go of things that are physically gone.

I ended up finding the white tennis skirt. I also found a Sports Authority Gift Card that we’d been looking for for at least three years, as well as a #2 Tupperware lid that had been confounding me for months.

I lost 20 pounds last year, and hope never to find that again. I lose and find both my sex drive and my sense of humor on a regular basis.

But the honey is an altogether different experience. First off, it’s not my brand. Secondly, it was half-eaten. And finally, aside from Winnie the Pooh, who keeps honey in the living room? This is not family honey that had once been lost; this is alien honey that has somehow made its way into my home.

My teenage son cannot even fathom what kind of crazy scenario I could be spinning out in my mind about how his friends are somehow responsible for this errant jar of honey. In fact, I can’t even fathom such a scenario. All I know is I’m on red alert. I feel like I can’t miss a trick. My kid hit high school and now every jar of honey is suspect.

It’s hard to know how to feel about lost things. Eyesight, cell phones, flexibility, innocence. When to keep insisting they’re around here somewhere; when to declare them having joined The Snippers. And harder still to embrace those new, unfamiliar things as gifts. A honey jar, half full, shows up in my living room.

I should be saying: “Sweet!”

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Social Tennis" by Guest Blogger Robin Seibert

Some of my friends are as crazy about tennis as I am. To wit:

I'm the kind of woman who could make Emily Post turn in her grave. Two decades working in the macho-minded record business followed by the birth of two boys kept me too busy to ever learn polite etiquette and dainty social skills. Hence, when the day came that my kids were finally old enough to spend the day at camp I panicked.

Alone, in my newly acquired Long Island summer home, I realized in my 40-plus years I had never learned how to chitchat with other women. So, in the summer of 2003 I began my foray into the social and political world of tennis.

After substantial encouragement from the local tennis pro, Bob, I quickly learned some basics and found myself able to get through a game of doubles and meet some of the other tennis ladies. This was perfect. I was socializing in a way that required no real conversation. I smiled a lot, shook hands and then went to retrieve the boys. I could meet people without engaging in chitchat, something I will never master.

The next summer I returned to the house and to tennis. I made some more progress and Bob introduced me to a woman of similar abilities. She and I started playing singles together. This was quite different from doubles. The only thing the two games have in common is that they use the same equipment. The thinking, the stance, the attitude is as different as walking is to marathon running.

We were very civilized, both of us hitting nice, slow, high-arcing ground strokes, back and forth until one of us finally made an error. So encouraged, I decided to try and continue playing back in New York City during the rest of the year.

By this time, I want to master this thing. I start playing three times a week, dragging myself uptown, the house is a mess, there's no food at home, but damn it, I'm going to learn this game. And learn I do. I'm thinking about it when I'm off the court and visualizing myself on the court, and practicing "air strokes" at home. I get into a rhythm, I have a clinic, I join the round robins and start setting up doubles games with people I'm meeting there. Keeping up a tennis game in Manhattan is no easy feat—limited space means expensive court time, so I'm pretty much sticking to doubles in the city.

Two summers after I started out, I find myself on the court in a doubles game with the woman I started out with on singles. She doesn't keep up the game over the winter, so it's like learning to walk all over again for her. Oh my god, I'm thinking, what's wrong with her? All she can do is lob that ball; why doesn't she get to the net? I'm getting more and more frustrated, but I know this is a polite sport and I would never, ever let her know how angry I am. I'm realizing she has no idea that she has to get to the net to win and now I’m thinking maybe she's scared. Yes that's it; she's scared to come to the net. She feels safe back there doing her same old boring lobs. She and I lose every game that summer in the little inter-club competitions we play in. She doesn't seem to care. I care. I don't want to lose.

And I'm losing because of her.

I begin to yearn for tough-minded singles games. I opt only to play singles with people a step up from me. I've become obsessed with finding 3.5 players to my 3.0. I've become obsessed with my tennis skirts. My husband is horrified: Who have I become? I don't know myself, but I can tell him this: it's not some wimpo doubles loser.

With singles, I am master of my own domain. My wins are truly my wins, my losses, mine. Why? I own my game. Yes, I'm exhausted from two hours of non-stop running, and I can't just scream “yours” when I'm too pooped to go for the ball. I fight through summer humidity; I fight through aching muscles, to keep on playing. Win or lose, I'm out there, dependent on no one else. I’m still socializing, but I’m never having to say, “I’m sorry.”

Now, back in the NYC doubles circuit, I have a revelation. It hit me the other day, when I was up at the net poaching into my partner's territory to get the short ball, that I have to take into account what HER feelings will be if I screw it up. I resent that. I want to go for what I want with no thought as to anyone else out there. But as I hit a disappointing volley, my brain now flashes to what is going on behind me with my partner. Did she switch? Should I have shouted switch? Was she going to go for that short one? Is she angry? Is she making faces at me behind my back? My attention is now completely off the game but centers on my relationship with my partner. Wait, isn't this tennis supposed to be my escape from the messiness of interpersonal relationships?

I finally understand why I’m so drawn to singles. It's not just that I can own my game in singles, it's that I don't have to be nice. I don't even have to pretend to be nice. I can be as blatantly competitive, ball-hogging and relentless as I want to be with no apologies.

I run to poach that short ball. But I dream of those summer days of singles, glorious singles.