Sunday, May 24, 2015

Losing Your Dinosaur

My best friend Mike could have tattooed his bicep with the image of a bowling pin.

We talk about it sometimes--these alternative timelines that might exist had we made one choice instead of another. You see, Mike was a serious bowler throughout his childhood and even enjoyed some success as an elite performer on his high school bowling team. There was a period when he thought he’d pursue a career as a professional and he told his father about wanting to get the tattoo when he was old enough.

Mike shakes his head when he remembers these days. “Can you imagine if my dad hadn’t set me straight?”

His father explained that it would difficult to hack it as a professional bowler, and how many other opportunities were available to him. And he told him a bowling pin tattoo would look stupid.

Fast forward fifteen years, and my best friend who used to bowl multiple times a week, who not only owned his own ball, but his own spare ball--a custom, clear ball, with a skull embedded in the center--doesn’t even bowl once a year. He looks back on it as a dark period in his life, the smell of bowling alley oil not entirely different from a whiff of whiskey to a recovered alcoholic.

*

I had a co-worker named Beth. A removed woman, who rarely offered more than a glimpse into her personal life. But one time, she let me in on the fact that, until college she followed figure skating with a fervor.

I asked why she had stopped following figure skating in college.

Her eyes shifted, searching her mind as though she had never considered the point before. “I had better things to do.”

*

In one of my favorite guilty pleasure films, Step Brothers, the character portrayed by Richard Jenkins--the father to John C. Reilly’s character, step father to Will Ferrell’s--who has spent the length of the movie fed up with his sons’ refusal to grow up, finally cracks. He tells the boys about an extended period of time when he pretended to be a dinosaur, only for the pressures of the outside world to compel him to give up the act and behave like a well-adjusted adult. “I thought to myself, I’ll go to medical school, I’ll practice for a little while, and then I’ll come back to it,” Jenkins says. “I forgot how to do it--I lost it.” In the moments to follow, he opines, “don’t lose your dinosaur.”

It strikes me that too many of the people lose their dinosaurs. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people should carry themselves in a less socially acceptable fashion--more so, that they shouldn’t care what’s socially acceptable if it makes them happy.

There’s a time and place for keeping our personal interests quiet, for fear of looking uncool, or arousing questions or being seen in terms of stereotypes. For example, in mixed company, I tend not to lead off conversations by sharing that I’m a professional wrestling fan. Or just how many hours I spend listening to, thinking about, or writing on collegiate a cappella. I’m aware of the cultural stigmas that people can associate with these topics, and that folks who don’t know me first, or to whom I don’t at least have the chance to explain my pet obsessions, may make assumptions about me.

But that doesn’t keep me from the things I love.

So today I challenge—nay, invite—you to celebrate your pro rasslin’. Your a cappella. Your figure skating. Your bowling. Don’t worry about being your best self. Be what you want to be. Don’t lose your dinosaur, folks.

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