Shooting hoops

This thing I do every day starting this time of year, shooting baskets in the driveway as a whole-body aerobic workout of age-appropriate intensity, feels like a deep rut of habit and a flow of infinite freshness and variation.

Flicking of wrists, pivots, crossing of dribbles, my six-inch vertical, the anticipation of rebounds and lurching direction changes. These motions are burned into the firmware of muscle memory. I have been completing them since I was a kid. But the ball, as they say, never bounces exactly the same way twice, and even if it did, the body’s attitude and direction in the moment would never quite repeat.

This thing, it’s just what my body does and has always done, and yet it feels spontaneous, improvisational, and even balletic, though I doubt any passerby would describe it that way. I think I probably nailed the neighbors’ perception of my game with the word “lurching.”

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Except my shots do go in, you know. There is some proof in that pudding. And if you ask, they’d tell you the same. And if they don’t, they’re lying.

When I was young, shooting hoops by myself had the additional power and function of hurling me, almost immediately, into a trance of fantasy. And that’s where I lived. These days, I am finding that I can barely induce a vivid, transportative fantasy trance even if I want it. On the whole, this is a positive if sobering development in the life of this starry-eyed, distractible, fantasy-beset youngest child. But it does make me wonder what gland juice is running dry, and what other agencies and faculties it might be taking with it.

Walking in the woods, too, was sure to lull me into long form interior storytelling. I measured my maturation in life not by a decline in the frequency and intensity of fantasy but by the sophistication, thematic richness and — believe or not — the selflessness of the fantasy stories I told myself. I noticed that the only condition unfriendly to the onset of fantasy was extreme cold, say 15 degrees Fahrenheit and down. At those temps, the whole world was just John and the cracking of twigs in the forest. Too damn in-the-moment for my tastes.

Now as I shoot my hoops — my daily practice, my service to myself, this thing I do — and fantasy fails to ignite again, I wonder. Am I done with fantasies, and were those stories my life’s work?

Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.

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