Thursday, October 8, 2009


If at first you don’t succeed, try try try try try try again. My fingers didn’t get stuck on the t, r and and y keys; that’s what I meant to write. Actually, try should take up several lines, but you get the point.

For those of us who are single, what choice do we have? I’ve done the don’t try approach. And it worked! I didn’t try and I got nothing. Sure, no disappointment, no rejection, no mortifyingly embarrassing situations, but that only made me prone to sitting at home watching third rate television fare like Emeril’s cooking show. (Still yelling “Bam!” to the delight of his impressionable core following. And now I’m pouring milk on my bowl of Trix. Bam!)

After a miserable experience with Ottawa’s gay running group, I was prepared to block out dating for awhile and play Jann Arden’s “The Sound Of” on repeat to convince myself that the lines “I am not lonely, swear to God, I’m just alone” reflect my situation. Only two days after the running incident, however, I tried again. I went to a gay volleyball recreational night.

The fact that I’ll go anywhere near a volleyball net is remarkable. Back in fifth grade, I learned that volleys jam your fingers and bumps sting and make your arms red. Serves were the worst. They represent your moment in the spotlight when everyone gets to watch you fist the ball with such force that it doesn’t even reach the net. The only thing I liked about the sport was rotating. I’d get to the bench and then stay there, letting everyone rotate past me. Worked for me, worked for my teammates, worked for my teacher.

Fifteen years ago when I moved to Vancouver, a friend conned me into signing up for Novice Night. That friend lasted a single session before bumping up to a better quality play night. I struggled to show up Friday nights, watching my teammates go into Emergency mode every time I made contact with the ball. Someone would have to run wildly to keep the errant ball in play. I was tolerated at best. For some reason, I continued showing up and got (a little) better over time. Everyone I got to know eventually moved up to Intermediate Night. I stayed Novice.

Haven’t played in years so showing up to play with strangers was a risk. I gave myself a worst-case scenario pep talk. “If it’s a disaster, you’ll never see these people again.” And on that positive note, I was ready to play.

I don’t know how many times I said sorry over the two hours of playing time. The ball hit the floor when I thought someone else would give it a try. “Sorry.” The ball hit the ceiling after my forceful—butch?—bump. “Sorry.” The serve went out. “Sor—” Yeah, you get the picture. (Note that the serve always made it at least to the net. Mrs. Martindale, my fifth grade teacher, would be so proud.)

Of course, I wasn’t there because I had a yearning to play volleyball. I needed to know that Ottawa gays are friendlier than the ones who showed up for a particular running group session. A spark with someone else? That would be a nice bonus, but I really needed to erase a bad impression and in the process remind myself that I am not a social pariah.

Mission accomplished. Yes, there were still odd situations like playing on the same team for an hour with certain players who never introduced themselves or said a thing to me. I couldn’t even establish eye contact to introduce myself. When it doesn’t happen in the first ten minutes, it feels too awkward to bother. Apparently you don’t care so neither do it. (A childish derivative of “I know you are but what am I?”)

The person I talked to the most was a very young, nervous straight girl who showed up with a friend. We didn’t get into a conversation about the role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, or the healthcare debate in the U.S. or whether the new season of “So You Think You Can Dance” is too soon after the summer session, but I said semi-poignant things like “Good serve” and “How’s your wrist?” (which she seemed to be nursing).

I forced myself to go along to a nearby gay bar after the volleyball session. It was awkward and there were quiet times when I had the opportunity to study my Corona label. I did get into a conversation with a retired teacher and a government worker so that confirmed that, unlike the Emperor’s New Clothes, I do exist. (Nothing happened on the lust front. I was attracted to two of the forty-five men who were at volleyball night. Both showed up at the bar and each sat as far away from me as possible. The one turned out to be a smoker and the other remained hot and unapproachable all night.)

Was it a great evening? No. But was it enough for me to keep trying, maybe even show up for a second night of volleyball? Thankfully, yes. And that’s what I needed.

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