Archive for Thursday, March 18, 2004

Opinion: All aboard the crazy train

March 18, 2004

urse Ratchet is lurking somewhere nearby, I can feel it.

It's 3:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and I'm sitting at my crusty laptop computer trailblazing through the emptiness of my brain for a sports column idea.

(It may well be Thursday by now; it seems I've been sitting here so long I easily could have missed 24 hours without realizing it.)

Right now, I'm flustered, befuddled if you will. I'm wondering how much weight the plant hooks in my ceiling will hold and whether a Dockers tie is strong enough to choke off my blood flow. I'm kidding, obviously, but my problem persists nonetheless and it's as terrifying as watching Rosie O'Donnel and Richard Simmons star in a dinner theatre reproduction of "Hair."

There is a dreaded word for what I describe, one which I'm reluctant to use, but without any other viable option, am forced to. It's called a slump, equally applicable to writing as it is sports, and a word that sends chills through the blood of any athlete or hack writer such as myself.

The slump is most easily defined as this: a complete mental breakdown in which tasks performed with ease prove difficult. Impossible or unbearable even -- kind of like this column.

For athletes, slumps can come in all phases. A scratch golfer suddenly can't break 90 (read David Duvall). An All-Star basketball player can't hit free throws (Tim Duncan). A football team wins a championship one season, misses the playoffs the next (Tampa Bay Bucs).

The psychosis of an athlete would prove taxing for anyone to delve into, and exploring the mind frame of a writer is completely impossible. We're usually an insane bunch of gypsies and quite certifiable.

Me, I'm currently trapped inside the cavernous vacancy of my own head. I'm reminded of that scene from "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," where Jack Nicholson tries to jive his way out of the insane asylum.

My own slump began a week ago when a friend of mine told me about someone who hates this sports column. It didn't matter that she preceded the remark by telling me about someone who did (I think she was lying about that one, though); the damage was done, the mortar of my brain was already crumbling.

I tried to coax way out of the slump but it didn't work.

Sorry, McMurphy, but I can't let you and the big Indian out.

I find only one comfort in the slump -- things can only get better.

Take Duvall, Duncan and the Bucs for example. Before they began their slumps, they were all champions. (Outside opinions be damned, I'd like to believe I had some game tickling the keyboard.)

My best advice for those of us battling the slump: develop a tool box, a slump busting, mind relaxing group of items.

In mine are books like "On the Road," and "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," CD's by Jack Johnson and Radiohead and half a cigar from Miami.

It's now 5:43 a.m. and I've gone through just about everything in my toolbox; I've read passages from "Road," and "Motorcycle Maintenance,", grooved on the CD's and there's only about a quarter of the cigar left.

I can't say I've completely left the straight jacket of the slump, but at least I don't want to smother myself with a pillow any more.

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