EXISTENTIAL MUSINGS


A few years ago, a friend turned me on to the satire Twitter account Titania McGrath, a perpetually-aggrieved rich white female (“Activist. Healer. Radical intersectionalist poet. Nonwhite. Ecosexual. Pronouns: variable. Selfless and brave. Buy my books”).

Titania is the creation of Andrew Doyle, a journalist, playwright and comic from Northern Ireland who holds a doctorate in early Renaissance poetry from the University of Oxford and now hosts a weekly show called “Free Speech Nation.”

For a while Titania, outraged as usual (and though white, somehow considering herself black), would have these hilarious posts entitled “Things That Are Racist”–Skyscrapers, Vacuum Cleaners, Knitting, Hair, for example–with links to mainstream publications that were actually spouting such folderol.

The posts were hilarious (and therefore consoling) because I, and probably many other people, were thinking Ha ha, soon these poor humorless souls will find their back to sanity, and we can all look back, together, at this fleeting moment of identity politics gone berserk, have a good laugh, and proceed onward in our collective search for an end to discrimination, goodness, beauty, fairness, decency and truth.

What happened instead is that such thought became institutionalized: baked-in to politics, culture, education, mainstream media, social media, sports, psychology, and health care. Those “Things That Are Racist” posts were no longer so funny because they had become the sea we swam in. Justice for the oppressed came to mean the privileged mouthing culturally-approved (i.e. approved by the elite) rhetoric and platitudes while virulently accusing everyone else of racism (and privilege).

Fast forward to last week’s appointment of Titania McGrath incarnate as CEO of NPR. I generally don’t listen to TV or radio, and have seldom listened to NPR other than a few episodes of “This American Life.

I was however, honored to write and record a few dozen slice-of-life commentaries for “All Things Considered” back in the early 2000s.

It seems unbelievable now but my first piece was about a retreat to a Catholic monastery. Another was about my car breaking down in the middle of the Sonoran desert (this time en route to a convent, for another retreat) and how I pondered St. Augustine’s concept of good vs. evil for three days. In another bit, I reflected on the seeming paradox of why we call the day Christ was crucified “Good” Friday.

I wasn’t ordering anyone to think, behave, speak, or vote a certain way. I was telling stories about my daily life in LA. I was pondering the questions of the human soul. But can anyone possibly imagine NPR running such pieces now?

I try to steer clear of politics but what is happening in our culture–what we are “allowed” to hear, what we are “allowed” to say–is not politics so much as an existential attack on reality, and as such on The Way, the Truth and the Life.


The Holy Father’s prayer intention this month: “In April, we pray with Pope Francis for the dignity and worth of women to be recognised in every culture, and for an end to the discrimination they face in various parts of the world.”

Another related, egregiously unfair, and sad turn of events: the re-writing of Title IX to include “gender identity,” adding biological males to what used to be a womens’ rights law.

Here’s an excerpt from my first book, Parched (2005):

“There were many options for extracurricular activities at Winnacunnet [my Hampton, New Hampshire high school, class of ’70, thank you]–Mathletes, the Winnacarnival Planning Committee–but I became a jock.

I played halfback in field hockey and second base in softball, but it was basketball I lived and breathed for. The names of my college professors, the hotel I stayed in on my honeymoon, the faces of my co-workers from five years ago all escape me, but I still remember the starting lineup from my freshman basketball team. They should have sent us to Vietnam; I’m pretty sure I would have died for those girls.

There’s a photo in my senior yearbook of the team in a huddle, my brow furrowed in such concentration I appear to be on the verge of tears. It was that important to me, the one sacred thing in an adolescence where I would turn out to be otherwise pretty much hell-bent on robbing myself of the capacity for meaning and joy.

Watching, say, the Sparks these days, in their perspiration-wicking miracle fabrics and Nike Airstreams, I see women’s basketball has changed a bit. In that quaintly bygone era, we wore dark blue skirted uniforms, made of a kind of cotton that had apparently been especially designed to trap and hold B.O., and black low-top Converse sneakers that must have weighed five pounds apiece.

Back then, a girl’s team consisted of six players: three each of forwards and guards–two stationary, one “roving.” The stationary guards couldn’t shoot, obviously; plus, you could only dribble three times before passing, which meant that the principal part of a game consisted of a girl pivoting uncertainly back and forth in her dowdy uniform while her teammates yelled, “Noreen! Over here!” or “Di! I’m wide open!”

Altogether, in fact, the game was so slow that a final score of over 20 was considered high (the year I got MVP my score for the whole season was only 99). But of course it didn’t seem slow then, and I was so proud of  every one of those points I  knew many of them by heart, and often replayed them in my memory as I lay in bed at night or otherwise needed cheering up.

I loved it all: the anticipation on the day of a game; the locker room beforehand, smelling of White Shoulders and Ban; the bus rides to and from away games, where [my best friend] Jill and I held court from the back seat. Basketball was one arena where we could really make our partnership shine.

Jill, a stationary forward, was short and sturdy, a scrapper with a nifty left-hand lay-up. I played roving forward: a ball stealer with quick reflexes and a halfway decent outside shot. Our coach, Miss Ball (not a made-up name), wasn’t one of those short-haired, dykey types. She had an auburn pageboy, smelled of baby powder, and wore cardigan sweaters, placketed with grosgrain ribbon, in soothing, big-sister shades of heather green and periwinkle blue.

Jill and I adored her–she was one of the few teachers who didn’t run the other way at the sight of the two of us together–and though her hair wasn’t even really red, Jill started calling her Carrot Top. We’d be at practice reviewing one of our “plays”–which consisted of, say, half a pass and a lay-up–and from the back of the court you’d hear, “Okay, Carrot Top.” “Get out there and fight, girls,” Miss Ball urged before the opening jump.” “We will, Carrot Top.” Naturally I egged things on by laughing like a hyena every time the words issued from Jill’s mouth.

The afternoon before the final game of the season Miss Ball took me and Jill aside. “You know darn well you two are the best players on the team, and I would have liked to nominate you for next year’s co-captains,” she told us. “I know you’re only fooling around, but the other girls…they have to have people they can look up to, leaders who’ll set an example for them.”

 We looked down at the floor and shuffled our feet.

“You know we love basketball, and you’re a great coach…” I offered.

 “I’m sorry,” Jill echoed.

 “Okay then,” Miss Ball said, putting an arm around each of us. “Dianne and Cindy will be our co-captains. Now let’s all pull together and have a great game.”

 “Thank you,” Jill said, and then, softly, “Carrot Top.”


Jill (a pseudonym) died a few months ago–glabioblastoma.

When we talked over the years, we always, always mentioned the halcyon days when we used to play basketball.

Can you imagine if we’d had to play against boys, and with boys? Have boys in the locker room, on the bus, in the huddle with Miss Ball?

It would have wrecked EVERYTHING.

10 Replies to “EXISTENTIAL MUSINGS”

  1. What a great, timely piece! And I had no idea you were the jock type! (Though, I know you like tennis.)

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yep, basketball was my thing! So glad you liked the piece, thank you.

  2. Michael Stanley says: Reply

    Thanks for taking us back, if only for a brief moment, to a time where things were simpler, slower and saner. I’m happy for you that you had those experiences and friendships. It does provide life long meaningful memories upon which you can anchor yourself and calm the muddied waters of the present age. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. Hopefully there will be hoops in heaven.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      So true, Michael, the calming memories…strange how high school occupies such a huge place in the psyches of so many of us…damn right, let us hope there are hoops in heaven. And that our resurrected selves will be able to dribble, pass and shoot with elan!

  3. Molly Walchuk says: Reply

    I so so so loved this!!!! Who knew you were a basketball jock?!?! This made my day. The descriptions of your uniforms, the plays, Miss Ball, make me feel like I’m at the gym. Thanks, Heather.
    Molly W. (the girl always picked last for any sports team😆)

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Molly! Well if those horrible mean girls neglected to pick you for their damn teams, too bad for them! You chose the better part, like Mary, and it shall not be taken from you! Oh yes, I was a huge basketball jock (such as was possible in those prehistoric times) and searched yesterday for a photo I remember from my yearbook to no avail…huge blessings to you and I thought of you a couple of weeks ago when I again lunched at the Coronet…x

  4. Ruth Ann Pilney says: Reply

    I have tried, recently, to explain girls’ basketball of my era, late 1960’s, to much younger women. Your article will be most helpful, because my memory isn’t as acute as yours.

    I played the same position as you did, and I loved stealing. I doubt if I had the stamina it takes to play full court. My favorite sports were softball and volleyball. Those gym outfits were a hoot!

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh Ruth, weren’t those outfits funny compared to today’s supersonic fabrics/styles!? Ours were dark blue, snaps up the front with a litle skirt. I was Number 11. I hope you’re still ironing up there on your beautiful land–and praying…God bless!

  5. Anonymous says: Reply

    What an excellent read!! You nailed it! The look at our crazy society and how far we’ve detoured from The Way, Truth and Life!?!
    I too had wonderful basketball memories from my Convent HS years and to reflect on how today’s policies would have ruined the experience, was telling!
    I appreciate your insights and humor, Heather! Thank you!!
    Robin Hafey

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh that must have been fun, playing basketball for your convent high school, Robin! Points for the Lord! Wonderful to hear from you and thanks for the words of encouragement.

I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS!

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