Entry 4

Me bowling
Me bowling

I washed the smiley face off my thumb before we went out to dinner. Accidentally. I liked having it there, so I was sorry to see it go when I washed my hands.

Annie had drawn it. Just at the base of my thumb—the front of the thumb, below the second knuckle. I had thought it was going to be a bowling ball while she was drawing it, but then she added the smile.

“I want you to see this every time you release the ball,” she said. The problem had been that I was turning my hand over at the last second, throwing off my delivery. Watching for the smiley face really helped. By this time, the afternoon, the pins had come back, and thanks to the smiley face, my next ball hit right in the pocket—a perfect (not an accidental) strike. “I love this job!” exclaimed Annie.

I recognized the moment, but it seldom comes so directly, so quickly, or so concretely in the kind of teaching I do. Teaching something and then having the student turn right around and execute the thing perfectly—what a feeling!

Mom has been especially impressed by the patience of the staff and by the absolute affirmative attitude that pervades the camp. “They never tell any of us that we did something wrong,” she marvels. Of course, they do just that all day, but they do it by saying, “I think on your next delivery you might want to try …” Few things are more basic to good teaching than correcting by suggestion rather than by negation, but it’s really hard to do nevertheless.

The trickiest thing about the camp is that the coaches remain positive, remain cheery, remain incredibly helpful without being at all creepy. How the hell do they do that?

I’ve decided that it’s because they (unlike me) don’t do it all year. They must, most of them, just do it for the summer. The camp is in Ithaca for the summer, and many of the coaches are retired or have other jobs the rest of the year. Only Dick and one other coach are full-time bowling coaches. Thus, bowling camp, despite the camp-counselor aspects of the job (herding us to meals, cleaning up after us), must be almost as much of a kick for them as it is for me.

Rich helping me with my swing
Rich helping me with my swing

Of course, there are differences between the coaches. Matt, the young intern, is fairly monosyllabic and is clearly in it because he enjoys bowling. But Rich, and Annie, and some of the others who’ve cycled through my lane are folks who enjoy teaching for the ways it lets them interact with people. All of them are confident enough in their own bowling skills to feel OK about teaching bowling, but not all of them are equally comfortable with the kind of touching that’s involved in the job.

Rich grabbed my hand today after I had committed a particularly offensive delivery. “Dance with me,” he said, and swung me around into the proper position, facing the lane. “One, two, three, four,” he sang quietly, sliding me along and moving my arm through the swing it should have taken in the first place. His hands are so soft, his touch so reassuring. And I could feel that I got it right when he danced me through it.

Not all the campers are touchy-feely types, so the coaches have to have real confidence to believe that they can push past people’s inhibitions to help them learn.

With coaches who dance with you and draw smiley faces on your thumb, you have to want to do your best. I just have to improve, so I don’t let them down. I can see that I am getting better, now that the pins are back. But we aren’t scoring anything, and we haven’t learned how to convert out spares yet, so I still don’t know how I stand in relation to the Old Me. Tomorrow will give me more of a sense of my progress, I guess. I hope we don’t start keeping score, though.