You being an astute reader have probably ascertained that I have begun my 50th trek around the sun. It’s true. This latest journey began earlier this month. If you are good with the maths, you probably realize that I celebrated my 49th birthday earlier this month. I may continue doing so every year henceforth.
But enough with the mental gymnastics, Jill and I watched The Karate Kid a few nights ago, and I was confronted with the terrifying realization that I am approaching Mr. Miyagi’s age. Pat Morita was 53 years young, when he created his career defining role (unless, I guess, you are a huge Happy Days fan). How did this happen? Seriously, when one of our fine young Americans refer to me as sir, it still sounds foreign to me. Just yesterday, I was struggling to make the cut on the varsity baseball team at Northeast High School. Right?
Wrong. That happened a few years after the movie was released, and I’m closing in on the old wise man from the movie.
This, of course sent me down the rabbit hole of what I’ve learned in all those years. As much, as I really didn’t want to catch up to Mr. Miyagi in the tally of orbits, it sure would be nice to have some of that wisdom.
Still I feel like a child.
My son is a Senior in High School this year. He will be taking classes virtually. This was difficult for me to come to grips with. School is in the classroom. It’s also one of our earliest and foundation building social interaction exercises. Sure it lasts over a decade, but it takes that long. At least, this is my rationalization. Today is a different world. In a lot of ways, of course, but I fear this whole pandemic social isolation thing is a new norm for those of my son’s generation. I never could have imagined the level of global shutdown something like this could cause just a few short years ago. Now it seems like even after we get through COVID19, there will be another season, like the inevitable hurricane crashing into our shores every summer to fall. As far as school goes? My wife was adamant about Dylan enrolling in virtual school for safety reasons. As the summer crawled on and I saw our cultural difficulties with social distancing measures on display…as I saw the numbers of cases climbing… as I learned of people I know inflicted with the virus (one twice, long before the recent report of the “first case of COVID re-infection”)… as I heard of people I know succumbing to the disease, who are no longer with us… I pivoted on my strongly held belief that school is in the class room. Maybe, releasing some of my stubbornly held beliefs is Miyagi-esque wisdom? Something, I’ve learned in my 49+ years? Maybe, I’m just smart enough to listen to my wife? Surely, Mr. Miyagi could appreciate the wisdom in that.
Writing is a constant reminder that what you think you know as truth is often a lie. Hell, as a fiction writer, I ATTEMPT to tell the truth by feeding you lies (fiction). I’ve had the joy of listening to a number of James Lee Burke discussions over the last few weeks. He’s had sessions with John Grisham, Lee Child, Michael Koryta. There is a forthcoming session with Stephen King! Burke is fascinating and humbling. His intellect is so sharp, and his classical education obviously so much deeper than my own. I’ve never experienced what the writing mob refers to as Impostor’s Syndrome. In fact, even after having this regurgitated nearly every time I visit one of the online writing communities, I’m still not sure what it is. I guess some feeling of inadequacy (?). I’ve always just said I’m just going to do my best. Try to be the best Tony DeCastro, because ultimately I’m not only the only one that can decide if that is good enough, I’m also the only one who will ever know if I’ve truly given my best. This feels more like the wisdom of Forrest Gump, than Mr. Miyagi. (Not meant as a slight, as Gump’s wisdom was sharp as well…remember Jenny asking Forrest what/who he wanted to be, and he simply saying, “Well ain’t I just gonna be me.”)
Whoa, where was I going with this? Right? Impostor syndrome. Watching these interviews, reading three of Burke’s books back to back (two re-reads), has probably left me as close to this mythical impostor’s syndrome, as I will ever be.
When I was a Senior in High School, I was fortunate enough to play in a couple of Senior All-Star games, where the best seniors in the county got to play in exhibition games against other county’s squads. It was an opportunity to get a look from college recruiters and pro scouts… and for a lot of us, just another chance to get on the diamond and compete against others whose talents we admired. Now, I was a pitcher, and didn’t pick up a bat all season. For whatever reason, in these All-Star games the designated hitter was not used, which meant pitchers would hit. I was thrilled, and secretly hoped I would be lucky enough to get a chance to bat…It was an All-Star game, which meant that the coaches tried to get everyone into the games. So, there was no guarantee that even if my spot came up in the line-up in the couple of innings I pitched that I would get my opportunity. Pinch hitting was an excellent way to get someone into the game.
I got my opportunity against the Hillsborough County All-Stars. Against a pitcher named Kiki Jones, who would be taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft that year. He was about 5′-9″ and maybe weighed 160 pounds after walking an hour through a driving rain, but God or the baseball gods or fate had reached down and blessed his right arm. I had never, and have never since, stepped into the box and had such a fast ball tossed in my direction. He threw 95 mph bee bees with the effort of someone tossing batting practice. I took three feeble swings, and walked back to the dugout thankful that Mr. Jones had command of his control. I also then realized I would never throw like that. Yet, the next fall, I tried to walk-on at a Division One NCAA baseball program. I failed, but I did my best. The next year, with a year of college education under my belt, I gave it the ol’ college try again (pun intended). This time my best was good enough. Finding playing time as walk-on was an uphill battle as well…but I kept at it. I never threw a 95 mph fastball. I never was drafted by a Major League team. But I very, very seldom ever left the field having not given my best.
So, it is with Mr. Burke’s 95 mph fastballs. I don’t have to do that. Hell, I don’t even have to step in the box against it. None of us do. We just need to do our best.
I think we’re back to Mr. Miyagi….