Caleb Oakley – 2016-2017 Essay

My therapist told me I needed a hobby. As with most my therapist’s proposals (cutting down on my drinking, looking for writing jobs, practicing mindfulness), I protested.

I had hobbies, I insisted. But ninety percent of these hobbies could be performed from my bed and I was attempting to turn my most productive hobby, yoga, into a side career.

She asked me when the last I felt the happiest and I told her it was when I worked for my little college radio station in Lexington, Kentucky.

“Why?” she pushed.

Because I felt like I was collaborating in an organization intent on being a positive force in the community. Because I loved the people I worked with and because I felt I was challenging myself every time I sat behind the studio soundboard with my headphones on and mustered: “It’s midnight and you’re listening to WRFL, your only alternative left.”

“I think it may be worth your time to try to find that again.”

Rolling my eyes and nervously picking at my fingernails I muttered “fine” and asked if we could move on to my daddy issues.

A few months later, I joined hockey. NOT, I insisted, per my therapist’s suggestion, but my own desire.

I had started ice skating the winter prior, in an attempt to assure I did not have a repeat of my first cabin feverous winter in Madison. My significant other and a regular at my coffee shop were part of the MGHA and adamant that I join.

I had my reservations, to be sure.

To say I wasn’t a fan of sports would be an understatement equivalent to saying my cooking skills were sub par. I felt sports in direct competition with the arts and losing dramatically. My blood boiled when I made wind of the millions hurled at basketball players, while the university did as little as they could to support the radio station. I likened sports to religion: an opiate of the masses. How could I in good conscious join hockey, ruining my unapologetic resistance to organized athletics, and in turn, my reputation.

I had long grappled with perfectionism, a condition my first therapist was able to identify minutes into my first session over the more obvious anxiety and major depression. While the condition had come to aid so often in academic arenas, the fixation was detrimental to my mental health and my ability to enjoy many activities. If I wasn’t good at something the first time, I usually wasn’t going to do it again, which is why I haven’t ridden a go-kart since I was 13.

I was also wary of gay spaces. As someone who didn’t and continues to not identify with one end of the spectrum, I found my gay peers were not much more likely to accept my orientation as valid. Sometimes I felt the only experience shared with gay men was our fondness for our own gender. I felt gay spaces stripped me of the ability to lay low the way straight spaces did.

I won’t even attempt to delve into my aversion to locker rooms, which could occupy its own essay.

Despite these quandaries, I signed up, paid my dues, and poured over hockey stores for used, cheap equipment.

I barely slept the night before the orientation. I demanded my significant other attend with me despite having a decade of hockey under his breezers, reminding myself of the time I demanded my mother walk me to the door of my first day of class… in college.

My first practices at the MGHA were challenging. I threw my back out so badly on my second practice that I was physically hunched over. I continued to do so nearly every practice to extensive degrees of severity ranging from slight discomfort to wailing as if ten centimeters dilated with contractions every fifteen seconds shooting from lower back up to my navel, down to my ankles and around the corner to my testes.

The few months of skating practice I accrued proved thoroughly insufficient during assessments. I coiled when asked to weave through cones with a stick and puck. If only one of the drills had been “skate on the ice for one minute without falling”.

I thought it certain I would not return for a second year, but was insistent on completing the season to maintain whatever pride wasn’t sprinkled all over Hartmeyer from a tremendous volume of tumbles and my detestation of wasting money.

Halfway through the season, my sense of obligation to finish out the season was kidnapped by a dumbfounding fondness for hockey. Sundays became my most looked-forward-to days of the week after being in dead last for the majority of my life, as I was forced to attend church every Sunday from conception into my late teens.

I realized the MGHA granted me the freedom to be the brand of queer I am. Equipping players with a baseline understanding that everyone identified with at least one letter in the queer alphabet soup, I was free to not explain, educate or justify. I was elated to find a swath of queer identities and gender expressions sorely lacking from my life.

I had the freedom to make mistake after mistake with nothing but support from not only my team, but other members on the league. I approached sports with less animosity, judging them not as a whole, acknowledging the benefits dispensed to participants, though I was still reluctant to share my shift in attitude with my friends and family, insisting that this particular practice of the sport of hockey must be different.

Grappling with the fact that I’m writing this on a Sunday afternoon with no hockey game to look forward to, I realize I have not only found a hobby, but a favorite hobby. A hobby that has provided me with an outlet to an organization aimed at doing good in the community. One that challenges me physically and mentally. One that has my back.

I stopped seeing my therapist months ago, but if I were to share this realization with her, I know she would don a gloating smile, while demanding me to take responsibility for my own hard work, and then chastise me for eyes rolled back in my skull.