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Hockey Wilderness
  • Why I Love Not Thinking About Hockey: Summer, and the Beautiful Relief from Monomania


    There’s something beautiful about ignoring one of your passions. It’s a relief, a release from having to think all the goddamn day and night about something you love that drives you crazy. Hockey, which can easily be ignored for a quarter of the year, has the space to perfectly accommodate my apathy.

    My partner is someone who gets deep into whatever’s occupying her mind. She fixates, rewatches, rereads, picks through things with precision, which can drive me nuts. There’s so much out there to look at, I’d rather go on to the next diversion. My partner though, has watched The Get Down two, maybe three times through in the past few weeks since we watched it together. She’s been listening to the Harry Potter books for the nth time, and keeps on texting me about the many many ways that Dumbledore is a manipulative old man. She knows this text like the back of her hand, but has spent all summer slogging through it again, even the terrible parts, even the parts that make her angry (queer coded characters being awkwardly pushed into heteronormative futures), because this story is so important to her and she doesn’t want to let it go.

    It’s so easy to not stop, so easy to stay in the middle of your obsession forever. The way pop culture cycles now there’s always something new, or something old to immerse yourself in. I remember being in middle school, and waiting anxiously all summer to find out who was outside Veronica Mars’ door at the end of the first season, but those pauses, big breaks with dangling questions, don’t come around as often anymore. It’s all binge watching, all streaming, all at our fingertips, whatever we want to think about next. There is almost always more right there, waiting for us.

    What I like about sports is that time away is part of the design. It’s called the off season, and for hockey, it's the summer. Summer is for thinking about other things. Summer is for the Lynx, and going to the lake, and reading bad romance novels.

    Things do happen in the summer. Some of them are even interesting or important. I could care more about the draft, prospect camp, free agency if I tried. I was on sports twitter for those days, I did engage. But mostly I’ve been decompressing. I’ve been ignoring this thing that takes up huge chunks of my brain from October to May. It’s been really nice.

    Caring about sports is an irrational act at its base level. It’s a love affair with something that not only doesn’t love you back, but doesn’t know you exist. It’s handing over your emotional well being to a game of chance, luck, and strategy that you have no control over. Carrying about sports is a ridiculous thing to do.

    And I care about the Wild, which can cause me a lot of agony. I love them, but sometimes they’re terrible. Sometimes they’re really incredibly painful and do miserable things that make me miserable and there’s nothing I can do about it. I have to sit there and watch as they make terrible choices and lose and look really sad.

    I don’t actually regret caring about them — not most days anyway. I’ve made friends though following hockey, and I like having something to talk about with my cousins, and I’m bad at keeping up with TV shows as they air but it’s fun to have some sort of serialized entertainment to follow. I think sports are fun to write about, and think about, and look at. And sometimes they make me really happy. Sometimes they win, and it’s beautiful; sometimes they win, and it’s ugly; sometimes they don’t win, but it’s the last game of the year, and they finally manage to score a goal after sucking all game, and the goal song is “Let’s Go Crazy,” and I was so scared that we wouldn't get to hear this tribute to Prince, but they do it, they score four goals, and I don’t believe they’re going to make it past game, I don’t believe they’re going to make it past this series, but the arena got to play, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and that’s beautiful.

    It’s also exhausting.

    After the stress of the playoffs, and the highs and lows of a long season, there’s nothing as nice as ignoring the hockey-world. Don’t look at twitter, don’t read blogs. Don’t worry or analyze or argue. Or at least take a step back. Take a deep breath. Tune in for the draft, free agency, wait for trades, watch as things shift, but take a break. That’s what I like to do anyway.

    You wouldn’t have to. It’s definitely possible to keep your mind occupied with hockey and hockey-adjacent thoughts all summer. There are so many things we can quantify to improve our understanding. Stats are one more thing to think about, to obsess over, but still, on some level meaningless. Corsi has nothing to do with my life, but it’s interesting. I think it’s less interesting in July, but other people have more patience with numbers than I do. If you can’t tell by now my interest in sports is narrative, not numerical. Stats can be used to craft better stories, but I’m not interested in them for their own sake, and it’s challenging to use numbers to uncover new directions in storytelling when nothing is actually happening.

    Or there is always the speculative approach to keep busy. Imagine expansion drafts, line combinations, strategies. Always looking to the future, at what might happen someday, maybe. That can be fun. I like having those conversations, sitting in the sun with a friend, trying to imagine what the Wild are going to look like in 2022, making things up, that's a fine diversion.

    As is power ranking. I understand the compulsion to compile lists. Tell me about the best, the worst, the most bizarre, the most exceptional, the appalling. I enjoy those lists, and I enjoy arguing about them, but it’s all for fun, I don’t actually care.

    This is the real point: the beauty of not caring. The freedom of it. Not caring about stuff is good for you. Apathy can be incredibly enjoyable. Apathy can be relaxing. Apathy can keep you safe. If you’re apathetic you can’t get hurt. Sometimes I try to burrow into apathy in the middle of the season, because sometimes the Wild are really bad, but it doesn’t usually work very well. Caring is something that’s hard to turn on/off without an obvious opportunity, which is why I’m try to take full advantage of summer as my time to not care. Let us bask in apathy while we can.

    Apathy is better than hate. Sports hate is fundamentally irrational, and it can be enjoyable a lot of the time. This week I perma-muted someone I’d never heard of because they got retweeted onto my timeline saying positive things about the Stars, and there was so much satisfaction in banishing this sentiment from my world. I get a lot of pleasure out of hating every other team in the central division. But it’s good to give that hate a chance to cool.

    Hating things takes so much energy. I like to think that I’m relatively chill, and give people a lot of freedom to be wrong without letting it upset me. But constantly seeing things and remembering, oh god, I hate this, can exhausting. I can’t waste all my hate on hockey, because like, politics exist, and Prof, and grape soda, and Twins fans who don’t know how to ride the light rail. I am fully capable of hating many things at once, this is something they taught me at feminism school, but it was nice to let go of some of it for a while.

    This way I will be able to hate the Stars even better now that it’s fall, with the fire of eleven million suns, instead of the usual ten million.

    That is a joke, but all my whole point: take the summer off, come back ready for another journey. I love not thinking about hockey because it gets me excited to think about hockey. I love not thinking about hockey because it makes me miss it. I could fill the summer up with less exciting ways of thinking about hockey, I could make it constant, unrelenting and all consuming. But there isn’t any fun in that!

    Absence makes the heart grow fonder. I have spent the summer not thinking about hockey, or at least thinking about hockey less. All things being equal, I probably spent more time thinking about hockey than a lot of folks. I was still writing, and listening podcasts, and following players on instagram, so it isn’t like there has been no hockey has been in my brain. But it’s been a lot less than usual, and it’s been really nice! And now I can’t wait for there to be games, and action, and excitement, and all kinds of ridiculous things that I can’t even imagine right now that will make perfect sense in April. I'm looking forward to the surprises, and the comeback wins, and yes, even the heartbreak. There's nothing like having your heart broken by your favorite team, with a last second loss on a Tuesday night, knowing they'll be back in action on Thursday with another chance at doing something remarkable.

    I love hockey, and I love loving hockey. I’m looking forward to following the season after a mental break. I’m ready to get back into this ridiculous arrangement where my happiness is affected by what the little skating men on the television do. I am excited for it! I spent all summer thinking about other things, letting my happiness be dictated on other things, like what is actually happening in my life. (The Lynx don’t impact my happiness in the same way because the Lynx are always beautiful and always win.) I am ready to be consumed by the absurdity of sports once again, to be consumed by the ridiculous overinvestment of fandom. It sounds like fun. I am ready to care.

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