One thing you have to understand if you’re going to play or even follow sport: it’s a prick. It’s a heartless bastard. It’s ruthless and it’s probably going to break you, without conscience or regret.
For all the glorious moments, for all the wins, for all the friendships made and other highlights, you are going to be smashed. More than once.
Of course, this is also true of life – illnesses like cancer are random, and this morning I saw a cyclist get hit by a car outside my new house. That guy’s life just changed dramatically in a fraction of a second. But things like that are not to be dwelt on. You’d never leave your bedroom. All we can do is live life assuming we’ve got lots of life to live.
Sport shines a light on this brutality of life, but thankfully in a way that isn’t often truly life and death. Yet the brutality remains: Melbourne Ice watching the fourpeat disappear in the puff of smoke that was a needless five minute major penalty, blowing an otherwise tight semi-final; Richmond being run over by Carlton the next day at the MCG, freezing as the nightmare unfolded in front of 94,000 people; all the AFL list players who will be called into a footy manager’s office over the next few days and told their dream is over, full stop. Or the failure can be a slow, frustrating, helpless fall. As a player gets a 50-50 chance ahead of you, and never looks back. Or you suffer a hamstring twinge in a crucial final. A puck or ball bounces this way, not that, changing everything. Or a thousand other things.
The Red Wings’ Dan Cleary rejected a pay rise offer from Detroit several weeks ago, and the Wings made a call that they couldn’t afford to pay him more. So they instead chased and won the services of a couple of other A-list players, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, eating up the cash set aside for Cleary. His agent got to work and Cleary pretty much had a handshake deal for $8 million over three seasons with the Flyers, much better than the Wings had offered, assuming he brained them at the Flyers’ training camp. But he never got there. Cleary loved being a Wing so much, he couldn’t go. He headed instead to where the Wings were gathering, at Traverse City, and begged the Wings management for a deal, any deal. He’s signed on less than $2 million, a hefty pay cut, just to be a Wing. He’s even going to have to wear No. 71 instead of his old No. 11, just to be a Wing.
Which is great news for him* but bad news for the other forwards also trying to make the team. The Wings now have 17 players jostling for 14 forward spots, including sublime young talents like Gustav Nyquist and role-players like Jordin Tootoo and three won’t make it. They all deserve to, for different reasons. But three won’t be there.
Because, see, sport doesn’t believe in the word ‘deserve’.
I was talking to a guy at the Icehouse who has been on the border of making AIHL teams for several seasons. He’s so close, so so close, but hasn’t yet made it. He totally deserves a chance, but he might not get one. Because, if you remember, sport doesn’t believe in the world ‘deserve’. Unexpectedly, given my lowly standing in my chosen sport, I found myself turning into Old Father Time and pulled on my old sports journo hat while we were chatting. Because I’d seen it before in lots of team sports (AFL, cricket, field hockey, for starters). Some make it. Others don’t. It’s up to you, I said. Nobody cares if you make a team, apart from you. It’s harsh but it’s true: you’re the only one who truly, desperately cares.
So do the work to make a team. Or don’t.
This is something I know a bit about: it’s something that is also true in my novelist life. The one piece of advice I have repeatedly given aspiring novelists is this: the world doesn’t give a shit if they write a novel. Including me.
I don’t care.
I know … inspiring, huh?
But it’s true, and I am not immune from it. The world does not care if I write another novel.
Or if JK Rowling never writes again.
Or (insert the name of any author, or wannabe author, anywhere).
Plenty of people are writing manuscripts. Books will emerge. Will one of them be a Nick Place novel? Shit, I hope so but really, who cares apart from me? If I wasn’t writing novels, I’d have more social time, more time for my partner and kids, more time to concentrate on the job that actually pays me, more time for hockey training … I’ve had five novels published in 10 years. That’s pretty good going. The world owes me nothing.
But if I hadn’t had any books published in the last decade, so what? The world doesn’t care about that either. I have good friends who have written fantastic manuscripts that never found a publisher. I’ve read them and they absolutely deserved to get published. But didn’t.
That’s the way it is, and I’m ok with that.
Here’s the fact: I’m the only person in the world who truly cares if I write a sequel to ‘Roll With It’ – currently available in all good bookshops and online 😉
My publishers no doubt have many writers throwing crime manuscripts at them and I’m sure many are decent. They’ll be fine. People who read my book and liked it are not exactly lying awake at night, sweating on whether book two of ‘Rocket’ Laver’s adventures will ever show up. If it doesn’t, the world keeps turning.
As I said, my kids and partner know how much I love being published, but it’s only me who truly cares, bone-deep, to my soul, whether I can keep writing novels. And even when I finish the latest manuscript, it might not get published. No guarantees.
All I can do is write. Write the best manuscript I possibly can and then present it to the publishers or to the world. Do very single thing I can to make it a book worthy of seeing a bookshelf.
And so it is for the guy on the brink of an AIHL team. It’s entirely in his hands what happens from here, until he can’t control it, if that makes sense.
He can sit and wonder if a club will take a chance on him in 2014, even though they didn’t in 2013. Or he can work his arse off, and make it bloody hard for them not to pick him, just because he has gotten that much better.
It’s very pure, when you look at success or failure like this. Your job is extremely straightforward: do whatever you can to rock the world.
Way way way down the hockey food chain, a bunch of us are sweating and straining and trying to get better as summer season looms. Are you going to be competitive? Do you want to play? Do you want to earn a spot on the first line?
(To repeat: nobody actually cares whether you’re on the team, or on the first line. Except you.)
Personally, I’m loving being back in a team environment, this time as a Brave.
I had, before heading to France, been strangely flat about the looming season. I put it down to being depressed about the way things went down at the Jets, but I think that was only part of it. I finished last summer believing absolutely that I would skate like a maniac all winter, do power skating classes, get better, much better. Really learn to skate. And hit the 13-14 summer as a more lethal, genuinely competitive player.
Instead, my stupid knee flatlined me, as endlessly documented on this blog (which should be called nickdoeskneepain.com), so that I only now feel like I’m even vaguely getting back to being able to skate at full pace. I lost my window, while I nursed and nursed this left knee joint, which nobody can diagnose, let alone fix.
But does sport care? No, no, it doesn’t.
Did I deserve a better winter? By now, you know the answer.
I’m getting on with it. I’m skating. I even played footy for the first time in nine months on Sunday, welcomed back by my Bang brothers, and surviving my first kicks.
I’m going to be ready for summer and I’m going to enjoy my hockey again, with a fun team and the right attitude for a social competition.
And I’m going to finish a manuscript that simply cannot not be published.
Do the literary gods care if that happens? Nope.
Do the sporting gods care if that happens? Nope.
Do I care? Oh Hells, yeah.
So watch me go.
( * btw, I’m happy Dan Cleary is still at Detroit, in case it read differently. He was a really solid player last season, especially in the playoffs, and how can you not love a player who wants to play for the jersey like that?)