The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

A Patch of Skin, an Ounce of Zen

with 4 comments

Readers:  Thanks for checking out the new home of The Seeker.  I hope you’ll continue to stay tuned and inspire me with my writing (check out the panel to the right–  you can enter your email address and have new postings from The Seeker sent to you!).  In light of this debut, I thought posting a winner would be a great way to start things off.  Yesterday at the Illinois Association of Teachers of English Writing and Revision Conference, I was announced as the winner of the Moonlighting Writing Competition.  My entry is posted below.

A Patch of Skin, an Ounce of Zen

by Jeff Burd

“That’s hyperpigmentation.”

I nodded my head at the dermatologist and followed him with my eyes as he inspected my dermal landscape under a magnifying glass and by Braille. He had already looked at moles on my back, stomach, and head that would need to be cut off and biopsied. I had drawn his attention to my scalp, which at the time still had some bristly hair over the ears and around the back. The top had been sparse for seven or eight years, but I hadn’t yet started to shave the entire expanse with a Gillette Mach 3.

​I had noticed a patch of darker skin on the top of my head for over a year; a pointillism in flesh tones with no defined borders. It had crept down to within two inches above my right eye. None of my friends or family had ever commented on it, but I acknowledged it and it was my skin so I might as well mention it.

​“I’ll give you a cream for it,” he continued. “Cover up when you’re in the sun. Sunblock isn’t enough. You need a hat, too.” I nodded again. Hats are a fact of life when you’re bald. The skin on your head freezes quickly in the winter and heats up just as fast in the summer. You’ll not soon forget any time you sunburn your scalp, and if someone asks you why it hurts so much, they’ll probably hear some tension in your voice as you recall the tenderness and itch when you explain because your scalp is almost never completely exposed to the sun and it’s hypersensitive– think about what a sunburn on the bottom of your feet would feel like. Same thing.

​Like pointillism, the hyperpigmentation began a few specks at a time. I’m certain they debuted, unremarkable, one August a decade ago when I moved to an apartment complex that had twin sand volleyball courts. I was at least fundamentally skilled in volleyball and spent some time the remainder of that summer plodding around in a few pickup games. The specks probably gained a solid foundation on my flesh by the end of the next summer, after I had exploited the courts to pass time on the weekends and establish a new set of friends. They probably mirrored my volleyball game: kind of there, easy to dismiss.

​A year later, I had fallen in love with the carefree, sun-soaked volleyball lifestyle and scheduled my summer life around it. Games would start around noon on Saturdays and Sundays and run until dusk. If I wanted to play as much as possible, all I had to do was win. To do that, I had to be able to play with the best players on the court. The status quo of my game, though, didn’t allow for that. The sand seemed to suction my feet to the ground. I couldn’t spike the ball as I had when I was in my early twenties, and the other team hit it to me when they needed to score. Discovering how to win, then, was a transcendental process.

It meant I had to recreate myself into the best player I could be for my size, age, and ability. It meant abandoning everything I thought I knew about volleyball and focusing on the single most fundamental action in the game: Passing the ball. My goal became to do it perfectly. When I stripped away all desire to conquer others with sheer power and made it my sole focus, passing became a steady, peacefully trickling spring that fed other parts of my game. When I lunged to get my entire body behind an incoming serve, my ability to block spikes leaped up a notch. When I shifted my sandy feet to feed the setter anywhere on the court, I mastered three different ways to serve. When I locked my eyes on the wobbly leather sphere and watched it ricochet off my splayed forearms, I dug wayward balls out of the net with such ease that they may as well have been beach balls.

Once the process of passing the ball flawlessly became innate to me, I realized I had discovered my Zen. Ankle deep in hot sand, with sweat coursing down my face and chest, my mind cleared of distractions… my breathing steadied… my thoughts became linear… I became prescient. The whole game moved in slow motion around me; I knew exactly what was going to happen on each play, and I seemed to always be in the right position to react. In the midst of a do-or-die rally, I experienced epiphanies about life’s troubling issues, as if the answers were there the entire time in neon print on huge billboards in my mind and all I had to do was look at them. Every minute I played in the sand erased ten times the amount of lingering pain from an awkward adolescence in which I ran too slow and struck out too many times. The pleasure I routinely experienced kept me on those tiny patches of desert for what felt like an eternity each day.

​Each evening I dragged myself home caked in salt and sand, I knew I had not used enough SPF 30 on my legs, stomach, back, shoulders, arms, or head. Each evening, the enduring euphoria of Zen pushed the thought from my mind.

I didn’t know that my bare scalp, a neophyte in the cult of sun worship, wouldn’t recover from the ravages of the sun. I didn’t know that hyperpigmentation would be the price tag on my passing Zen.

I do know that if I could, I would do it again and pay the same price.

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Written by seeker70

April 17, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. I’m a volleyball player that can appreciate your sentiment: kind of there, easy to dismiss. But I didn’t realize you were a volleyball player. You wear many hats, it seems. But apparently not while you play volleyball.

    nate danger

    April 19, 2010 at 10:17 pm

  2. PS Congrats on the win!

    nate danger

    April 19, 2010 at 10:19 pm

  3. Jeff, I loved your writing. I sometimes wish I was still there and playing volleyball with you! I have noticed some of those same skin issues also. Congratulations on your win with this awesome masterpiece.

    Stacy

    April 19, 2010 at 11:45 pm

  4. I really relate to this. I once accepted a challenge to play one-on-one basketball (after spraining his knee 15 minutes before at football practice) since I could not refuse. I thought it was because I was mentally challenged, like the rest of the men in my family: all of whom have scarred bodies inside & out from a lifetime of heedlessly responding to similar challenges to their sporting manliness.
    I’m somewhat relieved to find that others will also hurt themselves for “the love of the game.” Whatever that game may be. Play on!

    Joel

    May 3, 2010 at 2:43 pm


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