Monday, August 25, 2008
Am I the only person who gets unbearably depressed when watching the Olympics? The past two weeks have been like torture as the NBC and its various affiliates stick me with that bittersweet blade of envy that fills me with the most potent mix of desire and hatred whenever I watch those enchanting, athletic creatures as they flicker across the television screen. Desire because I lust after their glory- I want to compete at the highest level, become master over my field, and be young and beautiful and perfect forever (athletes may grow old, but the aged are perpetually washed away by new crops of the youthful). Desire also because Olympians are hot, and I wanna look like that, fuck like that, and fuck people who look like that. But then there's the other side of envy- the hatred. I hate these people for having something that I can never have, and I hate myself even more for not being able to have it. These have been perhaps the most painful Olympic Games for me because, at 24, this is pretty much the climactic moment at which I could have been able to compete like that if only I'd lived my life a little differently. Or a lot differently, more likely.
So instead of inspiring me by making aware of the human potential, the Games depress me by making me aware of my own failures and insecurities. I look in the mirror and I see a tall, skinny kid who might've actually made something of himself if he had gotten into sports instead of video games when he was growing up. Or maybe he could've gotten somewhere in college sports if he hadn't quit swimming after just one year. But he didn't try hard enough. Or maybe he just didn't care. He doesn't know why he wasn't able to push himself to this level, and- this part burns the most- he knows that no matter what it's too late. He can't capture the transcendent glory and beauty of those other kids on the TV screen.
It's for this reason that I'm not inspired by Michael Phelps's eight gold medals. On the contrary, it pisses me off because I know that I'll never be as good. And what exactly is supposed to be so inspirational about that guy anyway? He's a 23-year-old with a perfect body type who has trained extensively and is now- surprise!- dropping records like flies while he's in the prime years of his life.
The knife digs deeper when I watch the younger kids- the ones who are 16-20 (or potentially much younger in the case of some scandalous Chinese gymnasts)- and I marvel at how well put together they are at that age. I think back on what I was doing during those years and it's a terrible mess. I was still struggling to figure out who I was, where my values were, and what I wanted, not to mention whom I wanted. Thinking back, some of my first pangs of boy-love sprung up while watching the divers at the Games of the 1990's, and I actually harbored a secret desire to become a diver for a while but never went anywhere with it because I feared it would make me gay (Dear Past Mike: it's not the diving that'll do that to ya). Nowadays, the jealousy squeezes me the strongest whenever I see Matthew Mitcham. He's young and beautiful (and blond) and so damn OK with his sexuality (even if NBC isn't). Makes me wonder: if I had been smart enough to come out at 14 instead of 23, would I have more of a grip on my life now?
I worry that this is indeed the prime time of my life, and that I'm letting it waste away. Watching these Olympian gods as they fulfill their full potential makes me realize how little I've managed to accomplish. I moped around as a kid, moped around as a teenager, got into a decent college where I mostly moped around some more, and now I'm a mopey 20-something who's buried his dreams and ambitions. Makes me wish I could lift myself up, do something great, and prove myself/my friends/my parents/the world wrong.
Maybe this is what inspiration feels like after all. At first, I thought I was only really inspired by Dana Torres, who picked up three silver medals in swimming at the tender age of 42. But her story just made me relax because it seemed to promise that I still had another 20 years to achieve glorious things. This is uplifting, but it also threatens to make me complacent for the next two decades. Instead, I'm more spurred to action by the athletes who have already tasted perfection at such a young age. I'm intimidated, jealous, and totally bummed, but I'm not out yet. Not until I give up on myself.