“If there’s a connection between writing and playing football, it’s the sense of total presence in the world.” —Aleksandar Hemon
The Global Game carries a fine interview with Hemon, the Bosnian-born Chicago writer of such majestically strange, sad and intriguing work as The Question of Bruno and The Lazarus Project, on the intertwined (for him) subjects of writing and soccer playing. Hemon is easily one of the best American fiction writers right now, and could instantly become one of the country’s best soccer writers should he so deign. This is a man who, when he’s in form, plays three times a week; he is also possibly the only soccer player on Earth whose competitive milieu and on-field style have been described in evocative detail by one Zadie Smith. (“He plays with a mixture of Chicago bankers and Hispanic busboys…he knocks them all down.”)
Hemon’s insight on the commonalities—call them perceptual, if you will—between the task of writing and the task of playing football hit home for me. I do both, one for money at a marginal/acceptable level of competency, one for “fun,” at an absolutely abysmal level. (In the most recent futsal match I played, I put two golden scoring opportunities against the post and bumbled another straight into the ‘keeper’s arms. The ball hit me in the back of the head not once but twice as I ran in the wrong direction. I ended up flailing on the ground in a number of key defensive situations. One of my more pithy teammates looked at me after the final whistle, raised the proverbial eyebrow and observed, “Well, that was extraordinary.”) I think I am attracted to both callings by the demanding immediacy—the really real realness—Hemon talks about here.
In a consumer culture, we’re used to thinking of sports as a high-quality spectacle staged by others. And there’s nothing wrong with spectacle. Tonight, I’m going to settle in for a few hours with bowls of venison stew and the Civil War—or, as a soccer fan would call it, the Willamette Valley derby. Should be fun. But sport should also be about visceral first-hand experience and attention to the physical world—an antidote to virtual reality.
And since we’re on the same page here, consider this a public appeal to Hemon. Just before 9 o’clock, I’m going to leave the televisual comforts of home and go to my weekly match down at the futsal palace. My team, the Mighty Unicorns, looks short on players. So if a certain Bosnian midfielder with hardman instincts wants to fly out, he could just about make it if he leaves now-ish. Kickoff’s at five minutes to nine, Sascha.