I haven’t shared with you, friends, what this year holds for me. I’ve hinted a little here and there, but some dreams are so precious you just want to hold them to yourself for a little bit. Not because you don’t believe in them. Because you do.
This is the year that I write three books. You read that right. Three books. Or, to be more specific, three entire drafts, with one of the three to be finished entirely.
This is the year that I start my own social enterprise. You know that’s why I’ve been studying business and economics last year and this. This year it’s going to happen. I’ve been saving for the equipment I need, designing and learning, and soon, soon, Kind Fox will be launching.
This is the year my husband quits his job in IT, studies media production, and starts his own media production business. This is already underway. And I’m helping, and by helping I mean giving suggestions while he does all the work.
This is the year we finish renovating our new little apartment with the fireplace and the giant studio underneath. A studio we’ll need to achieve all of the other things we’re planning to do.
This is the year all our dreams from the past few years coalesce into something real.
It’s been a hard few years, friends. We’ve been working, working, working, but sometimes (oftentimes) it seemed nothing would come of our dearly held dreams. Michael was meant to be a high school teacher, but as he ground out assignment after assignment at uni, it was beginning to feel like someone else’s dream. In the meantime, he was putting more and more of himself into his volunteer job producing our local hockey team’s online video stream. This was where he came alive. Not in the classroom, but in the production studio. It took us far too long to see.
For my part, I’d honestly stopped believing. In myself and in my dream. I kept working, working, working, but it was a grind, I’d lost the joy, and it showed in the work. And then our big family trip to New York, planned and dreamed over for almost a year, devastated me in ways I hadn’t anticipated, seeing the poverty, wanting to help but not knowing how. There had to be a way I could both live the full, creative life I’d dreamed of and help others at the same time. There had to be a way.
There was a way. There’s always a way. We just hadn’t seen it yet.
And this year, this year, it’s all coming together. All the spider threads of dreams and latent talents and stubbornly-held faith. It’s happening. The joy of it, oh you have no idea, the joy.
It’s terrifying, of course, but in a good way. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re leaping blissfully into the great unknown. But we have faith, oh wow, do we have faith, that big things are coming. We’re doing the things we were always meant to do. We’re living the lives we were always meant to live.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
― Howard Thurman
It’s my birthday this week, so I’m slightly more neurotic than usual. Birthdays, for me, are less a celebration of my existence than a vehicle for self-evaluation. Depending on the year that’s been, this process can be wonderful or terrible. What have I done with this life of mine? Something great or something mediocre? How much closer am I to becoming the person I want to be?
It’s been an interesting year. There have been moments of failure and moments of triumph. International adventures and revelations that changed my whole life trajectory. I left one job and I’m about to start another. I began volunteering and experienced all the accompanying joy and heartbreak. And I grew one year older.
If there’s one big change I’ve noticed in myself, it’s that, far more than last year or the year before, I know who I am. Identity is not a fixed point, of course; I’m still growing, and I expect to keep on changing for the rest of my life. But I know my heart. I know what motivates me and what I require for happiness. And I’m not afraid to share that with other people.
I’ve been going through the induction process for a new job in the past few weeks and it’s been an interesting experience. Meeting so many new people in such a short period requires distilling yourself down to a few points of interest. How do you represent yourself to others? How comfortable are you in revealing the deepest parts of yourself?
We talked a lot about values in induction. One activity had us literally pinning our values to our sleeves and talking about them with the people around us. And, you know, we faced a choice there. We didn’t have to choose the things we valued most. No one would know if we discarded our deepest values in favour of something easier. Happiness, maybe. Everyone understands happiness. And a few years ago, maybe I would have.
But I know, now. I know who I am, I’m comfortable in myself, and I’m willing to pin my heart to my sleeve to share that with others.
It’s the end of another hockey season. My team made it to the finals but lost the Grand Final against their main rivals throughout the season, which is exactly what happened last year. But this year felt different to me. Last year, losing that last game was absolutely heart-breaking — I could hardly bear to watch it. This year, I gave a cheerful shrug and patted a few friends on the back, sad to see the season go, but happy to have experienced it.
The difference was a realisation I had sometime in the last year, to do with hockey, but also to do with my writing. The realisation was this: The Goodall Cup is what every hockey player is aiming for, but that’s not why they’re here. That’s not why they give up every weekend for a job they don’t get paid for, that’s not why they leave their families overseas or commute vast distances to attend practice twice a week. They’re not here to lift a trophy, because if they were, eight (seven this year) teams worth of players would leave having wasted a great deal of time.
The reason they give up their winters every year is to play hockey. Every player who shows up, whether they play for the Sydney Ice Dogs or the Canberra Knights, is doing what he loves to do. They’re already living the dream, and they don’t need a pretty trophy to prove that.
I’m a fan and I wanted my team to win, but I don’t show up at the rink each week for that reason alone. I’m there to watch hockey. Win or lose, I’m there to see the game I love.
This time last year, while watching my team come just short of winning the Goodall Cup, I was also submitting a novel to agents. I’d worked on this novel for a year and a half at that stage, and upon receiving a revision request, would work on it for six months more. That novel didn’t end up getting me an agent — I had lots of reasons to hope, but none ended up getting me over the line. And I’ll admit, I was heart-broken. Shattered. Cast adrift.
But this year I’m revising another novel, and things feel different. At some point over the last year I realised the reason I spend hours each week — late nights, mornings, weekends and lunch breaks — writing and working on my craft isn’t to get an agent. It isn’t to publish a book or win some sort of invisible trophy. If it was, I would have given up years ago.
Those things are pretty goals, and I still want to achieve them, but they’re not the reason I do it. I write because I love to write. I’m already living the dream.
The work is its own reward. We only fail when we lose sight of that.
Around this time last year I wrote a post about my discomfort in my role as a fan. Before I discovered ice hockey, I’d never been so firmly in the position of observer. Every activity I admired — writing, music, sport — I also attempted, for better or worse. I’d never loved something I couldn’t participate in.
Besides that, I found it strange to celebrate a victory I had no hand in, or to mourn a loss I couldn’t have saved. I didn’t understand how to watch players I didn’t know compete for a reward I had no stake in. I loved hockey like I’d never loved a sport before, but I didn’t know how to be a fan.
Over the course of the last hockey season, a few things have happened to advance my thinking on the subject. The first was that this year Michael and I bought season tickets. No longer could I claim to be a casual observer. With this commitment of time and money I was most definitely a fan.
The second thing that happened was Michael volunteered to help out the media team at home games. This meant arriving an hour and a half before every game, and staying back after. It meant Michael often didn’t stand with me during games, leaving me to justify my interest in the game without the buffer of an enthusiastic husband.
I stopped wearing my jersey to games because I was afraid of being mistaken for a groupie while waiting for Michael to finish pack-up. I attempted to gain emotional distance from the games by critiquing the play and predicting the worst. I stopped looking forward to games and I almost stopped enjoying them as well.
By the end of the regular season, I realised I had a choice to make. Either I had to increase my investment in the game, and find a way to be comfortable with this, or stop watching entirely.
Now, I’m aware this isn’t a problem most fans of the game face, and that has never been as clear to me as in the events of the last week. If you’re involved in the Australian Ice Hockey community, or you follow Michael or me on social media, you will be aware that a few days ago the AIHL announced they would not be live streaming the hockey finals for the first time since 2006. The decision was made in an effort to increase viewership of the significantly delayed, cut-down broadcasts on Foxtel in order to leverage a TV deal for next year.
Prior to the announcement, there was a strong social media campaign in support of the live stream spearheaded by Peter Lambert, former AIHL commissioner and current head of the North Stars media team. Michael and I participated in the campaign. It’s a cause we believe in. Two of the things we love best about the AIHL is the level of accessibility for fans at home and internationally, and the grassroots support of its fan base.
We believed these two assets were the lifeblood of the league and without them, the AIHL’s efforts to expand would fail. On Wednesday night the teams and the AIHL Commission voted on the issue, and over half voted against live streaming the games. This decision proved incomprehensible to the fans, who weren’t in a position to see or understand the financial pressures many of the teams are under. As Will Brodie’s article in The Age articulates, for some teams, the Fox deal is essential for survival.
To say the fans reacted strongly to this announcement is an understatement. Some remained convinced support for the Fox broadcasts would only be strengthened if the games were first streamed live. Others were upset because they would no longer be able to watch their friends and family members play for the biggest honour in Australian hockey. And then there were the fans who felt personally insulted by the decision, and who lashed out with a fury normally reserved for the comments sections of online articles.
This cuts to the heart of my discomfort with my own role as a fan, and with fandom in general. In the social media age we have unprecedented access to those we admire, whether they be writers, sports stars, actors or musicians. Organisations and individuals alike are under increasing pressure to participate and promote in the online world. Walls are breaking down between celebrity and civilian. These things can be incredibly positive, but they can also be damaging and downright ugly.
The response to the league’s decision was brutal, showcasing some of the more vile aspects of ice hockey in Australia. On the other hand, the AIHL’s actions in response to this, deleting comments and banning users without prior warning, did more damage than good to the league’s reputation. When fans couldn’t contact the league to voice their complaints, they went to Fox directly and I’m sure you have no trouble imagining how damaging this could be to the league.
From my perspective there are two ways to participate in social media as a fan, and both were demonstrated in equal measure over the last week.
The more bitter reactions to the league’s decision are a good example of the first way. I’ve seen it in the writing world as much as here. Fans who have increasing access to their heroes begin to hunger for more. Neil Gaiman wrote a blog entry on fan entitlement in response to the anger directed at J.R.R Martin for the pace of his book releases. His essay can be summed up with this line: “George R. R. Martin is not working for you.”
The Australian Ice Hockey League relies on its fan base, this is true. But the main responsibility of the league is not to make you (or me) happy. It’s to maintain the healthy operation of hockey in Australia. I may not agree with the decision they made, you may not agree with the decision they made, but we should all agree that the AIHL was acting in what they believed to be the best interest of the league.
The second approach to social media as a fan relies on this tenant: If we love something, our actions should work to ensure its continued survival. Attacking the league, threatening the league, complaining to the league’s sponsors, these things do not help hockey. In the end the social media campaign was successful and the league reversed their decision, but would this have been the case if fans had petitioned respectfully, with the best interest of the league at heart? I believe so. The single most important thing the teams and commissioners needed to hear was this: We will still watch the Fox broadcasts even if the games are streamed.
As fans we decide how we will respond to the access we have to our sport and to the AIHL itself. Either we demand more, comfortable in our own sense of entitlement, or we participate, finding ways to give back.
Moving forward, the attitude of hockey fans in Australia will be tested in whether they rally around the league to watch the Fox broadcasts and prove the financial viability of investment in Australian hockey. Either they will act with a sense of entitlement, “punishing” the league by refusing to show up, or they will support the sport that supports them.
I’ve faced a similar decision, coming to the end of this season. Will I give up on hockey, too concerned with my own discomforts, or will I increase my participation, finding a way to give back to the sport I love?
I made my decision before all the drama surrounding the finals live stream, but I only feel more strongly about it now I’ve seen both sides of the coin.
Earlier this week I volunteered to help the North Star’s media team in whatever way they can use me. Because I believe that if you love something the way I love hockey, you can’t just be an observer. If you love something that much, you have to find a way to give back.
I’ve never been a sports fan. Growing up, I’d pick my sports teams by how much I liked their name (Tigers) and I don’t think I ever watched a full game. The thing I didn’t get was — why watch a game if you can play it?Then, something changed. Three years ago I was invited by my in-laws to a local ice hockey game. It was fun. A lot of fun. The game was quick and the team was seriously skilled. It was near the end of the season so we were only able to make it to one more game after that, but the next year we went to a few more games. Then when we went to the US last year we made it to two hockey games, one in California (Kings vs. Ducks) and one in Toronto, Canada (Leafs vs. Senators). This season we made it to every single home game, two away games and all three finals for our home team, the Newcastle North Stars.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve become a fan.
The thing is, the more committed I become to the sport and to our team, the harder I find it to accept my role as a spectator. I’ve never done it before. In the past when I’ve liked something, I’ve joined in. I love to read, so I started to write. I love music, so I learned the guitar. Netball, touch football, singing, flute, political groups, journalism… I’ve tried my hand at all of these. But ice hockey? Never going to happen.
We made it to the grand final over the weekend, but we lost the championship by one point. It was a blow, I’ll admit. Somewhere along the line I’d changed from ‘spectator’ to ‘fan’. I’d become invested in this team, these players, this coach, and I thought they deserved to win (still do!). I came away from the game not knowing how I was supposed to react. When my netball or football team lost a game, at least I could say I tried my best, but in this case there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t bolster the team. I couldn’t let them down. I could only watch.
I’m still not sure how to feel about this. Should I invest less? Should I volunteer in some way? Should I keep buying jerseys to assist the team financially? Should I travel to more away games? Less?
I have no clue how to be a fan. Being a spectator just isn’t in my DNA.
When I’m feeling low about something I try to search for a productive outlet for my energy. Receive a rejection for my writing? Send out another query, or write another chapter. Jeans feeling a little tight? Go for a run.
I think I’ve found my productive outlet: Hockey team loses the grand final? Enrol in ‘learn to skate’ classes.