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Tennis Lessons

Inspiration comes from everywhere. My son and I have been watching a lot of tennis lately. I’d mostly always rather play a thing than watch others do it, but I’ve learned that one can take life and even painting lessons from watching others play tennis.

Iga Swiatek, ranked by the Women’s Tennis Association as the world No. 1 women’s singles player is absolutely fierce on the court and at 23, has an incredible record. She says, again and again, that the key for her is staying in the moment. Her focus is on this point–not the endpoint, not the score (she claims sometimes she doesn’t even know the score). She’s assessing what this point needs from her right now. Here and now. (When she’s about to serve, she’s silently saying something. What is it? I want to know.) And when she wins the match, she’ll run around the court, arms wide as if to embrace the whole world, a big smile on her face–the picture of pure joy.

She played Naomi Osaka recently in the French Open. Osaka, former world No. 1, had taken time off to have a child and has returned with a ranking of 134. Their game was amazing. Osaka essentially had nothing to lose going in, and it showed in her play. She seemed loose, free, and unencumbered, and she gave Iga a run for her money. Iga won but still, there’s another nugget of wisdom. Play with joy. Play loose. Play free. Paint with joy. Paint loose. Paint free.

Carlos Alcaraz, asked about his ready smile, said his team tells him he plays his best tennis when he smiles.

So I’ve been feeling pretty low lately about my aging dogs. I’ve had a hard time shaking my malaise, looking ahead with dread to what’s to come and ultimately, to losing them. Failing miserably at staying in the here and now. Only pickleball and Mahjong have taken my mind off of that worry and sadness.

Last week I pulled out a big (36″ x 48″) canvas that I’d bought for $5 at the Salvation Army and gessoed a while back. Hung it on my painting wall, got out happy colors and big brushes, put on the Beatles, and slung some paint around. Painting on a big surface, on the wall, is just so freeing. It’s partly the physicality of it but also the size. And bouncy music always helps. I had no agenda other than wanting to feel better. It was a used canvas–just $5–wouldn’t matter if I made a mess of it. Nothing to lose. So? I was loose and I had fun and I felt better.

I brought my son in to see it and told him basically what I just wrote above, and he said, “That’s how you should always do.” True. Very true. That is just what I should always do. I love my big painting! I love what it stands for and I do love how it turned out. Best of all, it took me out of my funk and into the present moment, at least for a little while. There it is, up at the top of this letter.

Do what you love. Stay in the moment. Set yourself free.

“The sparkle in your eyes which shows up when you do what you love, becomes a starting point to a grand carnival of your new life.” ― Hiral Nagda

“Do what you love. Do what you are. Do what you do.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

“Previous chapter is closed. Doesn’t matter what happened so far this season, good or bad. My mind needs to be clear and I need to focus on what’s coming next.” – Iga Swiatek

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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