w . 9
I Wednesday, October 8, 2014 The tateent 7B
Welcome to The Personal Statement Issue. This week,
we're featuring intimate stories told through the pen and
the lens - illuminating first-person moments that, for
our authors, have pushed a flash of significance into their
lives. These nonfiction narratives explore details that have
made our writers unsettle, question or fall in love. As the
poet Nikky Finney writes, "Absorb everything. What you
see, hear, and feel will stamp every alphabet of your work."
In this week's issue, our writers, photographers and vid-
eographers unleashgthe personal "alphabets" of their own
work, which have been stamped with basketball hoops,
London pavement, birthday hats, baseball diamonds... Flip
through the pages. Read their alphabets. Discover your
Carlina Duan, Magazine Editor
What's in a name?
By Giancarlo Buonomo
all theILLUSTRATION BY
philosophi- MEGAN MULHOLLAND
that can trouble a .J SsirA
tions like "How did t
the univerae begin?" o A
to be a good person?" ,s *
- the one that troubled
me for the longest time
was, to put it kindly,
solipsistic. The questionf
I often asked myself in p
quiet moments was this,
"Why am I so different
This is a hard question to answer, the croaking toad, I got a large group of people, I could stand
for anybody. As you remember from a name." I got a name too. It's really out. I have one group of friends who
biology class, all Homo sapiens are two names put together - Giovanni like sports far more than I do, and lit-
about 99.8 percent genetically simi- was my great-uncle, and Carlo is my erature farless. Butinanothergroup,
lar, but it's that stubborn one fifth of father, but the combination is so pop- I am suddenly the one who likes
one percentthatsetsthegroundwork ular in Italy that if you flick an olive sports and parties, not punk rock and
for our infinite and ever evolving pit across a piazza, chances are it will anime. In the end, I'm not an out-
idiosyncrasies. So close, yet so differ- hit a Giancarlo. sider -these are myclosest and most
ent Thename may be common inlItaly, trusted friends. But I always like to
Here's an example of how I felt dif- but in America, I'm the only Giancar- be the one who's alittle "off,"because
ferent asa child. After school, I only lo I've ever met in ,person. Based on it means thatI have something that I
wanted to play, by myself. I would this fact, I assumed that I would can call my own.
gather ripe Kousa Dogwood berries write this essay about the annoying I often wonder how I would have
and pretend I was an Aztec priest realities of having an unusual name. turned out differently had my par-
and the berries were my sacrificial The endless butchering by substitute ents not named me Giancarlo. Luck-
victims. Placing them on the top of a teachers. Constant questions about ily, my mother gave me a pretty good
fence post already slathered with fer- whether "John" was my first name idea.WhenI asked her howI came to
mentingberry, Iwould plunge an old and "Carlo" my middle. From fourth be named Giancarlo, she recounted
trowelintotheir squishy flesh and dig through eighth grades, I just went how my older siblings' names had
out their hard orange hearts, before by "G," because I was so fed up. But been accounted for before they were
lettingtheir torn bodies tumble to the it would be wrong of me to just con- even conceived. My sister would be
ground. I knew - no, I was certain centrate on these annoyances. Not Sophie, because my maternal Grand-
- that I wouldn't share this game because they're trivial, but because father had requested that she be
with my peers. Not because it was my name is not so much annoyance named after his mother. My brother
macabre, but because it was mine. It to me as it is an asset, one that has would be Anthony, because Italian-
wasn't so different than what other shaped who I am today and how I Americans traditionally name their
little boys were 'playing; everyone view myself. first sons after the paternal grand-
else was blowing up army men and When you grow up with anunusu- father. There were no restrictions
makingbows and arrows and having al name, you experience, for lack of on mine, but my father apparently
acorn fights. But that slight degree of a better term, a heightened sense demanded that I either have a very
difference, that touch of the arcane of individualism. When you have a authentic Hebrewname,likeYitzhak
and foreign, stampeditasmine. name that no one else has, you and or Yakov, or a very authentic Italian
Barring the possibility that I'm yournamebecomeconnectedinsuch one, like Marco or Massimo. They
only 99.7 percent similar to other a way as to suggest that you are a per- decided on Giancarlo, because it car-
humans, I am forced to look else- sonunlike any other. ried some family history, and they
where. All the usual sources were But my name has a more inter- also justliked the sound of it.
out: I'mwhite, cisgender, upper-mid- esting implication. When you break Upon hearing this story, I asked
dle class and straight. For a while I "Giancarlo" down, it's really not that that rarely-useful yet ubiquitous
,considered that it was due to being a unusual, at least in the Indo-Euro- question: "What if?" Had I been
JewinasomewhatWASPy town. But pean sense. The English equivalent named Yitzhak, would I never have
Concord, Massachusetts was heavy would be John Charles, the Spanish tried to learn Italian or study in Italy?
on things like "interfaith dialogue," Juan Carlos. So if I felt like an out- Would I have committed myself to
and I didn't feel much closer to Jew- sider because of my name, it was only Judaism instead of semi-abandon-
ish kids anyways. I wasn't physically as a slight outsider. ing it? Or even if I had been Marco,
remarkable in any way. I was bright, Iused to hate this asymptotic exis- would I not have felt so different
but no prodigy. tence, mostly because it felt passive, from others?
Think, Giancarlo, think. bestowed on me at birth. Eventually, . There's no benefit in trying to plot
Oh. I came to actively pursue it.I realized out the specifics. But it is useful to
As Jim Croce so memorably that beinga slight outsider made me recognize what's ina name.
sang, "Like the singing bird and recognizable, made me distinctive. In
Back on the diamond
by Will Greenberg
ever let the fear of striking
out keep you from coming
up to bat."- Babe Ruth.
My heart dropped when Kevin
turned to me in the office and said,
"Oh you played baseball in high
school? That's perfect! You've got
to come play."
Kevin was one of the staff writ-
ers at the Chicago Reader, Chica-
go's alternative weekly newspaper'
and the publication I interned at
this summer. Kevin was also the
captain of the staff softball team,
part of a citywide softball "media
I tried my best to look excited,
forced a smile and said, "Sure,
sounds fun!" but inside I was pet-
rified. My stomach ached with
nerves; my mind raced with worry;
I couldn't shake the feeling that
getting back out on a baseball field
would go horribly wrong.
It's true, I did play baseball
up through high school, starting
from the age of six playing T-ball.
As a young boy I fell in love with
the game - partly because it's the
best game in the world, and partly
because I was good at it. Baseball
took up the majority of my iden-
tity asa kid. For a short time, I was
somewhat of a local legend in my
little Chicago Park District house
league. Kids on other teams knew
who I was and would make sure
their teammates prepared them-
selves for when "that tall kid"
would be pitching. I was a star.
All of that changed when I final-
ly played at the high school level.
Because most of the other kids
were really good players, I wasn't
a hot shot anymore. Most of my
teammates and opponents played
on far more competitive travel
leagues. The coaches were critical
and if I wanted to keep playing I
would have to impress them. I was
humbled quickly and felt like I had
to constantly prove myself; I had
to earn the right to play the game
Baseball wasn't just for fun any-
more; there was constant pressure
to prove myself. I didn't want to
lose that star quality from my mid-
dle schoolyears, but now I ended
up paying more attention to my
performance than the experience
of the game. I quickly assumed a
mentality of self-doubt, a tactic
that aimed to keep me constantly
working harder. I was careful not
to boast, brag or be over-confident
for fear that I might jinx myself.
This tactic might have been effec-
tive for a reasonable person, but
in my already worrisome brain, it
manifested as constant nerves and
When Kevin invited me to play
over the summer, I figured it would
be a good chance for me to at least
get to know the writers - maybe
even staff at other papers - but
I still felt nervous. The pressure
now came from the high expecta-
tions from the staff: "He's good, he
played in high school."
I drove out to Seward Park, just
north of downtown Chicago, on a
Monday night, trying to calm my
nerves but finding it hard to get
out of my own head the same way I
had in high school. What if I stink?
Won't that make them think I'm a
loser? I'm supposed to know how
to write, too ... what if this shows
them I was never good at anything?
I arrived at the park and found
my co-workers, in the dugoutoppo-
site our opponent: CHIRP Radio.
My palms were sweaty, I was forc-
ing myselfto smile and make jokes.
Through all this anxiety I was also
supposed to show I could relax and
be fun. I was able to settle in as
more members of the team arrived
and 'the more light-hearted atmo-
sphere of Chicago softball was
revealed. Even on a Monday night,
30 racks of beer. were brought
along, some players smoked a quick
cigarette asa warm-up routine and
no one looked particularly pre-
pared for a game.
Despite my persistent -nerves,
some of the old feelings from my
park-league days came rushing
back to me: the feel of the evening
breeze, the smell of the all-dirt
field and the sight of the Chicago
Skyline stood impressively just a
few miles away.
One of the senior writers
came over to me.
You're a pro, right?"
good," I replied back
with a small smile.
Then it was time to
take the field. "Will,
take third base,"
Kevin directed. My heart momen- enth, Kevin sounded off the cannon, the1
tarily disintegrated. Third base, upcoming line-up: "Chris, Dell, night sky to
the "hot corner," is where most Mick and then Will." for a textboo
balls are hit. My mind immedi- From behind the chain linked I rounded
ately regressed into the internal fence I watched the three men tly at seconi
cycling of all the possible mistakes ahead of me set up my fate. Chris tying run. S
I could make. I started recanting popped out, Dell got on base and cracked a dt
my game-mode mantra from high Mick flew out but allowed Dell to game with a,
school: "Don't get too cocky, you advance to second. I was next up to It felt got
don't want. to jinx yourself. Just bat with two outs in the bottom of was fun agai
make the play the way you were the final inning and the tying run- That doub
taught and try not to think about ner in scoring position. This was a much of a
it." chance anylittleleaguerwouldfan- the end oft
The game started and, sure tasize about in their backyard, and moment real
enough, the first batter drilled a I'd even imagined it early on, but about confid
ground ball right at me. Thank- mostly these pressure situations how much I'
fully, all went as intended. Myhead doused me in anxiety. Frustrated self-doubt t
cleared momentarily; I scooped by how little fun I was having at ruining a gar
the ball up without any issue; and this inconsequential social event, so deeply. I;
made a solid throw to the first especially in a surrounding I was baseball had
baseman, which was promptly supposed to love, I couldn't help me in high sc
dropped. Of course, the broken but think to myself, was this how was because
play was not at all my fault, but I I felt playing high school baseball? es wanted,
instinctively began analyzing my Was I this miserable the whole time? Those distra
throw: was it too high? Too fast? As I walked out from the dugout sible for met
Could I have set my feet better for to prepare my bat, I had a crazy failure, and I
more even more accuracy? Was thought. So Inowh
that play my fault? "Screw it," I thought. "I'm tying ing too grot
The stream of consciousness us up right here, right now." used by gene
didn't cease and I subsequently I stepped into the batter's box and successf
made a couple more errors that and set my feet, eyes glued to the "Never let
inning, allowing enough base run- pitcher. Instead of trying and fail- keep you fron
ners for CHIRP to get a sizable ing to clear my mind, I instead Babe Ruth.
lead of six. When three outs were focused my thoughts toward suc-
finally made, I trudged back to cess. The pitcher wound up and
the dugout, head down. My Read- heaved a high-flying meatball, a
er teammates offered words of perfect offering. I let the ball drop
encouragement and positivity but in to shoulder height before
I stayed focus on feeling my shame. erupting with energy and
The game proceeded as softball crushing the pitch. The
games typically do, with the lead collision made a
changing several times until the boom like a
seventh and final inning rolled muted
around - we were down 11-12.
I had had a rough game, hitting
poorly and making additional
errors in the field.
Coming into the
dugout from the
top of the
ball streaking into the
ward left-center field
first and landed gen-
d base, driving in the
teve, next up to bat,
ouble and we won the
od; it felt powerful; it
le may not have been
n accomplishment at
:he day, but that small
lly changed how I felt
ence. I thought about
d allowed anxiety and
o cloud my judgment,
ime for me that I loved
realized, too late, that
been taken away from
hool. Everything I did
it was what the coach-.
not what I wanted.
ctions made it impos-
to suppress my fear of
I had suffered for it.
ave anewmotto, noth-
undbreaking but one'm'
erations of ballplayers
ul people alike:
the fear of striking out
m coming up to bat." -
COVER BY AMY MACKENS AND RUBY WALLAU