Sunday night we all went bowling with my father-in-law. Me, Kim, Maggie, Kim's brother Tommy and his wife Patti joined Tom for a couple of games. I haven't been bowling in fifteen or twenty years. Tom stood up and bowled a strike. Tommy then bowled a strike. My turn. I too bowled a strike. That was my last strike of the evening. Tom went on to bowl another six strikes in a row and one more in the final frame. I went on to bowl just a little more than my age and just a little less than my nine year old daughter bowled. Maggie did better than I did in the second game as well. Kim, meanwhile, quietly recaptured her form from years before and bowled three strikes in the second game.
Tom was in top form. Not only was he bowling well but he was able to provide tips to his children, their spouses, and his grand daughter. I learned that one of the many things that has kept me from excelling in any sport is my lack of self-awareness.
Tom would come up to me after I had found the gutter once again and told me that I was swinging my arm out to the side not straight back. He'd say that I finished with my body facing in some direction other than square to the front. During the follow through my hand was coming up over my left shoulder instead of straight up in front of my face.
I absolutely believed that everything he was saying was true. When he made similar comments to another bowler I could see how they had done exactly what he was identifying. When it came to my own performance, I was just as certain that he had diagnosed the problem, but I didn't have the self-awareness to feel my hand finishing somewhere other than where it should have been.
Sometimes I was able to make the corrections he suggested. Other times I made the same mistakes with the same results. Most often, I tried to make the changes but, since I didn't have a true idea of what I was correcting, I ended up overcompensating and sending it towards the other gutter.
I'm sure that more than one person has written a book on bowling as a metaphor for life. I wasn't frustrated in any way on that Sunday night rolling balls down a wooden alley. I'm not self-conscious – nor am I self-aware when it comes to my body.
There are other people who aren't aware of what they do in interpersonal relationships. They ask why the same things always seem to happen to them. Before I met Kim I had had a series of relationships that never went anywhere. One of my friends said, "not to be trite and simplistic, but if you don't like what you keep getting then stop doing what you keep doing."
In a bowling alley there are dots and arrows you can use to line up with. If you are too far to the right you can move to the left on your approach or you can aim for a different arrow. Unfortunately for me while bowling, there were too many other variables for this to be of much use to me. I need to straighten out my delivery and understand and tune what my body is doing before any of these finer points matter much.
You can throw the ball harder but if you're lined up wrong you will just reach the gutter that much faster.
In life there are also dots and arrows but you need to look harder for them. You can change your approach and where you are aiming. What I found was that first I had tune myself. Once I had looked more at who I was and straightened out areas that needed tuning, I had a much easier time observing results and adjusting with the dots and the arrows.
There is a style of bowler called a cranker. In the lane next to us a family of four was bowling. The dad and the son were crankers. They didn't put their fingers in the holes. They held the ball in their palm. As they got closer to the line they hurled the ball down the lane with a terrific spin on the ball.
For a while the ball travelled down the lane in a straight line close to the right gutter. You could see the ball spinning but its motion was in a line parallel to the gutter. About ten feet from the pins the ball suddenly lurched towards the middle and struck the center pin.
Tom told me that it was because the lanes were oiled but the last ten feet were dry. The ball would spin without changing direction as it slid down the oiled boards until it got to the dry boards where it would grab and change directions. He pointed out that when Kim bowls the ball slides down the middle of the lane without spinning at all. You can see the finger holes look stationary. When Patti bowls the ball spins slowly back towards us. In both cases, when the ball hits the dry region, it starts rolling end over end until it hits the pins.
I think there's a metaphor hidden in that as well. We spend some of our time sliding through life. It's only when we hit those dry patches that we really have to depend on the way we are spinning.
The bowling metaphor doesn't quite work though. At the end of a frame in a bowling alley, the pins are automatically set to the same way they were before. You get to start all over again and see what happens this time.