The non-fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: What’s the purpose of your title not being plural, since “sports” is generally a plural term?
Christopher Lowe: The crux of the essay is really that opening line: my father wasn’t a sports fan, but I am. Watching football and baseball with my daughter is something that I enjoy quite a bit, something that serves as a kind of point of connection. During the essay I conflate sports, literature, music, and parenthood, letting them all sort of coalesce and reflect back on one another. In a sense, I think I’m suggesting that these pursuits are a kind of sport (or at the very least, they have some similarities to a sport) because they are all points of connection, ways of tying ourselves together, even fleetingly, and so the singular seemed to fit. Beyond that, “Sport” is the kind of nickname we attribute to stereotypical fathers (“C’mon Sport, let’s go to the ball game…”). While it was never a term my father used with me, and it’s not one that I use with my daughter, it does call to mind fathers, I think, and I like having that kind of echo in there.
RR: You mention that your father’s students refer to him as a king. Could you elaborate on the relationship between him and his students?
CL: He was a fairly popular teacher, from what I can remember. I know he won a Teacher of the Year award from the Jackson Public School district, which is one of the largest districts in Mississippi. My mother still has his plaque from that award hanging up in her house. The Hrothgar reference comes, of course, from Beowulf, which was one of the standard texts that my father taught in his English courses. I must have only been three or four when I visited his class with my mother, but I have a vivid memory of his students laughing and joking, calling me Little Hrothgar. I knew the name – knew that it referred to a king and that it was a kind of symbol of the students’ affection for my father – long before I ever knew a lick about Beowulf. When I finally read Beowulf in high school, I probably had a more emotional reaction to it than any other high school student has ever had. All of my friends were skimming the Cliff’s Notes, and I was fully engaged because it had a kind of nostalgic resonance for me.
RR: The use of sections in this piece allows for swift reading and organization, but is there more to it? Do you think that rearranging the sections would drastically change the overall piece?
CL: I’m a vocal fan of modular writing, particularly in pieces like this one, where a unifying idea or concept is more vital than some central, linear memory or image. When I’m writing in a form like this one, I tend to shuffle the sections as I go, trying them in different configurations, adding and subtracting sections, until I hit a sweet spot. Once I’ve gotten to that point, I have a hard time envisioning the piece in any other arrangement, though some of that might just be me over-thinking things, which I have a tendency to do. Ideally, a modular piece should build meaning as it goes, allowing for a sense of movement that comes from the plugging in of new ideas/images/memories/information. We enter a new module and get a new piece of the whole, which creates tension (and movement) when we connect that new bit with the ones we’ve already encountered. That stacking-based movement takes the place of the movement we normally get from linear trajectory. Because of that, the ordering becomes vitally important.
RR: Are there similarities between your relationship with your father and your relationship with your daughter?
CL: My father passed away when I was in third grade, so my memories of him and of our interactions are hazy at best. I remember specific images and moments, but I have a hard time really stating much about our relationship with any level of authority. It’s the kind of thing I could get clarification on from my mother, of course, but for whatever reason, I try to avoid that kind of direct research in my nonfiction pieces that are rooted in memories. I want to rely on my own memory, even with its flaws and gaps, rather than on constructed understanding. It ends up being the opposite of what I’d advise for just about any other kind of nonfiction writing: dig into what you already know and avoid outside exploration. That seems like terrible advice as I type it, but when I’m exploring my own memories, I like the idea that I can let them play out on the page in the same way that they play out in my head, untainted by exterior influence. That’s a long way around to get to this: I’m honestly not sure how much alignment there is between my relationship with him and my relationship with my daughter. I know that I loved him deeply and that I always felt like I was in the arms of a caring father. I hope that I do enough with my daughter each day to instill those feelings in her, as well.
RR: It is interesting how you’ve detached the fervor and chaos generally associated with large sporting events from this piece; the marking of “balls and strikes” in section 6 becomes more contemplative than anything. Why did you choose to adopt this tone, and when you actually watch sports, are you a little more enthusiastic?
CL: I’m a vocal, excitable, hat-throwing fan when I’m watching football. My daughter was born during the summer before the 2010 Ole Miss football season, which opened with a devastating, inexcusable loss to Jacksonville State. As the game spiraled away, I had a hard time not upsetting the baby I was cradling because I wanted to get up and pace around the room, ranting and raving. Just this last year, I danced happily with my daughter and wife in the living room after Ole Miss finally upset Alabama after a 10+ year drought. With baseball, I’m a little more calm and relaxed. Your word, contemplative, is just about right. Baseball seasons are so long that I find it easier to take losses (or wins) in stride. Pair that with my high school experience of marking balls and strikes, and it becomes a sort of ritual that I can sink down into. With football, every game feels so much more important in the grand scheme of the season that the fervor and chaos bubble up for me more frequently.
Christopher Lowe’s work in Issue 2.2: