Kittie Howard

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Dikembe Mutombo and "Play Big"

Dikembe Mutombo, the Congolese-American NBA basketball player, caught my attention in a Sports Illustrated summer issue.  The 7'1/" (2.18m) superstar retired in 2009 after earning the Defensive Player of the Year Award four times and with a reputation as one of basketball's greatest shot blockers.  What caught my attention, though, was how he accepted his height and tuned what others thought a liability into an asset.

When Mutombo was a kid - a very tall, very skinny, very poor kid in a dusty African village -some though thought he was a phantom and ran from him.  Instead of bemoaning his fate, Mutombo maintained a forward-thinking attitude and, well, the rest is history that bubbles into a retirement centered on humanitarian works that include building medical facilities in his home country, with his own money and through his foundation.  Dikembe Mutombo has received many awards for his humanitarian work.

To help support his humanitarian projects, Mutombo gives speeches world-wide and sells various basketball-related items, one of which is a T-shirt that says "Play Big."  The logo made me sit up straight - and start thinking!  I don't know about you, but I do know there have been times when I've held back for fear a character's personality would be too bold (or too sensitive).  The fear, of course, corresponds to societal norms of what's expected, norms that are often more perceived than real.  No one wants to be rejected by society or sense disapproval.  No one wants others to run from him/her. The compromise is to play safe - characters don't ever live outside the box, so to speak.

I've had time to think about this because I'm recovering from strep throat, an unwelcome holiday souvenir in the larger sense  - who likes being sick?  Ugh! - but time to think is good. What I've come up with is this:  I sometimes want to stifle my characters to protect myself.  I don't want the reader to think that the character's sensitivity (or boldness or anger or happiness) is my emotion, a release of my character and a path to who I am, for I don't believe any writer can fully distance himself/herself from the written word.

 Just as I decided to face that fearful word change and open up more, my hub handed me the latest issue of Vanity Fair.  On the cover was a quote from Johann von Goethe:  "We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden."

Mutombo and Goethe - they play well together.

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