OPEN to Emotion.
by Jennifer Sey
Though I love memoirs, I’m not a fan of the sports tell all. I generally avoid books with a picture of the author on the cover. They tend to paint a rosy but meager hard work pays off! picture that I find specious and incomplete.
And so, I was knocked off my rails by Andre Agassi’s memoir, OPEN. For me, it was one of those rare books about something “small” (tennis) that helps you see something “big” and in this way, it was a revelation. I could not get enough. I didn’t want it to be over. I could have read about every cut throat match he won or lost until next February. The exhausting rallies, the missed serves, the back pain, the bad calls, the “just don’t miss” approach to tiring his opponents out. Not sure why I found that part so fascinating given I don’t even watch tennis. But I suppose it was the way he describes what it feels like to compete. To perform. To exceed one’s physical limitations. At its best and its worst. The fear. The pain - both physical and emotional. The giving everything, the giving up. The wanting it more than anything. The not having it ever be enough.
He captured the ambivalence of his athletic destiny with captivating honesty. Rare that athletes talk of their experience this way. Most often we readers are plied with saccharine, sentimental triumph-over-adversity tales that reflect none of the “I hate tennis” candor of OPEN. Athletes can hate their sport. And love it all the while. Life is strange that way. There is something inherently truthful about ambivalence. As I get older (and older), I realize that being sure of anything is nothing short of folly.
Still, the thing that most struck me was his absolute and utter commitment to straightforward emotion. No ambivalence there. This is me. This is how I feel. Right now, this is how I feel. There was no intellectualizing, hedging, waxing or waning. He was mad. Or frustrated. Or plain old fucking pissed off. Or he was in love. Truly madly deeply kismet style in love with Stefanie Graff. Or he was desperately disappointed in himself. For losing. For a failed marriage. For using drugs to escape that disappointment. He just laid it out there pure and simple.
I feel a rotting rebellion and loneliness in my gut. A pink Mohawk might help… I’m in love with a woman I hardly know. I will fill her room with flowers and patiently wait, despite the gnawing misery and anxiety, until she realizes she loves me back.
The lack of cynicism, the purity of emotion expressed was exhilarating to read. The prose glittered with transparency. Clean in a dirty cynical world. Even entirely unflattering emotions were shared without equivocation. There seemed to be no fear of tarnishing his “image” by admitting to ugly feelings (and acts). It was a celebration of emotional honesty.
I want this. I want to live this way.