I look up to Bo Jackson. I’m not supposed to, of course. A person of my stature, and more or less, anyone with a creative impulse should slouch towards the auteur, the writer, an “artiste.” I should be rendered in such stupor by the masterpieces of James Baldwin or Chantal Akerman. Belovedly, adoring Jerry Saltz or Glenn O’Brien. Steering my inspirational rudder to reach for hipster bait: Neil Young, Patti Smith, Jenny Holzer, Didion, Varda, Nabokov, Coates, or Chris Klaus. I don’t mean to diminish the output of these impressive creatives; I appreciate them. But as I live, stumble, and learn to create, I realize that at times when I need utmost guidance, I am not re-reading Giovanni’s Room, not reciting PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT, and not revisiting films or museums, but often thinking about Bo and what he would do. Partly, I am endeared towards him out of likeness. Like him, our speech impediments (his stuttering, my slurring) caused us to resign into ourselves—become the shy, silent, kid. And we used what strengths we had (Him; throwing rocks at the neighborhood children. Me; using what pointed vocabulary I could grasp) to communicate to others to leave us alone.
But I also adore Bo for the things that I am not: a superstar athlete. An Achilliean giant. He may have thrown stones at the minister’s hogs, but he was also divinely touched with deliberate gifts. He could pole-vault, run fast, play baseball, and make touchdowns with such finesse that it’s impossible for us lame mortals to not feel penetrated with shame or envy over our ineptness.
I like that.
I love that his civil disobedience wasn’t recklessness, nor arrogance, but using his off seasons to play outfield for the Kansas City Royals. I like that he cried like a baby on the pitch as his coaches told him he couldn’t play baseball—and that, for him, such setback was less about drafting potential, but more about getting to play a sport he loved.
This love is why I respond to Bo. He loved the game. He used every ounce of his talents. He was okay with being formidable. He proved that a stutterer, a brawned jock, could eventually make pointed conversation. This love is my relevance.
Mournfully, Achillean giants can’t remain giants for long. Limits will happen because this is what the gods intend—to throw rocks at us. Arrows, lightning bolts, lack of creative opportunity, our efforts never being recognized. The gods are like this not because they like to taunt us. They want us to pleasure what gifts they think we possess. But they also want us to understand that what finessed touch they bring us must be measurable. As creators, we presume that the divine letup for our artful pursuits should be eternal and boundless. Immeasurable. In actuality, the letup is that our gifts are purposely limited. I don’t know Bo, but I’d imagine he understood this intervention, that our brightness is not to search for expectations; what we think our efforts should receive—admiration, friends, awards, money, more opportunities—but to wholly relish in our exertions. Perhaps Jacqueline du Pré in performing Elgar’s Cello Concerto at sixteen, and John Lurie blowing alto effortlessly into any Lounge Lizard song, caught onto this litmus as well.
Most pronouncedly, Bo could let go when his injuries became liturgy. When the Cincinnati Bengal’s linebacker, Kevin Walker, tackled him and inevitably reduced Bo’s gifts to human rank, Bo accepted this fate and learned to live outside of his lore. He went back to school and completed his degree, spent more time with his family, and decided to make his own arrowheads. This humility and grace is what I adore the most about him. In equal measure, we should strive to exist outside of our gifts, so that we can serve and pour what love, value, and compassion that we hold for our talent into others. It’s okay to let go. WE HAVE TO LET GO.