Monday, February 8, 2010

Sometimes Nothin' Can Be a Real Cool Hand.

WHEN I WATCH Paul Newman repeatedly knocked down by George Kennedy in Cool Hand Luke, I love that Newman never quits. Sparring on the prison grounds, the larger Kennedy stomps Newman to the ground. But the dazed Newman keeps getting up, refusing to concede victory.

I've always admired Newman's character in the film, and the principles he maintained. He would never give in to the authorities simply because they are the authorities. If someone said he couldn't do something, he scoffed. Fifty eggs? Ha! He won't quit until he proves them wrong.

Funny thing about quitting: it's socially stigmatized. A quitter is good for nothing, the logic goes. Quitting is a sign of weakness. But why is that so universally accepted?

I thought of this as I considered dropping the class I was taking this semester. I'm letting them win if I drop, I thought. I can beat them.

Then I realized: who cares?

I'm taking classes now for the love of learning. I have no further aspirations as an academic (beyond teaching, that is). I'm in class just for fun. If I'm not enjoying myself, why do it?

What is it about society that forces us to think ill of those who quit? What happened in our collective past that created that ethos? I have no idea. But I have two quitting stories and they are among my favorite tales to tell.

First, my high school baseball coach did not mention me when he spoke to the local newspaper writer about our upcoming season during my senior year. When I read the paper and saw that the coach did not think enough of me, a starting pitcher, to include me among the important factors of the season, I quit. That day, I placed my neatly folded uniform on his office desk and never said another word to the man.

For two years in college, I mailed him the newspaper clippings about my pitching at the collegiate level.

A few years later, I quit my first full-time job, as a staff photographer for the York Dispatch. I had only been there six months and I was miserable. The town smelled funny, the paper was visually bad and the stories were rather dreadful. I had nothing lined up in terms of work.

When the managing editor asked me what I was going to do, I answered, "I don't know. Maybe drive to Florida and watch spring training baseball."

She replied, "Well that's awfully immature."

And I said, "I'm 22. I'm allowed to be immature."

Things worked out. I maintained my principles, primarily that I never wanted to work just for the money. If I ever found myself in a situation where I was only doing stuff to get paid, I would leave.

After much thought, I ultimately decided to drop the class I was taking this semester. I'm a quitter. I accept that.

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