On ping pong

Jenny and I played a lot of ping pong in Green Bay.

This is not a typical recreational activity for either of us, nor is it something we’ve done all that much in trips past. But there are two ping pong tables outside at Titletown, the ever-growing community live/work/play complex next door to Lambeau, and this year, we could be found at them often.

This was laughable at first. Jenny was a collegiate athlete. I made the freshman volleyball team and didn’t last a week. But after more than a few rounds of “just keep it off the ground,” we started playing for real. AKA I started losing 12-point games by 10 or 11 points. We ended up playing at least a few games every day, and on our last night in Green Bay, we played until Titletown closed down for the night—a gripping 19-17 championship game that some may have described as Wimbledon-esque.

Titletown Ping Pong

(I totally won.)

And then, we came home.

Home, the place with all of the screens—the aforementioned phone and multiple computers and a television for entertainment. It was the exact opposite of Green Bay, in freedom and in form, and it didn’t take long for it to feel mildly suffocating.

I missed ping pong. A lot. On Friday morning I said something about the possibility of looking for a table on Craigslist over the weekend. But Jenny, ever the champion of dreams, said, “We should make one! Tonight!”

A plan was born.

And then I tried to kill the plan, approximately 87 times.

Work ran late so it felt like too late to get started on our original plan. Tables were expensive. Materials were expensive. I didn’t feel like dragging an old dining room table up from the basement and displacing all of the stuff that already lived on that table. And even if we did manage to figure out a table situation and get it out there, wouldn’t we just be eaten alive by mosquitos?

Too late. Too much. Too hard.

Jenny plowed on through all of it.

This is what happens with real friends. They know exactly when to stop listening to you.

So we bought paddles and ping pong balls and moved the table up from the basement. We strung lights, played music, put a frozen pizza in the oven, and basically showered in bug spray. And in less than two hours, we had our very own makeshift ping pong table/mini Titletown.

Harrisburg ping pong

Two takeaways:

1. Environment is important.

I’m still reading (and loving) Atomic Habits, and the ping pong table made me think of the chapter on changing your environment as a way to change your habits. It’s an easy concept: If your running shoes are shoved in the back of your closet, you’re less likely to go running. Or if your couch is where you watch TV and entertain friends but also where you work from home, you’re less likely to stay focused. Your environment suggests how you should spend your time.

Adding a ping pong table to the backyard changed the environment in such a positive way. It gave us a better option for how to relax after work instead of defaulting to something on a screen. It gave us another reason to ignore the mosquitos and spend the evening outside. Even when we’re not using it, just seeing it out there changes how I feel. It’s a little piece of Green Bay and a really easy way to feel more like vacation me.

2. Friends are important.

Alternatively titled: Everyone should have a Jenny.

If left to my own devices, I almost definitely would have given up on this plan in the early stages. Actually I did give up on this plan in the early stages. But Jenny carried the team.

The best kind of friends do this for each other. They don’t let you believe your own excuses. They see what you’re putting on the table and raise you a better alternative. They are unflappable and unstoppable.

There’s a limit to what you can do on your own. This feels like a spicy take in a culture that awards higher points to individual achievement, but I think it’s true. Life gets better, richer, and much more fun when it’s shared. The wins are more meaningful. The losses are less crushing.

Unless it’s a loss in ping pong, as was my fate in last night’s match.

(A rematch has already been scheduled.)

Good Things

Soundtrack for this post: The High Hopes Radio playlist

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How to invert questions for better answers.

More thoughts on the benefits of taking a break from screens and social media.

The annual Simple issue of Bon Appétit is always my favorite, and this year’s edition didn’t disappoint.

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