Here is how to win, later
Excerpted from David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
Here is how to put on a big red tent of a shirt that has ETA across the chest in gray.
Please ease carefully into your supporter and adjust the elastic straps so the straps do not bite into your butt and make bulged ridges in your butt that everyone can see once you've sweated through your shorts.
Here is how to wrap your torn ankle so tightly in its flesh-tone Ace bandages your left leg feels like a log.
Here is how to win, later.
This is a yellow iron-mesh Ball-Hopper full of dirty green dead old balls. Take them to the East Courts while the dawn is still chalky and no one's around except the mourning doves that infest the pines at sunrise, and the air is so sopped you can see your summer breath. Hit serves to no one. Make a mess of balls along the base of the opposite fence as the sun hauls itself up over the Harbor and a thin sweat breaks and the serves start to boom. Stop thinking and let it flow and go boom, boom. The shiver of the ball against the opposite fence. Hit about a thousand serves to no one while Himself sits and advises with his flask. Older men's legs are white and hairless from decades in pants. Here is the set of keys a stride's length before you in the court as you serve dead balls to no one. After each serve you must almost fall forward into the court and in one smooth motion bend and scoop up the keys with your left hand. This is how to train yourself to follow through into the court after the serve. You still, years after the man's death, cannot keep your keys anywhere but on the floor.
This is how to hold the stick.
Learn to call the racquet a stick. Everyone does, here. It's a tradition: The Stick. Something so much an extension of you deserves a sobriquet.
Please look. You'll be shown exactly once how to hold it. This is how to hold it. Just like this. Forget all the near-Eastern-slice-backhand-grip bafflegab. Just say Hello is all. Just shake hands with the calfskin grip of the stick. This is how to hold it. The stick is your friend. You will become very close.
Grasp your friend firmly at all times. A firm grip is essential for both control and power. Here is how to carry a tennis ball around in your stick-hand, squeezing it over and over for long stretches of time — in class, on the phone, in lab, in front of the TP, a wet ball for the shower, ideally squeezing it at all times except during meals. See the Academy dining hall, where tennis balls sit beside every plate. Squeeze the tennis ball rhythmically month after year until you feel it no more than your heart squeezing blood and your right forearm is three times the size of your left and your arm looks from across a court like a gorilla's arm or a stevedore's arm pasted on the body of a child.
Here is how to do extra individual drills before the Academy's A.M. drills, before breakfast, so that after the thousandth ball hit just out of reach by Himself, with his mammoth wingspan and ghastly calves, urging you with nothing but smiles on to great and greater demonstrations of effort, so that after you've gotten your third and final wind and must vomit, there is little inside to vomit and the spasms pass quickly and an east breeze blows cooler past you and you feel clean and can breathe.
Here is how to don red and gray E.T.A. sweats and squad-jog a weekly 40 km. up and down urban Commonwealth Avenue even though you would rather set your hair on fire than jog in a pack. Jogging is painful and pointless, but you are not in charge. Your brother gets to ride shotgun while a senile German blows BBs at your legs, both of them laughing and screaming Schnell. Enfield is due east of the Marathon's Hills of Heartbreak, which are just up Commonwealth past the Reservoir in Newton. Urban jogging in a sweaty pack is tedious. Have Himself hunch down to put a long pale arm around your shoulders and tell you that his own father had told him that talent is sort of a dark gift, that talent is its own expectation: it is there from the start and either lived up to or lost. (my emphasis --dank)
Have a father whose own father lost what was there. Have a father who lived up to his own promise and then found thing after thing to meet and surpass the expectations of his promise in, and didn't seem just a whole hell of a lot happier or tighter wrapped than his own failed father, leaving you yourself in a kind of feral and flux-ridden state with respect to talent.
Here is how to avoid thinking about any of this by practicing and playing until everything runs on autopilot and talent's unconscious exercise becomes a way to escape yourself, a long waking dream of pure play.
The irony is that this makes you very good, and you start to become regarded as having a prodigious talent to live up to.
Here is how to handle being a feral prodigy. Here is how to handle being seeded at tournaments, signifying that seeding committees composed of old big-armed men publicly expect you to reach a certain round. Reaching at least the round you're supposed to is known at tournaments as 'justifying your seed.' By repeating this term over and over, perhaps in the same rhythm at which you squeeze a ball, you can reduce it to an empty series of phonemes, just formants and fricatives, trochaically stressed, signifying zip.
Here is how to beat unseeded, wide-eyed opponents from Iowa or Rhode Island in the early rounds of tournaments without expending much energy but also without seeming contemptuous.
This is how to play with personal integrity in a tournament's early rounds, when there is no umpire. Any ball that lands on your side and is too close to call: call it fair. Here is how to be invulnerable to gamesmanship. To keep your attention's aperture tight. Here is how to teach yourself, when an opponent maybe cheats on the line-calls, to remind yourself that what goes around comes around. That a poor sport's punishment is always self-inflicted.
Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.
Here is how to spray yourself down exactly once with Lemon Pledge, the ultimate sunscreen, then discover that when you go out and sweat into it it smells like close-order skunk.
Here is how to take nonnarcotic muscle relaxants for the back spasms that come from thousands of serves to no one.
Here is how to weep in bed trying to remember when your torn blue ankle didn't hurt every minute.
This is the whirlpool, a friend.
Here is how to set up the electric ball machine at dawn on the days Himself is away living up to what will be his final talent.
Here is how to tie a bow tie. Here is how to sit through small openings of your father's first art films, surrounded by swirling foreign cigarette smoke and conversations so pretentious you literally cannot believe them, you're sure you have misheard them. Pretend you're engaged by the jagged angles and multiple exposures without pretending you have the slightest idea what's going on. Assume your brother's expression.
Here is how to sweat.
Here is how to hand a trophy to Lateral Alice Moore to put in the E.T.A. lobby's glass case under its system of spotlights and small signs.
What is unfair can be a stern but invaluable teacher.
Here is how to pack carbohydrates into your tissues for a four-singles two-doubles match day in a Florida June.
Please learn to sleep with perpetual sunburn.
Expect some rough dreams. They come with the territory. Try to accept them. Let them teach you.
Keep a flashlight by your bed. It helps with the dreams.
Please make no extramural friends. Discourage advances from outside the circuit. Turn down dates.
If you do exactly the rehabilitative exercises They assign you, no matter how silly and tedious, the ankle will mend more quickly.
This type of stretch helps prevent the groin-pull.
Treat your knees and elbows with all reasonable care: you will have them with you for a long time.
Here is how to turn down an extramural date so you won't be asked again. Say something like I'm terribly sorry I can't come out to see 8½ revived on a wall-size Cambridge Celluloid Festival viewer on Friday, Kimberly, or Daphne, but you see if I jump rope for two hours then jog backwards through Newton till I puke They'll let me watch match-cartridges and then my mother will read aloud to me from the O.E.D. until 2200 lights-out, &c.; so you can be sure that henceforth Daphne/Kimberly/Jennifer will take her adolescent-mating-dance-type-ritual-socialization business somewhere else. Be on guard. The road widens, and many of the detours are seductive. Be constantly focused and on alert: feral talent is its own set of expectations and can abandon you at any one of the detours of so-called normal American life at any time, so be on guard.
Here is how to schnell.
Here is how to go through your normal adolescent growth spurt and have every limb in your body ache like a migraine because selected groups of muscles have been worked until thick and intensile and they resist as the sudden growth of bone tries to stretch them, and they ache all the time. There is medication for this condition.
If you are an adolescent, here is the trick to being neither quite a nerd nor quite a jock: be no one.
It is easier than you think.
Here is how to read the monthly E.T.A. and U.S.T.A. and O.N.A.N.T.A. rankings the way Himself read scholars' reviews of his multiple-exposure melodramas. Learn to care and not to care. They mean the rankings to help you determine where you are, not who you are. Memorize your monthly rankings, and forget them. Here is how: never tell anyone where you are.
This is also how not to fear sleep or dreams. Never tell anyone where you are.
Please learn the pragmatics of expressing fear: sometimes words that seem to express really invoke.
This can be tricky.
Here is how to get free sticks and strings and clothes and gear from Dunlop, Inc. as long as you let them spraypaint the distinctive Dunlop logo on your sticks' strings and sew logos on your shoulder and the left pocket of your shorts and use a Dunlop gear-bag, and you become a walking lunging sweating advertisement for Dunlop, Inc.; this is all as long as you keep justifying your seed and preserving your rank; the Dunlop, Inc. New New England Regional Athletic Rep will address you as 'Our gray swan'; he wears designer slacks and choking cologne and about twice a year wants to help you dress and has to be slapped like a gnat.
Be a Student of the Game. Like most cliches of sport, this is profound. You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard. Peers who fizzle or blow up or fall down, run away, disappear from the monthly rankings, drop off the circuit. E.T.A. peers waiting for deLint to knock quietly at their door and ask to chat. Opponents. It's all educational. How promising you are as a Student of the Game is a function of what you can pay attention to without running away. Nets and fences can be mirrors. And between the nets and fences, opponents are also mirrors. This is why the whole thing is scary. This is why all opponents are scary and weaker opponents are especially scary.
See yourself in your opponents. They will bring you to understand the Game. To accept the fact that the Game is about managed fear. That its object is to send from yourself what you hope will not return.
This is your body. They want you to know. You will have it with you always.
On this issue there is no counsel; you must make your best guess. For myself, I do not expect ever really to know.
But in the interval, if it is an interval: here is Motrin for your joints, Noxzema for your burn, Lemon Pledge if you prefer nausea to burn, Contracol for your back, benzoin for your hands, Epsom salts and anti-inflammatories for your ankle, and extracurriculars for your folks, who just wanted to make sure you didn't miss anything they got.