• Mark J. Keenan

A Little Awkward


Mark Keenan of Carnarvon looks a little awkward as he reaches for this return during the 1987 Wesfarmers Rural Country Week Tennis Carnival in Perth last week.


A little awkward. It’s probably not what you want to read about yourself in the newspaper. Especially when you are sixteen years of age, recently relocated from the country town where you've grown up, and about to start your final, and most important, year at a large high school in the city. But there it was, in black and white, taking up a quarter of the page.


I'd never had my photo in the paper before (Note 1), so frankly I was excited to see it and didn’t worry too much about the awkward bit. Also, I wasn’t anywhere near as awkward looking as I had been. My buck teeth were gone, after spending all of Grade 10 being called “metal mouth”. And the sunken chest of my early youth had all but disappeared along with the itchy, pink, wool-like chest shield my mum used to put under my singlet in Primary School. I was hardly buff and I was certainly vertically challenged, but I thought I looked determined in the photo, not “a little awkward”.


It seems a long time ago now. Probably because it is. I’m turning fifty this week.


It's okay. I let go of my Wimbledon dreams some time back. Specifically, when I was beaten by Todd Davies in the semi-final of some north-west intertown competition. After I managed to win just two points in the set I realised that maybe my tennis ability would never quite reach international level. Still, I’d done pretty good to get there, and I reckon I’d learned a few lessons about life in that match; including how to convincingly lose to a state level player.


On Tuesday, I’ll celebrate being here for another year. The earth has traveled once more around the sun and I’ve lost a little more hair and my face has a few more lines. I’ve finally grown into my hands though. Wrinkles across the back of the hand, puckered knuckles, sunspots and freckles everywhere. I’ve always had old hands, though I can’t remember exactly when I first noticed. Maybe when I was around twelve or so. These days I like to think of it as a visible part of me carrying my ancestors with me - whoever they were, wherever they lived, whatever they did - and all the random events and near impossibilities which occurred in their lives to eventually lead to the creation of me. Back then though I thought my hands were just one more weird and embarassing aspect of my "shorter than everyone in my class" body.


I’m still awkward. And content to be. An introvert who uncomfortably behaves like an extrovert when he needs to (or when he’s hiding his anxiety). A metal-head who (not-so) secretly listens to Wham and old school breakdancing beats. An engineer who’s a writer, or a writer who’s an engineer, or both; either way a lover of words and of calculus. Someone who reads Stephen King but won’t watch any films based on his work. A green socks, yellow shoes, red shorts version of a man. A chronic over-sharer with secrets. A serious person, with serious ideas, and a serious manner, who is one of only two people in the world who knows lambs are louder than clam chowder, and how much louder they are.


It’s a ponderous thing, life. So vast and infinite in one way, yet small and fragile in others. And here it is to remind me. My 50th birthday. My 18,264th day on this planet. And I am grateful.


For all the things I’ve experienced; the breathtaking highs I’ve felt, the deep sadnesses, the loves, the losses; I am grateful.


For a family who loves me for who I am, for a wife and best friend who holds me together, for friendships old and new; I am grateful.


For the ability to run, to write, to feel, to be; I am grateful.


And no doubt some time this week, I’ll be grateful for birthday cake, too.


Note 1.

I wouldn't be in the newspaper again for a couple of years. But I would be suitably awkward looking; marching down a city street wearing a trench coat and carrying a duffel bag full of fake human arms. Of course, that's another story.


© Mark J. Keenan