Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Power Sweep

Somewhere near the middle of LOMBARDI, the Broadway play inspired by my father’s biography, When Pride Still Mattered, about the great Packers coach, the lights go black, and an NFL film takes center stage. Set to music and slowed, it seems, the projection of Lombardi’s team running the power sweep takes on a holy purity.

49—“Red Right 49 on 2”

And, then each man does his job, calculating his opponent and responding---tight ends pushing a linebacker, right tackle slamming a defensive end, offensive guards arcing behind the line of scrimmage and to the right sideline, and Jim Taylor running to daylight.

“Position by position, Lombardi went through as many as twenty defensive possibilities, offering his players a logical response to each of them. Some coaches considered innovative, might have twenty plays but no options for any of them; Lombardi, sometimes mischaracterized as unimaginative, preferred one play with twenty options. It was a variation of the Jesuit concept of freedom within discipline. The sweep again symbolized the philosophical lineage from Ignatius of Loyola to Vince Lombardi, both said to be limited to one great idea, but unrestrained in the incomparable realization of it,” my father, David Maraniss, writes in his book.

I’ve seen Eric Simonson’s play three times, but lived with the phrase, “freedom within discipline” for more than a decade; since my parents first moved to Green Bay and traveled to Italy’s Vietri di Potenza in search of Lombardi’s history.

Whenever my father writes a biography, there’s usually one characteristic of the subject that hits me with particular force. I was in college at the time of his book on Bill Clinton, and you better believe my obsessively organized outlines of class lectures were inspired by some line I read about the forty-second president’s study habits.


Freedom within discipline is not that far off from a phrase I’d heard, mostly in theatre classes, where those of us not born with raw genius were taught that understanding a framework, knowing the craft, having a system, allows for spontaneity and creativity. Repetition, discipline. Then freedom.

And, maybe the same can be said in motherhood.

Something moved me when the December issue of Martha Stewart’s Living arrived in my mail. There was Martha, dressed in silver, and inside, there was the headline—one cookie recipe, thirty variations.

I was a fast convert, Xeroxing the recipe and sharing it with friends, talking it up at the library, in the parking lot of my daughter’s school, to anyone who would listen.

The simplicity. The beauty. The brilliance of the idea. Something to bring efficient order to the chaos of the season.

The chaos of life.

I bought the flour, the butter, the eggs, vanilla and sugar needed for the basic recipe. I bought the add-ins—the spices, the chocolate, the citrus—needed to make the variations. I bought the boxes, the ribbon and the stickers I wanted so that I could package up these expressions of freedom within discipline and give them to my friends.

I baked. One dozen. Two dozen. Four dozen. Seventeen Dozen. The kids could watch, but this was my project. I spent most of a day standing in the kitchen, holiday music coming from a radio, calling out plays to my husband and kids, “time for breakfast, time for lunch, someone needs to walk the dog.”

My basic vanilla recipe was tweaked to become lemon. Later, chocolate balls. Still later, spice. Half the lemon got dipped in glaze, and were reborn into beautiful stars.

The kitchen was filled with measuring cups and pans, cooling cookies and tissue paper filled boxes. But, it was not chaos. I had one recipe. One basic pattern with eggs, butter, sugar, and flour. From there, there were possibilities. It was not overwhelming, it was simple.

It was occupational therapy for my state of extremes—being pulled by the needs of a five year old, a two year old, a nine year old dog, and a very supportive and overworked husband---and the thirty-six year old inside of me.

This Christmas night, while my husband assembles a train table and my mother makes hot chocolate for my girls, I will be riding a New Jersey Transit with my father to see the 8 o’clock show of LOMBARDI, one more time.

I’ll get chills when the lights dim, and the projection of the Packers power sweep takes over the theater. But, there’s another moment in the play that usually gets a laugh, but strikes me as equally significant.

What does Lombardi do at night when he’s not watching footage? What does he do to relax?

He reads cookbooks.

There’s nothing like reading a recipe for a nice “glazed ham,” is there?

With Dad in front of the theater, Circle in the Square.


Lisa said...

I loved that show! (Your cookies sound scrumptious, too.)

Sonja Milbourn said...

I've got friends who live in Jersey, Sarah, and am so hoping that it works out to fly into Newark sometime soon. They've offered to pick me up, put me up (or put up with me), and come to NYC to see Lombardi. If the stars align...and family stays healthy..etc...etc...
I believe your cookie baking reverie is much like what I have heard my knitting called ...the 'new yoga'.
And I agree.
Another great piece of writing, Sarah!

Tim Morrissey said...

Some say intuitive improvisation is a mark of genius, and, for the rest of us, Sarah, you've hit the nail on the head again with this post. Using a solid plan for a foundation, with a number of options, is perhaps the best substitute for genius.

The intuitive connection you make between Lombardi's "Power Sweep" and Martha Stewart's cookie recipe is without doubt inspired genius.

Wonderful post. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Your post hits on the universality of what I believe as a Christian, that discipline-of the spirit-brings freedom. I've never felt so free as when I was doing what I knew God asked of me. As an American I believe the words, "Thy liberty in law," it is our laws that allow us to enjoy the freedoms we have.
As a mom, I know that my children needed structure but within that structure they had room to explore their own thoughts, interests, passions, dreams...whether it was building with Legos or writing a play or pursuing a music career or taking a mission trip. Everything we do and everything we are requires the delicate tension of freedom in discipline. As we build discipline in our lives, our lives become simpler. We become less stressed. I wish I had employed it more when I was a young mom, but I'm glad I know it now.
Great post, Sarah! Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I'm in awe of your baking skills. Your boxes of cookies look so...amazing.

parenting ad absurdum said...

I read cookbooks too...especially muffin recipes. And I hardly ever make them. Your cookies look scrumptious!

Kristi said...

I like that concept of freedom through discipline. It applies to so much in life. And wow, I didn't know you had such big footsteps to follow in your writing. But now I know where you get your talent from.

Fran said...

an epic quote that i can fully embrace and understand from my dedicated work in photography amidst the work that i do: "Freedom within discipline is not that far off from a phrase I’d heard, mostly in theatre classes, where those of us not born with raw genius were taught that understanding a framework, knowing the craft, having a system, allows for spontaneity and creativity. Repetition, discipline. Then freedom." - thank you. though is it okay that some of us believe we were born with raw genius?