It finally happened. He gave me the look: that slight side eye dead serious almost smirk that I have a hard time saying no to. It was accompanied by the words, “I have an idea.”
Now if you know my husband, and you have witnessed the uttering of said sentence, you know a person just can’t turn and walk away without hearing the words proceeding it. They just suck you in. The idea just happened to be that it was my turn to write a blog. What, you may obviously ask, would someone who hasn’t been on a field since playing for PMS in the heyday of ACES (The Alabama Challenge Event Series) in 2003 or associated as the staff of a team since 2011, who happens to be the wife in the wings, have to share on Zen?
Our story – The story of our paintball field Legends, the in-between adventures, and the journey to Zen.
Our story began on a front porch swing as all good southern romance stories should. That “scary” encounter, according to Zen’s retelling, led to a date involving a movie with 80’s metal, lop sau practice in a parking lot while waiting on pizza, and my introduction to paintball. Little did I realize how much foreshadowing that first date entailed. The coincidences and six degrees of separation in our lives up to this point are quite comical in their irony and a story unto its own.
Zen talked me into taking pictures for a player sponsorship package he was putting together and giving paintball a try. I was a photography student at the time and competitive. I’m not sure how well I did my first time playing out on that spool field with the ridiculous barn in the middle but it did not matter. The paintball world had sucked me in and so had he. So much so Zen proposed to me after my first rookie tournament eight months later. I even made him a paintball field groom’s cake complete with current teammate replicas. That’s paintball romance, right?
Our first World Cup together was October of 2001. We missed our flight because of post 9/11 security (not to mention someone had to play a tournament right before we left) and had to stay overnight in the ATL airport. Lovely. In case you wondered, it’s not high on my recommendations for your bucket list. From the airport we took a cab straight to the venue, which at that time was a cow pasture. His gear had not arrived via a friend, so Zen had to play with borrowed everything that first day. Even though the team did not make it to the podium, the trip was one for the books. I managed a press pass to work on a photography class project. We watched endless games, had too much fun in Old Town, hung out with Rocky Cagnoni, and fell in love. The only thing that would have made that trip truly epic would to have been able to see Zen play in the finals on Sunday.
Fast forwarding through broke twenty somethings eating ramen just to have enough money to play, camping on floors (or sleeping in cars) after long drives to tournaments, marriage, making babies (almost puking in your mask in a tournament in August will really dampen any desire to play while pregnant), and traveling across the Southeast, we arrived at a dream that had always been a part of our “what if” conversations: opening a field together.
The stars had aligned just perfectly and we took the plunge. The plan for Legends was finally brought to fruition. It was a joint effort as all good things in married life usually are. (Just make sure you choose the right partner. I did!) Zen, together with some great friends, put up a field and retrofitted a store building. I helped when the babies would let me. Every weekend with the exception of one vacation and Christmas, we were open. He ran the field and I took care of the storefront and air tanks. Our littles watched the games through the windows and paintball became their world too.
Top Hat tournaments, the Magnolia Series, top gun events- life was good and we were doing better than we had hoped with our little enterprise in Mississippi. A little over a year later the doors were shut because of an unexpected but welcome job offer that sent us back to our home state. Zen hopped through a few teams as paintball evolved through 10-man, 7-man and x-ball. This was a bit of a sad and lonely time since I wasn’t able to watch many practices or tournaments. I missed watching him play and hanging out with our people.
During this time in the paintball world, a team could play pro without working through the ranks. The powers that be decided that Zen’s then current team would do just that. It was a heated topic at our table. On one hand it was an opportunity that players only dreamed of and playing the best always aids in becoming the best. While on the other hand, who would want to spend every national tournament getting their face smashed in by real pros that had put in the work. He played and I sat at home, cursing all those in charge of updating APPA. That waiting is the worst part of the widow life, especially when all you want to do is see your other half bunker a TonTon, true story.
My life as a paintball widow has been insanely frustrating because of how much I have missed. But I embraced the life because it was the world of my other half, and in turn became mine. You might think that makes our life one sided. But it isn’t. Zen and I discuss everything together. He asks my opinion on all the things because I took the time to be interested in, learn and participate in his world. Sometimes he doesn’t like my opinion, but he considers it even when it isn’t eloquent or tactful. I thoroughly enjoy paintball even if it is now only through the after practice downloads around our table, getting to hang out at a local tournament while Zen is commentating, yelling at the computer because GoSports isn’t covering the field I want to watch in the prelims, watching videos or proofreading a new blog. Paintball is still very much a big part of my life.
At this point, you may think our marriage is a bit unfair. He gets to travel, do what he loves and hang with the guys all the time while I’m barefoot in the kitchen and pregnant. While that is some of it, it doesn’t encompass the whole picture. One year, Zen told me he was going to sell all his gear to buy new stuff, which wasn’t unusual. We had a tight budget with only one income (One income was a joint agreement. I did have a full time job before baby #1 came along). If we wanted something new, we sold something or saved up over time. But instead of outfitting himself, he gave me the money, told me to buy a pottery wheel and took a hiatus from paintball. Yes, you read that correctly: he voluntarily stopped playing paintball.
Before our move to Alabama, I had taught an adult pottery class in the basement of a frame shop a few nights a week. My father had randomly found a huge kiln at a going out of business sale while on a joy ride and it was sitting in storage waiting for me. But a kiln is of no use without a means of making pots to fill it. It was quite an overwhelming surprise for Zen to tell me to go buy myself a pottery wheel. I started making pots and selling them at farmers markets or festivals as The Parttime Potter. It was nice to have my own thing outside the house. He knew I needed it and made a sacrifice for me because that is what married life is about: sacrificing self to become unified. This doesn’t mean that you totally lose your own identity. Instead you develop a new perspective that combines the two separate lives into one. Full disclosure: his hiatus didn’t last a year. Whereas I was beyond appreciative for what he was doing, that man needed to get back on the field for both our sakes.
Sometime, just before the beginning of 2010, a possibility came into sight on the horizon, an idea that had been in reoccurring conversations for years began to churn and turn into a plan. A plan that led to through combined efforts, Prime.
In the beginning, the program was about creating a winning team from the ground up. Everyone started at the bottom. It wasn’t a group of buddies out to play just for fun. It was a serious endeavor with weekends upon weekends of hard work. Players did ALL the things together: field set up and take down, eating, camping out at the farm, drilling and watching the tape to understand their weaknesses. All of this was done together because they were determined to succeed at winning as a team. Everyone wanted their spot and the dedication proved it. I couldn’t help but secretly smile as my husband was able to implement the training, drills, and ideas on team formation that had been gnawing at his brain for years. Being closer to the field and having a safer environment for the kids (and me!) to come and watch made those long weekends much more bearable.
From the beginning of our life together, Zen and I have hosted players for weekend practices and local tournaments. Coming from bigger families, it was not an abnormal thing to have a full house. With littles it was hard for me to participate as staff for the teams, but being the “team mom” was something I could do. After practice dinners, showers and beds were always, and always will be, open to team mates. Around our table plans were laid. Failures and successes discussed. A paintball family was created.
During this time, Zen would occasionally write a blog for the Prime team website. His mind is always crowded with an overabundance of ideas and knowledge. His initial blogs were just a brief foray into that abyss or a recap of team endeavors. Players had begun seeking him out for tips or help with their game. This started to become a frustration for two reasons. First, he genuinely wanted to help each person but did not have the time to give them the undivided attention they and their questions deserved. Two, he was repeating himself over and over explaining the importance of fundamentals and sequences of progression. At this point, I started floating the idea of a personal blog in conjunction with clinics. He ignored me.
But I finally won him over. I have a friend who is gifted in ink painting, and just so happens to understand Bruce Lee and eastern philosophy. She took my idea and nailed it. I’m not quite sure what his thoughts were when I presented him with the Zen dragon and potential blog name, but the smile clinched it. The Zen and the Art of Paintball blog began as our time with Prime tapered off. Clinics filled the calendar. Zen even began live commentating for regional tournaments. Life was good. As a spouse, you should always be happy and encouraging when your other half gets to share their God given talents. Being successful in a partnership includes helping the partner to be successful as an individual.
Life changed drastically with our new house project and new team based far away. Gone were the team dinners and players that had become family. In honesty, I did mourn a bit. I missed the crowed house, full to the brim with stinky paintballers and overflowing with gear. It was a glimpse into the world of parenting where the children leave home to become busy with their own lives. I am not ready for that milestone even though it looms on our horizon. We get visits in here or there with individuals but never the crew as a whole. The world turns and we move forward into a new season with fond memories of our people under our roof.
As Zen progressed, we began the apparel line we had talked about for years. In the beginning it was exciting to start. But then, it wasn’t. Currently in America, it is nearly impossible to find a company stateside to do small batch runs without being charged a ludicrous amount. This is so disheartening and if I am not careful, will lead to a soapbox rant on politics, China, liberal progressives and the destruction of small business. But I digress… The failure to launch the clothing line was my fault. The time needed to develop the items, the level of involvement with homeschooling/child activities and my enthusiasm after still working on the house project just didn’t leave the room necessary to create and maintain a viable shop in alignment with our principles. It is really hard to make a project successful when you cannot give it your all. Not to mention the Rona. Thanks again China.
Our entire life together has always included paintball. We have had quite a journey over these past nineteen years. I say we because together we took that vow of two become one pretty seriously. Even though you may not know my name, or recognize my face, I am Zen’s other half.
I am the Paintball Widow.