on ping pong

Lauria Clarke

the first thing i bought online when the pandemic started was a ping pong set
it had two paddles, a bunch of balls, and a little net that could clip onto any table
my partner and I started playing on our 3 x 6′ kitchen table and it was a blast
in those early days of the pandemic there was nothing better than the certainty of whacking a little plastic ball
the popping noise it made and the bodily satisfaction of hitting something so tangible with force 
i was unemployed, and like everyone else, had been spending a lot of time inside 
the contained certainty and satisfaction of this small game was significant when it felt like the whole world existed in my – our collective – head

maybe a month later i found out that i’d been accepted to this program
it was exciting! 
but the program itself was uncertain
oh yeah, there’ll be classes in the fall for sure, they said
ok we’ll see, i thought 
it seemed impossible to make such a big decision in the midst of global chaos
let alone the chaos of new york as painted by the news
luckily i was able to defer, pushing any decision off for another year
life went on
the pandemic got worse, then it got better, and i found a job
and then, suddenly, it was springtime again and i actually had to decide 

hitching my plans to anything – any community – external to myself seemed precipitous 
a terrible idea, a way to get burnt, a way for things to not work out, another way to be disappointed
oh i’ll just keep reading and making art on my own, i said
i have everything i need in this one tiny room in my apartment, i said
i don’t need a community, i said

a couple days before the deadline 
sven said, just come lauria, you’ll have a blast
ok FINE, i said
not really meaning it at first
but i suspected i would regret the decision

summer happened and then it was time to move
i put my tiny room with everything i ever needed back together in a new room 
and it was better this time, though smaller

before school started there was a party 
i was late and power walked up third avenue in a denim dress becoming soaked in sweat
the party moved from an elevator to a bar and then to another bar
i accidentally got drunk and feeling extremely sophomoric told some guy named franco about the trees outside my apartment, even showing him a photo
then realizing i was drunk, walked home

then school started for real

after this only two details are important

the first detail is that for the first time that i could remember in a long time, i no longer felt out of place
it was like a big weight had been lifted
i was myself in a way i hadn’t been for a while, or perhaps ever
and the people around me were only encouraging me
i didn’t feel the need explain myself, to apologize for my excitement, or feign interest in something empty

here’s part of a midterm response i wrote around then:
On Wednesday, Franco and I went out and had a beer after class. It felt a bit irresponsible from a time management perspective, but…I am so incredibly excited and grateful to be in this place where everyone is willing to speak with me and discuss the things I’m interested in! I have felt out of place for so much of my academic and professional life it is wonderful to leave that feeling behind.

i was – and still am – in awe of how casually i had written off this decision while making it
the chance that i’d not feel the feeling of being in the right community, in the right place, at the right time
of being so much like myself
how easily i could not be here right now
it is an eerie thought

but now the second detail
yes, franco and i became friends, and most importantly we started playing ping pong

i’m not sure when we started playing 
and i’m not sure where franco got the ping pong paddles
but it became important in conversation – franco, ever the space maker – that we find a way to make d12 feel less vacant and serious 
i think we both just wanted to hangout somewhere communal after the pandemic, make it a place to have fun in 
as we imagined it once was
anyway, i brought my net, franco brought the paddles, and we both brought beer to share
we pushed four uneven tables together and started playing
and just as we’d planned, others joined us
beer sipped through masks was no deterrent
i remember feeling that playing ping pong on d12 was the most important thing i could be doing in that moment

and we kept playing! 
here and there when there was time
the simple satisfaction of whacking the little ball, the triumph of an epic return, an aced serve, the hilarity of the uneven tables
sometimes laughing just felt good
if only for half an hour it felt good to step outside of the push of work, but still feel enveloped by the community
our peers working around us, probably annoyed by the sound of the ball and our shouting laughter

and we kept playing
sleep deprived or not 
we drank whiteclaw, modelo, or whatever
each time we played i met someone new
some member of the dt community i hadn’t encountered before and each time we invited them to play ping pong i couldn’t help but grin at the magic of it

last fall in studio, with franco yet again, we were asked 
“what do you want to accomplish by graduation?”
i think half the class said they wanted to learn touch designer
and i, never able to stop myself, said
“i am going to beat franco in ten games of ping pong”
and franco said something like
“i am going to to get better at ping pong to beat lauria”

well, now it’s graduation
we don’t have any hard results, though i did add some statistical ping pong charts to a studio midterm once 
we lost the scorecard a while ago
most importantly, it’s been an even challenge
we’ve played far more than ten games

now that it’s over, more than anything, i appreciate the realization that yes, you can find the right people in the right place at the right time
the right community does exist out there, for all of us
it’s not dt for most of us and that’s just fine
but there are so many other places to feel like the right person, like yourself
and this is the thing to repeat because i didn’t think it was true

if not here, it is elsewhere
the place to be yourself unabashedly, excitedly, without reservation – and hopefully for a while to come – this place does exist

once there, you might just find good friends and a ping pong set

Lauria Clarke

I make things that move.