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Claudia Zelevansky Headshot

Barack Should Play Ball

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For the last 12 days, Democrats have been coping. By coping, I mean:

1. Panicking
2. Justifying
3. Rationalizing
4. Freaking out
5. Preparing
6. Arguing
7. Avoiding
8. Overeating

And often, at least in my social group:

9. Coming up with strategies for the next debate.

This is clearly the most futile of all of the other coping verbs described, because it suggests that Barack Obama or someone on his team would actually need to hear these suggestions. In my case (and I am not alone), that has yet to happen.

Even when I tweet at him. What to do?

Well, I woke up this morning, watched 13 minutes of Morning Joe, started to flopsweat and immediately engaged in numbers 1, 4, and 8. (Yes, that is actually possible at breakfast.) And while that was all happening, and as I was caffeinating up for the day (probably a poor choice given my nervous system) and pacing around my very small 47 percent apartment, I had a thought about number 9:

Barack should play ball.

I don't mean that as a means of deploying the metaphor. I mean he should think of the debate like he thinks about basketball. Much has been written about his attachment to the game: his commitment to playing, his intensity, his rituals. And certain personality characteristics have emerged, as well: his alpha nature, his playfulness, his enjoyment of the battle, and yes, his fierce sense of competition. Is it just me, or does that not sound like a recipe for the tonal approach his team is looking for? In basketball, he fights AND he enjoys it.

As a theater director who spends a great deal of time working with actors, this process of finding the salient, active metaphor is primary. You can ask someone to do something: be nice, be tough, be persistent -- but ultimately it has to be in language or in metaphor that is alive for them. In my experience, finding that linguistic hook is as important as anything in the process -- it grounds the performer, and it offers a powerful, personal connection to return to in moments of instability. Which is an inevitability on stage.

I suspect no one in the establishment of either party thinks that the president needs help with the content of what he's delivering -- it's all about form, about performance. So why not use a strategy from the theater itself?

President Obama, I am wishing you a very successful debate tomorrow. I don't know much basketball jargon beyond layup and dribble, but I encourage you to do them. Make many slam dunks and a lot of three pointers. Remember the pleasure in playing, and please, please don't wait to win the game until right as the shot clock is running out. I don't have enough food in my house.