All In: Reflections on Potlatch
Sometimes when I’m running around Greenlake I play a little game where as I approach another runner going in the opposite direction, I try to high five them as we pass. I figure a fairly sizable portion of joggers would be amenable to a spontaneous high five with a friendly, if anonymous, fellow jogger. Probably less so when I solicit high fives from women because that could tap into the nasty pattern of men feeling entitled to female attention in public spaces. But even when I just count dudes, only about 1 out of 10 times do they high five me back, and probably only 1 out of 5 times do they even make eye contact.
I think this is an example of the paradox of the city, where we’re surrounded by so many people that we can’t possibly make meaningful contact with all of them, nor would we want to. So instead of constantly putting effort into deciding who to interact with and who not to, we often withdraw and make as little contact as possible. No friendly chit chat waiting in line for coffee, no eye contact while riding the bus, and definitely no high fiving some random guy running around Greenlake. We are inundated with humanity, and yet we isolate ourselves, and that can feel pretty lonely.
The loneliness is especially poignant while dealing with the culture shock of adjusting to normal life right after a tournament. Potlatch ended yesterday and I’m currently going through post-tournament blues, and this high fiving anecdote came to me. The contrast between that experience and my experience at Potlatch is striking — both are situations where I can find myself surrounded by strangers, but in the one I feel isolated and lonely and in the other I feel something in between belonging and loved. In the one I give almost nothing and get almost nothing back, and in the other nearly any way I try to interact with others is met with enthusiastic reciprocation. The immediate difference, of course, is that at Potlatch we are all aware of our significant commonalities — playing Ultimate and being there for the same tournament. But I think it runs deeper than that, and since thinking about the things I love helps me better appreciate them, I spent some time further reflecting.
One of the most striking facets of this Potlatch environment that helps me feel opposite-of-lonely is the automatic assumption of good will that I feel in myself and sense from others. I can walk around acting as if everybody is my friend, thinks well of me and is happy to see me, and I get the same back in kind. More than that, I’m constantly impressed by everybody’s willingness to participate. Whatever the thing is — strip call, getting iced, spontaneous dance party, weird random challenge to help a stranger win a plastic crab (anyone remember that?), getting called over to sit in a kiddie pool and drink from a wine bag — people are all in. And I don’t mean that I can find somebody that would be eager to jump in and fully participate, I mean that it would take some effort to find somebody that wouldn’t be. I’m constantly delighted by how entire teams, even at the end of intense and sometimes fierce games, are all in on playing the other team’s spirit game no matter how silly, stupid, ridiculous or amazingly brilliant and inspired it is.
I believe this is very unique to Ultimate. I believe that its seeds are sewn by Ultimate’s focus on spirit, self-officiation and respect for opponents, and brought to fruition in a big and wonderful way by the structure and focus of Potlatch, and all of us showing up with the right attitudes, expectations and enthusiasm every year to make it a glorious celebration of our spirit and culture.
Potlatch means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in my mind this is the core of what it’s about — everybody is all in and I get all the spontaneous high fives I can handle.
What does it mean to you?
NOTE: I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that the full immersion in the safety and acceptance I have described is partly enabled by my gender, sexual orientation, and probably other factors I’m not aware of, and is therefore not fully available to everybody in our community. Our tournaments and parties are by no means free of sexual assault, or as safe for everybody as they are for cis white men like me, and that’s not okay and we need to keep working on it. Addressing this was not my purpose in writing this article, but it also felt wrong not to acknowledge it.