Originally written on April 20, 2010

So the thing to do when working on a [tennis racquet], as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one’s self from one’s surroundings. When that is done successfully, then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.  (Robert M. Pirsig)

When stringing a tennis racquet, my mind is at ease in the process. Or at least I would like to believe that. Sometimes my mind drifts to other places during the process. Perhaps a phone call while tying off a string or a doorbell or a tricky grommet. I suppose it would be the ultimate destination to be at one with the string, the racquet and the process. Every pass through the grommet, every pull of the tensioner, every weave of the cross string through the main–a natural and organic congruence of events transpiring; bringing about the perfect stringing job. String that will bring good fortune and happiness to the person who uses that string to make the perfect shot.

Realistically, for me at least, stringing isn’t necessarily a Zen experience. I suppose peace of mind comes from a job well done and a little chunk of change to obtain some small necessities for life. But this peace of mind doesn’t always produce “right values” to “right thoughts” to “right actions.” Sometimes the stringing practice can try one’s patience and frustrate and cause stress.

I first began stringing racquets at the age of thirteen. I invested–or at least my parents did–about one hundred dollars in a cheap table top stringer (the model escapes my memory). For the most part, I taught myself how to do it. I was fairly sharp and bright and after practicing on a few of my own racquets, I was ready to string the world. I put up some flyers at the university courts and got some business here and there; made a bit of pocket change–I beleive I charged around ten dollars which included the stringing and the string (Leona 66).

My stringing career, as it was, moved along smoothly for the most part. Then, I get a call from a gentleman responding to my flyer asking if I could string a Wilson T-1000. I did not know specifically what that was at the time, so being self-assured of my newly acquired string skills, I naively told him yes. When he dropped it off, I realized it was the classic Jimmy Connors racquet from the mid/late 1970s. Keep in mind this was around 1989/90, practically the entire world had moved on to modern graphite frames years ago. Well, suffice to say, I spent at least ten hours stringing and restringing and trying to figure that God-forsaken thing out. Even if I would have had access to the stringing instructions, I doubt it would have made much of a difference. It ended up somewhat the way it was supposed to be strung. Just a tad off, yet still playable. I was too embarrassed to even give the racquet back to the gentleman and collect what amounted to about 75 cents per hour of work–I had my mother take on that task.

In retrospect, that was indeed a valuable learning experience. I was humbled somewhat by the dreaded T-1000 and vowed to never touch, look at or be in the vicinity of that frame again. All in all, it may have been frustrating, yet in the end, a learning, or shall I say, Zen, experience. As time passed, I upgraded to a nicer upright machine and continued stringing for several more years. I have yet to find complete inner-peace from the process of racquet stringing, but I try to take the simplicity of stringing and use it as a mechanism to cope with and understand my life journey. But please, please, please; keep the T-1000 away from me!