It’s probably no mystery that debate has been my primary focus this month, at least during the time that I’m not feeling surreal and/or migrainous. Between driving 7 hours to a tournament the first weekend, hosting our tournament the second, and attending the 3-day National Championships the third, it’s been a month dedicated largely to APDA.
Nationals was nothing special – in fact, much of it was an unmitigated disaster. In their first three rounds of competition, the Rutgers team faced the #1, #7, and #8 ranked partnerships in the country, who went on to place 2nd, 1st, and 8th in the Championship respectively. While they acquitted themselves largely admirably, such match-ups were enough to remove at a chance at the elimination rounds and the rest of the tournament became a tune-up of particular cases for next year. Next year still looks quite bright for the team, as no one who placed at a tournament this year is graduating, while this year’s senior class is quite top-heavy on most other teams.
Perhaps more infuriating than my team’s horrendous draw was my treatment as a judge at this year’s title tourney. Despite having the most overall judging experience and among the best debate credentials of anyone in attendance, I was not invited to judge rounds 4, 5, or the elimination rounds. Perhaps more amazingly, this was during the same weekend I was elected to serve as Tab Director for next year’s Nationals. The discord between general sentiment/presumption about my judging caliber (especially among many of the successful teams, who were just as curious about my exclusion as I was) and the decision-making of the small team of graduates running this year’s tab room was marked. While this really bummed me out for a while, I was ultimately able to be pretty Zen about the whole issue in realizing that next year, I’ll be able to demonstrate what an objective tab room looks like. Nevertheless, it prompted some disconcerting questions about whether I’m simply too old to be hanging around the college debate circuit, at least according to some folks.
And yet, one of my few roles at this year’s Nats was to explain the history behind APDA’s two awards named for deceased debaters, both of whom (as I noted in this year’s remarks) were younger than I am now when they passed. In 2007, I was asked to speak about Jeff Williams and declined, largely because I still hadn’t quite made peace with my difficulties on-circuit with the individual and there were other of our contemporaries present who seemed more sincere candidates for the job. This year, I was really motivated to explain Jeff’s positive qualities as a way of atoning for our acrimony, as a way of putting to rest any bitter tastes from competition now nearly a decade in the rear-view. I can’t much imagine Jeff would be pleased to hear that I was speaking for his memory, but I hope I pleasantly surprised him all the same.
Of course, I wasn’t speaking just for personal reasons. The larger point was to illustrate the importance of institutional memory in general, to remember that these awards to honor year-to-year excellence also honor the excellence of those who went before and are no longer around to discuss their legacy. And I guess the question arises as to how much stomach for such memory this debate circuit has. I was struck during the senior speeches by how generally positive and heartfelt they were. Almost no one called anyone else out. The two or three misanthropes in the league were lightly chided while most others were warmly lauded. I never envisioned during my last years on the circuit that such speeches could ever amount to such a lovefest. It was truly wonderful to see.
So maybe the memories of past rivalries and strife are unnecessary. Maybe APDA reinvents itself untethered to the past. Maybe my role is not to guide or advise or judge this new generation, but merely to coach my team, to try to build another rising program from the challenged ranks of the previously unheralded. Then again, of course, the election as Tab Director seems to belie all these misgivings. A whole other realm of the circuit, from tournament to tournament and in creating the 2011 National Championship, seems to appreciate my willingness to be both old and devoted to the circuit.
Ultimately, it’s probably best not to put too much stock in any one tournament. Even if it’s Nationals.
I have a whole summer to think about all this, of course… our last debate meeting is Thursday and we’ll part ways to regroup in September ready to tackle a year brimming with possibility. Meanwhile, I’ll be transitioning in a hurry back toward writing as the primary focus. While I haven’t exactly shelved my project this April, I’ve let myself focus on it less in exchange for the knowledge that I’m going to block out most everything else once debate is officially over. It’s been good to let parts of the book simmer and incubate and while the original May 17th deadline is starting to look truly unreasonable, I’m excited to take the best shot I can at it anyway.
Many people, meanwhile, are asking questions about different aspects of my summer, and beyond trying to finish The Best of All Possible Worlds by mid-May (or probably mid-June), everything’s up in the air. Emily still doesn’t have an internship locked down yet, and a great deal of my schedule depends on hers, though we will probably open her internship spending the most time we’ve spent apart since we started dating almost nine years ago. I don’t relish this thought, but I am eager to see as much of her internship locale (hopefully in Africa somewhere) as possible once that gets underway, even if it’s after a month or so of separation. As we get more information, the dominoes will start to align and fall and I will probably have a whole schedule of the summer ready to go. Until then, though, limbo.
Which is exactly what April feels like. What April always seems to feel like. And not the limbo of backbreaking stick-walks or even weightless space travel, but the limbo of its original use: purgatory. I am suspended in a kind of uncomfortable gray silence, processing the past and anticipating a foggy future still taking shape. Maybe it looks like ash, maybe like shaken earth. Maybe it looks like nothing at all. Were shaky, uncertain, somewhat miserable Aprils not so predictable, they would scare me. They probably did in high school, before I’d figured out the pattern, they felt like the end of the world. Now it’s just the world that feels that way. For me, April’s just being April. The cruelest month. When streams are ripe and swelled with rain. Fools. Showers.
Mayday. May Day.