Categotry Archives: Let’s Go M’s


In the Money

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , ,

This past weekend was a good one. As always, you can check out the Rutgers Debate blog for details on how things went for the team. They neither disappointed nor went over the top this weekend, though they were frustrated with their octofinal decision. The disappointment was somewhat mitigated by watching Brandeis run to victory… I gave their floor speech before their 9-4 Opp win.

On Sunday, the much-ballyhooed “APDA Mini-Cup” was held at Harvard, featuring a Harvard-heavy pool of eight teams comprised of fifteen former elite debaters and one current one. This evolved from an earlier idea to hold a year-long “APDA Cup” that would be one giant tournament taking place over the entire season and culminating in one final weekend of out-rounds. Despite widespread interest, that never got off the ground last year, so this idea was implemented instead, perhaps as a lead-in to a future year-long Cup. To sweeten the pot, there was a $1,000 cash prize allotted to the winner, garnered from local teams who wanted the event to be a success (and apparently got first crack at the tapes of all the rounds in return as well – it’s like a basic incentive argument in an APDA round).

Anyway, I was paired with BU’s Jake Campbell, one of the nicest guys ever to grace the circuit and a mutual believer in the power of crazy philosophical opp-choice cases. We wound up in a Harvard-light pod, consisting of a GW team, a Brandeis team (Zimmy & Joel), and a hybrid of two 2010 National semifinalists (one finalist – and TOTY to boot) from Harvard and Amherst. The format was round-robin with the top team advancing straight to Finals.

I really enjoyed our rounds – hopefully they will post the videos sooner than later and I can feature each of them on the blog a la my posting of the Stanford rounds over the summer we moved out to Jersey. I wrote two cases for the festivities, but we only ran one, being handed Opp by GW and flipping Opp against the full ‘Deis team. We ran the table, though each round was by exactly one ballot, so we apparently just squeaked in to a 3-0 record. I had felt pretty confident about all of our rounds, which was apparently warranted and unwarranted. They’ll also be posting the RFD’s (reasons for decision) online, so I’m really curious to see those.

Finals was somewhat disappointing for me, though I guess not for the others, all of whom proved to be BU debaters. We were matched against the only current debater and his partner from two years ago and were given Gov, though we would have grabbed it if we could have, since Jake had wanted nothing more out of this tourney than to run the case we did. It was supposed to be a round about whether ethical systems ought derive from human nature or not, but wound up being a round about how differently people interpret human nature and, ultimately, that most people think everything in human history has derived directly from human nature, which certainly isn’t my understanding of that concept. So it goes. We dropped, 8-3, setting up this weird Lincoln/Kennedy type thing where four years ago I lost to a Harvard team in BU Finals and then just lost to a BU team in Harvard (Mini-Cup) Finals, both running crazy opp-choice cases on Gov. Unlike the BU tourney, though, I don’t have the solace of knowing I put on a real showcase Final Round. I also don’t have my half of a thousand bucks.

It was still a great weekend and it was awesome to spend so much time with Stina and Dav and Zimmy throughout, as well as to see Drew on Friday night. When I finally got home, bleary and punch-drunk from a hilarious car-ride home with Dave and CBergz, I slept for half a day. But then I got up and it was soon time to listen to the Giants-Braves game on the computer and, as I often do when I want to focus on an audio-only experience, I decided to play a little online poker. I’ve mostly avoided things that can loosely be termed as video games since Emily returned from Liberia, preferring to focus on dealing with our stuff and then trying to focus on moving and dealing with my new life in Highland Park. But since the time was already budgeted for the game and I couldn’t watch the game, I found myself a tournament.

Within minutes of entering, I was facing a tough dilemma with KQ and a high-card Q on the board. I decided to push in all my chips, save one, a fun intimidation move that’s shy of going all-in and is the kind of thing that would never happen in a live game. The other guy called and flipped up AQ. So I had my chip and was going to be out of the tournament, with the 100-chip big blind coming around the next hand. I sighed and berated myself for overvaluing my hand, trying to determine whether to sign up for another tournament immediately since it was only the second inning and my same entertainment interests applied.

Then a funny thing happened. I tripled up on my 1-chip auto-all-in. Okay, great. I was still forced all in with my 3 chips on the small blind. But then I quadrupled up. Twelve chips. And two hands later, I went all in and quadded up again. Forty-eight chips. Soon I was forced in by another big blind, but this time I tripled up once more and could finally see over the top of the big blind. There was something almost like hope, after this many consecutive wins.

Five hours later, I finally got knocked out of the tournament, 22nd out of 2,666 entrants, having at one point amassed 223,000 chips. The ballgame was long over, long since won by the Giants. I’d listened to the whole post-game show and its litany of champagne-sodden interviews with understated players. I’d listened to hours of music on Pandora, rising and falling with the moods of the music I used to like. And I’d made about sixty bucks. A far cry from the multi-thousand-dollar top prize, but a miracle after facing such an early elimination on the decision to hold back one chip instead of go all-in.

It occurred to me somewhere in hour four or five of the 381-minute run through the tournament that I might make more playing poker that night than I stood to gain in the APDA Mini-Cup. Which I found kind of hilarious, because while poker is a hobby I’ve periodically been successful at, debate is a profound passion where I’m extremely confident in being in a top echelon. Of course, 99.9% of the debates out there don’t pay at all, while every poker tournament save for a very few low-level ones pay something to the winner. So the Mini-Cup changed the incentives in some strange way. Or at least my perspectives on them. It never would have occurred to me to compare a poker payoff to a debate round without the random financial carrot tacked on to the showcase event.

Perhaps the larger issue is the one that Russ pointed out when I shared the results of the tournament with him, just before sleeping hard this morning as well. He observed my one-chip miracle as a metaphor for my larger emotional state of being. Which, remarkably, for all my emotionality of late and patternistic vision in general, hadn’t hit me at all. Of course as soon as I read it, I had to begrudgingly admit that he had a real point. I was at death’s door and found a way to survive again and again when the odds were clearly against me. I was already mentally resigned and found a way to carry on. I wound up doing quite well.

It’s the doing quite well that I just can’t be sure about. Except, of course, in the context of debate. It’s funny to look at the Mini-Cup performance as almost the reverse of the poker run… I had soaring confidence about rounds I was just barely winning. And then grand anticipation for a case that sort of ran aground. Which I really shouldn’t put too fine a point on, because I had a great time debating. And it was nice to be judged by so many current and former (but still far younger than me) debaters. There’s a feeling of invincibility that dinos often bring to the circuit, of having paid their dues and being above reproach. Events like the Mini-Cup are good if only for their ability to remind former debaters that they are still capable of being judged. And when the seasoned aged dinos judging me are people like Jon Bateman, who I judged in National Finals five years after my own last Nationals, it really puts the whole thing into perspective.

Then again, maybe I just like the concept of judgment in all its forms. Or less than people perceive, as my current Rutgers debaters found out from spending a weekend hearing crazy stories from ‘Deis of old. Who knows? More and more, I think that Judgment may end up being the key watchword for my life. Part of a larger theory about everyone having a watchword – a singular concept that sums up the dilemmas, tests, and challenges that seem to recur in their life. As though we all were put here for one reason, one purpose, and our respective uniqueness makes bridging our gaps harder than might otherwise seem necessary. I’ve perused this concept before, though perhaps never in public. My Dad’s word is Survival. My mother’s is Motivation. Emily’s, I think, is Expectation. Mine… mine is almost certainly Judgment.

Don’t spell it with an extra e.

Miles walked today: 3.5


By the Numbers

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Read it and Weep, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

Today is a little better, for no apparent reason. I think it might be good to not leave the house for days at a stretch. Although my haircut is scheduled and isn’t a home visit. I expect to put some pics up at some point. You should be prepared for my hair to be partying more or less like it’s 1999. I’ve had really long hair for a really long time.

In the meantime, here are some numbers for you:

1: The number of known readers who have finished The Best of All Possible Worlds.
3: The number of books I have finished reading since the crisis began (White Noise, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Snow Crash).
4: The number of games the Mariners have won since the crisis began.
12: The number of pounds I have lost since the crisis began.
17: The number of days elapsed since the crisis began.
17.8: The number representing my current body mass index (BMI).
27: The length, in inches, of my longest hair.
46: The number of people who have contacted me in some way to express condolences on my situation.
50: The number of dollars you will have to pay to haul away Fish’s “antique” mirror.
82: The score for my first game of bowling last night, being the first sub-100 tally I can remember getting since I first learned to bowl in my youth.
124: The number of pounds I currently weigh.
125: The score for my second game of bowling last night.


Multimedia Bonus Coverage

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Let's Go M's, Primary Sources, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , ,

Consider this an addendum to my earlier post today. Go read that, because I think it’s more interesting than this one will be. But this one has videos! Feeling strangely prolific today, like all my energy from traveling has been stored up and is ready to be unleashed.

In hell, you can watch all the baseball games you want, but every single commercial break between innings or for pitching changes carries the exact same sequence of commercials. And in the ninth circle, the commercial sequence in question leads off with a horrifically over-masculine aggressive commercial for a new planned-obsolescence rollout of conventional shaving apparatus. You know, like this:

Unfortunately, I live in hell, masquerading as a place called “New Jersey”. As Robin Williams said in one of the twenty greatest films of all time, “I found you in Hell – don’t you think I can find you in Jersey?” So this is my experience with MLBTV. It makes me a lot more likely to exit early from a game the M’s are already losing 8-3, but might also make me cut bait on a game where the score is reversed. I have never moved so fast for a mute button so many times. Ugh.

I really need to update my favorite films list. It may include this:

Yes, I am telling you all about seventeen times to see this movie. You need to listen.

Seriously. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube in twelve parts. Do it already.

Also, this:

That one’s available on Vimeo. In one take. People are just giving away thought-provoking cinema, people. Take advantage.

Finally, I’ve used the appellation “Tiny House” so many times lately that I realize I may never have explained the origin of same. It’s not just because the house is small; it’s also a reference. To this:

I have to agree with the YouTube commenter who expressed anger when he realized that this was just a spoof commercial and not an upcoming reality series. That is, I felt that way until Em & I began our own personal reality series last August when we got here.

If you missed it in the last post, please let me know if you want to read The Best of All Possible Worlds and you haven’t done so in some way already. Eight people signed up on Facebook already. Don’t risk being the thirtieth person on your block to read this book or something. And by “your block,” I mean “planet Earth.”


July, July

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

It seems like both a lot and very little has happened since I last checked in with this form of communicating with the outside world. But since I haven’t dialed in for a while, it’s probably good to put out the obligatory “not dead yet” missive.

The car thing from the last post worked out fine. After a truly comedic attempt at stuffing Fish & Madeleine into the Smart Car and then resigning to putting them on the Hertz shuttle, we went to one of the four people working behind the Hertz counter and it was thankfully not the same person who gave me the half-car in the first place. With Priceline already committed to investigate the issue of why’d I’d gotten the wrong car and send me a settlement in the next fortnight, I was hoping someone could possibly actually resolve the issue without me forking over more cash. The guy looked at the mismatch of car I’d reserved and car I’d been given like something crazy had happened, resolving to quickly restore order for free. I refrained from pointing out his crazy co-worker who’d bluffed me into the joke car and ran to get the keys and mileage from same. We spent the rest of the weekend cruising around in a spacious Toyota Yaris. You know, a car with both four seats and four doors!

The rest of the weekend was a great time – hanging out with Fish, Madeleine, Gris, Anna, and occasionally Nagrom as we interspersed discussions of politics, history, and race with Boggle, Yahtzee!, Bang! (one-word and exclam-heavy games only, apparently), tennis, and watching World Cup matches. Also got to see a very little of Jaque and Jenny both at a dim sum breakfast the morning of the wedding and at the wedding before they departed early. Saw even less of DK and Sara amidst their nuptial fervor, though their ceremony was beautiful right up until the officiant made the bizarre decision to pelt us with sexist Red Skelton jokes as we were contemplating the sanctity of their vows and commitment. So it goes. Catching up with both, especially DK and his parents, who remembered all the old crew, was great fun and it seems they’re putting together quite a good life in LA.

Then it was back to Russ’ where we completed our second-ever conquest of the World Cup for Denmark on the ultimate (World Class) level before checking in with the Wilsons in the first-ever conference with all of us in the Pacific time zone. The power of Skype has definitely been impressed on me in the last few weeks, between my video chats with Emily and periodic other conversations over free computer-to-computer networks. Also at Russ’, I saw two movies which probably join “The Corporation” as required viewing for the thoughtful person these days. And as scared as I was that “The Corporation” came out more than half a decade ago, it’s downright terrifying that both of these movies date from the time when I was barely verbal. Anyway, add “Koyaanisqatsi” (1982) and “My Dinner with Andre” (1981) to your upcoming playlist. I have since discovered that the former has two sequels, but they don’t quite have the same power of the original it seems, despite some thematic verve, especially in the conclusive piece subtitled “Life as War”.

Been in Albuquerque since a 7/7 flight where I overheard my two rowmates encouraging each other in their love in America and infinite faith in its power to both rebound and offer infinite opportunity to all. Made some major progress on editing thereon between the eavesdropping, and now stand a little over a third of the way through editing The Best of All Possible Worlds. Given the encouraging feedback that’s been coming in for all sorts of my creative endeavors, I’m really looking forward to hearing what people think of this one as a real departure from my past novels. Also newly reinvigorated to start submitting ADO to agents when I hit the sweltering East Coast once more. Everything’s coming up Milhouse.

Albuquerque has been the usual good mix of New Mexican food (Frontier 2, Waffle House 1, Garcia’s 1 as of this writing), long conversations, and perfect warm weather. The yard is in full bloom and I’m starting to believe all the bees left alive on the planet are actively engaging the flowers in my parents’ well-tended garden. The house is less changed than usual as my Dad struggles with arthritis and my Mom seems to be prone to pulling or straining various things. They’re doing well otherwise, though, in good spirits and with plenty of energy. The new cat, Nesbitt, has also been a joy, though he seems more thoughtful and reserved than any of his species I’ve known in the past.

Today just got word that Cliff Lee, one of my favorite and briefest Mariners, has been shipped to Texas in exchange for Justin Smoak and a bevy of prospects. Given the pitching staff and prospects to come, the length of Lee’s contract (ending after this year), and the need to restock our farm, it’s clearly a great move. Especially looking at the 34-51 record they’ve compiled, an inexplicable shock that’s the sum total of bad luck and an abandonment of the very concept of clutch hitting. The team continues to build around the right things, though, and I have to believe that the new GM will be able to continue to work magic that will hopefully lead to a breakthrough. But this season is over and I guess I don’t mind much, since it takes the pressure off going to Africa and feeling like I’m missing something back here.

Other than the friends and family I’m trying to see before I go, there’s just not much to miss.


Farewell, Kid

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

Ken Griffey Jr. reacts to his 616th home run, against the Giants on May 24, 2009. It was the last of his homers I’d see in person.

I moved to Oregon in 1988 and discovered Major League Baseball on a roadtrip down to California that October during the World Series. As I’ve discussed fairly recently, this led to my being an A’s fan for a few years while living in Oregon, though my interest in their green uniforms, elephant mascot, and Mark McGwire was gradually worn down by years of listening to the Mariners Radio Network.

The first year I started listening to baseball was 1989 and the announcers were buzzing about a hot new prospect just called up named Ken Griffey Jr. I think it was Dave Niehaus who first called him The Kid, since his dad was still in the majors (and would be united with him on the M’s the next year). And even though I wasn’t always rooting for them in those first couple years, I listened intently to about a hundred M’s games a year as The Kid lit things up and sparked a previously abysmal Seattle club to something like mediocrity.

The real turning point, of course, was 1995, well after my Mariner fanhood had fully taken hold and I was living in Albuquerque relying largely on newspaper articles and the few rare televised games. I remember being unable to wait to get home from school to see the one-game playoff the M’s had miraculously forced against the Angels after being some incalculable number of games back in late August. The 9-1 drubbing, a thing of beauty. And then the series with the Yankees, the impossible 0-2 deficit, including a heartbreaking 15-inning affair in Game 2. (I still remember Fish telling me at school the next day what a great game it had been and that I must be excited and I got really upset with him. Turns out he’d turned it off after the M’s scored in the 12th. The Yankees then tied it in the 12th and won it in the 15th.) And then, of course, the comeback, capped by the greatest game in Seattle Mariner franchise history, the decisive Game 5 in Seattle. The 5-3 deficit erased in the 8th. Randy Johnson coming in to pitch extra innings. The 6-5 deficit in the 11th. And suddenly, out of nowhere, The Double. Ken Griffey, Jr. steaming around 3rd base, trying to score from 1st. The play at the plate, the epic slide, the dogpile at the plate. And me, at home in New Mexico, jumping up and down like the world was on fire, like I’d just realized that anything in the world was possible.

Then the horror came. A Ken Griffey Jr. poster was one of the first choices I made to fill my vast collegiate wallspace when I got there and while 1998 and 1999 weren’t quite 1995, they were solid seasons. But as 1999 wore on, there were rumblings about Griffey’s desire to retrace his father’s footsteps, get closer to the homestead, be part of the Big Red Machine. I already despised the Reds and this was a nail in the coffin. And by announcing publicly that he wanted to be traded to exactly one team, Griffey destroyed his value and the M’s had to settle for a pitiful return. I was angry, I felt betrayed. Much of the fanbase was more forgiving, but I was resentful. I couldn’t believe he’d done that to us, to the people who’d raised him from 19. How could he leave such a talented team, a crew with A-Rod, Randy Johnson, Edgar? (Yeah, I didn’t know what was coming.) Just for some parental nostalgia? His dad had even retired as a Mariner! Wasn’t that enough?

Well fate was cruel to Grif for the decision and he spent almost a decade in a hellish span of injuries and fan ridicule. He succeeded in tarnishing the Griffey name for almost every Reds fan and made them regret the meager sacrifice they’d made to acquire him. Oh sure, he was still The Kid, still electrifying when healthy enough to put the prettiest swing on a baseball you’ve ever seen. But it was a rare sight and he never quite fit with the red and white. And then he came on an interleague roadtrip to Seattle with the Reds and dropped the bombshell that he’d like to retire a Mariner.

No one could believe he’d just said that. They thought he was joking. But he was less than cryptic in his follow-ups, and before I knew it he’d signed to come to the M’s in 2009. I had the rare treat to see him in three games in May against the Giants and then again briefly as the M’s swung through Baltimore last month. I looked for my old KGJ poster and couldn’t find it, concluding with some horror that I’d probably discarded it in anger when he became a Red. He looked good back in blue, though older, fatter, his body displaying the tired signs of a typical athlete at the very sunset of his career. Most Mariner fans thought he should’ve retired after a decent 2009, and the numbers agree. He failed to hit a single homer in two months this year, finishing below .200 and getting benched with aspersions swirling in the press.

And while the book on The Kid is clearly a storied and memorable one, one of glory and contributing more than any other single individual to keeping baseball in Seattle and putting the Mariners on the map, any description of him is incomplete without measuring him unfavorably against his potential. He could’ve been the greatest. He could’ve hit 800 home runs, all without an ounce of steroids. He could have been The Franchise for all-time.

Of course he probably would’ve been beset by the same injuries in Seattle as he endured in Cincy and all that resentment would have been ours over his decaying body instead of his mild betrayal. But no Mariner fan alive would tell you they haven’t thought, at least once, that he might have stayed perfectly healthy in the cool rainy air of the Northwest. That he would have been not only a legend, which he certainly is, but The Legend. The Michael Jordan of baseball, but with humility.

We’ll never know. But we can thank him and appreciate him for all the things we do know about him. And watch tonight’s M’s game, as I will, knowing that something special is missing and will never return.


The Conservation of Creativity

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , ,

I’m still here and still thinking things and still have stuff to write about. But most of it is going in the ever increasing pages of The Best of All Possible Worlds.

I’ve posted about this before, and probably not too long ago. Maybe even on a May 17th before, in this exact place in the universe, looping back ’round to it again. Here we are. It’s not a new concept or a particularly hard concept, but it’s one I feel the need to revisit. When the tide is high with the creative process, lots of writing, a surprising about of reading for how much writing there’s been, then other forms of writing, the chaff, this blog, take a direct hit.

The corollary in the other direction was long obvious – that this blog would get the most attention and care when I was at a low tide creatively in the rest of my life. The times when my job was tugging at my soul and the commute was eating my time would give birth to long flowy metaphorical examinations of my real life in the moment. It was fun, and at least one of you thinks it’s way better than the non-chaff meaningful stuff I try to produce now. It will probably come again sometime, but it is not the time for it now so much. And that’s good.

This is largely because the life itself is relatively unnoteworthy. Sure, stuff happens – Em and I went to a AA baseball game today in Trenton and played bocce ball with friends on the lawn of our military-barrack-trailer-park complex. The sun shone, people bid each other a pleasant summer, embarked for new adventures. Em and I watched two of the four series we’re following on Netflix. We made more plans for the summer to come. But these are the undulations of life of the everyday. And the rest of my time makes these times look fascinating.

Because the rest of my time is extremely unreportable, the most of the mundane. I sit down at the computer at a designated time, aiming for 2-3 sessions each day instead of the normal single overnight session because of the time crunch I’m facing and what a washout April was. I play Tetris, trying to imbue myself with the mood appropriate for quick, magical writing. At a certain point, I stop, having formulated the first sentence to two paragraphs. I switch over to Word, enter my trance, and go. Anywhere from 30 to 150 minutes later, I stop, usually suddenly on a particularly sharp conclusion for that section. I come up for air quickly, surveying practical considerations like how many words I’ve written and whether I’ve overlooked anything intended for that section. Sometimes a quick review, but often not – there’s plenty of time for editing the month after the deadline. Then I start to meditate on the next section and do something mundane like eat or sleep or read.

That’s my life. And when Em departs for Liberia in a week and a half, it will be without those other preliminary things like baseball games and bocce ball and Netflix. It is hard to envision as mundane, because it feels like the most vibrant and important part of my life I’ve ever lived. Every moment carries the sense of purpose that’s so effectively eluded most of the uses of my time. Every day feels deliberate and worth living. But talking about it? Explaining it? Highlighting some quirky thing to capitalize into a post here? Forget it. To the outside observer, writing is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

I guess there are a good number of breaks, though, and this is where the conservation comes in. I did go down to Baltimore for the two Mariner losses in their three-game set with the Orioles early last week. I saw two old friends and ate in two different Waffle Houses a total of three times. I could write the better part of a novel about the third game alone, probably the most objectively exciting game I’ve ever seen, with the final out recorded on a play at the plate that would’ve tied the game. But I don’t have the juice to, because it’s all going to the novel right now.

So maybe it’s not my life that’s any more mundane, for day jobs and commutes are awfully mundane too. It’s probably just about the energy, the focus, the dispersal of creativity leading to blippy vignettes, while extended intense concentration that saps everything else is required to produce the 100,000 word novel.

Let one thing be clear in all of this: I am not complaining.


Ghost of Christmas Past

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

Who would’ve thought that a day in, I’d be almost missing April?

Since writing my last post, I have:

  • Had a migraine, making April’s total fourteen.
  • Developed some strange but persistent non-migrainous pain and possibly swelling in the soft tissue over my right ear.
  • Gone to a “Prom” held for students in Emily’s program.
  • Watched the M’s cough up a game where they had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of back-to-back extra innings.
  • Judged the 102nd Harvard/Princeton/Yale Triangular Debate, specifically a Princeton-hosted match against Harvard.
  • Written 17 pages of The Best of All Possible Worlds.
  • Finally bought a new batch of coffee to test my bad-batch theory for the April Migraine Spike.
  • Run – almost literally – into my second girlfriend on the street in Princeton. Yes, that one. No words (or blows) were exchanged.
  • Discovered that said girlfriend and her husband have been living less than a mile and a half away since we moved here.
  • Watched the film adaptation of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, which I loved and Em hated.
  • Finished reading 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, a novel which is neither about 2666 nor is finished.

I think it can all best be summed up in four words:

My head is spinning.


13 Migraines (or: A Pretty Bad Month)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

Used to be that I would get some pretty epic migraines. This was back in high school, before I started drinking coffee regularly, when I was out there in daily life with all the fluorescent lights and loud noise you could shake a stick at. There were migraines that lasted a full week and months when I had more time under the spell of the head-throbbers than free of them.

Then I started drinking coffee regularly, not intended as a migraine medicine (I was experimenting with actual migraine meds, to little avail but much consternation over the risk of stroke) and things quickly got better. Not great, but better. Then I started to make serious moves at trigger controlling after graduating college and things got quite a bit better. The last few years, I’ve been down to something like 30-40 migraines annually.

Enter April 2010. And the hammer dropped. With three days to go, I’ve notched 13 migraines, the longest of which lasted 36 hours (which used to be the norm, but is now sort of an impressive standout). And I probably have to do laundry at some point before the month is up, which has been the most consistent trigger since moving to Jersey (they really love fluorescents in our laundry room… it’s like a sort of shrine to the power of headache lamps).

I noted this April’s phenomenon earlier this month, hinting that maybe I was just on a really bad batch of coffee that was restoring me to the pre-caffeinated 1996 version of myself. While I haven’t tested against a different batch, I’m starting to wonder how to really isolate and test the factors. If there’s something more problematic about April itself, changing the batch of coffee May 1st doesn’t really demonstrate improvement on those grounds if the migraines go away.

What else could be going on in April, you ask? (Especially those of you who, let’s face it, haven’t fully subscribed to my theory that time is place and place is charged with meaning.) Well, there’s a lot of new theories running around about migraines being tied up with barometric pressure. And as I’ve learned since moving back to the region of the world where all our weather-based aphorisms about months hold true (e.g. March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb), there are a lot of storms in April. So that’s a lot of dropping barometers. At the same time, San Francisco is not exactly famous for its stable-to-rising pressure, and I logged some of my least migrainous years while working there daily. So what gives?

As with so much about migraines, I ultimately have to chalk it up to an ongoing mystery, try to test for certain variables (I really do need a new batch of coffee), and take relevant notes. And I must stress in this latter element that the symptoms are completely textbook. I really don’t think these are the early signs of some larger head problem, unless that head problem perfectly simulates frequent migraines. When you’ve had something like 600 migraines in your life, you get to know them pretty well. Except for those few fun outliers, like the one where I lost vision for a few hours or feeling in my whole left side. Those are pretty rare.

In other news, I’ve been watching a lot of sports lately. Last night’s migraine was prompted in part by the Blazers’ disastrous performance in their pivotal fifth game of the first round of the playoffs. (Incidentally, it’s funny that we always attribute headaches to having real-life sources comprised of frustration… probably true of minor day-to-day headaches, but largely untrue of migraines… although this one was caused in part by the lights in the Frist Campus Center where I had to watch the game, lacking cable at home, so…) I may watch the game tomorrow, though the Blazers showed me nothing to look forward to in that game. Although I guess they’ve been largely schizophrenic in this series anyway.

The M’s, meanwhile, finally won tonight, mounting a stellar comeback against the fact that Zack Grienke has no bullpen behind him. The AL West has thankfully been clumped enough that their late 4-game losing streak hasn’t buried them too far in the standings, so there’s still a lot of hope, especially since Cliff Lee makes his Mariner debut Friday. Since it looks like I’ll be out of the country for up to a month, I’m hoping they’ve built a substantial lead by the time I leave, but that’s making a lot of assumptions.

Like the assumption that we’ll get out of April someday.


Thursday Round-Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , , ,

From time to time, I feel the need to post a rambly cattle-call of happenings in my life and links around the web. I should start designating a day to do this and making it something like a regular feature, but that would probably require me approaching this blog with the discipline of a professional columnist.

  • It seems I don’t write much about politics here anymore, largely because of the twin forces of Duck and Cover and TMR getting first crack at my political musings. I almost cross-posted this commentary on Obama’s lack of Socialism here, but instead I’m just linking it. Enjoy.
  • As promised yesterday, I recently put up the APDA Nats brackets for 2010, complete with results of submitted brackets from current APDAites. (Those distant from debate should note that this is not how APDA Nats is actually structured, but a hypothetical based on the NCAA basketball tourney.) This hasn’t generated as much discussion that’s gotten back to me as I expected, but I’ve heard rumors that people are still enjoying it from afar. Given that I’m on a bid to become Tab Director of Nats 2011, this will probably be the last of these I do for a while… it seems a little weird for people involved in the Nats tab staff to publish a ranking of debaters partaking at that tournament, which is why I didn’t do one in 2007.
  • The last two M’s games have been amazing. I missed the Tuesday game because I was doing prep work with the Rutgers team for Nats, but yesterday’s was a real gem. I am a huge fan of the new additions to the team, including the fact that Milton Bradley seems to be happy and ready to produce for this team. But Chone Figgins is threatening to become my favorite Mariner. Between the steals and the walks, he reminds me of Rickey Henderson so much it’s ridiculous. And I loved Rickey Henderson. But he seems to have even less of an ego than Rickey, which was the latter’s one annoying trait. Then again, Chone isn’t exactly contending for the all-time steals title.
  • Did, in fact, get our taxes in on-time, yesterday. We do owe both states a little money, and TaxAct scammed us out of more money than they should have. But it’s done and the Feds owe us a lot.
  • I wonder if the West will characterize this bombing as “freedom fighting” while everyone else utilizing these methods are “terrorists”.
  • My mental state and health have continued to be somewhat subpar in recent weeks. The main issues seem to be a general feeling of dissociative malaise and surreality that may just be endemic to April, and also migraines. I’ve been averaging about 4 migraines a week, an astounding spike in frequency that seems inexplicable when observing normal triggers and factors. This combines uncomfortably with this dreamlike sense of reality that’s overtaken much of my last 2-3 weeks, which may partially be related to the subject matter of the current novel I’m working on. (Though I haven’t been working nearly as much as I’d like, but I’m mostly doing plot work to enable really cramming on output in the next month or so.) I feel largely like I’ve been looking at my life from 30,000 feet, or at least 30 feet, watching myself live instead of actually being in a first-person view. It’s strange and makes me sound completely nuts. I’m not completely nuts. I just feel more like I’m living through a filter than that I’m actually fully here. I sort of feel that this reality is all illusory anyway and that life’s core realities are a little like our souls playing a video game (but with meaningful consequences) on this planet, so maybe I’m just more aware of that reality.
  • The other explanation for the above issues, of course, may be that there’s something seriously wrong with my brain. I’m inclined to think otherwise, but it’s good to keep all the possibilities in mind. I’ve told Emily to keep an eye out for me behaving really erratically or out of character, which would be indicative of a possible brain tumor. I’m not actually that worried, though, because the migraine symptoms have been so classic. (Though such symptoms also mirror those of tumors and aneurysms somewhat.) The other factor that I entertained was that I was somehow drinking decaf coffee – that the batch of Folgers I’m working through is either mislabeled or contaminated somehow. Because honestly, foggy worldview, increased tiredness, and more migraines could all be explained by caffeine deficiency too.
  • Debate Nationals this weekend – always one of the most exciting times of the year. I’ve attended 7 of the last 11 nationals prior to this one and this weekend will make 8 of 12. For all that I probably should feel a little strange about being so old and having seen so much on APDA, I really feel nothing of the sort. I think I’ve been in the work world long enough to understand just how meaningful and valuable I find the APDA community to be, to treasure how rare its intellectuality is. I’ve been thinking a little about how much work I’ve put in to the Rutgers team, all unpaid, and realizing that I don’t see any of it as a chore. I think this is what it would be like to really love one’s job, because I do it all voluntarily. I’ve worked for organizations I truly love before, but never felt this way about the actual work. If the writing doesn’t work out, I need to figure out a way to swing professional debate coaching. Possibly in Africa.


April Come She Will

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

New image up top. Refresh the page if you can’t see it. If you still can’t see it, well, here it is below:

One of the subtler overall changes on the page, going with a relative simplicity that reflects my effort to refind some focus. I’m not that far off, not all over the place, but still not quite as centered as I’d like to be. Ever since I got back from Virginia (all of 48 hours ago), I’ve felt a bit foggy, rather dissociative. As though this is all a big dream I’m about to snap awake from. Not all of it, as in the last 30 years, but all of it, maybe most of the last 48 hours. It’s odd.

Of course, in part, it’s April. Every April, I get to thinking and hoping that maybe it won’t be so bad, so strange, so despondent. Most Aprils, I have to remember that there’s a reason I have this whole time-is-a-place theory going. This time round, at least, I have two insanely busy debate weeks back-to-back to keep me distracted. And then it’ll be time to enter the home stretch of a book that feels like it’s not quite off the ground yet. This month may yet prove to me that two books a year is a more reasonable expectation than three.

But I’m still hoping otherwise.

This past weekend was pretty debate-heavy as well, if only because it takes about 13 hours to drive round-trip to and from Charlottesville, home of one of the better campuses in its absolute peak time. Arriving in Virginia under an 88-degree sky was pretty much just what I needed at the time and I thoroughly enjoyed the tournament there, in no small part because of Rutgers’ great successes. Not only did Dave break for the second straight weekend and the third in the last six, but our newest novices were second novice team and both made the top ten novice speakers. And Dave & Chris managed to establish that they own 7th place, having finished exactly 7th all three tournaments they attended together. One could do a lot worse, especially for a junior-freshman duo. The tournament also just managed to be a bunch of fun, I got to judge many good rounds, and everyone was generally in high spirits. Although the less said about Friday night the better – suffice it to say that it’s easy to block out the worse parts of college over time and thus even harder to when they’re re-presented to you.

The only good thing about April, consistently, other than debate Nats I guess, is the start of baseball season. And what a great start it was today, with the M’s almost coughing up a win only to demonstrate they might have enough offense this year after all. Watching Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman come through so consistently was great. I am going to have a lot of fun watching this team run this year. It was all almost enough to make up for the heartbreaking NCAA Finals, though that itself was such a great game. And both of these were big uppers compared to the amazing but horrifying video that Russ has up on TMR.

That video was on its way to sending me into quite the tailspin. If you don’t want to make the jump or want to know what you’re getting into first, it’s basically 40 minutes of American military chatter about 11 unarmed civilians that were slaughtered in a 2007 incident the US denied knowledge of until very recently. This is followed toward the end by a triple-missile attack on a building that also seems filled with civilians. It’s perhaps the most chilling piece of video I’ve ever seen in my life. As bad as it is to watch 11 people killed (and trust me, one sees them shot and killed), it’s probably worse to hear the live reaction from the people committing the murders. In some ways it feels like a vindication of all the things I say about people in that situation, but I’d really rather just be wrong. Perhaps most compelling of all is the vision of the blurry lines between video games and reality for a whole generation of American soldiers. The whole situation, from the dialogue to the monochrome target-screen, has the look and feel of a sophisticated first-person shooter (I mean, think about that phrase as a genre of video game on face there for a second) and one gets the sense that the people killing can’t quite get over the psychic break between the surrealistic setting and the fact that what they’re doing is all too real. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking; maybe they know full well and are just that awful and/or manipulated.

In any event, I’m still struggling with it. It’ll be with me for a long time. It’s encouraging to know that there are people who would post it, who would make it available, who would spread it around, though part of me almost feels like it’s an Orwellian exemplification of how much can be gotten away with. Still mulling.

The cat’s sick and we took her to the vet, who knew no more about why she was sneezing and wheezing than they do about my migraines. But they gave her some medication, just like me, and wished her the best. There was a lot else on my list to do today, but I only did about three other things. My brain refuses to be still and yet won’t move quickly either. It’s pickling in a jar, just for a time, letting itself soak up the brine between the folds like some grimy spa catharsis. As though to gird itself for April and all it entails. As though to make the push into the depth of where I need to go to really fulfill The Best of All Possible Worlds.

I don’t like pickles.


They’re Taunting Me

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Tags: ,

This would be a good week for me to be living almost anywhere I used to live.

Here’s the Mariners’ schedule starting later this week:

Fri, 2 April: vs. Colorado @ Albuquerque
Sat, 3 April: vs. Colorado @ Albuquerque
Sun, 4 April: @ San Francisco
Mon, 5 April: @ Oakland
Tue, 6 April: @ Oakland
Wed, 7 April: @ Oakland
Thu, 8 April: @ Oakland

Strangely, they won’t be entering the state of New Jersey, uh, ever.

But even if I won’t be in my old hometown or by the Bay to celebrate, baseball is almost upon us. And the M’s will be somewhere nearby, though perhaps not returning to ABQ or following Emily to Africa or Atlanta or wherever she ends up for the season. However, if you will be having the M’s near you on this seaboard, perhaps now is the time for us to start planning a day in the sun.

To wit:

May 11-13: @ Baltimore
Jun 29 – Jul 1: @ New York
Aug 16-18: @ Baltimore
Aug 20-22: @ New York
Aug 23-25: @ Boston
Sep 21-23: @ Toronto

Take me out to the ballgame. Or I’ll take you.


Winning and Losing

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

Things are a lot better than they were Friday and even better than they were before. And while I can attribute a lot of that to the passage of time or mental adjustments or even a variety of positive events (including having a relaxing weekend that included two fireplace fires and two visits to Waffle House), a disconcerting amount of it seems to be about winning.

I have long been a competitive person and this combines rather extremely with being both emotionally expressive and emotionally turbulent. Thus I not only fluctuate wildly between perceived highs and lows, but my actual gestures and body are likely to do the same as I flail about in victory or defeat. Fortunately this competitive streak tends to apply most pervasively to things that don’t actually matter, such as loosely organized sporting contests, board games, and video games. I tend to be slightly less expressive but more overtly invested in larger pursuits such as, most currently, the debate team I coach and the success or failure of the books I’m writing.

Not always is my mood impacted by the more important stuff alone or even primarily, however. This was more notable in the days when I was working in day job pursuits rather than things I feel more passionate about, like debate and writing. There was nothing, for example, at Glide to be competitive about. I might get angry about some internal office conflict that seemed intractable or giddy about some well received report, but it carried none of the competitive weight of a contest with winners and losers or the triumphs and failings of the effort to get one’s voice on important matters to the masses. As a result, I had to push my competitive energy into things like video games and following the Mariners, one of which doesn’t matter at all and one of which is both impossible to control and seems generally doomed. This was, as can be guessed, not a great recipe for joy.

Fast forward to this weekend wherein, on a bit of a losing streak (I just had to play ultimate frisbee, for chrisake), I thoroughly drub a competitive field in both Boggle and Clue, two of my favorite games, shortly before leading my team to victory in a nerve-wrenching match of trivia newcomer Know It or Blow It. Sound trivial? You bet. But nevertheless, such things fuel a perception that all is right with the world, that I have things to offer, that there is momentum building around me. It’s not rational nor particularly important to put such stock in irrelevant contests based on varying ratios of skill and chance, but I nevertheless can’t underestimate what a real impact such have on my moment-to-moment outlook. My perceptual reality is awash in the tide of my ability to prevail at things which have virtually no ultimate value.

But of course the real energy fires up when I get home from the weekend jaunt to discover that Rutgers has not only broken to octofinals at one of the largest tournaments of the year, but prevailed therein over a heavily favored MIT team currently ranked 3rd in the nation, before being ousted in quarterfinals. I actually yelled so loudly when I saw the results on my screen that Emily thought something was seriously wrong. And in some sense, maybe there was. But in another, all suddenly again seemed right with the world, like order and hope had been restored. Was I overvaluing this single performance? Absolutely. But was this also a crescendent cracking through to recognition for a hard-working team long overdue? No doubt. And does that potentially put them on a whole new trajectory looking forward, one that looks very different than where they seemed even a week ago? Of course.

And so I maintain my faith in the value of competition and my submission of so much of my will to its whims. Undoubtedly there is some tension between my competitive nature and my personal societal values of socialist communitarianism, just as there is a strange dichotomy between my desired global cooperation and my personal individualist, separatist tendencies (especially, as also highlighted this weekend, around food and taste). But perhaps it is my manic-depressive core, my fundamental commitment to ride the ever-bobbing waves of emotional authenticity and fervor, that drives my passion for spirited strife. I am certain that this unstable jetsam gives birth to much of my creative ability, and even more so to my desire to pursue it, distill it, and dry it for future observation.

And yet, in moments of reflection and observation like this, it can’t help but strike me how fragile it is. How it doesn’t take many spills and misfires to resemble the local NBA franchise, winning just nine times in 74 tries, spinning out of control toward a destiny that feels like determined self-destruction. How a boat on the seas that refuses to ever dock might eventually turn under the waves.

Next time that happens, though, and the deck starts compiling a salty mix of sealife, perhaps I just need to play another game of Boggle.

In the meantime, I’m off to the races.


The Week That Was (or: How are We in Middle March?)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been a bit of a weird week. It seems a lot of people are discombobulated. In flux. It’s hard to say how much of that revolves around the fact that my life is thoroughly immersed in people who rely on academic calendars these days. After all, both Princeton and Rutgers had midterms this week, with their Spring Break starting today. Nobody likes midterms.

The writing is going… fine. It’s not bad, but it’s not tearing up the charts either. It feels like the right project at the right time, but it’s settled into that slow steady groove that probably denotes most long-haul fiction work. That’s good, overall, really, especially since this project is taking shape more on-the-fly than either of the prior novels. But I probably won’t be maintaining the quick-burning fire I started out with a week ago. Wow, it’s only been a week working on The Best of All Possible Worlds. I’m going to relax a bit.

And honestly, one probably couldn’t keep the fire going throughout a 3-month project. I just don’t think it works that way. You can have a brushfire on a short story or a poem, but it’s unsustainable for a whole novel. It’s like expecting every day of a marriage to consist entirely of that white-hot first-days-of-love butterfly passion. You’ll go there periodically, but every day of marriage is not going to feel like the first day. And that’s not only okay, but good. Because otherwise it would burn itself out.

The M’s are gearing up for their most exciting season in years and I’m preparing to block out big chunks of time to follow that. I’m sort of grateful that I don’t like Spring Training, since it both gives me another month to not worry about this and I don’t have to follow every little up and down of who exactly makes the roster. Of course, this is kind of self-fulfilling – if I liked those kind of things, I’d enjoy Spring Training more. But it’s just impossible for me to get excited about games that don’t count in an environment where strategy is handicapped and the decisions are all about getting people practice. It’s just a month-long practice-round. If I were a player or a coach, I think I’d love Spring Training. But as a fan, it just leaves me (ironically) cold.

Maybe I should figure out a way to do Debate Spring Training next year. Of course, it would be Fall Training. I guess the Novice Retreat we did this year was kind of like that, now that I consider.

Of course the other sports issue in my life is the meteoric rise of the University of New Mexico men’s basketball program. At 29-3, the Lobos are poised to receive a 2- or 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, based on their performance in this weekend’s Mountain West championship. This UNM team is unlike every other that has ever played near the Frontier – they win clutch games, they overcome adversity, they find ways to win on the road. It’s a real personality change and one that is especially strange for a long-time Blazers and Mariners (and Lobos) fan to experience. I wonder if every fan has a mythology about their team’s ability to pull defeat from the jaws of victory – if this is just one of those things that everyone feels psychologically by focusing on the crushing and unexpected losses. Regardless, this is the first time the March Madness tournament has had a real role for UNM since I was sneaking peaks of the game on Sonia Roth’s TV during the 1998 tourney, so yeah. Pretty neat.

On the debate front, this weekend is Providence College, my first visit to the campus since the fabled origin of Mep in 2001. I’m not sure how completely I’ve ever told the story on this website, and I’m not sure this is the morning for it, but I was curious exactly how badly I spoke at that tournament. So I went and looked up our performance on the old back-archives of the APDA site.

The brief story, of course, is that Russ and I were debating together for our first and only time before he graduated during that, his senior year. As a double-LO attack, we expected to tear teams up, especially given the confidence we had in our cases. Fifth round, sailing into the 4-0 bracket on the wings of crushing the mighty “juice” (Yale OJ) on a dull-as-nails-and-possibly-tight case about insurance law, we hit my regular teammate, Zirkin, and his hybrid partner, another Yalie. We had an ugly round (as such rounds between regular partners often are, especially when said partners are hybriding) and lacked full confidence that we’d won. But we never questioned that we’d break, because we were sure we were speaking well.

Russ was, of course, scoring a 132 with ranks of 7 and ultimately taking home 4th speaker in a pretty remarkable field. I, however, was deemed unworthy of the field. I apparently spoke a 128 with ranks of 13, outspoken by Russ by a full 4 points and 6 ranks. I’m not sure any partner ever outspoke me by that much at any other tournament in my life. If I had more time this morning, I’d look up what an epic fail a 128/13 was in the context of the rest of my career at the time. It’s hard for non-debaters to contextualize this, or even for modern debaters who’ve grown up with half-points and a squashed speaker scale to understand (128’s pretty good these days – and not because people used to be better, but because the scores have fundamentally changed). But trust me, it was a disaster.

So we missed the break – as it turned out by only a point, despite my glaring apparent incompetence. We even outranked the two 4-1 teams who broke over us, just a slim point behind either of them. If I’d been deemed only mildly incompetent, we still would’ve made the semifinals. (To say nothing of a 36-team tourney breaking to semifinals being pretty skimpy as well.) It wasn’t till we received our ballots that we realized I was to blame for our near-miss – neither Russ nor I felt I’d performed poorly that weekend, but the proof was on the paper.

In long retrospect, of course, I’m grateful for the outcome, both because it made a great story and it spawned my spontaneous apology to Russ for unseating the emu who’d asked him to debate with him instead, from which all Mep lore was borne. As I squatted down and craned my neck around to the dulcet sounds of a monosyllabic flightless bird, I had no idea my self-flagellation would be creating this monster. But I’m glad it did.

Interestingly, looking through some of those results from the past, I hadn’t realized that PC was the weekend before NorthAms that year. Somehow I’d thought it was later in the year, after Zirk and I had already secured the title that would define my career. It somehow makes it all the more amazing that we overcame the frustration of that fifth round, that my last round before our tear through the title tourney was an adversarial match against each other. Of course we both long attributed our success in that tourney to my yelling at Zirkin after octofinals and the self-examination that such produced (he’d been over-coaching me from his desk during my PMR for the Lottery case, something I knew I had in hand and could give in my sleep and I ranted at him after the round about how we had to trust each other if we were going to survive the marathon of break rounds we were facing at the time… the rest is history). But it’s interesting to note how much extra acrimony there was going into that tournament. Ah, memories, mythology, madness.

For context, I’ve been looking up a few other scores I received, and I got all 130+’s everywhere I look, including at Wellesley, a tournament with a notoriously low speaker scale and where I received the last of my only two career losing records. It’s almost as though the fates aligned to give us the emu. One might even say it was… Providence.

Makes you wonder what Providence College will offer us this year. I’ll find out.


Thursday Thoughts

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

1. It is looking increasingly likely that the Mariners starting rotation down the stretch (and into the playoffs, if applicable), will be headlined by these three starters:

I mean, I know about counting chickens and all that, but still. Assuming Bedard gets signed and is healthy (two enormous assumptions, I’ll grant), this may be the best starting trio the Majors have seen in decades. You can keep your Sabathia/Pettitte/Burnett. I’ll take Hernandez/Lee/Bedard any day.

2. It is startling how much more productive one can be when one is neither sick nor has to deal with insurance companies. I didn’t even notice how much spare energy I was expending trying to get healthy and/or deal with the fallout of 2009’s various accidents until I spent a full afternoon without either task. Very liberating and bodes well for all future projects.

3. The Dow has seen five digits for the last time in a good long while. Prepare accordingly.


Special Sauce

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Let's Go M's, Tags: , ,

When I first got into baseball, the Oakland Athletics were my team. It’s hard to admit as a loyal baseball fan that I had a team before the Mariners, that my eternal and undying fanhood is not to my first love. It has become acceptable in our society not to marry your first love or have the same job for life, but sports fans are basically supposed to stick with one horse forever, for some reason especially in baseball. But alas, such is not my story.

I first discovered baseball watching softball games in public parks in Washington DC in the spring of 1988. I was intrigued by the strange shape of the field, the amalgam of so many people doing such specific things. More than anything, it looked like fun. It was nothing like the sports they had us play in PE, nothing like the endless running that people seemed to equate with organized sports. It had an artistry to it, a mystery, it demanded explanation. I wanted to know more and my parents – not exactly big baseball (or sports) people – couldn’t give me much beyond the very basics, which only deepened the mystery. They enjoyed the camaraderie of the public park games, too, though, and we were sometimes the only fans in the bleachers at these loosely organized games.

Then we moved to Oregon that summer and took a trip down to retrieve our stored items from the Central San Joaquin Valley in October. In a random hotel lobby, there was a TV displaying – wonder of wonders! – the same basic game I’d seen in the DC parks. But it was shinier, with classier uniforms, and thousands of fans. I parked in front of what turned out to be a World Series game, having no idea the significance or even that these were professionals. The desk clerk took me for an avid fan and bemusedly asked me which team I was rooting for. It hadn’t occurred to me. I looked back at the screen.

“The green team.”

Green, you see, was my favorite color. And so I was enthralled by the Oakland uniforms, triply thrilled when I realized the next spring that their mascot was an elephant. And their nickname was associated with the grade I diligently pursued in every subject. I fell hard for baseball. And not just baseball, but Major League Baseball. I learned most of the rules through third grade playground kickball, started reading boxscores in the daily paper (I remember vividly poring over the details of a matchup that appeared to be between the Boston Royals and the Kansas City Red Sox), tried out for Little League, infamously (in my own memory) thinking that the glove was supposed to go on the hand one found dominant, to the point of arguing with the person who gave me a glove out of the bucket of extras that my right-hand glove wouldn’t fit properly on my right hand. I overcame this, adored Little League, and started setting my sights on a Major League career.

And then came baseball cards, which were to dominate an incredible amount of my time and energy for the rest of my time in Oregon. And with baseball cards, a new awareness of the players. And quickly, before even the midpoint of the 1989 season, I had picked a clear favorite. He was a towering hulk of a player, but thoroughly competent and, moreover, seemed like an affable guy. He was the heart of the Oakland A’s lineup. His name? Mark McGwire.

Mark McGwire was my favorite baseball player for years, even after I had shifted gears from the A’s to the Mariners, the result of a long geologic wearing down from hearing over a hundred M’s games a year on the radio and falling for the excitement of the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson. Before the ’89 World Series, I had a lifesize Mark McGwire poster on the back of my door, which stayed there till we moved to New Mexico. I loved Big Mac, loved his effortless grace in smashing homers, his fearsome glower as he awaited the next hopeless pitch. He was perhaps an unlikely hero for a scrawny, terribly short right fielder (though I was quickly falling for Rickey Henderson too, with his wily speed, and I would soon become a catcher and really deepen my understanding of the game), but he just seemed to have the game figured out. He had the right attitude. And a cool name.

By 1998, I had grown to almost dislike the A’s after some intensely rivalrous years with the M’s in the new six-division structure of MLB and Big Mac had left them anyway. But I was over the moon about his season the summer before college, remember watching on a friend’s computer every at-bat after 60 homers. Wherever we were, whatever we were doing, someone would keep watch at the computer during Cardinals games and call us in and we’d all crowd around. Maybe it wasn’t every game, but that’s what it felt like at the time, and I’ll never forget 62, sending me over the moon with the high arc of the ball. There was the All-Star Game later, too, maybe the summer of ’99 or 2000 if I recall correctly, watching Big Mac rip what felt like 50 straight homers, all of them 450+ feet, just taking the cover off the ball and sending it as far as possible. I couldn’t stop smiling and my parents watched too and said that I knew all along, had picked the best guy so long ago.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately or hate baseball, you’re doubtless aware of Mark McGwire’s recent admission that he used steroids. The news is hardly earth-shattering for those paying attention to baseball in the last decade or so, watching people balloon into caricatures of themselves, popping out homers left and right amidst rumors of juiced balls and diluted pitching while baseball enjoyed the increased “game-saving” profits and turned a blind eye. The recrimination McGwire and his cohorts have faced has been severe and one might expect, given all my other proclivities, that I would feel betrayed by Big Mac, that he’d play Bill Richardson to my baseball fandom and I’d walk away thinking they were all crooks and cheats, unworthy of the homage we try to pay them.

But it’s not so. I diligently attended tens of San Francisco Giants games during Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the career home-run record, cheering every time he came to the plate. I still think fondly of McGwire, even as the media eviscerates him and the baseball writers laughably refuse to grant him passage to the Hall of Fame. I’m not wild about Rafael Palmeiro, but I think that’s just because he lied so vehemently about the whole thing. And I’ve always hated Roger Clemens and A-Rod since he ditched the Mariners for greed, so it’s really just an excuse to gang up on those guys.

Why? Is this just my loyalty to baseball overwhelming everything else I rationally feel? Everything I think about drugs and authenticity and everything else out the window? I mean, how inconsistent could I get, right?

The issue for me, and I haven’t seen this argument anywhere else (nor do I expect to), so I suspect I’m on my own here, is that the difference between steroids and everything else is basically nil. Yes, steroids are technically illegal, but so is refusing to sign up for the Selective Service. We live in a country where smoking marijuana is a vilified criminal activity while drinking alcohol is a lauded social rite. Law alone is no argument, no justification. Folks, the laws are stupid. And even if the laws about steroids are designed to protect people from long-term ill health, I know plenty of people who’ve been prescribed steroids for one thing or another. Heck, just a year ago, a Kaiser doc tried to put me on a lifetime steroid nasal spray to prevent all these ear infections.

Mark McGwire started talking early on about Andro, his legal daily supplement that he took to help build muscle. (I think it’s short for something, but I’m not sure what.) He recommended it to people publicly. And it was always the part of him that made me most uncomfortable, because something felt weird about taking a drug that would make you better at baseball in some way. And that, I think, is the point. All of it – lifting weights, even, let alone nutritional supplements or legal chemicals or other artificial inducements – is weird. Professional athletics have long relied more on science than on straight hard work. It’s about what to eat and what to drink and what to ingest and what to inject and what to build to specifically construct, through carefully researched science, the greatest athlete possible. It’s all artificial.

At that point, we have two choices. Either only let people play who walk in off the street and refuse to try to change their bodies… or let them do whatever they want. There are countless players who are on prescription ADD drugs that would otherwise be banned stimulants, but they get a special exemption. You probably can’t find a Major Leaguer (at least a position player) who isn’t on countless chemical supplements and substances. The science of sports is carefully managed and throws everything into doubt, especially when compared with the era of Babe Ruth, whose scientific regimen consisted of eating as much as possible. I mean, come on. Can you imagine Babe Ruth getting by in today’s game? They wouldn’t even give him a tryout till he shaped up.

I just don’t see the bright line between steroids and the rest of it. And while the law may have made things “unfair,” deterring a Ken Griffey Jr. or a Will Clark from trying steroids, baseball’s policy throughout the Steroids Era made it clear that they didn’t see the difference between steroids and other artificial substances either. You can call something illegal all you want, but if no one’s going to enforce the regulations and everyone heaps praise on what you’re doing, you pretty quickly realize that word doesn’t mean what you think it does.

As we get closer to a world of genetic engineering, this question isn’t going to go away. People will look first for the genes that impact growth and size and strength, beefing up their children in the hopes of lucrative contracts. And then where will we be? Do we bar these people and their unfair advantages, penalizing them for things they had literally no control over? Or do we start a space race for 11-foot tall mutants who hit every single ball over the wall till we have to rebuild the Polo Grounds to keep things in play? And what of our society’s increasing proliferation of BGH and other substances which have already increased our relative size and height?

Science will keep pushing the bar. And if one’s going to let some things in and not others, one’s being inconsistent. I don’t blame any of the people who took steroids in the so-called Steroids Era, though I still hate Clemens and A-Rod. I look down a bit more on those who lied, but I even understand their frustration with the double-standard retroactively being enforced on them. Big Mac, I forgive you. I get it. And I hope all the baseball writers get off their sanctimonious high horses long enough to let you into the Hall of Fame someday. After all, they didn’t exactly blow the cover off these stories in 1998 or 2000, however obvious they think your actions were then. They pocketed their money and made their reputations at those times, so who are they to deny you yours? Ex post facto standards are never fair and certainly not in America’s pastime.

And thanks for being honest about it, however long it took you to open up.

Cross-posted at The Mep Report.


Top Nine Highlights and Lowlights for 2009

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, If You're Going to San Francisco, Let's Go M's, Summer Sojourn 2009, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m thinking about compiling one of these for the decade too, but let’s look at what made 2009 great and not so great.

In summation, looking back at this year, it’s been one of those seminal and all-encompassing annums. It’s been a slow and generally joyous year, punctuated with some really lousy events. I think it’s good to look at the good and bad of a year, lest one think that any year, no matter how great or terrible, is all one or the other. Ultimately, however, I have to say that I’d be pretty happy if all the years were like this one.

Let’s start with the lowlights (who knew I could have a happy ending in something I write?!)…
9. In June, we were informed that we would be getting a small (464 square foot) apartment from the housing lottery at Princeton. Emily and I fought about to what extent the preferences I’d asked her not to list on the housing form had determined this decision and the ensuing tension lasted for much of the summer and the early part of our time moving into Princeton. Upside: We ended up being happy with the place and sincerely calling it “cozy” instead of just tiny. Though it will always be Tiny House to us.
8. In August, at the conclusion of a great six-week trip, we moved to New Jersey. We’d come to accomplish many great things in school, debate, and writing, all of which wound up going pretty well. But… New Jersey. Upside: Yeah, we were moving to Jersey for some pretty good reasons.
7. In December, a co-worker of mine from Glide passed away. While he was not my closest friend or someone I’d even contacted since departing Glide, his passing hit me very hard with its suddenness and the loss of such a vibrant, joyous personality. He’d moved me to tears the day I sent out my e-mail announcing my impending departure from Glide, coming down to my office, giving me a hug, tearing up, and saying “I don’t want you to go.” I can’t stop thinking about this scene, how much it meant to me, or how little time he proved to have left. Upside: While one never wants to see an upside in death, it does always get those still living to examine their mortality and priorities, which never hurts.
6. In November, I got tremendously sick, derailing my writing at the time and prompting my parents to cancel a long-anticipated trip to see us on the East Coast. I had extreme trouble breathing and went through a number of inconclusive tests, ultimately requiring simple time and rest to recover. Upside: The illness didn’t derail my novel as I feared it would at the time.
5. In July, we left the Bay Area, possibly never to return long-term. While I felt we’d stagnated a good bit in the Bay and needed a change, the actual departure was tough to swallow and required leaving jobs we’d felt were the best we’d ever had, people we really enjoyed, and an area that seemed more naturally like home than where we’d be going for some time. Plus, there was a lot of packing. Upside: (Most) everything that followed.
4. Over the course of the year, I lost an impressive amount of money in the stock market. I had been up big and got complacent and started losing like crazy. While all of this could theoretically be recouped, I’d started betting against banks right about the time people got irrationally excited about banks again. Granted, I hadn’t risked anything we couldn’t afford to lose and it was all in long-term futures anyway (i.e. money we can’t touch till we’re 65). But it still hurt. Upside: Banks could still collapse.
3. In July, Emily and I were informed that all of our stuff making the cross-country trip to support our life in Jersey had been in a rollover accident outside LA. This proved to be more devastating in the resignation and loss it inspired in us between then and finding that the damage was generally much better than anticipated. Almost all the most sentimental items came through minimally scathed, though we still took some costly losses. Upside: It was a good reminder of the relative insignificance of material goods.
2. In January, Emily and I were informed that her mother had colon cancer. We endured a horrific month of ambiguities and tests and worries. Upside: Not only was the surgery successful, it wiped out the cancer so completely she didn’t even need chemo.
1. In October, Emily and I were in a car accident that could have killed me were it not for a pickup sandwiching itself between a passed-out octogenarian and myself. The Prius sustained 5 digits worth of damage and Emily and I had 4 digits worth of damage assessed by the ER. Upside: We survived the accident.

And now for the highlights
9. In September, Fish and I (accompanied by Madeleine and Emily) saw John K. Samson play “Sounds Familiar.” live.
8 (tie). In November, the same four of us (no John K.) enjoyed a restful and rejuvenating Thanksgiving weekend in Washington DC. It was just what we needed at the time and recharged our batteries to make a last push in the book and the semester.
8 (tie). In March/April, I spent a similar week of restful rejuvenation in LA with Russ, the last of my many trips to his apartment while I was living in the same state. We watched movies, talked about everything, played chess endlessly, beat FIFA on World Class mode with Denmark for the first time ever, and I even won the most money at online poker I’d ever won. It was just what I needed to get through the last 45 days of day job I had left.
7. In March, Emily ran the table on her grad school applications, going a perfect 5-for-5 in schools applied and allowing herself to have the maximum possible options. This culminated in her full-ride to Princeton, freeing up our options as a couple to pursue what we’ve spent most of the decade putting off in terms of personal aspirations and fulfillment.
6. In June, many New Mexican friends and I reunited for Jake’s wedding. We had a fabulous “bachelor party” hiking in the woods above JPL that would later be endangered by fire. Many of us wrapped up the weekend of celebration with a visit to Disneyland and California Adventure that was probably the most efficiently jam-packed such visit of my many to such parks.
5. In May, I watched Randy Johnson pitch what was almost certainly his last game in Seattle, going out to a triumphant standing ovation from an infinitely appreciative fanbase. Though watching him shut down the Angels in the ’95 one-game playoff, let alone his relief appearance in that year’s ALDS, will always be more charged memories, those were witnessed on TV. This was my single greatest live moment of Mariner fandom to date. No less, it was enjoyed from the best seats I’ve ever secured at a Major League Baseball game. This was the highlight of a generally great trip to Seattle.
4. In November, the Rutgers team I’d been coaching for two and a half months enjoyed their first break in almost two years, to quarterfinals at American University, a tournament fielding 90+ teams. After being uncertain of the impact I was making on the team, I finally had confirmation of progress and great reason for optimism about the coming semesters. The team celebrated at a DC diner that night with spirits raised high to the future of the team.
3. In May, I left Glide exactly as I’d hoped to, going out after ten weeks’ notice with a perfect day of meetings including the long-anticipated foray into what would ultimately be the new database solution for Glide’s programs. I could not have scripted a more fitting exit and I finally got to leave something on my own terms, with a great replacement, and with people wanting me to stay.
2. In July, Emily and I departed for a six-week tour of the US, with stops in National Parks and baseball parks, plus plenty of time with friends and family. Highlights from this trip alone could fill this list, so it’s only fair to group the whole trip. Our anniversary dinner at the Wawona in Yosemite, hiking the Grand Canyon, and camping in the Badlands are probably the most lasting memories from this epic journey.
1. In December, I finished writing a novel for the first time in eight and a half years, after working on it for seven and a half. The culmination of everything I’ve hoped to do in the last decade of struggling to write against a backdrop of day-jobs was finally reached, five days ahead of my deadline. I had once again proven to myself that there’s reason to take this writing thing seriously. Just before year’s end, I finished editing the work.

Yeah, like I said, I’d be pleased if every year could be this full of life, decisions in the right direction, survival, and joy. I’ll take ten more like 2009 any time. 2010, care to start with one?


Life Just Keeps on Getting Better

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

Holy cow. The Mariners, apparently not satisfied with filling step one of my philosophy on baseball (stock your team with speedsters like Chone Figgins), are apparently a little bit of paperwork away from filling step two, which is to stock your team with top-notch starting pitching.

Cliff Lee is about to be a Mariner. CLIFF LEE!

I haven’t been this excited since the Erik Bedard trade, the last time the M’s landed an ace-level pitcher. Except this time, the trade isn’t going to cripple our team, mostly because our current GM isn’t named Bavasi. Also, Cliff Lee is a proven multi-year talent, while Bedard had had just one great season as the basis of his success.

I mean, did you see Cliff Lee pitch in the postseason? Holy cow. I’m so glad we’re going to still be in the States for (at least most of) the 2010 baseball season.

In other news:

  • Emily prompted me to look up Rainbow Brite on Wikipedia tonight, after she jokingly embraced my sarcastic suggestion that we name a child, should we ever have one, Rainbow Bright Clayton. This led me to discover that the cartoon character of ’80’s lore starred in a whopping 13 (thirteen) broadcast episodes, almost exclusively in 1986, yet somehow grossed $1 billion (with a b) in 1980’s dollars from merchandising. Or $77 million an episode. And you think baseball players get paid a lot.
  • I have edited 19% of American Dream On‘s chapters and 14% of its pages in the last three days, working on a sporadic schedule. It’s exhausting. Completely wiping me out. I was in no way prepared for the sheer physicality required of intensely editing a book this size. At the same time, it’s been going far better than any major editing project I’ve ever undertaken, something I can credit in part to countless hours of editing grant proposals and other paperwork for Glide in my last day job. The amount of work I’m putting in, the amount of change manifest, and the amount of satisfaction I’m getting from the newly emerging draft are all great indicators that I’ve shed my reputation as someone who has trouble with editing. Unfortunately, getting to 100% is a must before anyone sees the thing, so we may be looking closer to New Year’s than Christmas for distribution to first-run readers. My interest in getting feedback is keeping me motivated.
  • Plus, I can edit in the Chancellor Green Library. So there’s that. Pretty much anything is worth doing in there, no matter how much energy it takes.
  • Spent Saturday in New York City, taking the train all the way from Princeton’s “Dinky” station to downtown Manhattan and (almost all the way) back to see former ‘Deisians for a day of games. Managed to tie for a win in Citadels and run a distant third in Railway Rivals, a stellar railroad game that was West Germany’s 1984 Game of the Year. Hm. I guess you don’t have to take my word for it.
  • Cliff Lee!



Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

Didn’t write a D&C today because the focus was on catching up on chapter 51, left unwritten yesterday because I was hanging out online with the Meppers all night.

But it’s done and now I’m very excited that the number of chapters remaining is now a single digit number, especially since the number of days remaining till deadline is not.

But I want to take this brief break from my writing play-by-play to express my jubilation at this development, fresh from the hot stove. Chone Figgins is a Mariner.

Russ’ heckling of him on my behalf in Anaheim aside, Chone Figgins is exactly the kind of player I love to root for. Essentially, the Rickey Henderson School of Baseball is that which I most enjoy – it’s how I create lineups in baseball video games and it’s how I’d stack a real life team were I ever a GM. Lots of speedy, bunty guys who steal bases, get infield hits and triples, and basically make life a real pain for anyone they’re playing against. It’s my favorite brand of baseball offense.

And with Ichiro and Figgy joining up (and presumably hitting 1-2) in Seattle next season, it seems like the M’s GM is on my wavelength. Already looking quite promising, 2010 just got a little better.


Does Not Compute (or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Love Task Manager)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

I have just leveled up in computer knowledge.

Drawbacks include the fact that I wasted most of my night doing this, that the knowledge gained was largely unnecessary, and that my writing session may or may not be shot as a result.

But hey, knowledge.

It all started when I wanted to know the voting breakdowns of the AL Manager of the Year. In the old days, media outlets would provide the full voting summary of any given award in the same article where the award is announced. You know, with the number of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place votes and then the complete vote total at the end. But for some reason, at least in the last year or so, a lot of outlets stopped doing this. Especially Yahoo!, which for whatever reason (fantasy sports tradition, I guess) has become my personal favored provider of sports news.

So I went looking for the AL Manager of the Year voting. You see, I happen to think that Mike Scioscia was a pretty bad pick and I wanted to see who agreed with me. Not that Don Wakamatsu, rookie Mariner skipper, was a shoo-in or anything, but I actually think Ron Gardenhire deserved the award, with maybe Ron Washington and Wak duking it out for second. Since I agreed heartily with the AL Cy Young (even though my boy Felix Hernandez didn’t get the award) and NL Manager of the Year, I figured the voting on AL MOTY had to be closer to reflect my dissent.

One of the first sites I found, however, failed to tell me the full voting record. It turned out to be someone’s personal ballot, probably not even a baseball writer. And then my manual cookie-acceptance filters started going crazy and extra windows started popping open and I tried to shut down Firefox as fast as I could. Firefox closed and instead of shutting down my computer as fast as possible, I stupidly reopened the browser and started looking for those elusive vote totals.

I found them (Wak got 2 first-place votes! Gardenhire was second overall! Generally intelligent votes abounded, save for the inane voting for Joe Girardi), but also soon found that there was a weird-looking virus “detection” pop-up message on my screen too, letting me know that a program called “System Defender” had found all these viruses and wanted me to take action right away.

I’m not a fan of anti-virus software in general or even conceptually, since almost every anti-virus software program I’ve ever found either (A) charges money, (B) is actually a virus, or (C) both. Making differentiations between the programs seems almost impossible and their effectiveness is often dubious even at the highest level. Recently, though, I have had a good bit of success with the popular (and free) Malwarebytes Anti-Malware program which seems to be pretty well regarded and has yet to act like a virus itself.

Judiciously wary of the purported software, the name “System Defender”, and the Windows-look-alike shield that just says “I am phishily trying to trick you” all over it, I avoided clicking on anything in this program and furiously got my Anti-Malware running. It found several problematic files, then did its magic, and I figured I’d be all set.

It took about three full restart runs of this pattern (restart, swear at the fact that the System Defender dubiously reappeared upon restart, run Anti-Malware, restart, repeat) before I started looking for an end-run solution around this tried and true methodology. And then I had to go to intramural basketball (my triumphant return after a week of illness), so I just shut my computer down for a while to let it think about what it had done.

This post should just be about basketball and my love of the game and how good it felt to be healthy enough to play and still fell I was getting air to my lungs, how I need to start playing twice a week with or without IM’s, how my muscle memory has preserved my downtown 3-point shot but the streakiness of said shooting remains, how we lost by a point in a hard-fought struggle, and so on. But System Defender had other plans for my night.

I won’t regale you with every twist and turn in my battle with this nefarious software or my ultimate conquest. Some highlights of things that I learned or remembered along the way, though:

  • Internet forums are generally helpful in aiding the deletion of known virus software, but they only go so far. Eventually, you will be on your own and have to outwit the beast.
  • You will have to reveal hidden files, INCLUDING system files that Microsoft warns you against revealing as though it were the file that proves Microsoft is a monopoly.
  • You should search by date and try to pinpoint files created within the first 2-3 minutes of infection. Narrowing file searches by date will allow you to find and delete most everything.
  • Safe Mode is your friend. Restart in Safe Mode by pressing F8, then delete the files that won’t go down because the nefarious program is still running.

Even if this doesn’t help you, this list will be invaluable to me in the future, so chalk it up to notes on how to combat the dangers of the future.

Of course, once I’d finally deleted everything, had a successful restart without the bad program, danced around the room, and gotten over my euphoria, I realized that Task Manager was still down. It had gone down in the wake of System Defender’s original attack, never to return despite repeated pressing of control-alt-delete and right clicking of the taskbar and so on. Even with System Defender defeated, it had left this one vestige of its success.

To which the answer was, of course, System Restore. That only took 3 Internet forums and several bad pieces of harder advice to figure out. System Restore timestamps the Windows settings every 24 hours or so and saves them for a while in case you want to backtrack in time from a serious mistake. This alone would not have wiped out the virus, but it was enough to put a bow on the restoration effort once I’d taken out all the mysteriously buried files it had installed.

For those of you reading this narrative in terror for the status of my novel which has been written in its entirety on this computer, fear not. I’ve been backing it up almost constantly in several different locations, including my secret cache under the mountains of Utah (seriously). By far my larger concern was lost time in working on the novel if the problem persisted or if I would have to get a new computer or do some larger restart of the whole thing. Not that this program ever looked threatening enough to do such things – after all, I could still access all my files, just with an annoying series of occasional pop-ups in the background.

But System Defender may have won this night, if not the war. My beloved word counter in WordPress tells me that I’m closing in on 1200 words for this post, aggravating if only because that would be a half-decent night of writing, but instead I’ve been regaling the torments of my last few hours. Sigh. Maybe there’s something still left in the tank. Time to go find out.


The End of the Season

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

It’s October.

There’s a lot of sleight of hand involved in October, but perhaps its greatest achievement is bringing an end to baseball season without generally making me upset about said end. Granted that the excitement of playoff baseball and its association with October helps, but all too often October comes with no real hope for the Mariners and often no hope for any team I particularly care for. (Indeed, with the demise of the Twins tonight, I find myself rooting for, what, a Red Sox-Phillies World Series? Yawn.) Yet October is able to draw me away from baseball with smoke and mirrors and pumpkins. Mostly pumpkins.

Tonight (or rather, the last night of September), I had the distinct privilege of listening to the full game of perhaps the most satisfying Mariner win all season. I mean, strategically it was unsatisfying, given that the M’s were eliminated from contention over a week ago. But Brandon Morrow nearly threw a no-hitter, Griffey hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and the M’s clinched a winning record for the campaign, leaving themselves an outside shot of passing the Rangers for 2nd in the AL West. And Rick Rizzs almost predicted a homer (turned out to be a triple off the top of the wall) on a precise pitch and then nearly had a stroke calling the play he had nearly predicted. All the while, I was reminded of how much I love listening to baseball in particular, how the quiet nights in my room with a game remind me of so many quiet nights in my room with a game from younger years.

The nights have been quiet lately largely because of Em’s efforts to acclimate herself once more to a studying routine, while I try to write and (much harder) find the discipline to code changes for the Blue Pyramid. Tonight, for example, I was working on the tedious conversion of the Book Quiz pages to the new navigation-bar format. I’m also trying to get the jump on the long-awaited Book Quiz II, which I’m hoping to have out by the time American Dream On is ready. The former could not be much less of a priority, however, especially by comparison, though watching the BP’s sagging stats always gets me back on my horse for a while.

Like anything, these projects – even Em’s studying – are all about momentum. Getting in a groove and then finding things satisfying or rewarding enough about that groove that make it worthwhile to stay there. Or, more accurately, to return there time and again, to recreate that space. When the space is wide enough, this is easily done with writing. Pretty much everything one does (or at least I do – perhaps I shouldn’t attempt to speak objectively about what may ultimately be a very personal experience) relies on the renewal of the font of momentum, the benefits of being in the zone. This is perhaps why so many people give up so completely in their place of work and general approach to a day job: the feeling of obligation alone is insufficient to charge the batteries that generally get their best fuel from excitement or passion.

Of course, obligations provide a fear factor and disciplinary onus that those who haven’t completely checked out come to rely on to keep them going through a day job work week. So a big part of the game of these two years is about revving the engines without overt obligation (though self-imposed deadlines help) and pacing oneself with the constant celebrations of milestones in writing, in coding, even in playing basketball or walking the cat (long story, but she needs to eat grass for her digestion). Debate, unsurprisingly, is taking care of itself. If anything, I need to find ways to limit my attention on the debate coaching side so it doesn’t consume the time required for everything else.

Why? Because debate is exciting, innately sort of passionate. It creates its own rewards very quickly. The thrill of one round, the excitement of even one well-answered Point of Information, these things are enough to charge months’ worth of batteries. I have had so many dreams in the past seven years about being back in rounds and wanting to savor a last competitive semester or year. Despite my interest in both, I have had no such heartbreaking dreams about the summer of 2001 or a chance to code a quiz.

The challenge right now, the challenge of a life lived creatively and deliberately in a variety of pursuits, is the create the fire of a competitive event in everything I do. And starting in four days, I won’t have baseball to distract/inspire me.

It’s starting to get colder. Already we’re starting to debate when we’ll have to bite the bullet and actually turn on the heater.

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