Categotry Archives: The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate

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Chasing Memories

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

I think I’ve spent most of my life chasing memories. I do something, I enjoy it, and then I spend years trying to recreate that thing and get back to a place where I can relive that moment or reinvent it in some meaningful way. Maybe it’s what everyone does when they seek out future experiences and maybe it’s something only I do to this extent. I don’t know. This idea is new enough and uncertain enough that I can’t tell whether it’s a revelation or tripe.

It certainly explains the decision to come back to debate and start coaching after spending so many years missing debate after college graduation. It explains my taste in restaurants, in activities, in people. It explains most everything I do and every decision I make. The choice of where to live in the next year largely hinged on choosing between something I remembered liking (debate coaching) vs. some place I remembered liking to live (Albuquerque) vs. some trails I remembered liking to hike (Grand Canyon/Flagstaff). I’ve chosen, by the way. I’m moving to Highland Park, NJ, a suburb of New Brunswick, through June 2011. Moving west in the summer unless something radically unforeseeable happens. You know, because radically unforeseeable would be such a change at this point.

I think what I’m saying is pretty mundane and trivial. It felt revelatory, but it’s coming off sounding silly. Of course we chase memories, right? I mean, how does one know what one likes to do or who one likes to be if one can’t remember aspects of that reality? All we have to go on is our experience and perhaps the testimony and feedback of others. What else is there? Visionary thinking, I guess – the ability to imagine oneself in a new place and situation and see if one likes it. But how well does that work? And how would one judge what one can envision oneself liking without basing that on the aforementioned memories? Otherwise it would be pure speculation or invention. Or just randomness.

I guess part of this is about me being more past-oriented than the average person. I’m probably about two-thirds past-oriented and one-third present. The future doesn’t hold a lot for me. And if you thought that was true before all this happened… wow. So yeah. The past seems like the basis for whatever future there could be. I was a History major. I am fascinated by the collected actions of people in the past, what led us to this very point. I am certain that there are codes and patterns in the past that would be able to tell you precisely what will take place in the future, or at least the decisions that the future actions will be based upon. And who doesn’t want to predict the future? Maybe there’s a little room in me for future-orientation as well.

The future is starting to take a little shape, for better or for worse. I’m sticking with the Rutgers team, which I’m excited about, even though I’d ideally relocate them (and all of my East Coast friends) to the desert Southwest. I’ve got plans to volunteer at a soup kitchen, maybe even to swing that into some sort of employment at some point. Short of the latter, I’d like to get some part-time work doing something else, probably something rote and officey and relatively mindless just to get me out and about and put a little extra money in my pocket. I think three or four demands on my time would be about right to keep me sufficiently distracted to somehow survive whatever combination of separation and divorce lies ahead.

But what are all these things? Mere shadows of past memories. I remember enjoying the Rutgers team last year, and debate for nine years before that. I remember enjoying volunteering at a soup kitchen. I remember finding solace and structure in office work. I remember how I tried to distract myself the last time the loss of love drove me to the brink of destruction.

How does one make a new memory? How does one dive off the cliff and into the cold cold water of the unprecedented? Should one even strive to? Or is everything in our future built on a pyramid of the few good memories we’re left with that somehow survive unscathed and unfettered into the future? How much of the promise of a memory depends on its sanctity, on its untainted state in the future? “The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.” Yes? Yes, but? Is all experience destined to yellow with age, to curl and crinkle till the bright sincere smiles get mangled into ghoulish grins? Is every good thing an implicit portend of its own doom?

The chase is on.

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East is East, but West is Best

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

Been doing a lot of thinking lately. Obviously. If you want to play along at home, imagine the best thing that has ever happened to you in your life. Imagine that this had lasted for nine years. Now, imagine that instead of being a source of solace and comfort for you, a font of inspiration and confidence, it is transformed almost overnight, without warning or even coherent reason, into a source of betrayal and pain.

Anyway, this prompts a lot of thought. And key among the thoughts is the one of where the future will be, if there is a future to be had at all. I have really made extremely little progress in figuring this out for myself. I know I will not be living in Princeton anymore, and I’m pretty sure there are wide swaths of the country I can rule out for either lack of friendship/support or lack of interest in ever being there. Georgia comes to mind. Iowa, maybe. Seattle, a town I’d desperately like to live in someday, is just too far from any close friends. Same goes for anywhere abroad, except maybe parts of Mexico. Though I hear it’s tough to do regular border crossings.

There was a list at some point, though the list sometimes feels too narrow and other times too broad. Two cities have risen near the top, though they both are towns where I have no super-close friends. In one of them, I do have a whole debate team that would be the main source of my sustainability and interest for the year I could spend there, there being New Brunswick, New Jersey. In the other, I know no one, but would be a short jaunt from the Grand Canyon, long established as my spiritual home and epicenter. This one being Flagstaff, Arizona, the town I just told my friends in LA after Kunkel’s wedding would probably be my first choice of places to live if practicality were no object.

It’s by no means exhaustive – there are plenty of other places both west and east that are in contention. And even if they contend for 2010-2011, there’s no telling how much longer I’d stay in the same place. Both New Brunswick and Flagstaff would kind of be project towns. The former being a place to throw myself into debate, hoping to find satisfaction from fulfilling the coaching commitment I already made to a group of exciting and improving youths on the verge of their potential. Probably for just one year at the absolute most, to fulfill the commitment and see this year’s batch of seniors through while still laying the groundwork for a program that will (hopefully) have arrived by that year’s end. Flagstaff would be about me becoming a bit of a Desert Rat, spending maybe up to half the nights outside or in tents as I tried to hike every trail in the Canyon or maybe even embarked on an endless jaunt through the wilderness. To get in shape, to heal myself and restore my faith in the soothing light of the high desert. The same could be done, with more familial support and less natural perfection, in Albuquerque. Maybe – maybe – even somewhere in southeastern California that’s in range of all the friends I have in LA.

In thinking about these choices, it’s become increasingly clear that I will have regrets no matter where I go. And not just in the sense of the decade of regrets I’m only starting to come to grips with in my own head that pertains to the crisis writ large. If I go west, I will forever regret reneging on my commitment to Rutgers, feel bad about leaving the program I was helping to build in the lurch at the outset of arguably their most critical year. I will writhe that the opportunity to work with those kids is another casualty of what Emily has done to me, that the kids I’d be turning my back on would be unwitting victims of her recent rash actions. Conversely, of course, staying east offers numerous challenges to forming new bonds with people. For reasons I have been routinely unable to fully explain to others’ satisfactions, I feel enormously uncomfortable in the east. I find it to be cold (not physically – I like that kind of cold), uninviting, harsh, unwelcoming, and populated with people generally even more emblematically so. The idea of embarking on my most fragile and vulnerable year of existence on Earth in such an unforgiving environment seems almost pathologically stupid. And so I would regret, every time I was sad or lonely or desperate, surrounding myself with the forbidding world of the east instead of the relaxed, warm, and welcoming confines of the American west.

These are not the only factors involved, of course. Proximity to friends and family are huge, and made more complicated by the idea of sort of choosing between friends, or rewarding friends in some de facto sense for being near other friends and thus creating more of a safety-net community. It’s arguable that I shouldn’t try to do anything this year, instead drifting for weeks at a time from one friend to another. This seems bad because of the aimless stasis and limbo it might engender, but also seems safer in some ways and more likely to remind me of how much I have to live for. Not one of these choices is easy.

There’s also the factor of being too much of a dead weight on friends. I’m not saying this so that forty people e-mail me in the next 24 hours and reassure me that they are happy to do whatever they can for me – I already know you all feel that way. And thank you. But at the same time, I can feel the palpable toll that I and this situation are taking on the people that I care about. Anyone I stay with for a while ends up seeming exhausted, drained, and almost annoyed. I get it. It’s human. I am too great a burden to be shoved on any one person right now, or even a collection of people. Folks have to live their own lives, get married, have good times, embrace experiences that are not convincing their friend why there’s a reason to go on. And here again is perhaps the case for New Brunswick or Flagstaff, somewhere that the relationships I rely on day-to-day are tinged with less overall overwhelm at the depths of what I’ve lost. Granted, that may be infeasible – it’s possible that no one will meet me for 3-5 years without immediately being confronted by me as a broken semi-person. I don’t know. But there’s something to be said for forcing me into a situation where I have to form new bonds. There’s also a lot to be said for the idea that I wouldn’t do that even in a town where I knew no one, that I would just draw inward until my very sense of an outside world collapsed entirely.

There are no right answers. Such is the nature of calamity. There may be hope – maybe, I’m not sure – but there are no right answers. And so I continue to spin my wheels in futility, to face my impossible choices and decisions, to try to talk over the repetitive intractability with those who’ll listen. I know how I feel about regions of the world, though, but this isn’t the only factor. And I’m still not sure how I feel about the world at all, and whether it can still be the place for me.

I am trying, as calmly and slowly and rationally and logically as possible (under the circumstances) to figure this shit out.

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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.

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Transitions

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

It’s probably no mystery that debate has been my primary focus this month, at least during the time that I’m not feeling surreal and/or migrainous. Between driving 7 hours to a tournament the first weekend, hosting our tournament the second, and attending the 3-day National Championships the third, it’s been a month dedicated largely to APDA.

Nationals was nothing special – in fact, much of it was an unmitigated disaster. In their first three rounds of competition, the Rutgers team faced the #1, #7, and #8 ranked partnerships in the country, who went on to place 2nd, 1st, and 8th in the Championship respectively. While they acquitted themselves largely admirably, such match-ups were enough to remove at a chance at the elimination rounds and the rest of the tournament became a tune-up of particular cases for next year. Next year still looks quite bright for the team, as no one who placed at a tournament this year is graduating, while this year’s senior class is quite top-heavy on most other teams.

Perhaps more infuriating than my team’s horrendous draw was my treatment as a judge at this year’s title tourney. Despite having the most overall judging experience and among the best debate credentials of anyone in attendance, I was not invited to judge rounds 4, 5, or the elimination rounds. Perhaps more amazingly, this was during the same weekend I was elected to serve as Tab Director for next year’s Nationals. The discord between general sentiment/presumption about my judging caliber (especially among many of the successful teams, who were just as curious about my exclusion as I was) and the decision-making of the small team of graduates running this year’s tab room was marked. While this really bummed me out for a while, I was ultimately able to be pretty Zen about the whole issue in realizing that next year, I’ll be able to demonstrate what an objective tab room looks like. Nevertheless, it prompted some disconcerting questions about whether I’m simply too old to be hanging around the college debate circuit, at least according to some folks.

And yet, one of my few roles at this year’s Nats was to explain the history behind APDA’s two awards named for deceased debaters, both of whom (as I noted in this year’s remarks) were younger than I am now when they passed. In 2007, I was asked to speak about Jeff Williams and declined, largely because I still hadn’t quite made peace with my difficulties on-circuit with the individual and there were other of our contemporaries present who seemed more sincere candidates for the job. This year, I was really motivated to explain Jeff’s positive qualities as a way of atoning for our acrimony, as a way of putting to rest any bitter tastes from competition now nearly a decade in the rear-view. I can’t much imagine Jeff would be pleased to hear that I was speaking for his memory, but I hope I pleasantly surprised him all the same.

Of course, I wasn’t speaking just for personal reasons. The larger point was to illustrate the importance of institutional memory in general, to remember that these awards to honor year-to-year excellence also honor the excellence of those who went before and are no longer around to discuss their legacy. And I guess the question arises as to how much stomach for such memory this debate circuit has. I was struck during the senior speeches by how generally positive and heartfelt they were. Almost no one called anyone else out. The two or three misanthropes in the league were lightly chided while most others were warmly lauded. I never envisioned during my last years on the circuit that such speeches could ever amount to such a lovefest. It was truly wonderful to see.

So maybe the memories of past rivalries and strife are unnecessary. Maybe APDA reinvents itself untethered to the past. Maybe my role is not to guide or advise or judge this new generation, but merely to coach my team, to try to build another rising program from the challenged ranks of the previously unheralded. Then again, of course, the election as Tab Director seems to belie all these misgivings. A whole other realm of the circuit, from tournament to tournament and in creating the 2011 National Championship, seems to appreciate my willingness to be both old and devoted to the circuit.

Ultimately, it’s probably best not to put too much stock in any one tournament. Even if it’s Nationals.

I have a whole summer to think about all this, of course… our last debate meeting is Thursday and we’ll part ways to regroup in September ready to tackle a year brimming with possibility. Meanwhile, I’ll be transitioning in a hurry back toward writing as the primary focus. While I haven’t exactly shelved my project this April, I’ve let myself focus on it less in exchange for the knowledge that I’m going to block out most everything else once debate is officially over. It’s been good to let parts of the book simmer and incubate and while the original May 17th deadline is starting to look truly unreasonable, I’m excited to take the best shot I can at it anyway.

Many people, meanwhile, are asking questions about different aspects of my summer, and beyond trying to finish The Best of All Possible Worlds by mid-May (or probably mid-June), everything’s up in the air. Emily still doesn’t have an internship locked down yet, and a great deal of my schedule depends on hers, though we will probably open her internship spending the most time we’ve spent apart since we started dating almost nine years ago. I don’t relish this thought, but I am eager to see as much of her internship locale (hopefully in Africa somewhere) as possible once that gets underway, even if it’s after a month or so of separation. As we get more information, the dominoes will start to align and fall and I will probably have a whole schedule of the summer ready to go. Until then, though, limbo.

Which is exactly what April feels like. What April always seems to feel like. And not the limbo of backbreaking stick-walks or even weightless space travel, but the limbo of its original use: purgatory. I am suspended in a kind of uncomfortable gray silence, processing the past and anticipating a foggy future still taking shape. Maybe it looks like ash, maybe like shaken earth. Maybe it looks like nothing at all. Were shaky, uncertain, somewhat miserable Aprils not so predictable, they would scare me. They probably did in high school, before I’d figured out the pattern, they felt like the end of the world. Now it’s just the world that feels that way. For me, April’s just being April. The cruelest month. When streams are ripe and swelled with rain. Fools. Showers.

Mayday. May Day.

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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.

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Ten Years Gone

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

It’s recently come to my attention that dreams about losing teeth are extremely common and this reminded me that the very first Introspection post ever was about a dream about teeth.

Predictably, of course, the dream was actually about gaining teeth instead of losing them. But I read a few days’ worth of the old blog just for kicks anyway.

And promptly ran head-on into this:

14 March 2000
-Ten years from now, existence permitting, I hope I’ll remember the poems I wrote more than the number of classes I took. Otherwise, I could be in some serious trouble.

Of course, that was just over ten years ago and I had one of those very strange telepathic moments of long-distance mirror-gazing. Here I am, looking at myself. Ten years. Good gophers, that’s a long time. A decade. And more.

Truth be told, I remember pretty well most of the poems and most of the classes. But both pale in the face of what ultimately became my collegiate salvation, namely debate. And here I am, back in the mix, ten years on.

Existence permitted.

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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.

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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.

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The Case for Today

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

So I’m having a pretty rotten time of things generally, for a host of reasons I don’t have time to discuss. Feeling pretty debilitated overall, spiraling downward, and so on. Nothing at a panic-level, but perhaps arcing toward reasons for concern.

And then a long-lost friend from grade school in Oregon contacted me through Facebook. And I saw on Facebook that Rutgers Today finally got around to posting their video about the Rutgers University Debate Union:

And I’m not going to say it saved my day or anything, but it’s a start. It’s nice to see us on the board, getting a little recognition. Thanks Facebook.

If you need me, I’ll be on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

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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.

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Wildly Content

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

Waking up to a snowstorm, with a tournament ahead and yesterday’s great news behind, I find myself to be wildly content. It may seem like a strange state of being, to feel such a passionate sense of a relatively dispassionate feeling, but that’s how the end of my first week being 30 is seeming.

Since committing to a life of writing, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of coming around to what I was always supposed to be doing, to living the life I’d always envisioned. Living deliberately, purposefully, with meaning – all the things I’ve been talking about on this blog since its inception and perhaps my whole life since conception. And while I’m not sure I would’ve picked New Jersey out of a hat and I’m not convinced of Em’s happiness in this new life, I couldn’t see myself doing much better than I’ve been doing. It’s early yet and I’m already hiccuping a bit on the second book, but I’ve gotten enough confirmation that this is the right path to feel simply satisfied. At peace. In my place.

As I’ve aged, I’ve steadily felt more and more comfort with being in the world. The world still depresses the stuffing out of me and I rail against its problems, but I’ve felt more at home here with each passing year. Most of my youth felt like a perpetual struggle, that I was just flailing against an insurmountable tide that I didn’t understand. I had great parents and fantastic friends, but I was never good with where I was, what I was doing, how time was passing, how I was living my life. Maybe for the first few weeks at Broadway, now that I think about it, and probably parts of senior year at the Academy. But they were rare and fleeting glimpses, all the way up till pretty recently.

The glimpses have gotten longer and more sustainable, though. Even times on the debate circuit or at Seneca or Glide started to feel like the world was a place I could be, that I had figured out enough to carve out something worthwhile from the recalcitrant rock of an unfriendly planet. And each year has just brought a little more smoothness, a little more pliability. It gets easier.

I think this is the bottom line. I’m not saying it works for everyone or I haven’t been lucky or that I haven’t made hard choices to help myself on the way. But it gets easier. They told me that adults have more to worry about than children, that one can’t comprehend the stress and difficulty that awaits with age. It’s not true. It gets easier. Grow up, relax, breathe. Youth is the test we pass to show we’re cut out for living.

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Thirty

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

I didn’t think I’d make it to thirty. For a long time, I felt fairly confident about that. Over the weekend, I proved myself wrong. And I’m pretty happy about that.

Since the Princeton tournament ran till 1:30 in the morning on my birthday proper, we ended up putting up some of my Rutgers team that had planned on going back to New Brunswick when the trains were still running. Em tipped them off that the day was significant, so after the tournament they went out and got cupcakes, a book I’d been meaning to read, and two hats, including my first-ever beret and a wool bear hat which is truly amazing and fits neatly in my collection of somewhat ridiculous headgear.

Em and I went out to dinner at the infamous Tortuga’s that night, I got a migraine, and was actually asleep at 2:56 AM Eastern on the 21st, the moment (11:56 PM Pacific on the 20th) that I turned 30. Would not have predicted that.

The next day, Em had said there would be a small gathering of people, but totally misrepresented the size and schedule, creating a pretty hefty surprise party that started at Chipotle! It went on to bowling, wherein I notched a 198 high game after bowling a so-so 443 series. We had time for so many games because the entire party save four people (Fish, Beth, Em, and I) ditched after just one game of bowling. It was still great that so many people came out though.

Here are some obligatory pictorial depictions of the event:

30’s a big number:

Cake!

How did I get to be so old?

Resisting the temptation to faceplant…

A lot of people came from Philadelphia and Jersey:

The opening frame. Note the lack of pins in the lane!

55% of our lives and counting:

I’ll have something about the deeper reflections of what it’s like to actually be thirty sometime later. It feels remarkably different, remarkably weird. As I’ve stated frequently, I’m really glad I finished American Dream On to ward off feelings of failure and insignificance that are still wafting in a bit. Today, I also maintained a February/March tradition by creating a mix CD, my first since last March. Entitled “Triple Threat”, it mixes themes of three decades, the state of the world, and creativity. Like being thirty itself, I’m not entirely sure what I think of it yet.

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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?

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Mo Mentum

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

The sample size is only 41 hours, but December’s been awfully good so far.

I wrote another 16 pages last night (early this morning), bringing December to a startling 8,149 word count (~32.5 pages) in just two overnight sessions, or 45% of the total from the entire last month combined. It appears I’m prepared to take this deadline seriously. Eleven chapters remain in twelve days, so this is no time to get complacent, but I’m feeling quite good about the whole picture as it’s shaping up for the home stretch. For what it’s worth, last night really felt like work, too, which most of this book hasn’t. So maybe the writing will seem forced (though I doubt it from a quick review), but if nothing else it’s a sign I can struggle through not feeling 100% motivated (which I felt the night before). I know I’ve been going on about the writing process a lot lately, but it feels something like a sport… and this month I appear ready to play through any pain that might arise.

Speaking of sports and pain, I turned in perhaps my worst session of basketball in my life on the last night of November, but am looking for a shot at redemption in tonight’s closing game of the end-of-year 3-on-3 IM season. Our team’s 5-2 and tied for second (with the team we play tonight) and I am ready to not overthink my shots, which I’ve concluded was responsible for my something like 0-8 performance on Monday. Nevertheless, the night of crappy basketball led to an overnight of amazing writing, so I’m prepared to make that trade again if need be.

Last night rounded out the first of four debate semesters in my tenure as Rutgers coach, though the team may scrounge together the funds to send a team down to UMBC this weekend while I pound away furiously on the keyboard in the office here. The team made me a card and debated a joke-round about me possibly regretting my decision to coach at Rutgers that kept the mood light and hopefully optimistic at the end. I am, in sum, quite satisfied with the success of the team after one term, recognizing that the first semester was always going to be the hardest and it being among the most successful semesters Rutgers has ever had on APDA is a promising sign.

The Book Quiz II is starting make the rounds, fueled in part by a campaign I’ve launched to contact a bunch of people who posted the original and get them to take the sequel. I really should have done this with the Country Quiz II when it launched, but you may recall that November/December 2007 was among the most intense times of my life, probably the hardest two-month period of my day job career outside of April/May 2005. It’s interesting to note that said quiz also was launched around Thanksgiving, though I failed to make the strategic decision to hold it till after the holiday, instead choosing to launch it on the Wednesday before.

Okay, that’s creepy – I just realized that both quiz sequels were completed precisely on the day before Thanksgiving. Bizarre.

Anyway, it appears most people (at least those taking it so far) consider themselves more “old school” than “with it”, as books from the older chain off the first question are vastly outpacing the latter. So far the leaders are Much Ado About Nothing, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, Romeo and Juliet, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Good Earth, Little Women, Treasure Island, The Canterbury Tales, and The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, at twelfth overall, is the top answer linked from the second answer to the first question.

This may be unsurprising, however, given a Facebook/blogging gap that seems to be opening up. After perusing so many blogs that were initially taken in by the Book Quiz, it seems that the surviving blogs from the last five years belong disproportionately to older Internet users, consisting roughly of people my age or older. Meanwhile, the people currently in compulsory education seem not to have picked up on the blogging habit, preferring instead to focus on shorter media like the endlessly discussed Facebook and Twitter. Mesco has urged relentlessly that I create a Facebook application for the quizzes, something I’ve long aspired to do, but my options now are mortgage all my time learning how to code one or use a cookie-cutter application machine that doesn’t even know how to process the BP quiz format. So it goes. Someday, maybe after I bank two or three books, you’ll be able to get my quizzes on Facebook too. And then everyone will be all Infinite Jest and Freakonomics.

An interesting byproduct of the BQ2’s popularity has also been a bit of a revival in the book-referral-ads that are in the corner of the answer pages, exhorting people to buy the book they were just associated with on Amazon. I haven’t sold a book in a long time through one of these, but someone just bought not one, not two, but three copies of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue through one such link, in what I can only assume was complete fulfillment of their Christmas shopping. So just in case you think I’m not doing any good with my website, I’ll have you know I just pocketed $1.74 of what is rightfully Sarah Palin’s money. Not quite inspiring Michael Steele to condemn her, but it’s not my fault if he doesn’t take his cues from APDA demo rounds.

Man, I really meant to get around to talking about my fabulous Thanksgiving break down in DC, but I was on too much of an Internet moratorium to write about it at the time and I’m too caught up in the heady present to write about it now. I may flesh out the details, but suffice it to say that there were great friends, a fabulous view of the stormy city, lively debates, spicy corn soup, Settlers, a scorching Ticket to Ride victory, more than a hundred pages of War and Peace, an unexpected meet-up with Anna, Chipotle, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and Waffle House. Yeah. It was like my birthday for four days or something.

If only two-years-ago me could see me now.

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Travel Wednesday Round-Up

Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, Quick Updates, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , , ,

Have been working furiously to prepare for Thanksgiving, which we’re spending in DC with Fish & Madeleine (think I got that spelling right), starting in just a few hours. Have been terribly remiss in updating things about my life, but there’s a good deal of news to report, if only blippily under the time constraints…

1. The Book Quiz II is done, but not being launched yet, because I’m actually being (gasp!) strategic about my webpage for once. Launching the quiz on one of the least Internety days of the year (everyone’s out traveling today) would be a classic Blue Pyramid approach, but I’m thinking that a launch at weekend’s end when everyone’s returned to their computers and are preparing for CyberMonday is actually optimal timing. So you’ll have to wait just a few more days to find out what other book you are. Quick preview, though: I’m apparently Jane Eyre.

2. Fordham went pretty well. I got to debate in a demo round between 4th and 5th round, running an emergency case I’d written about why RNC chair Michael Steele should publicly condemn Sarah Palin. One of our novice teams broke to novice semifinals, then won their semi round, advancing to finals and ultimately finishing second. While it’s not as glorious as being in the varsity outrounds, it shows that I’m probably doing something right that the younger generation is having such success. And it bodes well for the future, which is where it’s at. Taking the long view is a big part of coaching. At the end of the semester (we’ve basically hit the end of the line for tournaments the team can afford), I’d say we’ve exceeded expectations, with a varsity break, a novice break, two novices on the NOTY board, and countless winning records.

3. American Dream On is 105,820 words (~423 pages) and counting, with 14 chapters to be written in the next three weeks. Last night’s session was one of the best, writing a highly anticipated chapter that went even better than I was hoping, I think. I have to review it, but I’m pretty excited. The final push will take the book up to about 125k words or so, but I’m pretty optimistic that I’ll make deadline with other priorities (quiz, debate, etc.) fading out as December 15th approaches. I can’t wait to have people read it, but I’m highly conscious of the need for one solid round of editing before it makes the rounds of the volunteer reading corps. I do think that the palpable excitement of getting it out to people will fuel my energy for making a more prolific than average push to actually hit the deadline, which only further ups the excitement.

4. We got our car back, not having to pay any part of the ~$11,000 worth of damage to the vehicle. It’s pretty sobering that a crash where one’s car receives an out-of-control onslaught while stopped can do damage worth about 40% of the car’s original paid value, but such is the nature of things. So far, all the repair looks good (it’s guaranteed), but it’ll get a nice little workout on the way to DC today. All signs point to it being fully functional, though, so I’m grateful for that (in addition to, you know, surviving the ordeal in the first place).

5. I’m now running late.

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Sick But Happy

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

Just a quick line so that you all know I’m still around… the lack of any updates has mostly been the result of an ambiguous sickness I’ve contracted recently that I have tentatively diagnosed as potential walking pneumonia. It may just be a weird cold, but I’ve never heard of a cold without nasal congestion where it all goes into the lungs directly instead.

Anyway, it’s been a good few days, illness aside. The Rutgers team broke (made the elimination rounds – it’s a good thing) for the first time in two years at American Pro-Ams last weekend, prompting perhaps more excitement from me than even the kids at the time. They dropped their quarterfinal, but by all accounts it was close. Our speeches in the round, which was about pregnancy quotas in a post-apocalyptic liberal democracy, were recorded and are being posted on YouTube.

I also played intramural basketball on Monday, having joined a Monday/Wednesday night league that fits pretty well with Tuesday/Thursday debate practice, giving me something to do out of the house most nights. Although playing as hard as I did on Monday without having played in a long time may have had something to do with breaking myself down enough for this illness. It’s not entirely clear.

In any case, everything’s more or less fine except that I’m exhausted and this is playing a little havoc with my ability to write anything interesting, so I’m having to take a longer break than is ideal when up against the December 15th deadline, now perilously close to just a month away. This last month is going to have to be a barn-burner, especially if this sickness lingers in any way.

Overall, though, things are good. Debate and writing and life are all going pretty darn well. If I can just take a full deep breath, I’ll be set.

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Assessing October

Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

October 2009 is one for the ages.

It wasn’t the spookiest October, though one could easily argue that the moment I resigned myself to death made this the literally scariest October on record. Certainly one hopes that this much abject fear is not revisited frequently. And the renewing inspiration of surviving what looks like a deadly threat is always worth experiencing… it had been since May 2005 that I’d had a near-death experience!

It wasn’t the most volatile October by any stretch. Most any prior month seemed stormier for one reason or another. Not that this was devoid of ups and downs. The obvious aforementioned down aside, Em struggled with a more difficult time in grad school than anticipated and I flitted between exhaustion, frustration, and excitement in wrestling with my book and getting some perspective on debate coaching.

What it might have been, almost certainly was, was the most productive October ever. And given that October tends to be high-energy and high-productivity for me, that is saying something. I have tended, the summer of Loosely Based aside, to write more in October and to feel more inspired during the month than any other time in the year, although March tends to be competitive. But this October, though there are about 38 hours remaining in the month (that I won’t be writing during), I have written 34,533 words of American Dream On, making it arguably the most prolific month of my life. That’s over 1,100 words every day, on average, counting several days of no writing. It’s also ~138 pages total, putting me on pace to write well over 1,500 pages a year at this pace. Not that I’m saying I can keep that up, but at the same time, it makes my 3 books/year aspiration look pretty manageable.

American Dream On now stands within 1,000 words of Loosely Based, meaning the next writing session will almost certainly make it the longest piece I’ve ever written. The target size is increasing a bit over time, standing now in the vicinity of 125,000 words as I try to tie everything together and leave myself enough time to explain things. It may run longer as I’m thinking I may need 65 chapters instead of 55, which may even put my December 15th deadline in some jeopardy, though this can be mitigated by stepping up my game. After all, I’ve hardly felt like I’m writing at a breakneck pace. This has actually felt pretty comfortable, pretty sustainable. I’ve likened it to cruise control. I think I could get closer to 50,000 words a month if I really pressured myself.

I know I’ve talked about all this a lot, that I’m probably becoming a rather dull stuck record on the numbers games, writing, and the issues entailed therein. But the discovery of this productivity, really unfolding and getting into high gear this month, is almost certainly the second most exciting discovery of my life (behind finding Emily). The idea that I could conceivably write six books in Princeton, creating a serious portfolio for myself after nearly three decades of struggling with endless ideas and only one manuscript, this makes my whole life seem worthwhile. Let alone if any of those six books catch on, securing some sort of life for myself in this state on a permanent basis.

I’m trying (and failing, evidently) not to get too far ahead of myself. One book at a time, one idea. This book, being in the works for eight years, is certainly going more quickly than something that I just came up with might. It may prove to not be very good when I get around to editing – I can already anticipate that it will require more revision than LB did. There’s a lot of slogging to come and I can’t imagine that I’ll really end up averaging 1,000 words a day over 365 days.

But it’s possible. And after going to sleep at night for the better part of three decades asking myself what I’ve accomplished, telling myself that I’m falling short of my potential, it’s a mighty fine change. I somehow think it would be hard to keep up that narrative for myself if I wrote 4-6 books by the time Em’s done with her program. So, yes, one book at a time. But I can start to see the light on the edge of my life and it feels like the culmination of most everything that’s ever mattered.

And I can’t wait to have people start reading.

UPenn this weekend – debate has given me the perfect break and pacing and interspersing my secluded life with real human contact and discussion, just as planned. Very excited about the teams that are going and the potential to do well. Every weekend, like every book or chapter, is a new opportunity to maximize potential, to start fresh. Every round one starts with the possibility of winning the tournament. It’s amazing how easily I’ve been able to manifest my own need for competition into the vicarious joys of coaching. Maybe not that amazing, if one thinks about how competitive coaches can be, but it’s a relief for me that I don’t feel a big void from not competing. And if I start to, there’s always APDA Cup.

If you need me, I’ll be in the rented 2010 red Corolla with a spoiler and a sunroof. I miss the Prius already.

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Debate and Nuclear War

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

The final part of an 8-part series regressing through the Stanford 2002 APDA tournament.

Last week: Round 2 (re: chemical weapons)

Today’s round takes us back to the beginning of the tournament, the first filmed round of my career since the quarterfinals at Columbia, wherein Emily and I dismantled a case about China and Taiwan and then Mike Specian, APDA filmer extraordinaire, lost the tape. Before that, it might date back to Dartmouth 2000 outrounds or something, which I have somewhere and would love to get converted as well.

Regardless, this was a pretty fun case for first round. Involving one of my favorite movies of all-time, “Dr. Strangelove”, this case encouraged the speaker to conduct a full nuclear strike on the Soviet Union rather than trying to warn or negotiate with the Soviets. Suffice it to say that I had a little bit to say in response. Generally in debate, nuclear war is the worst-case scenario that everyone’s trying to avoid. When the Gov makes it their case statement, you know you’re going to have a good day…

Stanford 2002 APDA Round 1 from Storey Clayton on Vimeo.

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Wired

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

As bad as I felt last night at this time is as good as I feel tonight. What a difference, as they say, a day makes.

I have just rattled off over 3,000 words (~12 pages) tonight, in a remarkably fast and focused session that has yielded what I am convinced is some of the best work of the whole novel so far. This brings American Dream On over the 70,000 word threshold (71,408 words/~285 pages) with just under two months to go and helps offset the fact that there will be no writing tomorrow night. It’s kind of too bad, because I’m in one of those grooves where baseball players find the ball looks as big as a grapefruit. Suddenly, after a week of angst, the dam has burst and things are flowing once more. (Though it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m on to a different chapter entirely, one that did not carry with it some consternating problems from the get-go.)

And Vassar pulled back on their threat to only break to semis, once again going with quarters, joining the ranks of virtually all modern tournaments. And it looks like I will be participating in the APDA Cup, thus getting a chance to compete in rounds that are adjudicated and are not demo rounds for the first time since 2006. (Yeah, I guess I thanked the BU Finals panel for judging my “last round ever”. Oops. We all know I’d debate professionally for a lifetime if I could.) And while I knew that this time yesterday too, it seems a lot more exciting today for some reason. Probably because the whole world does. And I’m almost short of breath and insanely full of energy for quarter till five in the morning, when I should be lapsing and a little tired. And given that the alarm’s set for 9:00 tomorrow, the earliest I’ve been up in weeks, to get ready to go to Vassar, this is all looking a little problematic.

But I don’t care that much, mostly because I’m in the throes of a manic phase of the sine-curve lifestyle. And the mania may be seen as problematic for some people, but I don’t know who those people could be. Being on the upswing of a roller-coaster, sailing upward on a high-energy high-productivity euphoria, this is about as good as it gets in this lifetime. I mean, yeah, the super-contemplative revelations are perhaps a little better, but this is a darn fine second place. I feel like running out into the middle of the early morning rain, whooping with joy at the fact that I get to be alive to see this kind of mood. I wish everyone could be here to feel this. I feel I’ve known people who never get this excited their whole lives.

I don’t know how I’m possibly going to sleep. It may end up an all-nighter and I’ll crash hard after round three at the tournament. But I should try all the same. Try to walk away from the euphoria to get a little shut-eye that’ll ultimately serve me well tomorrow. In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Wooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

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Frustration

Categories: A Day in the Life, Telling Stories, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

Chapter 32 may be long remembered as the one that got away. After four nights and just shy of 5,000 words, I think I can finally put it behind me (for now), but it’s taken its toll.

A lot of how I feel about all this is the fault of the ease with which I’ve been able to settle into the writing life again. I’ve been remarking to everyone how amazingly things have gone, how smooth its all felt, how quick the transition was from moving in to writing full-time. Everything’s been a piece of cake, so the slightest change in the wind looks like a big problem. And compared to serious writer’s block or something truly problematic, it’s not at all. It’s just a vaguely exasperating series of things to write.

It’s hard to discuss exactly what’s frustrating about this chapter without divulging far too much of a plot I’ve kept close to the vest for over half a decade. But a lot of it’s about pacing and timing and trying to cram a whole lot of events into a small space when I haven’t necessarily been on a pace to do so. To make it seem smooth and effortless and intended. To realize that one has written oneself into a bit of a corner and then figure out how to delicately extricate without rewriting half the book.

Ultimately, it’s good for me. Every word written makes you stronger, even if most of those words will probably be rewritten. The chapter felt less elegant, less muse-inspired, pretty much throughout. There were some good turns of phrase and some moments, sure, but it’s just not my best work. On a first draft, though, holding the whole piece to the standard of best work means blowing deadlines. And today is significant on that front: exactly 2 months to the day till the deadline. December 15th or bust, come what may.

The context for the whole chapter is probably a big part of it – it just hasn’t been the best week. Coaching hit some of the first snags, with a low-energy meeting punctuated on either end by low attendance and frayed nerves leading to rising tensions. It all came out okay (I think – we’ll see for sure at tomorrow’s meeting), but my hopes of a potential break this weekend were mitigated somewhat by the surprise announcement that this weekend’s tourney is breaking to semis, not quarters. I didn’t know any tournaments on APDA had broken to less than quarters in some time, so this was quite a shock and one I don’t relish discussing with the team tomorrow. Not that it precludes breaking; it just makes it twice as difficult.

And Em’s sick, given a cold in exchange for her (conventional, not swine) flu shot. Despite the protestations of the injectors, it’s pretty common knowledge that the flu shot gives people cold symptoms and these have hit Em particularly hard this go-round. I’ve been dancing on the edge of catching it from her, but hoping to escape healthy by the time we (the Rutgers team and I) head up to Vassar on Friday. The whole thing has brought our collective home morale down even further though, and it was already on the wane.

It’s just been one of those weeks, more headaches than necessary, writing like pulling teeth, anticipation of everything weighing me down a little. I need to get out and do more, but it’s getting colder and making retreat the more likely response. It’s weeks like this that I’m so grateful to not be working, since at least I can find solace in bulldozing the writing problems in front of me and working through things rather than the dissatisfaction of frustration reminding me how far I am from my life goals. And I’m not much closer, and feeling it, but at least I’m starting on the path. Which is good enough for now.

I just need to set some limits on how I distract myself, on how I keep my focus and stay sharp. Up till this week, it’s been easy, so it can be easy again. But the last couple days, nothing’s felt easy. It’s all been pulling teeth and the desire to pull hair. And now I’m repeating myself and probably frustrating you too.

Join the freaking club. Augh.

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