Categotry Archives: The Long Tunnel

by

Handwriting Analysis (or: the Role of Coincidence?)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Just Add Photo, Strangers on a Train, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s been a rough couple days in the northeast. People say things like that which they have no business saying. Most people in the northeast have probably been doing just fine. There’s preparations for what appears to be the northeast’s favorite holiday in the offing. After all, Thanksgiving was born around here, built on the backs of people who have since been chased out or eradicated, leaving only the overstuffed turkeys and their caretakers to gloat over the bounty of having more ruthless ancestors than others.

Highland Park today is dressed up in its Thanksgiving finest: overcast and all the leaves have faded to that brown dead crinkle that rattles above or crunches below and makes everything look like red-brown Thanksgiving print napkins. People walk quickly and wear jackets universally and seem even more hurried and annoyed than usual. Maybe it’s from this observation that I acquire the hubris to say things like it’s been a rough couple days in this part of the world. Maybe it’s from spending the better part of a subway ride and an extended period in Penn Station crying without a soul bothering to so much as ask if I was okay.

Yesterday I got home and caught up with the things online I’d missed over the weekend. One of these, among my favorites, is checking out PostSecret, reading the scattered private thoughts of countless strangers as illustrated by their innermost ravings. It’s an idea we all wish we’d thought of and one very much in line with my ideals as a person writing this blog – the exposure of normally suppressed feelings so they might live, breathe, communicate, and ultimately hearten. And then my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a stark postcard:

And the hovering over the card on the page led to the flipping of the ‘card to the back:

Now, this one would’ve caught my eye anyway for a couple reasons. A, I read all the cards anyway and usually pause to contemplate all the implications. B, this is pretty much exactly what Emily would tell you about our situation, though I can’t necessarily speak to the relationship status of the other person involved, so who knows. But the most important issue is that the handwriting on this card is identical to that of said individual. Trust me, I had almost a decade to learn that handwriting, to watch it over her shoulder on debate flows or see it on hastily scrawled notes left behind or to read it on a notebook or textbook I was carefully lifting off her sleeping torso where it had fallen on her exhausted frame.

Now there’s some realistic counterpoints to consider. For one thing, the odds of Emily sending anything to a website like PostSecret are basically nill. The second thing, the most powerful, is that the postmark faintly visible on the back says SC 290, indicating pretty clearly that it was mailed from somewhere in South Carolina, where many zip codes start with those three digits. Is it possible she concocted some obscure way to send a card to Carolina for its submission to Germantown, MD? Sure, but any sense of feasibility or reality is pretty much knocking this down to zero. I often wonder about those postmarks and whether there’s some PostSecret sharing syndicate to make sure that especially high-voltage cards aren’t traceable even to a particular state, but I think this is considered an acceptable risk by most people.

No, the far more likely explanation is that someone else with Emily’s precise handwriting found herself in an almost identical situation to hers, or more appropriately one they would describe the same way. At which point, all kinds of larger cosmic questions arise. There have long been serious subscribers to the theory that handwriting is an indication of personality. In fact, many prison programs attempt to rehab criminals by changing their handwriting first under the theory that the link between letter shape and mental frame is so significant that it can be reverse-engineered. So what does this handwriting indicate about loyalty, faithfulness, approach to marriage? And out there, somewhere, someone who is not Emily or the author of this postcard is reading this and thinking that this handwriting looks an awful lot like theirs and wondering about the role of micro-destiny in their own path.

All this would seem to carry a little less weight had I not nearly bowled into Gwen on the street again the other day, in the midst of ill-informed debaters getting us lost on the streets of New York City on the way to Fordham. (Which, by the way, went pretty well.) She’ll forgive me for reprinting from her subsequent e-mail to me: “I’m starting to feel as though we’re being a bit cosmically messed with. Like we’re tinseled cut-outs in some toy theater production that just happens to be our lives.” And she, like most everyone, hasn’t even read The Best of All Possible Worlds yet. I’m starting to feel like that book is the cork in the center of the island on “Lost” – once I released it, deep important secrets were on the loose that wound up turning my whole life upside-down. This is a ridiculous thing to think, objectively, but most empirical studies would reaffirm it anyway, especially in light of how reality-bending the work itself is. All this would feel less significant had Russ not spent ten minutes trying to explain how LA feels small compared to NYC because you can always bump into people in the former and he never once bumps into someone he knows in NYC because it’s too vast, even though he knows tons of the City’s denizens. And then I told him my experience was a little different.

My experience is always a little different, it seems. Most people don’t have the capacity for such high volumes of things, be it crying or talking or writing or marveling at the construction of the world’s interactions. It’s not very realistic or practical to spend such time on such things. It’s better to do the dishes or laundry or buy furniture or hang pictures and somehow keep it all together. But it’s not all together and rote mundane tasks rarely help keep things that way. All I can do is contemplate, try to keep everything in perspective, throw up the poisons that seem to enter my system, and try to keep the phone charged for when I myself am running out of juice. It’s a good thing I have several scheduled days with other people coming up. Russ’ll be here in 90 minutes and all my dishes are in the sink.

by

Shadowy Dusk Through Twilight Trees

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I’ve been really sad today. A little angry, but mostly profoundly sad. I decided it was time to take a walk.

Here’s what that looked like:


Long road ahead.


Mysterious ground-seeking tree.


Groundcolor.


Camouflage.


An opening.


Upon reflection.


Knock here.


White wind.


A glaring sign.


Underwater cam.


Contrast.


Twilight crossing.


Looking up at gravity.


Weep me a river.


Wade in the water.


Eating club.


Impromptu lake.


The smallest tide.


The shadowmakers.


No grilling.


Goose stepping.


Good posture.


They see the light.


Takeoff.


Cruising altitude.


Catching trash.


Glow gull.


Waste management.


Puddle vision.


Portrait of the artist as he now feels.


Aspiration.


Recycling.


Deus ex folium.

by

Long Overdue

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

I meant to post about this article when it came out. That was in April 2008. Which was a while ago. Even longer ago in feeling than it is in calendar months. I try to get a sense of it and come up short. Reading this helps a little. Or maybe this old cartoon:

But I won’t ever be back there, ever go back to the time (8 April 2008) when I described the girl I dated before Emily as “my last unsuccessful relationship”. Will I ever have that kind of confidence in a relationship or a person again? How could I? I can trust, I can try, but the idea of that kind of certainty seems innately preposterous. But this is not what this post is supposed to be about.

It’s supposed to be about a man on the verge of death, one who is revered all but universally in the wake of his death, now 42 years on and counting. About the fact that he was not content with the political or economic systems that comprise our perspective today, that seem to consume even the most progressive and semi-radical of proponents. That even the radicals he was surrounded by at the time were not up to his vision of a peaceful demolition of a way of life that leaned heaviest on those who could least afford it. Read the article, the first one, the one I didn’t write. Register your vision of the man we celebrate every January and on a road sign in every town with the advocacy of paralyzing Washington until it coughed up capitalism and spat it out.

What King knew then is something still barely being whispered about in the frenzied corridors inhabited by a small portion of my friends and other scattered like-mindeds. That the idea of eternal growth in production and consumption is innately flawed on a fixed planet with fixed resources. The the idea of competition where one’s life is literally on the line winds up all too often in death. That the commoditization of everything means that most people end up with nothing and a few people end up being able to functionally enslave everyone else. That racial equality is only the first step in a long road toward the kind of equality that we should all be striving for.

Is it any wonder, then, that he was silenced? With even his closest allies nervous about the next direction he would take his booming voice and sweeping influence, it is unsurprising that someone pulled the plug. Watch his Memphis speech:

He knew it was coming. He knew the risks and he knew it was worth it. Not just for racial equality, mind you, but for the message that capitalism was insufficient as a way of organizing a nation.

So next time you think of the importance of the economy, think of what you want to happen, think of your own personal compromises with financial “realities,” remember MLK. Ask yourself if (and if so, why) you believe so wholeheartedly that this structure is the terminal shape of human interaction. Does it really make sense? Is it really working for you? Are you living the same life you would live without the concept of money?

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

by

Sun Cracks Horizon Dawn

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Keepin' it Cryptic, Let's Go M's, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , ,

Forgive the use of the Star Warsy sounding subtitle in the new logo up top, but it’s really the most accurate thing I can convey. There’s a reason that film was a smash hit, and if you go back and look at it, it wasn’t because of the acting, dialogue, or even the special effects. I’m going with title.

Explanations, you ask? No one ever called me an enemy of the sine-curve. And since there was nowhere to go but up a few days back, the universe promptly complied. Or I dug myself out. Whatever narrative you prefer, based on your accordance of free-will, control, fate, or what have you. As soon as I can resolve the paradoxes of absolute free will and the benevolent safety-net of the universe, I’ll let you know.

Suffice it to say that I’ve had the best 50 hours of my last 2,500. It’s been over a hundred days since the crisis began, and it feels like I’ve been truly happy in a sustainable (read: more than a few hours) way for the first time in that whole duration.

Some causes:

1. UPenn vastly surpassed Maryland (which was only two weeks ago, and the last competition we attended) as the best tournament in RUDU club history (caveating again the legends of early-1990’s teams that were comparable and technically organized as a different club). Dave & Kyle won the tournament, the first tourney win in the 10-year history of RUDU. Farhan & Chris broke for the first time as a team, including Farhan’s first-ever break, won quarters on a 3-0, and then barely dropped semis on a 3-2, finishing 3rd overall. First and third. Needless to say, the team was euphoric all weekend and everyone was just beaming at the team dinner as we basked in the glow of having come a ballot short of closing out finals. And Krishna & Bhargavi were in a bubble round to boot. As the post that will go up on the debate side will attest (once we get an image unloaded off someone’s camera to display atop the site), Rutgers is now 5th-ranked in the country, breaking our all-time high from two weeks ago, and Dave & Kyle are the 4th-ranked partnership in the country. Yeah. It was a pretty good weekend.

2. Today I got a call about a job interview for one that I’d applied to long enough ago that I’d given up on it. Turns out that they were sifting through 400 resumes and I’m one of three (3) finalists getting interviewed in the next couple days. It’s in NYC, four days a week, wrapping pretty neatly around debate. It looks like I can get monthly train passes that keep the transportation costs from being prohibitive, and carry the added bonus of giving me a marginal-cost-free ticket into New York whenever I want. There’s no guarantee, but I’m feeling pretty good about it. And even if I don’t get it, it bodes well for future such applications. My interview’s tomorrow.

3. The San Francisco Giants, long my second-favorite team in baseball and my favorite NL team, are one win away from the World Series title, their first in the city I used to work in. While my obsession with their playoff run has been limited to listening on the computer due to not having a TV and generally being lower energy for much of October, I’m still elated to see them on the verge of this milestone, especially coming at the expense of Texas. I can’t imagine how Gris must be feeling right about now.

4. There has been another development which I will refrain from overtly discussing, probably for a long time depending on how things go. But it’s good and has helped turn things around in conjunction with the above.

Happy? Yeah, I’ve been happy lately. For real. Today especially, with that job interview coming in on top. I can look at these four things and think they might not look like much. You might even say they were all obviously inevitable. But in the throes of the last hundred days, not a one of them, let alone all four, felt even likely. That’s the nature of a tunnel.

It’s far too early to declare any sort of emergence from the tunnel and it’s clear that all four of these things are tenuous (well, probably not debate, since that’s pretty well established and no one can undo the accomplishments of the past nor deny the momentum it implies for the future). But it’s a big fat start. And there’s enough factors that even if one or two collapse completely, there’s a lot to build on. It’s rally time, kids. Get your caps on.


Postscript:

Cleaning up my place today and doing the surprisingly enjoyable laundry (having it in the basement instead of down the road or at the laundromat is remarkably fun – this is the closest I’ve lived to a washer/dryer since living at home in high school), I was listening to Pandora. And paying close attention when a song I’d never heard came on.

It was Tom Petty’s new “Something Good Coming”, and I submit it to you as the best encapsulation expressible of my current mood:
Listen to/watch “Something Good Coming” here.

by

Emptiness

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

It is hard to write about depression. It is a cloying, unpleasant feeling and it swallows up most things that are interesting or productive or of the kind that people want to read about. All writing is for an audience and the point of living in public is, in part to have a public out there to hold one accountable to one’s own standards. It is much more interesting to write about such meta things.

Lisha, for example, wrote recently about the nature of personal blogging in public and its balance between furthering communication with objects of conflict or difficulty as opposed to being a tool in some sort of arsenal of self-defense. No doubt both of these are interesting aspects of a personal blog and both have been employed here at times, though I would hope I have leaned far more to the furthering of communication. It is important here to note that sometimes that which furthers communication is not always the friendliest of least provocative statement, however. Often people need to read or see jarring or even accusatory things to be alerted to the fact that communication is necessary, that passive or passive-aggressive acceptance of the status quo is insufficient. Time may have mellowed my approach to such things, but has not reduced my faith in that general methodology.

Which makes Lisha’s own insight about “friend of the project” distinctions so important, I think. Because if one has faith that someone else truly has one’s best interests in mind, it’s a lot easier to hear their feedback. Which is why, for example, feedback delivered in a marriage should be a lot easier to hear than that from someone who is of uncertain status, or has just betrayed one, or what have you. Which makes my own ability to take feedback basically impossible at this point, because betrayal in a marriage creates the certain belief that betrayal is possible, probable, or even certain in every personal interaction and connection. Which leads to unending humiliation, depression, and suicidalism.

It’s not fun or easy to write about these feelings, because they just are what they are. They don’t improve or change. I break down crying in the middle of a walk or almost during a volunteer shift or while reading or watching a movie in my lonely cluttered apartment. This just happens. I stare off into space amongst friends or at a meeting and I’m just a hair’s breadth away from losing it. All the time. Talking about it does little, because everyone’s aware of the situation and everyone has either tried and failed to make me feel better or not tried at all. There is no solution. There is no answer someone’s going to come up with, even me. There is only the steady drone of life unending and uninteresting, punctuated by occasional bright spots that seem shallow and hollow in the context of a failed life. And the buildup of still unpacked boxes, undone dishes, undone laundry, unbought furniture, unsorted papers. It is hard enough for me to motivate myself to set about sifting through these mundanities in the best of times – completely unthinkable in the worst.

Yesterday at the Cafe, the main staff who has been reaching out to me asked me what my deal was now that I’d been there for a few weeks and been coming in once each week. She asked me how I was settling down and how things were going in life as well as the volunteering in that context. And suddenly I just poured it all out, laid it on the line, told her everything that’s happened in my life in these three-plus horrific months, told her what I’m facing and dealing with. She proved that my estimations of other people’s ability to help is a little unfair. Just as Russ had some insight about whatever ridiculous-seeming relationship future I might theoretically muster, she had a way of articulating the concept I’ve been trying to explain about moving parts in a brilliant and obvious way. “It’s like you’re a Rubik’s Cube,” she said. And it was so obvious and so true. One that doesn’t seem to have a solution at all. But this explains how burdened I feel. I can’t contact one of the people on my online dating site till I have furniture and I can’t get furniture till I find something cheap and comfortable and haulable and I can’t do that anyway till I clear out the living room of stuff and I can’t do that till I do the laundry and the dishes and I can’t do that till I care about anything and I can’t do that till I have a reason to care, like a possible online date. Oh boy.

As I told her, as I’ve told all of you, some days are okay and some aren’t. But most days seem a tiny bit okay while they sit on the precipice of the abyss. I am always a half-inch away from disaster. And the cumulative effect of being in that state is, itself, a larger disaster. This isn’t necessarily a cry for help, because that would imply a feeling that there was help. Everyone’s helped as much as they can, but there are limits on all of this. There are limits on everything.

Last night before bowling with the debate kids, which was fun and a good distraction for a while, the power went out while I was watching a movie at home. It was terrible enough, but the worst part was that an insidious beeping of two hallway smoke alarms began. They were each on their own pace, so the irregularity of the smoke alarms’ beeping created a piercing and unpredictable cacophony that conspired to ensure maximum annoyance. I sat there, trying to lie down and maybe nap or zone out, while the beeping went off in the background. And it hit me, after about an hour of torturous terrible thoughts and memories, that this was a metaphor for everything I’m going through right now. I am sitting in the dark with nothing to do, no power, no light, and every effort to do something else distracting (I could have possibly read or maybe talked on the phone) is derailed by an incessant and unpredictable beeping in the background, which is of course the feeling of self-loathing, anger, and pain that has arisen from my betrayal. Being able to exist in that state for an hour or two was massive evidence to me that I have a stubborn will that is the only reason I’m still alive. But every minute was torture.

Seemingly obvious solutions at the time might have included going for a walk, though it was rainy and I had absolutely nowhere to go, which also enhances the metaphor I think. And I could have destroyed the smoke alarms, or at least unplugged them, but there’s no way to do that in the metaphor without chemical shortcuts that will probably do more harm than anything else. And even then, probably the beeping is just dulled, not eradicated.

I am going to the Cafe again today, having booked a regular gig for this month before I go home to New Mexico for most of December. I am going to debate practice. I am maintaining my various online projects. I am going to a tournament this weekend, where I get to be in a tab room. All distractions, all good choices, all the union of my stubborn will and my best efforts and the best suggestions of my friends. Unfortunately, it’s all belied by an underlying truth that is omnipresent and devastating…

I am not okay. I am not okay. I am not okay.

by

The Philadelphia Storey

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I took the train down to Philly this weekend. Except not really “this weekend”, because I didn’t leave till Sunday night and I didn’t get back till just about now. So the “weekend” can be Sunday through Tuesday in this frame of mind. Such are the hazards of not having a job or a schedule or a life.

I spent a ton of time with Ariel and Michael and a little time with Fish. I ate a lot and spent a lot on meals. I took a lot of photographs, many of which will appear below. I walked a LOT. I enjoyed the train rides and stations and my book. I have nothing pithy to say that sums up this trip, except that I was very sad for a lot of it but also really enjoyed the company of the three people I saw, especially in 1:1 interactions. More and more, it is clear that one-on-one time with anyone is the best way to get to know and understand them. Clearly there are limits on the viability of knowing someone from one-on-one time who either changes rapidly or refuses to be known, but assuming a reasonable level of sincerity and earnestness in the interaction, then one can best learn and understand from solo matchups.

Which is not to say that larger groups don’t have their place. They assuredly do, as a platform for boisterous good times and fun. But to emphasize those at the expense of individual experience is to miss out on the real connections that form the basis for any lasting communication.

I sound rambly even to myself, already, so I will perhaps say it in pictures instead…


The platform in New Brunswick.


One of the many lonely small SEPTA stations between Trenton and Philly.


Clouds and wires.


Bustling city.


Perhaps my favorite shot of the trip.


Train station at night.


Bridge.


Time.


The trains run on time.


Poster that hauntingly reminded me of my honeymoon.


Fish at the South Philly Tap Room. This had to be retouched because the lighting didn’t come out well when I uploaded the photo, but I love the expression.


Uber Street!


The last line cracked me up for some reason.


Horsehead poles – this looks more like I’d expect Britain would than Philly.


It is October.


A treeward nook.


There was much discussion this trip about the inability to escape noise in modern civilization. Here we see the watchful eye of radio waves.


Brick.


Bird unwired.


The city’s pillars and its supports.


Cat penitentiary.


I fell in love with this building that rises high above part of downtown Philly.


Here’s a closeup of the balcony atop said building.


Fall.


Alley, window on the world.


The goat!


How I roll.


Structures.

Miles walked in Philadelphia: 14.4
(+1.8 to and from train station in New Brunswick)

by

Another Saturday Night

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

I was alone all yesterday, a Saturday. I’m not making that mistake again.

Barring a major change, I’m going to be booked the next 26* Saturdays:
30 October: UPenn tournament (Philadelphia, PA)
6 November: American tournament (Washington, DC)
13 November: GW tournament (Washington, DC)
20 November: Fordham tournament –> Greg’s band’s show (New York City, NY)
27 November: Thanksgiving with Friends in Philadelphia, PA*
4 December: UMBC tournament (Baltimore, MD)
11 December: Albuquerque, NM
18 December: Albuquerque, NM
25 December: Albuquerque, NM
1 January: Albuquerque, NM
8 January: Middlebury tournament (Middlebury, VT)
15 January: Dartmouth tournament (Hanover, NH)
22 January: Bates tournament (Lewiston, ME)
29 January: NorthAms tournament (New York City, NY)
5 February: NYU tournament (New York City, NY)
12 February: GW tournament (Washington, DC)
19 February: Princeton tournament (Princeton, NJ)
26 February: Rutgers tournament!
5 March: West Point tournament (West Point, NY)
12 March: Brandeis tournament! (Waltham, MA)
19 March: William & Mary tournament (Williamsburg, VA)
26 March: BU tournament (Boston, MA)
2 April: UVa tournament (Charlottesville, VA)
9 April: Swat tournament (Swarthmore, PA)
16 April: Bryn Mawr tournament (Bryn Mawr, PA)
23 April: Nationals tournament (West Point, NY)

Twenty-six Saturdays*. That’s half a year.

This also indicates that, as you may have noticed, I’ll be spending a month in Albuquerque. 7 December – 5 January. Very excited about that – a long-term homecoming is long overdue. This also means that, unless something surprising comes up in the next couple weeks, I will likely be suspending any sort of job search until 2011. I’m just not convinced I’m up to it and I’m more convinced that I need a month at home than I need income right now. It’s only six weeks till I go home anyway. Once I come back, hopefully I will be restored to the point where I can consider employment.

Anyone got ideas for 30 April 2011? Who says I don’t plan ahead?

*Edited 26 October 2010 to add Thanksgiving weekend in Philadelphia. It’s actually 26 Saturdays booked, not 25 as originally reported.

by

Vulnerability

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Metablogging, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

One of the driving fears of having a website like this is that it paints a huge target on my back. Really, on my front. It reminds me of the old “frontstabbing” technique that Schneider & Gris used to use in Diplomacy in those early years in New Mexico. It was so predictable and obvious what was coming that they didn’t even need to backstab other of Europe’s great leaders (our friends) when it came time to dispose of them. They could inform them the turn that they were going to do them in and by that time, the victim would be haplessly powerless to stop it and half the time make the job easier in exchange for the dignity of knowing it was coming.

That’s a bit of a digression, but one that I think illustrates the profound vulnerability I subject myself to by putting myself out there this much. And yet it’s been my insistent reaction to experiences that have dictated that I either give up essential parts of myself and my being or simply find a way to not care about the vulnerability that remaining myself engenders. It’s easy, in some ways, to not care about being vulnerable, especially in times like the last few months, when I am newly liberated by the idea that I’ve hit rock-bottom and have nowhere to go but up. Or at least sideways. But it also makes me wonder at what cost I might be able to dig myself out. There is a fear, for example, that someone could contact me through the site and claim a connection of one or another kind with me of incredible depth that was the product not of sincerity but of research. And I am particularly susceptible to such claims of connection at the best of times, let alone in this desperate madness of profoundest rejection. And yet, it all seems worth it anyhow.

It’s worth it for a couple reasons. One came in tonight, not long ago, a detailed and thoughtful communique from an anonymous person who may have known me long ago. Experiences like that alone are worth the price of admission on this blog, worth the tormented risks of returning to the mill each night to pour my soul out in measured vials of linguistic distillation. But of course, there are larger issues to discuss when one talks of vulnerability, of the original sources of that vulnerability, of the whole historical reason that drove me to be so passionately committed to living in public, in truth, in the first place.

The artist, if you will, formerly known as PLB. Formerly? I’m trying here. We met, yesterday, Friday night that is, for a four-hour coffee split amongst two places in my new hometown. Her former hometown. You know, where she lived for years before going to Princeton. Because that’s reasonable. Insert repeated platitudes here about my writing fiction so I have something believable in my life.

Of course, there are those among you who’d be forgiven for finding a more nefarious explanation for her life path. That was always the trouble with her – it was never clear whether she was the Black Magic Manipulator or the Helpless Reckless Confused Child. There were always clues in each direction, plenty of fodder for speculation and further ambiguity. The fact that one among my friends actually went so far as to say she placed herself in Princeton in the anticipation that Emily would someday return is a testament less to the paranoia of my friends than the powerful example set by a person who convinced an entire elite school she’d penned a 900+ page book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict slated for publication by Harvard University Press.

The coffee itself was remarkable. Here I do not refer to the liquid proffered by Highland Park’s various caffeine dispensaries. It was remarkable for its strangeness, its ease and comfort, its ability to take assumptions and narratives about life and turn them sideways like a coin on its thin end, then give them a good spin till everything was blurred. It felt, ultimately, like a timeout from life. Perhaps I’d spent too many years imagining the fateful meeting, imagining replacing her final phoned reassurances before she flew to Scotland with language that wasn’t about our permanent future. None of them, of course, looked like this. This felt more like a discussion out of the bounds of reality, out of the bounds of life, maybe at a crossroads in some post-mortem purgatory or dreamlike missive dispatched after a spirit quest. Not a mundane overlit table at a Dunkin’ Donuts where not 24 hours earlier I’d joked and chewed with my debate team a few blocks from my new house.

We talked about most everything. She apologized, profusely and with apparent sincerity. She acknowledged, fully for once, all the things she’d done and, far more importantly, the real significance of the emotions we shared. She cried a lot. I cried some too. She had not drawn up this meeting to come at a time of profound imbalance in our relative romantic lives, but rather as a meeting of two people ensconced in loving and permanent marriages. But a funny thing happened on the way to this year, and the rest is history. Emily asked me, when we spoke about it this morning, whether I’d discussed with her how much of her shadow cast darkness on aspects of our marriage. I realized that this was something we’d talked about almost the least, for while I found it difficult to trust Emily in the wake of what – gulp – Gwendolyn had done to me, it’s a pretty sorry excuse Emily’s trying to use that this contributed to her need to betray me and disappear on me. The fact is that Emily was just mean and thoughtless sometimes. Did I react to this worse than most people would have because of my history? Of course. Should Emily have still not been mean and thoughtless, even if I’d never had an issue with trust in my life? You betchya.

This little vignette and my mildly wounded declaration of dignity illustrates one of the most darkly upsetting aspects of the whole meeting with Gwendolyn and its historical conflict. As I told her, crying, toward the end of our hours together, I’d spent time in May discussing with Emily what she was thinking and whether she was crazy. And now, that night, I’d spent time discussing with Gwendolyn what Emily was thinking and whether she was crazy. I don’t know what it says about me that these people who I have loved so deeply have found such deplorably massive ways to hurt me and have been so uncaring about their decisions to do so in the moment they did them. Both, now, have spoken about the nature of assumption in play. Gwendolyn assumed I had no idea she was lying about anything and that I would correspondingly be unable to forgive the lies, when in truth I’d spent almost two months trying to figure out a way to confront her about what I knew without chasing her away or putting her on the defensive. Emily contrived a way to assume that I would leave her someday, convincing herself that the dissolution of our marriage was not only inevitable but that I knew it to be so, thus making her actions somehow excusable or unsurprising to me. What both of these speak to, more than anything, is a lack of confidence so deep it can override any and all evidence of love, affection, hope, or solace, no matter how much I was willing and able to offer it in both cases.

Which is not to draw too many parallels. While the emotional depth reached is at least similar, a one-year relationship does not measure to a seven-year marriage. Which helps explain Fish’s remarkably callous comments as he was falling asleep last night that nothing I could get from talking to Gwendolyn matters much because I “have bigger fish to fry.” Which, ultimately, is probably about a lot of things, ranging from her doing a good job convincing everyone that ours was just a trivial high school relationship devoid of serious meaning, all the way to the fact that I just have a more thorough emotional memory than most people seem to care to. But to not see this point in my life as a time to examine all relationships and all love I’ve experienced, to reweigh and take stock, to examine on a plane of new perspective, seems foolhardy at best. After all, Emily herself tried to convince me that there was something about the way I communicate with people that just makes people want to betray me. That I am at fault for being left overnight, twice, by the two people I’ve thought I’d be with forever.

Which I guess gets us back to vulnerability. No doubt Emily will be upset for me baring so much here, will try to take things away. I told Russ a long story a couple nights back in an ultimately revelatory conversation about my parents taking things away to protect me in my upbringing and the fiercely resistant attitude which ultimately culminated in utter disaster at a place called Broadway Middle School. Now my parents will be upset with me about this post. And Fish too, for he’ll probably say I mischaracterized his comments. He was pretty tired, after all. Why do I write all this about people again? Why do I live so openly when it only seems to provide opportunities for alienation and discord?

Because you all know that I feel and think these things. All of you. And I can’t live any other way. I don’t want to live at all, really, but I really don’t want to live with the feeling that I can’t tell you what I’m thinking. And I do this in the hopes that it becomes a two-way street. A seven-way street. That everyone opens up to this extent, fully and without reserve. If everyone had in my life, I would never have been betrayed. Maybe, at worst, I would have been frontstabbed. But even that seems unlikely. I’m with Kant and the categorical imperative on this one. There may be some extra bumps and bruises upfront, but they’re so much less significant, hurtful, and deep than the wounds we carry from the secrets others hide from us.

I am perhaps too fragile and weary and uncaring about my fate to close this ramble with a message of “Bring it!” to the universe. Perhaps too superstitious, too, or at least wanting to refrain from being wanton. The real message, the real pulsing mantra I would broadcast from my own personal SETI dishes, is more that I don’t care what the cost is. That seems inane, crazy, totally bizarre in the wake of losing a marriage and confronting the prior ex whose psychic impact was so damaging. But it’s true. I’m not going to live starting to care what people think of me, or how they could use me against myself. I’m going to live the way that I feel is necessary, would stand up to the categorical imperative, would give this species the best chance of living, loving, and somehow not destroying itself. Even if it destroys me. Damn the torpedoes.

It doesn’t look pretty most of the time. I can be as defiant as I want, but the truth is that I didn’t leave the house today and didn’t answer most of the phone calls that came in. I didn’t have anything to say, anyone to see, anything to do. I didn’t bathe, didn’t change clothes, didn’t do a single thing that could be labeled as productive. I wasn’t even spending a lot of mental energy processing things, so much as just defaulting. I was, in all ways, a wreck today. Not a crying-on-the-floor-in-a-heap wreck. More the depressive numb wreck akin to my sophomore year in college self who didn’t leave bed for days at a time.

Maybe it’s good that tomorrow I’m planning on leaving New Jersey for a bit, on staying with friends for the first time since the worst of the early days of this now fully three-month-old crisis. I’ve lived alone a lot. It feels like years already.

There is no final summarative conclusion, still. Not for a meeting that broke a thirteen-year audio silence. Not for a crisis that continues to unpack itself to me in new stripes of denial, bargaining, anger, fear, and resignation. Not for the commitment to be vulnerable in the wake of continual battering. Not for me. Not for you. Not for any of us.

There is only today, the way that I feel, and the probability that there will be a tomorrow. And for all the days I can imagine ahead, that’s all there will be. And the pale numbness of that low ceiling, that probably makes me feel the most vulnerable of all.

Postscript: It is worth noting that I was almost killed one year ago today. I was so happy to live through that experience, so grateful and full of hope. Many times since this crisis began, I have told people, including Emily, that I wish that car had hit us more directly, had knocked me into the next world. It would have spared me so much, would have ended our marriage in a way that both of us could feel infinitely better about. But, believing what I do, there has to be a reason that is not how things happened. Maybe it is merely to provide this realization of how quickly and vastly things can change. I hear you in the back there, what you’re saying. It could change back just as easily. Maybe. Who can say? I look forward to the day when I can once again relate to the jubilant relief that my year-ago self wrote about early in the morning of last October 24th.

by

Friday Without a Cause

Categories: A Day in the Life, Keepin' it Cryptic, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, What Dreams May Come, Tags: , , , , ,

There’s no debate this weekend. Not because there’s no scheduled tournament, but because that tournament doesn’t serve the purposes of the Rutgers team. It’s in British Parliamentary style, designed to prepare American teams for competition on the Worlds stage, with all its crazy four-on-four structure and rhetoric trumping analysis and lack of flowing. Rutgers would love to compete at Worlds (this year in Botswana!), just as much as we’d love to go to Stanford this year, but it’s not in the budget. We barely have a budget to get to basic regular tournaments when they give us deep discounts, let alone scurrying about like a team funded like the 7th-ranked team in the nation. Which, uh, we are.

The last few days have been about as eventful as any days are for me these days. Days, days, days. They cascade not like a waterfall or something glorious to be beheld so much as the drip in my bathroom sink. Day, pause, day, pause, day. The passage of time has become an annoyance, something to be swatted away like a lingering mosquito. There are moments each day that are almost okay… a good debate round or a fun practice, a moment of volunteering or walking that sparks imagination or hope, the second the heat started coming on in the apartment yesterday unbidden. But they’re rare and their ceiling is low. For the most part it’s a long trudge to school, uphill both ways in the snow. Sludgy, dirty snow, not the good kind.

Things are happening this Friday too, things I’m loath to preview here lest they raise concern from the worriers among you. It’s a long overdue meeting with my past, I can say that, and it comes at a time when the risks are low because I have nothing (almost nothing?) to lose. It’s something much better discussed upon reflection than anticipation. So I guess I’ll flag this post with a “Keepin’ It Cryptic” and move on. All will be revealed at some point.

Similarly, I have an upcoming project about which I’ll also be vague until you can see what it looks like. It’s adding a new dimension to the collection of things here at the BP, and it’s a major experiment. With any luck, it’ll be something that at minimum creates an archive of moments in time in a new and exciting way that can at least serve some posterity. At maximum, it could, like anything done serially on the Internet, become a phenomenon. So I’ll let that whet your appetite and, again, soon there will be much more to actually evaluate.

I have this last bit merely because of the Zen state of mind that came from tearing leafy greens from their stems for literally 150 consecutive minutes. This was my assigned task at the Cafe yesterday – I actually showed up an hour early because I’d misread the e-mail confirming my time, and thus was drawn up to the sink with a gargantuan box of greens whose name I never ultimately caught. Spinach? Arugula? An obscure lettuce? It was something like that. The repetition and the small satisfactions of working one’s hands against the bounty of the earth plunged me through the worst aspects of the mental void and into a deeper place where I could contemplate connections and possibilities rather than the mere horrors of the past. And it was in that state, not unlike a shower or even some of the better walks, that I was able to stumble over the obvious project I’m on the verge of launching. This was more of what I hoped for when I pictured volunteering as a key component of this year.

Of course I never really pictured this year and my subconscious is really having trouble catching up. This morning I awoke from a terrifying and disheartening dream that, while I was working at Glide and Emily was at the Labor Fed, she’d decided overnight to go to LA for six weeks straight. She was endlessly unconcerned about the toll this might take on our marriage, couldn’t seem to care less about my loneliness or missing her or anything of that ilk. I could detect, vaguely, in the dream that there might be someone in LA she was trying to see or some deeper thing to fear from this sudden trip arrangement which she was announcing to me the morning before she left. I panicked more and more as the dream hurtled toward her departure, clinging to her presence that I would soon lose for so long.

I awoke to a reality that made the dream look more ideal than nightmare.

Miles walked Wednesday: 1.2
Miles walked yesterday: 2.8

by

Ellipsis

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

I’ve been up for almost a day now and I’m ready to get unconscious again. I’ve been waiting to have something wise or summarative or conclusive about the day, but that’s not working any better than me having something like that to feel about my life generally. There are no conclusions – there is only time in its impervious march toward oblivion.

Shortly after walking home from the soup kitchen early this afternoon, I came upon a couch exactly one block from my home. It was outside, ratty, retaining a little water from the morning’s rains, but perfectly suitable. It seemed like a heartening sign, though I was so downtrodden. But soon I discovered that the timing was bad for people to help me with it, and by the time they could, the couch was gone. Who knows why it was outside? Bedbugs, possibly, or the holes and tears were more systemic than I thought. It probably wasn’t worth the trouble. But the appearance of the couch, initially seeming a metaphor, paled in comparison to the metaphor of its rapid subsequent disappearance.

I am impossibly tired, the kind of tired when it seems legitimately challenging to walk from one’s desk chair to one’s bed. And yet I revel in the idea, because sleep has become my refuge. I just can’t tell you how bizarre that is for me. In a life turned upside-down, the consistent desire for sleep may be the most obvious evidence thereof.

Miles walked today: 5.5

by

Silence is Rotten

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: , , ,

So, I’m not sure my whole volunteering plan is going to work out that well.

Debate works as a distraction from my vast emotional pain for two reasons. For one, it is a reaffirmation that I have some modicum of self-worth. My ability to have things to offer in the context of debate is one of the very few things that I have confidence hasn’t been completely destroyed by the events of this summer. But for the other thing, debate is loud. It’s noisy, boisterous, active. Often three or four or seven people are talking over each other, striving to be heard. There is little to no time for contemplation, for reverie, for the creeping dragon of self-doubt to tiptoe into the back of one’s mind and start breathing fire all over the neighborhood.

Volunteering, on the other hand, at least the early-morning kind that starts in a quiet kitchen at 8:30 and involves shifting chairs and wrapping silverware, is almost silent. The work is rote, but it’s mindless enough to set one’s mind to all kinds of frenetic racing. I was almost elated when a seemingly schizophrenic client and apparent some-time volunteer came up to the table to assist with rolling cutlery up into napkins. He bantered on about coyotes and baseball cards and the lyrics to songs and my only regret was that he wasn’t more plainly audible so I could engage him more thoroughly in conversation.

It’s just one day, my first at the mainline traditional soup kitchen at Elijah’s Promise, as opposed to Highland Park’s experiment of A Better World Cafe. I’m sure that if I become a regular, even one day a week, I’ll get brought in more to the kitchen, strike up conversations with the retirees and the full-time staff and the congregation members who have all known each other for a long time running. But the number of times I nearly broke down weeping today was far too many for this to work. I suppose weeping with a broom in my hand or while I’m cleaning dishes is better than weeping alone in my room, but I’m not sure the kind folks at the kitchen would agree.

The problem, more than anything, is how profoundly I’ve been rejected. Ever since I had to leave Broadway Middle School after skipping four grades to get there, there’s been a taunting narrative of failure and incompetence running in the back of my head. When PLB dumped me via paternal e-mail, the narrative got a brutal and powerful ally in the field of romantic viability. The extremity of both of these circumstances, especially the latter, has indented me with a deep-seated feeling of certainty that I am worthless and that the only antidote to my worthlessness is either unassailable intellectual accomplishment (e.g. North American Debate Championship) or unassailable romantic fulfillment (e.g. marriage to the love of my life). Unfortunately, one of these is revocable. And there simply isn’t any way to build it back up. There isn’t. I’m not saying I’ll never love again, though I might not, but the tarnish that a lightning-fast and permanent betrayal of a 7-year marriage imprints does not wash out. I am marked with this for life.

As I told Fish and my parents last night, time doesn’t do a damn thing. Memory might fade, or distractions might arise. Those are what people are really talking about when they say time changes something. It’s not the nature of time or its passage – it’s the nature of human frailty and malleability. People get older and decay and their minds get less sharp and that’s why things hurt less over time. If they’re thinking clearly and living meaningfully, nothing gets better. They just tell themselves a story where it seems less relevant because it was longer ago.

We all have needling voices of self-doubt and perhaps even self-loathing in the back of our heads. Most of us can wash or paper them over with the realities of their true achievements or strengths or inner beauty. But my counter-arguments have been silenced. Nothing is so inculcating of self-hatred and despair as being rejected in this way, cast aside so cavalierly in the name of selfishness. The love of one’s life is supposed to be selfish by staying with one, not by leaving. I have been told I failed at the only thing I ever really cared about, and I will never get a second chance. There is no antidote to that rejection. The best-case scenario I can paste up is dirty transparent wallpaper for the lurking reality of an endless wall of shame.

by

Rain-Dance

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

Debate seems to have this transcendent power to lift me up in the darkest times. Suffice it to say times have been pretty dark, so thank goodness I chose to spend a year focusing on debate.

I don’t know what it is about this week in particular. I was trying to explain the rolling waves of awakening to Ariel and having a lot of trouble. This week has felt, in some ways, like the whole crisis has started over again, anew, afresh, and it’s more real and vivid and visceral than ever. It’s hued in this new kind of vibrance where the aches are sharper and the pains more acute, the acupuncture of supposed healing conducted with knives or swords instead of more forgiving needles. Part of it is time, I suppose, which (in a shocking move) does not heal all things, nor even dull or improve them. Sometimes things move sideways. Sometimes they get worse. Those that have told me time will make this all better probably would have put all their money in the stock market ten years ago too. Or a house five years ago.

But today provided its own little counterpoint too, a bulwark against the raging storms that graced the area for most of the evening. For one, I went down for my first scheduled shift volunteering at Elijah’s Promise, starting at their “A Better World Cafe” location that is a few blocks from my new place. It was awkward as heck at first, mostly because I don’t think they get a lot of walk-ins without introduction… it seems the bulk of their volunteers come through a local church or organization that makes an overture on a broad-based level. Or maybe it was just that today I was the new kid, and the thing about being the new kid is that on the day you’re the new kid, you’re the only new kid and everyone else already knows each other. Which I’m well familiar with, so it quickly melted into a viable situation, especially after I proved continually eager and energetic. People got friendly and by the end of it, I’d talked to all the regulars and staff about wanting to become widely involved, at least until I found a job and probably even thereafter. People seemed excited and I walked out of there feeling like I was on the verge of a new little community. Or the slimmest start thereof. Baby steps, right?

I came home and did my dishes and watched a movie and talked to Ariel and felt myself boiling. I wasn’t even angry at Emily by the end of it so much as the whole situation, the waste, the time invested and lost, the years of developing a sense of personhood and time expenditure and perspective on life that is not only lost, but ripped out in such a way as to render me incapable of developing a new one, or caring to. I don’t know how people survive this. I don’t. I don’t see it. Granted, some of the things may affect me disproportionately, like how much I uniquely invested in Emily and how mentally committed to the idea of marriage I have been my whole life. But still. I think I’m still finding new ways to realize what’s really been taken from me and I don’t quite have the capacity to deal. It’s flabbergasting. I think about it and get so I can’t even breathe.

I was in about this state when I looked out the window at the pouring rain and decided I didn’t care whether I got sick, I was walking to debate practice instead of driving. The disproportion of effort is absurd – a five-minute drive versus a half-hour trudge through windy, rainy conditions. But I am committed to trying to walk and that doesn’t just mean in the good times. I also find I care so little about what happens to me in light of what has transpired that it becomes very liberating. I walk without fear. What’s someone going to do to me? Rob me? Rape me? Kill me? I’ve been through the worst. I fear nothing to come in future years. The rest of life has the dull sheen of days rendered unimportant by their larger context.

Debate, though, did its job. It picked me up. It provides a context where I have to be a point-person, I have to check my business at the door and get down to the business of working with a team and making it better. I’m in this weird situation where a lot of these debaters read this blog and know exactly what’s going on with my life, but it’s an elephant we all collectively put aside in the interests of forging something better and brighter for all of us. And it’s hard to talk about 7-year marriages with college-aged kids. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for them. It’s hard to talk about it with almost anyone who hasn’t had one, or lost one, or been through exactly this. The whole fucking thing is just hard.

But not during practice, not at debate. At debate we enter a world where logic makes sense, where the rational arguments hold the day, where opponents are clearly labeled and the goals are straightforward and certain. Debate offers a rubric and model that, however capricious it sometimes seems, puts life writ large to shame. And we all love it. We can revel in being nerdy, in priding ourselves on speaking and knowing and arguing, in trying to improve and make each chosen word more persuasive than the last.

The walk home was energetic – a senior on the team has taken to parking in Highland Park and thus a contingent of people he’s driving home walk with me most nights back. I was almost sad it wasn’t raining still, suited up as I was in gloves and parka and hat. I am ready to defy the rain as I have defied gravity so far. I should be face-down in a ditch somewhere, but I’m still standing somehow. Why, I’m not really sure. The why can come later, if at all. For tonight, I’m still here.

Miles walked today: 3

by

For the First Time

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

I am doing my dishes
for the first time
taking care not to nick, chip, scratch
the shiny new colors
as they turn in my yellow-gloved hands

The sink is smaller now
the light harsher, more grim
but my hands are just the same
holding the plates and bowls with care
that you seemed to disregard

It is stormy outside
like that day in the Badlands
the picture you chose to define it all
your new paradigm, status, independence
a day with me, and we were happy

I can see your reflection
in the plate’s concentric circles
glinting light off the o’erhead fluorescent
like the cloudbent sun on your glasses
that tumultuous day

I hope you’re happy now
but you’re not, and I’m not sure I mean it
it’s something people say
when they mean it and don’t
and I understand, oh I understand

I love you and hate you
like these dishes
you helped me buy

Your parting gift
as you turned your head, walked away
toward a future you long pictured
but never bothered
to truly see

A sequel to For the Last Time.

by

Picture This

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

Today had a good energy, at least at the outset. I want to capture that feeling, that sense of purpose and excitement that I began the day with, without compromising this post to say how I feel right now. The difference was made when I hauled out the camera to upload the photos I took this afternoon, held and beheld some of the implications of the camera in my hand, and almost had to throw up. I should’ve given this camera away, not kept it, gotten the new one. I have been too magnanimous.

It is impossible to write about the energy then without reflecting on the roiling anger and frustration now. It is unfortunate, perhaps, that this cannot be the simple story of a simple walking tour in search of furniture. Perhaps we shall begin again to try to go back to that moment, for that moment was real and is captured, in part even on film. Just as the moments captured so often before on film are also real. Before before. No matter how poisoned or sullied they all have become, how washed in the hot blood of betrayal. This is not getting any easier.


A line is a good way to begin again, no? This morning I decided it was time to get some furniture. Oh, I have plenty of furniture, don’t worry about that. But I lack some living room accouterments, specifically a couch and a nice comfy reading armchair. I have been wrestling with the idea of getting Craigslist to fulfill these needs, daunted by the twin threats of bedbugs and my own lack of a truck or ability to haul seriously large furniture toward my domicile. Surely Craigslist is infinitely more affordable in its offerings, but would the delivery and warranty of a new couch be worth the extra cost? I have yet to decide, but thought walking to various furniture stores in the region might help set my mind in order.

Thus, I headed out on a clear fall day, clear and getting colder, but not yet frigid. It was frigid a few days ago and I got sick, but things are much improved and reminiscent of good days in San Francisco. My first stop was in Highland Park, just around the corner from me, a place so close I’d been surprised I hadn’t noticed it on my first few trips into the quaint downtown in my new town. 212 Raritan. As I approached, I became more and more certain I should’ve seen this as a furniture store until, just then, I saw it was… now a bookstore. In fact, the same bookstore I’d idled in a few days back. Nighthawk Books. Formerly a furniture store, now quite different. So it goes.

So I turned around and crossed the Raritan, this time meaning the River and not the Road. The view across the river looked like this:

And my own walk across looked like this:

There are these strange buckets of flowers that drain naturally onto the pavement of the bridge below, permanently soaking the shadowed areas of said cement with something between a puddle and a pond. The flowers are bright and cheery, but the water is annoying enough to make me question the effort at beautification. Or at least prompt a larger effort at drainage.

In any event, the walk was bright and sunny and I soon concluded I didn’t need the extra (third) layer I’d brought just in case. Periodically I stopped to observe how New Brunswick looks in the daytime as I approach it.

For example:


Note the Rutgers banners lining the lampposts all along the avenue. It’s almost required for any place of business in either NB or HP to carry a logo or sign or some indication of their support of the institution. I’m not sure if it’s because all of their income comes from students or people directly related to the university or what, but it inculcates a good bit of school spirit for my adopted debate program, if nothing else.

Anyway, I kept trudging along, eventually passing the train station wherefrom I may someday commute:

On my way to the designated cluster of furniture stores whose addresses I’d carefully copied, I was almost tripped by a consignment shop with little bits of furniture out front. My eye was caught first by a nightstand, then by a small chest of drawers, and five minutes of negotiation later, I’d acquired two pieces of furniture I’d not set out to get. Still, it seemed like a good omen and I was very satisfied with the price. I promised to come back with the car by day’s end to pick things up and quick-stepped toward the cluster.

The first of the places proved to be under renovation, recently vacated by its furniture-bearing former occupant. So I was 0-2, but with the unexpected bonus of the place I hadn’t researched. The next place was intimidating just to walk into, but I persevered anyway, overwhelmed by lavish displays that seemed sorely out of place in the largely immigrant neighborhood in which the store was situated. I felt the fabric of a couple couches, somewhat wistfully, well aware that the lack of price tags indicated the old adage… “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” I hightailed it out of there before the staff could ask me what kind of an impostor I thought I was.

The next place, just a bit up the road, was so intimidating I didn’t set foot. Not so much because the items looked overpriced, but rather they looked frilly. And overpriced. The whole place seemed assembled by a rejected Disney princess who was consoling herself on her dismissal with an abundance of floral antiques. Not a pretty sight. There may have been a couple reasonable looking lamps, something else I’m in need of, but it just wasn’t worth the risk of being attacked by the overall atmosphere of stepping into the middle of a dainty doily.

And thus I booked it home, passing back under the overpass on the way to the bridge:

And arriving home to pick up the Prius:

(My place is the front-right corner of this building, ground floor.)

I paused just briefly to reflect on the lush greenery of my new neighborhood:

And then drove through the middling traffic to retrieve my new wood items. But not before jotting down the address of one more place, a discount furniture place in nearby Edison that seemed to have relatively reasonable prices on nice new living room material. After the quick pick-up in NB, I headed once more back across the Raritan, followed the directions, and wound up in an industrial area of my greater region only to find a for-lease sign on the building I’d been directed to. Yup. Three of the five furniture stores I’d sought today were permanently closed.

When my Dad came out here a few weeks ago, he’d been impressed by how much wealth and success and prosperity seemed reflected in the entire east coast and especially parts of central Jersey. He’d commented on it repeatedly, noting the construction and newness of many of the buildings, especially those associated with the school or the hospitals nearby. But it takes an exercise like today to realize that things here aren’t exactly peachy. I see plenty of commercial real estate boarded up, lots of subtly shuttered places here and there with Princeton phone numbers vainly calling for new enterprise. But the turnover of so many places still listed on the internet map as functional locales with numbers and even websites, this puts it into relief. Maybe furniture is disproportionately affected by the recent change in economic climate, which would certainly make sense, but maybe it’s most everything.


By nightfall, I was home and unloading my new nightstand and drawers, not yet to the point of sudden rage at the indignities of this particular camera and all I have been made to endure. I was exhausted, a bit of a backfire to my new plan of walking a lot and improving my general fitness. Heartened to see that the last of the dishes had shown, that things were coming together, if ever so slowly. I still lack soft furniture on which to flop. I still lack a feeling of being home.

Miles walked today: 3.8

by

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

Crying and Cardboard

Categories: A Day in the Life, The Long Tunnel, Tags: ,

We box a lot of stuff up in this life. We take surprises and things we’re not sure why we’re keeping and treasured mementos and donations and nestle them against three-dimensional paper structures whose only purpose is to contain such items. We take tape, that which sticks to everything, and seal it tight against the exterior in hopes that the unwrapping cannot be done until the duly appointed time. And then markers or ribbons or bow or fancy colored paper, something to adorn the outside, to remind us of the importance of what’s inside. And then we shove it away, or place it gently in the closet, waiting for the time for it to be opened.

Most gifts are received with joy, or at least some tempered display of enthusiasm. I’ve received no shortage of flak in my life for reacting to unpacking gifts with an obvious reflection of the precise feelings the gift evokes in me, regardless of the expectation of the giver. My commitment to honesty includes not complimenting haircuts and outfits I dislike, not jumping joyfully at gifts I detest, not holding back my ire or confusion or elation when the feeling is prompted. My wife was generally unfond of this trait, it seems, though she enjoyed the story about giving me bowling shoes for a birthday and me getting to the midpoint of unwrapping between paper and box, seeing that it was a shoebox, and crying out “You got me shoes?” before realizing their specific ilk. It always sounded endearing when she told it, but maybe she was just trying to show how hard it was to live with me.

Tears are also hard to hold back, and probably nothing I’d try to even if I could. Unlike honesty, they’re an innate biological reaction. They well up and spill, enlisting one’s chest and eyes and larynx in the cause, throwing the whole world into pathos. Stinging, overwhelming, blinding. It is hard to see the point in anything when crying, both literally and figuratively. Crying blots out the sun, opens up the soul.

It’s opening up boxes that brought on the crying this afternoon, unsurprisingly. You see where this is all going. Just weeks ago now, even days, I packed myself little timebombs and improvised lachrymosizing devices. Tamped them down and sealed them over and put them in a neat light brown stack that looked nothing like the danger lurking within. They fit so easily into a U-Haul, into the living room, could’ve even gotten through Security if necessary. Waiting, patiently, as only the inanimate produce of human accumulation can. Ready to look and feel just like the day they went in the box, like all the days before.

There’s a reason I’m not fully unpacked yet, perhaps not really even close. I’d managed to forget the reason for a while, forget how hard it is to keep knifing into tape and unfolding flaps when angry jacks pop from every box. My friend Pete Lee made a movie about this, a movie about love unfulfilled and the power of a box to store emotions. You should watch it.

We all should watch it, in the colloquial use of that phrase. Every time we sit down to folding, shaping, constructing another corrugated cubic vault. What traps are we laying with the trappings of the packing industry? At what cost have 3M and U-Haul made their billions?

There are still fifteen or twenty packages sitting in the living room. Some folded and defeated, broken to their innocent component parts in a stack by the fireplace, waiting for the thresh of the recycling process or the chance perhaps to cloak more daggers. I lack the energy to engage again tonight. Sit they will, the broken and the heavy, knowing nothing of the water they are bound to loose in the future. Surer than a rain-dance, an overweight cloud, the path of least resistance. Each item seen, lifted, placed, restored, all with the asterisk of the droplet it evoked.

There’s no crying in baseball. Maybe I should see how the Giants are doing.

by

Cheap Like the Budgy

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

Since a certain person who will remain nameless recently took a significant bite out of financial crime, I find myself facing wholly different circumstances on that front to go with my different circumstances on every other front. While part of the plan is to try to get a job that can offset things until I move somewhere affordable like New Mexico, part of the plan must also account for the possibility that I will be unable to get a job that works with my schedule. And even if I do, I don’t want to be spending a lot of reserve cash on this year.

As a result, I’ve made it a goal to spend at an annual rate of $20,000 this year. Which would be fine in our old housing situation, or in Nuevo, but is pretty difficult when I splurged on rent to live in a nice place in Highland Park instead of the sketchier parts of New Brunswick. I’ve been trying to think of spending in terms of a daily rate, to really break down what a budget looks like day in and day out. It’s by no means the first time I’ve tried spending on a budget, but perhaps the first time in eight years that it’s mattered this much.

In a daily spectrum, $20k/year is $54.79 a day. So what does my daily expense chart look like?

$6.33 a day for everything else. Whew. Given that that includes food, this is looking like a tallish order. I managed to spend pretty cheaply in today’s trip to Stop-N-Shop, but the budget was blown by a necessary restocking of Emergen-C stockpiles brought on by the recent not-quite-so-miraculously-avoided illness. I’m already at the coughing (final) stage and the symptoms have been mild throughout, so I’m counting myself pretty lucky. At least I managed to find the latently elusive Lemon-Lime flavor. A whole new generation of debaters’ voices will be spared!

While the rent is obviously a mammoth share of that chart, it’s the insurance options in the 2 and 3 slots that make me the most bitter. Perhaps because it’s never done a bit of good to carry car insurance in my life, other than fulfilling a legal obligation to do so. Perhaps because my urologist is being pretty cavalier about my kidney stones (“I don’t know what’s causing them… maybe you’re eating too much dairy? Who knows? Fill this prescription and call me in six months.”) Perhaps because the whole concept of insurance as a bet against oneself can still send me into writhing anger if I sit in a room and think about it for ten minutes.

Emily would be quick to point out that the insurance is cut-rate because it’s still through her student plan. Which doesn’t make me feel any better about the onrushing mandate to purchase the insurance at market rates that’s waiting to swallow the country. Maybe rather than being thankful for being required to purchase insurance that defends against calamities, we should look at why there are so many precipitous financial calamities designed to befall people in our society.

Which reminds me that I really shouldn’t be whining about having $6.33 a day for food and extras (“extras” on top of cell phone, internet, and Netflix, mind you) in the context of the world at large. $6.33 a day is more than most people see for slave-labor style jobs that “free markets” are forcing them into. In the context of everything, I’m still awfully lucky.

Well, mostly. Even people in slave-labor style jobs probably feel capable of being loved.

Miles walked today: 1.2. Hey, I’m still a bit sick.


Follow-up: I of course just realized that I completely forgot about gas/electric, since I haven’t seen a bill from those guys yet. Yeah. Luckily heat’s included in the rent here (although it’s not on yet, so the space heater I’ve been running while sick isn’t included), but gas/electric for cooking and lighting is probably at least a couple bucks a day and maybe more at times. Maybe I should allot myself $25,000 a year? That seems like a lot. But it also has this ring of realism to it, given that I still need to buy a couch.

by

Good News, Sad News

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

Many thanks to Madeleine Sumption for carving the pumpkin that Matthew “Fish” McFeeley photographed to create this year’s October theme-change here at StoreyTelling. For four years now, the annual October theme picture has been of pumpkins carved at the prior year’s carving party. This year, I can’t imagine there will be a carving party.

For one thing, it would have to stop raining.

I awoke this morning to learn that the Daily Targum, Rutgers’ school newspaper, had finally made good on its promise to feature the debate team in its pages. I went to campus today to pick up some print copies for posterity, as well as to hand off a lost cell phone of one of our debaters. Ended up walking three miles, all told, as part of a burgeoning effort to walk at least two miles a day. It’s not like I need to lose weight, having regained only about two or three of the fifteen-plus pounds I lost in the late crisis. But I like my mindset and my approach to life more when I walk. There’s something about putting one’s feet on the ground, of observing the world from the ground level, that creates a more moment-to-moment reality. This is how people saw the world when they appreciated it more. This is how I intend to try living again.

For all the details on the past weekend, you can head on over to the debate blog. Suffice it to say that we keep doing quite well, especially among the novices. Debate gets even more interesting this weekend when NOTY tracking starts and a small tournament primarily for “dinos” is held in Boston on Sunday. I’ll be debating with a recent BU grad, Jake Campbell, who has a similar taste for crazy opp-choice cases. Should be a lot of fun to get back into something vaguely competitive, as though I weren’t competitive enough for my team already.

People keep asking me to take pictures of my new place and post them here, but the place isn’t ready. It’s still a mess, a big pile of boxes occupying the living room like a displaced ethnic group in search of sustenance. I got my bed and computer set up on move-in day, along with a little food and the coffee-maker, toaster, and microwave. I’ve sadly realized that I could probably live like this for months without too much trouble, ducking around the cardboard metropolis as I traverse between the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and office. The place is palatial, much larger than I realized when seeing how the prior couple had filled it during my only pre-commitment trip to the apartment. The neighborhood is lovely, full of stately homes with healthy lawns, sprawling trees, and coyly inviting lampposts and lanterns in the evening. But my residence still feels transient, uninvited, a wealth of memories and stuff crammed high, peeking out of the shadows to remind me that I am not here on my own terms.

If something has gone well lately, outside of the debate framework, it’s my miraculous ability to fight off a cold. I was getting pretty sick over this past weekend, unaided by the effort to fit fourteen debaters and judges into two small hotel rooms during the first significant decline in temperatures this season. But an obsessive effort with vitamin C and Sudafed have combined with sleeping most of yesterday to return me to good health, even after walking three miles with wet hair in drizzly conditions today. If only I could apply this energy to tackling the corrugated refugee camp in the next room.

Baby steps, I guess. I’ve long thought of each day as borrowed time or bonus material, but never has it been more true than right now. My days are long and languid and even the most basic tasks seem to draw on deep reserves of energy. And yet the e-mails, calls, and even cards continue to pour in, most imploring me to take the time I need to let myself try to heal. I don’t know what healing looks like. I can imagine hurting less than I do now. I can even imagine trying to be with someone else, I guess, though signing up for online dating has hardly seemed like an encouraging process. I want to apply for jobs, but I’m not sure I’m up to them yet. I want to volunteer, but my own house is out of order. I want to write, but I have nothing left to say.

by

When I Fall

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

“Hang on to your wallet
hang on to your rings
I can’t look below me
something will throw me
I curse at the windstorms
that October brings

I wish I could fly
from this building
from this wall
and if I should try
would you catch me
if I fall
when I fall”

-Barenaked Ladies, “When I Fall”

A storm is blowing into Highland Park, New Jersey this evening. It’s a storm that’s ravaged much of the seaboard already, bringing warnings of flooding and overwhelm to parts north and east. All day, the barometer has been sliding down as the winds have picked up and the skies have conspiratorially bonded in varying realms of shadowy gray. There is a sense of proximity, of closeness, of the world drawing near. Closer, closer, now almost here.

The world truly has converged today across the Raritan River, in New Brunswick. A young man who’d just joined the campus where I coach famously plunged to his death from the George Washington Bridge, his wet broken body just identified this afternoon. His roommate’s filming of his romantic encounters with another man, streamed live on the internet, and his subsequent private jump, are probably the top story in America today. The media is here to discover everything they can and stream that live on the internet too.

Unsurprisingly, many of the Rutgers debaters and I have held an online debate in the wake of this last event about the nature of the media’s frenzy. While their sharklike gathering is certainly unsavory, this story at least exposes the peer conflicts and homophobia that are often rampant on college campuses and get under-reported. I can’t espouse the demands for the head of the roommate on a platter, but neither can I say this is a particularly bad use of media time, especially when compared to the disappearance of yet another rich blonde girl from such and such location. It remains to be seen how the spotlight ultimately treats Rutgers, how the university fares under its white-hot illumination. Our team was already scheduled to debate civility on campus in a public showcase next Thursday before this happened.

Tonight I walked into downtown Highland Park, such as it is, to do a little light shopping and look around the town. It’s cute and quaint and fall serves it well. While my ultimate destination was Stop and Shop for imminent practicalities like envelopes and soap and microwave burritos, I couldn’t help but tarry at the Nighthawk Bookstore, offering used books and music till midnight, five days a week. There seems to be a bit of community to this community, traversed by walkers of all kinds even in the billowing winds of an onrushing thunder. The distances are short and the buildings old, but there is life and vibrance and a kind of candle in the darkness. By the time I returned home, fleeing the first sprinkles and clutching the chafing plastic handle of the bag (my half of the canvas collection is still stuffed somewhere against cardboard), I was feeling almost okay about where I’ve landed. A ping-pong ball bouncing high in the air, fortunate to land, all but by chance, in a small town instead of the Hudson.

A hard rain’s a-gonna fall, make no mistake. I am debating between heading over to practice rounds in my car or toughing out my simulation of carlessness and walking against the slings and arrows of outrageous downpour, come what may. I think I’d like to feel the rain pelting against my jacket, soaking my hat, gathering in my eyes and hair as I trudge into an almost invisible future. There is a solace in storms, the promise of washing away all that has gathered and built in the corners and cracks and alleys of sunbaked neglect. Of renewal, reopening the ground to accept the life-sustaining promise of water, the emboldening prospect of wind. There is also power and fear, of course. The sudden randomness of a bolt of lightning, the crack of the bough as it snaps away from the tree in a particular gust. But even this breakage creates renewal. New buds, new life, new access to the sun that the formerly blocked were denied.

It is time for all of us to fall someday. And it is October tomorrow. The only question is how far we fall when the wind knocks us down.

by

Pre-Debate Morning

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

There is a special kind of anticipation that comes with waking up knowing that something exciting or fun or worthwhile is going to happen that day. The feeling that things are not for naught, that one does not regret feeling conscious after not doing so for a time. But further, that there is a hurry, an urgency, a desire for wakefulness that overrides the last vestiges of sleep and makes one savor the sheer process of looking forward to something.

There are extremes of this feeling. The day one gets married, say, or the morning of the first baseball game one can play in or, perhaps better, see on a major-league diamond. Trips to Disneyland. A first date with that certain person. Christmas. It’s no surprise that most of these feelings are associated with either childhood or love, the states of being that unseat our more rational, plodding, conventional approach to life and replace it with the unbridled joy and small recklessnesses of a perspective of innocence. It is hard to be this excited about work day #526 at a mundane bill-paying job or a perfunctory holiday visit to one place or another. It is the excitement, to borrow, only a free person can feel.

Debate mornings have long made me feel this way. I don’t know when exactly debate tournaments started feeling like Christmas, but it was probably sometime after I begrudgingly signed up for parliamentary debate in college and suddenly turned around and won my very first tournament, the epically oversized Columbia Novice Tournament. A Tournament so large and unwieldy that not even every undefeated team broke. Maybe it was the very next tournament after that, after this charmed and magical experience, that I started feeling like the chance to merely attend and compete and talk was like manna, like a cool breeze or a drought-thwarting rain. In the middle of the worst spells of a bumpy collegiate career, it was what sustained me. I stayed at Brandeis more because it gave me a chance to debate than anything on its campus-based merits.

It’s not that every tournament went well or was in any way comparable to the Columbia Novice Tournament. I only won 7 of the next 73 tourneys I attended. Every one that I didn’t brought disappointments or regrets, although I guess the ones where I lost in Finals (6 more) weren’t so bad, usually because I got to run a fun case that I really enjoyed and debated in as many rounds as were held. But part of the vital appeal of each new tournament and each new Friday morning launch was the possibility. Every time one steps into a round, one has a chance at winning. Every time one steps into a tournament, one imagines oneself at the head of that room, arguing one’s way through Finals.

I can’t participate in Final Rounds any longer, of course. Not for some time – almost a decade already. The best I can hope for of my own accord are demonstration rounds, which have become remarkably common of late and carry a ubiquitous invitation for the sage 30-year-old with the long hair and giddy demeanor. Seriously. Giddy. I am just a different person in the debate world and it’s a huge part of what attracts me to it, year after year and weekend after weekend. So I’m getting my fix in, but honestly what excites me are the possibilities for my wards. Coaching debate has given me a new lease on an activity I’d long been missing, and earnestly given me a new lease on excitement in a year that has had every shot at killing me. Getting to drive fresh-faced youth discovering their own love of debate and its potential on the way to the same time-worn campus lecture halls I once traversed brings me a satisfaction like little else. It is the comfort of not only doing something fun and exciting, but of being in the right place at the right time. Being centered in the universe.

When the universe has seemingly turned its back on me, when I am leaving a home with my debate-reared and -discovered wife for the last Friday ever, it is this feeling of place and belonging that I crave most. And to add to it that I will be in a tab room, the epicenter of the collision between my love of rational argument and my penchant for statistics – it almost makes life feel worth living. That just for a morning or so, I can remember what it was like to be joyful, to have butterflies in the stomach for good reasons, to feel like all the future one needs is a weekend, a car, the company of like-minded friends.

Somebody throw me the keys.

1 2 3 4 5 6