Tag Archives: Pre-Trip Posts


Independence Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Pre-Trip Posts, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

“There was an exodus of birds in the trees
because they didn’t know we were only pretending.
And the people all looked up and looked pleased
and the birds flew around like the whole world was ending.
And I, I don’t think war is noble
and I don’t like to think love is like war.”
-Ani DiFranco, “Independence Day”

I’m going back to Berkeley on the 4th of July. I’d already be on the plane right now, but it was delayed, which is a bit of a surprise given how few people choose to fly on this day. Berkeley, of course, is the origin of my “4th of July Hat”, so named for the day I bought it. The hat is featured in this picture:


When I tell people how cold the Bay Area is, especially in the summer, they don’t believe me. I talk about this hat. It’s not just that I’m a chronically cold person who chose to wear this hat on 4th of July (the day perhaps most associated with heat on the entire calendar) in Berkeley. It’s that street vendors were selling this hat on 4th of July in Berkeley. Meaning they had to believe that other people, other more normal and warmer people, would also be interested in making such an acquisition. And they were.

Of course, that picture was taken in on December 23rd in Albuquerque, a few years later, a place where it sometimes snows. Like the snowflakes on the hat. It never snows in Berkeley. That would make the cold worthwhile.

Despite my bellyaching (I blame the delayed flight), I love everything else about the Bay Area except the weather. I love the people, I love the places, I love the restaurants, I love the… oh. There are also the memories. I love a lot of the memories. And I hate a lot of them too. There’s really just nothing to be done about that.

I just watched “500 Days of Summer” twice in the last 72 hours. I think it might be the perfect movie. I saw it at least thrice in theaters when it came out and I’ve seen it a couple times since. The movie is many things, including a brilliant depiction of miscommunication and misunderstanding and how that can emerge and evolve, but it is mostly a distilled and exquisite rendering of how love impacts the human brain and how completely devastating that experience can be. And perhaps even more perfect is its depiction of memory, how it can lie and cheat and illustrate and illuminate. I almost watched it again this morning. I can’t get enough.

It is, I guess, a weird time to focus on such a heartbreaking film when I’m on my way to the wedding of a dear friend. But such dwelling also coincides, of course, with only my second return to the Bay Area since the demise of my marriage that spent 6 of its 7 (pre-separation) years there (curse you, New Jersey!). As much as anything, visiting the Bay Area is like going to the grave of my married life and waiting for the ghosts to come rising from the earth. Good times.

The other movie it makes me think of is “Inside Out”, which may be battling “500 Days of Summer” for the top spot in my heart this month. [Be you warned, for here be spoilers!] How a core full of happy yellow memories, powering a whole field of identity can be stripped of its meaning, soured blue and sucked away to lead to collapse and ruin. Yes, the ultimate lesson is that efforts to make yourself happy when you’re not amount to bullying and that sadness is the conduit to compassion and listening and ultimately, hope (or at least a richly complex emotional life). But the metaphor of how quickly those yellow memories go blue, never to be reclaimed, spoke to me perhaps louder than anything else in the film.

There was going to be a tie-in to the USA here, its annual Orgy of Jingoism, why I choose to fly rather than get pressured to watch fireworks meant to simulate the murderous destruction of other nation’s people. I remember some Bay Area 4th when I was too upset by the whole thing to see straight, it was a Big Blue House year, me moping around Oakland and not wanting to go anywhere while Fish and Emily tried to boost my spirits. Or maybe I’m getting it tangled with the summer of 2002 in my mind, a year before the wedding, back in Waltham, when I decided to skip out on Emily and … I want to say Nikki and maybe Ariel? … and just came back and played video games with Russ because I couldn’t handle the disconnect between everyone’s buoyant patriotism and my angry sadness. They probably both happened, though the little blue-red orb of the latter incident is becoming clearer in my mind as I write this. Blue and red, of course. The days flip around, the memories shoot through the chutes, and I am no closer to knowing how to sit with this than I ever have been.

It is a happy time, a happy trip. So many of the orbs that remain yellow from this time involve the people I’m going to see. Brandzy, of course, and friends from Glide, and a town that almost claimed my college years, that I fell in love with during my first real flirtation of my lifetime, then gave a good seven years almost a decade later. The gobstopper of emotions, as I’ve always said. The swirly swirl of rainbow colors, all together. Rainbows. I still remember that meal at the awful Turkish place in 2004 with Brandzy and I, and of course ErinPHull.org and Emily, the day they started marrying everyone, the brief time before injunctions and stoppages and then Prop 8 came to delay it all for a while. That brief, heady time before this ultimate fulfillment.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
-Justice Anthony Kennedy, Obergefell v. Hodges

Maybe we’d all be better off if, at the outset of it all, some loud and authoritative voice said to us: “But you should know upfront, this is not a love story.”

Or maybe I’m just on the downslope of the roller coaster. I’m sure I’ll be up again soon, possibly in accordance and angle with the plane I’m about to board.


Nationals Eve

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

Harrison "HWhitty" Whitman and I on the first day of APDA Nationals 2002 at UMBC.  We'd just won Rutgers the weekend before, qualling him for Nationals.  I had braids in my hair for my last Nationals ever, something I'd always wanted to do.

Harrison “HWhitty” Whitman and I on the first day of APDA Nationals 2002 at UMBC. We’d just won Rutgers the weekend before, qualling him for Nationals. I had braids in my hair for my last Nationals ever, something I’d always wanted to do.

It’s like Christmas Eve for me tonight. Or, more fittingly, since Christmas Eve is really my holiday, it’s like Christmas Eve Eve. The night of the 23rd, when the roof lumis are done and all the rest are waiting in their neat little rows in the garage anticipating the soreness and joy of light that will follow the next night. Except tomorrow is not the night for luminarias, but the first day of the American Parliamentary Debate Association‘s National Championships. Almost as fun, almost as exhausting, always as memorable.

I’m quite proud to have the distinction of having attended more APDA Nationals than any other person. I guess I don’t technically officially know this to be the case, but I know enough APDA history to realize that no one else could be close. Tomorrow will mark my arrival at my 13th Nationals, at the 35th convening of the prestigious title tournament. The first Nationals was held when I was a year old and I didn’t attend till I was 19, in 1999, but dinos (ex-debaters) barely came back for more than a year or two then. Indeed, my own coach went to at least 9 Nationals, maybe ten, with 5 as a coach, and possibly was the record-holder until I probably broke it a couple years back. Institutional memory is traditionally thin on the circuit, as with almost all college pursuits that are not sports with their bevy of outside observers and journalists and scouts.

I competed at Nationals for the four years I was eligible as a debater, 1999-2002, though I didn’t qualify as a fully seeded competitor my freshman year, falling a ballot short of the necessary final round in the last weekend of the year. I didn’t break till my junior year, after an abysmal run with my 5th TOTY partner Steve Rabin in my sophomore season, capping a semester we’d won three straight tournaments during with bitter disappointment. Zirkin and I made it to semifinals, finishing third, felled by our rivals Fletcher and Luftglass from Yale who I’d beaten on Gov in huge semifinals twice earlier that year, burning our two top cases in the process. We were simply a case short of where we needed to be, pulled out an old first-rounder, and got trounced. I would use this as an admonishment to Rutgers kids for five years of coaching that you always need one more case. Fourteen years later, I still feel regret.

Which is silly, because being third at Nationals after winning the North American Championship that year is awesome. And I really can’t look back on my career as a debater and feel anything but grateful. But sometimes I still do.

The less said about my senior Nationals the better, in some ways, though there were things that were amazing about it as well. I have the most pictures of it, too, nostalgia seeming so present already in the moment, it feeling like one of those times when time slows down, stops, almost reverses. My recollections of that tournament in particular are sharp and vivid like a predictable movie on a screen in front of me. The joys and the pains, some of the greatest of both I’ve, to this day, ever felt. And I was profoundly aware of how important that weekend would be to my memory, a rare and valuable thing to go into an event with. Time was so slow those three days. I still remember every round. My mind goes there often, reinforced by a life with debaters offering the opportunity to tell more stories of Nats of yore.

Myself and Andy "Drew" Tirrell, arriving on campus for my last (sort of) round ever, Nationals Quarterfinals.

Myself and Andy “Drew” Tirrell, arriving on campus for my last (sort of) round ever, Nationals Quarterfinals.

Then there were years of judging and tabbing. I was in the tab room for the Nats my alma mater hosted the year after I graduated, at Brandeis in 2003. Then I missed two years in a row, my longest hiatus from the event. I came back to judge in 2006 and saw a bubble round that I’ve long called the best round I ever judged (and certainly received the highest scores) with Stanford’s Baer and Chan defeating Yale’s Schneller and Bone. I tab directed the 2007 Nationals at Vassar, the first ever dino-run tab room with multiple schools represented, an experiment that quickly became the league standard after that trial. Then I missed two more again before returning for five years as a coach, including tab directing again at West Point in 2011. Indeed, tomorrow will break a streak of being in the tab room for Nats every four years that dates back to 2003.

Of course, possibly nothing will trump last year. The 2014 Nationals Finals run by Sean and Quinn for Rutgers was just the kind of thing that you can’t make up, though people do in movies all the time. Of course, we would have won it all in a movie. But it doesn’t matter, it didn’t matter. The redemption after a year that was so trying in so many ways, the disastrously depressing banquet when we all were almost sure we’d missed the break, the elation of getting in, and then the utter triumph of winning octos and then quarters and then dethroning back-to-back defending champions Harvard on a 4-1 decision. Of getting the Gov in a National Final. Of getting to go out, to step away from coaching, on top. I honestly may have been more tempted to stay, to give it one more year, had we just been knocked out in quarters. But you can’t fight the narratives your life is giving you sometimes.

A very giddy and relieved Rutgers team at the Nationals 2014 banquet at UPenn after Sean and Quinn had broken as the 13-seed.

A very giddy and relieved Rutgers team at the Nationals 2014 banquet at UPenn after Sean and Quinn had broken as the 13-seed.

All the same, I hope we get it this year. The whole she-bang. You have to. There isn’t a single person going who isn’t thinking, somewhere in the back of their mind, about hoisting the trophy and being National Champions. That’s the nature of Championships. You dream big. You see yourself up there. You imagine the steps to get it. And everyone but one team, two people and their supporters, are crushed by the end.

This will be one of those weird years where, technically, I don’t have a role, other than judging and bringing the history. Rutgers has a new coach now, officially, though I certainly plan to do some coaching as well. I’m not in the tab room. I’m long past the days of competing in tournaments that count. I’m there to savor the experience.

There are so many nuances to a Nationals tournament that have long made it my favorite single experience, that keep me sure that I’ll come back for more when this year’s trophy is hoisted and stowed away in a van for a journey home to wherever it’s going. I adore Senior Speeches. Despite the bitter memories of my own, I find Senior Speeches, the little farewell gifts of seniors to the circuit, to be moving and touching and funny and they always, without fail, renew my faith in the event of debate and in APDA as a whole. I feel honored that I’ve heard so many of them and eagerly anticipate this year’s batch.

There’s the expectations and the surprises. Every year, a hallowed team with a realistic chance of winning it all fails to break. Whether it’s the pressure, the preparation, the bounces of it being just one tournament for all the marbles, events always conspire against at least one team that everyone had near the top of their bracket. And almost as often, most every year and especially so lately, an unexpected team or two come out of nowhere to contend for the Championship. My very first Nationals in 1999 were won by a team that no one had on their radar, that no one would have put in their break, defeating TOTY in the Final round. The last two years have featured plucky underdogs taking a low seed and an under-rated season to a 2nd place finish. Semifinals traditionally has at least one team that barely made it in. My junior year, our semifinal was the #2 vs. the #3 seed. The other side of the bracket was the #9 vs. the #13, in the first year that Nationals had broken past 8 teams in at least 3 years.

There’s the reputation bump to those unexpected teams, though, the ones that aren’t seniors. The next year, that same #9 and #13 seed met in Finals at Nationals. They were the only two teams to beat Tirrell and I, the Champions in round 5 and the runners-up in quarters.

There’s the predictable rhythm of the tournament, one that has held true for all 12 Nats I’ve yet attended. The first night, two rounds, is sluggish and ominous, like a distant thunderstorm edging up to the horizon. Teams often come out of the gate heavy. It’s slow for a two-round night when we’re used to three. First round match-ups are surprisingly easy for the top teams, usually, lulling you into a sense of security. (Usually. Our 5th TOTY sophomore year, we hit the best free seed at the tourney first round, a team that had been to four or five semifinals and would have qualled twice over under the modern-day system.) Then the second round matchups are often brutal, reminding you that this is the title tournament after all, and you’d better start bringing it.

Day two is the second-longest day of debate that exists, trumped only by day two of North Americans in the tight-link era (an extra hour per round for the adjudication staff to fight over the motion for the next round). It is always interminable. Always. People look up after round 5 and feel that another day must have passed already. The day drags in a mess of anticipation and waiting and idle wiredness. If you’re lucky, truly lucky, you hit a Zen state where you can just take the day as it comes and drink in the opportunity to speak and do what you love. I think I hit that state my senior year, somehow, feeling so at peace with our decision to run a wide-open case in the bubble against an MIT team that remains the only team I know of to be mis-tabbed out of the Nationals break. Usually, though, you escape rounds rather than winning them. Even the rounds you crush, you just breathe a huge relieved sigh for having gotten them. Every moment feels like an elimination round, even sitting around in GA, feeling like you could fall asleep and miss something or be ninjaed in the back by a competitor. It’s grueling. And then the banquet is impossible, hours and hours of being unable to taste your food or keep it down as you wait for results. Softened only by senior speeches.

Day three, whether you’re in it or not, is lightning quick. It’s such a stark contrast from day two that it’s breathtaking. If you’re in it, you don’t have time to think or process or take stock of the day, it’s just hear the announcement and run to prep for the next round and hope that you’ve done enough prep work in the week(s) leading up that you don’t really need to think right now. You just react. This principle governed how smooth the Rutgers ’14 run was as well as the hard demise of the Brandeis ’01 run. The bracket just resolves and every time you look up, it’s only 8, 4, 2 teams left with a chance at the whole enchilada. Seniors and geniuses are suddenly sitting on the sidelines, and maybe you’re one of them, too stunned to realize that the dream is over, maybe for this year, maybe forever.

I can’t believe this shit isn’t on ESPN by now. I just feel incredibly lucky to be a part of it again, to feel at home in this hallowed league, to have the sense of perspective to appreciate it and not apologize for how much I love it. It’s a truly great tournament and I’ll see you there tomorrow.




Airport Morning

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , ,

The DHS dog comes by amiably, tugging his black-jacketed attendant along as he moves from person to person like he’s seeking a treat. He pauses at a small red bag in the genre of the modern over-sized carry-on, sniffing it up and down. Its owner, who profiles like a border-guard volunteer, doesn’t bother to look up and the attendant simultaneously tugs the leash as if to say “not the droids we are looking for.” The neighboring man, a near carbon-copy in build and appearance, though younger, does an exaggerated askance glance, rotating the eyes fully up and then down as he seeks the first man’s face for clues of felonious intent. The first man makes a phone call, irritated, as the dog wanders off in search of other milkbones; the neighbor is visibly more nervous in his extra-comfy leather seat with the three-pronged charging outlets and fake-marble-topped side table. He is tapping his feet and trying to stare straight ahead as though willing himself into a trance.

We are all thinking the same thing, at times like that if not at other times. The moment just before take-off, the acceleration into the lift that never quite feels like it could possibly be enough to lift even the assembled visible human mass off the ground, let alone the encasing steel and baggage. The moment of removing our shoes, patting down our own pockets for the trace coin or piece of wadded paper we will be berated for later if it remains. The lining up of sockfeet on the yellow gumshoe outlines, arms akimbo and upright, hands up, don’t shoot, but an even more surrendering position than that, as though we are about to be cuffed, or lifted straight off the ground. It has been ingrained in us at every turn: the trip we are about to take is dangerous. Maybe it was the image of the second plane going into the second tower over and over and over again, every angle, every speed, every shrill cry in the background. Two minutes hate, two minutes fear. Maybe it’s just the guards, everywhere. Maybe it’s a primal human terror at leaving the ground, at having nothing below but the clear blue sky.

Very few people read anymore. They play with their phones, their tablets, their computers. If they are reading, it’s often on one of these devices, especially if they are under 40. I’m always the only one under 40 with an actual paper book. Some idle picture-laden magazines do appear on laps, maybe even a sketchbook employed by the especially artsy type, the one with at least three colors of hair and pink socks poking above low-ankled black canvas shoes. There are an uncanny number of glasses and sunglasses up on foreheads, nestled in hair or perching on bald domes, reflecting back the sunny tarmac and its noisy sleek denizens. The padded, armrested comfy chairs are extremely popular, full long before any other section of the standard-issue adjoined seat rows without armrests. There is, mercifully, no blaring TV with some toned-down airport version of CNN alternating overly happy news with the specter of news that can only serve as a small reminder of what we all know we are all trying not to think about.

In a far corner by the window, a wheelchaired man is in a hushed but animated conversation with a cohort, possibly his younger brother. The Saints clothing per capita in this discussion is 1.5. Gestures and laughter punctuate their talk with such frequency that one wants to sidle over and join them, whatever the topic, knowing intuitively that it could only be enjoyed like that by people who’ve shared at least forty years of history together, and probably sixty-plus. I’m pretty certain I’ve played poker with the guy five seats down on my left and he keeps eying me cross-wise like he knows he recognizes me but isn’t sure from where and if he figures out from where, he’s definitely of the type that doesn’t admit outside of casinos how much time he spends in them. The girl in the purple shirt across the way looks like she’s too young to be flying alone but she’s probably at least 16 and it reminds me that age is entirely a relativistic experience. I can still remember how sixth graders seemed older than my parents when I was in first. I can still remember my grandparents calling my parents “you kids” when the latter were in their fifties. I frequently see someone I think I recognize from some past era in my life until I realize that the person I’m thinking of was 18 or 22 when I last saw them and that the person I currently see is 18 or 22, but the person I’m thinking of is actually now in their 30s.

Cell phones are picked up frequently, but never for long. Such seems to be their purpose, to shorten talks down to their distilled minimum. And maybe that’s how people always used the phone, mostly, but it wasn’t so visible, public, accessible, constant. People answer questions about their upcoming flight, layovers, weather here and weather there. Pickup arrangements are made, flight numbers relayed for the checking of delays. There is an intense, glazed, television-thrall type look to those who are only fingering their phones and not talking, be it an absorbing game or the unending scroll of the web and its diversions. There is frequent and profound sighing everywhere, as people are reminded that they are waiting. Or perhaps that they are trying not to think that this could be their last morning on Earth and that everyone is thinking about that just a little. We rarely come face-to-face with mortality in a mundane way. It is either the drama of immediate trauma to ourselves or loved ones, or a long slow sad decay. But there is something about the everyday fluorescent over-brightness of this gate area, its stainless steel numbered pillars glowing in the morning sun, that makes the end seem both near and absurd. One can’t think about it too long or it will become too much. We all hear stories about the person who ran off the plane that crashed at the last possible minute, have all contemplated, at least once, freaking ourselves out to the point of being that person. But we tap the right side of the door twice as we enter (or whatever your little superstition happens to be, if applicable), and board all the same.

I cannot help but thinking back to the 5-year-old girl in the line with the harried stressed father and the over-calm older sister and the meek mother, the one who appeared to have deep set scars under each eye. She was about three groups ahead of me in the bag-check line and an even shorter distance up in the security queue. They looked like gashes, red with the remnants of exposed blood, then tear tracks, then gashes again, as she turned nervously in the line like someone in need of the bathroom. I kept looking at her father, picturing him hitting her or attacking her, then the mother, because it could be her too or instead, after all, then berating myself for such harsh suspicions when children fall all the time or run too quickly. The particular shape and placement of what really did ultimately look like cuts, though, were hard to conjure an appropriate explanation for and I wondered if this is how profiling works or if this is more frequent for me as a would-be creative writer, or if there’s something about this slightly paranoid environment that makes one dread their fellow traveler. The family was white, very Southern looking, the father ruddy and one who seemed quick to anger, but perhaps I just wanted to see that. Serial has taught us how quickly we can explain the shocking, how much we can fill in what we want to see if someone tells us that’s the explanation, or if we suspect something enough. We did it that September morning, now already so long ago. We do it every day.

Should I have reported what I saw? If you see something, say something. It is, statistically speaking, far more dangerous these days to be a schoolchild than a plane-rider. And that’s even not accounting for yesterday’s tragic events in Peshawar. Peshawar, another city of stories from my father’s youth, turned again to a synonym for blood. It is, of course, statistically speaking, more dangerous to be almost anything than a plane-rider. Despite the thoughts we all are harboring and hiding, what we are about to do is safer than whatever we did to get us here. It is safer than whatever our step is after we leave the airport we’re headed to. It is safer than most everything else we fill our days with, even if cell phones don’t cause cancer.

A rack of vapid, over-makeupped faces stare at me from behind and above the real faces I see. It occurs to me to wonder whether the magazine industry would still exist were it not for plane travel. And how much longer, even here, it can compete with the small rectangular screens that even now I myself am partaking in to bring you these observations. It is not all useless, what we do on these screens, it is communication and contact and the desperate sense that we are not where we are. That we are closer with the ones we love and miss. That we are not, in fact, waiting in an airport for a metal tube that we really hope does not lead us to our doom, that we hope will comfortably and safely teleport us to one of a hundred other worlds. And now I bring you the irony of trying to will you into this space, to give you enough vignettes and insights such that you too feel transported to a place that, by all accounts, no one really sees as a place to be, a destination, a location they would choose.

The seats are filling in now, more closely, and at least two people have glanced over to see surreptitiously what I was working on so intently. One actually moved two seats further away thereafter, perhaps getting enough of a gist to realize that I was publicly talking about everyone here. There are now four people in wheelchairs here. None who appear to have lost their limbs in Iraq or Afghanistan. The friend in the animated conversation before surprised me by running off to a different gate with fond goodbyes five minutes ago, being replaced by what can only be the first wheelchaired man’s wife, also adorned in Saints paraphernalia. The attendant behind the Southwest desk wears a purple sequined Santa hat that is something I cannot honestly say I have ever seen.

Our plane lands behind me and the disoriented-looking, recalibrating new teleportees to New Orleans turn the corner single-file. Most are rolling bags behind them. Many are clutching their small reflective rectangles. All look a little like they have just survived something – exhausted relief. Maybe I am making too much of this or looking for it, but maybe it’s always there just in that moment atop the jetway. The planting of shoe on solid ground once more, the connection with the earth that our species has loved since the first of us grew tired of swimming and crawled out of the tide.

Soon, they will call our number and we will, as one, rise to take our preordained place beside the numbered pillars. We will carry those slight little dejected looks of boredom, punctuated only by the occasional excited child or particularly gregarious personality. I will think of the little girl again, of the plane in the tower, of all the other safe landings, of Albuquerque and my family and the destination that we all must be singularly focused on. I will tap the right side of the door, outside the plane twice, as I have since my early teens. I will settle into a seat, row 17 by the window if I can, stuff my backpack under the seat before me and remove my book. I will look out the window, sigh, read, and wonder how long I will be able to stay awake. The people who do this daily, for a living, who surely must have got better control of their worse thoughts than I do yet, will talk to us about things we have known since we were five. Five. Damn.

And soon, after a short little drive and that sudden loud acceleration, we will make for the sky.

Portrait of the blogger (sort of) as a pre-boarded man.  But mostly of a plane and all that tarmac.

Portrait of the blogger (sort of) as a pre-boarded man. But mostly of a plane and all that tarmac.



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

It’s been a week. I realize, increasingly, that this space is a good inverse litmus test of some combination of how overtly busy I am combined with how ruminative I’m feeling about my life in general. While ideas and thoughts of what things mean or feel like are percolating, I tend not to write much here. When things are feeling calmer and more distilled, the outpourings tend to inundate this page. And the past week has brought much reflection.

I wanted to hold back on writing this post, or something like it, until I’d ruminated sufficiently to draw some conclusions. But as is often the result of meaningful mental inquiry, the questions have only yielded a fractal chain of infinitely more questions, with very little hope of satisfying answers on the horizon. And so I’m inclined to reflect on bathing in the questions rather than hoping to sew things up in a neat little bow. Fair warning, though, by the end of this (whose final sentences I can’t begin to envision yet), I may find some trite little cap to put on it, but I doubt it will be as holistic or satiating as normal.

A lot went wrong last week. My car, Emily’s car, the gift car, the daily needly little reminder of my past life (just in case you need a reframing of what my emotional state constantly confronts), got hit by a hit-and-run overnight driver exactly a week ago, on the eve of our departure for the GW tournament in DC. My discovery of this, which happened at some point early Friday morning between, say, 1 AM and 7 AM, between my return from the debate meeting and my departure for more debate, was made by looking for a mirror that was bent all the way back the wrong way. Further investigation revealed significant paint leavings and denting on the front-left part of the vehicle, along with broken headlight pieces from the offending party, which I petulantly picked up and put in my trunk as though life were some sort of CSI show where forensic evidence could be traced (and as though a hit-and-run-fender-bender were sufficiently significant to merit utilization of such tracing). I care less about material possessions than most and far less about the prettiness of my car than anyone (average car-washes per year: 0.33), but it’s still the type of event that just makes you hate your species. I had no time to file a police report when having to keep a schedule to make the tournament, and have functionally kind of lost the will to consider same since. It’s already blended into my reality. Something about losing everything makes you a lot more comfortable with losing a little more without seeking recourse. One’s sense of justice kind of loses its bearings when one has confronted enough unfairness.

Then one of our top debaters landed in the hospital in DC not once, but twice, facing a 103 fever and complications from dehydration and possibly bronchitis. I joined the waiting party for one of the two 5-hour late-night stints in the ER, envisaging flashbacks of my last big late-night ER waiting session and even the night I drove myself to the hospital with what proved to be kidney stones. Amidst the bleary off-lit reality of every hospital, the surreal pallor of medical danger and overtired health care professionals, I had time to reflect on how we enter and leave this society and the lives of those for whom this brink of death and destruction is as commonplace as debate has become again for me. The delirious walk back at 4 AM with the rejuvenated debater and our two cohorts felt like seeing between the lines of reality, peeking behind the webbing of the virtual reality and playing with the planes. And then of course I had a belly-punching kidney stone come in the next day, distracting me back almost out of any semblance of reality as I dealt with emotional upheaval of the vibrant community in which I am ensconced on all sides.

The weekend was not without joy, mind. There were connections and cross-connections aplenty, the opportunity for Fish to meet a good chunk of my team in DC, put them up, regale them with stories of my youth over poker and jokes and green chile mac-n-cheese. We spent a blustery afternoon walking monuments and strapping into the time machine that DC will always be for me, the hearkening of the longest single year of my existence, the 1987-88 stretch that broadened my horizons and, in retrospect, seems scarier for my parents every time I reconsider it despite my own blithe youthful excitement and optimism in that time. We took countless pictures (you can take a look), scouring DC for the photo opportunities more than our own experience, as though the chronicling of the moments was a vastly more important process than the moment itself. And in light of memory, in the full view of time, in the era of digital photography and instant re-editing, re-taking, re-imagining, it is hard for me to argue with this model. What do we have, ultimately, beyond our memories, our documentation and remnants of the past? Should we not be just as careful about their remembrance as we are about the moments themselves? Is that not, in many ways, the very purpose of this blog? Look at how many scenarios I’ve referenced by their artifactual telling in this same format rather than recount in renewed detail from the contemporary vantage!

And yet, despite my enhanced emotional bonding with so many on the team, despite the increasing feeling that I have found the wheelhouse of what to do with my time in this fugue state of pushing my own emotional ruins around into something that looks more like stacked rubble than strewn rubble, I feel a certain isolation. I could call this isolation generational, but I don’t really even see a gap between myself and my charges, let alone do I put much stock in that kind of temporal passage. More than anything, the isolation is philosophical, and its depth appears to be increasing. And while there are possible mundane causes, such as being on the East Coast, dealing with college students newly emboldened with their sense of questioning prior assumptions, even the self-selection of debaters perhaps, the overall trend seems somewhat distressing to an idealistic believer like me. It feels, more and more, like people are devolving toward some sort of faith in an uncaring, deterministic universe where meaning and purpose are replaced with cold hard economics, physics, and so-called facts. And it’s not exactly helping me fall in love with my species.

I’m smarting a bit, I’ll grant, from some selection bias over a few experiences I’ve had of late. Extensive Facebook debates and dialogues with hardened, if thoroughly illogical, devotees of science as their only religion. Near screaming debates with debaters about the unprovability of anything, relative probabilities, and the pursuit of understanding. Resigned sighs with the increasingly faithless over what their lot in life may be, how much control they may have, how much choice they even give themselves over who they spend their time with, how, why. And far too much contact with people who find the siren call of wealth, materialism, and the simplest of base pleasures to be sufficient justification for all manner of overt moral compromise. If the pillaging of my marriage tested my faith in any one person, in even the notion of the individual as someone who can have value and can be trusted, then the last week has seemed to test my faith in the whole lot of them, in the very idea of community.

And I’m exaggerating a bit. There are exceptions, as there always are. And overall, I’ve actually felt heartened and strengthened by my community, which has probably made this tidal wave of determinist resignation feel even more unsettling for its contrast. But the near-universality of declarative statements like everything coming down to economics and basic motivations or everything being a chemical reaction and physically explicable make me wonder what I’m even railing for anymore. It becomes wearying to be told how crazy one is ad nauseum. At a certain point, the crazy man has to resign himself to his fate, no matter how sane he believes himself to objectively be. For the reality is that objectivity itself fails to have much resonance when everyone is living in a different functional paradigm. Which is not an excuse for adjusting to and embracing the subjective wrongs of society as they exist, but it might be a justification for spending less energy beating back ceaselessly against the tide.

I feel like I’m being a bit vague. Summarative. Skipping steps, either because I presume that you know the course of my argument between free will and determinism, souls and science, God and nihilism, or because I’m losing my faith in my ability to persuade anyone young enough to be able to read this that there’s any question about these matters to be discussed. I also must acknowledge the extent to which time remains a factor in my life, in which no matter how much I try to avoid them, little biological necessities like eating before a long and demanding day, must be paid their begrudging due.

I think the point, ultimately, comes down to the point. Where to find purpose and meaning in a world that’s shutting such notions down like so many decrepit nuclear reactors, a world collapsing these concepts into careless mathematical formulae faster than we can even fully observe. My ability to find such direction in a direct personal bond with someone has been tested beyond its limit, snapping back in a possibly irreparable way. And thus I’ve turned to various pursuits of persuasion and influence, of digging myself out with work and effort all designed at further honing my skills as someone who has something to say about this lonely rock and its frantic inhabitants.

Some of my charges, the most observant or kindest of them perhaps, try to remind me that I’m having an influence, the old trite “making a difference”. And perhaps it’s true. Okay, probably. But it still feels, holistically, like I’m spitting in the ocean, or perhaps more pertinently trying to find a particular gob of spit in the ocean. And the process is starting to seem about that appetizing. What’s the point in being the exception to everything if you don’t get any company along the way? Am I simply doing it wrong? At what point will fatigue in hoping to be ahead of one’s time devolve into a numb alignment with the contemporary failings? And yet how could one then live with undertaking a course of action one already determined to be so problematic?

And yet, when examined closely, all of these questions seem to disintegrate in the face of the largest one of all, the one about the hope of companionship, which underlines and circles all these larger issues of isolation and distance and unrelatability. And maybe that’s where all the exhaustion and resignation comes from, in the end. It’s one thing to worry esoterically about the search for meaning coming up dry and empty after a long lifetime’s slog. It’s quite another if one undertook that slogging journey without so much as a soul for accompaniment.

I really wish I could peek at the future, just a glimpse or a hint or a sign. But to do so would violate my belief about the nature of the universe itself. Would I trade the indeterminate nature of the universe for a deterministic one merely to offer the opportunity to look ahead? Or would I immediately regret the missed opportunity to fleetingly agonize with my gobstoppered emotions?

My answer, like the rest of it, is indeterminate.


On Superstition

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

One of my debaters asked me last weekend whether I was superstitious. It was a good question. I reflexively answered that I wasn’t, but then he started talking about debate superstitions about writing on the board and how and who does it and I started quickly clarifying that when it came to that, I was extremely superstitious!

He asked me why I thought people were superstitious and it seemed pretty obvious to me that people are because they seek to exert control on their environment or circumstances in a way that they know they can’t otherwise in life. While we all like to think of ourselves as being in control of our own destinies, the reality is that none of us has particular control when we hold just one-seven-billionth of the power in our planet. I’ve discussed the cacophony of wills extensively before, but it’s crippling to really internalize how much that abrogates our free will into a collective free will as disjointed and chaotic as our world itself. No wonder people try to claw each other’s eyes out getting into the 1% where that one-seven-billionth can seem like one-one-millionth for a while.

If we believe that we secretly control events larger than ourselves – sports outcomes that we watch on TV or in person, the life or death of someone far away, the heart of another person, the thought processes of a debate round judge – by simple actions of routine or pattern, then we can believe there’s some connection between our own personal effort and the outcomes that affect us so deeply. And once there’s confirmation of some sort of link, however tenuous or absurd, between writing in a certain style on the chalkboard or saying a particular set of words or wearing a hat in a particular way and the desired outcome, then repeating that becomes almost holy.

We all hunger for free will, all crave the ability to dominate merely our own lives. And while we all probably have more actual will than we acknowledge when we’re not being overtly superstitious, the fact is that humanity’s not actually well organized yet to maximize reasonable choices for people. Most people do most of what they do with the verve and volunteerism of one with a gun aimed squarely at their temple.

Is it any wonder that I sit here waiting for my life to come back to me? Maybe today, maybe if I mismatch my socks and think only the best thoughts, maybe if I don’t sleep enough to let the nightmares in, maybe if I can ward off the migraines and do everything she would have wanted, look at the clock at the right times and focus my mind in just the right way, maybe I can find a little hope that this message will travel across the universe, the Atlantic, the bridge between half-souls, and remind her of what she threw away.

I am patient. I can do this.

The cruel reality is different, of course. Like any superstition of debate or sports or life, I’m winking at myself. I see the image of her, hopeless and claiming to be tempest-tossed, citing the need to commit an affair and cast aside compassion like they were mandates from Heaven of which she mildly disapproved but was robotically forced to comply. I can imagine her eye-rolling at reading this, the clucking sigh she used to make about how naive, idealistic, stupid I was. Like she had a monopoly on understanding the universe and how it was out to get her.

The universe isn’t out to get anyone. We use our limited will as an excuse for abusing each other. As soon as we wake up and realize that no matter how little will we have, maximizing its utility for good, compassion, and the further maximization of will is our best hope, then we might start making the best use of our individual slices of light. We can all hold a candle and watch it dance in the harshness of wind and rain, or we can join together to merge our lights into a fire that could burn all the architecture of the past that holds us back.

Hoping our light will magically be transported to create that conflagration is surely not enough. But I can’t do this alone.


No Time to Think of Consequences

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Pre-Trip Posts, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , , ,

It’s been really hard to breathe lately. Maybe I need to do more yoga. Maybe I just need to swallow my pride already. Maybe there are no right answers, like Rabbit surmises in the comic below, only a vague attempt to avoid the skyward pianos that loom and always threaten to fall.

I’m going to DC this weekend. Hanging out at Brandzy’s place, though I won’t see him much. Talking to high school debaters at Nationals about our upcoming Camp, our debate program for any potential Rutgers prospects. Getting a bit more familiar with Public Forum debate.

I went to the Allison Weiss show in Princeton on Wednesday. It was quite awesome, a much better sampling of her in her element than the prior show in New York. She asked for requests and I called one out (July 25, 2007) and she played it when she said it wasn’t on the setlist and used this to encourage more requests. I bought a dinosaur T-shirt from her after the show. She played all the songs I wanted to hear, plus a new one, penultimately, that broke my heart. It’s called “I’ll Be OK”. I’m not so sure.

There’s something about short, direct, declarative sentences that feels like control. It’s probably very different than how I usually feel, the rambly arcs of poetic lyrical interpretability. How much of all this is about control? Pride or control? How much of self-preservation requires those elements? How much do I care?

Yesterday I got a brief vision of a possible summer plan with the laptop-based webcam capturing me telling stream-of-consciousness stories while I drove across the country. Little video postcards of life on the road, free, carefree, hopeful. It doesn’t feel real. It feels like a clown suit I’m trying to want to put on. I don’t know how to pretend to want things that are different than everything I always tried to want.

Everything is harder since I tried to take control.

Allison Weiss at Small World Coffee
Princeton, NJ
25 May 2011

I’m Ready
I Don’t Want to Be Here
I Was an Island
Nothing Left
July 25, 2007
Don’t Go
Try to Understand
Why Bother
Kids (partial)
You + Me + Alcohol
The End
One-Way Love
Wait for Me
Ghost Stories
Let Me Go
I’ll Be OK
Fingers Crossed


Cruel and Unusual Month

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

It’s hard to read the posts I made in this space from last April without getting a little upset. There was a lot of looking forward then, especially a year and a day ago when I looked back on Nationals 2010 and tried to anticipate what the next year would bring, both at Rutgers and even tabbing Nats this year. And a year less a day ago, two days after, the giddy announcement that Em had finally secured a summer position in Liberia. It’s a little like the public-diary-rereading version of watching a really unsubtle horror film. No matter how much you yell “Look behind you!” at the screen, your April 2010 self won’t hear you.

I’ve been fond of telling people this week that “I’m not a person” right now, a nod to the obsessive focus I’ve brought to both preparing the Rutgers team for Nationals (you can read our latest Targum article from yesterday here) and to preparing to be Tab Director at the marquee title event for APDA. Splitting these duties is somewhat certifiable, and yet completely exhilarating as I have frequently observed that I like only coaching and tabbing nearly as much as I used to like debating. And a lot of the preparation, as the article attests, has involved me getting to debate the kids I usually just observe, if only in practice and drills.

Certainly spending three days at the US Military Academy in such a position of authority will be surreal enough. I’ve been making a lot of jokes with people in the last few months about how unpredictable recent developments in my life have been, how life itself seems pretty determined to demonstrate its flexibility and perhaps insanity to me. A year ago, my thoughts were focused on how tabbing nationals in my second year of coaching would be a likely farewell to the circuit, a last nod to perhaps my favorite institution of all-time before shuffling quietly into the shadows for a possibly somewhat permanent jaunt abroad with the wife I’d met through said organization. As it stands now, I am indefinitely involved, perhaps in an increasing manner, my third Nats tab room being just another notch in a life once again built on doubling down on debate and hoping the rest of the details sort themselves out.

I never make unmitigatedly positive statements any more, especially when looking at my own life and its meandering browbeaten path. But I can at least be thankful to debate as a whole and this league in specific as a heck of a safety net that’s been there to catch my terminal velocity this annum. That does bring me to the brink of an unknown on the verge of a summer without much clear form or shape other than letdown from the weekly adrenaline surge of competition. But it also provides reassurance at the constancy of having found a community I can always enjoy and feel a mutual benefit in relation to. In some ways, it may not seem like much; in others, it feels like the early fruits of most people’s lifelong quests.

The goal for the next 72 hours? One of the oldest in the book. Find a way to have some fun, to carve some joy from the sheer intensity. As long as they have music at the banquet, it shouldn’t be too hard.


Squinting at a Mirror in the Early Morning Hours

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

Two mornings ago, I awoke from a dream in which I’d been debating competitively and before an interventionist judge. At 7 minutes into an 8:30 speech, he told me “That’s seven minutes,” stopped flowing, and started flowing the remaining on-case arguments across. I continued to speak but got flustered, lost my train of thought, and, feeling derailed, sat down. He then started coaching the following speaker (the MO) through his speech. At a certain point of over-fond encouragement, I stood up, ripped off my sunglasses (because who doesn’t wear sunglasses while observing MOC’s?), threw them down to break on the floor, yelled “This round is under protest!”, and stormed toward the tab room. Wherein I lodged a formal complaint with a highly ironic person who happened to be running tab at that tournament.

This morning, I awoke from a dream in which I had to save a drowning child of indeterminate age (he was about six years old when standing next to his mother, but an infant once he hit the water) from murky algae in the waters beneath the enormous bridge that spans from Astoria, Oregon to the southwestern tip of Washington. The three of us were about to cross said bridge on foot, a recurring theme I have in dreams in the last couple years for no particularly good reason I can discern. Then the kid took a dive and the mother looked at me helplessly and I immersed myself in the muck through which I cannot swim in real life to fish the younger and younger child out and induce him to cough up the briny sea-river water he’d ingested.

I submit these vivid awakenings without much comment or interpretation – it mostly eludes me anyway, except to note that debate is on the brain in a way it’s rarely been at any time save perhaps my 50-tournament streak from 2000-2002. Even the drowning baby can probably be tied to debate discussions about when its morally compulsive to save such people. I’ve been meaning to compose a post for a while that’s as much excuse as interesting, about how much of the rest of my life is on hold as I sort out what an official and increasing commitment to debate looks like and how the rest of my existence sort of shifts around that weight. It’s almost like the organ-shifting that occurs during a pregnancy – how previously important functions like waste filtration and breathing take a slight back seat to incubating a living, breathing team. Maybe the metaphor doesn’t wash, but given the late impact on my health and other uses of time, it’s apt enough. And I’m fine with it – having to balance things against life as a professional debate coach is sort of the benchmark for “good problems to have”.

It’s sort of amusing to reflect on the New Year’s Resolutions I came up with just before 2011 in an epiphanic shower that I couldn’t wait to write about and how few of those seem relevant now. Constantly re-promised vows to pay more attention to this site and write more quizzes, of which a bit of work has been done but with seemingly less relevance and vigor. It’ll happen if it happens, I now must admit. The commitment to find a new city to live in, now indefinitely on hold. Even the devotion to the fourth novel, stalled out of the gate at a handful of pages after the negotiations and then formation of my new existence. And how it all folds together into a life so unplanned and unfathomed, stapled and duct-taped together but still managing to hold water somehow, as friends all around observe how impossible it is that Storey Clayton is committed to a life in New Jersey, alone.

Today we take the seven-plus-hour tour down to William & Mary, a school I don’t think I’ve been to since I was a patriotic seven-year-old freshly moved to Washington DC and absorbing all the information about the colonial days I possibly could. My parents bought me a green-and-gold sweatshirt of the school, my first-ever college paraphernalia, a reaction to my adoration for the most beautiful campus I could’ve comprehended, and I spent the next few years telling everyone that this would be my college of choice when the time came. Only a massive devotion to urban campuses took W&M off the list. Now, I return.

Once you get to this age, your whole life is spent in some sort of reflection.



Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Pre-Trip Posts, Quick Updates, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , ,

I don’t know whether I find it more remarkable that I haven’t been to the Brandeis campus in nearly four years already or that I haven’t posted here in over a week. Both of them strike in the way of sudden jolts punctuated by the morbid dread of rising tides. The nature of time and its passing being capable of swallowing whole swaths of time whole and rendering an empty landscape in its wake. The cold sinking fear that one could awaken at a certain molded age unaware of how the last few epochs even transpired.

It is a good problem to have, frankly, that I have been busy enough in the last few days to not notice minutes in their flight. Compared to the endless drone of ticking seconds in agonizingly steady progression of the prior few months, a session of too-full overwhelm is precisely what everyone was prescribing. And yet filling that prescription and cashing that check has prompted quick unanticipated concerns about how much time was endured in limbo and whether sufficient long-term decisions were made there. Uncertainty is not the favored state of most beings, but I am not most beings, by definition, nor do I share much with them. In the freedom/security balance, I have always been for not only closing Gitmo, but also opening all borders. I mean this in equal measures to be about my own life and everyone else’s.

It has been a good month, the first of a new age, and I mean that in a relatively unqualified stance. It has been a great month, considering, but even a good month on its own standalone merits. Any of the recently coined measures of quality of life, the leading emotional indicators of the current existence and stance thereon, are setting record highs and aiming for new barriers ahead of any prior sketched schedule. Time is not to be thanked for any of this, of course, but circumstances, though a skeptic could surely argue that one creates the other. Time in a vaccuum, though, I will always argue, does nothing without concrete tangible changes therein. And a vaccuum is where time seems to have been going, both micro and macro.

So I relish the return to alma mater, to a drive even that I perfected with love and deftness over the course of consecutive weekends. To replace the hat I gained in 2007 on last visit and lost somewhere along the way, along the journey from a literal picture of distilled happiness to a newly wandered path with destinations unknown and even less predictable. To sit in an unpredictable living room among old cohorts of this very campus and shake one’s head in wonder at the luge-like course of echoing time, of the dictates and mandates of sequential decisions that in narrow order make sense but sum to unheralded madness. How condemnatory I am of others in such downhill flight, yet how I must shrug and smile and stick my tongue out at its reflection in my own uncontrolled trajectory. How I know the difference to be a certain moral check (perhaps this is my sled, or my sled’s possession of a rudder), but this is more to mitigate the slopes and angles and not erase them entirely. Is it sufficient to enjoy the ride and the howl of the wind of relativity in one’s hurtling escape from the mountaintop? Or should the aim be to find time to reflect and direct while amidst a breakneck decline?

I am peeking through the helmet now, just briefly, before tucking and driving into the next hairpin turn. The exhilaration of having never seen this course, never practiced this run, is both what makes the effort irreplaceable and terrifying. There are no previews, no redos, no maps or graphs. There is something to be said for milisecond decisions replacing measured observation of the same blind corner, though. Ice is ice and tunnels are tunnels and there are only so many ways a course can turn or bend or tilt. In the end, the most we can do is steer our damndest and pray that the earth will stay flat, the supports stable, and that the bottom of the course is still above water.


Portentious Weekend

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

Most of my descriptions of the past are remembered and recollected, which gives me the opportunity to discuss them in the style of my current writing, to couch them in the perspective of my present vantage point. And while that has a lot of advantages, since I’m a better writer than I used to be and have more experience, it comes with drawbacks as well. The past is tinged in a different way in light of my current standing. Things that used to work out or seem good or be for the best may be more complicated now. Truth is vision without perspective, yet we can never really transcend our own perspective in the moment of looking from it. The best we can do is to suspend or question the trappings of that viewpoint in the moment we are peering out its filtered windows.

But one of the advantages of copious record keeping, of not having a bonfire of all my worldly goods and papers (yet), and of living so publicly, is that I can offer unedited perspectives of the past to describe the past. And in collecting the evolution of these perspectives and sources, and periodically revisiting them, I can arrive at something closer to objectivity about a wider swath of time. Which is not to say that objectivity is necessarily ideal, since there is much to be gained, as in debate, from simply having a perspective. But at least some of the biases of the moment can be strained and teased out, or juxtaposed with biases of other moments.

There are two significant anniversaries this weekend, one that most are contemplating, and one that only debate people would have cause to observe. The first is the twenty-five year anniversary of the Challenger explosion, a seminal moment in my own childhood, the Kennedy assassination or 9/11 of its era. The second is the ten-year anniversary (this debate-scheduled weekend, if not this precise calendar date) of Zirkin and I winning the North American Championship for Brandeis.

I could describe these key moments in my life in poetic detail, could frame them in light of what I’ve learned or experienced since then. But given my ability to present vivid first-hand accounts, I will favor those instead. Actually, the first is already a reframing – it’s my college essay written at seventeen about being five. The second is the direct first-hand reporting of my life from Ithaca, New York, that fateful weekend just shy of a decade past.

Obviously the second anniversary is more directly significant to my current existence than the first – I am not about to board a spaceship at this moment, but I am about to head to New York for a North American Championship. It will be my first as a coach – we lacked the money to attend last year. The snowfall, just flurries tacking on to the nearly-two-foot total already achieved in Jersey and NYC, is doing its best to make the world into a little impression of Ithaca. To say I would have high hopes for this weekend would put far too much pressure on the situation. But, as ten years ago, I am at home with the presence of possibility. Like every pre-debate morning, the air is pregnant with the promise of unpredictability. If there is one take-home message from my life that I can draw today, it’s that anything – anything – can happen.

College Application Personal Essay
Storey Clayton – circa December 1997

The crisp winter air was never too cold in that part of California. Fog, the closest we ever got to snow in California’s Central Valley, hovered just a few feet off the ground, blanketing vision with a soft, gray thickness of sky. In Visalia, a fairly small town that virtually no one had ever heard of, I was growing up. Like all five-year-olds, I had hopes and dreams for the oh-so-far-away future. I was almost six, after all, and that birthday would bring me another step closer to the great adulthood that somehow loomed, though inconceivably, in my mind.

As I walked through the fog that managed to nestle itself in my backyard, I wondered what turning six would mean to me. True, it was a month away, but anticipation has never been a weakness of the young. For example, I was busy anticipating the invention of time travel that would rush me quickly back to the age of the dinosaurs. I had dinosaur coloring books, pop-up books, full-length in-depth books, plastic toy models, the works. Only one thing surpassed my deep desire to immerse my life in the examination of every aspect of dinosaurs.

For that, I looked to the sky.

I don’t remember exactly when I first realized that I wanted to be an astronaut. I don’t even remember exactly what drove my curiosity about space, about the universe high above the clouds. There was something fascinating about what couldn’t be seen, about what was just beyond the realm of vision, truly of comprehension. It was kind of like Sunday School, except that no one who tried to explain space to me ever set limits on it. Outer space, and the exploration thereof, was the only thing truly big enough to consume my imagination.

I spent hours exploring the backyard fog, mentally exploring the clouds. I never quite got the feeling of weightlessness, but I was disoriented enough, surrounded by the dense gray that stood just inches from my nose and encircled the rest of me. I kept thinking that if I could just get beyond that fog, just reach the other side of the thick mass of cloudcover, that I would see Mars or Saturn only a few feet away. That all the solar system, and perhaps others might be within reach.

I talked with my friends about this wild fascination with the vast realm of outer space. They always made fun of my belief in time travel and the expectation of seeing dinosaurs someday. “That’s not real,” they’d say. “You can’t do that for reals.” But space travel, now that was “for reals.” People had done that before. More importantly, people would be doing that even more in the future–a lot more. And to man all those spaceships going zillions of miles in the air, they’d need fanatics like me. And I would be ready.

My young life had almost never been filled with absolutely uncontainable excitement. Certain birthday parties and Christmas Eves, and probably the trip to the Natural History Museum in L.A. with all those dinosaur skeletons had excited me almost uncontainably. But it was simply not comparable to my teacher’s announcement one winter morning. “Class,” she said, “next week we’re going to see the space shuttle take off. You all know about the space shuttle, don’t you? Well, we’re going to see it next week as it happens. Right on the TV screen.”

I could barely emit the words from my bubbling almost-six-year-old mouth when my mom picked me up from kindergarten that day. Not just a satellite with no one on it. But an actual spaceship with people on it, would take off as I watched it, at the very same second. Spoiling it only a little, she told me that she had known already. Everybody knew. It seemed that the entire town, no, the entire world would be watching this spaceship as it went up in the air. Off to the Moon, or to Mars, wherever, it didn’t matter as long as they were leaving Earth and heading off into the endlessness of space.

Only overjoyed excitement could enter my consciousness as we congregated in the first-grade room. The first-graders were in their desks behind us, the second- and third-graders standing in the back, and we were sitting on the floor, looking straight ahead at the chalkboard which contained the spelling list. It was filled with words like “space,” “ship,” “shuttle,” and, as an extra-challenge word, “astronaut.” Just as I was analyzing these words, sending my imagination flying once more, the television was wheeled in front of my vision. The vastness of space was about to be mine to watch, to observe, to savor.

We were reminded one last time that everything we saw was taking place at that precise moment. Through the much-celebrated “miracles of modern technology,” we would see what took place at the exact second in which it took place. Nothing had been rehearsed. This was the real thing.

The countdown came, and we all shouted along with it, a classroom filled with a hundred screaming children, all counting in reverse order from what our teachers drummed into our heads daily. “Three, two, one…” and then silence. We remained in an overwhelmed, fascinated silence. No one breathed for seconds. Only the vague sound of cheering from the crowd in Florida, so far away, and yet at this precise second.

Then, the space shuttle exploded.

The silence remained. The teachers were not near the television’s off button because no one had expected a reason to turn it off. We all watched, all knew, could not comprehend or understand, but still fervently knew. All but one of us knew all too well, and he asked, “What happened?” to break the minute’s silence. The moaning of the announcer in Florida seemed so desperately far away as the pieces of the shuttle fell to the water below in a fiery mess, at this precise second. No one answered my classmate’s question. A teacher had finally found the off button. The disaster faded into the comforting blackness of silence.

When I went home that afternoon, I hadn’t cried much. But my dream had died with the seven astronauts aboard the Challenger. It was over for me. I picked up my plastic stegosaurus and stepped out the back door. I could see the back fence all too well. The fog had evaporated.

Introspection, My Worst Friend
Storey Clayton – 2-4 February 2001

2 February 2001
-Ben Harper was solid, but in comparison to a lot of my more recent concerts, not quite fantastic. Glad I went though. The first encore (all acoustic) made it all worthwhile. I’ll post a setlist sometime when it’s not 2 & a half hours before I have to pack & leave for Cornell for the weekend. Woohoo NorthAms.

3 February 2001
[from Ithaca, New York]
-You gotta get pumped. & worship the coffee. & jump around. There’s been no dancing at this tournament, but there’s still the pumped-ness.
-Where are all these alleged Canadians? Zirk & I were 0-for-6 on the ol’ Canada train. But still, it was some of the best debating we’ve done in our careers. If only we can keep it up going into tomorrow, we might have a shot.
-Banquets are not my scene.

4 February 2001
[from Ithaca, New York]
-So I was sitting there, the whole time, telling myself “prepare to hear ‘Yale A’ so as not to be disappointed, prepare to hear ‘Yale A’ so as not to be disappointed…”… the second I heard “Brand–“, I went nuts. & I felt good about going nuts. We have been on fire all weekend.
-North American Champions. That will take getting used to.
-I expect this to sink in by Wednesday at the earliest. The thing is, I’m still just overwhelmed by the crowd reaction, by the fact that people cried in our round from being moved, that the Weisenthal case exceeded expectations, that Zirk & I got everything we could’ve wanted outta this tournament & so much more, that this was utterly transcendant in every way that a debate round can be transcendant. & Harry & Jeffie really gave the case a just opp. & I just don’t know what else to say. I am blown away.
-4 & a half days is still plenty of time to miss someone.


From You to Me

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Pre-Trip Posts, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

I don’t know why
I’m afraid to fly
back to my home
where I know I’ll be all right
I never could quite say
how you made me feel the way
you always did
but kid, I’d never treat you right
and I don’t know where you are
even though I’ve come so far
I can’t say that life without you isn’t hard
and I don’t know where to go
please don’t say I told you so
when I tell you I still miss you in the dark
I guess I’ll always miss you in the dark.

I’ll say goodbye
to the memories and the lies
I always told
I’m getting older every day
if I could I’d take it back
but the past is just the past
with you and me
it doesn’t matter what I say
’cause I don’t know where you are
even though I’ve come so far
I can’t say that life without you isn’t hard
and I don’t know where to go
please don’t say I told you so
when I tell you I still miss you in the dark
I guess I’ll always miss you in the dark.

We were all we’d ever be
I was you and you were me
crashing deeper to the bottom of the sea
where we still lie
and if I fall out of the sky
I won’t dare to wonder why
’cause baby, I deserve to die.

-Allison Weiss


Back to the Beans

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

Boston, it’s been a while.

Today is slated to mark my first return to the city I lovingly call The Beans since a 2006 trip to compete with Emily in the Boston University tournament four years after our graduation. Wouldn’t you know that this weekend will be my first return to APDA-style competition as well? I guess I’m not allowed in Boston unless I’m going to debate.

The Harvard tournament never traditionally smiled on me much in my four-year tenure, though Zirkin’s and my trip to semifinals in 2000 would have been fine had we not run into perhaps the least enjoyable case I ever hit in my life in said round. Other visits included missing Saturday by oversleeping in ’98, getting tanked by a capricious judge all the way to being the bottom 4-1 in ’99, and visiting the 1-2 bracket in ’01. Remarkably, it’s not expected to rain the whole weekend, which may be a first not only in my experience of the Big H’s tourney, but in its entire history.

Here’s hoping that Harvard goes better all around for my young charges from another big red letter, the R. And it wouldn’t hurt for Jake Campbell (BU ’10) and I to have a little luck on Sunday too. For details on the competition, you can read this.


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.



Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

“Get busy living or get busy dying. That’s goddamn right… I find I am so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
-Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, The Shawshank Redemption

Depending on who you listen to, hope is either a dangerous thing that can make men crazy, or maybe the best thing in life. It’s probably both. I’ve had a hard time today, though the last 24-48 hours have been pretty good overall. I’ve looked at two or three apartments in New Brunswick worth applying for, done so, and gone on to conclude that I may just need to flee to the West sooner than later. I have no earthly idea what I want or what I should be doing. My compass is broken.

Nevertheless, I feel a certain optimism as I approach the coming days ahead. If nothing else, things will be resolved, will come to some kind of conclusion so long deferred. As impossible as this situation has been for so long, it promises to get a little less impossible soon. A little. Best not hope for too much.

I can’t believe I’ve made it through the last six weeks.


Leaving Liberia

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Pre-Trip Posts, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

About an hour from getting on my way toward the plane to take me away from Monrovia, which means I’m still a good five hours from the plane actually getting airborne. Things run at a slightly slower pace around here. The good news is that my flight is 16 hours from take-off to last landing (JFK in NYC), as compared to 30 hours on the way out here. Also two take-offs and landings this time as vs. four.

It’s been emotional. It is utterly clear to me that it was the right decision, though even clearer that the best possible decision would’ve been to come out here on Monday the 19th. I will never get to undo that one, though at least I didn’t make it worse by not flying out here at all.

Still an incredible number of decisions to sift through on my return, including how to try to craft a life for one after living for two for so long. Every assumption, location, and activity is on the table. Options start to narrow in my mind, only to explode again with further thought. It’ll probably take at least a month before I’m anywhere close to a single decision.

Tag, August, you’re it.


Go West, Young Man!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

When Emily was here as an undergrad, she had unlimited printing of whatever she wanted at local computer clusters. This year, for the first time, they implemented limits on printing, which is a big part of why my distribution of American Dream On to friends was electronic, not paper.

Nevertheless, the limit is still sky-high and so she had a few hundred sheets left that expire on 1 July of this year. Today, I decided to use up as many of those as possible, printing a clean single-spaced copy of the most up-to-date versions of ADO and The Best of All Possible Worlds for posterity in case something happens, plus fifty sheets of Duck and Cover blanks in case something doesn’t. It’s always good to be prepared for all foreseeable possibilities.

I am heading to Philadelphia any minute now, then on to the greater LA area to see a bevy of friends and the wedding celebration of David Kunkel. Then finally a week in Albuquerque before returning here briefly only to set out again across the East Coast and then on to Africa. Quite a bit going on in the next few weeks and months, hopefully.

For reference, here’s the Tour image again, still accurate to date:

Feeling generally pretty good. Looking forward to editing TBoAPW, to spending some serious quality time with a lot of friends and family who I don’t see that often. Looking forward to the relaxing, renewing feelings of summer. Looking forward to lots of things.

But as I held the near-ream of paper in my hand, the more than 230,000 words worth of novels I’ve written in the last nine months, I was also looking at now. And for the first time in a long time, feeling good about right now. About the recent past. This feels as much like an arrival as it does a departure.

See you soon.


Leave this Website!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

Not much time to post at the moment, but hopefully yesterday’s gave you something to chew on. If not, and you can’t get enough of playing Pac-Man on Google, my Dad is apparently considering selling his Pac-Man table if the price is right.

In any case, the main point of this post is to get you to go off-site, but specifically to two key sites from the women in my life.

The first is my wife’s new blog. Those familiar with past efforts may be the slightest bit cynical, but this is likely to stick since she’s blogging specifically about her upcoming internship in Liberia. Given the massive lack of distractions in Liberia and the overwhelming fascination the trip itself will likely inspire, I’d say it’s going to be a mighty interesting series of posts, assuming the internet stays up. So stay tuned there.

The other site is my mom’s sock doll auction to benefit KUNM, the Albuquerque NPR station. For those of you who’ve seen her adorable sock dolls, this is a chance to get two for the price of whatever the ABQ public deems appropriate while benefiting a good cause! Pretty neat all around.

The blog runs through the end of the summer (at least) and the auction runs through June 6th.

And I’ve gotta run because we’re going to Philly and DC for a whirlwind weekend before Em ships out Wednesday.

And if you want to leave not only this web site, but web sites altogether, may I recommend you head to the Barrow Street Theatre and watch Our Town? Em and I did last night and it was a religious experience. Seriously.


The Case for Today

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wildly Content

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

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

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

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

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

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

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