Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Nothing Ends/Happy Holidays

This morning, for the first time in my life, I came down the stairs to find a large, lavishly decorated Christmas tree with carefully wrapped gifts arrayed around it. This wasn't totally surprising -- the tree was there when I went to bed, and I did not awake suddenly at my apartment in New York to find stairs and a second, more rustic story below. I am at my in-laws in Maine, they decorated the tree, the staircase was theirs and so on. It was snowing outside, big fat festive flakes.

The Classical is resting, but there's still work to be done, because there's always work to be done, but I felt a sort of comfort and relief I haven't felt all that often of late. Not just because of the usual stress and strain, although there's that -- I finished this week's column for Sports On Earth, on Kobe Bryant's vampirically batshit and typically fascinating team-hijack in Los Angeles, at the Portland Jetport Monday afternoon. Mostly because these are deeply uneasy times, even by the usual standards for this. Maria Bustillos and I talked about this at The Awl, with regard to the wonderful and way out-of-print dystopian Catholico-baseball apocalypse novel The Last Western.

Maria: So do you think the world is going to end, David? 
David: I'm of two minds on the apocalypse. 
David: (I just wanted to type that.) I certainly have a difficult time, looking at the things that are wrong and the responses they're engendering, feeling too optimistic about solutions. The abstraction and the deep and dimly understood grievances and the distance, all these different types of retreat: those are a bummer both because they give us a shitty discourse and stupid art, but also because problems as big as ours require non-individuated solutions, and a basic recognition that other people are as important as we are, and that we all ought to be thinking about each other a bit more. And working on that. Current events and all. 
David: But on the other hand: we're still here. People can be great. And the alternative to not fixing things is not tenable. The status quo is not tenable. People seem to be realizing this. 
David: It's difficult not to. I just can't see how that translates, or what it translates into. 
Maria: Well, here we are, agreeing about that, so there is a chance; where two or twenty or two thousand can agree, so can multitudes. Sometimes I fancy I can almost feel the change coming. I do not believe the world will end anytime soon, in part because it's been ending my whole life. There are always surprises, fair and foul. Things are dire, certainly, but I have what I am going to have to call faith.

Maria is smarter than me, and most anyone else. It can be difficult to have faith. I have difficulty with it myself. But it is nice to wake up someplace safe, with nothing to do, surrounded by people you like. It's restorative, and I hope you're there, too, today and tomorrow and for as long as you can be. Take care of yourself.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bigger and Bigger, You and Me

You don't need me to lifehack this shit for you, presumably, but here is a thing to do on one of those days when some robustly armed narcissistic mutant turns peak military kill-technology on a crowd of innocents: stay the hell off of social media. This isn't the worst advice most days, and should be even more so on days like today that are so much worse than most. Today a 20-year-old in Connecticut killed his mother, took her car and her .223 assault rifle, drove to an elementary school, and killed 18 children and a handful of teachers, a principal and a school psychologist, then killed himself. This is not even the first time this week that something like this has happened, as a similarly well-armed kid killed two and shot others at a mall in Oregon, then killed himself. That was four days ago. Everyone caught something of a bleak break in that case, as the shooter's gun jammed and as police had trained for just such a scenario and responded quickly.

That this is the sort of thing police must train for is sobering enough. That it keeps happening is sobering enough. That every time it happens it is followed by queasy condolences and teary commemorations and nothing at all else is the worst. Well, it's not the worst. The worst is individuated, unimaginable, crushing, and it's happening in Connecticut today and Oregon earlier this week and Colorado before that and Arizona before that, and there is nothing much to say about it except that it is terrible. That is one kind of horror, and that it is not ours in particular is occasion to feel whatever we may feel about that. A guilty blessedness or big-hearted anger or nothing much in particular.

But that is what one person feels. It's relevant and revealing as far as that goes, but only that far. The fact that this keeps happening, and happening everywhere -- in gun-saturated states like Arizona and gun-averse ones like Connecticut and everyplace in between -- suggests that this is not a one-person issue. This is a problem for all of us, everywhere. And what spending time on social media in the wake of something like this reveals, the killing thing, is how profoundly difficult it is to think of these shared things in that way.

What you get, on Twitter -- in this case and, in general -- is the one-person bit. One side abstracts the other unto/into parody: kooks and communists, gun-nuts and libtards, grenades into opposite trenches forever. Crack that nightmare ceiling and we're still there: the robust defense of abstractions, one way or the other -- rights or non-rights, bickered and dickered over until muscle failure -- and various huffy responses to other huffy responses. A cycle of individuated offense, impregnable, forever and ever. There are ghouls with spammy Twitter feeds looking to leverage it; there are the inspirational fake-celebrity feeds popping off ponderously on it, an army of Not Really Will Smiths getting serious about a really real thing; there is some two-fisted foof from Esquire bringing the fatuous Writerly Imagery that no one needs at this moment; peevish strident certitude on peevish strident certitude. All of them on their own turf, tooth and nail after their abstractions of choice. Little arguments to distract from the big ones, everyone great and small letting their personal trolls out. 

Yeah, that never got answered. It's not about answers, really. It's about assertions, and it's about on to the next one. Points and points and points, fresh takes and bold stands all the way into this endless living oblivion; this violence and these deaths as a fact of life, everyone getting very sad when the situation demands, which is often enough that you'd remark upon it. Nothing changing, or even really coming terribly close to changing. All these values that can't or won't reconcile with others, and the colossal waste of real human lives as the collateral damage from all that righteous abstraction.

As it happens, I've filed a .223 rifle. I wrote about it a little bit last year, in something I wrote about the tenth anniversary of September 12, 2001. It's a terrifying and weirdly exhilarating experience; it's quite a machine, and it kicks out the endorphins whether you want it to or not. I believe that there's no reason why a non-infantryman should ever hold one of these weapons; a lot of Americans are broadly cool with that, and with making the ownership of such a weapon somewhat harder. 

I don't trust President Obama, who did seem legitimately moved -- and maybe legitimately chastened by what a decade of tactical neglect on this issue has given us all -- to do much beyond responding to this, as he put it, as a father. As a father, he is doubtless painfully aware of the stakes today. But if he wanted to react to this as a President and as a politician, he would have to negotiate with people whose sole selling point to their constituencies is their supreme intransigence. To have that discussion, and win it, Obama would have to set out to sell something that people may not want to buy; he would need to ride for a value beyond mature and equitable process, which seems to be the value he relates to most innately. He might lose. That last bit has, for the most part, been enough to keep him out of similar fights in the past.

This is a failing on his part, or would be. But the greater failing is ours, and it's there on Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else online where we can declaim into ether. Guns kill people. People kill people. Our desperate false certainties and righteous umbrage and personalized pieties, our dedication to not talking about what is: all of these things are killing us. There is indisputably a problem, and we can either solve it or we can't.

But we -- not a nation of lone strapped-up heroes defending shrinking homesteads, standing our ground and wild of eye and scared as shit, but a nation fully and full-stop -- will have to be the ones to solve it. It's not about me or you or our various offended values or deeply held personal beliefs or feelings or metaphors on the issues of the moment, although of course good luck with all those. It's about us, kids and grown-ups, armed and un-armed, all of us together and working to prevent the devastation to come, or it's all of us lost in it, hunted by what we are too vain or blinkered or scared to face. It's as big as all of us, no smaller. It can be figured out, but not if we can't talk about it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Curious Bird

Sports columnists are about the easiest characters in all of media to goof on. ESPN, which does them the great disservice of putting them on television and encouraging them to shout things they may or may not actually believe, deserves much of the credit for that, but columnists have done their part, too. Lord knows I will indulge in some columnist-goofing, and will almost certainly continue to do so as long as your Woody Paige and Bill Plaschke types are drawing breath/paychecks for bombastically writing things they haven't thought about on topics they don't care about, or don't believe are true but do believe will agitate people, and/or all of the above. It won't have any impact on them, or on anything else, but it's easy and gratifying and seems like the right thing to do. I've got my own column inches to fill, after all.

I'd like to say that I have some more appreciation for the columnists I joke about since becoming a columnist myself; I'm now doing two columns per week, one for Vice and one for Sports On Earth (which doesn't have an author page for me yet; I wrote this and this and this and this and this for them). I enjoy it as an exercise and a job, although it's clearly easier some weeks than others. Last week, for instance, was not an especially news-y one, and the absence of actual incident made it difficult to have a take -- HOT, LOUD AND FIRST on some Skip Bayless shit, or really even at all -- worthy of a column. It's on those sorts of weeks that I understand, and come as close as I come to appreciating, how difficult and unpleasant it can be to be a columnist, and to have been a columnist for a long time, as the worst columnists typically have been.

The job doesn't change from week to week. The job is to discuss a thing that everyone is already discussing, whether you want to or not, in a way that will stand out for one reason or other from the dense discussion that's already happening; the deadlines are non-negotiable, the outlines are non-negotiable, and the fact that there are only so many things to say about the SEC's dominance of college football or LeBron or whatever doesn't matter at all, really. Do this for a few decades, and it's easy to see how a person could become as curdled and distant and broadly bummed/bummer-inducing as many columnists have. I don't know that I can imagine doing this for decades, although thinking in terms of decades makes me dizzy anyway. I'd like to think that I'd either stop if I didn't like what I was writing about anymore, or that I'd find some enduring meaning in it somehow. But who would want to think about the alternative? (There are, thankfully, some examples of people who love sports enough to keep it fun for the rest of us; see what I wrote about Bill Raftery and Bob Ryan at The Classical, for instance)

So last week, with nothing much to write about, I wrote for Vice about the New Orleans Hornets maybe changing their name to the New Orleans Pelicans. It had a lot of jokes in it, many of them centered around the team name of the Utah Jazz, and one of which was brought to glorious life by the internet mega-hero Sorry Your Heinous above. I was not necessarily relishing writing a column during a week that didn't quite offer anything column-worthy, but I wound up liking the piece a lot; it's one of my favorites to run at Vice in some time, actually.

Writing columns isn't as difficult or unpleasant as it can be made to look; it's not really all that easy, either. But for all the grousing I do about this work and the things that are wrong with it, I keep coming back to a sort of tired-out gratitude. The Classical is a year old, and as punishing and demanding and wonderful as any one-year-old could be; I'm very proud of it, and cautiously but hugely hopeful of what it could become. Writing columns about sports can be a pain in the ass, but is also finally more or less paying my bills, and is something I like doing. I can complain. I can always complain. But lord knows I've had worse jobs.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

It's Real Out Here

I just never do this anymore, I guess. This is easy enough to explain, as I'm writing as hard and as fast as I can all the time, but also impossible to guess from the site I made explicitly to put all that writing in one place, and which I haven't updated since Week 15 of the 2010 NFL season. If you were reading this site as your sole source of football news, you'd have no idea that the Cincinnati Bengals did indeed win the Super Bowl last season in what's still known, even all this time later, as The Bernard Scott Game. That would be terrible for you, not to know that. I'd be so sorry if that were the case.

Anyway, I haven't written here not because I don't like it -- I do, I like writing and I like writing about myself -- but because I've been writing and editing too much elsewhere to do much else. The editing is all for The Classical, which continues to be the cause and solution of all my disillusionment about writing words on the internet; our NBA preview, which is not really a preview at all now that the league is back and once again being bent to the iron wills of Kyle Lowry and Andrei Kirilenko, is called Why We Watch, and it takes up a lot of my time, and I love it and am proud of it. In recent weeks, I've done some meme-ing and some actual writing there, too, although the balance of my time has been devoted to learning on the fly how not to edit like a total bigfooted, ham-fisted doof.

The other writing is in the usual places, and not at some of the old usual places; I haven't written for The Awl in too long, which bums me out because I love that site and the people who edit and read it, but is easy enough to understand in that I've been trying to get paid for my writing, and that the current rates I get for my writing require me to do it as much as possible so that all the $75 and $150 and $250 paydays add up to the right amount at the end of the month. I've been able to do that, to a decent extent, at GQ and GQ.com and Sports on Earth and The Daily Beast, among other places, of late. I wrote two things for New York Magazine that were fun, one of them about longtime hero-antagonist Guy Fieri as a literary figure, and one about a thing I actually love, which is tomatoes from New Jersey. There's always the Wall Street Journal and there have been some highlights at Vice, which continues to let me do writing I care about, like this and this and this. This bit, which I wrote for the excellent Capital New York site about Bruce Springsteen and Chris Christie, is one of my favorites. I've been busy, which is good because the alternative is being stressed out and not being able to pay rent, whereas the present is more about being stressed and being able to pay rent.

You might have noticed the constant, above. Which is, I suppose, the freelancer's lot, especially when the weekly bedrock gigs pay as little as mine do; the rest of it, the stuff that makes things like going out to dinner on occasion and being able to pay for cable possible, is all on me to find, pitch and write. That's exhausting and often disheartening, it shrinks each week down to a sum of billed work at its end, and it does do a lot to take the fun out of this thing I love so well. It makes it difficult for me to write for free, for instance, or even to do the basic professional maintenance that'd be wise to do here, because I am already writing as many words as I can each week, so that I will make enough money to live. But it is also exactly what it is, which is something I knew about, and the state of the industry, and the state of a lot of industries and as such something probably best addressed in a bigger context than My Anxious Life, at a blog with my name in the URL.

So, it's all good, mostly. I'm still up against it financially more often than I'd like, and there are a lot of things I'd like to write or do that I just can't, for various stubborn and stubbornly tangible reasons. But I'm writing stuff I care about, and some of it is good, and all of it is better than the alternative. You've no doubt learned, over these months of me not doing much of anything here, either to look for my writing on your own, or look elsewhere for your meat similes and free-associative politi-sportswriting. I'm still here, though. I'm working a lot. But I'm still here, and I appreciate you being here, too. None of this would make even the modicum of sense it does if I didn't think you -- or somebody -- might want to read it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Vanishing

Oh, hi. This is mostly a test, as this blog appears to have disappeared -- not in a metaphorical "I never post about pizza no more" sense, but in a no-longer-findable by way of any browser for some reason -- and I'm checking to see if this post helps with that. If you're reading this, I'm happy that you are able to. I hope you're well. You look great. I love that top.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing

From page 69 of "Dancing With Cats" (Chronicle Books, 1999):
MARVIN's sessions with Missy are full on. "Most afternoons when the neighbors are at work, I pull down the shades, wind up some classic Springsteen, and we both bust out and go ballistic. It's ten minutes of high voltage and romp and stomp. Really letting go, letting it out, and letting it in. It's better than any chemical substance because you're high on pure energy.
"Other cat dancers I've talked to on the Web use Heavy Metal, Techno, and World Beat. One guy says he uses Marley to build up such strong vibrational levels in just five minutes that they last for days. But you have to be careful; sometimes the energy is so powerful I worry about overstimulating my aura. At those levels, an unstable etheric oscillation could collapse into an astral vortex and suck my spiritual reserves into a state of negative sub-matter."
And so my advice is to be careful, dear readers. Updates coming, I hope.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Enter The Bad Vibe Zone

Great news! My roommate of 15 months moved out on March 1st -- those are the last three posts on her Twitter feed, and I assure you that they are more or less representative of the person I lived with for over a year. Or representative of that minus the fact that she yelled at me for an hour because she was enraged that my Christmas vacation was shorter than I'd told her it would be (I had to come back and work, although she was able to figure out that I'd really done this to ruin her week off from her job), wouldn't make eye contact with me for two months, and then moved out today after giving me 12 hours notice, via email. An email in which she explains that she is moving out on less than a day's notice because, "a friend of mine has been going through a rough time and needs my help. Which means I will need to move out to help her... I guess it’s true what they say, things happen for a reason."

This is not so good, obviously, especially because my request that she kick in a third of a month's rent to make up for the ridiculously abrupt end to our co-habitancy went ignored (via email), then dismissed (in conversation, because she was "so busy") and finally unheeded. The advice I would give to anyone renting a room to someone via Craigslist is that they should ask for and check references, and also draw up a contract, and also maybe be wary of a grown-ass woman who has both a copy of Paul Reiser's autobiography and the Music From and Inspired By Mad About You CD in her collection, and finally and most importantly also not to ever under any circumstances ever rent a room to [redacted]. So, much of this happened because I was stupid enough to assume that this person could be dealt with reasonably, as I'd dealt with previous roommates. But because I am angry and also on multiple other deadlines even now at 12:30am and thus obviously do not have anything better to do, I wrote [Redacted] an email that my wife has advised me not to send. So I am not sending it, and am instead putting it here, until I decide to take it down. The key is to surf the vibes! That is my last bit of advice. Here is something I won't send.

Thanks again for doing the right thing in agreeing to pay me a small portion of this month's rent after moving out the way you did. It was clearly the right thing to do after giving me 12 hours notice and then moving out on the first of the month. For that reason, and because you have demonstrated again and again these last months the sort of insight, perspective and basic decency that you have, I knew that I'd find that smallish check from you when I returned home from my meeting. Thank you for not disappointing me, and for demonstrating what kind of person you are. Thanks, too, for not proffering some half-assed falsehood about why you had to move out as you did, and for being so adult and responsible and kind about the whole thing. Again, that is the [Redacted] I know.

Honestly, I believe that years from now, we'll laugh about all this together. "Remember when I moved out of your apartment, after 15 months of living there, and gave you roughly 12 hours of notice?" you'll say. "Remember how I, who would not so much as make eye contact with you or your wife for three months, somehow made it seem as if I -- I who was, as you recall, the person moving out of an apartment on less than a day's notice, without offering any financial consideration at all -- was somehow the victim in this whole scenario? And offered nothing like an apology, or thanks for over a year of living together? Remember all that? How demonstrably mentally ill was THAT?" And we'll laugh and laugh, because it is fucking hilarious.

Anyway, so my advice is to be careful. Also I have a room open if you're interested.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dogged Out, Except Not

I don't like getting up early, and not only because of how much better I am at staying up late than I am at getting up early, which is a lot. But on Monday, I got up very early by my standards, and not-really-all-that-early by general Monday standards, so that I could get to Madison Square Garden in time to get myself settled and onto the Garden floor in time for the 8:30am Basset Hound Best In Breed round at the Westminster Kennel Club's 136th Annual All Breed Dog Show. I did not quite make it in time for that -- although I did see some Basset Hounds as they hobbled Basset Houdily from Ring One after their circuit, so I was both close and close enough to see those baleful wonders up close for at least a moment -- but I was in the Garden for eight-plus hours on Monday, in the service of The Classical. My previous post w/r/t workload is my previous post w/r/t workload, but this was an assignment I didn't mind at all. There are only so many opportunities in one's life to spend all day kicking it with Bouviers des Flandres. This was one, and I don't regret it at all.

We'd originally obtained a press pass for the estimable Julie Klausner, but she got another assignment, which led to Bethlehem Shoals overnighting me her credential and me (um) clearing my schedule and setting an earlier-than-usual alarm for Monday. My mandate was her mandate: go there, deal with the allergies and insanity, take some pictures, and generally just do my best to absorb as much goofery as possible. I did my best, throwing up a couple of photo-heavy blog posts during the day -- this here and this slightly longer one here -- and then eating a hilariously expensive sandwich at Manganaro's (it was delicious, but prosciutto + mozzarella + roasted peppers ≠ $14, at least in a functioning sandwich market) and coming home and... not writing much else. Which is fair enough, I guess. My eyes itched. I needed to do laundry. There are only so many things to write about Affenpinschers in such a short period of time.

But eventually I got back into it, and wrote a column today on the WKC that I'm pretty pleased with. It's here, and I hope you'll read it. There are more photos, if that makes it any more enticing, but there's also a posi-core love vibe that has been missing from everything I have written for... well, for a really long time, at least until I happily made my peace with Jeremy Lin at Vice last week and got crushtarded on Bill Raftery at The Classical the week before that. I may be a happy dude yet. Or it might just be that spending this much time around affectionate fuzz-beasts is good for a body. We'll see, I suppose. For now, though, I'm a little sinus-y and a lot happier for the experience of spending all those hours around all those endearingly doggish (if spectacularly fluffed-out) dogs and endearingly dog-positive individuals. Given the choice between a headache and the broader, deeper aches that afflicted me in weeks before that, I'll absolutely take it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Out of Not That Terribly Great Silence

Oh boy. There are times in life when one -- in this case, "one" being me -- does not have the time to do basic things. Not basic like shower or shave; once a week for each, and I've managed to maintain that even during periods of high stress. But stuff like updating this blog after I write something was, for a little while, something I didn't feel like I had time to do. I was, and to a certain extent still am, pretty much typing all the time every day, which made the prospect of doing more of it, here or anywhere, pretty unappetizing. And then there was the next stage, or time in one's life or whatever, when it had been so very long since the last time I updated anything here that the idea of doing it grew daunting and huge and cf. above in re: pretty unappetizing.

And so here we are, on a Sunday. I'm in New Haven with my wife, doing laundry, and the website that I have not really mentioned at all on this my personal blog is now over two months old; if you count our November preview period, it's been something more like three months. That website is The Classical, this website right here. While the maintenance and development of and crafting of content for and frantic sporadic attempts to improve that website is certainly the greater part of the reason why I haven't been doing much at this one, it's also more than that. The successful Kickstarter campaign that funded the site was and remains one of the most thrilling and humbling moments of my professional life -- we asked the internet to help us do this thing with small donations, and we got those donations from people who wanted us to do it, and we did the thing.

At the same time, The Classical has been humbling in another way: the site doesn't work as well as we want it to just yet, and the pace of improvement -- and, to go back to why I haven't put so much as a link up here in months, the capacities of the editorial team to do the writing and editing we need to do on what amounts to our bathroom breaks and pre-sleep hours -- is frustrating. Not difficult to anticipate, but also and all the same unanticipated. It's difficult, and while I'm delighted and honored to do it, it is also difficult. Fitting all of that into a life that, due to my current prevailing rate of pay, already demands a huge amount of writing in order to pay the usual bills and such, is also difficult. It is worth it, thousandfold. I am happy to be doing it, and proud to be doing it. But it has occasioned a certain drawing back in other aspects of my life. So yeah, less time to put up dog videos here, or sleep, or leave my apartment, or other things of that nature. How very sad for me and us all, I know.

Besides the Classical stuff, I've been doing the usual NFL season stuff -- yakkin'-related football activities with the brilliant and delirious Jeff Johnson at GQ, the weekly "Mercy Rule" column at Vice, the usual Wall Street Journal-based extrusions, and a few other things I'm happy with. Foremost among these is this massive, goofy feature/listicle on the idea of High Bro Culture, from the Man of the Year issue of GQ. It's a masterpiece. Diddy knows what I'm talking about.

Thanks, Diddy!

Anyway, all of this is to say that I shouldn't be complaining, and am more or less not complaining except insofar as it's tough for me to explain this without being like "My arms and eyes hurt a lot." But also I shouldn't be complaining because I've done some writing I'm really proud of at The Classical. The first piece I wrote for The Classical, back in the November preview period and in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky implosion at Penn State, is as vicious as I could've hoped it to be, and I'm still proud of it. My essays on the weirdness of big-ticket high school sports and the sublime positivity of Bill Raftery and the ulcerous ulcerosity of the Belichick Patriots are all things I'm proud of, and I don't even know what this one is about, besides an elaborate expression of Yuletide exhaustion, but I like it pretty well, too.

And I'm even prouder about the stuff that I've had the privilege of editing, by writers I personally know and love and writers I know less well, and which I've gotten to help make better and in some cases help make great... it's worth it. It's worth it because we are putting very good writing on the site every day, and because whatever success I've had over the past year came because people gave me an opportunity and an online space on which to stretch out and grow and get better as a writer; if it weren't for Gerard at Can't Stop the Bleeding and Alex and Choire at The Awl and Stephen at gbNYC, I would be notably sadder and worse at writing. The opportunity to do the same service to other writers makes me glad and proud all over, always. So, yes, The Classical will continue to be worth it. But, yes, too, it takes up a lot of time that I used to use in different ways. Like maintaining my professional site, or putting up that picture of Diddy, which I've been wanting to get up here forever.

I'm going to update the right-hand column with some recent pieces of note, and I'm going to try to get in here more often, because I like it. Talk to you again in three or four months!