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.

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