Archive | December 2016

Taking Days Off

A confession:

Once, I don’t know how old I was, I wasn’t really in the mood to go to school, so I turned on the light next to my bed, closed my eyes, and let the warmth from the lamp warm my forehead. Taking my temperature by hand, my mom decided I was burning up and needed to stay home. Sorry mom.

On the exterior, staying home from school is great. School sucks. But, when I was younger, staying home from school wasn’t like it is today. There was nothing on television. We were “too sick” to go to school meant we were “too sick” for Nintendo, too, so it meant hours on the couch, ugh, reading or watching The Price is Right or Days of Our Lives. Those were the only things on television. There were no computers. No cell phones.

Meaning, I wasn’t able to “catch up on homework” and be surfing the internet; I wasn’t able to text my friends and follow the days events on social media.

This isn’t a problem anymore. Realistically, I couldn’t care less about the social media aspect now, but I’m sure I would have back when I was a teenager. Days off aren’t spend bored anymore. Days off are spent doing the same exact thing kids would have done in school, but replacing history class with Breaking Bad, algebra with SportsCenter.

This makes me jealous. I feel like I missed out.

I was sick yesterday to the point where my wife had to leave work to come home, pick up our daughter, and watch our kids while I slept. When I was just awake enough to swipe my iPhone, I checked scores and fantasy football and Twitter, read a couple articles. My wife left for dinner, too, to the grandparents house to eat dinner. I laid on the couch and fell asleep watching a movie. Being sick is terrible; But being sick in 2016? Not so bad.

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The Perks of Being a Beer Writer

Last Tuesday, I went to the courthouse to endure the brutal civic task of jury duty. Actually, that’s misleading. I think I would be a terrific juror; The pain in the ass would have been figuring out a daytime plan for the 8-month old that lives with us. Child care wouldn’t really count as a hardship, though, and I actually believed I’d be chosen. I had no reason not to be.

During our one-on-one interviews with the judge — I think this is a new process — the presiding judge asked us questions about our questionnaire that we filled out prior to our jury duty day. There was this huge importance placed on doing this prior to our arrival. We literally sat around a room that had the heaters jacked up to 85 degrees. We could’ve easily done them during the four hours of downtime.

In any case, during the personal interview with the court, the judge asked me about journalism. How I got into it, who have I written for, etc.

“What are the primary topics you write about?” he asked.

“Sports and booze,” I answered.

“Booze?!” the judge answered.

“Booze.”

The court, tense already, laughed in unison.

I got to explain to him that one of the many perks about writing about anything is access. If I’m writing a story on the Celtics, for instance, I can get a media pass to cover the game; If I’m writing a story about a certain craft beer, often I’ll e-mail a brewery and see if there are media samples available. I, of course, want to make sure I give the most accurate representation of the beer or brewery.

“Will these microbreweries actually send you beer?” he asked.

“They will.”

He was impressed. And with a little charm and an explanation that I certainly believe that I could be a fair and impartial juror, but certainly evidence and cases are equally unique and you never know which could sway you toward bias. I was dismissed.

Every year around this time, the Rare Beer Club, which is part of the beer of the month club, generously donates a couple beers. Everything about these packages are worthwhile: The beers (I got a barrel-aged wee heavy and a barrel-aged barleywine this morning) are top of the line; The packaging and delivery is impeccable. Alongside the beers are call sheets that tell you about the brewery and the beer. The notes include how to serve the beer, what food to pair the beer with, and whether or not they believe the beer would benefit from aging.

Moreover, the people there are great. They’re generous and helpful; They stand by their product, as they should. I highly recommend The Rare Beer Club to anyone interested in craft beer as a drinker, but also to anyone eager to learn more about the craft of beer making. Great gifts for your friends and family at the holidays.

What if I took that job in CA?

Much has been made about my time in California, and there’s a longer narrative somewhere, or maybe not. I can’t really tell. But, of all the crossing themes of our life, one that perplexes me often is the turns we make or don’t make and how they lead us to where we are.

Note that this isn’t a sad post because I don’t regret how this particular event panned out.

I applied for a number of sports writing gigs out in San Diego when I was there. I heard back from a couple. “Not now.” I was hired and cut when they made budget layoffs. I did some freelance work. I had applied at a bigger daily in a city called Escondido. A good paper, comparable in size to the paper at which I did my internship in college. I felt like a good fit.

I don’t recall the exact words, but it was something like, “We don’t have the space for you now, but pester us around football season because we’ll need another guy here.”

Okay, good. But when that came around, I was back in New England. The reason I left was a lack of money and this was, I don’t know, end of July? I never thought to call the guy and ask if they were, by any chance, a month ahead of schedule for hiring.

So I was home about a month later, working at the same convenience store I did in college, earning some extra cash and a phone call comes in: the Escondido paper, looking for me, asking me to come in for a formal interview. It was a bummer. I felt I’d have been a good fit there.

Where would I be now if I’d waited a month? Or what if I’d called ahead of my departure and asked. We’ll never know.

This is the best article I read all week:

The Crossroads of Hoosier Hysteria by Mark Titus. A must-read for basketball fans.

Drink Bells Third Coast Old Ale. Please. It’s got a complex hop-bite upfront, but fades into a really interesting malty sweetness. As it warms, it opens up a bit, too. Just another great beer by Bells.

A Happy Twitter

Early in 2016, my family and I travelled out to San Diego to visit one of my oldest friends. We’d grown up in the same town, but went to rival high schools and different colleges. Throughout all that, we remained extremely close. We went to parties at houses of each other’s high school friends; We visited each other in college. After graduating, we both moved out to California. After a year, I left; He stayed and has made his life out there.

In any case, he’s become successful running a business and while we chatted over a couple glasses of scotch last winter, he mentioned something. We were talking about Netflix or HULU or whatever and I mentioned a show that everyone seemed to love, but I couldn’t get into it and quit after just one episode. I said something to the effect of, “I just found myself feeling badly for the guy.”

“I don’t watch stuff that’s too negative,” he said. “I don’t watch the news, not even local news. Fucks up my mind.”

And he pinpointed how I can feel sometimes while following the news or current events or social media. There’s a lot of negativity. There’s negativity about politics and sports and negativity about people being negative. What’s more is that some sad shit happens in this world. For people like me, prone to restless mind-wandering, hearing news of murders and rape and domestic violence, that shit keeps me up at night.

Of course, I’m a member of the media. I can’t exactly tune all this stuff out. I can’t log off of the world because much of my life and way of making money is partially filled with media consumption. I have to read these things. And I can’t avoid them a lot of the times. In the past two months, my Twitter feed is a barrel of negativity. There’s anger and sadness and hostility and fear over our President-Elect. There’s news about Syria and updates on a horrific beheading of a teenager in a neighboring town.

I wanted to counter balance this negativity with stuff that I enjoy, so I came up with a solution. I made a Twitter list of “happy stuff.” A Twitter list is just a place that compiles a certain group of Twitter handles to follow. Some people utilize this for sports or beer-news or (probably) porn.

I thought to myself, “What can I make a list of that would be solely good news all the time? So that if I went on for 15 minutes every time I’m overwhelmed with worry or anxiety or sadness (about the world, about my personal life, about my career) that I can just forget about all of that for little bit?”

My list is pretty silly, actually, but it makes me happy. I follow national parks, where I get to see pictures of some of the prettiest landscapes in the country; I follow shark tagging Twitters that update me with shark pictures; I do the same for whales. So, when I’m feeling shitty or just need an escape, I head over to Happy Twitter and just enjoy the view.

Friday, Drink/Read, Gilmore girls, Gronk

I have mentioned before that one of the great perks of having a pregnant wife is the ability to avoid all social responsibilities and watch Netflix all day/night without any sort of concern. Of course, this only pertains to the first-timers. Second timers will be chasing another kid around. There will be no Netflix binges then.

That said, one of the shows my wife really enjoyed watching was the Gilmore girls (spelled with the second g lower-case, as is the show), which we will refer to going forward as GG. She plowed through the entire series. I won’t embarrass her by using specifics. Our first kid was born in the summer, so there were no games to watch, no new sitcoms or dramas we like, so I watch GG alongside my wife. If I missed an episode — or four — it was fine, but I made sure I was around for the final few episodes.

GG was rebooted for Netflix recently and lets just say that this cause quite the stir in my household. We can’t just watch on our own time for these things; They have to be consumed almost immediately so that my wife can chat with her friends about it and read articles.

If we’re being honest, I hate that this is how we watch television (“we” in the societal sense). There was something fun about watching an episode of a series like 24 or LOST and convening with friends the next day about the episode, exchanging theories or subplot ideas, anxious for next week. Now we consume on individual timelines which leads to no interaction with anyone aside from the viewing partner. Kind of stinks.

The GG reboot was fine. It stuck to the original formula while being updated for modernity. There were cameos and return characters that were nice to see. Typically, these reboots are terrible (see: Fuller House), but this one was okay. I’d be shocked if they didn’t do it again and I’ll look forward to watching six hours of Netflix in two days again. Funny, I should add, that it definitely took me MUCH longer to get through six hours of House of Cards.

***

What do we do about Gronk?

One side: Cut him loose. Trade him for two first round picks. His injuries have cost the Patriots seedings or the season every year but one. You don’t have the money for him and Bennett. You can’t guarantee he’ll come back the same Gronk we love.

Other side: That one year he was healthy at the end of the season, the Patriots won the Super Bowl. He’s never not come back and been the same Gronk we love.

Another side: Retire. Consider life after football. Hasn’t he said he doesn’t spend his salary money? He’s a first ballot hall of fame tight end. One of the best ever. A Super Bowl champion.

Yet another side: He’ll be the greatest what-if ever. He’s already in the conversation for best of all-time. Two, three more seasons like he’s had every season and he’s the best, hands down. He doesn’t have the stats of Gates or longevity of Gonzalez, but no tight end has changed the course of an entire NFL season the way he has every year.

To wit:

2011 plays Super Bowl on broken ankle, loss to Giants

2012 broke arm against Houston, Pats lost next game to Ravens

2013 torns ACL, Pats lose home field, then AFC title game to Broncos

2014 no injuries, Super Bowl champs

2015 knee injury sat Gronk last month of the season, lose home field and at Broncos in AFC title game

2016 back injury.

I just threw up.

***

Read: This piece by Kathryn Schulz won the Pulitzer last year. It’s terrifying and interesting and worth 20 minutes of your time. Considering all the environmental work we’ve accomplished over the course of the last couple decades and the possible consequences of a new administration, this is worth considering.

Drink: Backwoods Bastard by Founders. See it on the shelves. Think, “Whoa, that’s an expensive four pack.” Remember, “Matt says it’s awesome.” Look at the label. Consider. Question, “Am I going to spend $15 on a four pack of an IPA anyway?” Buy the Backwoods Bastard. Do it. Backwoods Bastard. It will change your life. Backwoods Bastard.

Reddit List

I came across one of those links on Reddit that was something like “100 Books Every Man Should Read” lists. I’m a sucker for those even if, amongst those 100, the books are pretty much a list of classics that have been listed for decades (they’ll throw a few contemporary Pulitzer winners to make it more current).

I spent eight years as an English teacher attempting to expose teenagers to great literature. I have many thoughts on what English curricula across the country are doing wrong, but I won’t talk about that here. A great book is a book that changes your outlook on the world and that’s at the very least. A great book can inspire and influence.

We spend so much time in classroom making books as little fun as possible: Instead just reading the story, we make our students stop and ask, “So what does the clock mean?” Instead of asking them to simply get to the end of the chapter for homework, we want them to underline six words they don’t understand and share them in block one. English classes are bullshit. I didn’t like reading until college, during which or afterward I read the most important books in my life.

They all inform some part of my thinking or actions or practice as a writer in some way, though they’re not the only influences for those things.

1.) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer: I was first introduced to this book in college, but fell in love with it on an airplane from Boston to San Diego. Since, I’ve read it probably a couple dozen times. I would incorporate it into every class I taught. First, Krakauer’s reporting is remarkable. Second, I think Chris McCandless’s journey is a journey that, as a society, we’re unable to recreate. There are no more blank spots on a map. As a parent, I think we should try to encourage our children to be passionate and brave and search for meaning. McCandless did that. He died. But he died because of enormous bad luck (and his adventure wasn’t a failure). Sometimes the difference between being a great parent and an awful one (or being a great story or a tragic one) is luck.

2.) Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion: Taught me to love reading, simple as that. Second sentence of the first essay grabbed me and hasn’t let me go since. “Soft westerlies off the coast … An alien place, haunted by the Mojave … works on the nerves.” I ate up everything Didion has done since.

3.) Consider the Lobster by D.F. Wallace: The way Wallace could do his ethical and linguistic gymnastics still astounds me, and, in this work, it’s better than any of his fiction in my opinion. Someone hit it right on the head when they described his writing as something like being the smartest uncle at the holiday table who’ll end his incredibly intellectual argument with a dick joke.

4.) Sex, Drugs, Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman: In a lot of ways, it’s probably my least favorite of his work, but being the introduction to it makes this book hold a special spot. He wrote about Saved by the Bell and Radiohead and asked bizarre hypothetical questions. I felt a kindredness with Klosterman when I read him because we had (it seemed) similar interests and ways of trying to understand a subject differently from the normal narratives.

5.) Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon: I tend to suffer from bouts of many things: anxiety, frustration, moodiness, and introspection among them. I also read this one on a cross-country flight, from Phoenix back to NH, after hurriedly grabbing the first thing that seemed interesting off the bookshelf at the airport. At the time, I was grappling with some things as a son and a writer and as a person. It was just what I needed. Too often, men are pigeon-holed in a certain way in literature. Reading Chabon’s frustrations and anxieties and failures and triumphs was refreshing to me. After Into the Wild, it’s likely I’ve picked this book up more than any other book since.

You should read all of these. Yes, you.