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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…Ugh, with this stupid virus, sickness, whatever you want to call it. Blame the kids. Blame day care. Blame New England for forcing us all inside in stuffy little homes that were built centuries ago. Blame Al Gore. Blame Obama. Blame Trump. Ugh, we’re all miserable.
Son has a fever and wants to be held; Daughter is jealous of her brother and acts wild to get my attention; Dog — she’s not even sick! — got into leftovers I didn’t even know we had; And there are no days off for parents. Mom is at work. Dad is at home, stuffed up, achy. I’m a bit of a baby. I could use a shower, but I’m terrified that a shower will wake one of them up. I need this silence.
That’s about all I got right now. Invoices sent out. Deadlines approaching end of the week. I feel like I did a great job of getting invoices out this year, but December is about administrative stuff: invoices, billing, receipts. It was a good year. Not a very good year, but a good year: Atlantic, Smithsonian, Slate…
Room to improve, as always. Upwards. Maybe a book in 2017? I hope so.
Sorry everyone. That’s all I got today.
A little over a year ago, a close friend of mine suffered through a rapid descent and death of his father, a man to whom he was very close. This friend, over numerous lunch break cigarettes and happy hour drinks, could talk for hours about his dad: From anecdotes about his accolades as a father to poignant concerns over an aging parent. It is the stories we accumulate over the years that measure the progress of our lives. It is to the fondest to whom we share them.
Indeed, stories are the links that bond us to eternity.
I sat in a pew listening to the celebration of a life of a man I’d met just a few times, but someone whom I felt I knew well. I nodded in agreement when someone cherished a trait they loved so much; I laughed at stories I’d heard before, at specific sayings or platitudes I’d known him to employ.
Someone, I think my friend’s brother, mentioned how much his dad loved Christmas. That he enjoyed dressing up as Santa and giving gifts. That he was always the storyteller, but around Christmas this trait really shined. He’d hold host around a table or a living room, enjoying not only the company, but the season and the sentiment that it brings forth.
At this, I was moved profoundly for particularly strong reasons.
I still hold a fondness to my memories of Christmas, particularly Christmas Eve. Growing up, Christmas Eve was always at our home, and we entertained what seemed like the masses. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors all made it to our home on Christmas Eve. It was the day we looked forward to even more than Christmas. It was festive; It was fun. As we got older, we shared in the merriment of drinks and sitting in the same room as the adults. My dad was the ring-leader of this fun.
But somewhere, somehow that stopped. My father became unhappy and we became unhappy. We moved out. Christmas Eve stopped. My parents got divorced and Christmas time became some fractured, fragmented holiday that caused more stress than happiness. We had to travel to two different homes. A holiday that came with so much joy became a holiday that I openly despised.
Part of it was selfish. My wife’s family wanted to be together on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the day after, presents with Grandma at some point. It was all what I used to have but didn’t anymore. It made me sad.
The wound of the divorce and it’s subsequent bitterness has receded a little bit, to where we share Christmas Eve with my family now, both parents invited and sharing the same space for a finite amount of time each December 24th.
But it was in hearing about my friend’s dad and his love for Christmas that made me alter my course last year.
“I want to be remembered for that,” I told my wife, then pregnant with our second child, a son, born in March. “I want to be the guy who loves Christmas. I want to our children to remember their dad as the guy who always had the most fun on Christmas.”
Now, I’m fully on board. There’s no more bitterness about the slow-moving churning unhappiness that eventually came divorce; There’s no more stress about heading to who’s house, when, and didn’t we see these people yesterday?
Death often makes us reconsider the way we’re living. Often, though, there’s little that carries forward other than the faux-resolution that takes place inside a church pew. This, however, was my resolution: To be the father every kid wants during the holiday season.
It’s not even December and the house is decorated with lights and green and red; Stocking are hung, and a countdown clock sits a 28 days. There are snowmen and Santa’s all around. At two years and eight months, my children don’t know about the magic of Christmas yet, though the older one is learning (and loving it). My rekindled energy for Christmas will hopefully be a catalyst for the rest of their lives.
My dad and my friend’s dad aren’t that dissimilar, in the end. The spirit of Christmas they held in such high regard has been passed down to ensure it’s legacy. I’m happy to keep it going for them both, as I know many more will too.
Where are the young novelists?
Maybe we don’t need young novelists. Young novelists don’t know anything. Someone in their 20’s might write really well, but there’s an utter lack of experience through which to tell a story. I’m a firm believer that you don’t become a writer writer until you’re 30. You can’t know anything in life until you’ve gone through some serious shit. Let’s face it: Most writers are college educated, which is one of the great paradoxes of our time. Spend a blue whales amount of money to be alone, writing, for a krill’s salary. Then you spend almost as much money on therapy as you did college.
Most writers are educated, meaning they spent the first twenty or so years in some way living off their parents money. They came home from college break to their childhood bedrooms, borrowed $50 if they needed it, came home drunk and slept the day away. But then something happens: Life.
Student loans appear. Rent is due. You lose some friends. You gain new ones. You meet someone. You fall in love. You get your heart broken. You get a job. You have money. You spend it foolishly. All of these things you’ll look back on and realize how insignificant they were.
But that’s not true. As a writer, all of these things that accumulate, the good and the bad, the scary and the safe, they add up. They give us a world-view. They provide us with empathy and strength and courage to write. Sure, you get over these self-proclaimed tragedies.
The girl you loved that broke your heart? Someone new will come along, but the former girlfriend never goes away. She informed you how to grieve, how to recover, how to cope. She taught you how to want and regret and to be lonely. She taught you how to overcome.
The job you lost provided a sense of self-worth and enabled self-reflection. Fuck em. But you’ll get another job and, instead of fucking up in the dozens of ways you fucked up — even if your job and boss sucked — you crush it.
The friends lost and friends gained teach us to let go and embrace change; We watch as some people fade away or get sick or hurt or addicted and we learn empathy and compassion.
This shit doesn’t happen to us when we’re coddled in our childhood bedroom, eating dinner cooked by mom and purchased by someone who asks you for “requests” at the market each Saturday morning. Lessons are learned through adversity and adversity starts for most of us in our 20’s.
We’re facing a Presidential administration that could shape our country for years to come in a way that adversely affects too much people and, incredibly, the health of our planet. Get writing everyone.