Thursday, September 25, 2008

Grieving teams learn hard lessons after tragedy

The piece below was published last Sunday as my follow article to the game I covered on Friday at Glenn. I didn't want to go the “Debbie Downer” rout being mindful that it had been a month and being sure the kids were probably tired of talking about it considering the tragedy of it and all. But I did ask everyone I interviewed how they were holding up and such and what teams were doing and things like that as sort of a warm up to get them going. So at the last minute I decided that it more or less had be my follow because I have been, let’s say, upset since David Foster Wallace’s death considering that I have been looking to his commencement address delivered to my graduating class as practically a religious text.

Here is the piece:

Last Friday’s match up that pitted the now 1-4 Glenn Bobcats against the 2-3 R.J. Reynolds Demons would to most observers appear like a game hardly worth notice in its mediocrity. However, in this unexpected setting, there was a supreme truth to be learned with life-or-death significance void of self-interest or cynicism. It was a parable of hope.

One month ago, Reynolds linebacker Matt Gfeller died in a horrible anomaly and in his honor they have worn no.57 decals and patches. They’re also a reminder that adolescent myths of invincibility and immortality to committed pursuits get shattered when reality proves fragile and temporal and directed by forces beyond control. Yet they must play on, as their teammate cannot.

Talking about how his team has held up, Reynolds coach Mike Propst vented “anything we do, win or lose, on or off the field, you know… whatever,” considering how unimportant a loss becomes when compelled to think about bigger issues.

However, in the midst of an excruciating situation, players have learned a deep truth novelist David Foster Wallace, who woefully died last week, said in his commencement address at Kenyon College, “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

“Sports have a way of healing things,” Propst said. He added that their opponents have done some “wonderful things” to make the burden easier to bare, but Glenn “did some extra things they didn’t have to do and that’s just been special.”

One such thing came soon after the horror when Glenn coach Dickie Cline, who not so long ago had a player pass, interrupted practice to talk about issues more serious than sports—assuming one thinks that possible—when he declared the obvious but overlooked truth that life is cruelly and unbelievably short.

“We do not know when it is going to be taken,” he said. “That is why you need to live your life to the fullest and to make sure your right with the-Man-Upstairs. Because you never know when its your turn.” This televised message for players to take responsibility and own up to their true interior selves was also an act of mercy since it took just a little attention off of the traumatized Reynolds community.

Though Cline would never say it, his team faces similar yet far less consequential dismay with their recent slump. But confident in his team’s “men of character,” there is hope that “something positive will ignite this team.”

When tragedy strikes the self-contained world of football, it paradoxically makes everyone more cognizant of the world off field since it refuses to indulge the fantasy of a seamless break between realities. There, things like personal character and communal disposition become extremely important to success. To deal with a player removed from not only his role on the team but from all aspects of life is a transcendentally profound and sad experience—teams have come apart when a player changes clubs or gets sidelined for a few weeks. Yet, as Cline’s words also pointed toward, through the tragedy there comes the more important awareness that life actually means something beyond self-interest.

Reynolds won the game 34-0.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Limited and Biased Top 50

I will say that list is more like the 50 books that had the most profound and lasting effect on my rather than a favorites list per se. The common denominator here with these books is that I read each and everyone of them at a time that I felt they were needed. Some of these books have become less and less significant as a piece of my world but nevertheless are still in some ways near and dear if only for nostalgia. Some of these books listed had an embarrassing amount of sway when I was younger and now I sort of wonder how. But my memory for things is ridiculous so even if I would wish to forget the fact that some of the books that really got me passionate about reading I can barely get through a few pages of now—every Stephen King book on this list would be an example of that—which comes with more mature tastes in literature as well as life experience. Another few oddities that I am sure have to do more with who I was when I read them as opposed to who I am now are books that I have read multiple times and either surprised me at how I hadn’t liked it so much the first go around but rocked my worldview with another inspection but the reverse has also been true a couple of times. An example of the latter that is still very fresh in my mind since I finally got around to rereading it after tracing it back to more or less the instant I decided I wanted to major in English and write for a living instead of doing something I would have hated. This book is that of Fahrenheit 451 which just about caused my head to explode as a sophomore in high school but when I read it again after living ten years and a couple of months, in which time I changed schools from the crappy public school that made us read it, to the dream-come-true-those-kids-are-so-lucky-to-go-there private school across town (praise the Lord I had an outstanding jump shot and an ability to de-cleat kids with extreme prejudice); went to a good college I never would have thought about going to had I not an absurd affinity for books; taught at a high school where I pushed postmodern literature on my kids to get them to care about books as I do, some of whom at least tell me that my strategies worked; went to grad school at another good school and read and read and now I write professionally (among other things). But last week when I read Bradbury again, I found his work to be pretty juvenile. So it goes I guess, but I think that was the start of my interest in “serious fiction” so it has a higher spot than I would at first want to place it because I try to take a book’s impact on my person as a whole from childhood until another one come along to drastically alter the way I see the world. Some of my selections aren’t even real books either, some are poems and plays and oral histories record much later. Others, like the Bible for instance, I have left off because I am not sure as to the extent it has over my being because it is interwoven into the American fabric—for good or bad I am not going to judge—and to include it is sort of a cop out eliciting basically a “no duh” when someone responds to my questions directed at knowing them better. That said, here it goes.

1. The Divine Comedy
2. Infinite Jest
3. Paradise Lost
4. The Canterbury Tales
5. Fahrenheit 451
6. King Lear
7. The Stranger
8. Macbeth
9. Hamlet
10. The Everlasting Gospel
11. Consider the Lobster
12. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
13. Lord of the Flies
14. The Life and Times of Michael K
15. The Aeneid
16. The Brothers Karamazov
17. Beowulf
18. Death Be Not Proud
19. The Corrections
20. A Clockwork Orange
21. As I Lay Dying
22. Brave New World
23. A Confederacy of Dunces
24. Bhagavad-Gita
25. To the Lighthouse
26. Waiting for the Barbarians
27. How To Be Alone
28. Timbuktu
29. The Catcher in the Rye
30. White Noise
31. The Magician’s Nephew
32. The Book of Illusions
33. The Medium is the Massage
34. Mr. Vertigo
35. Crying of Lot 49
36. The Iliad
37. The Hobbit
38. Ulysses
39. A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again
40. You Shall Know Our Velocity!
41. Catch-22
42. Slaughterhouse-Five
43. Doctor Faustus
44. Things Fall Apart
45. A Farewell to Arms
46. Billy Budd
47. An Enemy of the People
48. The Grapes of Wrath
49. Darkness at Noon
50. The Green Mile

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dead At 46: David Foster Wallace Hanged Himself and It Will Never Make Sense

DFW, who is my favorite writer of all time and the inspiration for the name of this blog (from his novel Infinite Jest) and the first contemporary writer who has a substantial amount of work out there that I have read in its entirety, who I witnessed give the commencement address to end all commencement addresses—Kenyon College Class of 2005—which I turn to whenever I think about how working in the service industry makes me want to stick my head in a microwave or think about how much I hated grad school or anything really that I just can’t deal with in a rational way, who I talk about everyday to my girl friend’s annoyance, has just taken himself off the map.  It sucks and I am as sad as anyone can be over the death of someone I don’t actually know.

I don’t watch TV.  I don’t care about celebrity culture.  And I don’t shed tears for anyone outside of my most nearest and dearest.  But Don Gately got my eyes flowing at a time when the end of my then current relationship to a girl I had loved since high school never did.  I saw a lot of Gately in myself as a once “near great” football player who is “massive” who found work with a bookie and is an alcoholic with an affinity for Demerol.  Plus I read the book while teaching at a boarding school outside of Boston, a job that I hated, yet found comfort in this work of splendid fiction. 

It is no wander that IJ has been called “the grunge American novel.”  Kurt Cobain and to a lesser extent Layne Staley (though the music of Alice in Chains had a more profound effect on me, I had mourned for Staley long before they found him dead) were the only other quote unquote celebrities that moved me in anyway, one was also a suicide, and I find that my heart ache this time around is even more awful.  Cobain and Staley pointed out how shitty the world is and while listening to their music, I felt momentary release and continue to.  With DFW though, I find ways to connect with other people and to see the world as a less hostile place, which Nirvana/Alice in Chains/Mad Season definitively did not do.  

When I first heard about the death of my literary hero, it was from the person who probably knows me better than anyone else, my girl friend whom I live with and love and who understands that this is the one person in the world outside of my close and very small circle whose death would have a devastating effect on me.  I was in the can at my shitty, shitty job, risking dismissal for having my phone out and in use, hitting send on my missed call from “The PGOAT”, which I typed in on the night we met, and on this night, when she began to talk, I was afraid that Darth Maul, the black cat we are cabbaging from our neighbors, had been run over by a car.  No, thank God, but in the long run it was something much worse.  Sara, the girl friend, has made me promise, before and again on this evening, that I would not do that to her—hang or in anyway de-map myself—and I won’t.  I wouldn’t do that to her or to my parents because of what I have learned from the man who himself could not swallow his own medicine.  I believe love involves empathy and connection and now I have allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to do that—to love and experience empathy—which I interpret all of the thousands of DFW pages to really, at their core, convey.

But what to do when the one person whose words you turn to when you just don’t feel like going on, in your darkest hours when you barely feel human, when you are nothing more than some abstract conception of grief or doubt or negativity, whose words always bring you back from whatever despair you find yourself consumed by, has killed himself.  Was he consumed by this idea that he was a fraud like his character in “Good Old Neon”?  Did he feel “weak and afraid” or maybe “stupid, afraid, always on the verge of being found out”? Did he buy into the line of thinking that he explicitly warned us was so soul sucking and deadly on that lovely May morning in 2005?  Perhaps he had that “constant, gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing,” Some probably question whether he felt washed up and/or like a sell out considering that Brief Interviews is being made into a feature film and rumors circulate that Infinite Jest may be as well and lets not forget the photo of him in GQ last year.  None of these questions really matter though and we are never going to get answers unless a 200 page suicide note begins to circulate (which it very well might), his fiction and essays will continue to make me a much better and happier person and will never be more than a couple of feet away lest I forget “what it is to be a fucking human being.”  His death is an extraordinarily sad thing.

Below are some of the better pieces I have read that talk about his death.  I am still in shock.

Washington City Paper

La Times


New York Times

LA Times: Farewell, David Foster Wallace

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Pit Bull in Lipstick is the Same as a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing; Isn't it?

Gov. Palin, as it turns out, is a pit-bull.  Not only did she herself allude to this, but often times I will employ this term for a person who at first seems passive and reserved to only surprise you with ferociousness when push comes to shove.  My mother for example, standing at all of 5’2, has been called a pit bull before.  Even though I agree with her—Palin that is—politics only about 1% of the time, I have to give her credit for her apparent outrage.

And she sunk her teeth deep into the media and the Democratic campaign last night both of whom supposedly crossed the line in speaking about her home life, despite the fact that it seems the Republicans involved went on the offensive to break the story, and her qualifications as a running mate.  As far as her qualifications go, I don’t think that is an area where Obama really wants to tread considering much of the questioning of his own qualifications is just now starting to die down.  Plus there is the fact that she is a Governor which neither McCain nor Obama can boast as true of themselves and that is usually regarded as one of the stipulations to becoming a viable Presidential Candidate. 

As for the other charge, I contend that going on the offensive with the breaking news on Monday was a clever way of provoking controversy and thereby taking everything that gets said about and saying it is biased and sexist.  This is sort of what conservatives charge liberals with doing, kind of like crying wolf or intimidation in their offended states—i.e. you are just looking for something to make the issue about race or gender or class or what-have-you when it really has little to do with those things in the first place.

That said, the focus of The New York Times today was not on the creepy right wing stuff that Palin said but rather the “melodrama” that always seems to garner so much attention and focus.  As Obama pointed out, I “did not hear a single word about the economy… Not once did they mention the hardships that people are going through.”  The poor, as usual, go uncared for and in their economic plan, which consists of it would seem tax cuts!,  the divide between rich and poor would only be greater. 

Then, of course, there is God’s creation to look at that we are given dominion over.  Too often that call for care is interpreted as making Mother Nature bow to the nature of man, which is complete futile, and ends with destruction.  The energy crisis we are in, Palin says, has a quasi-solution just off Alaska’s shores in untapped natural oil reserves.  What a plan. 

The Doomsday Clock is down to five minutes till midnight and the crowd in Minnesota chanted “Drill Now, Drill Now, Drill Now!”!  She says they are also going to “lay more pipelines, build more nuclear plants, create jobs with clean coal and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative sources,” one can only assume in that order, leaving little time for “moving forward” as we still focus on nonrenewable resources (with the except of nuclear energy of course).

But no one hears about any of this stuff except for just in passing.  It doesn’t sell papers to talk about stuff like this.  It isn’t sexy and no one cares.  So all we get is talk about what order McCain hugged Palin’s family in.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Family Politics

After yesterday’s announcement that Vice Presidential Candidate, Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old unwed daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, much attention has been placed back on the ever-present campaign issues of family values and abortion. 

This is, of course, something that happens to people all the time and is rarely even news worthy; however, with the GOP’s supposed core of support coming from conservative Protestants, which Gov. Palin herself claims to be a part of, some questions with religious implications have begun to surface (as they almost always do at this time in an election year).  Some Republican constituents are asking whether McCain made the right decision when choosing his running mate, favoring Senator Joseph Lieberman or former Gov. Tom Ridge, both of whom favor abortion rights, but this runs anathema to those Christian groups who are pro-life.  There is also the question of whether she will be able to handle the demands of being a VP considering that Gov. Palin herself has recently had a child who will require special attention and now has a daughter, still a child herself, who will soon bring another life into their home.

What The Times is seeing this as, in a way, in the article “In Political Realm, ‘Family Problem’ Emerges as Test and Distraction,” which was one of about four on the family centered issue, seems to be an opportunity for the VP nominee to walk the conservative pro-life walk which I am sure the GOP is all very aware.  This puts the young Bristol in quite the predicament considering that one of her options was never really an option politically.  But that is neither here nor there since she is well past the time for aborting the fetus.  What she has now become is a symbol for the conservative party, she is someone who is commended for doing the “right thing” by “deciding to marry and have the baby.”

While the candidates are saying that the private lives of these people are “off-limits”, there will likely be much political spin on both sides trying to pull the old religious ethical conundrums down around Gov. Palin and her “family problem.”  This is not “the traditional image of a first family,” as the article is quick to point out.  James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who always has to make his two cents count, claims in the article that “the media is already trying to spin this as evidence that Govenor Palin is a hypocrite.”  Going on that “all it really means is that she and her family are human.” 

Be that as it may, this too is political spin that is using the religious convictions many have for a right to live for political ends.  One has to wander if McCain’s choice for a running mate may have been based on the knowledge of Palin’s daughter, which does give her even more political significance than she already had.

What does it say about the media, this supposed liberal media outlet specifically, that Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy gets painted in a light of courageous action instead of a possible political move by the GOP to have a family that walks the walk, so to speak?  Can you imagine what people like Dobson would be saying if it were Obama’s daughter who were pregnant with the Dem. Nominee not only on the left of the Evangelical Right but also a candidate who is black?  Wouldn’t that be devastating for the party?  Why is her family even a part of the debate?  She was willing to put all of this in the national media come to think of it.  Gone are the days when Truman threatened reports for featuring the first daughter’s singing abilities.  Even Clinton would have flipped a shit if Chelsea was under the public eye like this.  Of course, this could just be my cynicism talking.