Sense Enough To Have None

Writing for writing’s sake can be a helpless exercise. It’s like wading blind through a sea of voices; sometimes you’ll fall into a current only to realize it belonged to someone else first. Finding new things to write can be among the most challenging of objectives; one can start to feel like the infamous fool, the one who once uttered the words “everything that can be invented already has,” around the turn of the twentieth-century. But as wrongheaded as those words were, so is the thought that originality is bound to escape the modern writer, at least in the age of instantaneous publishing and propounding drivel that the Internet has so hastily provided us.

Filed under “Favorite Lines from Movies I’ve Not Yet Seen,” a quote from the newest trailer for “SPECTRE”, the upcoming entry in the James Bond film franchise: “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane.” These words are spoken to Bond from the mouth of a man who looks as though he’s been up for days on end. The words, in context, are meant to conjure danger lying in wait for the unsuspecting Bond; out of context, however, the specific image of a kite lends more to the conundrum most writers or artists or the like find themselves in at the outset of a new project. Outward, invisible forces take up and carry the kite, and though we are not meant, nor able, to influence the wind, we can and must harness it, counterbalance ourselves against it, and ultimately, fall. (With style.)

I often think when I sit at a desk that I’m bound, through my own ignorance of myself, to create, or recreate, something I’ve already done. It’s a powerful fear, and it dares me towards a deeper journey. But achieving true originality, a worthy goal of any such trek, in reality only dimly lights the path that you might otherwise be lost from (I’m certain that there’s an allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I probably could have used, but no matter). Being lost matters, of course. Even more so, I’d suggest, than finding such an ending.

But it is also the regenerative nature of, among other things, cultural iconography (read: Star Wars, from fan fiction, to T.V. spinoffs, to J.J. Abrams and beyond) that brings with it a fresh element of complexity—and for that reason I have always despised the connotation that words like “derivative” have undertaken. I think of it as cultural sustainability. It feels like Paul puts it, getting to the bottom to go back to the top of the slide; weaving around mysteriously like the electrical synapses of Asimov’s Bicentennial Man; everything sort of flies about, almost imperceptibly, but at every moment you’re left with something new made from something that’s already been. Things that, when added together, are only sums, get rearranged and combined again, coming out more as results of a complex algorithm than of simple arithmetic. Certainly, the studious-types will always argue that we funnel into the same inescapable archetypes, and maybe we do, but not without some quixotic bravery.

This all means something; more probably, it means nothing, and may be read by a corresponding population of no one. Many people often disagree on the value of nonsense; I only happen to prefer it. But I still have not answered the initial question: what exactly should one write, and why, if not to benignly stretch one’s fingers, and in light of the fact that so much has already been written?

To think. Look what I’ve done.

As Boxing Lays (Not) Dying

Well I know I certainly can’t wait to see this fight. The preceding sentence is music to the ears of boxing promoters everywhere. This fight draws in the casual fan, and it’s the type of event that has been so sorely lacking in boxing for years—the teasing about this fight over the past 5 years hasn’t really helped, either.

But what of this notion that Pacquiao/Mayweather is the fight that will save boxing? If it hasn’t been framed as such yet, it undoubtedly will be. I know my pseudo-colleagues in the media well enough to know that someone will spin that which is so easily spun. (See this excellent story by Brando Starkey about the “death” of boxing.)

But it won’t.

It won’t save boxing anymore than the World Cup saves soccer every four years. And yes, if by some miracle you’ve read my story I wrote when I was in the throes of World Cup fever, know that on a certain level, it was just that. A passing hysteria, really, because as much trouble as I took to choose a team in the Premiership, and amid all of the thoughts that I now would become a more engaged soccer fan, I just, well, didn’t. The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure soccer is doing just fine without me.

This is really what I want to say about boxing: Mayweather vs. Pacquiao won’t save it because boxing is not dying. Here’s a quick story: I have slightly thin hair. But when people (rudely, I might add) ask me if I’m going bald, I tell them: It is thin, not thinning. Of course that’s usually after I slickly jab them with some razor-sharp wit. (Editor’s Note: That last part is a lie. It’s usually a recycled version of a yo-mama joke.).

But that’s just where boxing is now. It’s thin, but it’s not thinning. Pacquiao/Mayweather is a major event in a minor sport. It’ll be exciting and huge and it will make people wonder how we can make it like this always, but it just won’t be. And just because every event in boxing isn’t drop-dead amazing and grossing figures that makes Warren Buffett take notice from on top of his buffet-lined throne, doesn’t mean it’s dying, or even that it’s sick.

Be happy people. This is happening. But don’t look for some inherent flaw in the institution of boxing when it’s over and everyone goes back to their normal lives watching the Kardashians instead of the Klitschkos. Just keep punching people, and I’m sure everything will feel just as it should.

D

Musings on “Birdman”

It’s all I can do not to heave a wooden chair from the balcony of my 3rd floor apartment to see if, according to Edward Norton’s character in Birdman, it just isn’t high enough. “Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” was annoyingly good. My one-sentence-twitter-age-viral review went a little something like this in my head: “Birdman is the highest peak in the mountain range of this generation of movies.”

The sheer breadth of themes and techniques covered in Birdman are made more astounding by how deftly the film structures all of them. The story can feel disjointed to a viewer expecting a more conventional plot; the film plays like a jazz suite at some moments, with deeper, more subtextual visual moments, abstract and surreal elements like the Riggan’s flight around Manhattan or the flaming meteor-like object that burns down through the frame in several scenes. The flowing jazz drum beats fit rather nicely into that narrative. But it never seems too pretentious or inaccessible, and maybe that’s a function of Keaton’s intensely mortal portrayal of the former superhero, Riggan Thomson.

And I am now convinced more than ever that contradiction, creating ambiguity in a film, and thereafter leaving viewers with decisions to make is one of the most important devices available in making art in this world of mass exposure. One of the primary conceits of the film is people wanting to be important and relevant; Keaton and Norton’s characters with the play; Emma Stone’s Sam Thomson with her relationship to her father; the entire viral media institution looking for that one moment to get eyes or clicks or views or whatever it is they look for; and where, I might ask, is anyone as important as they are inside their own head? There is nary a place. And so, as everyone who watches the film tries to figure out whether or not Riggan has super powers, or whether or not he killed himself, or tries to solve any of the other ambiguities built into the story, the writers can sit back knowing that they made people pour back over the scenes and events in their film. And even though the filmmakers playfully minimize the ego and self-worth of the human race as being worth no more than a single piece of toilet paper, harnessing that ego, reckoning with its flaws, is omnipresent throughout every possible level experience that the film presents, going even beyond the frame. They commanded that ego-driven attention in the minds of their viewers; and that, as Stone says, is power.

THE NFL: GOODELL’S PLAYGROUND

I hate the leadership of the NFL. It’s our game, but it’s their playground. Roger Goodell was inexplicably vindicated today, and just should not have been. I hate to use forms of that word: “should.” Generally, I never presume to know better or to possess some higher moral knowledge than anyone else. Luckily for me, it does not take a righteous or penitent man to see the ugliness of the NFL’s leadership.

Let’s start first with the conclusions presented in the Mueller Report: unsurprisingly perhaps, no NFL officials knew the contents of the elevator video. That isn’t the troubling part. The troubling part is the way the report chose to handle the notion that someone, anyone in that office should have known. The gist of it is that the NFL probably could have done a bit more.

Let me attempt to put that in perspective. That’s like saying that the guy who drives out into a busy intersection “probably” could have stood to look both ways. It falls just disgustingly short of actually describing his responsibility in the matter. The report list things—simple, simple things—that could have, should have been done and, even if they ultimately yielded nothing, could have at very least shown that the NFL did something.

The NFL did nothing, and the fact is that besides a mighty yawp from some members of the media, no one in that office is truly accountable. Accountability by way of statements and press conferences is not true accountability. You cannot say you are accountable or responsible and magically have it be so. This, to me, exposes the true flaw in the leadership of the NFL.

Remember that press conference? The one where Goodell took responsibility? Where he said that he failed? That he didn’t do enough? That it starts with him? Here’s a question:

Think he took a paycut? Think he worked a few Saturdays extra? Do you think he did a wind sprint or two even? There were no consequences, save for, again, the outcry of a few media members. Sticks and stones, Goodell must think; words will never hurt him. And that’s true. Words will not have any actual impact on him, of this much I’m sure. But it works both ways:

Words like “I’m responsible.” Or “I failed” will never have any actual impact either.

The NFL’s leadership is utterly insulated by their own authority and the incredibly, wildly rich people that fund that authority.

It’s our game. But it is their playground.

STU

A mistake I make too frequently in life is not taking note of the notable. I assume, in the moments when my consciousness is focused fully on something memorable, that even in subsequent moments I’ll remember the feeling I had and be able to hang on to it. Time moves me away from moments like that and yet I take actual, tangible, physical note of so little from them. But not today, not on a day that was so eminently notable, especially because it was marked by the passing of such an indescribably impactful person. Stuart Scott died today, so now, I’m taking note.

I’m taking note because, like so many of the people who had never met him, I am regrettably only now taking stock of what he meant to sports in our culture. In the days to come we will all begin to notice the idiosyncrasies in our personalities that were forged through countless evenings hearing his voice and seeing his face on Sportscenter. It’s difficult remember a world in which Stuart Scott was not at least somewhat present; but I never thought it would be as difficult to imagine such a world as it is now.

I watched Rich Eisen and Hannah Storm break fully away from their on-screen personas to share with us these incredible human moments—so stunning it was to watch them break news they had been crushed by only moments earlier, to see the love they had for Stuart in their eyes, and the pain they felt in losing him. And I looked into their eyes, and I listened to them, and though I could never feel exactly what they felt, the force that welled up inside of me, the power of it all, could only have been a testament to exactly who Stuart Scott was. He was ethereal and essential; a magnetic personality that just seemed to emanate from him effortlessly, and yet, at his core, he was solid heart. All of us out there who had never met him believed that about him, but Eisen and Storm and everyone who expressed their feelings about him hammered those beliefs into honest truth.

And I read every word that was written or spoken about him today. I watched every second of footage I could that was filmed in tribute to him. I watched and rewatched what he said at the ESPYs. And in the wake of such a sad and terrible and untimely and really devastating loss, my heart was full. I know that so many of us are sitting here thinking just how it could be that we could feel this way about losing someone we never knew. And I know we’ve seen the public mourn beloved figures so many times, but never known that it could feel the way it felt today. Stuart Scott showed me where my heart was today. He showed me by living in such a way that in the wake of his tragic passing, everyone who had a voice used them to express an amazing amount of both pain and love. And it was beautiful.

Stuart Scott, on the day he died and every day he lived before it, became more than a collection of quotes, or a symbol of bravery and love, or even a dearly missed and beloved sports figure, or friend, or father. His life, and the way he lived it, and the way it ended, became an indelible mark on the world.

Many have said that he didn’t lose his battle with cancer—we simply lost him. His words from the ESPYs have rung truer with every moment: today was simply his moment to rest, and to let all of us—regardless of whether or not we ever actually knew him—continue fighting, now with the love and strength that he showed us.

Rest in Peace Stuart Scott.

THE NEW YEAR

I haven’t been around too much in this space lately. Or at all, really. I’ve been scared; of writing, or failing at writing, of what it would be like if those aliens in the last Indiana Jones movie actually existed. Normal stuff. But I’m done with all of that. A new year is coming. It’s amazing the way we’ve created these spaces between periods of time; that somehow today is now and tomorrow is tomorrow but somehow this particular upcoming tomorrow will bring worlds of difference. It’s amazing because of course, at its core, the idea makes no sense; that’s why, for some people, New Years Eve is so anti-climactic. My sister used to close her eyes with five seconds left before midnight and say, “see you next year.” On the outside, nothing much really changes. We have to break the habit of writing down the previous year when we date things, but other than that and some confetti, nothing can change that drastically in five seconds.

Meanwhile, on the inside, everything can change. Even if you aren’t different. The new year is a microcosm of the reason why we have iphones and telescopes that look 60 million light years into space. We all want to change today. We all want to be better, or to do better, or even just to have better stuff happen to us. We’ve made tonight the ultimate night for hoping everything. Maybe that’s why, if you’re downtown in your city tonight, or out anywhere at all, you’ll see pretty much everyone that could possibly be in that place at that time. I’ve heard it called the universally human holiday. I’ve heard it called amateur night, which is one of my favorite descriptions (if you’re not smiling at that, you’re not imagining all of the people who find literally every excuse in the book to stay in every night finally relenting, and trying their very best to be real party animals. It can, it does, it will get ugly for some of them.).

So here is Hope Fest 2015, only I’m not waiting around to see if I’ll be a good writer again tomorrow. I’m ending 2014 the way I should have been spending it, writing something, anything, because regardless of if or when I do it well, it’s really the only thing I know how to do. This will be the year that I do do it.

And if you think I didn’t consciously just make a poop joke, the only person you’re kidding is yourself.

Lebron James; Or You Can Call Him “Al”

Why was he called "Al" again?
Why was he called “Al” again?

It’s time to get some thoughts down on Lebron James, here, in the wee hours before the decision that has built up like a tsunami finally breaks on the shore (or riverbank) of one lucky city. And a tsunami is the fitting choice of metaphor here; we looked out from the end of the Heat’s season and saw much calmer waters, after all. Just two weeks later, out from somewhere in the depths, a rogue wave seems ready to roll in and extinguish all of the fires that burnt James’ wine and gold jerseys four years ago (if you thought I wasn’t going for that potshot, you’re crazy).

The polarizing, attention-grabbing, seemingly narcissistic (though he’s said not a word) fracas surrounding the 2014 version of NBA free agency has been talked and written and speculated to death. It’s all been punctuated pretty hilariously by Mike Miller’s incredibly conspicuous placing of a #23 Cavaliers jersey in his home gym as he “lets one fly.” Yes, of course he was trying to mess with us, and to that end he deserves a Bush-esque “Mission Accomplished” banner. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also foreshadowing Lebron’s likelier and likelier return to the Cavs.

I don’t think he knows anything. I think he hopes a whole hell of a lot of things. I also think, at this point, his hopes are fairly justifiable. So what now?

Well, in the me-centric world view that I enjoy visiting every once in a while, I like to think of the sports figures in my life as though they are here to help me get through the difficult times in life. We’re all the protagonists in our own stories anyways, right? Well in my story, Lebron has sort of been like Christopher Lloyd’s character Al in “Angels in the Outfield[1].” You all remember a fresh-faced Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and his guardian angel that helped the aptly named major league team from Anaheim make it all the way to the verge of the pennant; all so little Joseph could get his Dad back.

Lebron came to Miami four years ago and became the sports hero that I looked forward to watching in the Mays and Junes when I was (read: should have been) studying for law school finals. And since I get to draw my own connections between my life and the world of sports in this story, I get to look upon the 2014 NBA Finals as much more than simply “coinciding” with my graduation from law school. As great as making it out of law school was, it leaves me facing the real challenge: the Florida Bar.

And you remember the rule from the movie: the Angels had to win the pennant-clincher on their own. And maybe that’s what’s happening here. I’m going to face the Bar on my own.

So yea. Lebron is my Al. Is it a convenient rationalization for me to compare his time in Miami to a classic children’s film if he does decide to leave? Sure. But it’s my rationalization. What are sports if not just one more way to connect to the world, and to life, and make sense of our own experiences?

So Lebron, if you decide you’re headed back to Cleveland: Thanks. It was fun. No, it was more than fun. It was freaking divinely awesome. And if you decide to stick around?

I’m sure there’s some other rationalization I can come up with to fit that scenario, too.

Thanks, Al.

 

[1] Also featuring Danny Glover in his Lethal Weapon prime, the Tony Danza that Disney thought they were getting back when they made that Eagles field goal kicker movie, and a small but noticeable role from a young Matthew McConnaughey. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.