Monday, January 24, 2011

“All me, no ghost, no 16-bit like Sega Genesis”

So last night I was looking at some of the pictures I took this past summer and thinking about how much I liked writing here when I had the time. Then I remembered that I was taking six hours during the second semester of my senior year at UNC and figured I might have enough time to stop in here and jot down some thoughts. I'm not really sure what I'm going to do with this space, but I think it will be a lot of me reflecting on random things I come across in my life. There will definitely be talk about sports because I love sports and spend a lot of time thinking about them, but this will not be a sports blog. I like to think that I have other interests and more to offer the world than "PUT KENDALL MARSHALL IN!!!" If anything, sports will be used as a sort of prism of looking at things or as a sort of shorthand way for me to express abstract ideas when I don't have the writing chops to do better. While I will definitely write things like, "I felt like Gerry McNamara during the first half of the 2003 National Championship game," I will also try to make an effort to explain what a phrase like that means to the sort of person who has more important things to remember than G-Mac's six first-half 3-pointers against Kansas. I'd like to think that I will use this space to tell stories about myself or the people and things I see around me, but it might just devolve into, "Hey, did you see this cool link? Here's why I think it's cool." I don't really know, yet. Regardless, I appreciate your time and interest.

Anyway, the last time I wrote to you, I was writing as a blue-and-orange bleeding New York Mets fan from a Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle. Now, I am writing as an "objective and unbiased journalist" from my apartment in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I guess before I do anything else, I should explain how I got from there to here, both physically and metaphysically. And so, here is the first installment of a brief outline of what I did the past six months of my life:

1. I drove across America (again)

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

From left: My friend Mike; me; my Seattle housemate Jake; Jake's girlfriend/Mike and my friend, Shawna

If I had to retrace my steps from There to Here, I guess I would have to start in the driver's seat of my black Toyota Avalon somewhere in Wyoming, my main man and college sportswriter extraordinaire Mike McCall riding shotgun. We were driving back to our respective east-coast hometowns after spending our summers as interns in the Emerald City. Mike had worked as an associate reporter for, getting paid to be a Seattle Mariners beat reporter and write about baseball. I had spent my summer considerably less productively, fetching Subway and surfing the Internet in the radio studio of 710 ESPN Radio Seattle, the flagship station for Mariners baseball. I did not get paid or really do anything of meaning. It was mostly miserable and almost always drizzling.

Mike and I drove together some 20 hours between Seattle and Boulder, Co., where I eventually dropped him off so that he could make the trip back to Gainesville with a fellow U of Florida Gator, and I could take the northern route back to Long Island. We took turns driving, jammed out to bad music and brainstormed ideas for ridiculous t-shirts we'd like to own. But I guess after you're alone with someone long enough, you start running out of Lil Wayne lyrics to discuss and start talking about more important things. So we talked about our families and girls we'd crushed on and sports journalism and where it was going. It was then that I decided I was going to try to make this sportswriting thing happen for real.

I've always been interested in a career in sports journalism, but I don't think I had ever really planned out a course of action the way I did then. I guess I had done the things I thought I was supposed to be doing (joined the school newspaper, got internships doing sports journalismy things), but never really thought about how what I was doing was going to get me where I wanted to go. Maybe I was just never willing to work hard enough. Anyway, I decided then that I wanted to get an internship like Mike had done in the worst way. To do this, we decided I needed to get better as a writer. I would take every assignment I could and show my work to Mike, my colleagues at the DTH, my housemates and anyone else who would read it and give me constructive feedback. I would then take this advice and make myself a better writer. As Mike pointed out, nobody sets out to be covering men's soccer their senior year, but if that's what I was assigned to do, I should make the most of things and treat soccer with as much seriousness and care as I would the football beat. If I worked my tail off and did the things we talked about, maybe I could start getting where I was trying to go.

There's a really wonderful passage in "All the King's Men" where the narrator writes that since human existence is defined by relations with other human beings, you in a way stop existing when you are driving alone at night in the rain. It's one of the truest insights anyone has ever written.

Between Colorado and Port Jefferson, I had a lot of time to think about what I had been like when I had last existed in Boulder and what I would like to be like when I started existing again on Long Island, and later, in Chapel Hill. For three hours a day I had the company of Howie Rose and Wayne Hagin on the WFAN Mets radio network, but mostly I was alone. I thought a lot about the things I did well in life and why I did those things well and I thought about the things I didn't do well and why I did those things poorly. I made sweeping declarations of the things I would do once I made it back to civilization. When I got back, I would go to the gym every day and no girls would hurt my feelings and I would be focused and confident and industrious and I would become the best writer to come out of Long Island since Walt Whitman, or at least Chuck D.

And no, outside of the first month of school I did not spend much time at the gym, and yes, I did wind up letting a girl hurt my feelings for a short period of time. I have not written anything nearly as good as "Fight the Power," much less "Leaves of Grass." But I was mostly industrious and mostly confident and mostly focused, and two weeks ago the people from called to tell me I would be spending my next summer as an associate reporter covering the New York Mets. I am not perfect, but I'm much, much better than I was when I last wrote to you six months ago.

A lot of times I think back on my summer in Seattle as a waste of my time and my parents' money, two months spent listening to my bosses trade fart jokes and trying to restrain myself from yelling back at nasty sports-talk radio callers. But then I remember that if I hadn't spent all of that time transcribing asinine interviews with middle relievers, I never would have had that conversation with Mike about becoming a real-life sportswriter and maybe I never would have made the time to draw a blueprint for a better me. And then I think that maybe if I had stayed home that summer or even gotten a more productive internship elsewhere, I might still be a borderline-mediocre sportswriter and an uninspired self-defeatist.

In a way, my internship at 710 ESPN Radio got me exactly where I hoped it would when I signed up. I advanced my career, made a professional contact I could use as a reference and grew exponentially as a person. I just took a 5,800-mile detour along the way.