Held fast to the stern

The wet walk up Thorn takes 25 minutes, twice that if you’re doing it right. It curves wide around the cypresses, tall wonderless sentinels. Past the trees, it descends, then levels out to the water.

The path fades where hundreds of feet have beaten it out into a wide delta that slopes down to the dirty water. Blades of grass improbably cling to life on the fringe, defiant as they poke through the mud. An empty square bottle rests against the sedan-sized boulder at the shore.

I bent down to pick up the bottle, and my imagination rewound a night of teen rebellion. I considered carrying it back, but instead set it back where it was. My laziness anointed it a tribute.

Why was I in such a hurry to leave? It was a question that had more than one answer — the right one, and the ones that I had constructed to avoid that first one. Neon lights are banned on Nantucket. That kind of pretension keeps a person artificially closed off from life’s relentless scratching at the soul.

I wondered why I had worn these sneakers knowing the walk would be a sodden punishment. They sank deep into the silt, and it made me feel good.

At least I was playing music again. Then, again, the pang of honesty: What I was doing wasn’t playing music. It was reciting notes. It was filling in the blanks in a meaningless, emotionless, artless form that would move everything along, push the wheels, sustain the pace. Some people couldn’t tell the difference. Their unvarnished wonder was built on a misunderstanding. That wasn’t their fault, but it didn’t cheer me up.

I turned back toward where I knew the path would pick back up. My shoes squelched in protest as I sucked them from their comfortable bed.

The beauty of self-redefinition is its constance. Nobody says goodbye to themselves, but nobody has to keep running into the part of them that leaves them hollow and horrible and eager. A very old friend told me the man who laughs is the man who knows, but I don’t think he knew what that even meant. Happiness is trigonometry; it’s a delicate and sometimes unattainable balance of chemicals whose variables constantly warp and melt and overflow. Plug in those most common denominators — sunshine and sex and whiskey and money and achievement — and it will still let you down without a little equilibrium.

Shoes ruined, heart full, cold settling in to my chest, I left Thorn behind me again.  If I hurried, I could be home in an hour, but I knew I wouldn’t.

301. Grantland

I was 20 when Grantland launched.

I was short on experience and long on ambition. I had passed the phase of my life where I loved everything Simmons wrote, but I admired the boldness to which he committed to staking out a corner of the journalism world not always accepted by the reigning kings.

To be honest, I just wanted to work there. By not taking itself so seriously, the site served as a beacon of irreverence. It was unswervingly cool, especially for young writers of a certain mindset and ambition. And it had some really damn good writing.

Over the years, as the journalists it influenced themselves become more influential, the impact Grantland had will be lionized and (probably) exaggerated. Because journalistic tastemakers loved Grantland, this process is already happening on Twitter hours after the announcement.

In fact, a lot of analysis and eulogies and autopsies are going to occur over the next few days, but those don’t interest me much.

To me, the site’s lasting impact has nothing to do with what went wrong and why. It mattered because it taught a bunch of young people like me that the industry can still be the meritocracy we all envision it to be when we enter it.

Doesn’t matter what you write; if it’s good, someone will listen.

297. Jimi Hendrix drew a picture of Elvis Presley that looks like Donald Trump

It’s 1957, and Elvis and the Jordanaires are in Seattle. The crowd is about 90 percent teenage girls, but one of the few boys in the audience is a 14-year-old Jimi Hendrix.  

Elvis makes a big impact on Young Hendrix, especially with his swagger. At one point during the show, Elvis asks everyone to stand at attention for the national anthem. Then, he launches into “Hound Dog.” The King in his kingdom.

A few months after the show, Hendrix draws a picture of Elvis surrounded by the names of his hit songs.

It looks exactly like Donald Trump.

Like, exactly.


296. DEAR ███████

** All potentially incriminating emotional intelligence has been redacted by the Central Nervous System to preserve the safety and security of the status quo and the emopolitik. We appreciate your understanding. **  

transmission incoming

Dear ████████,

Hey. It’s me.

You’re going to ███████ ████ this letter ██ ███████, I’m sure, but you can’t honestly ████ ████, not ████ ████, not the part of you that I ███████ just as it ███████ ███. I know ██████ also ████ the chemistrickery, the bubbling ripple ████ █████ the ███████. Wild.

███████ once taught me that the worst thing you can do is ████ ████ ███████, so I will hide behind that and pretend like I’m ███not ██████ ██ ████ ██ ████.

I’m 95 percent certain ██████ wrapped ██ ████ ███████, perhaps inextricably, and that actually makes sense because ████ ███ ██. At least, ████ ██ ███ ████ I ████ ████ broken ground on with a golden ceremonial shovel.

Everyone says, “████, you ████ ███ ███ ██ can’t ████.” And that’s not true! At least, I don’t think it is. Maybe there is a █████, lasting and immature ████ ██ ██ that █████ ██ ███ and ████ a kiss to taste like ███████████ ██ ██. █ █████ ███ needed that flavor in most ██████ of my ████.

I’d ████ ███ if you were ██████, I’d ████ ███ even if you were ██████ ██ ███████, and I’d ████ ███ came right up to me, stared at me with those ██████████ eyes and said, “█████ ████ ████.”

███ I’m here, █████ in ████, ███████ if there is a slice ██ ████ ████, however thin, ███ ██. Won’t you? Can you? I understand ██ ████ a sense of maturity, duty and obligation, ██████ ████ ███ fearless gamble for adventure ██ █████ ███ baldly appealing.

Just know this:  █ █████ ████ ██████ ███ ██ ████ ███ and that’s not gonna change.

████, █████

end transmission

279. Two lines that made me put my book down

“He had short-cropped hair and a jawline lean and sharp enough to cur cake. He wore a gray suit with, unlike other board members, no pocket hankie. He had an economy of style and, like a gifted athlete, an economy of movement, as if he were conserving his energy for a meaningful explosion.”

That’s Michael Lewis describing a 1980s hatchet man inside Salomon Brothers in Liar’s Poker.

What I love about this is there’s nothing flashy or particularly clever. Sometimes good writing is in the unassuming details and the workmanlike job of getting from big idea to the next. Shouldn’t need more than a simple paragraph to say everything necessary about something.

“Now Alan found himself in the odd position of having to defend a woman who had tunneled through him so many times and so recklessly that he felt lucky to appear, from a distance, whole.”

That’s Dave Eggers describing a mid-fifties divorced man reflecting on his ex-wife in A Hologram For The King.

Perfect arrangement of words.

266. The Two Reporters

There are two reporters; let’s call them Wilson and Smith. Each is doing a story on a noted public figure, who we’ll call Jameson. Wilson covers Jameson regionally as an extension of his beat, meaning he has a solid rapport with him and talks to him often enough that the two are on a first-name basis.

Smith is a feature reporter, deployed by his national media company to trail Jameson for a week or two and gather enough information for a comprehensive magazine piece.

One afternoon on the job, the two reporters find themselves in a public hallway alone with the Jameson. Each senses the opportunity, but Wilson gets to him first.

In the course of answering Wilson’s questions, Jameson recounts a humorous, telling anecdote about pancakes that is tailor-made for the news. In fact, Wilson is so engrossed in his pancake conversation he doesn’t even notice Smith, who also hears the anecdote while he waits for his chance to ask Jameson his own question.

Wilson wraps up his interview with Jameson and leaves. The next day he files his beat report, using the pancake story extensively and framing Jameson within its fluffy, buttery details. Wilson’s report enjoys a brief turn as the story du jour on Sports Twitter, primarily because of The Pancake Story. The public is fascinated with Jameson, and Wilson’s reporting rides the zeitgeist.

A week later, Smith’s piece hits the web. It’s long, thoroughly researched and delicately written — vintage Smith — and about two thirds of the way down, Smith includes a graf that offhandedly mentions The Pancake Story.

Now, it can be reasonably assumed that Smith never read Wilson’s original piece. Wilson, after all, writes many more pieces for a smaller market of readers. But Wilson reads Smith’s piece — after all, it’s a long, national feature on a topic he himself covers — and when he gets to the bit about the pancakes, however, he becomes furious.

Smith stole my thunder, Wilson thinks. He must have been skulking around during my one-on-one interview with Jameson… Maybe even eavesdropping on the interview! Fueled by a sense of professional justice, Wilson brings the issue forcefully — damningly even, in Wilson’s own eyes — to his followers.

Now out in the ether, Smith strongly and publicly rebukes the accusation. Jameson made those comments in a public hallway, Smith reasons, and what was he supposed to do, put away his notebook? Ask for permission? Plug his ears?

Predictably, no one wins the Twitter spat, but it does have one useful outcome — it informs me of enough details so I can ask you, the reader, this:

Is either reporter in the right?

263. Pyrrhic

Did you guys know we’re all gonna die?  

Did you guys know your mind and body will imperceptibly (and then suddenly quite perceptibly) slow, fail, wither, cease? One day you’ll be here, the next day you won’t. Your family, too. Your pets, parents, and children. Everyone you’ve ever met or will meet. Everyone you’ve ever loved, feared, betrayed, scolded, admired, belittled and appreciated — they’re all gonna die too.

Did you guys know there’s a patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas? Plastics and sludge are systematically choking the life out of an ecosystem thanks to our general waste mismanagement. They recently found a shark — one of the few not slaughtered for Japanese shark fin soup — carved up inside because of undigested polyethylene.

Did you guys know that Hemingway once begged his wife, with tears in his eyes, to not take him to his electroshock therapy appointment? Or that Tesla died penniless, crazy and in love with a pigeon?

Did you guys know that Tony Romo had the best QBR in the league before breaking his collarbone today? That the very hopes for the Cowboys’ season — one so tinged with promise and toughness and talent — likely fractured right along with Antonio Ramiro Romo’s left clavicle on the dirt-brown grass at Lincoln Financial?

baby blue parkas

V wrote something both raw and polished today, something real and brave that inspired me a bit to get back after the exercise of mining what’s inside you for emotional and creative gains.  This is what he wrote:  

Memories are funny.

You have some that lurk under the surface of your subconscious and rear up when you least expect them to. I’ve had one rattling around my head for the past
few hours now, disorienting in its clarity. It’s not a happy one, and the person it involves hurt me more than anyone before or since.

It was winter, a few days after New Year’s. Snow was on the ground. It was the perfect setting for an ending.

She was wearing a baby blue parka, one too big for her; it sagged around her shoulders, nearly swallowed her dark hair and pale skin.

Neither of us knew what to say as we stood on the porch. She broke the silence: “I’ll see you around.” It’s almost laughable how cavalier the whole thing was. Like friends parting ways after lunch, not two people whose lives were diverging after half a decade.

There was no anger, no bitterness. Just resignation. She walked away, down the path toward her car. I didn’t know what to do. I watched her until she receded from my view. For some reason, I told myself that this was a moment to catalogue.

When she left, I took one last look at the apartment, and then I drove away. And then I drank heavily for the rest of the winter.

And then I forgot about her. At least I thought I did.

Her statement wasn’t true. I haven’t seen her since then, and I most likely will never see her again.

But I still remember it, even years later, after other girls have come and gone.

Memories are funny.

He’s a good writer, of course, but there are two things I want to point out here above the obvious cop-out of not writing something myself for this blog entry.

Young writers, especially the ultra-competitive journalist kind that drift out to this country’s coasts and gauge their success in retweets and likes, don’t encourage and promote each other’s professional and creative victories enough.

Norman Mailer confessed to a crippling sense of professional jealousy in relation to his peers, and while it’s easy to wallow in that, we owe it to ourselves and our peers to rise above, and not just superficially. Honestly. Genuinely.

A win for them is a win for us. Creators over haters.

The other point is that it’s just damn good writing.

222. Geno & Joe

Geno Smith had his jaw broken today by a rookie teammate, a defensive end coming to collect $600 Smith owed him.  a I spent some of the morning trying to figure out if the New York media turns the Jets and Mets into punchlines or if they do it themselves. I suppose it’s a little of both.

More interesting to me, the sports history nerd, is that Geno isn’t the first Jets QB to suffer a broken jaw.

In 1967, in a bloodfeud game against the Oakland Raiders, Joe Namath got physically tortured; hit low, hit late, hit hard. The Raiders that day were vicious and cheap, and Ike Davidson caught Namath as he was rolling to his left, blowing his helmet off his head and breaking his jaw.

Namath stayed in the game and threw for 370 yards in the Jets loss. Al Davis added insult to injury by having a photo of the hit blown up and displayed at Raiders HQ.


Instead, we got Geno’s lame Terminator Instagram picture. I was born in the wrong decade.

Postscript: The Jets’ big opportunity for revenge came during the infamous “Heidi Bowl,” when NBC executives chose to cut away from a narrow Jets/Raiders game to broadcast a heartwarming TV movie about an orphan girl.

It’d be like if ESPN inexplicably started showing the new Annie movie during Monday Night Football.

NBC’s half-hearted attempt to make ameliorate the situation blew up in its face when it displayed the score of the game –revealing Oakland’s dramatic comeback win — across the screen during the movie’s emotional climax.