Friday, April 19, 2013

When the News is More Than Just News

I am a news junkie.  Always have been since I was a little girl.  I can't remember a single evening where my mom and I didn't sit down for dinner and watch the evening local and national news.  I loved reading old Newsweek and Time magazines for fun.  There are certain niche stories that capture my attention which are probably not of much importance to other people.  But then there's the big ones. 

As I navigate my way through a thorny patch of my personal life, I watch the news as I always do.  Which is why, after hitting another patch of rough seas personally, hearing about the bombing in Boston on Monday hit me pretty hard.  Seeing pictures of an 8 year old boy holding a sign pleading for peace, knowing he was killed by ruthless cowards drove me to tears.  Just as they did everyone.  They'll find the people that did this, I told myself.  Though, if I'm being honest, I don't know that I believed that 100%.  They could be out of the country already.  And how do you track down such a human needle in a haystack?  I just had to trust in justice and fate.

Then I heard Pat Summerall died.  Being a Dallas Cowboys fan is at the core of my being.  Pat Summerall was an NFL commentator but he was our guy.  You knew that, no matter how impartial he had to appear to be, he secretly wanted the Cowboys to win.  He was older and it wasn't completely out of the blue but it was another rattle to the cage.  I was glad that he had found sobriety and got to live 20 more years with a clear head, able to help those who sought solace in the bottle just as he had.

Next was ricin-laced letters being mailed to elected officials, including to the White House.  To be completely honest, that story barely pinged my radar.  I heard the guy was an Elvis impersonator which, considering no one was hurt by his actions, seemed like a perfectly good waste of comedy material on a week like this one.  Any other week and we could all roll out memes and hasty Photoshop jobs.  But it's hard to laugh at something so ridiculous when there is so much tragedy swirling around for no apparent reason.

Then came West.  If you had asked me if the week could get any worse than seeing the graphic pictures of a young man with his legs blown off for the crime of attending a marathon to support his girlfriend, I clearly would have said no.  But when the first reports of "fertilizer plant fire in West" started popping up on Twitter, I knew that this week was not the week of false alarms and narrowly averted disasters.  I watched social media morph from jokes about the Czech Stop being okay to seeing the horror of reality slowly wash away the sarcasm.   This was not the week to tempt fate with comedy.

I heard the early estimates about casualties and I prayed they were wrong.  Luckily, they were.  But that doesn't change that people did die and a small town will never be the same.  It also made me incredibly proud to be a Texan, though not by birth.  As corny as it sounds, I knew that when someone in Texas is hurting, there's millions of Texans ready to do what they can to help.  It take the edge off the pain to know that West is currently asking that people donate money if they want to help because they were immediately inundated with supplies and donations.

By last night, like most of you reading this, I was just ready to crawl in bed and hope that either quick Armageddon was finally here or something would turn this whole thing around.  When I woke up, I heard the news of the overnight standoff in Boston and learned that an MIT police officer was killed for merely sitting in his car and being a police officer.  Another transit cop, only a year older than me and father to a 6 month old, was badly wounded.  One of the bombing suspects was dead and the other was on the loose. 

I honestly didn't know if I could take another day of this stuff.  Being a news junkie seemed like the fast track to pure heartbreak at every turn.  I didn't care about the pictures of cats that people posted as antidotes.  I wanted news and I wanted some goddamn good news at that.  So I was glued to the Boston police scanner and to Twitter all day.  At 5pm CST, the Boston police seemed to be waving the white flag.  I put a load of laundry on and braced myself for whatever the next wave of atrocities would be.

Then I heard something on the police scanner.  They were rushing to a boat.  My first thoughts were that the guy was on the water and trying to escape and probably just offed himself.  We wouldn't ever know how this whole terrible chain of events started.  And we still don't know that we will ever find out.  But at 7pm this evening, I was sitting on my couch just listening to the police scanner.  It seemed excruciating to hear the police, wisely, inch up on a suspect who was seriously injured and perhaps armed to the teeth.  If only we could end this week with some glimmer of hope.  If only Boston could sleep easy tonight.  If only we can prove that bad doesn't always win over good.

Then I heard it.  "Suspect captured."  We still have no idea what shape the guy is in or how all this will shake out.  But after this week from hell, the entire country needed to hear something good.  They needed to know that we, as a country, took him in alive and will give him a fair trial because we are cool and democratic and fair like that.  More than anything, we needed something good to happen.  The town of West has the entire state of Texas behind it.  And Willie Nelson, don't forget him.  Boston can hit the bars hard tonight, knowing there are no longer two maniacs on the loose.

Next week will be better.  Let's just forget this one ever happened, ok?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Let's All Take a Moment to Look Back and Laugh at How Clever We Thought We Were Once (and How Wrong We Were)

This has been a rough week.  Finding out a dear friend of mine, who seems far too young to be dealing with news like this, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and then hearing of the passing of Roger Ebert within a 24 hour time span will really do a number on you.  But it also got me reading and ultimately writing.  Which, for better or worse, is why what you're about to read now exists.

Let's rewind the tape a little bit.  Back when I was a snarky blogger (as if there is any other kind) and had just gotten my first ink and paper column, I told anyone who would listen about the genius of Will Leitch.  I watched friends breathlessly praise Chuck Klosterman and what I considered his backdoor humblebrag approach to pop culture writing.  But Leitch was my guy.  As time has softened my stance on Klosterman, my appreciation of Will's writing never waned.

A few years ago, for reasons I can't remember and probably aren't all that anecdote-worthy, I got in touch with Will.  We had a mutual friend, a successful record label owner turned sports writer whose identity could be revealed in a five second Google search.  Well, scratch that.  More like I know someone who we both admire but who also may have become one of Will's earliest and most vocal critics.  Like a kid with sweaty palms and shake-voice standing in front of a hastily slapped together Science Fair project, I wrote him to introduce myself and send him a link to a piece I'd written about why he was better than Klosterman.

He wrote back.  Nothing earth shaking, just some complimentary notes on what I'd written.  He was gracious about the fact that the man who brought the world Pavement (the band not the concrete stuff we walk on) hated him so much and how weirdly flattering that was.  Then he mentioned that he was responding in between trying to bang out chapters for a new book.  To use a very lazy sports analogy, that was as huge to me as Tiger texting (sexting?) you between holes at the Masters. 

We didn't have any further contact and life and job stress has largely kept me from being as current as I'd like to be with Will's output.  But I've never lost my starry eyed admiration of his work.  In fact, I gave SMIMLWSNBN (Special Man in My Life Who Shall Not Be Named) copies of Life as a Loser and God Save the Fan for Valentine's Day.  Yeah, I really know how to bring on the romance.

So when Deadspin re-ran an old piece that Will wrote about his correspondence with Roger Ebert in the wake of Ebert's passing, it gave me pause.  It's certainly worth reading the whole thing but if you aren't a fan of extra homework, here's the deal:  after a few years of back and forth correspondence with Ebert, in which he offered nothing but support, Will got sucked in my the siren song of snark.

He wrote a piece about how Ebert was the old guard and was tarnishing his writing legacy by selling out to the devil that is television.  This understandably hurt Ebert, who emailed to say as much.  It seems that time healed (or at least bandaged) the wounds but, as you might imagine, it's a moment that Will Leitch regrets to this day.  And that reminded me of something.

I guess I too was, in some small way, part of the new wave of bloggers turned actual journalists.  I was rewarded generously every time I could write something so incendiary that page views spiked and people, love it or hate it, felt so compelled by what they read that they re-posted articles.  Negativity and cattiness always "sold" (provided you are pretty flexible with actual definition of what selling is) and I was fed hatebait like 1950's studio starlets were fed uppers and Benzos.  I was young and was told that I was good about being really mean about stuff.  Works for me. 

One day, I was assigned to write the cover piece for the Mavs season preview for that year.  As being a basketball blogger was what originally put me on the map, this seemed like a full-circle kind of moment.  I went to shoot around and got to talk one-on-one with Rick Carlisle and Shawn Marion and a VERY petulant Brendan Haywood.  Then I asked Mark Cuban if I could email him some questions to include in a sidebar interview.  He said sure.

Cuban and I had emailed back and forth over the years.  He's never been anything but generous to me even when it was clear that I could offer very little in return.  I pulled together a list of questions that I thought were on-point and fired them off.  Much to my surprise, he responded with something along the lines of, "Jesus, can these questions get any more depressing?"  Then he called me the Edgar Allan Poe of sports writing or something to that affect. 

The snark switched had been flipped many years before and I didn't even realize it was on constantly at that point.  At first, chalked it up to a team owner only wanting softball, feelgood questions about his team's chances in the upcoming season.  But Mark Cuban isn't really a feelgood pull-quote supplying kind of guy.  So I re-wrote and then re-re-wrote the questions again, just for good measure.  I re-submitted them to him as my "new and improved Norman Vincent Peale persona."  He gave me good answers and told me he liked the Norman Vincent Peale version of me a lot more than the Poe one.

The Mavs won the championship that season, which has absolutely nothing to do with the season preview that I wrote.  But as they came closer to the title with each win over the Heat, I thought about how glad I was that I shed the snark and stopped writing just to tear things down and watch them burn.  Of course, it also put a nail in my career as a sports blogger but I'm okay with that.  Today, I will watch the Rangers home opener with nothing but positivity.  Okay and maybe a slight wincing regret that Yu Darvish was two batters away from the earliest perfect game in baseball history on Tuesday night. 

Snark is a vile parasite capable of making writers turn on their heroes.  The fact that the last words Roger Ebert sent to Will Leitch were "I hope you're well" gives me some weird sort of peace that Ebert almost certainly understood that better than any of us ever will.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go put the finishing touches on my column for this week, tentatively titled "Will Leitch Poops His Pants Almost Daily."  Just kidding.  I think.