11/20/2008 – Michigan 55, #4 UCLA 52 – 3-0
11/22/2008 – Michigan vs Ohio State (-20) – 3-8
I think I may have mentioned this before, but at some point in my mid-twenties I wrote twenty pages of a novel about a group of five friends who lived in the same house in college and at some point because of stupid college hijinks ended up promising to carve and lacquer a set of five ninjas that would stand the test of time, because friendship was forever, or something less saccharine that I never got down to refining.
This is where the novel departs from hard realism, because the friends actually carry out the intricate carving and lacquering of five different ninjas that are perfectly symbolic of each person in the house and their relationships to each other person in the house. This is also where the novel departs from the realm of things that exist, because obviously. You try to write that.
Chronologically, the novel ended with the character that was a thinly disguised me (all fictional characters you write in your twenties are thinly disguised versions of people you know, and one of them is always you) burning the ninjas in a ceremony representing the end of the world, or the fellowship, or whatever. One friend returned, late, because his wife delayed him for some reason or another. The others never showed. The one who did was not inclined to care.
I was sad. I lived in Ann Arbor and my friends had moved away and the people around me who vaguely replaced them were distant or unsuitable or impractical or really short and probably addicted to cocaine given their behavior. I worked engineering jobs listlessly, finding slight motivation in the first six months before dropping off into lethargy. At my last engineering job there was a week where I spent literally 80% of my time playing Tropico. I was single, and felt alone. I was alienated from the city I'd lived in for a half-dozen years.
The thing I was, and the things I thought I would be, had broken. I think this is a common thing these days. I think everyone gets through college with the idea they will be a special snowflake, and then they find themselves in a strange city or, worse, a city abandoned by the people they knew before. They work a job at which they are not a special snowflake. It's boring. It is not at all what anyone envisions themselves doing. If you're not a lawyer or engineer, it probably pays poorly.
And the adult world encroaches and says "this is life, get used to it."
And you write twenty pages of the Great American Novel before getting used to it.
Once a year, usually around this time, I pick up Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and look for the passage in it that I remember and never find it. At this point I am convinced it does not exist. In it, Hornby sums up the bile and self-loathing and devastating fatalism that he feels about both his life and that year's edition of Arsenal. The two things are inextricably linked, and they live under a steel gray sky.
This is what I find:
Home to Villa in the League Cup quarter-final replay was probably my worst-ever night, a new low on a relationship already studded with them. …
Part of it was my own latent depression permanently looking for a way out and liking what it saw at Highbury that night; but even more than that, I was as usual looking to Arsenal to show me that the things did no stay bad forever, that it was possible to change patterns, that losing streaks did not last. Arsenal, however, had other ideas: they seemed to want to show me that troughs could indeed be permanent, that some people, like some clubs, just couldn't ever find ways out of the rooms they had locked themselves into. It seem to me that night and for the next few days that we had both of us made too many wrong choices, and had let things slide for far too long, for anything ever to come right; I was back with the feeling, much deeper, and much more frightening this time, that I was chained to the club, and this miserable half-life, forever.
Eh, close enough.
I'm not really sure what happened in the past four years to change everything. Again, I think this is a fairly common occurrence these days. You spend a few post-college years wandering in the desert, melting your special snowflake shell away, and then once you've stripped yourself of that ego you find a center.
One night in 2004 I decided that I should start a blog. At some point I lost my mind, checking the traffic numbers every 30 minutes and spending every hour from my arrival at home to bedtime doing something or other related to the blog. In April of 2006 I was fired from my engineering job because instead of engineering I was mostly blogging. (And playing Tropico.) I idled around for a few months, half-heartedly searching for jobs until AOL invited me to be a lead blogger on their nascent college football site, which, when combined with the trickle of income the blog was generating at that point, added up to food and rent.
It was a leap of faith. My mom was openly petrified.
Author James McManus got a job covering the World Series of Poker for Harpers before the WSOP was a cool cultural touchstone. He lucked into a seat by winning a satellite with his advance money, then made the final table. He wrote about his experiences, and a sordid Las Vegas murder that was part of his Harpers assignment, in Positively Fifth Street.
The book opens with an imagined re-enactment of the sordid murder, and McManus manages to slip a sentence in that stuck:
For non-early-bloomers, thirty-three can become the age of miracles—the time to start a family, launch a new venture, make partner, publish your first novel, even found your own worldwide religion.
McManus—divorced, remarried, joyfully whipped as hell, finding stunning new professional and personal success—is obviously talking about himself here. Like Hornby, he wandered, crazy, until finding some sort of balance.
At some point you are not what you were, and then you are nothing. It's at this point people start putting themselves together, once you have had that year where you do too much of something—drink, play video games, feel sorry for yourself, brick threes, fumble—feel terrible after, and then do too much of that something again.
That thing I was before is not what I am now. I have a capital-s Significant Other and a great group of friends in town. I work, a lot, and like it. I recognize that period of mid-twenties malaise as part of the past. How did I get here? I was adrift. I struck on a thing. I lost my mind. I woke up later. In the meantime I had accidentally built a life, and a career.
I have an imaginary speech by Rich Rodriguez or John Beilein in my head. In it, he says that everything everyone in the room came to Michigan for has been torn asunder. He says that everything that they were told before they signed a piece of paper is worthless. He says…
Nothing you were told about this place has come true. You came here and found a different coaching staff and a different team. A plainly deficient team. No one recognizes you. You run out in the same uniforms but what you do is unrecognizable to these people. This… what we have here is broken. The things we do do not work. The culture we have is dysfunctional. This program is a heap of ash.
You did not sign up for this. And you have every power and inclination to leave. Some of you will. Fine. No one will blame you. It's cold and people scorn you and there are so many of them.
Some of you will stay. And you will go insane. You will work, and you will work, and we will build something here from nothing. Because, make no mistake, this is nothing. You will build something out of this. If you're a senior next year and you teach some freshman something, you will build something. If you're a freshman and you refuse to quit on your stupid decision, you will build something.
What you build will be yours. Few in the great history of his university have had that opportunity. Everything came based on what came before. They were part of a great chain, now broken.
Those of you who stay will forge a new one, starting today. When we are done we will fix the last link to the broken chain, and break the first link, and tell those who come after us to live up to it.