The Age Of Miracles

Submitted by Brian on November 21st, 2008 at 10:29 AM

11/20/2008 – Michigan 55, #4 UCLA 52 – 3-0
11/22/2008 – Michigan vs Ohio State (-20) – 3-8

sheridan-nw sims-ucla

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Comments

msoccer10

November 21st, 2008 at 1:55 PM ^

never completely go home again, because "home" or college is more than a place, but a time and friends and experiences that are unique. I was lucky enough to find a job that allowed me to move back to Ann Arbor 11 years after I graduated. It is different now, but still wonderful. I will always remember and miss what it was like when I was a student, but life moves on and Ann Arbor will always welcome you.

edt03c

November 21st, 2008 at 12:16 PM ^

Between this post and the pregame post before the season opener against Utah, I believe Mgoblog should be required reading in schools.

I can identify with what you are saying about a mid-20s malaise as I am there right now. I just returned from a weekend in Tallahassee to find that things had changed surprisingly fast. That was a bittersweet weekend. Great words my friend.

evenyoubrutus

November 21st, 2008 at 12:22 PM ^

that is about Michigan football, from a fan's perspective. One that describes what Michigan Football is to the fans. I don't know that there is one, or if there is I haven't heard of it. But there are too many about the players' or coaches' experiences. We need one for the fans.

Having said that, tomorrow will be an interesting day. We will go into that game as fans, as someone said in an earlier post "[hanging] on every snap". We can all tell ourselves and our buddies and whoever that 'we know we won't win blah blah' but deep down, when they kick off, we will be watching that game with the very same mentality we have watched every other Michigan-OSU game.

It is very likely that at about 3:30 we will turn off our televisions, leave our watering holes, or some may leave the snake pit, heads hung low, attempting to push out of our minds what will hopefully be nothing more than a painful, distant memory that is like a fading scar - one that will stop hurting shortly but never actually go away.

But there is that off-chance that a miracle or some kind of dumb-luck takes place; the unthinkable, unspeakable happens, and then what? Will anyone care about the bowl streak? Will anyone think about the most losses thing? It's hard to say.

jnaramor

November 21st, 2008 at 12:27 PM ^

Brian,

I've been reading mgoblog for the last year...since just prior to the coaching search. You've really brought me back to my roots and help me to rediscover my love of Michigan athletics. What you wrote truly resonates. I think you should write an entire book on being a Michigan fan, how it spreads to all sports. Keep up the great work.

StevieY19

November 21st, 2008 at 12:33 PM ^

Thanks for this Brian.

And on an aside...after watching the 1969 game earlier this week, anyone else think the rain-soaked new jerseys kind of look like the home jerseys from '69? Minus the logo of course. I've just noticed that a couple times this week.

Sven_Da_M

November 21st, 2008 at 12:56 PM ^

Malcom Gladwell, quoted recently in the WSJ about the popularity of his books:

"People are experience rich but theory poor. My books are a way to organize experience. People see that as useful in this day and age."

Nice writing about experience and linking it to an emerging theory about new beginnings at UM!

AaronGoBlue

November 21st, 2008 at 1:13 PM ^

Did everyone that went to college think about or try to write a book about their college years? I got six pages into mine.

The townies in Ann Arbor are way cooler than other places I've lived. The Ann Arbor townies usually were eccentric and somewhat interesting. Townies in other places I've lived were basically rednecks.

AaronGoBlue

November 21st, 2008 at 1:13 PM ^

Did everyone that went to college think about or try to write a book about their college years? I got six pages into mine.

The townies in Ann Arbor are way cooler than other places I've lived. The Ann Arbor townies usually were eccentric and somewhat interesting. Townies in other places I've lived were basically rednecks.

AaronGoBlue

November 21st, 2008 at 1:13 PM ^

Did everyone that went to college think about or try to write a book about their college years? I got six pages into mine.

The townies in Ann Arbor are way cooler than other places I've lived. The Ann Arbor townies usually were eccentric and somewhat interesting. Townies in other places I've lived were basically rednecks.

herojustthesame

November 21st, 2008 at 1:20 PM ^

But I just registered... been reading in Seattle all season and I just officially became a fan of the blog. I checked in to take the edge off the wait for kickoff and I ended up finding some comfort and inspiration.

Thanks, man, keep it up!

dsten

November 21st, 2008 at 1:23 PM ^

I did not mean to generalize townies, only reference the specific townies I had met on a particular night, who reminded me of the people Brian mentioned who probably did way too much coke judging by their behavior. So I apologize to the Ann Arbor townies, who are probably the best townies in the world that I unfortunately didn't have the pleasure of meeting.

retroactiveswaziland

November 21st, 2008 at 1:28 PM ^

Hello!

I haven't read the blaugh for too long, but I don't recall Brian revealing so much of himself in an entry before. In the past I wondered if it was because Michigan and DFW were so much a part of his identity (and do still, sort of). Whatever the case, him getting out from behind the numbers and opening up is pretty cool.

papabear16

November 21st, 2008 at 1:30 PM ^

Brian,

I haven't had time to read everyone else's comments. I just wanted to say that I've always enjoyed this blog (since i found it during the coaching search) because you can write (lower-case "w") in an intelligent and often humorous way. But, lately, there have been changes in some of your posts, and to me, this was best of them. You, sir, can Write.

Jason

wingedG

November 21st, 2008 at 1:43 PM ^

Brian,

amazing post. I really hope RR and players could read that and understand what they truly are a part of. I dont know how RR feels or how he views his opportunity at Michigan but i hope for the sake of the program that he does start something special that can be their own.

I hope you write a book on Michigan football someday because I feel that you have the ability to capture the spirit of UM and its football.

David

November 21st, 2008 at 1:44 PM ^

Hey Brian, one of the things I've been hoping for at your site is less of a disconnect between Brian Cook and Brian @MGoBlog. I don't think there's a dichotomy between professionalism and being personal.

This kind of post, therefore, is welcomed. Keep up the good work.

David

GNM

November 21st, 2008 at 1:46 PM ^

Tropico was awesome. I used to sit around for hours with the only sound being "Tropicana loves you, my President" or "You're people starve! Grow more food!"

As for the post-college slump: it gets worse after college? Damn, now I feel even worse for not having any fun with my youth. Meh.

jwalk

November 21st, 2008 at 2:26 PM ^

I've followed the site for the past 2 & half years for both the technical game break downs & the introspection of an alum/sports fan on why they matter.

I don't really post (though that might change) but check the page daily. Thanks for the site & congrats on the success....

captainbatman

November 21st, 2008 at 2:31 PM ^

This post makes me want to quit my job, burn my belongings, have an epiphany along the way and live in the perfect golden world where people love me and I have a support structure beyond my mom and the success of the Michigan football team keeping me off the ledge.

Wonderful post if you're past it. Dismissable post if you're not there yet. Awful post if you're in the middle of it. Stupid twenties. Stupid football.

lane

November 21st, 2008 at 2:37 PM ^

...that's what i call searching for a silver lining.

egads man/men, if you actually believe that a single player on this team (including Rodriguez) could/can relate to this scenario you're a fool.

trying to picture (as several have state/requested here) this 'speech' being given in a lockerroom - can't do it.

i agree that it's nice to see a less sterile / more personal side to the posting - never put much thought behind it though, honestly.

play hard today - execute today - believe you can win today...that's what i'd want to see from my teamates.

JeremyB

November 21st, 2008 at 2:38 PM ^

The difference between this post and RBUAS: Johnny's was essentially the two paragraphs from "Nothing you were told about this place has come true" through "this program is a heap of ash" and nothing else. Brian gave that a beginning and an end.

matty blue

November 21st, 2008 at 3:55 PM ^

i felt many of the same things you did after leaving u of m. spent too much time with too many people that i cared too little about...

you're lucky, though - you got your feet under you much earlier than i did. it took me 20 years and a.a. to get there.

thanks for everything. you rock.

aenima0311

November 21st, 2008 at 3:56 PM ^

What a great post Brian, gave me chills. It summs up exactly what myself and this program are going though. I actually registered for the site just to give you props... and I've been reading the site for about 18 months.

matty blue

November 21st, 2008 at 4:27 PM ^

...i love that picture of sheridan. he looks like...a kid.

which is what he is, a kid doing everything he can possibly do to win and who probably stays awake in bed, just staring at the ceiling.

papabear16

November 21st, 2008 at 4:31 PM ^

That kid gets to start at QB for freakin' MICHIGAN tomorrow against OSU. As rough as this season has been, when he's staring at the ceiling, I'll bet he wonders if, just for four hours, he could set the world on fire.

I hope my boys grow up and get to play in one game like that.

mdurham07

November 21st, 2008 at 6:46 PM ^

At this point I think everyone has said everything there is to say. But wow. That article gave me chills. As soon as I read it I had to read it again. I hope RR can muster up a speech half as good as that. I know no one gives us a shot tomorrow, but I will not be surprised if we shock the world. Thank you, Brian.