Sunday, April 15, 2018

Every Road Roamed

I remember “Forever Young.” Not the version by Bob Dylan, the objectively more insightful, more artful, more original, better song, released in 1973. The version by Rod Stewart that came out in 1988.

I remember hearing this song in a period of my life, just starting school, when I started to become conscious of music, not as background sound but as something to be enjoyed with individual artists to be identified. A stage before I owned any album or any music-playing device outside our bulky metallic portable cassette player/recorder, and when my sister and I just started experimenting with recording songs as they played on the radio so that we could get our first taste of owning music—the ability to play a song we liked on demand.

I remember that this song appeared in Chances Are, a schmaltzy flic starring Robert Downey Jr. and Cybill Shepherd that offered me my first glimpses into the concept of reincarnation.

I remember listening to this song on the radio, sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table, and thinking that the lyrics were profound. This idea of what youth might represent, especially for someone much older. How we might cling to it. How we might wish that people in our lives would never change or go away.

I remember hearing this song on the car ride home from swimming lessons--those miserable, freezing summer mornings when my father drove me to the municipal pool to learn the crawl, back, and breast strokes. I remember a particular sense of gratitude, one of those mornings, not for lessons, and not for the time in the car with Dad, but for those parts of the day being over. That the rest of the day would be mine, and that that could mean anything. That notion was inspiring, even when the day’s greatest potential meant things like playing Castlevania, or sketching dragons on the unlined backs of the grid paper my mother snagged from work for my sister and I to write and draw on.

I remember sitting with my best friend at his kitchen table--maybe ten years old-—when he asked me to name a song I liked, and I told him “Forever Young.” I imagine he had just learned about the concept of calling a radio station to request a song, and went on place the call to Lite 98.7, with no concept of different radio stations focusing on different genres, and lucking out that this was a match. I remember lingering at the table, by the radio, as we crept up on the time I was due home for dinner, and finally staying later until we could hear our request made good. Until my mother called his house, midway through the first chorus, to ask his mother to remind me to get my butt home.

I remembered all of this, earbuds in iPhone on shuffle as I stepped off the city bus for a day of teaching and writing in Oregon, and this song came on. I’d forgotten I had it on my phone, and don’t remember what the occasion might have been to download it.

But on that particular spring day, when I didn’t need an umbrella or jacket and the sun beat down and the breeze was warm, this song sounded right. And I listened again.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Year By Year

With one week to go before WrestleMania 34, I'm recalling the last 33 years in my life and in 'Mania.

In 1985 Tito Santana made The Executioner submit to his figure-four leglock. I was one.

In 1986 Rowdy Roddy Piper lost a boxing match to Mr. T when he picked up the A-Team star and threw him to the mat. I don’t remember it now, but when my sister went to school, I experienced a sample of life as the only child in the house.

In 1987, Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant in front of a purported live crowd of 93,137. Some of my earliest memories come from the VHS tape of that show, that match.

In 1988, The Macho Man won four matches in one night, culminating a victory over The Million dollar Man to win his first world championship. I started kindergarten.

In 1989, Miss Elizabeth refused to pick a side, and stood in a neutral corner to support both wrestlers when The Mega Powers—Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage—came to blows. I won a foot race among all of kindergarten kids on the last day of school, in what may have been the greatest athletic accomplishment of my life.

In 1990, Roddy Piper painted half of his body black before a match with Bad News Brown in what was generally considered an ill-advised attempt at positive message about race relations. I played Super Mario Bros. for the first time.

In 1991, The Macho Man hit The Ultimate Warrior with five consecutive elbow drops from the top rope, and still lost. I played AYSO soccer for the green team.

In 1992, Bret Hart countered Roddy Piper’s sleeper hold into a beautiful bridging pin to win back the Intercontinental Championship. I read Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons and, for the first time, understood why people like to read.

In 1993, Doink the Clown beat a man into unconsciousness with a prosthetic arm. My best friend (now of twenty-five years) and I had our first conversation on the school bus over an issue of WWF Magazine.

In 1994, Razor Ramon defeated Shawn Michaels in the WWF’s first live broadcast of a Ladder Match. I took an interest in basketball for the first time when the Knicks went to the NBA Finals.

In 1995, Lawrence Taylor turned in the celebrity performance of a lifetime and nailed Bam Bam Bigelow with a forearm off the middle rope to pin in him in the main event. I asked out a girl for the first time.

In 1996, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart worked the longest match in WrestleMania history at 61 minutes, 52 seconds. I spent the first of 19 summers (to date) at CTY.

In 1997, Stone Cold Steve Austin refused to submit to Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter and passed out in the hold instead while gushing blood from his forehead. I started writing my first novel.

In 1998, Mike Tyson counted the pin when Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels to win his first world championship. I tanked my Earth Science final.

In 1999, Triple H and Chyna reunited as good guys only to turn heel together later in the show. I kicked of the year sitting alone watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I’d recorded off of TV onto VHS.

In 2000, Triple H became the first heel to ever win the last match of a WrestleMania. I got my first job, folding sweaters at a discount clothing store in the mall.

In 2001, Steve Austin pinned The Rock and then clinked beer cans with Vince McMahon in the middle of the ring, newly aligned characters, not to mention real-life business characters toasting WWF buying out WCW. I graduated from high school and started college.

In 2002, The Rock defeated Hulk Hogan in an intergenerational dream match. I shaved my head.

In 2003, Brock Lesnar nearly broke his neck when he undershot on a Shooting Star Press against Kurt Angle. I went an OAR show that was one of the best live concert experiences I’d ever had.

In 2004, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero celebrated the two of them holding world championships while confetti rained from the rafters at Madison Square Garden. I finished my first year as editor in chief of the college paper and decided to come back for another year.

In 2005, John Cena won his first world title. I got to speak at commencement.

In 2006, Edge speared Mick Foley through a flaming table. My best friend and I decided to start a website about a cappella music.

In 2007, The Undertaker stole the show in a minor epic with Batista, pinning The Animal after a Tombstone piledriver. I spent the summer working at Princeton.

In 2008, Ric Flair lost his final WWE match to Shawn Michaels. I started a new life in Baltimore.

In 2009, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels put on an all-time classic match, and I was there for WrestleMania live for the first time.

In 2010, Bret Hart returned to wrestle his first WWE match in over twelve years. I visited Europe for the first time.

In 2011, Michael Cole defeated Jerry Lawler by disqualification in the worst WrestleMania match of all time. I was a groomsman for my dear friend Will’s wedding.

In 2012, Sheamus pinned Daniel Bryan in the shortest world title match in WrestleMania history (clocking in at eighteen seconds). I finished my first master’s degree.

In 2013, John Cena pinned The Rock for the WWE Championship. I jumped out of a plane and asked Heather on our first date a couple hours later.

In 2014, Brock Lesnar became the first man in twenty-two years to defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I moved to Oregon to start my MFA program and move in with Heather for the first time.

In 2015, Seth Rollins became the first man to cash in a Money in the Bank championship opportunity in the middle of a WrestleMania main event. I participated in two weddings that summer: the officiant for Peek and Missy’s, the best man for Scalise and Amy's.

In 2016, Shane McMahon jumped off the top of a Hell in a Cell cage, through a table. Heather and I got married.

In 2017, The Hardy Boyz made a surprise return and won the tag team championships in a four-way Ladder Match. I found out my wife was pregnant the morning of the show; my son was born in December.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Dark World

There was one Christmas when I was—I don’t know, twelve years old?—and all that I remember about it is Dark World.

For all my nerdiness, for being a budding fan of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis and Patricia C. Wrede, and pretty obsessive about The Legend of Zelda, I’d somehow evaded the world of Dungeons and Dragons—was vaguely aware of its existence, but had never played and didn’t know anyone who had didn’t really feel as though I’d missed out on anything.

And then I saw the ads for Dark World.

I wonder if there may have been a TV spot for it, too, but I remember best the Toys ‘R’ US full-color pull-out flyer from the Sunday paper that featured Dark World, a board game, yes, but a three dimensional one in which castle walls and forests sprouted from the board, equipped with armies of little figurine knights and goblins and wizards. The morning I saw it--probably around Black Friday--I drafted my first Christmas wish list for the year.

An aside: I have to suspect that my parents and grandmother regretted whatever point they’d advised my sister and I to start making lists. Before long, it became an exercise in obsessive calculation and ranking. For most of my childhood, I knew my parents and Grandma to spend about fifty dollars each on gifts for the holiday, so I tailored my lists around those dollar amounts. First, more expansive lists with the items I wanted most at the top, then more concise lists in hopes nothing would go overlooked or they wouldn’t take liberties with order of preference, or settle for something lower on the list because they found it first in the store. I provided different lists to Grandma and my parents, too, both to avoid overlap and because I knew, for example, that Grandma was more likely to send away for video tapes or books using an order form I’d clipped from a pro wrestling magazine, whereas my parents would only buy what they could find at the mall.

In retrospect, this was all kind of awful--the worst kind of losing the so-called spirit of the holiday and appreciating what I had, in favor of targeted, deeply analyzed materialism as I produced multiple drafts of each list.

But back to Dark World.

Dark World topped both Christmas lists, so certain was I that this would be the game that changed my life.

And then I reconsidered.

This was also around the time that I was falling in love with music, and some of the biggest takeaways from Christmas time the past two years had been cassette tapes from my new favorite artists. When I assessed the price tag on Dark World--thirty dollars, plus tax--it would leave room for, at best, two new cassettes, and that wasn’t even taking into consideration t-shirts, books, or cash.

And for what? For all its bells and whistles, the more I thought about Dark World, the more I struggled to imagine actually making use of it. I didn’t have friends I played board games with with any regularity. My parents didn’t play. That left only Grandma and my sister, and Grandma was more of a traditionalist with games she’d known for decades, and my sister tended to balk at longer slower games, which I had to imagine this one would be. Indeed, hadn’t it been an immersion in a fantasy world that drew me in to start with?

So, my final draft of my Christmas list, turned in less than a week before Christmas, did not include Dark World. In retrospect, all of the Christmas shopping had to have been done before that date, which in turn provoked my mother asking me directly (by our conversational standards) about it--that she’d noticed Dark World wasn’t on my list anymore, and didn’t I still want it?

I gave a hesitant, half-hearted, half-true response that I did still want it, it’s just that there were other things I also wanted.

I knew before I opened the wrapping paper that Dark World awaited me Christmas morning, and did my best to smile and thanked my mother, who I’m fairly sure saw through my faux-excitement in noting that she could return it and get me something else if I didn’t want it.

After a moment of thought, I kept it.

But the question haunted me. How late was too late to return a game for a refund? Days? Weeks? As we actually opened the box and as we played our first game, I had the sense I was taking an irreversible step. All the more so as we made the decision, as the game’s instructions advised, to paint the little figurines so we could personalize them.

To my best recollection, we only played the game two or three times. Predictably, Grandma and my sister didn’t much like it, and in all truth, I didn’t really get into it either, though I’ll never know for sure how much that had to do with all of my wish-list-remorse, versus the shortcomings of the game itself. I’m not sure what became of the game in the end. My best guess is that my father either sold it when he was clearing out the house years back, or its still collecting dust in some corner there.

But I’ll always remember Dark World--not it adventures, promised or realized, and not the fun of playing the game or personalizing it, but as the last toy or game I remember asking for.

I was growing up--into a dark world, indeed.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

New Shoes On

For far too long as a kid, I didn’t know how to tie my shoelaces. I wore the sneakers with two Velcro straps that were not so uncommon for a kid in that era who was five, even six years old.

I don’t remember the surrounding circumstances, but I recall quite vividly a day when I was ten years old and this gap in my knowledge was exposed at school. Not in a big, public humiliation. Not in anyone making fun of me. But in another boy smiling and trying to show me how to do so--as if one demonstration would be enough to internalize the lesson for a lifetime. I remember his kindness and how profoundly it felt like condescension.

I remember thinking that tying my shoelaces was simply a skill I’d never master. As a boy, I wasn’t intimidated by learning multiplication or division or algebra. My vocabulary expanded and expanded. By tying shoelaces--there was something confounding in it.

And yet, one day, I got new shoes. As was customary in my family, I only had one pair at a time: all-purpose sneakers, and I only got the new ones after I’d outgrown the ones before them. And that day, my feet were too big for any of the ones with Velcro straps in the store. And so it was decided. I had to learn.

I learned there was more than one approach. The loop-swoop-and-scoop. The bunny ears. I latched onto the former, and after a day or so of sheer rote practice, I’d picked up the skill. A minor triumph.

I don’t remember those first lace-up sneakers, but I remember that the ones after them were the kind with light-up heels, that flashed red when I ran. I remember that the light-up heels were already a little out-of-style, and also meant for boys younger than me by that time, but they’d been the only pair I half-liked at the discount shoe store that afternoon. My father and I were both impatient with shopping, so I went home with them.

Another pair were black, branded with the Colorado Rockies logo. Cool enough to look at, though I had no more affinity for the Rockies, or baseball in general, than from the New York Rangers (or hockey) that branded my winter gloves.

I outgrew the point when it was socially acceptable to wear sneakers as part of a dress-up outfit just as my feet grew to about the same size as my father’s, and so he lent me his lone pair—the shiny black monk-strap shoes that I wore to play in orchestra concerts and to the winter semi-formal and to prom.

I was low-maintenance, but in an early high school growth spurt, I got five inches taller my feet stretched two sizes past the pair of sneakers that I still wore for a period of months before saying anything to my folks. From then on, my mother made a habit of asking how my shoes fit, and for the first time in my life, I began getting new pairs even when I didn’t necessarily need them, as the shoes got just the least bit tight or I imagined they did.

When I left for college, my mother bought me my first pair of dress-ish shoes. The ones I picked out. Big, brown, boot-like shoes, rounded at the toes. I remember asking one of my girl friends at college if she thought I could pull them of with shorts. She did her best not to laugh when she told me no. For years, I wore them with black socks, unaware of that fashion faux paz.

A few years out of college, a few years into office work, I had settled on three pairs of shoes at a time—a real wealth of footwear relative to childhood, though I developed my own penchant for wearing these shoes into the ground—until the soles wore away or parts of the heel separated. Until they actively hurt to wear or looked overtly stupid.

When I left the office to go to grad school full time, one of my last items I treated myself to before I adjusted to life on a tight income was a new pair of sneakers. The Onitsuka Tiger brand that seemed to sprout up in variety of social circles, that I liked the look of, perhaps the only time in my life when I consciously sought out a particular pair of shoes and paid a modest premium for them.

I wore these shoes in a new life, when it was not out of the ordinary for me to walk two-and-a-half miles to or from campus in a given day.

And my feet ached. These sneakers looked sharp, and maybe some people do like the way they feel.

For me, they were not a fit.

I stuck it out for the year—relishing the novelty of getting to wear sneakers, not shoes, so often again. I stuck it out until the pain became chronic, and I was unwilling to go on weekend hikes because I knew I’d regret it all week afterward.

That summer, I worked an intense job, in which the hours were brutal but the paycheck was commensurate with the effort. At the end of it, I decided it was time to treat myself again, and Googled the most comfortable men’s sneaker on the market.

This was how I found my Brooks running shoes.

Even tying the laces that first time, I could swear I felt a difference.

That fall, I taught at 8 a.m.--too early for a bus to get me to campus on time, so I was walking to campus three days a week. But in these new shoes—these big, not particularly fashionable sneakers—I felt strong. I felt comfortable. Despite the early hour paired with my night owl tendencies, I even enjoyed these walks sometimes. A leg up on the day. Putting my best foot forward.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

On Melt Day

They used to yell “Melt!”

Down the hallways of the high school. In the cafeteria. Now and again, even in a classroom. A ragtag group, mostly boys—or at least it was the boys whose voices carried most clearly. Not popular, but not particularly unpopular, either. A mix of nerds and musicians and misfits who didn’t fit the school’s football culture, but also couldn’t rightly be called losers by any meaningful measure. Truth be told, were I year or two older, or had the dice of my own social life rolled one extra time before settling on the chosen faces, it’s not unreasonable to think that I might have ended up among them.

Melt!

To my recollection, it was a nonsense syllable. Just a thing to say. I have a suspicions that I might be forgetting some inside joke to set it up as the word, but regardless, if it did have meaning, that meaning seemed to dissipate over time. These guys yelled melt. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was annoying. As far as I could tell, it was always harmless.

And then we arrived at Melt Day.

March 2, 2000. More to the point, a date that read “3/2,” which was converted to 32—the tipping point degree at which water freezes. The point when ice may begin to melt (though some sticklers for science and semantics argued that March 3 would have been a more appropriate Melt Day).

[Note: Someone closer to the situation contacted me to indicate the actual date was March 3, 1999. In lieu of any official documentation, I have to defer to his memory and presume I was mistaken.]

Melt Day would be an informal holiday. A day when the Melt crew would scream Melt a little louder and more often, and maybe even welcome new members into its fold, if just for one day. One of the Melt guys told me about their plan to bring a large block of ice into the school and yell “Melt” at it throughout the day until it had fully given way to water.

The thing is, in March of 2000, our high school was less than a year removed from the news of Columbine. Rumors swelled--I don’t know the source--that Melt Day, executed by these not-quite-cool kids, would be a day of massacre.

They’re going to throw snowballs at people outside school and shoot at anyone they hit.
they built a bomb. They’re going to melt the school.
They’re going to kill everyone.

The rumors moved fast. A letter went home to parents to explain that the administration did not have reason to believe anyone was at risk, but that they understood some students and their families would not feel comfortable attending school that day, and so absences on March 2 would not count against any student’s attendance.

The story made the local paper and at least one local news channel’s TV coverage.

I went to school on Melt Day.

Most people didn’t.

Included among the absentee—every recognizable member of the Melt group, who I anecdotally heard were advised it was in their best interest not to come to school that day.

I don’t have any specific statistics to cite (indeed, in a quick Google search, I was interested to have not found any references to Melt Day), but from what I remember, about two-thirds of my classmates were missing that day. I never experienced another school day quite like it, and my best approximation would be teaching a morning class on the day before Thanksgiving when I was in grad school. The teachers couldn’t cover any meaningful content, and yet were still compelled to hold all of their classes. It was a strange, wasted, awkward day.

Action movie sequences did flash through my mind once or twice--what I might do if there were a shooter. But these thoughts were far more fanciful than practical. I knew some of the Melt guys reasonably well and didn’t perceive any likelihood of an attack. It felt entirely more likely that one of the bigger guys who picked on me on and off over the years might take a swing at me than that anyone from the Melt crew had a weapon, much less any thoughts of mass violence.

Most of my teachers didn’t address Melt Day. They put on a movie, or went through the motions of some sort of exercise in place of advancing their teachings. I do recall my math teacher delivering a soliloquy, though. One of the teachers I really liked that year—a man who not only taught his subject well, but had a rare combination of a sense of humor and the gravitas of a sage. He looked down and stood in front of the room with his hands in his pockets. “There are people who created this situation today,” he said. “And those people will have to meet the consequences of their actions.”

I had taken the day as a farce. A big misunderstanding that snowballed on account of students who wanted an extra day off and overprotective families still reeling from school shootings far away. But here this teacher was, assigning responsibility and casting blame.

It was one of my first encounters in which I both respected someone talking to me and fundamentally disagreed with what he had to say. A time when I understood the opposing position and couldn’t help but sympathize on account of the stakes and how Melt Day must have affected his teachings, while simultaneously finding it absurd that he’d isolate all of the weight of the disorder on a small group of students, one of whom I knew for a fact had been one of his prized pupils the year before.

Melt Day passed without incident. The next day, the hallways were full again. Our lives at school went on as normal. But those yells of “Melt!” which had grown scarcer and quieter as the Melt Day situation took on greater gravity that winter, disappeared altogether at that point. No longer harmless. No longer fun.

Over the intervening eighteen years--a literal lifespan of a new crop of graduating high school seniors, the US has seen an unfortunate number of mass shootings, some of them in school settings, some of them tragically recenly. I’m grateful that none have occurred at my alma mater. Grateful that all of this hubbub can go forgotten--scarcely spoken of among those friends I still have from high school, scarcely documented anywhere I can find. I doubt I’m alone in this gratitude. But here’s the twist. I regret that I haven’t heard anyone yell, “Melt!” since. That nonsense. That laughter. That sense of unity among a strange group. That bit of innocence that has vanished not after running its natural course, and not out of impropriety, but rather a collective circumstance.

That piece that melted away.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fast-Paced Scrabble

I grew up playing Scrabble with my sister and my grandmother. We kept score and used a clearly defined set of house rules, cobbled from a combination of official rules and whatever clarifications of gray areas my sister and I could come to a consensus on (the latter, often as not, born out of some mid-game controversy). My grandmother, always a paragon of patience and accommodation for our nonsensical whims, was tested I’m sure, as we agonized over turns, attempting to figure out the best approach to hitting double-letter and double-word score boxes with our J, X, Q, or Z tiles to maximize the point output. Grandma didn’t worry so much about the score, often as not settling on three-letter words for three-point scores, unfazed as our scores doubled or tripled hers.

My sister left for college, but Grandma and I continued to play Scrabble on our weekly visits, and, if anything, with greater frequency, as so many of our old standby games demanded a minimum of three players, while Scrabble was mostly unchanged.

I got faster, rarely taking more than a minute between turns. I can attribute a lot of that to familiarity with the game—for having seen so many combinations of tiles, so many formations on the board, and so more quickly seeing my way to the highest point play, or the play that would open the board if we were clustered too tightly in a corner. Our roles reversed as Grandma, growing older and slower by each dimension needed to puzzle out any play at all, and while she took her turns I could plot two or more options for my next turn—playing immediately after she was done.

And I recall a day in high school, senior year, playing Scrabble with my friend Dylan in our Chemistry classroom. I’m not sure why we would have played there, but can only fathom that the AP Exam was over and we’d exhausted whatever lab Mrs. Lorenz had planned. So we played.

We fell into that familiar dynamic, in which I’d play a word quickly and strategize different follow up moves while my friend deliberated how best to respond just that one. He apologized for taking so long with each turn, and I told him not to worry about, all the while aiming to hide my smugness.

And Ben, looking on as Dylan rubbed his forehead in frustration, commented, “Chin’s not that much faster than you. He just uses your turn to figure out what he’s going to do next.” He may have been trying to be nice to Dylan. Otherwise, it might have been a simple expression of a need that I recognized in myself, too, that I expect is common in precocious boys without opportunities to effect much change in the world—that we feel a need to point out patterns when we spot them, to call attention to our own skills of observation.

I haven’t played Scrabble in years now—a fact that I’d find not just tough to swallow, but complete anathema when I fell between the ages of eight and eighteen. I’m not sure I could have conceptualized a life like that. And yet still, the game calls to me now and again. Seeing the word quizzical in a book for example, I mentally calculate the Scrabble-tile point total if that Q-fell on a double-letter space, and if the word overlapped a triple-word box. I recalibrate, knowing full well, of course, that there’s only one Z tile in play, and so one of those Zs would have to be a blank tile and thus worth no points; I recognize, too, that at nine-letters long, at least two letters would have to have already been on the board, and most likely it would have been Q-U-I-Z that already existed, thus immediately reducing the potential word score because, while I could still attain the triple-word score, no single double- or triple-letter value could be assigned to the tiles already in play (unless happenstance, for example, left two I tiles two spaces between one another, with plenty of room for play on either side).

I imagine I’ll play Scrabble again. With my own children, or if time and biology favor me, grandchildren. But I imagine a different style of play then. Less rapid-fire and perhaps I’ll suggest that we don’t keep score. For as good as those seventy, eighty-point turns felt, I recall a better, purer joy in weaving words between words, interconnecting spaces to create connections horizontally and vertically, sometimes three or four of them at a time. These were the turns that felt less like mastery than poetry, less about score than creating something new.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Why I Blog

For over five years now, I’ve written this blog.

I had other blogs before it. A LiveJournal and notes on Facebook. The A Cappella Blog that’s run since 2007. My weekly wrestling column at 411mania that I always looked at more as a wrestling-centric blog than anything else.

This blog, though--Three Words That Became Hard To Say--has been different from the beginning. I started it to have a place for miscellaneous writing about whatever I wanted to write about, not to mention a home base on the web where I could regularly self-publish, regardless of what happened in terms of other websites, or what literary journals saw fit to accept my work. It evolved into a place for short, relatively raw personal essays—often nostalgic, sometimes esoteric, and rarely given more than one pass at revision before I share it with the world.

No doubt, a part of why I’ve stuck to the project is to externalize ideas. As I came to accept from a pretty early age, I communicate better in writing than in speech—more clearly, more cleverly, more assertively. It’s what made writing workshops, let alone teaching writing such an interesting conundrum, simultaneously frustrating and fundamentally important for learning to articulate what I knew, via instinct and decades of practice to be true about the written word. When it comes to day-to-day life, though, as much as I enjoy catching up with an old friend every now and again, or talking to my wife, I still find there’s no substitute for me to putting the words down on paper or on my computer screen, for fully realizing an idea and for achieving intellectual discovery as one idea transforms or evolves into the next. So, the process of writing this blog has allowed me to not only conjure memories, but connect these seemingly disparate moments and ideas.

When I’ve taught writing, the subject of audience tends to come up. Who are you writing for?--the great rhetorical question that differentiates academic papers from op-eds from creative writing from personal blogs. But what of a blog with no central focus other than what’s on my mind when I sit down at the keyboard? Can such a project possibly interest anyone but me personally on any kind of a sustained basis? And if the blog were just for me, why not keep it as a private journal? Why put it out to the world?

One of the most surprising discoveries of these years of blogging has been just who is reading. There are the family members and close friends whom it’s sensible enough would be interested enough in whatever I’m writing, at least to the extent that they’d peruse my latest entry to see if it rests in our overlapping areas of interest or experience. But then there are those more casual friends—co-workers, classmates, the sort of people I know better on Facebook than I do in real life. Every now and again, these people will say something about the blog in real life, or leave a comment when I share the post on Facebook. Something surprising. Something that shows they engaged with the material far more than I would have expected for them to.

This might be the greatest pleasure in blogging for me—this essence of engaging in conversation with people, like me, who are more comfortable writing than speaking, more at ease reading than listening. People I might enjoy a cup of coffee with but for whom, all things being equal, might draw even greater enjoyment from knowing we’re sipping coffee at approximately the same time, reading the same words, mulling over the same ideas, from hundreds, if not thousands of miles apart.

There’s an undercurrent of fear around social media and the Internet at large. This culture of connecting without proximity or touch. Of hiding away in our various holes in the world without human contact and what that might do to a person’s sanity, to a person’s soul. I’m not here to argue that we should embrace any number of nightmare-scapes from Black Mirror or dystopian fictions; that we ought to let our bodies fester in favor of robots acting in our place (I’m thinking the 2009 film, Surrogates). But there’s also something to be said for what technological advances we’ve had and to this ability to maintain, or even create different kinds of relationships, in no small part through the written word.

I don’t know that this post has answered the question of why I blog. But maybe I’ve offered some new fodder for you to think about; maybe I’ve inspired you to write, or see if Surrogates is streaming somewhere. And that modicum of influence, from me to you across long distances, over the screen of your computer, phone, or tablet—-maybe that’s the point.