Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thoughts while rocking Hannah to sleep

Today I was listening to the first part of a podcast between ESPN's Bill Simmons and essayist Chuck Klosterman. They spoke of Michael Jackson's passing, gave their opinions on the resultant media lovefest, and how people (who otherwise might have condemned Jackson as a weirdo child molester . . . allegedly) were now embracing him as the "soundtrack of their lives" and expounding on how sad they were to be without him now.

I found a different part of the podcast interesting, in which Klosterman pointedly asked Simmons about the recent verbal dustup between him and L.A. Clippers basketball coach Mike Dunleavy.

(NOTE: I realize that you might not have any idea what I'm talking about here, especially if you aren't a basketball fan. But stick with me and maybe I'll go somewhere with this.)

A Bit of Background: Simmons currently lives in L.A. and has been a dedicated fan of the NBA since he was a child, attending Celtics games with his dad during the Bird Era. He studied journalism in college, tried to get in as a sports journalist in the Boston area, failed, and started a blog exclusively on Boston Sports and pop culture ephemera. Around 2000, he was picked up by ESPN.com and his national popularity as a regular columnist has skyrocketed him into sports media "fame." (It certainly helped that in the last five to eight years, Boston sports became hugely successful and he became the defacto "common guy/fan voice" outside of the MainStreamMedia for this success. And it also helps that Simmons liberally comments on things other than sports, such as movies, celebrity, and television.) Simmons has described himself as someone who represents the fan's perspective and this allows him to think about and write about stuff that regular sports journalists don't write about. Now, back to the story . . .

Klosterman brought up the fact that on a recent radio interview, Coach Dunleavy dismissed Simmons as a "joke writer." Simmons tweeted back with several different jokes about Dunleavy's skill as a coach and as a dresser. Klosterman asked Simmons "Why did you publicly respond?"

Simmons said that he was just responding as a fan (and as a Clippers season ticket holder) would have done, given the opportunity. And Klosterman said, in more polite words, "Bullshit." He pointed out that Simmons isn't a fan in the normal sense, precisely because a.) he has hundreds of thousands of readers, b.) Dunleavy called Simmons out specifically for the constant criticism of Dunleavy's coaching performance.

Simmons tried to justify himself with his belief that he does have a strong background in basketball--he's intensely watched every important NBA game since the early 1980s AND he's made a career out of investigating the minutiae of that game (among others) AND he just wrote and published a big book on NBA basketball. So, yeah, he's qualified to criticize Dunleavy publicly . . . and (maybe?) accurately.

But Klosterman's unease was with Simmon's hiding behind the idea that he is also a fan. Even from the small bits I've given you here, I think you might agree with me that Bill Simmons is more than a fan. Maybe he's not a journalist but he is a media force. And his force has impact.


So, my point is (I think) that we are so skilled at deluding ourselves and are unclear about how we portray ourselves to others. In my head, I am the star of my own story. I see my life as I live it. I narrate events and thoughts within my brain to justify how I think and feel. But how do I avoid extreme narcissism, I wonder as I spend about an hour writing on a blog that is almost entirely about me and my view of things?

I am guilty of this on a daily basis.

At work there is a poster that is put up in the coffee room every month or so, profiling a different member of the department. It hits all the highlights: years with company, family info, musical tastes, media tastes, significant news about ____, etc. There is also a picture.

This picture has caused me endless hours of narcissistic daydreaming.

How shall I portray myself when the time comes, I think? A typical head on shot? Absolutely not. Too boring. Something funny, then? Yeah, but what? Costumery? Hmmm. That could go really wrong and make you look really stupid, though. Oh, but I don't mind looking stupid. I've certainly looked stupid in public before. But, WHY did you do that, hmmm? Was it because you just wanted people to look at you? Isn't it because you don't want to be ordinary but would like to be exceptional that makes you do those things, or write on your blog, or check your Facebook page, or write on Twitter? Doesn't that say something about the immaturity of your inner self?

Probably . . .

. . . so, what to do about it?

Well, just keep my mouth shut and do an ordinary picture and just go about my life I guess. My kids don't care about my status at this point in their maturity. I'm sure that I'll embarrass them later in life, so I should try to do a better job of just being myself and not inserting myself into everything--kind of like that guy from college that always ended up in every party photo? You know that guy? Nothing is more pathetic (so says John Hughes movies anyway) than an adult who won't get the fact that kids have moved on. They are somewhere else, not talking about you and the stuff you think about. So, don't try to talk to them "at their level." They will only ridicule you for it behind your back. Be an adult.

Man, I'm really just rambling around here. If there is a point to all of this, it's probably that I'm deeply insecure and need to work on getting over myself a bit more. I even had a really good ending for this that I concocted while trying to rock Hannah to sleep, but I can't quite nail down the specifics anymore. I think it went something like this:

The good thing about being a parent is that your young kids take you at face value. They aren't cynical enough or world-wise enough to recognize the posturing that is so common among adults in public. So, no matter how insecure you might feel about yourself, they are looking to you for comfort and reassurance and a steady place to secure themselves. And that was a great way to end things just as I was calming Hannah down and she was resting her sleepy head on my shoulder and I felt in control of something. But then, it all fell apart when I actually put her down in the crib and she cried and cried and shattered my nicely constructed mental scene.

You see? Kids aren't interested in playing along to your preconceptions. They may not even be aware of the elaborate games and movies we narrate in our heads. And they certainly don't want to be a pawn in the world of your self-justification. They tell you exactly what they want. No filter. No spin. Just desire and the Truth as they can express it.


And that gets us to the other part of this Ramblefest, a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics. This kind of works into the theme and in the hands of a skilled writer who spent time on it, it could be deftly woven in. The novel is the story of Blue Van Meer, a prodigy of a girl raised by her narcissistic father, a professor who has a very dim view of the rest of the world and thinks everything and everyone is very thin gruel indeed.

Blue thinks the world of her dad and has clearly been shaped by him. But during her last year of high school, set in a exclusive prep school in the South, Blue confronts disturbing truths about herself and the people around her. That sounds pretty conventional but what if I took this paragraph and stretched it out three times in length, tossing in numerous asides that compared other character motivations to books and biographies I've read (complete with bibliography references). It feels like the style of the book sometimes overwhelmed the story. It was, of course, a way to portray the inner dialogue of the Blue character in ways beyond her spoken word.

It just came across as sometimes tedious and obstructionary. I wonder if the book would have been reduced from 400 pages to 150 pages if you stripped out the style and only kept the plot.

1 comment:

j.t. said...

1) i liked Special Topics a lot. but i liked the style and not the plot. the first 100 pages were fantastic, but after that the plot dragged it down into something ordinary.

2) ahh, self-representation. i never give it a moment's thought. yours truly, Jack Thunder.