Volume 4, Issue 32: All Across the World
"In a hurricane's eye, people get by, living their lives."
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One of the more disorienting aspects of getting older is realizing that you’re never going to get there … wherever “there” actually is.
When I was young and hungry and striving, I was constantly telling myself I was going to “make it” someday. That’s what I was driving toward: Making it. What did making it mean? What was the milestone I was driving toward? I never defined it all that firmly, and whatever vague outlines there might have been were constantly shifting. At first, “making it” was simply getting a job where I got to write at all; then it became writing about something I actually cared about; then it became having the freedom to write about the things I cared about the way I wanted to write about them; then it became something else, then something else, then something else. There was no point where I turned the corner, where I got over the hump. There still hasn’t been one. There surely never will be.
I do not think this is an uncommon experience. One of the questions I get most from young writers starting out revolves around that: When did you know that you had made it? Only young people who would think to ask such a question, because the answer is, of course, “never.” A young person can look at the career I have now and think they’d like to have that someday—they can see it as a goal. And from the outside, particularly to someone who is just starting out, I suppose I can see how it might seem that way. But that’s not how life works. Goals never stay in one place for long, and once you’ve achieved a goal, you don’t just get some gold star, some emeritus status, that you get to hang onto forever. It can fade away, out of your grasp, or it can all be snatched away in a second. In many ways, what I do today—simply writing all day, about the things I care about, and making a living at it—is the dream I had when I was 24 years old. I’m vividly aware of that, every day. But you don’t reach your dream and then chill out. You have to work that much harder to hang onto it. Yes, today, I get to do exactly what I always wanted to do: Write all day. But reaching that place that doesn’t make me more comfortable—it makes me less. It makes me afraid I’ll lose it. You never get over the top because there is no over the top, or, put another way, there’s nothing at the top but a bucket and a mop.
Call it the curse of the ambitious or just the nature of getting older—of realizing that all the things you were once afraid you’d never have are now things you’re afraid you will someday lose—but I’d argue that’s the single biggest revelation (outside of the daily wonders and terrors of parenthood) as one progresses into middle age: You never get comfortable, you never get to where you want, there is no endgame, there’s just more stuff to do and more stuff to deal with. I had dinner with my father the other night, and we were talking about how quickly my children are growing up when it occurred to me that I am, shockingly, just 10 years away from being an empty-nest parent myself. That got me to thinking about changes that might happen in our lives, how having no more children in the house would change our worlds. He just chuckled.
“Yeah, I thought my life would get so much easier and simpler with you kids moved away,” he said. “That is not what happened at all. It was just as hard. It was harder, actually, because I didn’t have you two around every day to remind me why I was going through it all.” He then had another drink. So did I.
So that’s sort of what life is: You strive to get somewhere, you end up somewhere entirely different, you still feel like someday you’ll get where you’re trying to go (even if you don’t know where the place you’re trying to go is), you won’t get there, and even if you achieve everything you ever wanted, you’ll never get to enjoy it because you’ll be too afraid it will all go away. Fun. Super fun.
Which brings me, perhaps strangely, to sports. And specifically to Georgia football.
Today, the four human beings who live in this house will be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to watch the Georgia Bulldogs’ season opener against the Oregon Ducks. It is the first football game Georgia has played since January 10, when, on a freezing night in Indianapolis, they beat Alabama to claim their first national championship since 1980. Ever since I moved to Athens in 2013—or, really, ever since I met the rabid Georgia football fan back in 2007 whom I would later marry—I have known that the one thing Georgia football fans wanted more desperately than anything else was a national championship. They had seen every surrounding fanbase—Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, even freaking Georgia Tech—win a title since they had, and their desperate need for one, their fear that they would go their whole lives without getting one, drove every decision they and those in charge of their team made. It made them an infinitely fascinating fanbase to live amongst and to write about, basically as close as I’d ever get to understanding the mindset of the tortured Cubs fan.
(Here’s a thread of all those pieces. They’re pretty good.)
Millions of people investing large portions of their lives in one sports team, not knowing if it will ever pay off, wondering if they’d die before they ever won that title, whether they’d ever get to where they desperately wanted to go … that’s what being a Georgia football fan was like.
And then, on that frigid Indiana night, they did it.
It was incredible to be there in person, to see how joyous those fans were, but you didn’t have to actually be in Indianapolis to glory in it all. Celebrations were happening all over the planet.
And with that: They had done it. The title that every Georgia football fan had dreamed about since they were a kid—just like every Cubs fan, every Red Sox fan, every Browns fan, every Knicks fan—had been reached: They won a championship. They met their goal. They did it. All the years were worth it. They reached the mountaintop. No matter what happened, the rest of their lives, they have that title. And it can never, ever be taken away.
Nothing else on the planet is like this. It is immutable fact that cannot be erased: You won. The lifelong goal has been achieved. It’s yours forever.
One of the best things about sports is that it gives us simplicity and clarity that real life cannot—and should not—provide us with. If we win, I’m happy, if we lose, I’m sad. But that’s not just true in the moment. When you cheer for a sports team, you make a lifelong commitment—you give a little piece of yourself to something outside of yourself that you have no control over, with no assurance whatsoever it will be treated with care, or that your investment will ever pay off. But when it happens, when it does pay off, when you get that thing you wanted so badly, it’s yours—you got it. You’re at the mountaintop. And you get to stay there. Sure, there are more seasons to come, and your team will not win the title every year. But winning that one, having all those frustrating years culminate in your dreams at last coming true, it clears the decks: It gives you lifelong memories that can never be taken away. In a way, it almost doesn’t matter what happens after. Certainly, I know many Georgia fans who have found themselves oddly distant from the start of a new season, like they don’t know what to do with themselves; Seth Emerson, my friend and Georgia beat reporter for The Athletic, told us on the Waitin’ Since Last Saturday podcast that traffic for his stories has fallen through the floor this year. It’s not because people care about Georgia football less. They just want to enjoy this for a while. They want to stay atop the mountaintop.
And that’s what’s great about sports: They do get to stay there. Even if Georgia football falls apart (and I highly doubt it will), they will always have that championship season, the same way Cubs fans will always have 2016 and Red Sox fans will always have 2004 and Eagles fans will always have Super Bowl LII and I’ll always have that windy, cold, wet night in Busch Stadium in 2006, when I sat in the stands with my parents and reached a level of pure, unalloyed joy that I’m not entirely certain has been matched since.
It is so hard to achieve your dreams, and if you do, it’s so hard to hold onto them. And even if you do that, your dreams are constantly changing—life keeps creeping in around the edges. No one gets everything they want; no one gets anything close. But through sports, we can simulate the next closest thing. The world is complex and dangerous and exhausting and unrelenting; breakthroughs are rare; true achievement and comfort is perpetually fleeting. Which is why we need sports. Maybe your life hasn’t turned out the way you planned. Maybe you always feel on the edge, never quite able to hang on tight, always slipping, slipping. Maybe it all seems so perilous—like nothing lasts, and nothing ever will. But you can’t take last year away from Georgia football fans, and you can’t take 2016 away from Cubs fans, and you can’t take 2006 (and 2011) away from me. Lasting pleasures are elusive. True comfort may be impossible. But sometimes, it all comes together and gives you something you’ll have forever. That should never be overlooked. That should be cherished. That should be held as close as you can hold it.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
I Got Up Early This Morning To Write About Serena Williams, New York. Going back and reading what people were saying about the Williams sisters when they first showed up on the tour is pretty wild.
You Should Be More Excited About Moon Missions, Medium. C’mon! It’s the moon!
Please Do Not Tell Me What My Pets Are Thinking, Medium. I don’t not believe this is information that we really want.
How Remaining Schedules Affect the Pennant Chases, MLB.com. It’s all cleared out for Seattle.
Your August All-Stars, MLB. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Cardinals.
The Thirty: The Most Underrated Players on Every Team, MLB.com. My favorite thing is when Brendan Donovan’s helmet flies off when he runs the bases. I’m such a sucker for that.
Your Friday Five, Medium. Of all the holidays, I do believe Labor Day is the most consistently underappreciated.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “Three Thousand Years of Longing,” “Funny Pages” and “Samaritan.”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I are already making playoff plans.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, we previewed the Georgia-Oregon game, which, again, I will be at in about three hours.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
Gorbachev’s Last Hurrah, David Remnick, The New Yorker. Mikhail Gorbachev’s death this week unearthed some great writing, and this might have been the best of them. Also, don’t forget this:
Also, here’s a great John F. Harris piece about how Trump taught us to be so publicly cruel.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
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CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Starman,” David Bowie. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie as the new big Moonage Daydream documentary approaches, and I think, at the end of the day, this is my favorite Bowie song. I love songs that feel both a little bit sarcastic and a little bit hopeful.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
Thank you for not mentioning last night’s Illini game to me.
Have a great weekend, all.
You did give us a very nice weekend!
Yes. I will always have 2016. So there. You Cards fans have been spoiled but I'm as tough as a Chicago winter. ;-)