What Is the Meaning of the 1978 Atlanta Braves? (card 16 of 25)
(continued from Dave Campbell)
Every day for the last week or so has been ruined by this fucking card. For me, a day without writing something with at least a hint of life in it is a useless day. This attitude is defective, I know. I try to start every day with at least a stab at gratitude that I’m still among the living and among my loved ones, the idea in this sort-of prayer to see that everything beyond those basics is gravy. But if I can’t write I get tangled up and thinned out and mean. So fuck you Darrel Chaney and your fucking worried glance perhaps over at the shenanigans of teammates on a team that, unlike your former squad, the Reds, has no hope for victory. I blame you for not pulling anything out of me but the worst self-absorbed spiritually bankrupt tripe day after day. It’s gone on for so long, the slump, that I have given up on ever having a decent idea again. I am through. I have swung and missed so many times in a row that I’m being given my release. I will continue to write out of sheer stubbornness, but the writing will be so horrifically bad that its only use will be to read aloud to torture suspected terrorists. I hate you, Darrel Chaney.
December is a bad month for writing. November is always the darkest month, maybe not literally, but in terms of getting down about things and feeling like there’s not quite enough oxygen and there’s nothing to write about and there are too many hours in the day and nothing to do and nowhere to go. September is too busy, August too hot, July too loud, June and May too nice outside to stay chained to a desk exploring personal trauma, April maybe the roof is leaking, March marred by a nasty late-winter upper respiratory infection, February second only to November in general gray suckiness, and January perniciously rife with resolutions, the days clogged up with soon to fail plans to get in tip top shape and attain nirvana and read giant tomes and cook complicated meals to ever put anything worth a shit down on the page, which brings us back to December, an awful month for writing, always, the feeling of everything being over clashing with the strains of getting a billion little things done at work and in life, and it gets so bad it begins to increase exponentially, because the worst thing for writing is to start worrying that that’s it, that no more words will be coming out, just pure shit, and that the generator of the pure shit is himself pure shit, and for the rest of life the one thing that intermittently brought joy and clarity is gone and from now on life, that joke with the cruel unavoidable punchline, will have to be faced head on, without any words to cushion it. In other words, I’ve been trying for days to say a single thing that doesn’t make me want to vomit about my stupid life or Darrel Chaney, and everything’s a swing and miss. Chaney: the look on his face, the white helmet, the collar sticking out. Haven’t I written it all a million times before? And what could possibly be left to say about “Josh Wilker”?
Last week I got to a meeting room after a couple other coworkers had arrived but before the meeting itself had begun. A conversation was in motion about the holidays, about Christmas trees.
“Do you put up a tree?” I was asked.
When I was a kid, we always had a tree. It was a big part of the escalating frenzy toward the biggest day of the year, by far my favorite day, the long morning orgy of getting. When I moved into my adult life, that was it for trees, at least in the places where I lived. The obtaining of trees was something the grownups were in charge of, not me. Besides, as I edged away from childhood I began to feel increasingly ambivalent about a holiday I’d embraced so ferociously as a kid despite being a half-Jew. One year when I was in my twenties, probably when my mom was living in France to research her PhD thesis, my brother and I spent Christmas day at the movies with our dad the Jew. I liked lounging around in a half-empty matinee at the Film Forum with my brother and father. I felt like I was neither here nor there, which felt exactly right.
Life is elsewhere, maybe in the past. But it’s also here. A few days ago my wife and I were sitting on the couch as I surfed through the channels. I stopped for a minute on a panel discussion on the local public station, and a middle-aged Asian guy in a ponytail was railing about the evils of nostalgia. Another member of the panel tried to politely offer a view on nostalgia that wasn’t quite so rigidly negative. The ponytail guy didn’t budge.
“What’s he talking about?” my wife asked.
“He thinks nostalgia is bad because it sentimentalizes the past, I guess,” I said. “You know, it makes things seem better than they were. I guess this is horrible.”
My wife pondered this as the ponytail guy continued to rant and rail against nostalgia.
“I hate people who try to pretend they’re not human,” she said.
A warm feeling came over me. Baby, I love the way you hate.
To deal with December and Christmas I’m reading The Catcher in the Rye, starting what I plan to make my Christmas tradition going forward—every year I’ll reread this personal favorite, which is set around Christmas and written by a fellow half-Jew—and I’m noticing that the book is all about, among other things, love and hate, so much so that the two things are tangled up completely into one living consciousness. Holden Caulfield loves and hates, and the things he hates deserve it because they are rigid attempts to counter the messy absurd sprawl of human life. I don’t know what’s the best way to proceed in the tangle of hate and love, dark and light, gone and here, past and now, but it’s probably always a bad idea to try to cut the world in half. I kept trying to find something worthwhile to share about Darrel Chaney, and I kept wanting to toss the computer I was writing with out the window, but instead, here’s my holiday card to everyone who has withstood the torture of this attempt: everything I ever tried to say about the 1978 Darrel Chaney card, and I’m sorry, and thanks, and may the New Year bring you that feeling that the tangle of life is not something you’re trying to trim and prune and denude but that it’s the very heart of the best feeling of all, that there is still life to be lived and good stories left to tell.
(Love versus Hate update: Darrel Chaney’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)