The 11-seeded Dayton Flyers lost to No. 1-overall Florida today in the NCAA tournament, and with that loss, the death throes of The Mid-Majority began. I can trace my interest in basketball to my discovery of this site (and free season tickets to Tribe hoops from my employer), but credit for the site’s charisma and community belong to Kyle. I have never met Kyle, but I feel like I know Kyle. The fact that I feel compelled to pay my respects to a basketball website is entirely due to Kyle.
Kyle Whelliston is (for another few days, at least), the proprietor of The Mid-Majority and the finest sportswriter in America. On Monday night, ten years of TMM posts, interviews, fabulous reporting and absolutely stellar writing will disappear. The website that Whelliston invented, shepherded, battled and let go will be gone and deleted.
I’ve been thinking about this all day. Why, after a decade of building a community — a real, breathing one — should its home be erased? My Twitter feed would be full of Tribe basketball faithful regardless, but it’s thanks to the Mid-Majority that there are also fans of VCU, Northeastern, Denver and, yes, Dayton. There are code words and inside jokes, #PIXELVISION and #AOUEOU, secrets that only the proud few of us know. I proudly donated money to keep the site going, as did many others. And it will be gone.
This will all be explained, Kyle says, in the tenth and final Epilogue. If it’s anything like previous years, it won’t just be a post-mortem of the mid-major collegiate basketball landscape (in fact, it’s sometimes only remotely related to hoops) but also a barometer on Kyle, the community that supported him and the places he would lead us. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say he became a bit of an iconoclast, not least of all because he shrank from the TMM spotlight over the last few years to focus on the rest of his life. Now, it seems, he’ll finish the leap.
The Mid-Majority lent narrative to a sport that I barely understood eight years ago, watching agape in Richmond as Leonard Mendez buried an off-balance three to annihilate the Tribe’s CAA tournament chances. TMM knew: ours was a titanic struggle of schools with few resources struggling against the might of the BCS conferences. Ours was a challenge to claim a sport on our terms and not ESPN’s. Ours was a struggle to remember that there must be room for quirk and pain and joy in a world of power rankings and ROI. The Mid-Majority, when I found it, was a conduit I could get into, and I did. TMM blended the obscure and strange with the epic and powerful. It was the perfect place for me to discover basketball, and I learned a lot about writing, too. (Of course, there are still haters.)
More than anything else, Kyle Whelliston is a hell of a sportswriter. He styles himself as a web developer now, and admittedly I lost some interest in the site after he stopped writing as frequently. But if you don’t believe me, read his 2010 book One Beautiful Season, which is now my post-deletion consolation that this work will live on. But if you’re just learning about the website now, you have fewer than 48 hours to read as much of TMM as you can. Start here.
A handwritten note from Kyle arrived in the mail last week to thank me for my support of The Mid-Majority over the last few years. Now that I live in Silicon Valley, mere miles from a Pac-12 Sweet Sixteen team, I am struck by the realness of the TMM community in contrast with the nascent, ephemeral communities of the tech industry. I have a TMM foam finger, a t-shirt, two Bally Club membership cards and now this note. I gave *him* my money and I’m the one writing this lengthy tribute. It’s an inadequate way for me to extend my thanks back to Kyle, but it’s a start. I got a lot out of following TMM: I learned a lot, and I felt like I belonged. It’s not a feeling I ever expected to get from the Internet.
So for a website about ten guys bouncing an orange ball around a wooden floor, that’s pretty damn good. Thanks, Kyle. Good luck.
“To hide from sadness—and one way or another, that’s what Americans struggle mightily to do—is to remain a child all your life. Most Americans have never grown up. (Foreigners know this, by the way.)”
from “How America’s ‘Culture of Hustling’ Is Dark and Empty” by David Masciotra for the Atlantic
Related in some ways to the last post. Sobering, but probably just water off the backs of anyone mired in the rat race. I wish I could unplug and take it all to heart sometimes. One haunting quote: “It took me a long time to understand that I, or, my ego, had no idea what was best for me.”
(Note: Kardinal Offishall is exempt from this criticism, seeing as he’s Canadian.)
Take, for example, an ad that calls itself an ad, makes fun of its own format, and attempts to lure its target market to laugh at and with it. It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.
from How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole for the New York Times.
I am reminded of a “lesson” taught to startup people here in the Bay Area: fail early and fail fast. Don’t get too attached to your supposed million-dollar idea, lest it break your heart if it likely fails. The implication is perhaps that this is not your life’s work; this is business. It runs counter to what I always thought was a requirement of new businesses: make sure you can devote your heart and soul to this, because it’s not worth all the difficult work otherwise.
But maybe the above article (which is very thought-provoking, and somewhat long) sheds different light on all that. Really loving something — whether it’s a new business, a work of art, a beloved place or a special person — opens us up to disappointment and pain. Some folks can’t bear to let down their guard. In the part of America that reads the New York Times’ online blogs, we’ve gotten really good at minimizing pain and inconvenience. Intentionally putting ourselves out there is terrifying, so why not operate within the cloak that Wampole describes? Young people are terrified of placing actual phone calls, and even food has replaced art as the primary form of cultural cachet. Might as well shroud your feelings inside some other scattered ideas.
Or, be original and believe in something. Fight for it and be sad when it dies. People will notice.(This post brought to you by my dozens of unfinished and unpublished posts, aged in oaken barrels during this blog’s year of silence.)
I arrived in California on October 1, 2012. In the 14 months since then, I have the following observations. I’ll try to keep these going as I think of more stuff.
1. The weather is really nice. Not quite as nice as advertised, but still better than nearly anywhere else.
2. The cult of technology is tremendous. I’ve used Google and Facebook for almost 10 years, but I look at them completely differently now that they’re right around the corner. They’re more than just websites here; they’re rearranging the social order in some places.
3. There is more good food here than I know what to do with. Just in a 10-minute walk’s radius of my non-hip corner of Palo Alto, I have a 24-hour donut shop, a Thai restaurant, a deep-dish pizza joint, two Mexican restaurants, two Chinese restaurants, a Jamba Juice, a Starbucks, a Korean barbecue place, a Belgian beer bar, and yes, a Subway. And I’m not in one of the neighborhoods most people have heard of.
4. In most respects, it’s significantly more expensive. My rent tripled between Virginia and the Bay Area. Gas at the station at the end of my block is 40 cents more than in a town 4 miles away. Plus there are tolls and higher taxes and all that. Salaries are higher here, but it doesn’t totally make up the difference.
5. Public transit options are incredible. If I want to (and I have), I can ride my bike five minutes to the train station, ride the train for free (thanks, Stanford!) and get around San Francisco on two wheels. Or I can transfer to BART and ride over to the East Bay. Or take one of the many bike lanes around Palo Alto and surrounding area. It’s wonderful to be able to leave the car at home even more than I did in Williamsburg.
6. I’ve enjoyed going to more pro sports than I ever had before. Since moving here, I’ve been to seven San Francisco Giants games, four Golden State Warriors games and a 49ers game. Candlestick is by far the worst facility, but that’s changing soon. And while I’ve adopted the Warriors as my NBA team (FOR NOW!) I have remained a faithful Seahawks fan. The Mets, well, they’re something I’m stuck with.
7. Williamsburg, institutionally, is a city obsessed with the past. The past makes the tourists come, and W&M trades on its history extensively. The Bay Area (especially my subset, Silicon Valley) is obsessed with the future. There’s something missing in both these approaches, and I’m hoping to come to some sort of insight at some point. But that’s the extent of my deep thinking so far.
In a nutshell, I like it here. It’s not perfect, nor is it the be-all, end-all the way people like to treat it out here. But I feel fortunate to be here at this time, observing the changes that the Bay Area is exporting to the rest of the world. (Those changes aren’t all good, either, but that’s another story.) Will it ever be home? Time will tell. But I don’t regret the move.
“All those folks uniting – for most of every year – behind one cause. For a region as atomized as this one, that’s a considerable something.”
-from “Always Crying Foul,” by Don Luzzatto in the Virginian-Pilot in September 2012
Don Luzzatto is my journalism spirit animal in a lot of ways: first, he’s a columnist and editorial board member for the Pilot (my erstwhile dream job). Second, we’re each an alumnus of the greatest university in all the land. And third, he writes columns like that one.
Before my unintentional hiatus, I spent a good amount of electrons on the proposal to bring the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to my hometown of Virginia Beach. I have mixed feelings when I say the proposal failed. Sad, because I really desperately want a pro team where I’m from. Happy, because the city of Virginia Beach didn’t assume all the financial risk to make the Maloofs (widely considered some of the worst owners in basketball) even richer. The Kings will stay in Sacramento, and Hampton Roads gets nothing. Yet.
Canceling the proposal was the smart move, and while money for schools and money for sports rarely come from the same pot, essential services should always come first. What’s more bothersome, more influential, and more permanent are the attitudes Luzzatto is describing. What brings people such joy from unrelenting negativity, even in the face of solid facts? What sad undersea currents sent them on their hateful course? You see it in the 757 when it comes to light rail or pro sports or big development projects, but you also see it with national politics. Everybody knows someone who just absolutely LOVES to see their opposition party embarrass itself.
I wrote about this months and months ago, but it remains a fascination for me. Sometimes I go into the Internet rabbit hole, get really cynical, and have to watch standup comedy on YouTube to get back to a palatable mood. But I’d be interested to hear thoughts on this. Where do the naysayers come from? I’ve been cranky about lots of stuff in my day, but I like to think I still find stuff to support and encourage. Is it purely resistance to change and newness? Is it just because “no” is always safer than being vulnerable and excited about something?
In September, I turned 30. Unwilling to fully accept the adult-ness of that number, I decided to buy myself a toy: the beautiful, impressive Nintendo 3DS. And I use this beautiful, impressive, $150+ machine mostly to play Tetris, a game that first took over my life sometime around 1990.
It’s still a great game. But it made me realize something about adulthood.
In 1990, I turned 7. I’d hold the massive, AA-devouring Game Boy in my hands and drop each piece into place for hours — as did my mom and my grandpa. As far as I could tell, the game gives you a random sequence of pieces. If you don’t get the crucial long piece when you need it, your whole plan is ruined and you lose. That’s just how the cookie crumbles when you’re 7.
Now, I play and sometimes I find myself getting mad at the designers of the game for giving me four of those blasted square blocks in a row. Don’t they know I can’t possibly find a place for ALL of them? How unfair. It’s like they’re intentionally screwing me over. I’m being dealt a biased hand. At 30, I felt victimized by Tetris.
And then I realized that it’s this exact attitude that people see in Millennials. Seeing this, I have tried to be more mindful. Sometimes life is unfair, and you have to deal with it. You don’t always get the long piece when you want it. Maybe it’s okay just to get little one-liners and two-liners until you’re ready. Don’t hate the game; play it smarter and don’t bank on the jackpot.
Current high score: 319,628 (A-Type, level 9: the only way to play).
“Learning that your life isn’t some glorious plan, and that you aren’t the smartest, most talented person in the world is a great way to stop being an arrogant jerk. I think I was, back then, whatever my intentions to be good. I took for granted that I was better than other people. Now I know, absolutely know, that I am not.”
from Goblinbooks: I Am A Bizarre Minor Character In Tina Fey’s Book, by Paul Bibeau
Over the summer, I read Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which is in large part a fictionalization of what Paul Bibeau describes in that quote. It hit me hard, and I’ve spent the last few months recommending it to anyone who asks, and many who don’t. It affected me because it drew me into a real, honest discussion about talent with myself. Not everyone is good enough for the heights of the creative professions; many of them aren’t lucky enough to even get a shot. My many aborted novels speak more to the former category than the latter (sorry, NaNoWriMo!)
Suffice it to say that this quote encapsulates something I’ve spent much of the last year thinking about. I gave up on the Stanford certificate this past spring just as I was emerging from the fog that haunted my first few months in California. I lost steam on the novel I was working on, and then The Interestings came along. It’s hard not to have to look your own talent in the face once in a while, and I was overdue. As a writer, I was discouraged, and turned away from it. And after that, without noticing, I had a pretty good year.
I spent time with a dear friend yesterday who I see once a year around Thanksgiving. I thought back to the last time we got together, and how that edition of myself seems like a thousand light-years away. I’ve become stronger and better in the interim, and it takes little milestones like that to bring it all into focus. I think it’s time to wade back into the writer’s pool and see if all that strength is going to be good for something.
“[Wayne] Coyne sees an analogy between basketball games and rock concerts. Playing a song for the thousandth time, he told me, is just as meaningless as putting a ball through a hoop. Under the right circumstances, however, those things take on great collective meaning. ‘It’s that idea of everybody being focused on the same thing at the same time and being together in the bigger experience,’ he said. ‘It’s silliness, but all things are like that.’
from “The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Fairytale Rise,” by Sam Anderson at the New York Times
Hello, fans of my long-dormant blog machine. BK here, sitting at my desk and/or command center in beautiful Palo Alto, California. This is where I live now. Sorry for the lack of warning.
I left my job of six years at William & Mary in early September. As anyone who has talked to me for more than 30 seconds knows, W&M has meant the world to me since I was 17. That won’t change. But I had said for a long time that I wanted to go on an adventure while I was young, or else I’d regret it forever. So 18 days before my 29th birthday, I started my solo road trip to California.
In seven days I saw eight states* and even managed to see some friends along the way. I started at 36.884127 N, -75.98678 W and ended at 36.867536 N, -121.81881 W — you can very nearly draw a horizontal line between my Atlantic beginning and the end at the Pacific coast. I spent four days after that in California trying to find an apartment — and did, thanks to Christina and Paul. Then I flew back East to visit my ninth state (what up, Greensboro!) and watch six dear friends get married. In three separate ceremonies. Don’t get any ideas. I started work at Stanford on October 1st and I’ve been here ever since. I haven’t even been to the other side of the bay yet.
You might be wondering how I could leave my beloved 757 after spending so much time thinking and writing about it. So am I.
In moving west, I had to leave behind a place that I love that was full of people that I love even more. It’s just as hard as you might think it would be, after 24 years of living in Virginia. My roots are strong and deep and will stay that way. From just my desk, I have three Hampton Roads wall hangings in my living room. My heart will always be there, and I will still be paying attention. But I’m starting to settle in here in California and I think this adventure will go a long way toward helping me get closer to the person I want to become. I am grateful for everyone back home who helped me get this far. Come visit!
Leave your favorite California song in the comments.
*Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.