There were times when I felt the genius flowing from my finger tips; there were times when typing felt like I was straining a wrench against a very tight bolt. But no matter how easy or hard it was, I managed to make my deadline every week for three and a half years, until twenty years ago when I dragged my final column across the desktop of an aging Mac into my editor’s folder.
I recently came across every single one of my columns (along with other articles and editorials) in a scrapbook that I had put together after graduating college–the pile of high school and college newspapers in my parents’ house had gotten so high that I’m sure they had threatened to throw it all away–and I decided to scan its contents to pdf files, saving space but keeping the archives intact. As I tediously placed them on my scanner, I wound up reading a few of the pieces and found that they’re not as embarrassing as I figured they’d be.
The story of how I became a regular columnist for The Greyhound, student newspaper of Loyola College in Maryland (now Loyola University Maryland) is not exactly exciting because I gave the column to myself. In the spring semester of freshman year, I had been promoted to sports editor after spending the first semester writing news articles and working as an assistant editor. At the time, our school had a solid lacrosse program and we were technically a D-I basketball school, so we could always count on coverage from both the men’s and women’s sides of those sports. Beyond that, however, my fellow editor and I, along with maybe one other reporter, struggled to fill the four pages we were given every week, so I came up with the idea of a half-page column called “From the Nosebleeds.”
So it was, essentially, a space-filler, a weekly essay that was a “slice of life through the lens of sports” type of thing, which meant that I didn’t have to stay current with what was happening on campus or in the pro leagues and I could be personal if I had to. My first column, titled “The Strange Cycles of Spring”, was about Little League parents; my second was the first in a long-running series called “The Intramural Diaries”; and I managed to publish a solid two semesters’ worth of sports-related columns until the spring of my sophomore year when my promotion to editor-in-chief of the paper allowed me to move the column to the features section and broaden my topics.
I wasn’t the best editor-in-chief. I was juggling classes and a long-distance relationship, so I was not always around when I should have been and I didn’t have the maturity to handle personality conflicts among staff members and with staff members (even being a flat-out dick to a couple of my editors, which was really shitty). There were poorly written articles, spelling and grammar errors that slipped through the cracks, and other mistakes and missteps that could have been preventive if I was better at my job. But for every fault of my tenure as ‘Hound editor, I’d like to think that I did something right here and there. I remain proud of the paper’s 70th anniversary issue as well as our ’97-’98 year in review section; and when my co-EIC (whom had been managing editor but I had made “my partner” because she was essentially doing the same job as I was) wrote an op-ed criticizing the school’s slow response to a meningitis outbreak that resulted in the death of a student, I defended her to someone in the Office of Development who decided it was professional to yell at me for an hour and make me late to class.
“From the Nosebleeds”, though, was my “thing”, and as I flipped through those old columns and scanned them, I saw a menagerie of pop culture takes, efforts to make my boring life worth reading about and contemplation on the everyday of college life. Some of the columns do leave something to be desired–nobody needed an extra-sized column on my summer internship and I probably didn’t need to need to do multiple columns about Star Wars–but I look at others and even twenty years later, still see why some people on campus read them and took the time to say something. Whenever someone would mention something in class or email me with some comments or compliments, it made me feel good, even when those comments were drunken crank calls from Yankees fans trash-talking me because I’d insulted their team.
But for all of the validation I got from those random students and for how good I felt about my writing, there were insults from those closest to me.
I know it’s been twenty years, but even this far gone, the reopening of old wounds can still hurt. My short trip down memory lane while scanning my columns was also a reminder of the number of times the people who were supposedly my closest friends felt the need to constantly slam my writing. Granted, this was in addition to a number of nasty things thrown my way, and lest I get into an entire therapy session’s worth of unresolved grievances (and blaming myself for their being unresolved), I’ll just say that hearing your roommate constantly refer to your column as “From the Assbleeds” and calling it “bullshit” doesn’t help instill you with the most confidence.
Okay, so you know what, I will get into it, because writing that last sentence made me a little salty. Back then, I didn’t have the best self-esteem (and there are times now when I don’t) and I seemed to surround myself with people who took the time to exploit that. I also was under the impression that I had to have people like me when I really could have just done my own thing and left college completely free of that instead of what I did, which was take a lot of that baggage with me. I’m sure none of those people consider what they were doing bullying, since in their minds bullying is what happens to middle schoolers and I was just “overly sensitive” and needed to learn how to “take a joke”, but I don’t think that’s their call to make.
I recall one time when their need to crap all over my writing boiled over. It was a Valentine’s Day column I’d written in February of my senior year. I’d written a couple of other V-Day columns before, but this one was one of my favorites. I titled it “106043.8” (which was the odometer reading on my car) and my then-girlfriend (now my wife) gave me the idea for the opening: “I hate long-distance relationships. Too bad I’m in one.” I then went onto write about my shitty car–a 1991 Hyundai Excel that had all sorts of problems–and how the car always seemed to have an issue whenever I was leaving her to return to college at the end of a weekend. I also noted the way my roommates were treating me justified my attitude.
Needless to say, this did not sit well. One roommate came up with a mathematical calculation of how much time I spent away from campus and how much time I spent on campus and concluded that technically, I was not in a long-distance relationship. Another, along with friends of ours, mansplained to me why I was wrong for being annoyed that people treated me like shit–his logic was that if I wasn’t gone every weekend, then they wouldn’t have any reason to pull pranks on me, rag on my writing, or insult my relationship. It was twisted, manipulative gaslighting that, looking back, totally explains why a number of them vote Republican. But I fell for enough of it to, like I said, believe that I should want them to like me because they were my friends, not realizing the toxic nature of said “friendships.” There was no dramatic moment of “I’m done”, just a long, long post-college period of keeping in touch until the day when a rather nasty nickname for me was mentioned in an email on my birthday and I quietly decided that after all these years I couldn’t anymore and told Google Mail to filter their emails to the trash.
As for the column, it ended on a much higher note and with much less baggage, as I wrote about how I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life and listed the myriad post-grad possibilities for a creative writing major (although I don’t know if there is a market for a Steve Winwood cover band), lampooned resume drops and job interviews, and wrote one final column about intramural sports. My final column, though, was a personal favorite. I called it “The Last Run of the Bull” and wrote about people who wrote essays about life in college and how they didn’t know what they were talking about–it was meta-textual self-parody that I still think was just smart-assed enough.
As I commemorate graduating twenty years ago today, I have to admit I don’t miss a lot of things about college–the navel gazing of the last few paragraphs can probably tell you why–but I miss writing that column and miss the times when some random fellow student told me they could relate to what I was saying. And while I haven’t become a famous writer by any means, I’m grateful that I got so much out of it that I at least decided to spend my post-college time blogging so that whatever “talent” I have for writing didn’t die on the vine.