Breathing New Life Into Old Things

Imagine it: a professional wrestling ring, full crowd going nuts, two wrestlers, sweaty and exhausted, shake hands over the limp body of an enemy they just defeated. Beneath them lies the body of Jim’s Fiction Writing. They are COVID and Low Self Esteem. They are bad guys. 

Suddenly, music starts playing from the arena entrance and fireworks go off and entrance music starts playing for the old, reliable, long-lost team mate, Jim’s Unlikely Resolve. He charges into the ring and kicks the crap out of COVID and Low Self Esteem and pulls Jim’s Fiction Writing to his feet. They embrace. 

Credits roll.

Lights, Tunnels, Things of That Nature

As I said to my pal Andrea recently, there’s something that happened to me when I got my first COVID vaccine. It was a Moment, one of those little events that doesn’t seem like much at first but soon reveals itself as a moment of change that leaves ripples in everything that happens after. 

I felt as though I had written about it before and I had, in Deviations on Death

I got the first dose of my vaccine recently, and it immediately made me glad to be alive. The ruminations on death dissipated.

This feeling settled in even more after I got my second dose a week ago. I realized that much of my reluctance to start (or finish) big personal projects (like my fiction writing) was embedded in a deep sense of impending doom. What was the point in working on something I would never finish before the world (or I) ended? 

It feels a little more unlikely that the world is going to end imminently, but I think even this is a less enthusiastic rebuke of COVID-19 than these vaccines deserve. The vaccines are a tremendous achievement. The technology behind them signifies a humungous upgrade in our ability to fight our ancient enemy, the microbe.

That’s something to celebrate. No man lives or dies in vain. 

I Mentioned Wrestling

I used to watch professional wrestling at two major points in my life. The first was as a kid, when the WWF became so enormous. I think everybody my age watched it.

The second was in college. Watching wrestling was something I did with my friends. It was fun to get invested in the silliness. Left to myself, I didn’t keep up with it, and my interest faded without their knowledge and enthusiasm informing and supporting my own. 

The wrestling business is one with a sordid history. I would argue that it’s still sordid, and will remain so until it joins the 21st century. Considering the average lifespan for a professional wrestler is around 50 years, it’s in dire need of reformation.

Just taking a look at the lexicon of wrestling terminology is a dive into its origin as a carnival act. I find the word “kayfabe” alone is incredibly useful in other contexts and I’m delighted when I can use it and the person I’m speaking to understands it. 

Finding out that wrestling wasn’t “real” was like learning the truth about Santa Claus or how babies are made. 

While I don’t have an active interest in wrestling anymore, I appreciate the nonsense and glee. It exists as a weird nexus of performance and athleticism that doesn’t really exist in any other form. You can be unathletic and still be a great wrestler, but being a good athlete alone isn’t enough. Great athletes can excel in their sports at the highest levels without any charisma at all, and charismatic people are all over other entertainment industries. Wrestling is a combination of both.

Here’s Another Thing I’m Not a Fan Of

I am not a Phish fan (which seems to be a whole identity), but there are a few songs that I like, and I like them a lot, which makes me a fan of a certain kind. This song, Sample in a Jar, came up in my algorithms somewhere, and it brought my feelings screaming back to college, which is probably what made me come up with the wrestling imagery. Anyway, I listen to this song and it paints a series of pictures in my mind. 

 

College

I often come across these paintings-made-of-feelings coupled with memories of things that never happened, and I shared one in my last newsletter. That one was wholly positive, but my memory-paintings of college are fraught. I went to college at WVU in the 90s, just as the city of Morgantown and the school’s administration were cracking down most heavily on the party school reputation. 

That gives you an idea of what kind of time it was, but the sense memories are largely unrelated to the parties. What characterizes most of my college experience was a lot of time spent in my own head, which should come as no surprise to anybody reading this. 

The first one is a lot like the one from last time, except the feelings aren’t entirely good. There’s an edge of anxiety around it. Like the last one, it features a room in a house as its main component, a house that I’ve never been to and only exists in my imagination. There are blankets on the walls (as decoration) and handkerchiefs over the lamps. There’s a ratty futon against the far wall. It’s an attic and smells like one, but also like incense and weed. I feel a vibrating anticipation, but it’s not the good kind of anticipation, more that I’m expecting a shoe to drop.   

The other one is the House Party Vibe, which is captured perfectly by this Freezepop song. It’s exactly my experience at most house parties at WVU, though often the band was replaced with a DJ or just a stereo with a bunch of CDs in it. 

 

That song also reminds me of one of the most intense panic attacks I’ve ever had, on the bottom floor of 123 Pleasant Street, right by the big chalkboard and blessedly close to the bathroom. It was triggered by thinking a girl was interested in me. I wouldn’t become aware that my experience was treatable for another few years.

Anxiety was my constant companion for most of college and a lot of high school. It wasn’t until after it (around 2002) that I finally started to find a way out of it. I was desperately anxious, specifically, about intimacy and romance and everything around it. I was utterly adrift in social contexts of most kinds but the culture around male and female dynamics was particularly obscure to me. 

I went to the biggest party school in the country for five years, spent 1/3 of the time drunk, and never once even kissed a girl. That milestone didn’t come until my mid-20s, after therapy and medication. I also didn’t learn to drive until that age, too. That probably tells you something.

For many years, I thought I was pathetically a late bloomer. In my 40s I know that I was only a few years behind. I didn’t have the high school experience that most others had. I never had a girlfriend. I was barely aware of any of it until my freshman year at WVU, when sex was everywhere around me, and then it was extremely on my radar.

Rather than meet those blips with joy and experimentation, I was repulsed and horrified. My reaction had nothing to do with sex or the people who were having it but with my inability to imagine how I was supposed to go from a crush to a relationship. The trajectory seemed so easy for everybody else. I didn’t know where to begin. 

I got better, though. I learned a lot of it in my therapist’s office. That should tell you a lot, too.

Cultural Literacy

Here’s another one of my patented pivots back to what I was talking about before. I didn’t invent the term but I like it and use it often. I use it as a reason (you can call it an excuse if you like, and you’re not entirely wrong) to keep myself abreast of all the pop culture stuff happening that wouldn’t normally ping my radar. 

I find a lot of value in knowing about things I’m not necessarily interested in. When I make a certain kind of reference to certain people about certain subjects (it’s different for everyone), I’m always shocked by the reaction people have to push that stuff away (“I’m glad I don’t know what you’re talking about!”).

I don’t feel that about anything. I admit that some of the more obscure sports-related minutiae don’t do it for me, but I’m still up for learning. I find other peoples’ excitement infectious, and I really enjoy hearing somebody talk about something that interests them.

I bring it up only because I actively have to resist my urge to excuse my enjoyment of wrestling as a younger man, as if anybody needs to justify liking what they like at any point, ever. 

I didn’t write any fiction today but I did edit the first hundred pages of my second novel and it’s shaping up to become something I might actually be proud of. Wish me luck.

4,134 thoughts on “On Come-Backs

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