28 December 2009

The Life raft, or, why I'll always be attached to debate

Over the course of the past few weeks, I've had to give the idea of a career change as a possibility (not by force, but as Wu-Tang Clan always says, "Protect Ya Neck!"), which meant (kind of) studying for professional school examinations and going online to find out if i've already missed deadlines for schools I would consider attending. But it also forces me to think of what a life outside of the activity would be like, and it's been so long since I've not been involved in debate that I was actually incapable of recalling a time, and had to flash back to my days at UC Santa Barbara to think of a time of non-involvement (and I wanted to be involved, even tried to start a team, but between the fraternity, the insane partying, wonderful weather and beautiful women, somehow managed to keep my calendar full). It sometimes forces me to think:

"why DO i do this?"

I mean, there are thousands of jobs in the world that would offer comparable compensation, with nowhere near the disadvantages. For example, every real job I've ever had has made at least what I make now, and I had one in the late 80's and a variety in the 90's. this is the end of 2009, if you adjust for inflation, you get an idea of the kind of money i gave up to teach and coach debate. Not to mention that, when you don't do this job, you get this crazy thing that most of us take for granted: free time. I can count the free weekends, i mean truly free weekends, not just when you don't have to travel, a weekend where you could sit around all weekend and eat cereal all weekend and watch cartoons like you were Tiger Woods trying to avoid the media, keep your endorsement empire and make sure that shark of a lawyer doesn't let that cold hearted vixen take more than the proscribed $20 million from the prenuptial agreement. Those kind of weekends never really exist for me, as when i do have a weekend of non-travel, it's almost always greeted with 250-500 papers/tests/quizzes/speeches to grade, so even my moments of uncommitted time are accompanied by a small boot in the junk called work. I find myself more and more frustrated until I remember:

Debate actually saved my life. Not theoretically, as I wouldn't be where I am without it, which is also obviously true, but that's not what I'm saying. I mean, I was killing myself, slowly or quickly, depending on your frame of reference, and the call to debate and the drive to debate stopped me dead in my tracks.

Most of the time, the things in your life that end up being groundbreaking and substantial are things you don't see as that big of a deal. For example, when I was 22, I got a call from a guy i knew (in retrospect, not really much of a friend, kind of a douche-bag of a friend that used me whenever he could). But he was taking a road trip to Reno for the weekend, and he gave me a call to see if I wanted to go (I always had a ton of comps from when we went Reno, and Caesars gave them to me when my dad died, so even in his generosity, he had an angle). I had just gotten out of a shitty relationship, in which i began to re-evaluate how I saw friends and friendship- he just happened to be a casuality of that war against impostor friends. He called, asked me if I wanted to go, I said no, he really tried to persuade me (obviously, I was part of the equation, but not part of the planning or processing of ideas), and once again, I say no. I actually wanted to go, but something said I should stay, so I did. Turns out that he and the other people he went with ended up getting killed (not all died, two lived, both paralyzed from the waist down) in an automobile accident where their car, a Honda Civic , overturned going into a sharp turn. I was supposed to be in that car, and wasn't. There's no way that, if i was in that car, my life wouldn't be 180 degrees different than it is now. Didn't seem like that big a deal at the time...

...this had no such problem of visibility of degrees of perception. I was in going to school in Oklahoma, on a debate scholarship, and, after being there for a couple of weeks, decided to not debate and just try to move on with my life- I had been run to my wits end by the activity, and all I wanted to do was graduate and move the fuck on with my life. The school I was attending was not expensive, so I could just afford to go there out of my pocket when the scholarship (that I tried to repay, but the program would not let me) was expired, and i had found a nice set of people, kind of debate people, but all of them no longer debating, to kind of align myself with. Life was beginning to move in the direction that real people move into, until one day i get a call.

Your mother has passed away.

This was the unraveler of my spirit and, for the most part, my sanity. I went off the deep end instantly. When my father died a few years earlier, I decided to use the wonders of speed to help me through the rough times (something i would not recommend), and so it was the first thing I went looking for. None of my friends did any of that shit, but they did have access to cocaine, and that became my drug of choice/self destruction. For the next few weeks, I did as much coke as I could get my hands on, which was pretty difficult for a variety of reasons (mostly because it was hard to get, it wasn't particularly expensive or very good, but beggars can't be choosy), all while trying to not let anyone know I was doing a ton of coke (more out of being stingy than anything else). At one point, I find myself in my dorm room, around 2:30pm, during one of my sessions (I had gotten quite a routine set up, snort blow, go to class, snort blow, go out drinking, snort blow, drink more, snort blow, go to class) was tearing through what was to be my second 8-ball of the week, when it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was doing it. Again. I was trying to kill myself by just destroying myself from within. I had to stop, but at this point, I wasn't even sure if I could (as Rick James says, cocaine is a powerful drug). I snorted a line, looked to the sky and said these words. "God, if you're there, I need your help, send me something right now to help me, I don't think I can do this myself." Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Hey, this is Jackie Massey at ENMU. You want to come here and debate with Glueboy?
In the spring.
Sure. When do you need me there?
Jan 3. Don't fuck me. Whatever you're doing now, stop. Bye.

And, all of a sudden, it seemed I had a purpose again. I had something to do that would get me out of my doldrums, and help me get some focus back in my life again. Something that could infuse me with a driving passion again. I just wouldn't have imagined it being debate. I'm not even sure that, if Jackie Massey had walked up to me in the street, and made me the same proposition, even 30 minutes earlier, I would have probably said no. I couldn't have picked Glueboy out of a lineup (by the way, who the hell is this Glueboy character, I've met these dudes, and nobody ever introduced themselves that way). And Eastern New Mexico? Where in the hell is that (other than the obvious)? Is there anything out there? At all? This team has been historically miserable. What am i fucking getting myself into?!? Then it dawned on me, it's not what I was getting myself into, it's what I was getting myself out of- a self destructive pattern that would have invariably killed me.

Do I think it was debate that uniquely was capable of saving my life? Not at all. Based on where I was, if Juan Valdez had called me to go to Columbia to pick coffee beans with him, or if some redneck with a lab hadn't called and asked me to make drugs for him in a lab, or if Phil Ivey had approached me and told me that he just needed to have a black man standing around him to make him feel better, like a good luck charm, I'd have done any of them at the time. I don't pretend that it was the uniqueness of the activity that saved me. But I do recognize that the chance to debate gave me the life raft i needed to get through one of the rougher times of my life.

And it's the reason that, even if I were to go back to school, why it would be impossible to just walk away from the activity.

I feel I owe it too much. I owe it my life.

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