Savoring the things that matter the most

After cranking out so many sports-and-culture posts on this blog and elsewhere in recent weeks, I’m going through some serious anxiety about whether to continue staking a claim in these debates.

Well then, anxiety is a strong word, and I hesitate to say I’ve reached the point of some kind of depression. But I’m as melancholy about these things as I’ve ever been.

Whether it’s Ray Rice and domestic violence, the culture of American football, and how just about everything in the world of sports seems to be getting more politicized by smug, self-appointed arbiters of Possessing the Correct Views, I’m simply worn out.

The constant social media outrages — typically based on race, gender and political perspective — have become the coin of the realm in a snark-infested online sports media environment whose many pleasures and innovations are getting harder to enjoy.

It’s what you have to wade through to get to the good stuff, and yet I can’t resist picking through the wreckage as I pass by.

I cop to being an online rubbernecker, no better than the trolls, social justice fanatics and cultural opportunists who know how to get suckers like me to take their bait.

I knew there was something wrong when I went on a 12-hour writing bender, to coin a phrase, feverishly working up this post on Hope Solo last month for The Cauldron, the new sports vertical on the Medium platform.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.10.55 PMFueled by raw emotion and the exquisite torment of working without a net while trying to reach a new audience, I skipped eating and took a break only when nature called. I wrote, revised, re-wrote and re-revised, at least a dozen times. In more than 30 years in the news business, this has happened only with major breaking stories, or while working the Olympics and other endurance assignments.

While reasonably satisfied with what I had written, how I went about doing it was abhorrent to me. Everything I’ve ever learned about writing is that you can’t wait for inspiration, or take an immediate flyer on a trending topic, and hope to sustain anything worth your byline. I acted like a college student with a term paper due in the morning, not a veteran journalist who’s made thousands of deadlines and developed solid work habits.

And yet, I might have been done a favor by falling into this trap. I was sufficiently alarmed to see how the distractions of the digital age were getting the best of me, and how I need to get back to what I do best, and how I do it.

It’s been 10 years since I moved from being an exclusively print reporter to a primarily online journalist and editor, and I’m glad I took that step. But the temptations are greater than the catnip of Tweeting and the compulsion of checking e-mails and having so many things flickering across screens at any given time.

I’ve let myself get dragged into the morass of the sports-and-culture space that is being scarfed up by the young hot Millennial set — male and female — I am struggling to understand. While the topics are worthy of attention, and the impudent, often juvenile screeching that comes from these corners deserves a proper response, I need to to be more selective in picking spots to do that.

Last week I caught up with women’s college basketball coaches I’ve known for years while getting ready for a new season, and it was more than stepping back with time. It was getting back to what’s been real and authentic for me, in carving out some space for a sport that is getting routed in the brave new online world, where clicks mean everything.

The writing coach Christina Katz put best in a recent post what I’ve got to tend to above all:

“Give yourself an attitude adjustment, develop your skills, and focus on the next most important step for you.

“That’s your job.

“The secret sauce of a joyful writing career is being the best you can be, spreading that good stuff to others, and ignoring all the things that are not your job.

“If you want to be happy in your writing career for just one day: put your cynicism down, turn off your mind, and just take the next step.

“Dive into your latest current project and give it everything you’ve got.”

This may seem quaint and old-fashioned amid the eternal cleverness of today’s ginned-up media environment. But these insights also resonate with the coaches I know who are charged with working daily with young people as they learn how to become adults. Sometimes I want to scoff at the motivational quotes coaches Tweet out — and they do this a lot — and then I find myself following suit as I pursue freelance work. The War of Art

In  “The War of Art,” Steven Pressfield (author of “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) doles out a heavy dose of tough-love for writers who have to push themselves, because no one else will. Near the end of 162 pages of clear-eyed exhortations, this is what jolted me the most:

“We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them. And that scares the hell out of us.”

Indeed.

The older I get, the more I’m shedding my youthful sarcasm and hip posturing. After being downsized from two jobs in the last six years in the only profession I ever wanted to be in, I’m facing the prospect of having to leave it behind. I’m mad as hell about that and have wept about it on more than one occasion since being laid off in January. But I’ve also spent some time learning the basics of content strategy, social media marketing and strategic communication.

These are practical and humbling developments, and they have prompted a re-evaluation of what’s most meaningful to me. In my last job, I covered community news, and deeply appreciated connecting with my fellow citizens on the most basic, and seemingly mundane items: A left-turn signal demanded after a bad accident, parents organizing to combat cuts in education funding and a church volunteer thrilled that an announcement I posted yielded a three-figure crowd for a concert in a marvelous, acoustically-ideal sanctuary.

There are so many “marketable skills” journalists have that we use to sell ourselves for other kinds of work. While I don’t want to give up what I’ve always loved, I’m seeing that my battle to stay in the business has clarified what is important to me, and rekindled some fading passion.

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