Creative Biting, or How Meeting with Some College Students Sparked Something

REGULAR READERS of these missives — all three of you — will recall an almost 15-year history of on-again, off-again blogging. There have been fertile periods, the occasional collaboration, new focuses and themes, and — no small point — friendships made. Blogging has been a rewarding endeavor.

When I mentioned this history to the director of the writing center at the university where I work, he asked if I would meet with some of the student staff who were interested in relaunching its blog as an additional way of helping their peers. I dropped by the other day and had a delightful conversation with eight or so students and the director, a faculty member in the English department. We talked about editorial calendars and engaging content, about guest posters and tips of the week, about posting regularly and tags and categories, about writing with a genuine voice and encouraging the kind of back and forth that made the whole thing so much fun once upon a time.

When I left there were the expected thanks for my time and thoughts. The gratitude, though, went both ways.

My efforts here have been admittedly spotty. I could make all kinds of excuses about being busy, but as has been pointed out, we all get the same 168 hours a week. It’s up to us to determine how we spend them. The ones who create make the choice to spend it creating, just as I make the choice to spend it dicking around on Twitter.

In sharing my experiences and perspective, I could feel the urge returning. The urge to create and share. The urge to make the world better — YES, I KNOW THAT’S CORNY AND I DON’T REALLY CARE BECAUSE IT’S TRUE DON’T @ ME — through the creative work I believe myself capable of.

That urge was fueled by the curiosity of those students, and by the counsel I offered in return. It was if there were a giant neon sign blazing in front of my eyes: “TAKE YOUR OWN ADVICE, BOYO.”

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. Thanks to a group of interesting, funny, smart students who — and this part is important — want to use their talents to help their peers. To make the world better. | DL

Merit Play, or How the Eagles Deserve Every Accolade Being Thrown Their Way

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A scene from the Durso household during the Eagles’ blasting of the Vikings last Sunday.

THEY WEREN’T SUPPOSED to be this good this soon, our Eagles. For all of the promise he showed last year, Carson Wentz was still too green. The secondary still had too many question marks. And Doug Pederson was still Andy Reid lite.

Then, of course, the games began, and Wentz played like an MVP, the secondary somehow tightened up, and Pederson proved himself an unexpectedly accomplished play caller who could manage a game and connect with his players. Our Eagles were this good this soon, and it wasn’t a fluke.

Now, of course, the Birds are prepping for the Super Bowl — but that wasn’t supposed to happen, either, not after Wentz suffered a season-ending injury against the Rams in week 14.

The tear of his anterior cruciate ligament broke our hearts and poured cold water on our feverish playoff dreams. These Eagles were now Nick Foles’s team, and without Chip Kelly’s smoke and mirrors, he’d play like the journeyman he ended up being after leaving Philadelphia a few years ago.

Except somebody forgot to tell Pederson, Foles, and the rest of the team.

Foles was dreadful in finishing the Birds’ regular season, but he was able to take snaps in actual games against defensive starters. On top of that, Pederson had a critical few weeks to adjust his game planning to account for Wentz’s absence.

The results speak for themselves. Foles was competent in the Eagles’ narrow divisional win over the defending NFC champion Falcons, and brilliant in their demolition of Minnesota in the conference championship game. The Birds ran the ball well, Pederson called great games, the special teams were mostly solid, and Jim Schwartz’s defense was simply suffocating.

And so the Eagles will play February 4 for the NFL title, and it’s not a fluke. They’ll be in Minnesota on merit.

Just the way we all called it, right? | DL

Takin’ It to the Streaks, or Why I Already Know What I’m Wearing Next Weekend

I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak. … You know why? Because they don’t — they don’t happen very often. … If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!

Crash Davis, Bull Durham

WHICH MEANS that when the Eagles play next weekend in the NFC championship game, I will have to begin the day wearing my black WINNING IS FOR THE BIRDS short-sleeve t-shirt over my white long-sleeve t-shirt with the team’s name and retro logo on it. I will have to watch the first half. Then I will have to change clothes and go out to dinner and keep tabs on the remainder of the game using my phone.

You have to respect the streak, after all. As I’ve mentioned before. | DL

Burnet Up, Or How Just a Few Kind Words Can Inspire the Writer in Me

 

WITNESS STATEMENTS. Memoir. Medical reports. Journal article. Trial record.

There’s an awful lot going on in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s novel His Bloody Project, not least of which is that the crime referred to in the title is established in its opening pages. A triple homicide in a poor village in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1860s — that’s what happened, and the reader knows it straight away.

It is in the how and the why where Burnet’s tale lies. Using a variety of storytelling techniques and devices — those listed up there in the first line — he crafts a strikingly original work of vivid details, meticulous characterization, and compelling plot. As a writer, I have found myself returning to Burnet’s adroit handling to figure out how to make my own work better without throwing up my hands in despair because nothing I produce will ever be that good.

I tweeted as much to him and Matthew Klam — whose deeply felt Who Is Rich? I hope to discuss in a future post — and was reassured that all of us who struggle to make magic with words are wrestling with the same demons.

“If it’s any consolation,” Graeme Macrae Burnet tweeted back at me, “I often have the same thought!”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Burnet. It is of enormous consolation. I’ll be back at the keyboard tonight. | DL

Running to Stand Still, or Why I Thrilled to Be Outside in 20-Degree Weather This Morning

NEVER IN MY LIFE did I imagine that I would ever turn into one of those people who get antsy when they haven’t run for a few days.

But last winter, not long into the new year, recognizing that my sloth wasn’t doing me any favors, I downloaded a couch-to-5K app and began training. A back injury a few years prior had forced me to give up running, but time and a few well-placed spinal injections of steroids had me feeling better. It was time to try again.

I followed the couch-to-5K program rigorously, and two months after starting, I was running three miles. Over the spring and summer and autumn and into the current winter, I tried to get out every other day; I haven’t gotten there yet, but it’s been frequent enough for me to enjoy the benefits.

Up until yesterday, 2018 was brutally, dangerously cold in Greater Philadelphia (as you may have heard). I ran New Year’s Eve and then had to skip nine straight days.

And I found myself — yep — one of those people who get antsy when they haven’t run for a few days.

Finally, this morning, came enough warmth — well, more like “warmth”; it was about 20 when I got up — to lace ’em up and hit the road. It was glorious. My legs felt fine and my wind was great. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed a hint of achiness in my quads, the result, I suspect, of nine days of inactivity.

They’re still a touch sore, six hours later. But it’s a soreness that hurts so good. | DL

Reid Option, or Why We Should All Cut Big Red a Break

THE CHIEFS ARE UP by two touchdowns over the Titans as I write, and my Twitter feed is filled with snide comments from Eagles fans about how Andy Reid will manage to blow the lead.

I understand the wisecracking. For all of his success in Philadelphia, Big Red never even approached Dick Vermeil-level adulation. He never seemed to care. He didn’t court fans and he didn’t court the media, and as a result he never seemed like one of “us,” whatever that means. So when his Eagles teams fell victim to their coach’s predictable play calling and dreadful clock management, there was no cache of goodwill that allowed us to see past the flaws.

For all of that, though, Reid was, and is, a good guy. There’s never been Rex Ryan-style bluster, or, even worse, Bill Belichick-like douchery. He’s a football coach who chooses to focus on football coaching, and football coaching only.

That Andy Reid never stopped to kiss the asses of sports talk radio hosts or newspaper columnists surely damaged his image in the eyes of Eagles fans. But that shouldn’t obscure his achievements or his character. If anything, it should make us respect him more. | DL

H-2-Uh-Oh, or How a Water Situation Got Me Thinking About Others

YESTERDAY MORNING, with temperatures in the single digits (which I hate), we woke up to diminished water pressure from every faucet. The water was coming out at about 60 percents, so the kitchen sink, bathroom facilities, and showers were still usable. But that’s the kind of thing you don’t mess around with. After I checked the basement pipes to make sure nothing was wrong there, I called a plumber and made an appointment.

Soon enough, the neighborhood social media chain was telling us that the problem wasn’t ours alone. A broken water main had either reduced pressure at or completely cut off service to about a thousand homes. One of our neighbors reported nothing more than a trickle dripping from her faucets.

We would literally die without water, yet we take for granted that we can have as much as we want simply by turning a handle. Our minor inconvenience got me thinking about those around the world for whom water — and food and electricity and shelter and other essentials — requires daily attention.

Fully three months after Hurricane Maria blasted Puerto Rico, parts of the island were still without power and clean drinking water. This is no far-flung, how-do-you-spell-that? country, but a United States territory less than a thousand miles off Florida’s coast. These are Americans, and they remain mired in terrible conditions, and we have just stopped caring.

Yesterday morning I had to stand for a little while longer under the shower head to rinse the shampoo out of my hair. For some of my fellow Americans that wouldn’t have been a pain in the ass but a dream come true. | DL