The thing about inventing an imaginary honor society that doles out imaginary annual awards is that you can’t just in media res things and hope that the imaginary audience is following along. There’s got to be a preamble. A clarification of the rules. An explication of the acronyms. An attempt to impose some sense upon all of the nonsense.
So in case you haven’t read The GOAT Farm’s Inaugural Post/Ceremony— and also in case you did read it, two years ago, and somehow didn’t memorize its vagaries— The GOAT Farm is a pop culture hall of fame with a pastoral aesthetic. Inductees must patiently endure a five year waiting period between when they were first experienced and when they are GOAT-eligible, which is why all of today’s honorees are from 2018. The only judge is me.
I’ve always conceived of January as the summit of a metaphorical ski hill— the place from which you can survey all that lies before you, the majesty and the moguls, before your momentum starts carrying you inexorably down, towards, and through it. You can’t know the details of what you’re about to encounter, but the broader shapes are clear enough to get excited about.
I am searching for the literary device that might be big enough to convey exactly how much I love the Winter Olympics.
Some similes: My love for the Winter Olympics is as fervent as a hand over a heart during the opening notes of O Canada. As devoted as the athletes themselves are to their training regimens. As eternal as the final minutes of a hockey game can seem when your team is clinging to a one goal lead and the other team’s net is empty.
Some analogies: The Winter Olympics are like Christmas to me, except better, no offence intended to Jesus Christ, because they only come around once every four years. The Winter Olympics are like the Super Bowl to me, except better, no offence intended to Tom Brady, because the excitement lasts for two entire weeks.
I would make an attempt at a sonnet or a haiku, but poetry has never been a natural gift of mine, and also not enough words rhyme with “podium”. Anyway, my point has probably been made. The Winter Olympics are my favorite thing.
January is traditionally the time for high hopes and grand plans and lofty ambitions. The time to be briefly convinced that all of the empty days unfurled before you hold nothing but promise, to most fully perceive the potential in this latest quirk of the Earth’s axial tilt. But the concept of anticipation hovers a little awkwardly around the edges of this particular New Year. It is, after all, somewhat complicated to feel true excitement for things that are question marks.
If you are looking for a way to make time feel like it is passing exponentially faster, try committing to the idea that you will write recaps of what you did each month. Somehow all 28 days of February passed without me ever stopping to take stock of my consumption habits, and before I had reconciled myself to that, suddenly March was over as well. I’ll blame it on the homogeneity of pandemic life, where one day tends to blur into the next without the structure of our old way of life to differentiate between them.
If you’ve ever read my newsletter the evening coat you’re already aware that I derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction from the act of distinguishing the months from each other as they pass, of celebrating their seasonal virtues and idiosyncrasies, and feeling grateful for how all of it put together gives life the kind of texture and meaning it might otherwise lack.
Maybe it’s the writer part of me, but I find it helpful to think of the year as a twelve chaptered book in which each one does its part to advance the plot. Obviously the author of this book tends to be wildly experimental in style, with a penchant for circuitous narratives and unresolved subplots, leaving plenty of room for digressions and asides, but David Foster Wallace did a lot of these same things and is heralded a genius for them, so it must still be a method of storytelling that is worthwhile. To try and make sense of my personal edition of 2021, I’ve decided to compile my own version of a Cole’s Notes for each chapter, which I will now present to you here.
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” So lamented the corrupted Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and so laments a corrupted me, right now, on the morning of the second round of the 2021 NFL playoffs But I was a hero, once. At least insofar as I am using the term here, meaning I was once an NFL fan with a pure heart and noble intentions.
You might disagree. You might say there can be no such thing as a purehearted fan when it comes to an institution that has often displayed a reckless disregard for the wellbeing of its players and has traditionally led from behind when it comes to matters of social justice; an institution that unjustly excommunicated Colin Kaepernick for a peaceful protest; that has turned more than one blind eye to players who have been accused of domestic violence; and that waited far too long to take concussions seriously.
Fine. Yes, okay, you’re right. I was a hero who made some moral compromises.
You never like to preface your work with a disclaimer that it’s dumb and unimportant, but sometimes the surrounding context and cultural conversation gives you no choice. This piece, in which I’ve gone to great lengths to examine each NBA team and find its analogue in the Disney library, was a bit ridiculous when I first set out to write it. After the momentous real life events of the past week, it feels laughably absurd.
When the Milwaukee Bucks decided to forfeit Game 5 of their first round series against Orlando in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, they could not have known how far the echoes of their protest would ring. The other four teams scheduled to play that day quickly opted out of their games as well, as did teams playing for the WNBA, MLS, MLB, and even tennis player Naomi Osaka. The NHL, as usual, arrived a day late and a dollop of sincerity short. But the message was clear. Athletes were unwilling to be a source of distraction while the Black community continued to face an emergency that showed no sign of getting better.
For a few hours it seemed like “The Bubble” really had burst, and the season might once again be over. Then the players made the collective, if reportedly contentious, decision to return to play. They were able to earn a few more action-oriented concessions from the league and the team owners, but the real goal was always to bring awareness to the systemic, international issue of racism. To keep the volume turned up on a conversation that only finally became mainstream this past June.
On the list of ever-shifting, ever-growing global concerns right now, I get that Tom Brady choosing to leave the New England Patriots probably doesn’t rank in the top thousand. We are living in bizarre and often frightening times as COVID-19 has quietly upended the way we do almost everything, and most people will be grateful for the return to normalcy that a 2020 NFL season would herald at all, no matter what jersey The Greatest Quarterback Who Ever Lived might be wearing.
I understand all of that, on an intellectual level. Getting my dumb, frivolous heart on board is another story.
In this world of increasing chaotic instability, there are a decreasing number of things you can reliably count on. The seasons change. The sun rises and then it sets. A well-tailored trench coat brings any outfit together. The moon goes through its various cycles and phases. Drake’s surprise releases rise to number one on the chart. Millions of monarch butterflies complete their annual gruelling migration to Mexico. The New England Patriots play in the Super Bowl.
Please insert your own abrupt record scratch sound effect here. Because obviously– depressingly, frustratingly, bewilderingly– that last item is not exactly true this year.