“Football fans share a universal language that cuts across many cultures and many personality types. A serious football fan is never alone. We are legion, and football is often the only thing we have in common.” - Hunter S. Thompson
I was lucky enough to be born into the greatest sports city in America, a city so steeped in the culture of football that visitors to the airport are greeted by statues of two of the most iconic people in American history: George Washington and Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. Before my cries could bounce off the walls of the Children’s Hospital in downtown Pittsburgh, I was destined for a lifetime of joy and sadness brought on by the black and gold in my DNA.
It wasn’t long before my conscious mind let me into the greatest joy a human can feel: winning a Super Bowl (can I write this? Legally?). Not personally, of course; I’m 5’6”. But through the lens of kinship to a team that is as strong as my own family. In my youth, my brothers and I begged our parents to let us stay up to watch a whole Super Bowl, are bedtimes preventing us from catching the halftime show (luckily missing Justin Timberlake assaulting Janet Jackson), but still catching the Go Daddy commercial in the first quarter that promised more by visiting the website just for my elementary friends to google it and find out they were selling website domains. Our mom countered that if the Steelers made the Superbowl, then we could stay up. Bless Bill Cowher, because it was only 2006 that we got to stay up until 10 PM, witnessing the Steelers win Ring number five, a heroic performance from Hines Ward, Willie Parker, Anton Randel El, Troy Polamalu, and co. My joy would not be quelled. Nor would it for the whole community. Steelers fight songs played at every lunch in Elementary School during our playoff run. Black and gold spirit competitions. Themed snacks decorating the entirety of Giant Eagle. Football runs deep in Western Pennsylvania as it does throughout the country. A super Bowl run just brings it to the forefront.
Only three years later and we got one for the other thumb, the first franchise to ever win 6 Super Bowls. The 27–23 win over the Cardinals was easily one of the best Super Bowls in the modern era. By then, we didn’t have to haggle with our mom for a delayed bedtime. My brotehrs and I were fully committed to the team. Within 3 years, we were gifted with two Super Bowls and we could not feel more on top of the world.
Then, two years later we were in Super Bowl XLV against the Packers. It felt like heritage, that I would be destined for a lifetime of Steelers Super Bowl wins and the absence of sadness in my life. When his dad and brother got to go to Texas for the game, my friend, Jake, held a super bowl party for all of our 9th grade friends to watch ring number seven come home to Pittsburgh. Adorned in jerseys and eye paint, huddled up on one L-framed couch surrounded by Sprite and chips, football fans and teenagers who had no idea what was happening alike came to watch us win. Nothing could stop the joy of watching the biggest game of the year with friends.
Nothing except a 6-point loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
When the final whistle blew and yellow and green confetti rained down on the turf, the room was sucked of all life. We didn’t shed tears, but we hung our heads in uninterrupted sadness. My friend Stephen wrapped a comforting arm around me as I drooped over Jake’s couch. We dispersed away, only to see each other the next day at school, the flag at half mast, gold taken away to a funeral procession black dress code. As a privileged youth who hadn’t lost anyone close to me, I thought that was the lowest it could get.
Eleven years later and I am still chasing that right to be sad.
In my first year at college, my friends and I watched the Patriots and the Seahawks put on a special game as we watched the snow fall outside our 10th story dorm window. We all got the text from our school halfway through the game that we’d have a two-hour delay (we were a big commuter school). When Malcolm Butler picked off Russell Wilson and gave the Patriots their 4th stupid Super Bowl victory, our anger at the Patriots yet again winning was overshadowed by the first big snowfall of 2015. We strapped on our boots and took to the streets of campus, claiming a mound of plowed snow as our fort to huck snowballs at other students across the street whom none of us knew but declared battle on us from their fort. Anger at New England is temporary. The desire for snow-bound warfare is forever.
Since then, we’ve dropped the X from the L and passed a half century of Super Bowls. It remains the greatest holiday in America, uniting friends in such a special occasion. While the food, commercials, and halftime show bring in millions of viewers, real fandom has a huge impact on viewers. In fact, an average increase of 3.3 million fans join the winning Super Bowl team. Some may call this bandwagon. I would call this a glimpse into your future. For new NFL viewers, young and old, tasting that victory fills them with joy, pride, and bliss.
“When you win, nothing hurts.” – Joe Namath
Entering fandom on the highest of highs really undercuts the journey that is ahead of them. But I still envy the new fans who will come to the Super Bowl, prepared to watch Sir Patrick Stewart chuck Arnold from Hey Arnold into a cliffside broken up with 60 minutes of some random game to then find their heart attached to a decades-old franchise that will cause them pain, suffering, and a few glimpses of happiness for the rest of their life. Their journey starts here.
I’m lucky to have witnessed two of those great moments of joy in my life. Others have been more fortunate to have witnessed six in their lives. Yet, we can’t always experience true joy or else it would diminish all great joy. Complacency is the kryptonite to a truly lived life.
I am waiting patiently for the day I can be sad, truly sad, following a Super Bowl. My biggest accomplishment as a Steelers fan since Super Bowl XLV is drinking more Blue Moons than the Rams scored points in Super Bowl LIII. I want to feel. I am never more reminded of my humanity than when I was surrounded by a dozen of my closest 9th grade friends mourning the win that would not be. To be so close to glory again, to be within reach of a number seven, is to remember that there is never an end. The Steelers will go again. And so will I.
Why is the boss fight against Hornet the hardest thing I've ever had to do in a video game? For context, I am a casual gamer. I play on normal mode across the board. I've beaten Star Wars Republic Commando 7 times and that is my greatest achievement to date as a mediocre player. I have never been so frustrated by a random boss only three hours into a game. I have never been humbled so much waking up on a bench after a character who looks just like me kicked my ass for two hours straight.
When I started playing the side-strolling game Hollow Knight on my Switch, I enjoyed the level design, reminiscent of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, my first foray into side-to-side gaming. Hollow Knight had unique sound design, clever challenges, and an adorable little ghost with a sword as my playable character. But once I found my way to the furthest reaches of Greenpath, having to hit some tall skeletal knights with giant shields like twenty times just to get past them, I found the hardest video game boss in all of bossdom (this is a fact I can back up with no proof).
I enter her little arena, a few shards of sunshine peering through the canopy to illuminate my lack of skill. With only 5 moves in her arsenal, she was able to obliterate me. Luckily I respawned at the way station just below the arena, so I hope back up and enter again, just to have her jump attack me to death. It's like she knows where I'm going to end up. After the third attempt, I sat up in my chair, clearly seeing the problem was in my relaxed posture., only to be fooled by my own narcissism and have her throw her sword into my neck.
Again I hop off my bench and jump up to the arena. Right away, the ghost of my past life haunts me and takes one of my hits away before I can even face Hornet. It's humiliating to get hurt by the ghost of my pass self, especially when I needed every single of those to face her. It's like leaving the hospital after receiving open heart surgery to sprain my ankle on the curb.
After the fourth or seventh attempt, I found the pattern to her attacks. If she jumps, run under her. If she uses her magical tentacles, use the time to heal. If she fuels up her dash, jump over her. I was acing the quiz on how to beat her, but she somehow could anticipate my anticipation and hit me, throwing me off my rhythm. Then, Hornet would get like three hits on me and render me useless.
After the twelfth time, I thought I had her, knocking her down for her respite for the third time. Usually in games, the villains attack in threes, as if they all read Jesus Christ's Bible and knew that everything significant comes in a triad. By the twenty-fifth attempt, I had knocked her back for her fourth break, and she still kept going. How much does this lady have in her? I ended up goggling it just to make sure it wasn't a glitch or the game designers made the boss fight to make me feel even more inferior than I already do. Nope. She needs 45 hits. Forty-five! I'm not an expert on swords or anything, but I'm sure by the tenth or eleventh stab, a person couldn't endure any more. Then again, we are ghosts in a fictional game developed by sadist to make me feel bad about my gaming skills. I even went to message boards on Google to see if anyone else was experiencing the same issues. Despite the few people who had already asked the question I had, the majority of responses to our struggles were "if you can't beat Hornet after the first try, you should just kill yourself." I was less than hopeful.
The Wednesday had already turned to Thursday and my resolve was nearly non-existent. I persevered a final time, losing count somewhere in the lower 30s, humming the Hornet theme that had already been seared into my skull. After five minutes of grueling precision, wearing out the A and B buttons on the controller, Hornet burst into light and disappeared. I had done it! I won some new power to dash or something like that and the gates of hell opened up to allow me to proceed deeper into Greenpath.
The moral of this boss fight which I learned from anonymous users online with names like "Gamer696969" or "If**kedyomom123" is that I'm not shit and I should give up playing video games for the rest of my life.
On Sunday evening, viewers of HBO's The Last of Us were treated to a beautiful, heartbreaking episode of the love story between Bill and Frank, two men who found their way to each other in the midst of a fungi-pandemic. The episode itself was one of the best episodes of television in years. Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett stole the screen in their single episode of the year's most highly anticipated series, along with moving direction from Peter Hoar and writing from Craig Mazan. Viewers of the episode were also treated to a familiar, tear-jerking musical score.
That would be Max Richter's 'On the Nature of Daylight," the six-minute minor-key ode to sadness. It's the second track from the British composer's album The Blue Notebooks, originally released in 2004. It's usage in popular media has made it one of the most recognizable orchestrations around today, mirroring the popularity of Lux Aeterna from Clint Mansell's Requiem for a Dream score.
The song has been used to supplement the scores of many critically-acclaimed movies and series of the 21st century. One of the earliest examples was Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Disconnect used it prominently as well as Denis Villeneuve's Arrival. Arrival's already wonderful score from Johan Johansson was unfortunately disqualified at the Academy Awards for the movie's use of Max Richter's score. But it's the use as book ends of the movie that show the narrative strength "On the Nature of Daylight" provides to a scene. Something about the haunting minor strings plays with our hearts in a way that elevates the action of the camera behind it. The rise and fall of reverb sends chills down our entire body, unlocking emotions as soon as the violin kicks into the most memorable part of the song.
What makes Richter's song so attractive to use is its minor dissonance, the chords perfectly played to invoke emotions of melancholy despair. The trailer for the popular game Death Stranding used it to set up the tone of the game before players even bought it. But, when coupled with a narrative journey that has its own artistic merits, "On the Nature of Daylight" shines brightest. Like Louise Banks (Amy Adams) in Arrival and Bill and Frank in The Last of Us, what came before Richter's score ever hits our ears is the emotional involvement of a character we deeply care about at the end of their journey. The emotion of On the Nature of Daylight works best when it's employing the narrative power of bittersweetness. Characters that are at the end of an arc, dealing with a sad journey but are able to appreciate the beauty of what laid before. That's what makes the song it's most powerful.
It may also be cheating to bring in music to a narrative that viewers already hold in our hearts, associated with another story that we are emotionally involved in. But that's the beauty of music, compounding emotional catharsis so it sits with us greater, continuing to make us feel things as we progress through life.
The Last of Us itself is a cinematic piece of excellence so far. And the weaponization of "On the Nature of Daylight" that turned me into a blubbering mess as Sunday turned into Monday on a dreary week only stays with me longer and will highlight the season when it's ended.
My quick-fire reactions to the Oscar nominations:
- EEAAO deserves all the love and should easily take Best Picture if voters aren't afraid of selecting a "genre" film
- All actors from Banshees of Inisherin deserve their nominations. Absolute masterclass in acting from a great writer/director
- Haven't seen Elvis yet. Still, solely from clips of the film, word of mouth reviews, and the cinematic catalog of Baz Luhrmann, I would put at least 20 other films ahead of it for Best Picture
- "Academy nominate one woman for Best Director challenge" failed yet again
- Women Talking is a powerful film and I'm so excited for more people to have their world rocked when they find out what year it takes place in
- Animated Movies? Perfection.
- Cinematography was a joke this year. How Nope doesn't fit into that field is insane to me. Bardo does deserve the nomination though. But Nope should've been the clear winner.
- Michael Giacchino deserved so much more for his Batman score. Justin Hurwitz should get his second win and if he doesn't I'll have to check the ears of every voting member.
- Not enough people saw Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Deserves more than animated feature.
- Tom Cruise playing himself didn't deserve the nomination and I'm glad the Academy overlooked him.
- Not enough people saw Decision to Leave or The Northman and I hope they get around to watching those one day.
- Overall, a fairly good year of nominations. I will be watching.
On Monday, Bernie Sanders posted an Op-Ed in the Guardian, urging Congress to "overhaul healthcare, minimum wage and education" for working class families.
"As a nation, we must focus on the reality that the function of a rational healthcare system is to provide quality care for all, not simply huge profits for the insurance industry," Sanders wrote about the system, detailing that 85 million are either uninsured or underinsured. "We spend the astronomical and unsustainable sum of nearly $13,000 for every man, woman and child, twice as much as most developed countries and almost 20% of our GDP." I commend him for publishing the op-ed in a public forum, to allow Americans to back him in this fight that we so desperately need. Yet, I am pessimistic that our Congress which took days to even elect a House Speaker have the rights and needs of working-class people on their minds.
My partner is currently searching for Health Insurance that she has to pay, yet is bogged down by the insanely high monthly premiums that eat up so much of her paycheck. Anna Porretta writes, "In 2020, the average national cost for health insurance is $456 for an individual and $1,152 for a family per month." That is anywhere from 39 to 98% of her monthly rent. No individual who needs to pay for the healthcare they need should be paying that much. That's why Bernie Sanders is right, America needs a complete overhaul of the Health Insurance system.
Yet, while researching the catastrophic system and what a complete overhaul into a single payer insurance system would look like, I came across this interesting graphic from The Balance.
I've never seen a pros and cons list prove the point of one side so accutely. I can't believe someone spent the time crafting a pros and cons list so misguided and lopsided. This is our future. Our current system is hurting so many people. 85 million people uninsured vs 572,000 health insurance employees. Congress has a clear directive to help the entire population of the United States. This includes revamping our healthcare system to ensure that everyone, regardless of income has affordable health, dental, and vision insurance. And they have the responsibility of ensuring that any jobs lost on a system that is clearly better are compensated or even given another opportunity. You can have both.
It brings to mind the climate crisis and how, to save the planet and everyone living here, that does mean harder times for some (which are experienced by people across the US and the World already due to the climate crisis). To close coal mines to build the infrastructure for clean, renewable energy, people have to lose jobs. But it's also the government's responsibility to make sure those who work and support their families from outdated, dangerous industries can still live and support themselves and their families.
Congress needs to act now, not only on health care and the climate crisis, but also on a multitude of issues that are hurting so many working class families, like education and minimum wage, as Senator Sanders so elegantly puts. If our elected officials can't help the people they represent, then why are they in office? It's long overdue to overhaul these systems and now is the time to act.
When I was a sophomore in college, I did research for my film professor who was working on a script about Jim Thorpe, widely regarded as one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century. I immediately fell in love with Thorpe, not only for his athletic prowess, winning Olympic medals while dominating in Baseball and Football, but also for his philanthropic efforts and passion for life beyond his athlete years.
Today, The International Olympic Committee recognized Jim Thorpe as the winner of two Olympic Gold Medals in the 1912 games, for the decathlon and pentathlon. He was initially stripped of the medals in 1913 after it was found out that he was making $25/hour as a baseball player prior to the games, which went against the Olympics amateur rules. Over forty years ago, Thorpe was recognized as the co-winner of the events after much deliberation. Finally, Thorpe's legacy is cemented as he is remembered as the sole winner of each event, a legacy that is deserving of the man.
It's important to note that racism was most likely a large factor in stripping Thorpe of his medals and keeping him out of the record books. Thorpe, a Native American, fought for the rights of indigenous people in America for much of the latter half of his life. Beyond his advocacy, Thorpe also was an actor, appearing in many films prior to his death in 1953. In the film adaptation of his life, made two years before his death, Hollywood cast a white man, Burt Lancaster, to play him. Because of course they did.
Jim Thorpe is a resounding figure of pure talent, strength in the face of adversity, and a role model for millions. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the charter class. President Nixon authorized April 16, 1973 as "Jim Thorpe Day" to promote recognition for his life.
I believe that Jim Thorpe is a legend and I'm glad that today, we recognize his greatness in a way that he deserves.
I turn 26 in three days.
26. Twenty six. The atomic number of iron. The number of letters in our alphabet. The number of sides on a rhombicuboctahedron. The number of miles in a marathon. Jersey number of Scottish soccer star Andy Robertson for Liverpool. It's a cool number.
Yet, it's not the most sexy birthday. Not like 16 where I get a birthday party where I arrive on an elephant to a Veterans Hall (I didn't have a Sweet 16) or 21 where you black out (again, didn't do that. Just got a free taste of vanilla vodka at my local liquor store and hated every part of it). No, at 26, I just am not allowed to get injured because I get kicked off my mother's health insurance. Welcome to 26! Now you have to pay for your inhaler and antidepressant! The only birthday where I actually lose money.
It's not that I'm not excited for my 26th birthday. It's just hard to really get excited anymore. I'm finishing grad school with the minimum amount in my simple savings account, gaining weight in my stomach, I don't own land, I don't have a Roth IRA account, and I also don't even know what a Roth IRA account is.
Just look at the other famous 26 year olds! Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, Timothee Chalamet, Kendall Jenner, Florence Pugh. I know their names. They don't know mine! Why am I not a rich, famous, hot celebrity who can summon anything I desire by just making eye contact with anyone.
Even the non-famous people that I know had it more figured it out than me by 26. My parents had been married for two years at this point. My oldest brother had a dog and a house. My other brother was teaching the next generation of leaders while I'm just struggling to spell restaruntat.
But, I also am about to graduate grad school from Columbia. I've been to 3 countries. I've seen the Steelers win the Super Bowl twice and the United States women team win the World Cup. I have a healthy lifestyle and great relationships with my friends, family, and partner. I saw a Bald Eagle fly over my head in western PA and had a squirrel try to climb me in the Boston Commons (I was his Mt Everest). I'm in therapy for depression. I remember the Alamo. One time my brother shot a nerf gun at me and I swung a baseball bat and deflected it away from me perfectly. I've seen the cinematic classic Shrek. I got to see Florence + The Machine live in concert. I got my kayaking merit badge in Boy Scouts. I'm still trying to do a standing backflip but I appreciate my effort. I won an interdisciplinary film competition. And just the other day, a puppy met me for the first time and ran up to me for butt scratches.
I'm not behind. I'm exactly where I need to be. Which is alive and breathing.
I turn 26 in three days!
It doesn't matter!
- Sincerely, a cisgender man who has not and will never get pregnant in my life
* To the old, Republican lawmakers and justices who believe they have the right to control what women or transmen do with their bodies, take notes and shut the fuck up and listen.
Recently, I finished binging HBO's Mare of Easttown (and by recently, I mean this afternoon). And in the sixth episode, Mare's grief counselor said something to Kate Winslet's character that has stuck with me. "I don't think you've given yourself the time to properly grieve your son's death." Or something along those lines. Also, that's not a spoiler, her son's death happened prior to the events of the series. That's a great line in the show for her character development, but also just for life advice in general. Who needs to pay for therapy when you can just watch scripted TV drama?
It got me thinking about my own life and the things that I may have not given myself enough time and space to grieve. Granted I haven't lost a son, but this applies to all the things that we carry heavy. Have I given myself enough time? To process my breakup? To deal with my anxieties about paying for grad school and paying back student loan debt? To even deal with my depression and suicidal ideation? And even how do I know if I have?
These feel important questions that we should all ask ourselves. What grief/pain/baggage/sadness do we still need to process? And how exactly can we give ourselves the time and space to grieve?
With the start of summer today, it's a good season to get out and do the things that make me happy. Seeing friends. Running. Enjoying the sunlight. Reading at a park. Going to the beach. Even though I have to work and deal with the responsibilities on my plate, I need to give myself time for myself. Time to relax and be the person I love the most. And time to think about these things, especially my break up. Even though it's been two months, it still feels heavy. It's healthy of me to continue dealing with the parts of it that make me saddest.
I also feel that it's important to continue taking the big stuff day by day. We can plan for the future to make our lives safe and secure. But, I'm already doing that. By investing in grad school and taking care of my mental health, I am investing in a safe and secure future. I don't need to drag myself down with my grief and anxiety. By continuing to live each day doing things that make me happy and continually moving forward, I think we are dealing with it. The steps to dealing with grief and the hardest parts of life will come easier that way.
This is brought to you by the ramblings of my brain and the journal I left blank next to me on my desk.
Stream Mare of Easttown on HBO Max.
Yesterday, I went on a five-mile run (subtle brag. You caught me. I'm super athletic and in incredible shape). It was a bit chilly in the morning, so I wore my polyester long sleeve shirt from high school soccer. Yet, when I came home, I found bug bites all over my torso. Two on my right shoulder that blend into one super bite and about four spread out on the back of my left arm. Somehow, these vengeful mosquitoes took blood through my shirt without my consent. At least the New York Blood Center is kind enough to call me three times a day until I relent to giving blood just to stop receiving their calls.
Can't these mosquitoes see I'm in the middle of something? There are people just sitting on benches. Go take their blood! They don't need it. I'm running! My heart is working overtime so my muscles don't give out on me. That's like if I walked into McDonald's in the middle of rush hour, grabbed the oven, said "Don't worry, you don't need this," and then walked out the front door with it. I think they needed that a bit more than I did at that moment.
And they chose the worst possible time. It's allergy season! You're telling me that I have to deal with pollen, climate change, the widening wealth gap between the billionaires and the poor held down by an unfair system, AND itchy skin?
So, what can we do to stop this scourge of Blood Thieves? Apparently mosquitoes are "good for the environment" because they pollinate other plants and are a food source for many species of animals. Prevention is our only means of keeping our skin healthy and itch free! Here's an extensive list of what you can do:
- Share this 10 slide graphic on instagram stories to raise awareness
- Wear five layers when you go outside. Watch those little jerks try to stab me through five cashmere sweaters from my grandma!
- Bug spray. Skip the cologne and smell like a bottle of hand sanitizer all day.
- Never go outside. Don't even open your windows or doors. Use duct tape to ensure no bugs can penetrate your safe house.
- Drain your blood. Can't get bit if you don't have what they want.
- Move to colder environments. I hear Antarctica is beautiful this time of year.
- Wear a bat costume all the time. It will scare off the mosquitoes.
- Park your car in your living room to limit outdoor exposure.
- Just say "no." Mosquitoes legally cannot take your blood if you say no.
- Accept that the world is run by mosquitoes and we have no power over the clearly superior species. Cry.
Thank you for doing your part to stop this terror of the Culicidae. We can't let them ruin our summer with the mild inconvenience of having to itch our skin every so often. Power back to the Homo Sapiens.