PARTING SHOTS: Time To Make Sense of It All

“I will not philosophize,” declared The Crimson in 1873. “I will be read.”

At last, status and tradition have given me a chance to violate that statement on both counts.

For the first time in my four years as a Crimson sportswriter, two on the masthead, the second as editor, my column space truly belongs to me.

Eight years ago, I wrapped up my elementary education at Advent Episcopal Day School in Birmingham, Ala., but I remain an ardent Calvinist. I never read Calvin, my favorite philosopher, in a Harvard class, but the miniature, striped-shirt Buddha from the 1980s Bill Watterson cartoon still affects my thinking and writing today.

I remember a “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon in which Calvin calls the reference desk of the local library.

The six-year-old provocateur then asks the librarian to rattle off all of the swear words she knows—and their definitions.

“Life’s disappointments are harder to take,” Calvin says glumly in another strip, “when you don’t know any swear words.”

The kid has the vocabulary of a college professor, but he’s completely incompetent in a critical area of personal expression.

No comic-book character describes the boyhood dumps quite as exquisitely, mixing assured self-deprecation with the language of out-and-out paranoia. The irony of his inability to curse is easy to see.

Do feelings exist if we have no words to describe them? Yes, they certainly do, as Calvin knows.

But there’s something awfully lonely about not being able to toss out an F-bomb when the occasion calls for it.

The drive to define one’s environment and oneself, the desire to assign value and make sense of nonsense—all these are worthy, difficult goals for the striving writer. For me, they are the chief appeal of journalism.

After four happy years, I write my last column under the name, “Bama Slamma.”

When I was picking a name for myself during the spring of freshman year, it took me about two seconds to settle on that one. It was different in its own way—we Crimson columnists tend to make puns out of our names, stuff like “Ted Lobster” or “Grateful Ted”—and incorporated my pride about my Southern roots.

The whole “Slamma” thing was pretty inappropriate, because I never intended to write like one of the loud, slammin’ sports columnists who make bank these days by being “edgy.”

But what about my pride in Alabama, a state so vexed with its own history? Once again, I’m at a loss for words.

My home is essential to who I am. And yet, since I trucked up north for my freshman year, I have had a hard enough time explaining Alabama to my friends. How can I possibly explain what it means to me here—to you, even to me?

I always intended to write a column about being an Alabamian: about the scarlet letter that you constantly have to carry—even if the “A” on your cap signals your addiction to Crimson Tide football more than anything else—about the weather, about the genuine dignity and humility that color most interactions down there.

I’ve always thought that Southerners made natural writers because of the need to explain themselves. How else does one cope with so many contradictions—between geniality and racism, piety and violence—than by organizing thoughts on a page?

For four years in this publication, I have written about great teams, athletes, and feats of courage and strength. I have attempted to make sense of action on the field of play.

The sweat and the tears that I’ve expended in this effort, and the relationships that have been formed and shaken over it, will not easily be forgotten.

No one ever said sportswriting was simple.

Now I write about myself, and I am at a loss. That’s why I’ll defer to Calvin, who declares “that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity.”

“With a little practice,” he says, smiling, “writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!”

I don’t think he really believes any of that.

—Staff writer Alex McPhillips can be reached at alex.mcphillips@post.harvard.edu.

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