I’ve closed my home office to University of Memphis athletics director Tom Bowen, coach Josh Pastner, and the entire Tiger basketball team.
Had to do it. I went to the Bahamas for the Sportswriters Battle 4 Atlantis. Lost my first write-off to some spunky kid from the Commonwealth of Virginia. He pressed me and pretty soon I was trapped in a corner, desperately trying to keep him from stealing my thesaurus.
At other times, he took up a position far away from me – behind some almost imaginary line – and threw out high, arching, synonyms I was helpless to defend: vim, vigor, verve, vitality! They dropped on my head like 3-point bombs as I eventually awakened to the idea that he was playing with great ENERGY.
Then he’d run to another place on the floor and spot up with fire, fury, fervor, force, ferocity! On and on it went. It was, I realized too late, all about INTENSITY.
So I lost by 13 points and fell into the consolation bracket. I’d arrived with a national ranking – my anticipated use of adjectives and adverbs had been lauded in the national media – and just like that I was off the main stage and playing some nobody from Minnesota.
I tried to find inspiration, but I felt so despondent, disconsolate, discouraged. SORRY FOR MYSELF. This wasn’t the trip I had imagined. Truth was, even before I left Memphis, I felt that winning this tournament was my destiny, my right … my privilege.
But the Virginia kid had other ideas. And now this guy from Minnesota, who had been passed over by my editors, was going freaking crazy, writing whole paragraphs with his eyes closed. He was unstoppable.
I tried to fight, for a while, but ultimately I relented. I resigned myself to sitting over by my editor-in-chief (well, at least I think that’s what he’s supposed to be), and I pouted. Yes, I threw in the towel, raised the white flag and I GAVE UP, that’s exactly what I did.
The next day, the contest organizers told me I had one last chance. I could still get seventh place if I beat this hayseed from northern Iowa. In my heart, I knew I had not written my best nor anywhere near it, but I was still too quick for him. I squeaked out a 5-point victory and came home.
Talk radio was blowing up. Anybody and everybody with a media pass or a Twitter account had an opinion. And all anybody could talk about was how in my fourth year here I still hadn’t beaten anyone any good and still hadn’t won a game in the big end-of-year write-off.
I wanted to remind everyone that I reached the second round last year, but I’d already been called out for using semantics – seeing as how I didn’t actually have to win a first-round contest. I also was reminded that about a week earlier I had wandered around for 39 minutes without using a single action verb like, say, “rebound.”
Well, fine. Want to criticize after I’ve graciously allowed everyone to stop by and watch me tap out rough drafts on my laptop? Sorry, no more. Writing practice is closed to you.
Want to come into my home office and talk to me about the story I’ve just written and had published – good, bad or indifferent? No chance. We’ll meet in the press room, where you’ll be a little more self-conscious about asking the questions that should be asked and that deserve to be answered.
For despite my losses, let the record show: I do know how to be defensive.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays.