During our vacation in Louisiana I insisted that we take a day trip to Arnaudville, a tiny town in the area of Lafayette. I’d read an article a month ago about how Arnaudville was a center for Cajun French language students. The article was about French immersion programs and referenced the field work being done in Arnaudville by familiar names at LSU, Tulane, and ULL to document and preserve the French language in Acadiana. Two days ago, Claude (Alice’s dad) sent me another link to an article in the Advocate which referenced Arnaudville and several other towns where local business owners are making use of French. The effort to promote cultural tourism by making French more a part of public and commercial life in the region is being coordinated by CODOFIL. The program is called “Franco-responsable”, a name which doesn’t seem to fit and is more cryptic than the earlier “Ici on parle français” signs put up in the windows of businesses willing to carry out economic transactions in French.
Before visiting Arnaudville a couple of weeks ago, I thought it might be a nice place for a second, winter home. Alice and I could pass the cooler months not on Long Island where we tend to bunker in and wait for the spring thaw before resuming normal life, but in French Louisiana where we would hang out in the local coffee shop, playing Bourré with the locals, and gossiping in Cajun French.
In March, accompanying my obsession with Aira and café writing, I started writing with a pen, in longhand into notebooks. Writing unplugged? And since the temperatures are warmer I sit in my garden each morning and write while drinking a pot of coffee from a new stoneware cup I collected on a recent trip to Louisiana. I’ve felt very little need to attend to my online writing in the last few months. In fact, I’m actively neglecting my digital persona which had become too fractured and fragmented over Tumblr, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of online soccer-related fora. I find, however, that I do write blog posts for Diary and for my soccer spectator blog, Footnotes, in my head while I’m doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, taking out the garbage, etc. I invent little posts and commentaries and file them away in my head, never bothering to write them down let alone post them. The world’s none the worse off for that oversight.
This morning I wrote in my garden, then I read the final chapter of César Aira’s How I Became a Nun. I would have finished reading the book last night, but I fell asleep. Tired from soccer practice which was really an informal kick-around with a few boys from my team and the other coaches. My body is still sore from the NSCAA course I took over the previous weekend. A muscle in my right leg was tweaked in such a way that it made my knee hurt. Play through the pain. The exercise is essential, especially when one wants to keep fit for those years that continue to advance, piling up and weighing a person down.
I mentioned that we went to Louisiana recently. The excuse was to visit family and to witness a spectacle staged by my sister-in-law at the New Orleans Museum of Art. My true purpose was to devote vast hours of the day to writing and reading, and that I did, rereading Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds (amongst other titles) and reading episodes from the 1922 original version of Ulysses. What I was writing was my “Bloomsday Book.” So reading Ulysses each day was essential while trying to record Rasan’s and my wanderings on Sunday the sixteenth of June, twenty-thirteen. I developed a taste for the literary life and complained to Alice that I didn’t know enough smart people. Smart here being defined as “liking the same sort of things that I like.” Smart people read translated literature, watch art films, and listen to piano jazz and are capable of talking about writers like Aira, Marías, Vila-Matas, Gombrowicz, and filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Rohmer, and Marker. In truth I’m an ignoramus about most things. Like what’s going on in the world. I follow soccer closely, but politics leaves me cold.
What color is your ivory tower?
ONE CAT SITTING ON THE HOOD OF MY CAR. UNWANTED.
Today, I was eating my lunch and I wanted something to read and so I googled “knausgaard” and found an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Nina MacLaughlin. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve finished reading Book Two of Knausgaard’s My Struggle and still I find that I want to return to that place, that destination, that world which I slipped into each time I opened his book. Not that I want to be Knausgaard or even live his life, but by being with Knausgaard the narrator, I entered into my own quotidian existence equipped with a clean lens and a bright light. Nina MacLaughlin’s essay says, “He [Knausgaard] opens our eyes to meaning.” Every act, every choice offers the possibility of meaning. How many of us even think about our choices? Especially those small choices?
When I reached the end of the essay, I read the couple of lines about the author. “Nina MacLaughlin left her job at an alt-weekly to become a carpenter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s working on a book about it to be published by W.W. Norton.” A writer of books? Another quick search yielded Nina MacLaughlin’s blog, Carpentrix with the teasing subtitle “Tools, Sweat, Building, also Books and Sometimes Sex.” I read a few posts and found that we have something else in common: mothers who knit. And in the cooler months, hardly a day goes by when I don’t have the opportunity to say the words, “My mother made it.”
I talk with my mother each week on the phone. She lives on the other side of the country, in the Pacific Northwest. She tells me about her knitting and I tell her about my writing. The two activities are not dissimilar. Writing novels might seem like an artsy way to pass the time, but the nuts and bolts of word work is a precision craft like knitting or carpentry.
There’s a practical, crafty side to my life. When I put away the tools of fiction, I strap on my rubber boots and head down to my brewery. Leaving the writing desk is always difficult for me. I want to keep writing. I want to keep reading. And as I pull on those brewery boots I think, I want to live a more literary life. But then I get to the brewery which is less than a half mile from my house and I start my work, the labor of beer making, and I wonder how I could ever give this up, this craft, this honest labor, this making of something that brings joy to myself and to others.
Yesterday, Mike and I brewed another batch of pilsner. As I was filling the last keg from the fermenter we were about to refill with the wort in the boil kettle, Mike brought me a frothy glass of the hefeweizen we’d made on Friday. Fresh, malty, tart, balance of clove and banana… a host of beery words bubbled up as I took in the aroma. Other associations like the approach of summer and afternoons on the beach came to mind as I drank in the crispy, prickly liquid. Summer in a glass.
A couple of weeks ago, I met a fellow brewer at a crafty gastropub in Manhattan and we talked about the brewing business, its trials and tribulations. You don’t go into the brewing business to make money, at least not small scale craft brewing. Eventually, my brewing colleague asked me how I got in to commercial brewing in the first place. Why did I give up homebrewing for the headaches of commercial brewing? Or why did you leave the comforts of your career-track job that guaranteed a steady income and benefits? Why turn your hobby into your career? “I thought it would be something to write about,” I said. Another life experience. Some men brave the subzero temperatures of the South Pole. Others scale the oxygen deprived heights of Everest. But I chose beer making. A possibly less lethal choice.
Thinking of Nina MacLaughlin’s blog and its subtitle, I wondered about my own blog. Should I adopt a teasing subtitle. “Kettles, Kegs, Brewing, Also Books and Sometimes… what?” I usually save the sex for my fiction. Very little sex in the brewery.
The image of Aira in his café writing has haunted me. I play the image over and over in my mind as if it were a favorite record. To see him sitting there just across the way with his fountain pen and his notebook doodling fills me with a sense of purpose and of longing. For while I see him in the café, the writer at work, an empty espresso-stained demitasse resting near the upper right hand corner of the open notebook, I see myself, or, I should say, my future self sitting in my own café not in Buenos Aires, but in Long Neck. I’m sitting at the table in the Claire du Lune, the one by the window because from there I can see the ferry coming into the harbor, that too is a sign that man’s true mother is the sea. Ishmael knew this. But ferries interest me less than my own children, my literary progeny born of paper and ink, labored on over many a morning at my little table in Claire du Lune where all I have to do is lift my index finger and nod and Sylvie brings me another mocha latte. Don’t write in the present tense. The voice is that of Aira’s ghost. The past, the past. That is the true world the storyteller inhabits. His counsel is wise. Do I trust him? He who takes no orders, not even from himself.
As he sat in the café Donavan’s imagination was filled with the swirling image of his unborn children. They were queuing up at that narrow ink-filled passageway (a birth canal? the image seemed absurd, but yet, there it was) to take their form on the page. I’m next! I’m next! They clamored to the forefront and muscled their way forward. Be still! he commanded. But he knew that they would not listen. They had been penned up too long, the dam was about to burst. Each character jostled with the other for a place at the front. Pandemonium ensued.
The writer began to despair and so typed a quick prayer on his iPhone addressed to his muse and clicked the send button. To pass the time, he twiddled his hair, spun the pen around on the table, and drew faces in the margins of his notebook. Sylvie brought another steaming mug of mocha latte and set it down in front of the writer who thanked her and asked after Jerome. “He’s doing well,” she said. “Settling in to his new apartment in Brooklyn. I’m visiting him next week. At least that’s the plan.”
He knew the story already. Not the details, but the broad strokes. But the precise beginning eluded him. He would need a title, a working title at least. The last one had been Summer. Fall? No, too portentous. Autumn would be better, softer, less final, fatal.
Suddenly, he was startled by the buzzing of his phone. He put down his pen and took up the portable electronic device. His muse! She’d responded. She was his salvation, his inspiration, his guiding light in the storm.
It doesn’t matter, she wrote. It’s all the same. One day at a time. The devotion of the penitent. You’ve always been a lover of ritual, my dear. Indulge yourself. Send up your prayers like a good scribbler. Don’t look back, and never erase a line.
Time to begin.
Nemo cast a blanket of white over the landscape last weekend. The nearly three foot thick layer of snow made roads impassable. Regularly scheduled activities (soccer training, soccer matches, work, school, etc.) were cancelled. Nemo’s gift was free time, extra time (stoppage time?). His price was a few hours of shoveling, but the benefit was a triple return on investment. I disappeared into my study to write. My work in progress: Angels and Monsters.
Watching football was my escape from the labor of writing. Stoke City v. Reading on Saturday morning. The US Women v. Scotland in the evening. The Africa Cup of Nations final on Sunday. Liverpool v. West Brom on Monday afternoon. Celtic v. Juventus on Tuesday. Then something happened. Wednesday. I had a football hangover. Champions League: Man United v. Real Madrid. The idea of watching that match made me sick. The MetroBulls played a preseason match against Real Salt Lake. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch that. All I wanted to do yesterday was read. And read I did, finishing Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz.
A fresh layer of snow covered the steps and driveway this morning. I started the day with shoveling and the scattering of ice melt (salt of the earth). My son was hoping for another snow day, a day off from school to play, and to lounge lazily around the house. Today is a normal day. A short commute to the office. Meetings. Manuscripts to read. Decisions to be made. I hold authors’ futures in my hands. Do I feel that weight of responsibility? And when I return home, the hope that the book I ordered will be waiting for me on the steps. The Novel of the Future by Anaïs Nin. I’ve read it before. About ten years ago. It was one of the first books I read after moving to New York to become a writer.
Near the end of the summer of 2011, the technological world advanced beyond me. My computer was no longer compatible with the “new and improved” video streaming software and (since I don’t subscribe to cable or satellite television) I lost my ability to watch professional soccer. Rather than being disappointed, I looked for other ways to watch soccer. I started going to the matches at the local high school and attended some of the youth club matches (in addition to the matches my son played in). By December 2011 I was suffering from soccer deprivation (there was something I missed about putting on a soccer match, plopping on the couch and drinking some fresh craft beer), so I bought a new computer and immediately purchased subscriptions to two online services which stream matches live and on-demand. Since then, I’ve never been without a match to watch whenever I felt the urge to take in a game.
In the spring of 2012, I started attending MLS matches at the soccer-specific stadium in Harrison, New Jersey (a three hour journey). What was a little easier was catching matches in the summer at Cy Donnelly Stadium in South Huntington where the Long Island Rough Riders play (only half an hour away). At the end of July, the Rough Riders’ season was over. I still took the long trip to New Jersey about once a month for the odd MLS match. Then it was over. But I still had my online streaming subscriptions and so (in September) I started following the English Premier League. Really, though, I am just passing the time until the MLS kick-offs in the spring. And later this year, I plan on following the NASL. In August the new retreaded Cosmos will be joining the NASL reboot.
But recently, I began to question whether the EPL, the MLS, or the NASL deserved my attention. With my paid streaming subscriptions I’m subsidizing a form of football that runs counter to my social, cultural, and political convictions.
Recently, I read Glen Wilson’s article, “Out of Love – On finding it hard to follow your club.” While reading what Wilson had to say, I thought, “What am I doing following the Premiership? I should be following my local team.” And I remembered all those Saturday afternoon matches I attended at Cy Donnelly Stadium cheering on the Rough Riders (both the women’s and men’s sides). The Rough Riders are relatively close; they play at the highest level of soccer within a thirty mile radius of Long Neck. The Rough Riders play in the USL PDL with sides consisting of college players trying to keep their form. The level of play is quite good. However, when sitting in the stadium with a few hundred other spectators I don’t get the feeling that I’m a part of something. My friends who live in Long Neck still think driving to South Huntington is too far, so it’s hard to twist their arms and doubly so since there is not beer concession at the stadium. I was hoping to find a Rough Rider supporters group, but found none. Starting one myself seemed a quixotic idea. My days of crusading for causes are over. Aren’t they?
When the Cosmos announced their entry into the NASL, I thought I might help organize some support out here on the Island. As long as it was easy and didn’t take up too much of my time. But lately I’ve been having second thoughts about the Cosmos, their foreign ownership, and the lack of information about what’s happening with the club. Aside from buying a name, a logo, and some colors, what have the new owners done? And even when (if?) the Cosmos do arrive, I’ll have to drive to Hempstead (an hour away) to get to the matches. Of course, if I can get enough fans together, we could hire a bus, and take a keg of RPAB with us. That would be a fun day out with the lads and lasses. But why don’t I just move to England if what I really want is a well establish local football culture? I could move to Manchester and join FC United Manchester. That’s what I really want. I want FC United Long Neck and FCUM would be the model. What is FCUM? Here’s what the blurb says: “FC United of Manchester is a community football club owned and run by its members. Its membership is open to all, with everyone an equal co-owner, holding one voting share in the club.” Is something like that possible on Long Island? Even the Rough Riders, a club that’s been around since 1994, struggles to get spectators into the stands. For the typical Rough Riders match, you’ll see maybe two or three hundred in the stands. Reported figures sometime spike in the six hundreds, but that’s a pretty light showing if you are looking at laying an economic foundation on which to build a club.
Perhaps attendance would improve if the Rough Riders had an active supporters group. The biggest hurdle is getting a group of people interested in watching a “minor league” soccer match. People willing to put on the colors and show up at a match on a Saturday afternoon ready to have a good time. But American sports fans are so used to watching (passively) the big leagues that even those interested in soccer in this country (for the most part) aren’t chomping at the bit to get out to watch a fourth tier (USL PDL or NPSL) side. Even getting support for the Cosmos playing in the second tier (NASL) is a challenge.
Another problem with building a local supporter culture for the Rough Riders, or even the Cosmos, is that neither team is really part of the community, at least not the community of Long Neck. Long Island is so big and spread out and compartmentalized. The villages and hamlets tend to be small and the people have a suburban mentality where what passes for a “town center” is often a strip mall. Even if Long Neck had a soccer club fielding a fourth tier side, few people would instinctively identify with it as something representing their community. Not only do we lack a soccer culture in this country, we lack a community minded culture, or perhaps it’s just that community spirit expresses itself in different ways than identifying with a local sports team.
This morning, I chanced on an article called “Saving the Soul of Soccer” posted on Parlor City Football that touches on some of these issues, and identified (correctly, I believe) that the foundation of soccer culture in this country must be the supporters (not spectators). Soccer culture will grow as the soccer supporter culture develops. And to develop that we need to get involved at a local level and help our local clubs and leagues grow.
For Christmas in 2011, I bought the video game FIFA 12 “for my son.” We had a lot of fun playing virtual soccer with avatars of the players and sides we were just getting to know. While my son created a player (the improbably named Tenfifths Strood) and then guided Strood from playing football in the streets of Brussels to being the player / manager of Barcelona FC, I thought it would be fun to manage a team of my own for a season. We’d just come back from a vacation in England and Wales, so I decided to take one of the Welsh Championship sides and see if I couldn’t earn promotion to the Premier League. Quite randomly I picked Cardiff City. Well not so randomly. We spent two nights in Cardiff and I feel like I know the town well from watching the TV shows produced by BBC Wales (Doctor Who, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures) all of which feature images of Cardiff.
My son is much better at controlling the little football avatars than I am, so I deputized him to play along with me “as Cardiff City.” (BTW, my FIFA 12 personal is a player / manager known as “Bob Marley” a good Welsh name don’t you think?) And not only did we make Cardiff City into the strongest Championship side, we won the FA Cup and earned promotion to the Premier League. So when I saw that Cardiff City, the real Cardiff City, was playing in an FA Cup match over the weekend… you’ll have to excuse my excitement, I just had to watch.
Cardiff City took the field against Macclesfield Town, a lower (fifth?) division side with a 139 year history. Cardiff City (presently) are sitting comfortably atop the Championship (2nd division in British football) with 56 points. And Malky Mackay, the Cardiff City manager, decided to field a side of teenagers against Macclesfield, feeling, I guess, that (a) his side could win without the regular starters, or (b) advancing in the FA Cup isn’t important since promotion to the Premier League is the club’s primary focus this year. (The commentators did allude to FA Cup ties as a possible cause for Cardiff City not earning automatic promotion last year.) So I only recognized two of the players from the FIFA 12 side that my son and I led to Premiership promotion. And the real players did bare an uncanny resemblance to their FIFA 12 avatars.
I’m a fickle fan. Or perhaps it’s like Franz said, “You respect the game too much.” My intention was to root for Cardiff City. But I found my sympathies resting with Macclesfield Town (the underdog?). Objectively, Macclesfield Town were the better side that day. And with a little help from the referee (gifting them a PK in the final minutes) Macclesfield Town eliminated Cardiff City from this season’s FA Cup. While the result felt engineered by the officiating, it still felt like the correct result based on Macclesfield Town’s performance.
Unfortunately, the officiating turned out to a major deciding factor in another FA Cup tie, this one played on Sunday between Liverpool and Mansfield Town. I was quite keen on watching this match since it featured the debut for Liverpool of the newly acquired Daniel Sturridge who scored in the 7th minute to put Liverpool up 1-nil. And that’s where the scored stayed until nearly the 60th minute when Luis Suárez came on for Sturridge (who’d just earned a questionable yellow card). Suárez wasn’t on the field for more than a few minutes when he handled the ball into the Mansfield net. Everyone in the stadium saw Suárez’s handball, except for the officials. The handball spoiled the match for me. And when Mansfield Town did finally manage to score, I thought, if it wasn’t for the handball goal, the match would be 1-1 which seemed a just score given that Mansfield Town had played well. They deserved the draw, I thought. Especially since the replay would be hosted by Liverpool at Anfield and it was bound to represent a record windfall in split gate receipts for the lower division side.
The chat last night with Alice helped. After that, for added inspiration I picked up Gombrowicz and read his Diary imagining that it was a blueprint for this Diary, but where Gombrowicz writes about Polish literature and literary culture in general, I’d be writing about American soccer and world football culture. Alice also said that I should keep writing about craft beer, especially since I actually did (in some hypothetical way) monetize my beer writing effort by establishing a solid consumer base of craft beer bars and their frequenters so that when we launched our brewery there’d be places to sell the beer to. “You should write about the brewery,” says Alice. “People would be interested in that.” I think she’s right. Very wise, Alice.
And I think about the Free Beer Movement, American soccer and craft beer working together to make our nation a better place. There’s an audience for good writing about real football and real beer. Beer and soccer go together. Where do soccer supporters meet? At the soccer pub. So the first step in establishing a soccer supporter culture out here on Long Island is to team up with a soccer friendly bar owner.
“You’re always coming up with these crazy ideas,” says Franz when I explain my masterplan to him. We’re at Callahan’s having a pint. “When are you actually going to do something?”
“But I am doing something. I’m writing.” That’s my response.
“Oh that’s right,” he says. “You’ve started blogging again.”
“I don’t know that I’d call it blogging anymore,” I say.
“What would you call it then? If it quacks like a duck…”
“It’s just writing that is put somewhere where people can find it,” I say.
“How are people supposed to find it?” He fires back raising a signifying eyebrow.
That’s where my long-term masterplan comes in. Like all megalomaniacs I do have a masterplan. And it’s easier to write about the plan than to actually follow through on it.
“Football please,” says Franz.
“Alright. Football is a larger canvas. It’s bigger than craft beer. It contains craft beer. Through the combined prism of soccer and craft beer I can explore (through the agency of the written word) topics of vital interest.”
“You mixed your metaphor there,” says Franz reaching for his pint of London Pride.
What I’m thinking about is what David Larkin, ChangeFIFA Co-Director and General Counsel, said on Beyond the Pitch recently. Anto kept pressing Larkin about what the average soccer fan could do to help ChangeFIFA improve the working conditions of most of the world’s professional footballers. (Check out FIFPro’s “Black Book” specifically pages 9 through 18 if you want to read ahead and be prepared for future posts.) Larkin’s recommendation for how to get involved is to stop drinking Coca-Cola and eating at MacDonald’s, evidently the two corporations are huge football sponsors and institutionally indifferent to the problems facing lower league players around the world. What a disappointment, I thought. That’s all I can do to help advance the cause of the working class footballer? Stop drinking an alcohol-free carbonated beverage and industrially branded fast-food? I already don’t drink Coke and grabbing anything at MacDonald’s is simply not an option in the same way that I’d never set foot in a Wal-Mart or a Whole Foods. These are already lifestyle choices that I’ve made based on a commitment to localism and resistance to the creeping corporate monoculture. Like Anto, I wanted Larkin to give me a substantive mission. “Take up the pen and write about the injustices of the world!” Wouldn’t that have been an inspirational injunction?
“Not everybody writes a blog,” Alice said during our chat and I explained my frustration with the consumer boycott tactic.
“Some people don’t have a choice.” (Which I realize is a ridiculous response, but writing is what I do. When I’m not watching soccer or brewing beer, that is.)
On Sunday, I had an unexpected windfall. A few months ago, we’d made a particularly excellent batch of Fresh Hop Pils and delivered it to a craft beer place on the South Shore. This Fresh Hop Pils is really and truly tasty. A consequence of this is that it sold really well. And given that we had so little of it, we had no kegs left for ourselves. No Pils for the brewers! Well, the windfall is this: Some beer geeks (beer dicks?) went into this place on the South Shore and did some scratching and sniffing and convinced the bar owner that something was off in the beer. Reportedly these beer geeks (definitely dicks) found something amiss with the beer. What could I do? I gladly drove down on my Sunday “off” and replaced the “bad” keg of Fresh Hop Pils with something different – free of charge, of course. So in my possession, I have one unsellable keg of Fresh Hop Pils because it took these dicks a couple of gallons to arrive at their negative sensory evaluation. And a partial keg can’t be resold. Thus, tonight, I’m relaxing with a delicious glass of Fresh Hop Pils. Not a single flaw in the beer at all. Their loss. I feel sorry for the poor bar owner who is incapable of making his own judgements about the beer he sells.
After finishing up my work today, I had a long chat with Alice about what I should do this year. Not that I expected Alice to tell me, but I find it helpful to have a good chat and see if any of my crazy ideas make sense to anyone other than myself. What was rattling around in my head was the words “return on investment.” I’d read Christopher Dobens’ farewell post on his Total Footblog today. He’s throwing in the towel. He says writing about soccer hasn’t given him a good ROI. Basically, he’s not been able to monetize his labor and as a result has become alienated from his product. I know what he’s talking about. I’ve been in those shoes and they aren’t comfortable.
A few years ago, I started writing (blogging) about craft beer. I wasn’t all that interested in monetizing my efforts to maximize my ROI, as a result I spent a lot of time running around, drinking some excellent beer, visiting some really great breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms, and all I have to show for it is a protruding midsection. And some good memories too. Memories I’ve recorded in four “beer novels.” I asked Alice if I should just publish the other three and get it over with. First I published my Long Island Beer Guide and that sold about 150 copies. Good, I thought. I’ve got an audience. So I followed that up with my first beer novel, A Year in Beer, which flopped: 4 copies sold. I had to give the rest away to friends who were polite enough to not to refuse my offer. “You didn’t promote it,” said Alice. How could I promote it? I thought. I don’t have a self-promoting bone in my body.
“At least you could put a sample up on your web site,” she said.
Good idea, I thought. But how will people find it? (If you build it, they will… no probably not.) Despite my natural pessimism about ever finding readers in quantities which can be numbered on the fingers of more than one hand, I figured revamping the web site was long overdue in any case. So I got fair start tonight. Instead of reading, which is what I normally do on a Thursday night (when there isn’t an MLS match). Well, I’ll still read. With my glass of Fresh Hop Pils freshly topped up, I’ll reach for a good book. Probably a book about real football, the sort of football that isn’t played with the hands.