In one of his funnier bits, comedian Patton Oswalt said, “I don’t care where the things I love come from; I just love the things I love.”
Granted, this was all in reference to the multi-billion dollar disappointment of an origin story that was the Star Wars prequels, but — if you have enough spare time in your morning to think about stuff like this way too hard — it illuminates a great truth about ourselves. Namely, most of us tend to be perfectly happy with our passions, hobbies and distractions without giving one iota of thought to the sacrifices made to provide us with those things. We are, sometimes, selfish people.
That includes me. Outside of politics, I’m mainly concerned with two things in this column: professional face-punching, and poetry. And while both sometimes come from a place of inspiration, determination and genuine passion, more often than not they’re born of hardship, self-loathing and personal sacrifice. So here are some elements of my favorite pastimes that make me feel guilty for enjoying them, right before I go back to enjoying them.
Watching Boxing/MMA: Fighters Who Hang Around Too Long
I wrote a little about this a few weeks ago, when mixed martial arts legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira finally retired. I say “finally” because Nogueira hadn’t looked good in a fight since KOing Brendan Schaub a few years ago in Brazil. “Minotauro” used to be unkillable, making a living out of his ability to take inhuman amounts of punishment before pulling off the hail mary win. Go back and watch his fights with Cro Cop, Bob Sapp and Tim Sylvia, and then tell me that’s not a man with a tempered steel body and a brain made of raw meat.
Of course, in more recent years, Nogueira has been violently KOd or had his limbs torn apart in submission losses more than a handful of times, and it’s been scary to watch. By that same token, once-UFC staple Josh Koscheck was released after a whopping five straight losses (most of them stoppages), only to willingly continue his career over in Bellator. BJ Penn came back for an ill-advised trilogy fight with Frankie Edgar, getting dominated and TKOd; he is currently mulling one more fight if the UFC holds an event in Hawaii, his home state.
But mixed martial artists have it comparatively easy; at least their fights are relatively short and, if they get knocked down, chances are the fight is over. Boxers are in even more danger, as the damage they absorb is comprised entirely of blunt force trauma; we celebrate pugilists who are “warriors” in the ring, but that just means that they can take obscene punches to the head without falling down. Not good.
Examples abound: Roy Jones Jr. is still out there at 46, a shell of his former brilliant self, beating up club fighters but getting decimated whenever he takes on an actual contender. James Toney, a former multi-division champion in his own right, is a sad embarrassment; “Razor” Ruddock, a former heavyweight champion, recently returned to the ring at age 51, beating a few club fighters (impressive at any age, let’s be honest), before getting violently KOd in his most recent fight.
I see it happening right now, even, with fighters currently in their prime: I re-watched Lucas Mathysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov last night. Both have a reputation for going to war in the ring, and they did, engaging in the type of fight that could potentially take years off of a career. In 10 years, I’ll be writing something similar, probably focusing on those two guys.
Poetry: Writers Too Damaged to Last
I’m fond of quoting John Berryman here too, and with good reason. He’s one of the more influential poets of the modern era, an underrated critic and just an all-around entertaining writer. When I first encountered “The Dream Songs” in graduate school, I was floored; it was unlike anything I’d ever read, and still stands out today as something wholly singular. Go read it; just do it, then come back to me once your brain has unwound itself and you’ve stopped weeping at the sheer beauty and hilarity of it.
Berryman was also a notorious drunk, and fairly ill-tempered at that; the two fueled one another, further stoked by his nuclear-grade passion for poetry. When, purportedly, asked by someone if he might be taking these poems a little too seriously, he responded “They’re a matter of life and death,” which gives you an idea of both his commitment to his craft and to his mental state.
By his own admission, when he was in the process of writing “Love and Fame,” a collection of lyric poems, he was abusing alcohol to the tune of a bottle of whiskey every day. He was hospitalized several times throughout his life simply to detox, but was never able to overcome the depression that dogged him. He killed himself in 1972, jumping from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis onto the Mississippi River’s west bank.
There are other examples, of course. Jack Kerouac famously drank himself to death before the age of 50; Stephen Crane, a particular idol of Berryman’s, died before he reached 30, mostly as a result of a lifetime of drinking and chain-smoking; Robert Lowell, a National Book Award winner and contemporary of Berryman, suffered from manic depression and took lithium for the symptoms.
It’s difficult to quantify loving something this much, when it is so born of pain and self-destruction. At the same time, it’s easy to love, and a joy to love. Testing the possibilities of language and expression can reveal great truths about the human condition, though some of those truths are difficult.
Life, it occurs to me, is not simple.