Ghosts

My friend Dave has a cabin on the edge of the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. From Duluth you take Highway 61 — yes, that Highway 61 — north to Grand Marias, a tiny village on the edge of north shore of Lake Superior, and then the Gunflint Trail north and west to Seagull Lake, where the cabin sits overlooking one of the more beautiful spots in all the world.

View this post on Instagram

My view for the last five days.

A post shared by Matt Becker (@matthewtbecker) on

The two of us went up there together last fall. We read and wrote and drank beer and woke at dawn and climbed Blueberry Hill in the mist and cloud.

I had been up there before. Years earlier. The fall I moved in with my now ex-wife. It was a boys trip. Four of us. And it was September but still summer. We canoed and fished and swam. All skinny youth on the edge of a cliff. It was different this last time. Not just because of the weather, and age, and time, but the entire landscape had changed. 10 years earlier the Gunflint Trail burned to the ground. It was May and the timber was dry and the winds picked up and a camper was careless and what would later be called the Ham Lake fire ravaged 7,500 acres of old growth forest. 11 years later the landscape was slowly coming back to life, but the trees were all short pines and some birch. All the big cedar and oaks were long, long gone. Dust and ash in the wind.

There was only one death caused by the fire. Two years after it was put out, the careless camper committed suicide.

My friend’s cabin survived. Somehow. They had a sprinkler system installed that pumped water from the lake and doused the cabin and surrounding land in a constant deluge of water. And it saved the cabin. Despite the fact that most of their neighbors were left with nothing but holes in the ground.

One of those neighbors sold their land to my friend’s family. The cabin had been in the previous owner’s family for almost three generations. But there was nothing left to it. Just a hole, and a concrete slab, and charred land and trees and blackened rock.

On our last day north, we walked over to that new property. We looked at the trees and growth that would need clearing. We walked the rocky shore, slipping on rocks from the basement of time. And then we climbed up to where the cabin had stood. We shuffled down into the hole, walked on the concrete slab, saw the broken glass on the ground where the windows had shattered in the intense and horrible heat of that intense and horrible fire.

“Lots of ghosts,” I said.

“Yeah,” my friend Dave said.

And there were. You could feel them in the air. Whole generations. Maybe not people but ideas and thoughts and love and sadness. It was thick as flies. You felt like you could reach out and shoo them away from your face. They crawled all over your skin. It was hard to breathe. There was this silent intense melancholy to the entire scene. The hole in the ground felt like a burial site, an ancient one, one that had seen thousands of bones and tears. It weighed heavy on your shoulders as you walked the land. The lake still, the trees still, everything still. Except for the ghosts.

There are ghosts everywhere. Not like from the movies or from Unsolved Mysteries or cartoons. Our ghosts are memories, and sometimes they take a physical form, not one that you can see, but one that you can sense, in the air around you. If you listen, if you pay attention, there are always ghosts. It might be easier on the scene of a burned out husk of once loved cabin, but they are still everywhere.

Cricket is an old game. And today as I was reading the scores of the matches playing out all over the world, that thought didn’t leave me. Cricket is old. And everything old has ghosts. There are ghosts in the grounds, in the changing rooms. I can sense them whenever I watch a match, I realized today. And I can only assume that the players see them too, whenever they walk out onto those ancient grounds that have seen so much joy, so much sadness, so much frustration.

I remember going to Fenway Park for the first time. And during the national anthem I thought about all of the countless people who had passed through that old, old ground. And I felt the ghosts of all those people pass through and around me. And I felt the weight of history. And in that weight I felt grounded, whole, a part of something bigger. And there was joy there, but also an almost unbearable sadness, a sadness for the simple passage of time.

And cricket is older than baseball. And it has seen more, been a part of more. Been a colonizer and a weapon of peace. Had its stadiums bombed in wars, lost whole generations of players to those same wars. And with all that hope and tragedy come ghosts, that we can see even on television, thousands of miles away. It’s something I never thought of before. I had thought about cricket’s age, and its role as a witness to history, and how it was something we can all mark time by. But it is an active participant too. Not just the players we see in front of us now, but all that came before them. And not just the players but all of us, in the terraces, on the other side of radios, TVs, computers. We are all wrapped up in it. Cricket’s ghosts are all around us. And maybe that’s what attracts certain people to this game. Those spirits of a long passed age, hanging on, imbuing every ball with meaning, with sadness, with time, with joy.

Cricket is an old game. And with that age comes ghosts. And with those ghosts comes weight, and a sense of belonging to something great. I am not sure what that something is. Whether it is time or history or God or the universe. But when allow ourselves to feel cricket’s ghosts, that is when the game becomes more than a game, and then we have no choice but to keep coming back, to keep that wonderful sense of doleful joy alive in everything we see.

A TV smarter than all of us

There’s cricket happening. All over the world. Australia versus New Zealand in a day/night Test in Perth. Sri Lanka versus Pakistan in another Test in Rawalpindi, Pakistan — the first Test match to take place in Pakistan since their same opponents visited in 2008-2009. There is also the Bangladesh Premier League. And a highly entertaining India vs West Indies series. And what appeared to have been a fun New Zealand vs England series, the same England team now in South Africa for four Tests and a bunch of one Day cricket starting on Boxing Day.

I have not watched any of it.

My credit card was comprised in early November and so I assumed my Willow account had been subsequently cancelled — and I was just going to let it be — but it turns out they were able to scrape my new debit card number and keep charging me, so my account is active. (Willow is like Jason from the Friday the 13th movies: they never die, they just keep coming back.) But I assumed the account was cancelled so I didn’t even bother trying to watch. But I probably wouldn’t have anyway. In mid-November I went to Europe. Then San Francisco. Then work got crazy. And not only did I not watch, I didn’t even pay attention. The most cricket coverage I consumed was from the accounts I follow on Instagram.

This happens a lot to me. I fall away from the game, and then the blog, and then the thought of coming back here fills me with anxiety so not only do I not write about the game, I completely ignore it altogether. It’s a coping mechanism that’s been problematic for me in the past and one that I am trying to get better at, but it still happens.

So here I am.

Last weekend I bought a TV. One of those Smart TVs that’s way more complicated than it needs to be. You can’t just turn a TV on and start watching these days. It has to update its software and connect to your wi-fi and you need apps and streaming service accounts and all that nonsense. But I got through it. And got it hooked up. And when I pulled up Willow TV on my phone I was able to cast it right to the television and for the first time in a very long time the rarest of rare events happened:

I was watching cricket on a full sized television while sitting on my couch.

I think that has happened maybe one or twice before. When I was able to stream it through the ESPN app on my Xbox, and then later — way later — when I would stream matches on my computer connected to my TV. But other than that, I have always consumed cricket either on my phone or on a computer. Neither of those is ideal. But they worked for me for many years. I would watch whole days of Test matches sitting at the desk in my old house for hours and hours. It was just how I did it. And because of the inherent discomfort in consuming media in that manner, it was easy for me to drift away from.

We all choose to consume media in our own way. It’s a hallmark of the current digital media landscape. We want to watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it and on the device that is most convenient for us. For a long time, I didn’t subscribe to that part of the Zeitgeist. I had an ancient iPhone, a work laptop, and that’s it. But I now I have a new phone. And a new television. And with both of those things I hope to make watching this game I love a little easier, and stop with all the slipping away.

I mean. There is something special about relaxing on a couch watching something you love. It’s not the same on a phone or on a laptop with headphones on. For too long I assuaged this common practice. But now I might embrace it. It’s okay to settle in, relax, turn on the telly and just forget about it all for a while. Entertainment doesn’t have to be hard. That’s what work is for. I have an impossible time relaxing and enjoying myself and I hope this helps fix that, if just a little bit. My mother always says that if work was fun then they wouldn’t call it work. And the opposite is true too: down time should be down time. Leisure time shouldn’t be work. You can read and listen to and attend events that challenge you, but the minute they stop blowing your hair back, you should move on.

There’s a joke I make a lot when I am out watching Arsenal at the local bar. The fellas will be hanging on to a slim one goal lead late in extra time and they will give up a series of corners and it’s horrendous. It’s torture. “This is what we do for fun!” I will say out loud to brake the tension, and everyone will laugh, it never fails. But it’s also part of bigger point: why invite stress into your life if you don’t need to? The answer is a little obvious: because the joy on the other side is worth it. And so in that sense it’s different. It’s okay to invite stress and effort into your leisure time as long as the payoff is worth it. Finishing “The Brothers Kamarazov” is worth the struggle. “Moby Dick” though? Probably not. (Trust me on this, I read both last summer.) For too long I have thought less of myself when I have allowed myself to just relax. People will ask me about my perfect day and I will say that I need to wake up early, do chores, go on a bike ride, hit a yoga class, do some writing, do some reading, get outside and be active, and then finally I can have a beer and sit in the sun and be okay. That’s insane. I mean. You need to be productive, you need to get the things done that need to get done. But now and again it’s okay to curl up with a glass of wine on the couch and watch cricket on a nice TV for a few hours.

I put a lot of my flaws and faults and quirks on the fact that I lost a parent young. I never allow people to get close, I am riddled with worry and anxiety, etc. But I think the above is one too. I constantly feel like I am running out of time, that it’s all passing me by. But it’s not. It’s all here. Just sit down and enjoy what’s around you, now and again. Life is short, yes, but it is also long.

All of this ramble was a long way of saying that I plan on consuming cricket in a different way, And because of that new and different consumption of the game, I hope to see it in a different way, and therefore be able to write about it with a new light shining on the paper, something I oh so desperately want right now.

I also might watch His Dark Materials.

Back

I took some posts down the other day. Someone reached out to me — not who you might think — and asked me to do so, as they didn’t like how they were portrayed. So I did what I thought was the right thing and took them down, out of respect for their wishes.

And then I didn’t want to write here at all. Like the sanctity of this place where I have written over the last eight-plus years had been violated. I didn’t even like thinking of this blog. I wanted to take it all down. Blow up the whole place and walk away like a scene from a film. This was a special place where I could — to the chagrin of most of my readers — write about whatever I wanted to. It was my one place in all the world where it didn’t matter what I wrote, I could just write.

Over the last few weeks I’ve wanted to write about how beautiful the weather was on the day I had to move all of my things out of my old house. It was this perfect spring day and the lilacs were blooming and the grass needed mowing. I’ve wanted to write about my father-in-law and how happy he had been that I was marrying his daughter. I’ve wanted to write about the magnets that used to be on my old fridge and how sad they made me to think about. I’ve wanted to write about all of the little, middling things from my old life that make me sad now. This doesn’t mean I want that life back, it just means that it makes me sad. There’s a difference. And not having this place to write made me feel … off. There’s something about hitting that magic, red “PUBLISH” button that makes this different then writing in an endless Google Doc. It was like without this site, I would never write again. Not anything. Not anywhere. I didn’t even want to write rubbish about cricket here. I wanted to walk away from it all.

But I couldn’t. And so I put the posts back up. And it felt right. And I am back to write here, and since I am writing here I can write elsewhere. About anything. I don’t want this place to go away. I know I have pivoted away from the cricket, but I will get back to that at some point in earnest. Or maybe not. This is my place. I am choosing to use it as such. I will write about that awful spring day and how I worry that it is going to sit in the pit of my heart forever. The dog was put away in a back bedroom. There was so much anger. It fizzled in the air. It was hot. I was sweating buckets. The grass needed mowing. If nothing had happened it would have been a perfect day. I would have worked in the yard, sat on the patio in the sun, read my book, drank cold beer from a ice-filled cooler. But everything had happened. And I couldn’t take it back. And I don’t think I have felt the sun on my face since.

If it had been a normal day, it would have been a perfect day. Instead it was blue sky and spring and horror.

Heartbreak in the spring is like a summer cold: it doesn’t make any sense. Spring is a time for hope, for renewal, for rebirth, for rising from the ashes. It’s not for endings. It’s for beginnings. Which is why the best musicians and poets write about springtime heartbreaks. The jarring juxtaposition makes the ending seem more horrible, more real. Anyone can write about a November sadness, or a long winter made longer, but it takes a special lyricist to move that sadness onto a perfect spring day, when the sun is on your face, and the birds are singing a cheerful song, and the whole world is so perfect and new and yet is simultaneously ending. The blue sky falling all around you.

Each spring in England cricket teams walk out into the damp mornings with hope on their shoulders. There is no heartbreak. That’s for later. There are setbacks and obstacles, but always another match. Until there isn’t, but that’s so distant it’s impossible to even seen. The wrenching, twisting spiral of ending exists too far in the future to grasp — even if it is just a few months away.  Spring is hope. Endings belong in October. We are given too few perfect days to waste one on leaving. But that’s what I did. And I will never get that day back.

In Spring of 2020 when those cricketers make the first movements of the season, I might be better, I might begin anew along with them. Until then though it is darkness here, and cold, and bitterness. But there is cricket. It’s summer in Australia. I write about this a lot. Probably too much. There’s sun on faces, just not here. Not yet. Maybe soon. Until then I will tune in Willow and watch the heat and the sweat and the haze and the shirtsleeves and try not to think of that horrible spring day all those months ago.

That’s what I want to write about.

The Australian summer

It’s winter now here at the 45th parallel. Daylight savings ended last weekend. And with the dark evenings came the north wind and the cold. Yesterday I was walking the dog and the chill went right through me and I couldn’t shake it the rest of the afternoon.

But this is the good time of winter. Before the desolation that is January, February, March. The air is cool but crisp, and smells of dead leaves and bonfires. Thanksgiving is around the corner. And with it the Christmas holiday, when winter really does shine, at least for those of use raised culturally Christian. Before dawn yesterday it snowed, a fluffy inch that was gone by late morning. When I saw it outside my bedroom window, pulling the curtain back to the bright white dark, it was a nice moment. In January, it will not be a nice moment. For months after the first of the year and the holiday week all we can do is stare down all that dark and all that cold. Eight inches of snow followed by blasts of below zero Fahrenheit temperatures. “Winter slammed us like a fist” is how Nick Cave aptly puts it. But then it’s spring. And the coming of summer in the north is glorious, that first warm day when the whole world is melting away and your heart can’t help but sing a little, no matter how sad you’ve been. And then it’s the bacchanalian summer. When it’s light out until 10pm and you can walk the dog at dawn in shorts and a t-shirt. And you are outside all the time and you drink beer in parking lots while bands play and there are days spent on rivers, in fields, by lakes, sunburns, mosquitoes, cold beers, the smell of freshly cut grass. It seems to stretch on forever until it’s gone. And the leaves change. And the nights grow darker. And the cycle starts all over again.

I have lived on, above or around the 45th parallel almost my entire life. The above is the only world I know. it’s the only world I recognize. And despite knowledge to the contrary, it’s how I assume it is for everyone: you dread January, July is glorious, and on Christmas morning there’s snow on the ground.

But this the case just for a handful of us. A few weeks back the writer Will Leitch ranked the months, from worst to best. He lives in Athens, Georgia, so his perspective is almost entirely the opposite of mine. July is the worst month. The fall is great because it starts to cool off after the intense heat of summer. It never snows on Christmas. It never snows at all.

And that’s still the northern hemisphere.

Tonight at 2:30am on my watch, Australia will play Pakistan in Perth. Right now as I type this it is midnight in Perth and it is 68 degrees outside. By 4pm it will be in the 90s. It’s summer there, in other words. Their weather, their months, are the opposite of ours. Every person older than six understands this, but most of us still don’t understand it. In Australia September means Aussie Rules finals, which means summer is around the corner. On Christmas in Perth it will be 80 degrees and sunny. In July as we in the north are applying sunscreen and heading out on dawn bike rides, the lows in Perth are in the 40s and it’s raining.

I love this big old world sometimes. And I love being a cricket fan in it. No other sport reminds you that your perspective isn’t the only one. The others confirm the world as you think it is for everyone. They are vacuums. Cricket fans watch the sun set at 5pm in January, flip on their computers, and are warmed with the thought that it’s still summer somewhere.

There’s the famous quote by Czesław Miłosz:

The bright side of the planet moves towards darkness and the cities are falling asleep, each in its hour, and for me, now as then, it is too much. There is too much world.

Too much world. I don’t think that’s possible. Yes, it’s vastness can be overwhelming and can fill you with insignificance and even melancholy, watching the sun bake the other side of the world as you sit shivering at your kitchen table, but there has to be comfort there, too. There has to be. If we can’t find comfort in other people’s summers, then we are lost. And that’s the gift of cricket: contentment in the knowledge that the circle on the ground around our feet is only one small piece of a planet so large it can make us dizzy. For if the world is large, there is room for us too. Room for us to move, heal, love, cry. Room to just be. Room to grow. To feel better. To move on.

‘a song you can’t remember them living inside of anymore’

On Friday I took a writing workshop at the Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis led by the incomparable Hanif Abdurraqib. (If you have not noticed already, I am kind of a big fan of his.)

The format was something like this: we were given six different writing assignments, and each one could not be longer than 14 lines. The first was about an historical event, the second was about a personal connection to that historical event. Then we had to take a single song and connect it to the historical event, then do the same with the same song to the personal connection to the historical event. Then we were to write about a single object that had some sort of connection to all of the above, then write a letter to a person, place or thing which pulls the previous five pieces together. The letter was to be like a person turning on a light in a dark room.

The course’s intention was to teach writers how to connect the personal to the historical, something I do quite a lot of. So it was right in my wheelhouse. Because I write very fast, and because I was writing in a small notebook so I had less space than most, I actually wrote two separate threads. One about the band Phish, and one about the 2019 Cricket World Cup final. I think both turned out pretty well, so I am reposting them here. The format will be as they were written, so it will go like Phish 1, Cricket 1, Phish 2, Cricket 2, etc. The one exception to this is the letter, which turns the light on for both threads, so there is only one. It is unedited except for typos and missing words, etc.

***

Campground style concert festivals are a recent immigrant to America. Coachella and Bonnaroo are each less than 10 years old. Such festivals used to be limited to Europe. Glastonbury, etc. But Bonnaroo and Coachella weren’t the first camping rock festival in America. The first was The Clifford Ball, a festival put on by the band Phish in upstate New York in 1996. They wanted something entirely separate from the musical mainstream. The festival was based on these elaborate puppet festivals in rural Vermont. It was named after Clifford Ball, an early aviation pioneer in the 1930s.

The 2019 Cricket World Cup was held in England and Wales, May through July. After six long weeks of cricket England played New Zealand in the final at Lord’s in central London. It was a 50 over match that lasted about eight hours and ended in a tie. The tiebreaker was a super over which also ended in a tie and so England won based on the pre-determined tiebreaker of most boundaries during regulation overs. It was England’s first ever Cricket World Cup.

The first Eaux Claires festival was in 2015. My wife, Niki, went with friends. We texted each other during a raging bow echo thunderstorm that first hit Minneapolis and then 90 minutes later hit Eau Claire. She didn’t have a very good time. I wrote about Hothouse Flowers and attended a Minnesota United match. She went alone again in 2016. I didn’t go because I was riding the Powderhorn 24. It rained all night Friday. On Saturday we found out her sister had cancer. We were planning on going together finally in 2017 but couldn’t because we had to attend a friend’s wedding. We bought tickets for the 2018 version but two months earlier I left home and never went back. In 2019 the Eaux Claires festival went on hiatus.

2019 was the first Cricket World Cup final that I watched as a divorced person. The first World Cup final I had ever watched was in 2007 with my wife at Brit’s pub in downtown Minneapolis. We fought. Australia won. I watched the 2011 and 2015 Cricket World Cup finals in my kitchen on a laptop as my wife slept in the next room. I watched first India and then Australia win as the sky turned from black to grey outside my window. All three of those finals were in early spring. The 2019 final was in high summer. I watched it too at Brit’s just steps from where I’d stood with my wife 12 years earlier. That day we fought but still found a way to be okay. We could always find a way to be okay until we couldn’t.

I worked at a dorm with a Phish fan the summer after my freshman year. I was intrigued and thought he was pretty cool so one hot summer payday I went to Cheapo Records in Dinkytown and bought a live Phish record on CD. I went home and got high and it was a beautiful summer day and my studio apartment was clean and flooded with light and I put the album on and the first song was ‘Bouncing Around the Room’ and I thought it was just about the greatest song I had ever heard. Unfortunately I hated the rest of the album and ended up selling it back to Cheapo. The following spring I went to a Phish concert at Target Center and they opened with ‘Bouncing Around the Room’ and then I got bored and left after the first set.

I visited Lord’s with my wife in 2011. We walked from Trafalgar Square to 221B Baker Street through St. John’s Wood to Lord’s and then to Regent’s park where we had lunch at a sunny diner in the park. After lunch we went to a pub called the Roundhouse for pints and ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ came on and we both got choked up. We both loved that song and had for years and then we were listening to it in a pub in London. We had come so far. Done so much. And we were in a place that we thought we would never be. And so we cried, softly, there in that pub. Over the years one of our favorite YouTube concert videos was Noel singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ at the River Platte stadium and crying with awe at the immense crowd singing his words back to him.

Phish never played the Eaux Claires festival but the version that I know and love of ‘Bouncing Round the Room’ is a live version recorded during their fall 1994 tour of North America. 1994 was the year I graduated from high school. Justin Vernon who started the Eaux Claires festival was 13, a year older than my little brother. When Phish were touring North America that fall I had no idea who they were. I was sleeping on a couch in Tucson, Arizona. 25 years later I would be writing about a Phish song at a writing workshop in downtown Minneapolis a month after seeing Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver play at a hockey arena in downtown St. Paul.

In 2007 when I watched my first Cricket World Cup final the song ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ was already 12 years old. A year later my wife and I saw Oasis at Target Center in Minneapolis. Our seats were near some of my wife’s co-workers but they snubbed her. And then she fell in front of them coming back to her seat from the bathroom and we had been having such a fun night but after that it was all ruined and we left early and didn’t get to enjoy ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger.’ Three years later when the song came on at the pub we both started to cry but it was not until just now that I realized that Niki might have been crying because she had fallen in front of her co-workers right before Oasis played that song. I hope that’s not the case.

I learned about The Clifford Ball on a podcast called ‘Long May They Run’ that had been recommended to me by a co-worker. I listened to the episode about The Clifford Ball on my phone as I folded laundry in my bedroom. It always makes me sad that I can’t remember the last time I did laundry before I left home. The phone I was listening to it on was an iPhone 8 that I had just gotten. Previously I had had an ancient iPhone 5 that I had had for years, it was actually the second 5 I owned as I’d dropped the first and cracked the screen a year after I got it. My wife and I had gotten our 5s together on a fun day in 2014. Then we went out for lunch. We had gotten our first iPhones together in the fall of 2010 and that was also a fun day followed by a lunch out. After getting my iPhone 8 I went to a bar by myself and drank beer.

2010 was the last Christmas that my wife and I celebrated. The following autumn our beloved old dog would die and we just never got into the spirit again after that. That Christmas in 2010 we exchanged gifts and Niki had ordered me a cricket ball but it was delayed in shipping so she just wrapped up a note. I don’t remember what it said other than it started with the words “somewhere over the ocean.” It finally arrived a few days later. A red Test SG ball used in India to flummox touring batsmen. I remembering being shocked at how hard it was, far harder than a baseball. It was like a fistful of marble countertop. The ball sat on our mantle until I left and now it sits on my bookshelf overlooking my bed 10 miles away from where I used to sleep.

Niki —
I have only 14 lines so this will be brief. Today I am taking a class at the Loft. The last time I was here was two weeks before I left. That was a hard weekend. Maybe you don’t remember it but I do. Today in the workshop I wrote about the Eaux Claires festival that we bought tickets for but didn’t go to. I wrote about our iPhones. I wrote about the cricket ball you gave me for Christmas. I wrote about that time we fought about money at Brit’s Pub. I wrote about our trips to London and that time we went to see Oasis at Target Center. I wrote about that night you were in Eau Claire and we texted each other during that terrible thunderstorm. I can’t not write about us. In three days it will have been 18 months since I left and I am scared to death that all of our history will disappear.
— Matt

*****

i suppose there is intimacy in the moment when a lover becomes an enemy, though it is
tougher to say when that happens. probably when there is a song you can’t remember  them living inside
of anymore, even if both of you curled your lips around the words in a car at some impossible hour of
morning, driving away from the place you met

-Hanif Abdurraqib, from IT IS ONCE AGAIN THE SUMMER OF MY DISCONTENT & THIS IS HOW WE DO IT from the book ‘A Fortune For Your Disaster’ which you should most definitely buy.

‘I can write about anything’

*
A few days ago I had a post in mind. About cricket. I can’t remember what it was now. I think something to do with The Hundred. But it’s completely gone.

Yesterday I had a post in mind. This time it most definitely was about The Hundred, and what it’s doing to the County Championship fixture schedule for 2020 which was leaked early by The Mail. It shunted the majority of the matches into early spring or late fall. Kneecapping it when its already been kneecapped a few dozen times already. The post went something like this:

When I was in college I worked part time at a financial services firm. It was during the bust of the tech bubble and a couple times the bottom dropped completely out of the market, leaving the entire office shell shocked. It’s not like the movies. When the market drops, the firms are silent. The next day after such a collapse I was out smoking with one of the firm’s old timers. He had to be 70 years old, he had been trading stocks since the 60s. He told me that he didn’t mind the big drops. What he minded were the years back in the 70s when for months and months the market would drop just a little bit every single day. He likened it to — pardon the analogy — have ones balls placed in a vice and the vice tightened just a little more each day.

This is what’s happening in cricket. The administrators have the game in a vice, and they are going to squeeze it until all the money is gone and all that’s left is the dust of the game we all once loved.

I normally try to be positive about the supposed death of cricket. It’s all the boy who cried wolf, or Mark Twain’s famous quote about the rumors of his death … etc. The game in so many ways is actually really thriving. And the game has always experienced sea changes of all shapes and sizes, and it weathered those changes, and this might all just be a bit of growing pains. Stick with it to the other side, we’ll be all right. Maybe this was because I was always looking for that one cataclysmic event that would take down the game, something I think we are all guilty of now and again. But it’s not going to be one thing. It’s going to be many little things, slowly draining the blood of the sport onto the ground until all that’s left is a lifeless husk.

Dramatic? Sure. The good news is that we still have a few more years. Though I find myself already mourning, mourning that I never got to enjoy cricket — especially first class cricket — in its heyday. Those days are gone already. Drained into the dust where soon their brothers and sisters will join them.

*

And that’s all I had. A post that I had written several times before. A post written by others more astutely all the time. James Morgan just did it yesterday. And he is 10 times the cricket writer I’ll ever be.

*

Over the weekend I had an idea for a post about a modern dance retelling of Swan Lake that I had gone to which was a lot of things but mostly was a meditation on depression and a scathing takedown of modern day Ireland. But I didn’t write that one either.

*

The Tweet at the top is in reference to what’s happening to the once brilliant Deadspin, which for a long time was the best written site on the internet. And now it’s being dismantled and left to rot by the side of the road. Following the story, I was struck by its easy comparison to cricket, another beloved institution being slowly but surely gutted by its caretakers. But in that thinking I also realized that it is also about this blog too. It’s a cricket blog, yes, of course. I write about cricket a lot, and have for many years now. But it’s also about a lot more than that. For the last 18 months I have written almost primarily about my divorce and the shell of my former self it left me with. I couldn’t not write about that, it seeped into every post, even the ones that were simply nuts and bolts cricket.

Because John Moe is correct. There is only writing.

I used to feel a little guilty for boring the audience I had built writing about cricket with nonstop posts about depression, but I know I shouldn’t. Writing is writing. There’s the famous Virginia Woolf quote: “I can write anything.” And that is so freeing. Writing is writing. I have to write what I need to write, and this is the space have I carved out in which to do that. You can’t write about anything without also writing about yourself. There is no line between the two. One does not exist without the other.

This line of thinking brought me full circle:

There is only cricket.

All the formats are linked. Once cannot exist without the other. Despite what the cynics of the world might tell you. There’s no good cricket or bad cricket, there is only cricket. Broken, beautiful, outrageous, peaceful cricket. The game’s past does not exist without its future, and of course the opposite is true, so why mourn that the past is gone when the past led you to where we are now?

In an article written after the death of Prince, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote that while we mourn the dead, we can take solace in the fact that the body — which acted as a boundary for all that humans want and need, for all expression and desire — is no longer an obstacle, and their energy and life can spread out over the whole world, infecting us all.

So it is with cricket. The County Championship will someday die. But what it leaves behind will be all the richer for it. All the more beautiful.

There is only cricket.

The whole world lies between

It seems to me that in the orbit of our world you are the North Pole, I the South — so much in balance, in agreement — and yet… the whole world lies between.

― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

My grandparents built a house in Wyoming, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati in 1950, and they lived there for 51 years until they passed away within a week of each other in April of 2001. In that house they raised three boys and one girl, who gave them over the years eight grandchildren and even one great grand daughter that they were able to meet before they died. In that house they hosted countless holidays and Sunday lunches. Whiffle ball games in the backyard. Christmas Eves around the tree. From the beginning of the Cold War until just before the Towers fell.

After they passed the house was sold. A few weeks later my aunt, my grandparents’ only daughter, drove to the house just to have a look, and it was gone. Torn down by the new owners, who were only after, apparently, the land.

You can’t go home again. It’s a cliche, but one that is so true it’s coded deep into our DNA. Sometimes you physically can’t go home again, and sometimes when you do go home again, it’s not the same. It can never be the same. Whether you are gone a week or a month or a decade or a lifetime. And even though we all understand this, intellectually, we still have the hope that someday we will get to go home, wherever that happens to be, and that it will be the same, or if not the same close but better. That hope exists in all of us. Until it is taken away, and we are left with the cold, stark reality of that which we already, in our hearts, knew.

This doesn’t make it any less hard.

I think about this a lot when players embark on these seemingly endless tours. England are in New Zealand now, where they will be until December. All that time away from home, to the point where when they do finally return, it will be different, in small ways, but different nonetheless, different enough to notice the changes. That’s the life of the international superstar cricketer. That’s the deal you make: you can go home again, but it won’t be the same. And I think about Ben Stokes, who is from New Zealand, and traveling with the England side, what’s home for him? Is New Zealand home? The city of Christchurch where he lived until he was 12? Or is it England now? Where’s home for him? Where’s home for all of us?

And that’s part of it there. We spend so much time away that we start to wonder where home really is. Is it this apartment where I have lived for the past 18 months? Or is it the house where I lived for the previous 13 years? The place where I am no longer allowed? Or is it my mother’s house that she bought with my father 32 years ago this December, only 19 shy of how long my grandparents owned theirs? Or is it the patch of land where that house first stood?

So it is for these cricketers. These heroes that live to entertain us. They give up the one thing that we all take for granted until it’s gone: home.

But, sometimes, you can go home again. At least for a minute. An afternoon maybe, if you’re lucky. Earlier today David Warner played his first match in Australia since the incident in Newlands 18 months ago. After a summer of boos in England, he was given a hero’s welcome in Adelaide by the home crowd, and he rewarded them with his first ever International T20 century. No matter what you think of Australia, or Warner, or any of them, it’s a good story. One to keep in mind as all the other dark news — in cricket and everywhere — swirls around us.

And it’s another thing that cricket — and sport — can teach us. Sometimes, despite everything, you can go home. Sleep in your own bed. Make coffee in your own kitchen. Share old laughs and old hopes. Hit a century in front of a warm crowd on a warm day 1,300 kilometers from the town where you were born there at the bottom of the world. 1,300 kilometers but closer still than you have been in so long, during that long dark hot summer in England over 15,000 kilometers away. Home again. Hitting boundaries. Winning matches. Hearing the cheers that you thought were gone forever.

So. You can go home again. You can, until you can’t. And the latter is where I sit today on this cold, blustery autumn morning, The door has closed, the same one that I walked out of. Up until a couple weeks ago I still had that horrible hope that the door would stay open. That I could walk out into the sun and hit a century and be okay. But instead I am here, I am this. I know this, I understand it, it is breaking my heart and I am letting it. But still. I hope. I hope for my moment in the sun again. On the latest Bon Iver record Justin Vernon sings triumphantly, “some light feels good now, don’t it?” And that’s all I want. Light. Light on my shoulders. On my face. The kind of light that only home can provide.

warner.jpeg