BY JASON CORLISS
When last we visited, on the eve of the trip to Montreal — during which our ragtag band of no-name RBNY heroes were aiming to continue their surprising unbeaten run — I’d planned to produce another real-time travelogue, unleashing my inner Sal Paradise once again. Sure, all three of you may have been wondering just who does this guy think he is?! Well, you weren’t alone. I had the same question. As I jammed up the Thruway, riding the spines of hills and valleys already cut by man and machine, I couldn’t help but try to place myself in both the world around me, and, in a more profound sense, in my own life. How does our identity, and more importantly, our sense of self, play a part in our experiences?
What I am what I am,
Are you what you are or what?
…Don’t let me get too deep…
Who was I… who do we become when we go away from one thing and headlong toward another? How does that identity square with the motivation for being here, now? Was this *really* necessary? Is anything? Who the fuck is this team that just keeps winning…Brandon Barklage? Connor Lade? Tyler Ruthven? Seriously, who?!? Why do I care? Obviously, I care because this is the team I support, but why do I care to the extent that I do?
In the context of supporting RBNY, or, really, committing to any endeavor in which one invests significant energy without the promise of reciprocity, what is it we hope to get out of it? At the root, for me, it’s catharsis…the restorative purging of emotion that Aristotle first talks about in his “Poetics” — a renewal of spirit through personal experience, or by observing the physical or emotional experience of others, as in a theatrical play, or in our case, a ball game.
Apparently, though, jotting down notes while driving 90mph isn’t as easy as observing a dude swallowing fistfuls of mescaline and juggling a sledgehammer, so the synthesis of my thoughts would have to wait until my arrival in The City That Rubs Its Breasts On You And Will Often Sleep With You When It’s Not Firing Tear Gas At College Students. Plus, if I wanted to report on the experience, I’d still have to, um, experience it. Yet, as our tires were spinning us north, the reels in my mind continued to project a parallel vision of my every move. This notion of standing outside myself would pervade the whole trip.
Walt Whitman, spiritual and literary forefather of the Beat Poets, and, really, of American verse in general, describes this transcendent moment in “Song of Myself” (below). We’ve all been there…standing outside of oneself, waiting to see what we’ll do next even though we’re the one doing it. ‘Song of Myself’ which comprises the first section of “Leaves of Grass,” published in 1855, was the first uniquely American, truly epic piece of first person narrative addressing one’s place as an individual in the world. Whitman revised “Leaves of Grass” almost continuously until his death, believing that his ever-evolving concept of self couldn’t be frozen in time.
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
We all want to be a part of something…it’s literally human nature. But, the need to do and be and experience life in our own ways *must* trump the groupthink that clouds much of what society hands us. Ironically, our tribal mentality, hewn over thousands of years, is a huge part of who we are. Whether we identify with a certain group for reasons contrived or intrinsic is immaterial. It’s the elemental identification and the immediate kinship that binds us together, to go on journeys and to experience life through a shared prism. But, in the end, we’re always stuck with ourselves.
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?
Time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us
Same as it ever was…
Sure, each of the individual RBNY players have a strong sense of self and an unusual amount of personal drive, having risen to the highest level of soccer in the US (and in some cases, the world). But, it’s the way that they’ve played as a combined unit that’s propelled them to such an unusually good run. One could argue that it’s because they’ve each put their individuality aside for the good of the team, and that’s been the key ingredient. But, it’s each individual’s desire to embrace the opportunity presented to him that’s gotten them over the hump. Clearly, it’s a team game, and each member must find a way to work within that structure, but it’s down to each individual to play his part to the fullest.
That’s just what they did in Montreal. The victory that night was a team victory, but it was composed of 10.5 individual performances (thanks, Palsson) that added up to more than the sum of their parts. Could this be a recipe for a longer run of success? Of course. But, it’s up to each individual to continue to define who he is within the construct of the team and the season, just as it’s up to each of us to live in each given moment.
And then, the Absinthe happened…
While embracing every opportunity that came my way in Montreal, except those few for which my wife wouldn’t let me back in the house, I felt both a part of and apart from everything around me… almost alienated, but consumed by it all, simultaneously. Floating above it while being present for every moment. It hit me that this was actually a very good and cool thing. I was truly open to experience, and I could make of it what I wished. It does one a grave disservice to barrel through life without taking a moment drop a pin on the Google map of one’s own journey. What’s the point of experience if it becomes just another picture on a wall, an artifact?
Absinthe has been around for centuries, and it is (in)famous for inspiring artists and writers both with its psychoactive effects and its mythology. From Van Gogh to Oscar Wilde to Hemingway, Absinthe has a long and storied history helping the creative process along. So, as our Montreal adventure neared its end, and as I planned to sit down to write my reflections in the wee small hours of our final night in town, it made perfect sense to introduce myself to the Green Fairy and solicit her counsel. Turns out, she’s got a mean right hook.
Now, here we are two weeks later, and I’m just finally writing about Montreal. I’d like to blame the ensuing sickness that kept me in bed for five days with a fever of 102 and a case of the shakes/chills (during which I missed the Chivas home match – the first game in the Eastern time zone that I hadn’t attended this year) on the Absinthe. But, I (should) know better. Experience, in itself, is as enticing a spirit as Absinthe or anything else, but we must all know who we are in order to get the most out of each experience we encounter. In my case, getting a total of five hours of sleep over the course of two nights, while gorging on said experience, drunk off my face on catharsis, was probably not the most prudent course of action for someone who values his health and sanity. Then again, sanity is relative, but experience is absolute.
Just a little time, before we leave…
Stop light, plays its part
So I would say you’ve got a part
What’s your part? Who you are
You are who, who you are
On the pitch, the boys in white have continued their electric run of form and are primed to make some serious noise in the US Open Cup. Next stop, Harrisburg, PA on Tuesday night, where the traveling South Ward carnival will be bringing the noise. We’d love to have you along. Tickets are still available. Absinthe and sanity optional…experience, mandatory. I’ll be back next week with reflections on Harrisburg.