oh tarheels, why have y’all forsaken me? now with bonus late-night musings on identity

February 25, 2010

In the course of a conversation I was having this evening (even before the ever-so-enlightening comment on my last post, thanks Dad), I realized that complaining about basketball can actually cheer me up.  It’s very strange.  There I was, in the midst of a fit of oh-my-god-if-I-don’t-work-all-night-I-will-die-but-if-I-do-I-will-also-die despair, and about to just give up and curl into a ball on the sofa and cry, when I checked tonight’s score (…as followers of comments will know, the good guys lost by 10 to the FSU criminals).  Even worse, I proceeded to check the ACC standings, hence launching into a tirade to Eric about all that is wrong with the world, my basketball team, and its fan base.

Then, remarkably, I felt better.  Work was less daunting — though I still didn’t get much of it done — and I found a certain center of calm in knowing that this misery, at least, is shared by one lonely wolfpack fan in Fort Collins, and many, many heels fans scattered all around.  It’s better than grad student solidarity, even, because it’s so…pointless.  If I am going to be upset about something so trivial, with so little impact on my life (especially now that I live out here in mountain standard time), then perhaps the other things I get upset about are just as pointless in the end.  It was a brief moment of basketball-induced zen, shall we say.

In sticking with our theme this evening (morning?  night?  god I need to sleep), I recently read a book that I found highly entertaining — To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever, by Will Blythe.  It has a subtitle, but it’s even longer than the title, so I won’t bother go picking the book up off my desk to remind myself what it is exactly.  Anyhow, it’s about 1/3 basketball-themed memoir, and 2/3 sports book…I probably made it about halfway through before I got bored.  It focused a lot on the 2005 season, two national titles ago.  I was a sophomore when we won that title, and in the band, so I went to more than half of the home games, had lower-level seats, and rushed Franklin Street several times, so  I didn’t really want to relive it in a less exciting format.  The memoir part, though, really resonated with me.  First of all, there’s the inescapable fact that the author grew up in Chapel Hill, and I grew up halfway in Chapel Hill, so there’s bound to be a lot of settings, people, and just general attitudes that are incredibly familiar.  I laughed out loud many times in the early part of the book.

Obviously, basketball is a big deal in NC, and it’s hard to grow up without being at least peripherally aware of it.  Case in point: the only people I knew at UNC who didn’t know who Roy Williams was (granted, this was prior to the ’05 title, and I’m unsure such a feat would be possible after that) had made an effort to avoid exposure to the basketball insanity.  There’s just as much awareness in purposeful avoidance as in peripheral exposure.  Anyhow, something that the author says, and I agree with for different reasons, is that for North Carolinians, basketball is a religion.  For the author, he’s a basketball pentecostal; for me, it’s a religion in the way that I grew up Methodist.  We went to church because that’s what people like us did; we watched basketball because that’s what you did in the winter.  We paid especial attention to the actual religion bits at Christmas and Easter (sometimes that was the only time we went at all); we followed basketball more closely come tournament time, and for games like UNC-Dook, UNC-NCSU.  There was a time in my life when I fervently wanted to believe and be a proper Christian; when I was in college, I was a true believer — I was in the band for crying out loud.  I used to joke that I was slowly using up my fifteen minutes of fame in little 5-second clips before ESPN went to commercial (the trombones are on the front row, for safety reasons…and because it’s fun to drip spit into the risers).  I’ve been on national television, woohoo!  Repeatedly, and recognizably.  Less recognizably, I’m also in a video game soundtrack for some out-of-date NCAA basketball game.  Ain’t I just so special.

To get back to the point (if there still is one here), I’m culturally a Carolina basketball fan, in the same way that I’m culturally a Methodist, culturally an educated white kid who grew up in the woods, culturally a southerner.  There’s a sense of identity in it, more than there is enthusiastic fandom.  I check the scores and eye the standings occasionally because it’s just a part of who I am at this point.

That sense of identity, I think, is what resonated with me the most in Blythe’s book.  Many — perhaps most — of my friends live far from where they originally grew up, if they grew up in one place at all, and lots don’t seem to have that strong of a feeling of connection to “home.”  That’s not true for me.  I feel incredibly connected to NC, and even though I have come to love many things about Colorado, and am starting to find that it does have some character to it after all, it doesn’t feel like home in the same way to me.  I don’t know if it ever will.  I found this particularly timely in light of a recent visit I made to Oakland and Berkeley to see some hometown friends, and most of them that I discussed this with couldn’t be gladder to be out of NC.  I don’t know why that hit me particularly hard this visit; I might’ve claimed the same feelings a few years ago…but that was before I left.  Now that I’m gone, I miss it, with so much possessiveness that I can almost get angry at my friends who’ve sworn it off for good.  That’s not something I ever expected.

PS.  Yes, the y’all in the post title was — pretty obviously — very intentional.  At first it was “why have you forsaken me?” and I was trying to remember the old-style rules for formal, informal, you-plurals, and all that (hast thou etc.).  Then I decided it would be more on-topic and less work to just change it to “y’all.”  I do still say, and write, “y’all” a good bit though.  It gets me a lot of flack sometimes, especially from one grumpy Chicagoan.  Psssh.


One comment

  1. North Carolina misses you too. Give us a call and we’ll talk about going to South Carolina this spring.

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