Illustration by Jacob Weinstein
With a new year starting, and many of our founding members spreading their wings and making their way to homes in other parts of the interwebs -- which David Roth has covered in more detail here -- the time has come for a new group of
heroes writers and editors to take up the mantle of the Classical Squadron.
You all should be familiar with all of us to varying degrees, with some having contributed much of their public writing to the Classical, while others have spend most of their time at places like Vice, Sports on Earth and teaching other writers. But now is the time to get to know us like our (internet) friends do.
Or as the great H.O.V.A. would put it, allow us to re-introduce ourselves:
The first correspondence I ever had with The Classical originated from a 24-hour library on the University of Southern California campus, a fluorescent tomb of a structure where the furniture is stock and the lights never go out. This is not a place to hole up in unless it is absolutely necessary and I operated accordingly, rarely making a point to go in, and – apart from an ill-fated finals cramming session way back in my sophomore year that devolved into arguing about the '07 Mavs-Warriors series – making even less of one to stick around when chance or desperation brought me there. About the only good thing I could say about it was the odd sense of comfort I found in knowing, determined as I was to avoid it, that the library was always there if I truly did need it. You can’t get turned away from a place that doesn’t close its doors.
A little over two years ago, I found myself in one of those urgent situations. I was trapped in some grad school function and perusing my Twitter feed when I saw an open call for pitches for what would become the Why We Watch series. (Sidebar: You bet your ass we’re bringing that back).
I have zero recollection of the rest of the event, because my focus firmly and irrevocably shifted to how quickly I could escape to a computer and write an email – any email – that would sufficiently convince the powers that be (Read: This guy) to let me write for a place that, to me, was reinventing how I read and perceived sports. The closest building was that library, and for the next 25 minutes I hunched over an end table – I didn’t even make it to the cubicles – to furiously peck the best idea I had. That idea became this piece, one that I’m still proud of to this day. But I remember pitching it better than I do writing it because of the library, and the juxtaposition of that bland, enervating space – a building that seems to siphon the life force out of anyone who enters – being my entry point to a world of writing where the sentences crackled and paragraphs sparked, where seemingly every piece rustled up something new that someone else maybe should have thought about already, only they didn’t because they weren’t writing for this site, in this time, with these people.
The Classical remains my favorite place to write and I suspect it always will be because it is less a platform than a society, one in which anyone is free to approach sports and writing from any prism or axom, and to create and share accordingly. Some of my best gigs in writing have come from The Classical, tangentially or otherwise. Far more importantly, some of my best friends in writing have come from here, too.
I can't promise much in the way of what this site will become under our watch, although it wouldn't be very much our style if I did. There will be sports and sporps alike, and all of it will be deeply fun and a lot of it deeply weird, too, the way it always has been. We'll try some new stuff as well, some of which will work and others won't; you'll learn things along the way, and so will we. Most of all, though, each of us believes that this place is special, and we will work to make sure it remains that way. I can't imagine what my career - and, by extension, my life - would look like had I not decided to duck into that ever-humming library on a Friday afternoon and conjure up that email. I just know that I'm glad I did, and that I’m a part of making sure the doors are staying open here, too. Our lights won't go out.
Holly M. Wendt
In February of 2012, a friend sent me a link to a Chris Collision piece on the life of a minor-league hockey player. That was the first piece I remember reading at the Classical, and it was the piece that said I'd found the sports site I'd always wanted, one populated by writers who were interested.
The next February, while I was in the middle of a five-year stay in Wyoming, David Roth Bat-signaled Twitter for Spring Training pitches. I'd already planned to make the two thousand mile round trip to the desert on my spring break—the first full week of March—to finish a novel revision in the mornings and to warm my bones in the ballparks of Arizona in the afternoons. But I hesitated: I'd never written a pitched piece before. Most of my writing is fiction, and the process I'd always known was to submit a complete draft.
Despite the uncertainty, I sent a pitch, and at the end of the week, I had a hellacious desert sunburn and an essay that quoted a sixteenth-century martyred philosopher, digressed on geography, and gave former Phillie Ben Francisco a central role. The editor actually approved. "Driving to Utopia, Arizona" marked my first foray in sportswriting. Since then, I've had the opportunity to write a bit more about baseball and other things, for both the site and the magazine, one of which was a reaction to Semyon Varlamov's arrest on domestic violence and kidnapping charges, the same night Classical Magazine Issue VI went out, containing my ode to Varlamov's play.
No matter my own writing on the site, what kept me coming back was everyone else's. Diana Moskovitz's series, The Pirate Diary and Nathan Huffstutter’s well-researched, emotionally relevant opus on the Padres particularly, were works that reminded me: you're among friends here.
I spent a good portion of the week of Christmas in conversations where I was more or less the outsider. That's not anyone's fault but my own, and at least in the case of a week with family, it's nothing that I regret. You marry who makes you happy, and you tight-lip your way through the awkward political discussions later. It's a mild discomfort anyway, and the alienation is mostly an illusion. Besides, it's the conversations like those that drive me to this site, The Classical, where I can enjoy conversations like these.
The first thing I wrote for The Classical was more or less about this singular aloneness, and how an athlete--Bryce Harper, no less--had helped me occasionally overcome it. Watching him had made me feel more like a human and more connected to other humans, and all he had done was be his weird, obnoxious, aggro-bro self. I think, if anything, that's the idea for which this site stands as a monument. That there's a strange, grating, unapologetic selfhood that we all bring to the sports we watch and read about and write about, and that confronting the unholy depth of someone else's feeling for it makes us feel less alone. It's all an act of vulnerability, really: caring about teams and players in ways that will probably hurt us, and then exposing those shameful wounds to other people on the internet. This site was a place where I could do that, and read other people who were doing that, and we were all dumb for doing it together.
So the Classical was that, and it will remain that. Continue to read us and to pitch to us, and in exchange, we'll promise to be the furthest thing imaginable from a Christmastime dinner conversation with family.
Writing is a lonely pursuit. This isn’t to be romantic about it: I spend some 50 hours a week holed up in my apartment’s second bedroom, in a state of aggravated-nervousness or happy-nervousness, doing my best impression of a good writer—or, failing that, trying to at least come up with an introductory paragraph that doesn’t suck. It sometimes occurs to me that I haven’t heard the sound of another person’s voice all day.
Communities are necessary, no matter how amorphous they are. No man is an island and all that, but more crucially: no man wants to sink two days into a piece if there’s no audience for it. The times I have struggled most as a writer (and, by extension, as a human person) have been spells when I felt as if my words were going from my brain directly into a cosmic toilet: No one seemed to care about what I wrote; no one offered to help me make it better.
The Classical is here to do both those things. We will listen to you. We will edit you. We will make you part of this spirited, incongruent, occasionally profane conversation we’re having. In short, we will give a shit, because we know you do, and because that is the fuel you need to keep doing the lonely work.
There's a part in the final episode of Justice League Unlimited when Superman -- face-to-face with the end of the world in the form of malevolent god (and all-around jerk) Darkseid -- explains exactly what it's like for him to live in our world:
Of course, while it's highly unlikely that any of us is an alien who goes flying around town in long underpants (on the regular, at least,) the existence that Superman explains -- walking in a world of cardboard, afraid of what he might do if he was able really show how powerful he is -- is one that all of us, this new Classical Squadron, has had writing for places that weren't here.
Which is how we ended up "here" in the first place. And "here" isn't a time, a place or a website address. It's not even something loftier (read: cheesier) like a "state of mind". "Here" is the idea that we should all be allowed to explore the topics that interests us, give ourselves a chance to let loose and really show what we can do, tell the stories that we feel need tell, not the ones that could be counted on to bring in page views or Facebook shares.
That we can jet off -- okay not literally, because budget -- to different parts of the world or find a story sitting in a box in the attic of the house we grew up in. And here's the most important part: the reason we can do whatever we want is because this thing is ours and yours.
We need you just as much as we hope you need us. And you know where you can meet us if you ever need to find us: here.