Oh Team: Some of you may notice that this letter is the same letter that I wrote in previous years. It is not that I am too lazy to write another letter, it's that it has taken me decades to get my thoughts out, just the way that I want them, and this is really quite precisely how I feel about matters pertaining to forensics, when I think about it every year, come Nationals. So here we go again:
(Some say I lack brevity. Bugger them. To invoke a fine Pascal quotation: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.")
I have been thinking a lot about the OXYMORONIC nature of forensics these days. Here’s my best explanation of that. Here you are, wandering through life (time for first Tolkien quote interjection: “Not All Who Wander Are Lost…”), and you all are what--17, 18? 21 or 22? Somewhere’s around there. And yet, you are being asked to write about, research about, read about, interpret about, memorize about, cram into that precious little black binder, and most importantly IMAGINE about everything under the sun—and we all know that if there is going to be some trophy winnin’ involved, many of those subjects will be grim. I think I had pretty good exposure to those topics, as competitor and coach: death, divorce, taxes, pollution, abuse, murder, gunplay, foreplay, torture, The Jewish Holocaust, The Armenian Holocaust, incest, pedophilia, illness, cancer, accidents of all kinds, babies, teenagers, old people, homophobia, xenophobia, illiteracy, poverty, date rape, serial killers, depression, dying pets, bi-polarity, Black Lives Matter, black lives matter, Blue Lives Matter, immigration, neo-Nazis, Congressional scandal, the song "Hey Mr. Tangerine Man" taking on a horrifying new meaning, Veterans Administration backlogs, birth defects, cleft palates, back acne, double amputees, decimation of animal populations, Cecil the lion, extinction, the dwindling rain forests, AIDS, STDS, IBS, UTI infections, ICBMs, planes falling from the sky, aliens falling from the sky, the Dark Web, erectile dysfunction, internet catfish, ISIS beheadings, home invasions, toys that come to life, deadly dramas played out on public streets, buses, subways, eviction, foreclosure, food additives, love, global warming, fear of clowns, fear of mimes…..and at the end of it all, lots and lots of winged victories.
And what’s so very creepy about that list is that I haven’t even scratched the surface of the topics in all y’all’s speeches and interps, am I right?
But here is the Oxymoronic part: by the time that all of the above-mentioned horrors and tragedies happen to you, in your own personal life—and trust me, pretty much everything on that list above will happen to you in your own personal lifetimes, maybe each one a couple of times, I’m thinkin’. Trust me on that. Anyway, by the time that unforeseen heartache comes raining down on you, and you are weeping and shrieking to the heavens while you pray and beg and threaten and wheedle and crumble and rise again, you will be thinking, “MAN OH MAN, WHERE THE HELL IS MY BLACK BINDER AND THAT PANEL OF JUDGES, BECAUSE I COULD SO INTERP THE SHIT OUT OF THIS, RIGHT ABOUT NOW.” But the joke is on you. There is no binder, and there are no judges. Well. Not that kind of judge. And there are certainly no winged victories lined up shiny and waiting for you at a fancy ass ceremony.
But there is good news about all this. And at this juncture, I will mention, but not dwell on, that prescient Greek caveat: “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first call ‘promising.’ "
Where was I, though …ah yes … the good news. I suppose most of you are so focused on the Here and Now that you don’t know the great Grail Secret of Forensics: for while you do all the important and urgent and crazy and focused and traditional and high pressure things that you have been doing to prepare for this moment, what you REALLY are doing, is developing a set of muscles. Nobody ever qualified for, or won big, in a Pentathlon competition without an impressive set of muscles, and that is what you all are developing. And not just the mental variety, that part is obvious. But spiritual muscles as well. The whole package: the discipline and drive, the diplomacy, the originality, the respect, the whimsy and the grace, the tenacity and the tirelessness, even those more invisible qualities like faith and creativity and a sense of humor bordering on Mount Olympus-quality-stand up ….(a Roman, a Jew, and a Cyclops walk into a bar at the Colosseum)… Please believe me when I tell you, you will need these muscles, as you navigate through the life that is waiting for you. You will need them more than you can possibly imagine. And right now, I know that you all can imagine a great deal.
You will need these qualities to survive, and then, when you have survived all the above mentioned slings and arrows that fate has waiting for you, you will need them to thrive on the other end. I, for example, cannot even begin to recognize the writing that I penned in my youth as even coming from the same person who fought drug addiction for oh too many years, and came out the other side. (Although, of course, the battle is never over.) I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. And I don’t have the power to change the past, or to take back my own megalomaniacal arrogance and hubris. But as for the long and winding dark road, I do know that if a better writer came out of it, that’s something to cling to. Frankly, I look at that cacapoopoodoodoo that I wrote in my teens and twenties and wonder how I won anything, ever.. (And I can’t believe I used a live hamster for a visual aid in After Dinner Speaking.)
So friends, forensicators, soulmates—know this: everything you are doing, you are doing for your future. The stuff that goes on this weekend, and during these precious years, that’s just icing on a cake ...a cake that I truly hope for your sake is not artificially sweetened, low carb, gluten-free, or vegan. We can all get together in the future (if there is one) and compare notes, but I bet other alumni would agree with most of what I have written here. I think if we hadn’t been able to use the skills we learned in forensics, we would be living vastly inferior lives, if indeed we survived at all. You kids? You, team...you are a breed above and apart from the average American college student, playing beer pong, buying term papers from Fiverr, and being far, far too easily offended, frightened, and bruised. (That said, if anyone needs a term paper for five bucks…)
And one last word: The next time some whiny student or professor starts yammering about “safe spaces”, the first thing you do is slap them upside the head, just to playfully remind them that there is no such thing. Then you run, run as fast as you can from any space deemed “safe”, because it’s a lie. And when you stop running, and anybody dares make fun of who you are, what you are, or how you look, get your freak on even more, and watch them throw a tantrum. It’ll be great theatre. And if some dopey teacher from Mizzou tries to muscle away the photographers, grab that photog and tell him you’d love to have your picture all over the news. And if someone writes “Trump” or draws a swastika in chalk on the sidewalk of your campus quad, don’t call campus security, like some pissantsparrowfartscaredypants crybaby. Do what any good college student would do. Unzip your trou, whip it out, and piss all over Drumph’s stupid moniker.
Kids. There really are no safe spaces in the world. Just tiny elevators between levels of life--levels which, while being wonderful, zany, illuminating, terrifying, tasteless, hilarious, surprising, and inspiring, are rarely ever “safe.” Run towards the danger, towards thinking and wording that rocks your world. Take chances, and be a little politically incorrect, without being cruel—there’s a difference. Don’t just color outside the lines, take a blank sheet and forget there ever were any lines. And when the situation seems unwinnable, do what Captain Kirk does to Kobayashi Maru. Travel the world, play in the rain, question authority, use your OUTDOOR VOICE, and make things up every single day of your life, I’m begging you, as we will need that creativity more than perhaps any other quality, as we struggle to create a new world out of the one we are apparently destroying. And by the way. There are wings and victories and gold waiting for you on the other side of all this. More wonderful than you can imagine.
So I think that about covers it for now.
There—can you feel it?
Little angels are line dancing on your shoulders.