How to not lessen your NCAA Tournament viewing experience

ESPN does this thing now — I’m sure you’ve seen it — where they allow you to fill out your NCAA Tournament picks all willy-nilly without navigating away from the front page. Once you’ve done so, you can compete nationally or choose a group to join or whatever, and I guess all that is fine. But the worst part is what comes next: you can decide to CONTINUE filling out brackets all willy-nilly.

In one bracket you can decide Kansas is ripe for an upset via Detroit; in the next, you can play the Tom-Rob-is-Carmelo-in-’03 card. You can have a couple safe brackets and a couple crazy ones. Maybe you think every 12 seed will win this year — you could pick that in a crazy bracket. Maybe you think it’s all 1s and 2s in the final four — you could pick that in your safe one.

The point is, ESPN giving this option is making us believe that filling out more brackets will keep us in it longer, and therefore enhance our enjoyment of this wonderful tournament.

This is not the truth.

Do not fall into the trap.

You should know this right now: you will not win all that prize money ESPN is offering. Just like you won’t win the lottery. Just like you won’t suddenly wake up next to Kate Upton. Just like you won’t get eaten by a shark. These are not facts that are meant to depress*. They are meant to free.

*Obviously that shark thing is pretty decent news.

The greatest thing about the NCAA tournament — and I’ll get to the second greatest here shortly — is that in the first two rounds and sometimes on, in games you’d usually care nothing about*, you’re absolutely bleeding with the team you’ve picked. You are screaming and high-fiving and shit-talking as if this is your team. The energy is incredible, and it lasts all day Thursday and all day Friday and all of Saturday and Sunday.

*Be honest, would you watch a regular season Notre Dame v. Xavier matchup? Some of you might. I’m flipping to Seinfeld.

Filling out multiple brackets gives us a false sense that we can keep this feeling going longer — into the second weekend — if we can just get one of those brackets to be somewhere near the hunt, if our hopes for $100K can crumble just a little later.

But this line of thinking ignores the second greatest thing about the the dance — the stories that always seem to emerge. By the second weekend, we have attached ourselves to teams we had leaving on day one. We fell in love with Steph Curry in 2010. Last year it was VCU, and in 2006 it was George Mason, both 11(!) seeds, both to the final four.

By the second weekend, our brackets are just afterthoughts in most cases, but that’s okay. There’s enough going on to keep us enthralled. There are enough underdogs to keep the excitement up, to give us someone to root for, to make us feel like we are a part of something.

You might still have some bracket excitement left if one or two of your 10 brackets have panned out, but by then it’ll be unnecessary — there will be bigger stories out there. And you’ll have missed out on fully enjoying that first weekend, that glorious, turn-your-stomach-over, pull-your-heart-into-your-throat first weekend. People will ask you who you have in the 8-9 matchup, and you’ll say things like, “Well, in two brackets I want team X to win, but…” And those people who asked will despise you, immediately. Especially if those people are me.

That first weekend starts Thursday, by the way. Better get your brackets bracket filled out.

Reason for optimism

The wind is howling in St. Joe tonight. The clouds were sparse all day — enormous, Word-document-white clouds spotting a blue sky, the temperature climbing into the 50s — until about an hour ago, when slowly the trees began swaying and the outside world darkened quickly, the storm arriving with dusk. The sky became a deep gray, clouds swirling in layers, the wind picking up dead leaves and hurling them horizontally across roadways and into various crevices, where they will remain until it’s nice enough for working types to pick them out, pile them up, set them ablaze.

It’s an odd storm for February 23. It’s been an odd winter.

It’s been this kind of winter: the other day, it snowed an inch and a half overnight, and the public schools were out for the day. Nobody really even questioned it. It was mid-February and these poor kids hadn’t so much as a weather-related early out.

It’s also been odd for me in the sense that, though I’ve had as much time as ever to do so, I’ve found myself nearly unable to write. It is a tough sensation to describe. I want to write things, whether it’s for you or for myself. I still have the desire to chronicle even my most neurotic of brain activity. But when I sit down to do so, the words just ain’t a-comin’. And probably more to the point, I’m not forcing myself to make them come, because my mind has been wandering off to a thousand other places, not limited to but usually concerning my lack of occupation at a journalistic publication, and how the time I’m spending pretending to write might be put to better use exploring one of a billion different job paths.

Well, I now have one less excuse as to why I’m not making it rain, as the kids say, out here in the blog world. Monday I accepted a job offer to become a business writer at the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Ill. It’s a great opportunity at a great newspaper, where I was lucky enough to have interned a couple summers ago. And obviously, it means I’ll be once again doing a lot of writing. I hope it also means I’ll find it in me to start updating this blog more often.

The unfortunate part: it’s snowing in Crystal Lake right now. Something tells me my mild Missouri February will be punished by a never-ending Illinois winter.

Happy Birthday, Gay Talese

Today is Gay Talese’s 80th Birthday. If you’ve never heard of him, Talese is one of the first writers to incorporate literary storytelling techniques into non-fiction stories. He would study subjects with keen detail over hours and hours, take meticulous notes and then recreate those scenes with vivid detail in his stories.

Back in 1966, Talese wrote a profile of Frank Sinatra entitled “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.” It is widely considered to be one of the best magazine articles of all time and also happens to be my favorite. The story helped me get past a barrier in my mind, that journalists and writers were somehow disconnected, that you had to choose one or the other. But because of the intense reporting — and it’s important to note, Sinatra wouldn’t submit to an interview for the article, so it’s mainly based on observation — Talese is able to build a beautiful story about a complex man, who we see transform from a shut-off individual in the opening scene to a powerful man with a kind heart, and to a broken body, bordering on depression, who doesn’t have it in him to trade attention for happiness.

Today, you might read about how Joe Actor got in an altercation with someone in a club, which becomes a very vague truth. The details (altercation? was it a fight? did he win? did he lose? was he drunk?) are filled in by gossip, and we tend to assume the worst. But Talese gives us numerous clear scenes and plenty of rich background, and by the end of the story, we feel we know Frank Sinatra ourselves — all of him.

And so, in honor of Talese’s 80th, I hope you’ll read one of the great profiles of all time.