I was informed Wednesday afternoon my contract as sports editor at KyForward would not be renewed. Effectively immediately, I have written my final words for them. It’s my understanding I will be replaced not by a reporter, but by a editor aggregating content on all Kentucky colleges and high schools from a desk. I have no hard feelings, nor do they. I remain thankful for the opportunity given and stand by the work I did under their employ. They are truly kind people.

I wrote a credo about being laid off the last time it happened, so that won’t happen again. Here I will simply thank all of you for following me to that corner of the Internet where I wrote some things for a little while. If some of you follow me wherever it is I end up next, I’ll be thankful. I’m still relatively new to this business, but it doesn’t take long to learn the most rewarding thing about writing for a living is engaging with people who appreciate whatever it is you’re trying to say. I think any writer would say that, and if you’re here reading this, I have you to thank for clicking the links you did and the comments, in agreement or not, you sent my way. So thanks for everything, y’all. Dumb jokes on Twitter and links to music nobody ever clicks—almost everything there is to the @pennington_jl experience—will drudge on, and so will I. If it seems like my wheels are ceaselessly spinning, spitting mud and leaves in my face along the way, that’s OK. I’ll get traction soon enough, and until then, I’ll wear the mud and leaves proudly, like a hunter or some kind of army person.*

If you haven’t been reading closely, or you happen upon this page without having any clue who I am, here are some links to things I’ve written recently.

At KyForward, I researched a 95-year-old basketball game to find out why Kentucky has one tie in its all-time record. I also took a #HOTSPORTSTAKE specialist to task on an agenda-driven question he asked after Michigan State beat Kentucky in November. (Note: I published a postscript to that column at A Sea of Blue about a month later.) I also sat in the stands to cover a Kentucky-North Carolina game. Come tournament time, I wrote about Julius Randle’s legacy-making pass against Louisville, Kentucky’s Sinatra-level coolness as it beat Michigan, and how the national runners-up will be remembered when Willie Cauley-Stein bumps into somebody at Wal-Mart 30 years from now.

I’ve also written some things recently at SB Nation that you could read if you like. Dakari Johnson wouldn’t stop talking about Aaron Harrison’s big nuts. Drake wanted to be part of Kentucky’s run, so he showed up after UK beat Wisconsin in the Final Four. And I wrote about how dang cool it must have been for Aaron and Andrew Harrison to have done all these cool things together like all siblings wish they could.

Thanks again, y’all.

*A subtle message to potential employers that I can write about sports, but I can also write about wars and stuff.

I live a lot of my life in front of other people. I write work that is published and, in theory anyway, read by many people. Lots of times, what is published under my byline is written on tight deadline and thus is a pretty raw look at how I write and how I think. It doesn’t really bother me. In my free time, I sing music with a chorus that is routinely put in front of audiences, sometimes with lots of people and sometimes with some amount significantly less than that. Performing for hundreds or thousands of people, nerves never enter the picture.

Something about a crowd excites me. It calms me, even. It allows me the opportunity to creatively express myself—or maybe a heightened version of myself, depending on the medium and the venue—to an anonymous interlocutor. Whether I’m singing or writing doesn’t matter. Even if I’m reporting a dry news story, it requires me to apply news judgment to report what I think is important to the story; thus, the creative responsibility is on me to perhaps look at the story in a way others wouldn’t (otherwise, everyone could be a journalist). It’s fun. At least, that’s my way, as a creative type, of justifying it. Anyway.

A high-school quartet of mine once sang the national anthem at a sold-out Reds game. I was 15 years old (I might’ve been 14, actually, but you get the idea), and standing behind home plate scanning around to see 40,000 people in front of me actually helped me focus on singing.

After we finished singing was when the nerves hit. All of a sudden, walking to my seat meant I was no longer dealing with one crowd; I was dealing instantly with 40,000 people. Forty-thousand people and one crowd of 40,000 people are two entirely different groups. This is my life.

I had to walk past them and through them, and they were going to say things to me (or at me, probably)—even compliments sometimes stir me in a way with which I’m not comfortable—or just look at me and force me to draw my own conclusions about the thing I just did in front of them. As a master of psyching myself out, that never begins, middles or ends well.

From the time I was really young, I’ve spent just about my entire life in front of audiences, whether that means singing or acting or the professional audience of a different kind I remain in front of in my current line of work. I’ve had enough forgotten lyrics, botched lines, missed dance steps, careless typos and inane syntax gaffes to properly evaluate the emotional value of each somewhere around zero. Nothing bad, at least to me, can come from performance. The highs are about the best a human can experience. I chase them every day. The lows aren’t bad at all. You mess up, you move on. The only way to take the fear out of screwing up in front of an audience is to do it a lot, and of all the things I can’t say I’ve accomplished, I sure as hell have made it past that threshold.

But as I got older and found myself in this closest facsimile to adulthood I can accept, the opposite effect affected what happens to me away from an audience. I have trouble enough navigating people every day. As I’ve probably said on this very blog before, the best way to identify me in public by myself is probably by the pattern in which my hair parts. I figure if I keep my head down and walk briskly with my headphones in, I’m safe from the inevitable judgment passed down from the world around me. I can control my world, and honestly, I’d almost always rather track cracks on the sidewalk to a soundtrack I choose than run the risk of making weird eye contact with some guy passing in the bike lane or spend the rest of my day wondering what those two people thought of me when they stopped their conversation as we passed on the sidewalk heading in opposite directions.

I wish I knew how to navigate people the way I can control a crowd (or, at least, the way I can control myself in front of a crowd). Last Saturday, my chorus had an all-day rehearsal which we followed with a “guest night” and a small, informal performance. We probably sang for 150 or 200 people, but I was still in full performance mode. I was featured in front of the chorus at two points in the show, and in two totally different ways: one singing a solo in a medley of Nat King Cole songs, the other yelling testimony in the style of the hillbilly-est southern preacher, straddling the line between laughing and believing, during an epic gospel song. Neither bothered me. Challenging myself to provoke—maybe provoke isn’t the best word, but I’m leaving it in—the audience in different ways is exciting, and if I pull it off, that’s pretty cool.

An audience member saw me across the room and walked up to me afterward to shake my hand before I could quietly retreat to the dressing room. Because of the nature of the performance—it was a night to introduce our chorus to guests and prospective members—I had briefly met this audience member earlier in the night. He was a prospective member of the chorus, and I had even done a little bit of singing with him. He was a high schooler and he was very good, and I even saw a little bit of myself in him because he was so excited about singing around the same age when I first really got excited about it.

So after the show, he came up to me, and I guess he had really dug one of my solos or something (I would like to believe it was the one in which I actually sang, and not the one during which I made a fool of myself yelling like a preacher on cable, but I didn’t ask him). He walked up to me with a big smile on his face, shook my hand and said, “Man, who are you?” He laughed. I laughed. I had a normal, human conversation with him, somebody I had never met until he put himself out there because he felt a thing inside him that told him he should say something. I don’t know why he felt this urge, and in my state of social semi-shortcomings, it’s difficult for me to even understand that urge. But earlier I had felt something in common with and even seen some of myself in this person, and he just did something I don’t know if I’ve ever done. How many times in my life have I walked across a room of crowded people with the sole intent of saying something thoughtful to a person I didn’t know? Sure, there was a bit of context that made it a little less constricting for him to say that thing to me. But what is it about some people like me that’s programmed so that such a small task—one that I know firsthand made me feel so much better about myself than I did in the instant before he said it—feels nearly impossible? I can’t walk down the street with my chin up, let alone approach somebody I don’t know and tell them about a thing they did that affected me. Just now, it took me a solid 30 or 40 seconds to decide how to ask the person at the coffee shop if they’d mind shifting over for a second while I plugged in my computer. If stage fright is being nervous and anxious in front of crowds, I guess I have the opposite of that. Is off-stage fright a thing? I’m not sure.

So I guess the point of the 1,300 words of drivel to this point has led to this: On Saturday, a teenager walked up to me and, without him having any idea, made me decide to try to get over it. I guess walking with my head down and keeping to myself has “worked” to this point, but I think this is a social hurdle worth clearing. I don’t know what the end game is, but if a life of being in front of audiences has taught me anything, it’s that forcing myself outside my comfort zone has always made me a better performer in some tangible way. Maybe if I make it a habit to walk with my head up, I’ll realize that the world in front of me isn’t as judgmental and unkind as I currently perceive it to be. Maybe if I make it a habit to occasionally consider complimenting a friend on something he or she wrote or a shirt he or she wore, or even a stranger in a coffee shop on the book he or she is reading—maybe then I’ll realize it isn’t so hard despite the idiotic words surely falling out of my face. Hey, maybe I’ll realize something I know to be true even if I have seemingly inescapable fear practicing it in reality: Putting myself out there when I’m not in front of an audience can be just as tough, but it can (probably) be just as rewarding.

To start, I’m going to walk with my head up more and my headphones in less. That seems like a small thing, but I’m going to try to do it. I don’t know what step comes next. I know I would never become a better writer or a better singer without working toward making it happen. I would be a fool to believe I’d ever be a better person without similar tangible steps.

The Lexington Center Corp., which owns Rupp Arena, announced Wednesday it has hired an architectural firm and a construction team to renovate Rupp Arena. Among tidbits emanating from the announcement was one as significant to Kentuckians and Lexingtonians as any you could conjure: Naming rights for the iconic arena are up for bids. Kentucky fans sure do like that their arena is named after a coach and not a corporation, and while it’s been reported the new naming rights will be for (Business) Rupp Arena instead of simply (Business) Arena, it’s still a sensitive subject among a fan base always eager to defend its honor whether or not it’s being legitimately challenged.

The truth behind these naming rights, sad as it may be for corporations seeking such an opportunity, is: Folks aren’t going to care about your business’s name. They’re still going to call it Rupp Arena no matter what you do. If you want to bolster exposure for your business by winning naming rights for Rupp Arena, you must follow these two criteria:

  1. Make the entire arena an experience in your product instead of just plugging a name and a logo on the front, and
  2. Be the coal industry.

Coal has the only shot at this, because, as you probably know, it keeps the lights on, as we Kentuckians are reminded on television (powered by coal), radio (powered by coal), license plates (pressed in plants powered by coal, probably) for which folks pay $40/year (I bet their office where they earn a week’s wage is powered by coal) and bumper stickers (stuck on with coal-powered adhesives), among other media. So, Coal Industry, I may not personally empathize with your cause, but as someone who likes things like “money” and “keeping the lights on” in my own way, I am not above providing you with the answers you didn’t know you needed to come up with the perfect pitch to strike a chord and reach a perfect cadence with the Lexington Center Corporation on naming rights and so much more.

THE NAME

BEING IMMERSED IN A WORLD OF COAL

Fans don’t want to go to an arena to walk through a neutral, pleasing, naturally lit concourse out to a seat to watch a basketball game then leave. Fans want an immersive experience. Why build an arena for fans when you could build a living museum for fans that shows where everything comes from?

THE CONCOURSE

The concourse will be dark. There will be no natural lighting. The walls will all be exposed stone, and the lighting will come from crudely drawn temporary lights. The room is hot and damp. The idea is: You’re in a coal mine. You think you take coal for granted? PROVE IT BY NOT BEING JARRED WALKING THROUGH A F—ING COAL MINE TO GO TO A DAMN BASKETBALL GAME, YOU SPOILED BIG-CITY YUPPIES. Each ticket-taker is wearing one of those hard hats with a light on it (mine term), and you have to chip through the turnstile with one of those pointy axes (mine term also) to earn admission into the arena.

CONCOURSE GAMES

Every arena should have some fun to-dos so that you aren’t going to a basketball game just to watch basketball. You want pop-a-shot? You want a little, tiny basketball goal so your kids can shoot some hoops? You want to get black shit all over your clothes and under your fingernails and ruin that $80 T-shirt you just bought from the vendor who couldn’t stop coughing? How about we quell all of those problems with one solution?

It’s called Coalball, and it’s a perfect game for children and adults alike. You set up a standard-issue 10-foot basketball goal on one end, and a six-foot goal for the wee ones. The rules are exactly like basketball, except you’re locked in on the court at the beginning of each game until it ends, and you play with lumps of coal instead of basketballs. One problem is presented, admittedly: When you dribble a brittle piece of coal, it has no recoil and indeed smashes into the ground and clouds the sky with coal dust. On one hand, dust inhalation is a real thing. But on the other hand, everybody who has bought a ticket agreed to a waiver, knowingly or—more likely—otherwise, and the coal dust also adds to the coal-miney atmosphere. The first team to 500 points wins. The game can also end if you sign a blood oath to vote for straight coal-supporting tickets, as determined by the Friends of Coal and the Friends of Coal alone, in state elections for the rest of your life.

CONCESSIONS

Whose idea was it to cook nice, delicious cookout food on charcoal grills? Doesn’t a nice hot dog or beer brat sound tasty, or perhaps a cheeseburger with some nice grilled veggies and a cold lemonade sound great? Whose idea was that, again? KILL THEM DEAD. At Joe Craft Coal “Coal Keeps the Lights On!” Friends of Coal Wildcat Coal Rupp Arena, Powered by Coal, Which Keeps the Lights On If You Forgot, you’re eating like miners. You have three options:

  1. Bring your own lunch, provided it can fit in a small paper bag and can sit in extreme temperature conditions for at least six (6) hours.
  2. Don’t eat.
  3. We can sell you lumps of coal to eat, and we will watch you eat them.

Don’t want to eat coal? Tough luck, you dingus. You should know what you’re getting into when you power up that router, modem and computer to log on to the Internet and buy tickets to a basketball game here in the Commonwealth. This is the coal industry getting its reparations for all the coal you’ve burned surfing Facebook. Also, there’s a kiosk where you can sign entire paychecks away to Friends of Coal, at which point you’ll be teleported instantly to the top floor of the Big Blue Building and hand-fed a five-star, four-course meal while Mitch McConnell laughs and reads a full list of all the people you’re better than.

THE GAME

Who cares? #COAL

PEP BAND

The University of Kentucky Pep Band’s repertoire has been limited to playing only its new fight song, “Sixteen Tons,” and an all-sung, 70-bpm rendition of “Erie Canal.”

AFTER THE GAME

Work—I mean, participate—in a post-game mine simulator festively called, “Koch-Craft-Koch Mine No. 60.” After each game, fun-loving game-goers are sent on an R.J. Corman train from the Cox St. parking lot 110 miles east to a real-life mine—er, a real-life mine simulator—to log a 12-hour “shift” in a “mine.” It all seems very real and is intended to make coal converts out of the most cynical city saps who try to ignore this industry’s pristine past. The surgical masks are for the in-ride portraits. You know, for authenticity!

FINE PRINT

Once you enter, there is no early exiting. Also, one in six attendees at each game gets the black lung.

It’s difficult to forecast where Society At Large is headed in our relation to robots. We go back and forth, I think, between favoring if robots will save us or destroy us. That doesn’t mean the situation is any less looming than before, nor does it mean I am any less terrified than I have been. Robots are, and always have been, out to get me, and I can—and indeed I will—document two distinct moments in life in which Supplantation By Robot felt, and to me were, inevitable:

  1. 2005: Angry, Short High-School James was nearing completion of his high school diploma and playing in a ska band with his friends. He played the trumpet, at least for a while before he played guitar, and further discussion of this matter would best be suited for another time (never, probably) and place (in Hell, probably). In 2005, the Toyota Corporation decided to demo its advances in the world of robotics not by putting neat, helpful technology in its cars, but by building a robot that played the trumpet. That’s all it did. It was designed to play the trumpet, in order to advance the human race, because if another Louis Armstrong were never to be born, why don’t we just engineer one, and also, let’s assure our paranoid protagonist he would never be as successful playing the trumpet as a robot and would, in turn, die alone.Angry, Short High-School James dealt with the trumpet robot reasonably well in public, joking about it like he did everything else while simultaneously growing out his hair, but privately, he knew robots had finally come into his life, learned to play trumpet better than him and stolen his identity. On the 20-80 scale, he’s a 60 player and a 20 showman. Now good luck sitting in your bedroom and learning all of the trumpet parts to every Reel Big Fish song like our troubled teen did, you robot.
  2. 2009: College James, a very specific type, was in the midst of his first season writing about men’s basketball at the college newspaper. He wrote strictly by the book of Terrible Newspaper Tropes, but oh, did he try, and further discussion of this matter—including inspection of writing clips from the era at hand—would be best suited for another time (never, definitely) and place (in Hell, certainly). One day in 2009, the buzz around the newsroom and the journalism school at his hallowed university was about sports-writing robots. A group of students at Northwestern University’s Intelligent Information Laboratory piloted a program in which a robot called Stats Monkey could use basic stats from any given box score and more advanced stats like WPA and Game Score to write a standard-issue gamer like one traditionally disseminated by humans via wire services like the Associated Press.The robot flaunted its copy-spitting skills with this, a gamer drawn from a playoff game that season. The first few grafs are pasted below.

    BOSTON — Things looked bleak for the Angels when they trailed by two runs in the ninth inning, but Los Angeles recovered thanks to a key single from Vladimir Guerrero to pull out a 7-6 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.Guerrero drove in two Angels runners. He went 2-4 at the plate.

    “When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart, and what happened in April in Anaheim, yes, it probably was the biggest hit (of my career),” Guerrero said. “Because I’m dedicating that to a former teammate, a guy that passed away.”

    Guerrero has been good at the plate all season, especially in day games. During day games Guerrero has a .794 OPS. He has hit five home runs and driven in 13 runners in 26 games in day games.

    College James would start writing gamers regularly for the AP a year from this fated discovery, and he would no sooner but also no later learn that, yes, OK fine, robots could probably do it just as well. His newfound career path and personal identity as Sports Reporter was jeopardized. Robots had again come into his life, learned how to write a basic gamer better than him (at least the value was higher; no human input meant instant deadline-meeting copy) and stolen his identity.

Now in the present day, and now back in the saddle of the first-person pronoun, robots have threatened my livelihood a third time. This one seems a bit more indirect and poor-intentioned, though. I was asked yesterday if I was running a Twitter account called @pennington_jl_ (my Twitter account can be found at @pennington_jl). Good friend Ben Jones found the account doing a search, and he thought it odd that there would exist a Twitter feed with my picture, a bio I used to use and my username with an extra underscore added to the end, and that the tweets had absolutely nothing to do with me. And he was right, because it is quite strange. My best guess is that some kind of computer program is running this account, that my Twitter likeness was chosen at random and the tweets are randomly generated somehow, perhaps lifted verbatim from somebody else’s account. It does not appear to be a parody of me that an actual person curates. One giveaway is that on days with multiple tweets, they all come through at the same time. Another giveaway is that this is something so weird, not even somebody on the Internet would do this for what appears to be no reason at all.

Here’s the problem: The @pennington_jl_ narrative is hilarious. It makes me laugh way more than anything I could write. The subject at hand appears to be an uncool high schooler, one who participates in gymnastics to an uncertain degree of proficiency, one who hates school as much as school appears to hate him. June 13 was a particularly tough day for our fake friend:

Oddly, I can’t guarantee I never said either or perhaps even both of those sentences in high school.

@pennington_jl_ follows almost 50 people, none of whom I follow (the only overlap to my world as a sports person is ESPN college hoops analyst Jay Williams, who my anonymous alter-ego follows but I do not). Those he follows seem to have nothing in common with each other. Before I tweeted about his existence yesterday, @pennington_jl_ had 22 followers, most or all of which seem to be spam bots. Since I tweeted about it, he has picked up 11 followers, nine of whom are friends who want to see, just as I do, what he says from here on out. One seems to be in the same boat as his first 22: completely random. But the last is a person I know in real life but does not follow my actual account. It is unclear how this happened or if it will ever be rectified, or if this person will go through life thinking I’m living a double life as a 17-year-old nerdy gymnast, but I’m going to wait it out to see if the real-life person at hand ever notices who, or more likely what, he/she is following instead of, you know, me.

Twitter has been a good source of exposure for me. Networking via Twitter has accounted for a really good portion of the writing work I’ve gotten over the past few years, and now on its virtual pages exists a facsimile of my likeness who somehow has found a way to tweet even more noise and folderol than I do.

Robots have again come into my life, learned how to tweet better than me and stolen my identity. I will continue to follow @pennington_jl_, and I’ll retweet whatever it says, because whatever the source(s) of its tweets, it’s a better source, apparently, than my own fingers (via my own brain).

Now I have until 2017 to subside in this world until robots again try to ruin my life in it. By then I’ll likely have forgotten about it, and a robot will sneak up on me one day and do its worst to replace me in whatever endeavor in which I’m found at that point. In the meantime, I’ll continue to try to take power away from the robots, mocking them by pronouncing it “ROW-buts” (the vowel in “buts” is a schwa instead of a short U) and doing a simplified robot dance when appropriate as a sign of weakness, that I have a full range of motion and Sweet Dance Moves at my disposal, while a robot can only move his segmented arms back and forth while twisting his torso 30 degrees, because, You stupid robot. But deep down—in the deepest part of me, where I dock my most secret and deepest, darkest truths only to be confronted when they confront me—I know the countdown has already begun, with a storyboard already in the works.

The robots know what I’m going to be doing in 2017 before I do, choreographing each step and each misstep with Fossean precision, pointing me directly into their trap. By then, the English language will be dead, and the 400,000 of us still alive on the moon colony will be speaking Esperanto, but the glasses-wearer offering English lessons to those willing to part with a nominal fee of 700 bones—actual human bones, the currency of the moon colony, 700 of which equate about $380,000 in current American dollars—will not be me. Notice the metallic glint in his eye and the subtle glow under his scalp. I’ll only get that when I’ve eaten really poorly for a few weeks on end, and on the moon colony, I run the farmer’s market.

I wrote this—more accurately, I was moved to write this—when Roger Ebert died. In the two months since, I’ve been latently living in fear that the Internet At-Large wasn’t able to wrap its head around my tribute, written in the over-the-top style of paragraphs more than 30 words without huge pictures and GIFs in between. So that I may sleep at night, and so that I may excise a considerable weight from my pale and bony shoulders—and so that I may look in the mirror each morn without wondering, at least for a moment, whose eyes those are leering back at the husk with a half-beard—I will adapt the 1,500-word essay to a format widely considered by Internet standards, as if any other exist or matter, to be more palatable.

***

This is James. He writes sometimes. One time, he bought an expensive notebook that looks like this.

IMG_6038
IMG_6032
IMG_6033

For the longest time, James didn’t know what to write in the notebook! What a stupid f—ing idiot. LOL

Then one day, James decided to write about movies in the notebook, because one of his favorite writers was the Two Thumbs Up guy, Roger Ebert.

ebert

Image source linked.

So now whenever James sees a movie he likes, he gets out the notebook and writes about the movie in it, because reasons.

IMG_6041

Can you believe that? I’m telling you, this wacky fella sure is wacky. What’s he gonna do next? Maybe he’ll do something extra wacky, like the time he wrote a lot about one of his very favorite movies.

 

James does all of that because of Roger Ebert (remember, that’s the Two Thumbs Up guy).

Image source linked.

Image source linked.

#RIP

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“Its weightless sophomoric jaunts play more like Walter Carlos and Pete Seeger made an album together in 1971, a useless bric-a-brac of tones analog and digital rolling around on an unlevel IKEA bookshelf—the BORGSJÖ model, in brown, article number 599.084.67—than the heavy-but-airy seminal sounds from the pop-metal-shoegaze-penisgaze-alt-classical-organic-synth-metal fusion of the trio’s tour de force debut album, ‘The Only Thing I Need You To Do Is Tell Me You Love Me Then Shut The Hell Up Before I Kill You, But I Do Love You, But Also, I’m Probably Going To Kill You Or Myself.’ Don’t let that discourage you from giving it a try; AIDS Nurse have made a good album before, and maybe you’ll like this one, too.

“But if frontman/multi-instrumentalist Herbert Stink Hoover doesn’t suck you in within the first 30 seconds of the lead track, ‘My Heart Was Stung By Bees, Literally,’ its everpresent glistening busyness somehow still vacant and idle, you might want to wait 18 more years for the follow-up. Also, I know way more about music than you do, you stupid dummy.”

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