Monday, November 6, 2023

This too Shall Pass: A tale of two tattoos

This is a weird one in that I feel it most in my teeth. Not sure that’s ever happened before. Can’t say I’m a fan.

 I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping myself distracted after a particularly inconceivable loss by spending time outside, going to get a nice meal, getting unimaginably high, or trying to feel something again by dying hundreds of times in a Sisyphean quest to complete Dark Souls-styled video games. Sometimes all of the above.

But, residing inside of a piece of meat controlled by a brain that is predisposed to do its own thing on occasion, I do regularly get intrusive thoughts. Saturday was like Christmas for the secret Santa responsible for these nuggets of fun, and it has since gifted me with joyous visions of our WR dropping a TD that would have won us the game, a laser beam going through the hands of our TE where a catch would have won us the game, and Illinois’ best WR running right through the defense we thought was on the ascendancy to win them the game. On repeat. For days. Like finding a wet turd in your pocket every time you reach for some mints.

 Anyway, as I’ve said a few times on here, I usually feel that – not even sure what to call it…dread, maybe? the abyss staring back into me? – somewhere between my stomach and my heart. This time it’s, like, in my molars. A tingly ache that goes away as soon as I redirect the thought, but a constant reminder that, yes, losing that game was very sad. As if I needed that prompt.

 I’m pretty tatted up. One of the tattoos on my forearm is amor fati in ancient Greek script. Yes, I took a Latin phrase and converted it not to Greek, but ancient Greek. While I am open to criticism of being an extremely basic bitch for doing this, I think my reasoning was sound: I intensely dislike making small talk with people and had no interest in explaining something people could read on my arm. This doesn’t explain the “Live, Laugh, Love” sleeve on my other arm, but that’s for a different blog.

 Amor fati is roughly translated as “love of one’s fate” and, while it didn’t originate with influential/misunderstood German philosopher and syphilis haver Friedrich Nietzsche, it is a semi-familiar concept today because of his works. The idea is rooted in the idea of eternal recurrence: what if the life we have lived and will live is repeated in its exact form for eternity? There are probably parts of everyone’s life that would be done differently or where a different outcome was desired.

 Under eternal recurrence, these aren’t options, and one must accept the good and the bad. Nietzsche framed amor fati as the uncompromising position to not simply bear that state of being, but that one should love that burden, as to negate it is to deny one’s existence. The tribulations occasionally or often inherent in every person’s life don’t make one a better person, but they do make one more complete (Neitzsche would say “profound”) and, at any rate, are required phenomena in the context of eternal recurrence for us to also experience the good:

Suppose that we said yes to a single moment, then we have not only said yes to ourselves, but to the whole of existence. For nothing stands alone, either in ourselves or in things; and if our soul did but once vibrate and resound with a chord of happiness, then all of eternity was necessary to bring forth this one occurrence—and in this single moment when we said yes, all of eternity was embraced, redeemed, justified and affirmed.


Still got hope dot com: your home for grossly oversimplifying the ideas of modern philosophical giants and The Will to Power references. Hang with me for one more minute and then we’ll get to the extended point, which, shocker, is Gopher football related.

Anyhow, I got that tattoo because I am extremely bad at letting things go. I ruminate, obsess, and catastrophize over totally insignificant events. For years. I overanalyze and assume the worst in every social interaction. When a bad thing happens socially or at work, my default position is everyone sees it and now hates me.

Those processes are an artifact from old ways of thinking that prohibit progress. Amor fati sits in a place where I can see it at all times. It’s there to prod me to stop regretting the past or being anxious about the future. The need for that message was so important that I permanently marked up my body to make it part of my being. A lot of people have throwaway tattoos, stuff from spring break or memorializing things that were important in one’s youth, but have no relevance in middle age. This one, for me, though, is a way of life. It’s who I aspire to be and a reminder that the good sometimes comes with the bad. An affirmation to move forward and love whatever that entails.

Thus concludes the longest context setting since Atlas Shrugged. On we go, with a transition as subtle as a hammer to the face.

You know who else has a tattoo? PJ Fleck. His runs vertically along the back of his calf and reads “This too shall pass.” Alas, no, it is not a descriptor of his preferred offensive strategy (“This too shall drain the air out of the ball, turtle until the clock strikes 0:00, and generally operate as a sphincter that never isn’t causing constipation” would have required the length of seven PJ Fleck calves), but a maxim that he uses to maintain emotional consistency.

It makes sense: he’s a super high-energy guy with an enormous amount of responsibility; one who wants to celebrate every moment of his life while operating in a profession where people are venerating you one week and vengefully planning your ouster the next. In the same way amor fati reminds me to not be a miserable and neurotic weirdo, his tattoo serves to keep him grounded between the emotional highs and lows of a Power 5 football coach: experience and feel things in the moment, knowing everything, the good and bad, is ephemeral. Mono no aware for uber-high-achieving millionaires.

It also fits within the public image of Fleck as a growth-mindset, power of positive thinking sort of guy. “Failure is growth,” “change your best,” and “this too shall pass” mesh nicely together in the context of one’s personal philosophy, as failure is less an absolute state of being and more of a transitory period from which one emerges as a better person. One will experience ups and downs, but the goal is to maintain a trendline moving up and to the right over the duration of one’s life. Everything is an opportunity for growth. Nothing is permanent.

And that last bit - the lack of permanence and recognition that everything is in a persistent state of change - is what leaves me confounded. He’s a smart guy and a savvy operator. He must see that the B1G is changing radically, our rivals are changing radically, what is being asked from fans is changing radically. But he’s not changing anything.

This too shall pass: not special teams, friendo. Solid field goal team, interspersed with some of the most diseased mistakes imaginable. Changes to personnel and coaching? Absolutely not.

This too shall pass: sclerotic offense that disappears for huge stretches of games? Not so much. We’re on year three and our third offense coordinator for that turgid mess. The only consistent part of all of your bad relationships is you and I reckon that applies to Fleck and his offensive coordinators as well.

This too shall pass: Tresselball? Nah, that is as permanent as death, taxes, and the eventual heat death of the universe. We ought to follow Brew’s example of “Pound the Rock” and have “Drain the Clock” banners hung up around the athletic complex.

I’m being a bit of a dick here to make a point. I like what Fleck has done for the program and under no circumstances am I prepared to move on from him. But, man, the world is changing and if he doesn’t adapt, we’re cooked and he’s going to find it tough to get another P5 gig. His approach lets us whip the teams that are our peers or worse eight times out of ten, but, as Saturday demonstrated, it isn’t foolproof. 

His approach on offense and special teams gives us zero margin for error. When opportunities present themselves to get an extra possession or ice the game he will choose the least risky option 100 times out of 100. And, credit to him, we’ve won a bunch of games that way. Some of that is a function of schedule, but I’m not taking anything away from his record. Looking at the 2024 schedule though, we might be dogs in every B1G game. Have we seen anything this year to give us hope of upsetting anyone? I’m hard pressed to even remember when the last real upset was. It could be that we’re just not designed to compete with teams that are better than us. And that’ll be bad news as long as we stay in the B1G.

It's just immensely frustrating that someone who preaches about the importance of change in one’s life, who is so forward thinking in terms of engaging with recruits and players on their level, and goes so far as to mark his body up as a permanent reminder of the need to adapt, is either unable or unwilling to see that what has worked for him in the past will not work for him in the future. He has unlimited latitude to run whatever scheme he wants at Minnesota and he’s using that latitude to do approximately nothing in the face of monumental changes to the game. It’s enough to make my teeth hurt.

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