If you haven’t heard by now, the Norman Einstein’s Sports & Rocket Science Monthly was an online sports publication that produced twenty-one issues in total.
Earlier this month, Norman Einstein’s creator Cian O’Day launched The Normanthology Kickstarter campaign to collect the best of the issues in one print volume.
Over the next few weeks, I will be chatting with the contributors of the publication to give additional insight into their work and the project as a whole.
I’ve chatted with Cian O’Day, Fredorrarci and Jason Clinkscales so far.
In the clean-up spot today is Graydon Gordian, founder and editor emeritus of 48 Minutes Of Hell.
Since sports isn’t always black and white, we needed some gray.
Did I seriously just write that?
You can find all of Gordian’s writing at Norman Einstein’s by clicking here. My personal favorites: Hard Foul: a Monologue, Counterpunch: History Robs Tom Molineaux and The Men With No Name: On The Nature & Limits Of Bull Riding.
Q: Tell me how you became attached to the Norman Einstein’s project and whether it helped you develop and grow as a writer?
I honestly don’t remember when I first became aware of Norman Einstein’s.
The first piece I remember reading was “Purity Of Heart Is To Will One Thing: the Aesthetic Poverty Of Lance Armstrong” by Ben Birdsall. His contributions to the magazine are still some of my favorites.
I do remember, before I began writing for the magazine, inviting Cian O’Day to have a drink with me when I was visiting my girlfriend in Brooklyn in the spring of 2010.
He and I watched a college basketball game — I think it was Marquette-Syracuse — at a bar in Prospect Heights.
We discovered that we had a similar way of approaching not just basketball but sports as a whole. We had a shared belief that the way in which we narrate the sports we love largely fails to do them justice and that the aesthetic potential of athletics is not sufficiently mined.
At the time I had already been exploring the relationship between aesthetics and sports in my writing, but Cian encouraged me to do so with more depth and imagination. While the group of writers he brought together is terrific, the importance of his guiding editorial hand can’t be overstated.
I think some of the best work I’ve ever done was published by Einstein’s. I was always so excited to work on pieces for Cian, partly because I knew my work would appear alongside the work of writers whom I truly admired. But mostly because Cian placed a tremendous amount of confidence in me and always encouraged me to tackle ambitious topics and complex questions.
My self-confidence as a writer partly derives from the pride I feel about the work I published in Einstein’s.
Q: I want to talk a bit more about Hard Foul: a Monologue. I loved the way you compartmentalized your thoughts on this one action in basketball — the hard foul — that is often overlooked. It’s made me realize that playoff basketball is all about escalation — in pressure, in meaning — and the hard foul represents all of that. A dunk is still a dunk in the playoffs. But a hard foul? Much different. Tell me more about how the piece came about.
The monologue wasn’t the first time I had touched upon the topic. Back in 2008 I wrote a piece for Hardwood Paroxysm that was based on much of the same thought. My original intention was to write something that expanded upon that greatly. Not many people know this, but the decision to make it an audio piece was actually an act of desperation, not an aesthetic choice.
I intended to write it on a flight back to the U.S from Guantanamo Bay, but my last night in Gitmo I got wrecked – I’m talking deeply, profoundly drunk — with some marines at the officers club on the base.
On the flight I was so incredibly hungover that I couldn’t write a word.
I got picked up at the airport in Washington and immediately had to go to rural Virginia for hostile conditions training.
I’m sitting in my room at the hotel in Virginia, completely incapable of writing a word because I feel like shit.
The piece is already passed deadline.
So on the fly I call Cian and come up with this bullshit about an audio piece. He liked the idea, so I turned on my recorder and just talked for about 15 minutes. I recorded most of the piece in a single take.
As far as your thoughts on escalation are concerned, I think you’re most certainly on to something.
Without a doubt playoff games are more intense, and the teleological nature of sports naturally endows them with a greater narrative significance. And I think you’re right about the dunk versus the hard foul.
Dunks aren’t that much more exciting or intense in the playoffs because dunks don’t reveal anything about the player or the opponent.
As I argue in my monologue, the foul is a revelation. It’s an admittance that the player is incapable of stopping you without breaking the rules, and for that reason it’s a very intimate moment.
The fact that such a revelation would come at such an intensely dramatic time makes it all the more powerful. And as I mentioned as well, hard fouls bring out lots of righteous indignation in the fan.
So for both the fan and the players involved, there’s a real potential for the foul to be a brief, untidy emotional climax amidst the broader structural climax of the playoffs.
Q: Lastly, how would you describe Norman Einstein’s?
At times I’ve heard a number of Einstein’s contributors – and I’ve probably said this myself – refer to it as an “experimental” sports writing magazine.
But as I’ve thought more about it, I don’t think that’s the best term for it. I prefer the term “radical.”
Now, I don’t mean radical in a political sense. The values of the magazine undoubtedly fell on the left side of the spectrum but politics and its relationship with sports was not touched upon all that often.
When I say “radical,” I mean it in its original sense: fundamental. I felt that we were searching for what is fundamental about sports. And what is fundamental is that sport is culture, plain and simple.
That might seem reductive, but in fact it is the exact opposite. Thinking about sports not as this separate category of human activity but merely as one manifestation of culture radically alters the way you approach a number of other subjects: beauty, ethics, politics, history and epistemology to list a few.
That “radical” approach allowed us to tell the stories of sports in imaginative ways.
At the end of the day it always comes back to storytelling.