Taylor: Searching for inspiration

March 4, 2013, 10:55 p.m.

On Friday it hit me. An innocent email from my Managing Editor at The Daily informing me of this week’s budget tipped me over the edge.

Four stories due from me next week; 3,600, hopefully well-chosen, words; six stories by other people due on my editing night, Tuesday, equaling another 4,400 words for me to sift through and check, before helping out with the whole layout process of the next day’s paper.

And I’m supposed to be a full-time student, supposed to be busy writing my doctoral thesis—200-plus pages of far less comprehensible text.

It’s crunch time, the final few minutes of winter quarter, the seconds ticking steadily by, the scoreboard burning painfully bright with a simple message: I’m down, maybe—hopefully—not by much, and I’m certainly not feeling on top of this situation.

To add insult to injury, my MacBook Pro, perhaps the most important thing in my life right now, also threw in the towel on Friday. Instead of a nice helpful cursor, I was treated to the Spinning Beach Ball of Death, my files and applications frustratingly out of reach behind the frozen screen of my laptop.

Last week, one of my fellow columnists wrote about everything other people get from literature that he gets from sports. On an average week, I’d say my relationship with sports doesn’t go much deeper than simple light-hearted entertainment, but there are some times—this week, for example—that I need something more: inspiration.

Sure, books can be inspiring, but rarely in quite the same way. Fiction feeds a healthy imagination, but I think most of us realize that when all is said and done, it is just fiction. Achieving the impossible in the virtual world is far less impressive than even achieving average things in the real world.

Non-fiction can be much more inspiring, reading real accounts of how ordinary people did extraordinary things, how they went from nothing to something and changed the world. It’s hard not to take at least something from such stories, not to start believing that even we can do something special with our lives.

But even that falls a little short because though it might be true, it lacks the reality of a story unfolding right now, before our very eyes. What’s done is done, we know how it is all going to end. There are few surprises in non-fiction.

I’ve never really understood why fans might want to watch a game they have already seen again in its entirety. Perhaps the highlights, to marvel again at a few key moments and better understand them but not to sit down to try and relive the action play-by-play. Especially not when there is far too much going on in the real world, both inside and outside of the realm of sports, to enthrall anyone.

Sports—live sports—are inspiring because anything can happen. You might be down, but you’re never out of it until the final whistle or buzzer is blown. It can of course be disheartening too, because that is the yin to inspiration’s yang. When your team gets torn to pieces or crumbles of its own accord, it’s pretty depressing, but without that emotion lurking behind every defeat the highs wouldn’t be quite as high.

You can go down in style too. David doesn’t always get to beat Goliath, but against much bigger opposition he can still inspire us all with the way he plays the game—the teamwork, the togetherness, the against-all-odds, the never-say-die attitude.

As much as we might not realize it, we’re a team outside of sports too. College is a game and the dreaded curve means you’re often competing head-to-head with your closest friends. Homework and exams are just a cruel obstacle course we must negotiate; succeeding at them doesn’t prove for certain that you learned anything anymore than failing means you learned nothing.

And just when everything looked hopeless for me, my own team stepped up. My fellow women’s basketball beat writer and desk editor volunteered to grab my editing duties and at least once of those stories due, and a lab mate jumped in to help get my computer running again.

It’s now week nine of winter quarter. Dead Week and then finals are just around the corner. Problem sets and papers are piling up, and it seems unthinkable right now that you’ll make it to spring break.

But you got this. Go you!

Put on your pom-poms and cheer Tom on at tom.taylor ‘at’ stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.

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