Leaving Lexington

Getting what we need.

I cried most of the drive from Lexington to Cincinnati. Its a short drive, and we were early for our flight. My students didn't understand and I couldn't explain it.

I feel a particular connection to the hills of Northern Kentucky, it feels like home, it is home to me. My grandfather used to tell me that we were related to Daniel Boone, most certainly an exaggeration on his part. But I still feel a deep connection to this place.

The first crispness in the air Monday reminded me of Autumn in Southwest Ohio in those hills,a season that I won’t get here in Houston. The season and its reminder of the past was only a backdrop to the deeper sadness I felt on that drive.

I knew I wasn't coming back.

Lexington has long been an important locus of my debate experiences, as a student, graduate assistant and as a coach. I have even worked at tournaments in Funkhauser, running ballots, finding judges and laughing about it later in the hospitality suite. Perhaps it was the jarring lack of these touchstones, the remnants of my fondness for the place, that made the inhospitable character of the tournament this year so difficult.

The un-welcomeness I felt brought back for me how I felt in my first visits to the Kentucky tournament, when I was first beginning to enter the strange scary world of college debate. The foreignness of this place returned, unexpected, despite my best efforts of familiarity.

I cry in the women’s bathroom at debate tournaments. To hide my vulnerability from those who would prey on it. The space of the bathroom isn't entirely safe, but its the best I've found.

The best crying spot at the Kentucky Tournament is the Women’s bathroom on the first floor of the Classroom Building. I don’t know how many times I've gathered my thoughts and tears, the broken hopes, and lost dreams in that space.

The return to the tournament that follows the emotional release of crying is difficult, but the practice is part of my equipment for living in debate.

NB (I can create a full list of the most effective spaces for privacy and crying in women’s bathrooms for any and all who would want it, it will be on the wiki).

Was I crying for the loss of the place, for the loss of its memories, for the losses of my teams, for all the accumulated losses that can’t be named or remembered or thought?

I don’t think I can actually explain it. Here’s a list —

  • Seemingly incommensurate positions, staked on students, teams, coaches and tournaments.
  • Disinterested and uncaring responses to real pain, frustration and anger.
  • The cool apathy of those in positions of privilege.
  • Elijah, Nadia, Jamilia, and all the names that were unspoken.
  • Eric.
  • Jim.
  • Josh, Nick, Danny, Nader.
  • Corey & Jide, Tyler & Andrew.
  • Ross’ profound absence.

I was crying about my inability to speak these things, to say the names. To tell their stories. To honor their vulnerabilities. I felt alone, out of place and without the familiarity, the safety, the comfort I once felt in Lexington.

These comforts are privilege . I always thought that the debate community could provide those comforts to all who need them. I was crying because it seemed like maybe I was wrong.

Dr. Patterson (as I've heard, but never experienced) has always insisted on playing the Stones’ “You can’t always get what you want” in between the announcement of every decision at the Run for the Roses. I always thought that the tradition was odd but just part of the way things were.

Now, I understand it to be much more than a empty practice.

You can’t always get what you want — e.g. the win, the argument, the points, the awards, the invite.

The tournament built by JW demonstrated quite clearly that you weren't getting what you want. Particularly at the Clay: want more food? Too bad. Want a round robin invite? Yea, not happening.

But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

The thing we need, that Lexington symbolized for me, that seems to have been lost, is the space for discussion, lively debate, friendship, competition and so much more.

This year’s Round Robin and Clay were a failure of the song’s second clause. Were these things something that had been available previously? Perhaps only for a few. But I was profoundly struck by the absence during the tournament and cried for this loss on the way home.

I believe that we aren't trying and as a result failing to serve our students, our community and ourselves.

Getting what we need

I’m not sure that I won’t go back to Lexington, I may. But much like Heraclitus’ observation that you can’t step in the same river twice, I will not be going back to Lexington as I encountered it this weekend or as it once was.

How do we get what we need? The problems in debate seem insurmountable, but as Mick reminds us, all we need to do is try sometimes.

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