Update on the 30 at 30 Project as a Fresh 32-Year-Old

I launched the 30 at 30 project three years ago in an attempt to celebrate (rather than complain about) turning 30 years old. Three years later, I am closing in on completing this project, but I still have some work to do. While I have finished the initial portion of the project, counting down my 30 favorite musical artists, I still have five lists of 30 to write before I can officially put a bow on the 30 at 30 project.

So far I have written 25 list articles covering everything from my favorite student comments to my favorite video games. It has been a lot of fun generating the list topics, brainstorming the items for the respective top 30s and then writing about them. More than anything, this project has compelled me to write. I wrote a lot in high school and college but then kind of fell in and out of it in my 20s. Having the 30 at 30 project has kept me motivated to write on a semi-regular basis, especially during the summer months when, as a teacher, my schedule is much more accommodating. The current word count for the entire 30 at 30 project is approaching 119,000 words. It has been a labor of love for sure.

As the calendar shows September 8, I am officially 32 years old as of yesterday. The first two years of my 30s have treated me very well. Two years ago I wrote my list of “Things I Want to Do in My 30s.” The good news is I still have eight years to go, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to reflect on my progress after two years as a thirtysomething. Continue reading Update on the 30 at 30 Project as a Fresh 32-Year-Old

30 at 30 Lists #25: Video Games

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

Christmas 1990 was a magical day in my childhood. Up until that point in life, video games were a luxury that I experienced only when I visited my older cousins. My dad owned an old Magnavox Odyssey², but it didn’t compare to the state-of-the-art graphics and gameplay of the Sega Master System or the Nintendo Entertainment System. That Christmas morning, 6-year-old me opened up an NES, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, my family would go on to own various other video game systems, including Super Nintendo, Game Gear, Sony Playstation, PS2, and the Nintendo Wii—all of which are represented by at least one game on this list. However, original Nintendo was really my baptism into the world of video games.

Today, we live in a world where in a world where video games are an omnipresent force. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the video game industry in the United States made $23.5 billion last year, a figure that shows a 5% increase from 2014. If you haven’t heard of eSports, you’re probably old, but trust me, eSports are a thing and the younger generation doesn’t care if you disagree. Earlier this summer Pokemon Go, a game that cleverly blurs the lines between virtual reality and real life, dominated headlines and everyone’s social media feeds. The games produced for the likes of PS4 and Xbox One would make 6-year-old me’s head spin. The graphics are basically true-to-life renderings, and the gameplay is intricate and extensive. (The controllers have so many buttons!) Unfortunately, 31-year-old me doesn’t have time for all of the intricacies of 2016 gaming. Instead, I prefer to kick it old school.

Clearly I am not the only person in my age bracket who remains enamored with the systems I played when I was a kid. Recently Nintendo announced they will be releasing the NES Classic Edition, a special mini version of the original NES that comes pre-loaded with 30 classic NES games (there is a similar product in the works for Sega Genesis folks). While there are some great games included on the list for the NES Classic Edition, there are some notable games that will not be available as well, which leaves people like me turning to emulators like Nestopia or OpenEmu to get our retro-gaming fix.

As you scroll through the list of my all-time favorite games, you’ll notice a few clear trends: sports and platform adventure games dominate the list with very few deviations from those categories. I never liked first-person shooters. I never really got into role-playing video games. I played some fighter games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken, but they were never my top choice (unless you count wrestling games as fighting games, but I don’t). Nine times out of ten, my game of choice would be a sports game, and that tenth time I would pick one of the other classics included on the list below. Because sports games so dominated my list of favorites, I made some executive decisions to lump certain game franchises together as one entry rather than ranking multiple iterations of the same game. Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #25: Video Games

30 at 30 Lists #22: Movies

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, at least not compared to some of my family and friends who are true movie buffs. When Oscar season rolls around, I’m usually left scratching my head wondering how it’s possible that I never heard of so many of the nominated films. When it comes to on screen entertainment, I spend the vast majority of my time watching sports. I also regularly watch a substantial number of TV shows. While sports and TV shows are a part of my day-to-day life, movies are more of a rare treat reserved for special occasions.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have been to the theater in the past year, and when I tried to remember back to the last movie I saw at the theater, I was stumped. Maybe Trainwreck in 2015? Jessie and I occasionally watch something on Netflix or HBO Go, and we make a few trips to Redbox or Family Video to catch up on some of the movies we missed, but the truth of the matter is that there are a lot more movies that I don’t see than ones that I do see these days.

When it comes to movie preference, I generally prefer something lighthearted and funny. So don’t expect my list of favorites to mirror IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes. My list has nothing to do with critical acclaim and everything to do with appealing to me. Nonetheless, if you haven’t yet seen any of the 30 movies on my list, I highly recommend checking them out. Each one of them is a movie that I could and have watched multiple times. Now without any further ado, my favorite 30 movies of all-time. I also included links to each movie’s IMDB page in case you are interested to learn more: Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #22: Movies

30 at 30 Lists #21: Food

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

If food and I were in a relationship on Facebook, it would probably be labeled “it’s complicated.” It was only a few months ago that the leading digit on the scale was a 2 for the first time in my life. I was always a skinny, athletic kid. In my brief high school basketball career, my struggle was trying to bulk up and add weight. 200 pounds was my wake up call.

When I first started a relationship with Jessie, I developed a notorious nickname: “The Picky Eater.” However, over time, my openness to trying new foods increased as did my ability to consume them. By the time we were married, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 185 pounds—nowhere near the skinny kid I was in high school but still in pretty good shape.

Although I still managed to frequent the gym on a fairly regular schedule throughout the past several years, my workout regiment apparently did not increase as much as my appetite did. Or perhaps my now 30-something-year-old metabolism did not burn calories as efficiently as it did 10 or 20 years ago.

Regardless of how it happened, it happened. As the late Owen Hart said, “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change!” Of course, I’m not one for radical change. I have seen too many people dive headfirst into diets only to return to bad habits again once the diet ended. Instead, I prefer to institute more subtle, more sustainable changes. I don’t need to get back to my high school weight. And I don’t even need to get back to 185 right away. It took years to put the weight on; it may take as long or longer to shed the excess pounds. Rather than focus on the result, I am heeding my wife’s words of wisdom and focusing on the process. So after having some conversations with Jessie over the past month or so about making some dietary changes, I am optimistic that my future will be a healthier one. She is much more nutritionally educated than me, and anyone who saw her rock her pregnancy knows this.

Now that I have a son to care for, I realize that I also need to take better care of myself, which includes being more mindful of the food I eat. I am not buying into a specific diet. I am not doing a 30-day cleanse. I am not eliminating all fats, or all sweets, or all carbs. I am not going vegetarian or vegan. All of those are fine options for other people, but I am opting for a simpler, less stringent change that feels both manageable and helpful. I am making small changes like not eating a kids cereal every day for breakfast and a bologna sandwich for lunch, or not eating a processed, salty snack every single night before bed. The truth is I am not an entirely unhealthy person, but I can work to be a healthier person.

Having said all of that, the following list of my favorite foods is probably the answer to the question, “How did I end up reaching 200 pounds?” This is a list of my favorite things to eat. It is not nutritionist-approved. I know that I cannot all of the items on this list all of the time, and that I should probably reign in my portion size when I do eat them. But these are 30 foods that I am definitely not ready to quit just yet. Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #21: Food

30 at 30 Lists #20: What I’ve Learned in My First 30 Days as a Dad

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

IMG_3291The most significant days in our lives usually represent something bigger than the day itself. Some major life events compel us to look back in time. A graduation day ceremony, for example, commemorates four years of academic progress and marks the end of a certain period in our life. Other major life events function rather as a new beginning representing lifestyle changes that will continue to impact us every day thereafter. A wedding, for example, marks the beginning of a couple’s life together with each spouse vowing to love the other for all the days of their life. When asked to name the most significant events that happened in their life, many people put the birth of their child(ren) at or near the top of the list. After only 30 days of being a dad, I am already starting to understand why. Having and raising a child simultaneously forces us to reflect on our past and contemplate our future, perhaps more so than any other life event.

I am amazed at how much I have learned during my short time as a parent, so much so that I felt called to write about it. Without further ado, here is my list of things I’ve learned in my first 30 days as a dad: Continue reading 30 at 30 Lists #20: What I’ve Learned in My First 30 Days as a Dad

Checking in on the 30 at 30 Project as a Newly Minted 31-Year-Old

Two years ago, when I turned 29, I knew that I wanted to commemorate turning 30 in a special way. The concept of the 30 at 30 project was born. The initial idea was a music project: compiling 30 CDs, each consisting of my favorite tracks from my 30 favorite musical artists. Thanks to the suggestion of my wonderful wife Jessie, I also decided to write about each of the CD mixes that I created, which I would post periodically on the site. The final one (Counting Crows) was posted two days ago. However, the 30 at 30 project is not over.

As much as I enjoyed writing about my favorite musical artists, I felt like I was leaving out important pieces of my personal story. So I expanded the 30 at 30 project and decided that I would write 30 lists with the musical artists counting as one of them. My first list was published in June of 2014, counting down my favorite student comments left for me on my end-of-the-year survey. Since then, I’ve published an additional 18 lists covering a wide variety of topics. I still have 11 more to go to achieve 30 at 30 status though, so I think I’m going to let this project extend into overtime and continue writing at age 31. I still have plenty of fun topics to cover, including my favorite movies, books, and foods.

More than anything, I’m grateful that the 30 at 30 project has provided me with a creative outlet to write again. MattHubert.com sat dormant for more than five years between posts before I launched the 30 at 30 project. Altogether, I’ve written more than 95,000 words since that introductory post a year and a half ago. With my list articles averaging nearly 3,500 words, I’ll be well over the 100,000 words before all is said and done.

As the calendar shows September 7, I am officially 31 years old today. Age 30 proved to be a very good year, and I hope that the rest of my thirties will follow suit. A year ago I wrote my list of “Things I Want to Do in My 30s.” The good news is I still have nine years to go, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to check in and assess my progress after one year being a thirtysomething. Continue reading Checking in on the 30 at 30 Project as a Newly Minted 31-Year-Old

1. Counting Crows

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 1 is Counting Crows.


Counting Crows had a profound influence on me as an adolescent and young adult. Although I first heard Counting Crows on the radio in the early 90s when I was a preteen, I rediscovered the band and their music during my senior year of high school.

The number one reason I connected with Counting Crows was the lyrics of lead singer Adam Duritz. Despite being 20 years my elder, Duritz’s lyrical poetry resonated with me on a deep, spiritual level. The combination of his artfully crafted words and his passionate, vulnerable vocal performances made me relate to Duritz as a soul brother.

Counting Crows released their fourth studio album, Hard Candy, on July 8, 2002, midway through the summer before my senior year of high school. I probably listened to that album 100 times that summer while also immersing myself in the previous Counting Crows releases. I attempted to compile a “Best of” Counting Crows CD and ended up making a three-disc set that nearly included every song from their catalog. Every time I listened through an album it seemed like a different line from a different song caught my attention and fit my mood.

The welcome letter I received upon joining Cloudkookooland, the official fan club of Counting Crows.
The welcome letter I received upon joining Cloudkookooland, the official fan club of Counting Crows.

By the time the spring of 2003 rolled around, I was an unabashed Counting Crows fanatic. I joined the band’s official fan club at the time, Cloudkookooland. As the letter reads, the name “comes from Aristophanes’ play, ‘The Birds’, and was the name for the city, built by birds, suspended halfway between heaven and earth where the impossible was possible.” I also spent evenings reading and posting on Counting Crows message boards, which is how I discovered the burgeoning subculture of online bootleg music trading. Although the Internet connection speed of the early 2000s made it difficult, I slowly built a sizable collection of Counting Crows concert bootleg recordings, which the band did not discourage so long as they were not being sold by anyone for profit.  Unfortunately, I lost most of those recordings in an apartment fire in 2009. However, the time I spent listening to recorded versions of live Counting Crows performances opened my ears to a whole new world of Counting Crows music that I never had experienced before. Two things stuck out from the live shows: Adam’s innate ability  as a storyteller on stage and first-rate musicianship of the individual band members, especially Charlie (Gillingham), Dave (Bryson), Dan (Vickrey), and Immy (David Immerglück).

What I didn’t know was that listening to all of those live recordings was priming me for one of my the most meaningful experiences of my life. As fate would have it, Counting Crows’ spring tour brought them to the Warner Theatre in Erie, Pennsylvania, on April 23, 2003. It was my favorite band in my hometown less than two months before graduating from high school. Oh yeah, and it was also the first concert I ever attended. My buddy Ryan Colvin and I had great seats up front on the left side near the stage, and we were treated to an unforgettable performance. Fortunately for me, the show was recorded and I was able to obtain a copy through the online Counting Crows community that I was a part of. That live recording remains a treasured piece of my collection to this day, and that concert cemented Counting Crows’ legacy in my own mind as my all-time favorite band.

CC_bedroomAfter coming home from the concert I was insatiable. No amount of Counting Crows seemed to be enough. Impulsively, I decided then and there to redecorate my bedroom wall, which had previously been adorned exclusively with sports posters. I cleared the area of the wall above my bed. Centered above the bed was a poster of the band I had purchased at the concert. Meticulously, I surrounded the poster with printed copies of the lyrics from every song as well as the album artwork from each of the band’s four studio albums on coordinated colored paper. Obsessed? Perhaps. Dedicated? Undoubtably. I was no longer just a member of the fan club Cloudkookooland, I was living in it.

Counting Crows concert tickets
My Counting Crows concert history:
1. April 23, 2003, at the Warner Theatre in Erie, PA 
2. August 12, 2003, at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in Darien Center, NY
3. July 11, 2004, at the Jerome Duncan Ford Theatre in Sterling Heights, MI
4. July 15, 2006, at the Post-Gazette Pavillion, in Burgettstown, PA 
5. July 31, 2007, at Jerry Uht Park in Erie, PA 
6. August 20, 2009, at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, SC
7. December 6, 2014, at the Packard Music Hall in Warren, OH.

In all, I have seen Counting Crows live in concert on seven occasions. I’ve seen them in five different states. I’ve seen them perform at inside at concert halls and outside in a baseball stadium. I’ve seen them perform in spring, summer, and winter. To me, asking me to compare shows is like comparing children. They are all special and unique, and I wouldn’t trade away the experience of attending any of them.

There's us and there's the stage.
There’s us and there’s the stage.
Posing for a photo with Adam at the close of the Counting Crows show in Warren, Ohio, in December of 2014.
Posing for a photo with Adam at the close of the Counting Crows show in Warren, Ohio, in December of 2014.

Having said that, my most recent Counting Crows live experience understandably stands out freshest in my mind. It was the first time seeing the band live since I got married in 2011 and the first time Jessie and I had seen them together since all the way back in 2006, so I knew it was going to be a memorable event. The icing on the cake was that we had front row seats! Plus, the band had just released its latest album Somewhere Under Wonderland in September, five days before my 30th birthday. Hearing many tracks from that album live for the first time that night was among the many highlights, including a rocking rendition of “Miami” and the seasonally appropriate “A Long December“.

“Mr. Jones”—the one Counting Crows song that everyone has heard—was first released as a single in December of 1993. Twenty-one years later, the band didn’t even play it at the Warren, Ohio, show, and it didn’t lessen my appreciation of the performance. If anything, I enjoyed it more because that meant I got to hear something rarer, a non-canon track like “Richard Manuel is Dead” or “Washington Square.”

I wholeheartedly disagree with one of the regular criticisms of Counting Crows concerts. If your goal for a concert is for the band to play a carbon copy of the album you listened to on the way to the concert, Counting Crows is probably not the band for you. Adam is bound to change the words, wander in and out of songs with storytelling snippets, slightly alter a melody here or there, or add in an alternate verse to your favorite song. They might play that fast song you like slow or turn that acoustic ballad you love into an electric rocker. Sure, singing along at a Counting Crows concert often becomes difficult because Adam zigs when you expect him to zag, but while Duritz may pump fake the audience better than Michael Jordan with his lyrical alterations, the rest of the band remains in sync with their lead singer, and there is never a question of whether the band is feeling it or not. These guys were born to rock. With Adam as the eccentric, sometimes brooding leader, the band puts on a show night after night, year after year. It’s clear that they’re having the time of their lives, improvising riffs and solos, playing off one another, and creating something special in the moment for that particular audience on that specific night. I’ve been privileged to be part of that audience seven times, and hopefully number eight isn’t too far off in the future.

Continue reading 1. Counting Crows

2. Dave Matthews Band

In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 2 is Dave Matthew Band.


I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Dave Matthews Band  (sometime in the mid-90s) nor which song it was that I first heard (likely something from Under the Table and Dreaming). I do remember that DMB struck me differently than most of the music I had been listening to up until that point. I was young enough to still soak up much of top-40 pop radio yet just old enough to question if there was something more that I was missing.

Meanwhile, out in his studio, my dad was making pots while listening to B.B. King and Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. My dad loved jazz and blues, but it wasn’t quite palatable for a simple-minded pre-teen like myself who was simultaneously embracing Ace of Base and Shaq Diesel (seriously). In addition to becoming my second favorite band, Dave Matthews Band is largely responsible for opening the musical doors for me to explore and appreciate other types of music, particularly the jazz and blues that my dad enjoys so much.

DMB was one of the first groups that made me listen to music for something other than the lyrics. No, that’s not quite accurate. DMB’s lyrics have consistently resonated with me on a personal level. What I mean to say is that DMB’s music enticed me to listen to more than lyrics alone. Even on their studio tracks, the band’s musicianship has always stood out. Their songs are so etched into my memory that I often find myself trying to sing along note-for-note to the instrumental solos in addition to the actual lyrics.

If my memory serves me right, 1996’s Crash was the first DMB album that I actually purchased, and I quickly wore it out in my CD player. I was hooked. Today, in terms of official non-bootleg releases, I own more CDs from Dave Matthews than any other group or artist. The collection includes every studio album DMB has released as well as an assorted number of live releases that really showcases what has made DMB the concert band of my generation.

When summer rolls around, you can be sure that DMB will be touring. I first saw DMB live on June 26, 2003 at the Post-Gazette Pavilion in Burgettstown, Pa., with my friend Ryan. I’ve seen them live four times in all, and although each show was at the same venue, each show was different and awesome. No two DMB performances are exactly alike, and that’s part of the thrill. Thanks to the amazing database at DMBalmanac.com,  I can look up the entire setlist from that show and pretty much any other DMB show dating back to the band’s first performance in 1991.

As I mentioned before, I own a lot of DMB music. Trying to narrow it all down into one compilation CD of my favorites was a painstaking process. More than any other band, I think that my list of tracks with DMB would likely shift somewhat if I attempted to re-do the process. With the exception of maybe The Beatles, no other group on this list would likely cause other fans of the band to complain more, telling me that I left (insert song title here) off the list. Sorry, folks. It’s my project. It’s my list. I’d love to read about your favorite DMB songs, so feel free to leave them in the comments. In the meantime, click below to read about my favorites.

Continue reading 2. Dave Matthews Band

Why My Heart Hurts: A Reflection on Hulk Hogan, Hero Worship, and Racism

My heart hurts today, and I am trying to figure out why. It’s because of Hulk Hogan, but I think it’s more than that, too. 

If you haven’t yet read the transcript of what Hogan allegedly said according to the National Enquirer, his words are indefensible and inexcusable. There is no place for hate speech from anyone regardless of who they are or were.  His comments are hideous, ignorant, shameful, and racist. That needs to be the lead on any and all commentary related to this situation. My intention of this article is not to defend what Hulk Hogan said. His comments represent humanity at its worst, and we as a society need to do better and demand more of each other not only in our words but also in our actions. These words are my first attempt at taking action.

I woke up on Friday morning to a text from my brother asking if I had seen the Hogan stuff. Overnight, Hulk Hogan—arguably the biggest name in the history of professional wrestling and inarguably the face of WWE (formerly WWF) in the late 1980s and early 1990s—had been removed from WWE’s website and removed as a judge on the company’s Tough Enough reality TV program. WWE followed by issuing an official statement that Hogan’s contract with the company had been terminated.

As with most breaking news stories in 2015, my Twitter feed was a mix of speculation, commentary, and memes with the occasional tidbit of actual information sprinkled in. Separating fact from fiction took some time, but one thing was clear: the fact that WWE had severed ties with the Hall of Famer so suddenly and so thoroughly suggested that it was bad, whatever it was. Eventually, after a few rumors, which speculated/suggested/guessed about what the “bad” in question was, were shot down, the National Enquirer broke the story with the transcript of what Hogan allegedly said. The audio, which as of the time I am writing has not yet been posted, reportedly comes from the infamous unauthorized sex tape featuring Hogan.

Maybe my heart hurts because Hogan is also a victim here? Nope.

It’s worth noting, again, that it was an unauthorized tape. Hogan said the tape was made without his knowledge or consent, and it was likewise made public without his permission (Related: Hogan is currently in litigation suing the website Gawker). In Hogan’s mind, he was speaking to an audience of one. Surely, most people have said things behind closed doors that they would not say publicly. Think of the worst thing you have ever said out loud. How many people heard it? What if people judged you as a person based on that one quote? Would that be a fair assessment of who you are as a person?

Let’s assume (and hope) that this was the worst thing Hogan ever said out loud. Our instinct is that even if it was the worst thing he ever said, since he said it once in private (and got caught), there’s a fair chance he said other racist things at some point in his life. But all we have right now, for sure, is this one incident. So, everyone agrees: what he said is foul. It’s disgusting. It’s awful. But how much weight should it hold? And do we even have the right to judge the character of a 61-year-old man based upon a single conversation? Hogan already issued a public apology. Do we believe him? Do we forgive him? Today? Ever?

I don’t know. I think I can forgive Hulk Hogan in time. But I do know that none of what I just wrote in the previous two paragraphs gives Hogan a pass for having said what he said.

Maybe my heart hurts because he was a childhood hero of mine. OK, now we’re getting warmer.

Everyone knows wrestling isn’t real, but the feelings it evokes most certainly are. While Hogan was never in the discussion of the best technical wrestlers in the ring, no one made a crowd of fans feel more than Hulk Hogan did. But today, instead of that childhood euphoria, Hogan fans felt something much different. Learning of the news about Hulk Hogan made wrestling fans across the world feel dirty inside. This wasn’t the first time. From family issues to the aforementioned tape, Hogan’s personal life over the past 10-15 years had already muddied his public image, but most of his fans, myself included, were able to look past his personal missteps or avoid looking altogether to keep up the facade of Hulkamania. That changed today.

I was born in 1984, the same year Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik to claim his first world championship. I grew up on Hulkamania. I said my prayers and took my vitamins just like the Hulkster. I had his poster on my wall, his action figures in my hand, and his T-shirt on my back. The opening lyrics of his iconic theme music are: “I am a real American / fight for the rights of every man.” Today those words ring a little hollow. I’m worried that from now on every time I hear that song the waves of nostalgia that flow through me will be mixed with guilt and shame.

We live in a celebrity-saturated culture. Most people know more about Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber than Sheryl Sandberg and Arne Duncan. Heck, I wrote two separate articles listing my 30 favorite WWE personalities (Hogan was #2) and 30 favorite athletes of all-time, but I couldn’t name 30 scientists or 30 surgeons if my life depended on it. Our society puts athletes and entertainers on a pedestal as if they are superhuman. After all, what child doesn’t love superheroes? Hulk Hogan was a real-life superhero to me. He body-slammed a giant. He stood up for what was right. He represented the “good” red, white, and blue in the triumph over “evil” time after time throughout his WWE career.

As children, we believe our heroes are infallible. Everyday heroes like our parents and grandparents as well as larger than life heroes like Hulk Hogan can do no wrong. We trust them. We believe in the mythology of them. Eventually, there comes a point in everyone’s life when we begin to question things, and we realize that everyday people, even our grandparents and our parents, are humans who are figuring out life one day at a time just like us. And so we are left holding on to a childhood narrative about superheroes. Superheroes are invincible. Superheroes are ideal. But superheroes are also make believe. We hold on so tightly to that last shred of innocence that when it comes crashing down it hurts inside. He was known on screen as “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan, but in reality, it turns out that he is human after all. The champion I looked up to, the superhero I worshipped as a child was, in fact, just a man.

When I was a child, I would have given anything to be more like Hulk Hogan. Today, I came to the sad realization that he is more like me. Flawed. Like we all are.

And maybe that’s why my heart hurts most of all.

Hulk Hogan is not the first nor will he be the last person to say something blatantly racist. Anyone can search through a famous celebrity’s Twitter mentions or a YouTube comments section and find hundreds if not thousands of equally disturbing comments being posted every day. It’s not pretty. And it’s easy to point at those people making outlandish comments on social media or even in person and wave our fingers at them for being such ignorant, narrow-minded, hate-filled people.

However, it is also important for us to recognize that racism is so much more than just that nasty headline we read about or that awful thing that so-and-so said.

My heart hurts because I know that I—a white, male, heterosexual—at the very least exist in a system that privileges my status and oppresses those who are “other” and at my worst may help perpetuate that system. “System” is a key word here. Although I have never said anything like what Hulk Hogan said, that doesn’t mean I’m without fault. No one is.

In a few months, my wife and I will welcome our first child into the world, the same world that produced the hateful comments that inspired this article. As a father, I want what’s best for my son or daughter but not at the expense of others. I want my child to know love not hate. I want my child to be educated about the world they are being born into. For example, I want to share Mia McKenzie’s advice on four things we should all teach kids about racism right now. But in order to teach my child most effectively I know that I must continue to educate myself when it comes to issues that I know not enough about, such as justice and equality, oppression and racism.

I am a husband, a son, a brother, and soon, a father trying to model love to my family. I am a high school English teacher trying to model love to my students. To borrow another WWE superstar’s old catchphrase, I want to rise above hate. I am flawed, but I am trying. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I can start by being willing to ask the tough questions of others and of myself. Perhaps more importantly, I can help by reading and listening to the voices of those who are deemed as “other” and sharing them with the world.

My heart is hurting today because so many others are really hurting (and have been for so long), and I am still learning to know how to show that I care.

30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.

It was 1998. I was a few months shy of turning 14 years old, and it was the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I had recently resumed watching WWE programming regularly—it was the heart of the Attitude Era, after all—and I was intrigued by the concept of an “e-fed.” This was the America Online (AOL) dialup era, so I first learned of the concept of an e-fed while browsing messages boards on AOL. There were dozens of posts looking for people to join, but being something of a perfectionist myself, I opted to create my own organization rather than joining one of the established e-feds.

The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league's run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques.
The CRWL logo underwent several revisions during the league’s run. Each of them proves that I was an Adobe Photoshop novice, teaching myself as I went and experimenting with different graphic design techniques that repeatedly confirmed my status as an amateur.

I named my e-fed the Chat Room Wrestling League (CRWL). The concept was simple. Each member would get three wrestlers. I would create the card of matches in advance and use a simulator program called Rassling 2.01 that I had downloaded to simulate the matches. Depending on my schedule I would simulate the matches on a Wednesday or Thursday night (I called the shows Wild Wednesday Wrestling and Thursday Warfare, respectively) and simultaneously post results in an AOL chat room (hence the name of the league). Members of the league would read the results in real time and be able to comment and chat with one another about the results.

When I launched the CRWL I had 16 members. In the four-plus years that I ran the CRWL, more than 200 members came and went, although there were typically between 20-30 members at any given time. Because everything was conducted online, I have no way of knowing for sure, but suffice it to say that not everyone in the league was as young as me. I understand that some people might look back on this experience and shout NERD! However, when I look back on it, I am pretty impressed with my barely-teenaged self. I started something of my own, built it from scratch, and managed the personalities of complete strangers who all wanted their wrestlers to be successful.

Looking back, it’s clear to me that the CRWL was one of my earliest formative writing experiences. Every week I was writing and producing a substantial newsletter that went out to everyone in the league. Plus, I was creating a card of matches with the hopes that it would intrigue the audience of members. Additionally, as time went on, I shifted the structure of the league to include role-playing aspects in addition to the simulations. I and other members in the league sent emails to each other written in the voice of our various wrestlers—in essence cutting our own promos the way they do on WWE television—to set up feuds and talk trash on opponents. Eventually, I began to weight things so that those who were better rpers (roleplayers, which meant that they wrote better) had better odds of winning their simulated matches. We also began working our own storylines and angles that sometimes took precedence over the simulator for the sake of telling an entertaining story. Long before I decided to major in English I was exercising my creative writing via the CRWL. In fact, I once wrote a four-part interview for my character “3-D” Devious Devon Dawson that totaled nearly 17,000 words. To this day, I’m not sure that I’ve written anything longer, and considering that I wrote it when I was 15, it still holds up pretty well.

I have managed to stay in contact on Facebook with a few people who were involved in CRWL. And it puts a smile on my face to hear that even one or two people remember the CRWL fondly as I do. Aside from those few exceptions, all that I have from the others who I have lost touch with over the years are their old AOL screen names, which are now dead ends. Nonetheless, the memories that I have of them remain. If any of them should happen to stumble upon this retrospective piece, please send me an email to say hello and let me know how you’re doing all these years later.

Being the organized person that I am, I saved a lot of information from the CRWL. Unfortunately, much of it is saved in old, unreadable file formats, or as AOL emails that I can only view now as plain text files. Unfortunately I don’t have any of my old emails from that era nor do I have any definitive documentation of when I finally shut down the league for good, so I’ll have to guess based on the old cards and newsletters that I have saved. In addition to dozens and dozens of old cards and newsletters, one of the documents I found was particularly helpful in trying to jog my memory. It’s a timeline that I made in commemoration of the CRWL’s two-year anniversary. That helps with the first half of the league’s existence. I will have to piece together everything from after July 2000 and after, but the key events of the first two years of the CRWL are all there. So, on this, the 17th anniversary of when I launched CRWL, here are 30 key dates to help me remember one of the most unique aspects of my childhood: running the Chat Room Wrestling League from 1998 to 2002.

Continue reading 30 at 30 List #17: Remembering the CRWL

The first key to writing is to write.