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Trying to find the perfect ending

senior column

During my four years with The Chronicle, I’ve gotten used to doing tasks that might make others uneasy. Two years on the men’s basketball beat have made finishing game stories ahead of the final buzzer, asking the right questions in interviews and filming live videos second-nature, even though four years ago I would have never imagined claiming those skills.

But even now, there’s one aspect of sports journalism I just can’t seem to get comfortable with—how to end a story properly.

For some reason, I always feel like I have an obligation to end articles with a witty ending or a phrase that nicely encapsulates the whole piece. The best writers I’ve encountered leave their readers with wise parting words, just as dessert leaves restaurant patrons with a pleasant taste in their mouths.

With normal game recaps and previews, we’re encouraged to finish with a quote from a player or coach, so it was easy to end with the words of others and call it a day.

Columns afford the writer no such reprieve, though, and I often agonized over the last paragraph or two of mine. Most of the time, I’d write everything I wanted to say in the body and leave several X’s at the bottom, hoping to brainstorm a closing during the editing session. And it almost always worked out, mainly because the editors above me know more than a thing or two about journalism.

Closure is something I always look for, even outside of writing, and with my time at Duke drawing to a close, I’m having trouble finding the right way to cap off four incredible years. I feel weird leaving any place without saying goodbye, like there’s something I’m missing out on; how am I supposed to close the book on my entire undergraduate experience?

I think a big reason why I enjoy writing about sports so much is that there is a clear finality to every event. Each game, each win and loss, fits within the larger context of the season, and the structure makes it so that, regardless of the sport, it’s clear where things are going.

Sure, there can be surprises and unexpected endings—Duke basketball bowing out in the Round of 32 this year still leaves me feeling robbed of a Sweet 16 trip to New York—but there’s always another game, another year, another chance to win the next one.

And now, for the first time in my life, there is no “next one.” My life to this point has had a series of clearly marked checkpoints—driver’s license at 16, applying and getting into college at 17, high school graduation at 18 and finally, college graduation at 21—but this feels like the end of that roadmap.

Suddenly, as a supposed adult, there is nothing else that I have to do, no more checkpoints to hit. I’ll start working in August, but I have no idea how long I’ll stay there. Until I retire? Until I get fired? Until, to the extent that I can discern, I stop enjoying it?

There are no easy answers, no format to fall back on. And that’s frightening.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a person who does well with order. My mom would always tell me that, as a toddler, I would obsessively stack, sort and re-sort any toys or books that I could get my hands on for hours at a time.

My own memories are filled with times when I recited the entire Mets batting order in my backyard, complete with stats, jersey numbers and my own impression of their batting stance with a Wiffle-Ball bat in my hands. No detail was overlooked.

I guess, in some sense, my affinity for sports and numbers are natural fits for each other. Sports provided an environment with rules and proceedings I could immerse myself in, where every action on the field led to an easily quantifiable outcome.

But there’s no way for me to quantify what comes next, or how much I’m going to miss these past four years. I don’t graduate with a win-loss record or a career statline, and there are certainly no banners being hung in my honor.

Now, once again, I’ve come to the end of a column and the perfect ending is escaping me. In sports, the ending comes when the clock hits zero, and that’s all there is to it. Time is running out on both my writing and undergraduate career.

But in baseball, my favorite sport, there’s no clock at all. Time is irrelevant. That’s one of the many things that makes it such a unique sport, with all its quirks and traditions combining to create a game unlike any other.

A baseball game can be tied after nine innings, and then the two teams play extra innings. There’s no limit on extra innings—the game will stretch on endlessly into the horizon until one team emerges victorious.

There’s something magical about extra innings, too, since nobody knows when the game will end. It could come on the very next pitch, or six innings later.

Instead of graduation signaling the end of the game, I can just think of it as a tie game heading into the top of the 10th.

Somehow, this gives me the closure I want. It’s extra innings—I’ll just keep playing.

Brian Pollack is a Trinity senior. He served as sports managing editor of The Chronicle’s 111th volume. He would like to thank all the wonderful people he’s worked with at The Chronicle for introducing him to journalism and bearing with him through his technological struggles. He’d also like to thank his amazing friends and family for (hopefully) reading his articles, but more importantly for always being on his team.

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