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Academic Coach Taylor and the Latchkey Intelligentsia

So it is -3 outside, as glittering and hard and unforgiving a morning as we have yet had this winter and the car is in the shop so I am putting off walking through the crystal shards of the cold to get to my office and THUS I will procrastinate by telling you about my new favorite thing of forever.

After the fashion of Feminist Ryan Gosling (which I love, though my heart will always belong to Literary Agent Ryan Gosling), Academic Coach Taylor is a meme complex using images of Coach Taylor of Friday Night Lights and encouraging/motivational/tough love messages concerning the life of a graduate student and/or academic. Some of them are funny, some of them are full of awesome critspeak that makes me giggle, and some of it is OBVIOUSLY SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO ME AND MY WORNOUT BATTERED WRITERHEART.

truepenny once said, and I have quoted her SO MUCH, that it’s amazing how she chose a career that was exactly like being in grad school all the time, only it was always finals. This is a True Fact About Book Life. I dropped out of graduate school like a DANGEROUS LEATHER WEARING PUNK SLACKERBOSS, which makes me at least a non-practicing academic if I am being generous with myself. But also my mother was in her doctoral program for my entire adolescence and teen years so my brother and I were looked after by the denizens of our grad student housing complex who needed the babysitting money, from the entymologist who had pink hair and did not help my lifelong fear of insects IN ANY WAY by keeping larvae and grasshoppers for barbecuing in her freezer to the feminist theorist whose aged mother taught me to make pot stickers while she told me all about the position of women in 17th century China to the mathematician couple who gave me a new puzzle every time I came over.

My heart is an ivory tower. My mind is a student housing building where every apartment is something mad and new and beautiful.

And thus I see the truth of how very much like being a constant student being a full time writer is. You are always cramming. You never know enough. Every book I ever write is a dissertation I never wrote. Long time readers will know I occasionally suffer paroxysms of guilt over never finishing my own advanced degrees, though I’m getting zen with that now, in large part because I do the work–I even teach–I just get to put Wyveraries and sentient cities in it, too.


TONS of Academic Coach Taylor is SUPER RELEVANT to writers of fiction and I’m not going to lie, I cried a little reading through them. (I’m sure that’s wholly unrelated to the fact that the night before I drank about seven cups of coffee because I thought I made decaf but I did not make decaf. So I stayed up the entire night watching Tiny Fey era Saturday Night Live and occasionally take a break to chase my dogs around singing the Andy Griffith theme in a terrifying minor key. I was wrecked.)

Now, I love Friday Night Lights. I never thought I could love a realist football show, but I can and I do. There are so many amazing things about it, from the naturalistic acting to the cinematography to holy cats the music to the writing which even in its faltering (hello murderplot) faltered interestingly, took risks, and had Lessons for the Long Form Fictioneer. And of course, of course, the only healthy marriage I’ve ever seen on television, which is not based on an assumption of the essential antipathy of men and women, which does not present a wasteland nightmare of heterosexuality strewn with skulls and bile and vicious, intractable tank warfare presented as comedy. And the choice made at the end of the show, a difficult, complicated choice, is simply not one I believe has ever been made on American television. (I won’t spoil it.) And like it or not, the choices we see theatricalized are ones we are more likely to make in life, because we have models for how its done.

Oh, show.

Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor are beloved of the internet. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are both trying to break out of the bone-deep goodness of those roles and the utter discomfort caused by seeing Tami on American Horror Story and Eric in his new Sundance film is a fascinating meta-play. But the Taylors are Mom and Dad for a goodly portion of my funny little over-media’d generation, (certainly not everyone, FNL is a show that clung to Not-Being-Cancelled by its fingernails every year of its five year run, but when Mitt tries to steal their slogan, you know even he gets that whatever “family values” means to anyone who doesn’t define them as hating women, gays, the disabled, and non-whites, are summed up in these characters) and I frankly think they are better at it than any Brady or Cleaver.

THUS. I look at Academic Coach Taylor and I wonder if the reason I myself and academics and liberals and feminists and all those filthy, dirty words that mean the Kind of People Who Don’t Like Football And Real Men love Eric and Tami is because they demonstrate two things few of us had.

Because look, my dad was nothing like Coach Taylor. Even dads who think they are Coach Taylor, and I know at least one, aren’t.  And actually Coach Taylor isn’t–the very take no shit but love the size of the planet aspect of him is not one he trains on his daughter much. He doesn’t push her or demand excellence the way he does with his players. Even in the world of the show, Eric and Tami are tasked with being Everyone’s Parents, and that makes them ever so slightly less Their Own Kids’ Parents. But the fact is a whole lot of kids my age had very absentee mothers and fathers, or mothers and fathers, as in my case, truly messed up by divorce and the hypocrisy of their own parents and the constant flux of contradicting expectations flooding them. We were the latchkey kids everyone was so goddamned worried about back in the 70s and 80s. By the way–when I go to schools and talk about my books now? The word latchkey kid means absolutely nothing to students or teachers. Everyone is a latchkey kid now.

And the other thing is that we who are not football players and athletes rarely got the kind of motivation applied to high-performing jocks. They get the awe-inspiring pep talks and the tough love but hard-won pride and camaraderie and cheerleaders and very, very clear markers of success–the State Championship Ring has importance second only to the One Ring in the FNL mythos. The intellegentsia has no mechanism for that. Sure, all those slogans and butt-patting and go team go is often very hollow and jingoistic and empty and meant to cover up massive overspending on athletic programs in the real world. But if it didn’t inspire people to perform, they wouldn’t make any more sports movies.

So most of us, even if we had present parents, never had anyone pump us up for the work of the mind. And we wish we had. Because we’re human and we want to be pumped up. Because academics, far from being the anemic, gormless Morlocks of the library, are really fucking passionate about what they do.

But even when you’re passionate, even when what you do with your life is exactly what you always wanted and you have so many more stories to tell and so much inside you you want to let out, even then, sometimes you need someone to drag you up out of your funk and make you do windsprints and be proud of you when you fail to fail.

So I love Academic Coach Taylor even though he is a meme because he is a meme, in the classical sense. He’s the Dad we didn’t have and the Coach we wish existed for people like us. And he wants us to succeed, even when its halftime and it looks impossible.

Clear eyes, full hearts. Can’t lose.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.

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And the other thing is that we who are not football players and athletes rarely got the kind of motivation applied to high-performing jocks. They get the awe-inspiring pep talks and the tough love but hard-won pride and camaraderie and cheerleaders and very, very clear markers of success–the State Championship Ring has importance second only to the One Ring in the FNL mythos. The intellegentsia has no mechanism for that.

Being a classical musician did that for me, I think, barring the cheerleaders anyway. Not academic, exactly, but a pursuit for the intelligentsia nonetheless.

And I suppose I have had a few academic pep talks, come to think of it. I always remember the one from my undergrad tutor which started "my dear girl, I don't think you realise what league you're in..."

I'm not saying no one ever motivated me or gave me encouragement, but I do think that's different than the coach mentality. But I imagine what you're talking about re: musicians would be closer.

(Deleted comment)
"Everyone is a latchkey kid now."


So technically, I wasn't really a latchkey kid. I was the daughter of a CS prof and a stay-at-home mother, at least until I was 13 or so. They were absentee in other ways (as in, neither of them should have been trusted with the care of parakeets, much less children. Or maybe not absentee enough. Anyway.)

But what I notice about the undergrads I work with is that they seem to have much closer, much more dependent relationships with their parents than anyone I grew up with. I'm not saying they helpless - they're a bunch of hardworking, focused kids (did I mention I mostly work with pre-meds?) But they seem to have had much more structured lives in their teens, and from that a lot less sense of how to figure out problems on their own when they arise. A lot more internships and prepatory coursework... and a lot less figuring out how to get back from two cities over in the middle of the night after a bussing fiasco when your parents think you're having a slumber party at your cousins. Or how to feed yourself for a week on $10 and a case of ramen, for that matter.

My adolscent martial arts students... well the ones who go to the local Montessori school are a fairly self-reliant bunch, if not in quite the street smart sort of way I'd been thinking of above. But OMG, their schedules. They have activities, often multiple activities, every single afternoon. I'm not sure if latchkey kids == unstructured time on their own, but the parenting via benign (well, hopefully) neglect is how I've generally thought of it.

Regarding the whole coaching thing. I got a bit of that on the academic side. Though... look, I've had a couple of excellent academic mentors. But much of the academic encouragement I've gotten over the course of my career has been kind of toxic. Like I need to be more high strung and perfectionist. Mostly what I got that was actually useful was in the martial arts. Y'know, keep coming back, even when things are going badly. Work at it for the sake of working at it, not for some kind of external reward... and then go for being absolutely the best you can anyway. And come back the next day anyway. Not any of this OMG are you squandering your talent?! bullshit.

I make my adviser give me a drunken pep talk once a year about how the research we do is not pointless crap. It involves ants, bricks, walls, and at the very end (and a several beers) I am convinced that my work = SCIENCE! Of course I went to a Big Ten for my phd, so there is a greater crossing of academic and athletic than there is perhaps elsewhere. I also study media, so perhaps I have greater need for these "your work is not shit" talks than people in other disciplines.

Anyway, I'm so glad you aren't in academia mostly because you wouldn't have time to write your awesome fiction if you were, and that would be a grave loss for me, personally, and I don't need to read any more academic articles than I already do. So... THANK YOU.

Even as someone who is in no way an academic or a writer, "IS YOUR DISSERTATION ABOUT NETFLIX? THEN TURN OFF NETFLIX!" is pretty solid advice, if I strike out "dissertation" and sub in "life."

More of the same from Steve Pressfield

Writer famous for bellicose self-help books on writing:

my TV parents were Gomez and Morticia Addams..

That's the set I wanted...

I did have coaches for debate and science olympiad and math team and god remembers what else. The encouragement of the type in the second image you posted? The butt-patting and go team and all that jazz? Yeah, I got that (my science olympiad team even had a squad of boosters who traveled with us to tournaments, and although they didn't have cute short-skirted uniforms and pom poms they were the distributors of caffeine and candy bars), and it was traumatizing. Possibly my coaches were just bad at coaching, but it still took the better part of a decade to recover from their "help." I'll take the kind of quiet encouragement and one-on-one mentorship I got in grad school over team spirit and you'll do these speed drills or else I'll put you on the second string and second place is the first loser.

At Buttercup House, we put Friday Night Lights in the same narrative category as The Wire. We've watched one season of both and then had Dancing with the Stars chasers. However, within that first season-- the rainy mud-field game, and Tyra, and the joy and the horror and HOLY SHIT they pull it off.

Thank you for pointing out this Tumblr site! I finally finished watching Friday Night Lights last week and it was *amazing*. I love this show, and it totally blindsided me when I got into it because on the face of it, it's a show I should have no interest in. But it's about people--real people--and the difficult decisions life throws at you, and making mistakes and bad choices, and the power of supportive relationships... And I also realized, close to the end, that a lot of the guys on the series, if not all of them, are idiots, albeit well-meaning ones, with women and friends that put up with a lot of their crap but help them become better people. That's probably a gross oversimplification, but it happens often enough in the series that it highlights the lack of relationships like that in most other shows.

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