Sonnet 29

Oct 29, 2023

It's been a hell of a week. We chose the bye weekend for moving weekend, so I'm typing these words in a completely unfamiliar environment. I'm sitting in a chair that's familiar, but everything around me seems strange. That feeling when you wake up in your bed but with unfamiliar walls and doorways surrounding you is quite disorienting.

This week has also been, uh, disorienting on Twitter. Editor of the News Gazette taking a social media potshot as I walk out of his building and whatnot. I've always fought for my place in the media horde (I've had to in order to get to where I am), but I can still be surprised by how many people actively don't want me there. Like, other Illini media personalities, unsolicited and unprovoked, trashing me on Twitter (with credentialed media members liking that post). And then when I walk into the SFC this evening they'll stare at the floor when they see me.

All the while I'm packing up my stuff from the last 3.5 years, filling boxes with items from my desk, all reminding me of specific moments from these first 42 months as an Illinois resident once again. It leads to these really weird moments where I'm smiling and thinking back on the 2021 Big Ten Tournament one moment... and then finding out what an idiot I am the next. Like I said, disorienting.

Friday night, as I lay in bed flipping through my phone, unable to sleep with movers on their way in the morning, unsure about how the move will go even though it's only three miles, an algorithm thought I might be interested in a video of Judi Dench reciting a Shakespeare sonnet. I very much was. In fact, I believe I can describe this last week (and the last 3.5 years, really) using only that sonnet. Well, "can" is a bit much. I'll try:

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,

I mean, that fits. We lose a game, the majority of the population can wave it away with "it's just a game", and here's Feelsy McFeelsterson over here bemoaning not only his 3-5 football team, but also pulling the "everyone is being mean to me" routine. And yes, this is the first time in human existence where someone interpreting a Shakespeare sonnet has used the words "Feelsy McFeelsterson."

But that fits. Not just for me, but for everyone who allows Saturday losses to affect their Tuesdays. I know many of you personally. I know that you identify with "all alone beweep my outcast state" as well as "look upon myself and curse my fate."

That's our experience. We can't help it. Decades later, we still believe this football program can and will rise. So after 21-7 Illinois turns into 25-21 Wisconsin, as everyone else just gets angry and blames {insert coordinator name here}, we trouble deaf heaven with bootless cries.

In disgrace with fortune and men's eyes? Yep, that's pretty much exactly my week.

Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;

I retired "we're Illinois football and we can't be trusted" last year. I've needed a new one. And I feel like this is it: "With what I most enjoy contented least."

I texted my friend Adam yesterday. He's a bona fide Shakespeare professor and everything. I told him of my burgeoning relationship with Sonnet 29 and he locked in on that exact phrase (his words are gray, my words are blue):

You with me yet? You should be tracking now. Our entire fan experience is "desiring this man's art and that man's scope." We can't watch football on a bye weekend without the feeling of "why can't we have their program/success/fan environment?" When 21-7 turns into 25-21 in one quarter of football, we do not react to that like other fanbases react. We have too much scar tissue. We've lost range of emotion.

And yet...

Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate;

I've mentioned my yearly snow walk before. As a student who survived academic probation twice (two times) and required five full years to finally receive his University of Illinois degree, I constantly needed to remind myself of my goal. So on the first snow of every year - often in December, but sometimes in January - I would go walk the quad. I did this all five years. I'd go walk by myself in the complete silence provided by snowfall and remember why I was fighting for this diploma.

I chose Illinois for the sports. I didn't really want a degree - I wanted Block I/Orange Crush (with a "C" back then). From the moment a high school guidance counselor laid out everything I'd need to do to get in (and it was a lot, including a 10%-chance ACT score), I had my goal. I was going to get into Illinois and I was going to attend every single football and basketball game. I (barely) got in. And I (barely) graduated.

I've repeated that snow walk since I moved here. I even brought my wife with me a couple times. I love this University, and walking the quad in the snow reminds me of this love (which I wanted to share with my wife). And now it occurs to me as I'm typing this that at the first snow this winter, we could walk from this new home to the quad. Yeah, I'm 1000% doing that.

Back to Shakespeare. You might read Sonnet 29 and think of romantic love. Perhaps it's some man longing for his love across the sea. For me, in this context, on this day, it's this University. The thing that repairs my soul after an impossible loss is my love for my alma mater.

Just... hold on. I'll explain it.

When the St. Louis Rams lost Super Bowl XXXVI, I did not have this kind of love keeping me afloat. I was inconsolable for weeks. I blamed the officials. I promoted the conspiracy theory that the NFL wanted the "Patriots" to win four months after 9/11 (yes, I really said that on some Rams forum somewhere). You would find me in a similar mood after the 2004 World Series. Or when the Blues lost to the Red Wings in the conference semifinals in 1996.

After Illini losses - yes, even after the Loyola loss in 2021 - I am still protected by love. I don't expect everyone to understand that, but that's my experience. Let me quote the sonnet once again: "Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising, haply I think on thee, and then my state, (like to the lark at the break of day arising from sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven's gate."

My emotions towards all of my other teams? Conditional. My love for the University of Illinois? Unconditional.

But that's hardly helpful in the immediate aftermath of a homecoming loss. Does Shakespeare have any words that can help me there?

He does. He has a couplet. There's always a couplet.

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

I'm at one of those writing spots where I'm incredibly nervous. I know what I want to say, but I don't think I can come up with the words to. Deep breath. Here we go.

I spent a long time thinking about the last line. I had to break it down, as one must often do with Shakespeare. And then it seemed so simple that I'm not sure why it was confusing at first. "Scorn to change my state with kings" simply means the author wouldn't trade places with anyone, not even a king. He's suffering, but there's such wealth in remembering his unique experience with his love that he wouldn't trade it for anything.

I spent 22 minutes after the Wisconsin game lamenting our fate live on the air (well, recorded and then immediately published). I noted several times how the people who actively mock the team I love get to win. There's no investment, so I see no future payoff there, but in a moment like that, man, that kind of fandom is attractive. The pain would be so much less.

But now I have my heart back in line with Reap The Fruit, an article I wrote the day I knew I was going to leave my job and do this full time (but four months before the circumstances came about to make that happen). I just found the olive oil yesterday, Jack, in the back of the cabinet, and it's time for another plate.

I would not - EVER - change my state with Ohio State. I truly would not want their experience. I know this experience. It is deep within my soul. When you and I shake hands and talk Illini football, we have the same look in our eyes. We all understand each other. We're all in love with the same program.

And, it must be acknowledged - she's treated the same for decades. We can't help it, though. We love her and will always believe in her. You might be happy with your divorce, but we'll never, ever get there. If you're laughing at us for defending her, I understand. Very wise people have told us that this isn't a healthy relationship. We just believe in this University so damn much and are never going to bail. Yes, we understand your "if she knows you'll never bail, she'll never see a need to change" point. But that's just something someone says who has never been in love.

That's where I sit as I move into my new house. That's where this disorienting week has settled for me. That's why I cannot wait for the trip to Minnesota (because I'm quite hopeful that November will be our best month). It's been a long week, and the loss still stings, but I still believe. I'll never not believe.

If the thing you're predicting does happen? If we do fall flat on our face this final month? I'll be OK with your "I told you so." You'll be correct, and you'll get the joy of trashing me in public, but I'll still have this shared experience with The Seventeen that you'll never understand. It is rife with suffering, sure, but it is ours.

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings.

So true (so truuuue).


Efremwinters84 on October 29, 2023 @ 02:07 PM

Thanks Robert. I'm truly with you, my friend.......

jpbrown on October 29, 2023 @ 11:08 PM

Wow. This hit me so hard, in a good way. Go Illini.

IlliniJack on October 29, 2023 @ 11:35 PM

Enjoy the olive oil my friend. The best fruit comes from the old trees and vines.

I’ll keep waiting because I can’t wait.

illinois81 on October 30, 2023 @ 06:17 AM

Very well put (as well as Shakespeare). It's why I still follow every tidbit about the UI teams. Even the sports I am not a fan of.

uilaw71 on October 30, 2023 @ 06:44 AM

But if I should lose your love Dear, I don’t know what I’d do; For I know I’ll never find another you, another you . . . on October 30, 2023 @ 12:38 PM

How awesome is the Graham Norton Show? To have Arnold there talking about all the speech and accent coaches he had over the years and he still talks like that, to Judi Dench quoting Shakespeare. Loved her monologue of this sonnet and how it made me do a quick review of all the things in my life that I love. ILL

ScubaFarms on October 30, 2023 @ 03:33 PM

In my opinion, the best thing you have ever written. I understood it to my bones. Well done, well done.

Joe Edge on October 31, 2023 @ 12:32 PM

Excellent.... Thank you Robert ! ! (however: I still think 'we're Illinois football and we can't be trusted' is appropriate) . . .

dee4three on November 2, 2023 @ 04:50 PM

Man, this was fantastic - this is exactly what it’s all about. Keep up the great work, Robert.

jhanlon on November 4, 2023 @ 08:58 PM

This is so well-written and meaningful Robert - thank you for all that you do. I'm proud to be a subscriber and fan. Keep up the fantastic work..

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