Vol. 2, No. 1: "Drop Shot Valley" photo

Cornhole as Religious Experience Scott Gannis

It's last August at my buddy Tom's place, and I've been sleeping on my alcoholic father's leather couch while visiting from New York, and the only way I can tolerate his presence and the near-constant reminders that he softened from a wife-beating drunkard into simply a hermetic one with a dead ex-wife is to, yes, drink all day, and so there's a medium-long exchange of questions about My Next Novel and Why Nobody Read The First One and, yeah, also The Crime Wave before we both produce bottles of Wild Turkey 101 and half-watch Twins baseball until a friend mercifully swoops me from the parking lot and offers their vape pen, which I decline because I’ve rebranded as Midwest Sober (i.e., can drink but can no longer do drugs), and this reminds the car-goers that I used to alternate between Actually Sober with Meetings and Sponsors and Working The Steps but now am Very Much Not Sober At All, and this, like, harshes the mellow (i.e., we get quiet while NPR drones about the largest single non-complex wildfire in recorded California history) and I’m no pyro-physicist but this seems Not Good so we feel worse and someone asks how the visit is going overall, and, well, y’know, in true Minnesotan fashion I can only respond: "It's going." From then on, everyone tries to avoid the Prodigal Son shit, and especially at Tom's since We’re Trying To Have Fun, and that's why someone yanks Cornhole from the garage, but nobody can do it, not really, I’m too visibly depressed and dandruff-ridden and sexless, and the awkward silences volley with pregnant pauses until it's all unforced errors and The National glitching on Bluetooth speakers as I plumb myself with another White Claw. My dad might not know how to ask seeing as he's a permanently disabled forklift operator who married a blind farmgirl, but my friends all went to college and so they sense my “writing life” is Sisyphean with less exercise, and that every Minnesota visit could be the last because I will presumably kill myself. But you can’t acknowledge that, not in daylight, so we slurp boozy seltzers and avoid politics or indie literature and toss frisbees then footballs then slap the boards across grass approximately 10 yards apart and split into two teams of two and stand beside the cornhole platforms and flip bags until we’re equal parts sloshed and sweaty. As drunken dullards with fluency in longform improv (i.e., joking without humor), the tosses start goofy: long-snapping, submarine-style, slowpitch softball, behind the back and between the legs Globetrotterish kinetic yes-anding, but pretty soon—like writing, like white-knuckling through oxycodone ER 80 mg cravings—you either get serious, or get dead, and whether it’s writing or building an Actually Sober Existence, I keep grinding toward the former when I really want the latter. Yet life and cornhole only proceed forward, so after a dozen more drinks and someone offering me ketamine (which I want to snort but decline), we slog through two games but gradually take the last one, well, seriously and reach match point, down 20-18, the third game, best of three, series tied 1-1. This is when the Cornhole Moment happens. See, bean bag toss is scored to 21 with “cancellation” scoring; this does not mean the bean bag has said something problematic and then writes a peevish New York Times op/ed, but instead means only one team wins a round of tosses. If you toss a bag into the hole, it is three points and if you toss a bag onto the board it is one point, so 20-18 is dire, especially if the other team has a bag flattened against the upper-left quadrant, which they do and there’s only one throw left, which there is, ergo we are (i.e., I am) about to lose unless I can dislodge that bag from the board and somehow also score three points.

This, like so much else, does not seem possible.  

Escaping suicide ideation is not the goal of pseudo-sports, but pseudo-sports (e.g., bag toss, beer pong, 8 Minute Abs, fetch) are a prime venue for escaping suicide ideation, and in this moment I am meditating on Cornhole Moment production like a Tibetan Buddhist meditates on death; the master Atisha is said to have told his students that if a person is unaware of mortality, their meditation will have little power, and I am fully aware of mortality in most waking (and many unwaking) moments insofar as my friends worry I will mortally wound myself, so this final toss sort of becomes a referendum on whether I should be alive or not. My inner light, or whatever, suggests that by stepping to the right of the board and opting for a parabolic helicoptering leftward slurve, I might knock the other team’s bag to the grass and maybe bounce my bag in for the game-winner.

So, I go with that.

I don’t know.

I was pretty drunk and extremely depressed.

As I corkscrew the bag and my arm extends and then flops like an elephant’s trunk, I sigh ‘till I’m lightheaded. Having botched everything else to simply feel non-suicidal, I’m now trying this: Cornhole. Fucking Cornhole. There’s plenty I could say and won’t about my own childhood cancer and poverty and mom dying young, but since the old man beat her into a brain bleed and the Subsequent Divorce of ’96, I’ve slogged through all these therapies—Art, Movement-Based, Movement-Based Art, Cognitive, Behavioral, Cognitive Behavioral, Acceptance and Commitment, Rejection and Ambivalence, Psychodynamic, role-playing that felt really weird and thus Psychodynamic, puppet-based role-playing that was somehow less weird but possibly still Psychodynamic, EMDR, puppet-based EMDR, relatively static but nonetheless Psychodynamic EMDR—but that’s only the clinico-psychological history because I’ve also tried 13 different anti-depressants on top of writing fiction with footnotes, writing fiction without footnotes, ripping off David Foster Wallace with and without footnotes, publishing sociopolitical autofiction that sold pretty well for an indie (but, thus, hardly sold at all), foreclosure, briefly living in my car and bathing at the library, moving from Minneapolis to New York City, attending the NYU MFA program, glugging a bottle of Old Crow daily the entire final semester, quite literally running out of money due to alcoholism and being a white-trash adjacent tenderfoot from the Midwest, moving from New York City back to Minneapolis, enduring eight months on my dad’s couch as a 27-year-old man, moving from Minneapolis to New York City again after lying on a job application and getting hired and working at a university, cocaine, mushrooms, acid, more cocaine, ketamine, fentanyl, various iterations of oxycodone and hydromorphone, heroin (twice), parasocial relationships, blunting how sad I am through long lists and irony, rubbing against the fourth wall, not rubbing against another person in about eight years, probably like 100,000 cans of beer, reminiscing about my college football days, more beer, reverting to jock-ish tendencies and less beer and seriously considering a tryout with the European League of Football as a defensive lineman for the Hamburg Sea Devils, submitting to various literary journals and online publications with mixed success, kiss-whiffing men at bars, having too many psychodynamic issues to facilitate romance with women, being vaguely bisexual but basically asexual, and finally just Going There in my work and admitting that I am jealous of strangers holding hands, of novelists with even small amounts of money or prestige, of NYU classmates with wealthy parents, of friends who have steady sex or maybe just occasional pleasure, of people who have diversified their Reasons To Live portfolio when I only have literary delusions and haven’t experienced meaning (i.e., a non-suicidal moment) since my beanbag floated with a slight wobble, rose to the tree line, dropped like a 12-6 curveball and smashed a corner of the other bag on the board, rippling it up and to the left as if slapping Jell-O while my friends and their partners and seemingly all the people I’d never be and lives I’d never live gasped and pointed and then hooted and hollered as it flopped into the weeds and my bag somersaulted into the hole, a winner, proof of concept, another moment where you’re alive and I’m alive and at least I’m writing it down.