by Trisha Motupalli
The most common interpretation of Murphy’s Law is that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. My year has, apparently, been a case study in it.
This season was supposed to be the one where everything finally lined up. Instead, it was a trainwreck and a half. After four years of wanting to do pf, I finally got to, but even then the circumstances were difficult. My partner wanted different things from this season then I did. I was okay with that, at first, and then suddenly I wasn’t. He wanted a bid, I wanted to go to Cap City, he wanted to pref PF, I wanted to pref extemp. We’re both too stubborn to give in, have known each other too long to be civil. It didn’t matter because, in the end, neither of us got what we thought we wanted. This season we lost our bid round, had our only other chance at one canceled, had two other seniors quit, found out we couldn’t compete at state and prepped for dozens of hours on topics we never got to compete on. All of this was out of our control. It hurt anyway.
For him, this season was supposed to be the one that would validate staying in debate, that would make his decision not to quit when his old partner did, when the entire team did, worth it. For him, that validation was a bid, because, at our school, where we’re the only two seniors and there’s only one other pf team, he wanted to prove it wasn’t impossible. For him, that meant showing himself and the rest of the team that at some point, working hard had to pay off.
For me, this season was supposed to be better than last year. I was supposed to do better in extemp, go to more bid tournaments, go to ETOC, do well at state. For me, it was meant to prove to myself that it was worth it to put myself through an activity that for years had slowly drained me. I knew I was putting too much value in this season. I did it anyway.
For both of us, everything that could possibly have gone wrong did. Even now, thinking about what could have been is harder than it should be, but honestly, after the fourth misstep, there was nothing we could do but laugh. We laughed about how after seventeen years we ended up pf partners, how we were the only two seniors left, the consistent 3-2 screws, not breaking by .6 of a speaker point, losing entire cases at 3 am, throwing up in the back of school buses and in gas station bathrooms, needing to use an inhaler mid-round, having our travel tournament canceled two days before we were supposed to leave, getting sick always at the same time, our countless absences and misplaced hope. We laughed because it hurt so much, that it was ridiculous because in three months none of this would matter anyway. After all, no one’s going to know our bid count or win-loss percentage in college.
What will matter though, is that despite everything, we finished this season. We still prepped after countless lost rounds, we still taught after knowing that we wouldn’t compete anymore, we still tried in rounds that admittedly didn’t matter. And I’m glad we did. Debate should never have been about bids or winning or “success”. We should never have looked to an activity that is so conditional and so subjective as a means to validate ourselves. We should never have tried to prove anything to anyone because it made it hell on Earth when we felt like we didn’t. And more importantly, I should never have given up on something I loved because I felt like I had to.
As Nikhil and I end this season, we know that it wasn’t what it could have been. That doesn’t matter quite so much anymore. As I’m writing this I know my senior year is almost over. It doesn’t feel like I have four years’ worth of tournaments and memories and successes and losses, but at the same time, it feels like I have a decade of them. For so many people, including me, this activity is emotionally and physically exhausting in ways that nothing else in their life is; but for those people, it’s the challenge that drives them because nothing feels quite like your winning your bubble round or beating a prep-out or hearing case and knowing you have the perfect blocks. As tired as I am, of sleepless nights, of fighting with my partner, of being told to calm down, of being asked to wear makeup, I’m going to miss this activity and the people I’ve met because of it— but it took me a long time to get to this place where I’m okay with what I’ve accomplished, and okay with what I haven’t. I sincerely hope that if you’re reading this, whether you’re still in this activity or not, that you get to this place too.
Because once debate stops being the source of your self-worth, it makes it so much easier to appreciate the people and the memories it gave you. And as cheesy as it is, it’s those people that made it worth it, whether they know it or not. This is where I get a little sentimental, and a little more personal because there are some rather amazing people who made my debate career worth it outside of rounds.
If you do pf you know how important it is to have a partner that keeps you sane, but part of that is knowing that they’ll also drive you insane. No one’s experience in this activity is 100% good. Every fight, every bad round and every practice is important, if not vital, to your growth. It’s hard to remember that, but to make it work you have to. I hope you find a partner that does their best to understand you and that you do the same for them, in and out of round— it will only make your experience in this activity that much better. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be something. And at the end of the day, no one will feel your wins and losses more than they will.
There’s only one other pf team at my school and they make it look easy to constantly fight the uphill battle that comes with being a girl-girl team, but I know it’s not. To all the other womxn in pf, and just debaters in general, this is your reminder to never let this activity chip away at who you are. It’s not worth losing yourself or compromising what you believe in over a ballot.
For me, when debate didn’t seem worth it, the people were. Whether your team is just you or close to a hundred people, finding those connections matters. It’s the people who inspire you, who remind you where you belong, who are unconditionally supportive that make this activity what it is. It’s the other small school team that wins and loses with you, it’s playing trashketball in draw, it’s a collection of memories and relationships that you take with you when you leave. I hope that these people, in some capacity, exist for you too. That there are people that act as your debate mom, refer to you as their little sister, let you call them at 2 am and remind you that sometimes it’s about wandering San Antonio at midnight, going night swimming, singing in the back of a bus, napping in between rounds and countless Buc-ee’s stops, not just goal-oriented success and rounds you “should have won”.
More than anything, I hope you all have those people and organizations in your life that would make it worth it to stay in this activity whether or not you ever won a round again because doing this activity merely for a subjective success story will never fulfill you— trust me. You don’t take your TOC bids or your NSDA wins or your state points with you when you graduate, and while you can take the laptop stickers (#pictureswithdave), it’s the memories attached to them that you really hold on to.
The rationale behind Murphy’s Law is that everything that can happen, will happen. Deciding whether what happens is the “wrong” thing or simply a thing, is up to us.