In either the late hours of April 5 or the early moments of the 6th, we sat together, watching the cigar smoke billow out of our mouths.
Justin Tinsley and another best friend sat next to me. We enjoyed what Justin had dubbed my “victory lap,” after my first awards ceremony as a journalist. The tobacco only further drove home the point.
I had been in constant contact with Justin since he first learned of the opportunity and prepared for the joyous occasion of the announcement. We kept in touch through the process, and I humbly accepted the idea of serving as a reference.
There was no doubt in my mind Justin would soon be on to his new endeavor. Yet when the announcement was made, all I could do was find the nearest parking lot and break down. The tears flowed as my car idled.
For the first time, I wept beautifully happy tears. Uncontrollably, I sobbed them. I don’t think I knew what happy tears were until yesterday. I’m glad it was Justin who introduced me to them.
For all of us, Justin is a friend and a colleague. He is always available to talk about sports, writing, culture and much more. He’s a fantastic writer, and somehow, his promise is even greater than his talent.
You can frequent his posts on this site and learn all about his skill. He has a way with words that can encapsulate anything. His best work will inspire you to seek the things you hold dear and enjoy them. I recommend you read all of his pieces and don’t leave any behind. Learn him as you will in the coming years. He will be one of your favorite writers. I’m highly critical in the craft, and he’s one of mine.
Writing is a trade, and plenty of people can do it. Many are good, some are great. Others aren’t very good at all. Justin always had the mind, soul and heart of a great writer. But those three things he owns provide so much more than that.
There are 10 or so people in this universe I hold dear to my heart. I’m proud to say Justin Tinsley is one of them.
It started through this site. Mutual admiration caused us to meet one afternoon in Northern Virginia to watch the NFL playoffs. Our introduction in person quickly became seamless conversation as we watched Joe Webb attempt what appeared to be quarterbacking. The Vikings lost to the Packers that night. Justin and I won.
At that moment, he was working in one of those jobs writers take to pay the bills. It wasn’t where his heart was, but it gave him something to rely on.
Soon after we met, the job ended. He moved back near Richmond, his home.
The distance only enhanced our friendship. I called Justin a few times a week to talk about writing and sports. We communicated about nearly all our posts for TSFJ. Sometimes, we came up with great ideas. Other times, we laughed late into the night. On a few occasions we had deep, intellectual conversations on the meaning of life and where we were stuck compared to where we hoped we were going.
Conversations between us would always come back to the teeth-pulling question of what it would take to be a great writer. Not great in the sense that our words were powerful — we always believed that. Rather, what would it take to be in the bigs? How could we get past the doldrums of the biz when it just didn’t seem likely anyone would ever notice us?
Justin went through a self-discovery process during that time. He wondered if the work would ever come. Frustration never boiled over, but I could tell it was there. Much was left unsaid between us because we knew explanation wasn’t necessary. As writers, we knew where the zigs and zags of our minds would go. We wondered if we’d ever get somewhere or if there was anywhere to go.
Well, you’re going now, my friend.
My best friend lives in Richmond, and every time I visited, I contacted Justin. We spent time together, talking about everything and anything.
In the early winter of 2014, I encountered my own troubles. An identity crisis pushed me into oblivion. I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. Justin was there for me every step of the way. Even when I called him half-a-dozen times a day, he listened, encouraged and inspired.
He did it through the tears, delusions and pain. Then, he pushed me to travel to the West Coast as I had wanted to do and use it as the motivation for a book. Parts of that book are in a draft file. He has read every word. That trip and the writing that followed helped change my life.
It wouldn’t have happened without him. Through it all, I consider him my biggest fan.
Writing is a solitary profession. It’s hard to find people who see things the way you do when you’re in the craft. When you do find those people, you hang on to them in slumps and hot streaks.
I’ve never written anything that Justin didn’t tell me was good. It always helped me move forward with confidence. He’s been my rock. I am so very grateful for his existence.
None of this speaks to his dedication as a writer, something I truly value. He works as hard as anyone I’ve met at getting better each time out. Some people like seeing their names on the internet or in print. Others can do without; they just do it because they know how.
Justin always wanted to be the best writer in the world. With that attitude and stick-to-it-iveness, he just might achieve it.
There are people in life who help us, those who influence us. Others push us, give us something to reach for. We meet friends we love and colleagues we need. Justin is all of those to me.
Through some of his toughest times, he joined me to celebrate that night.
“It’s your night,” he exclaimed through his wide smile. “No matter who you were up against, you were the best. Let’s take the victory lap, baby.”
Nothing about his life mattered to him that night. He wanted to see me enjoy the moment. Now, I’m grateful he can enjoy his.
When my car sat in the lot and the tears fell down my face, I realized I’d never been happier for another person in my 27 years.
It’s partly because he’s my dear friend. Another part of it is because I know what that struggle was like for him. I’ve felt it. Many other writers have as well. It’s not easy to be great or to get to great places. In the end, it’s your name on a page and the hope someone who’s somebody reads it and likes it.
Justin and I have always been able to identify with one another. It’s through him I learned how to be a better friend and writer. His passion has always been a spark that’s helped light up the darkness.
He’s on to bigger and better things. The part of it all that makes me feel so much joy is that he will forever be my friend, asking me to look over a piece or listen to his problems in life. Justin will get even better as a writer, but he can never improve as a friend.
There’s no victory lap long enough for that.
Sports are all I know. Writing came naturally. Sports writer by night & sports writer by night. Philosophy major who thinks the unexamined sport is not worth watching. Always for hire, never for sale. I believe that silence is the virtue of fools and I can’t hear you.