On Norm Macdonald, Sports Betting, and Chronophobia

Disclaimer: This is going to be a bit dark, but it’s kind of therapeutic for me to organize my thoughts into a written piece. So here goes.

The concept of time makes me anxious. I see old pictures of myself or home movies in which I’m running around the house chasing my little sister and I feel uneasy. The pictures and videos are cute, the associated memories happy and pure, but I can’t separate these relics of my past from thoughts of the terrifying and inescapable aging process. I was once a tiny little kid, and that is no longer the case.

When Norm Macdonald passed away one week ago I spent a lot of time watching his old interviews and standup sets. He had a constant look of amusement on his face and was able to find humor in everything. Even when discussing more serious topics, such as his crippling fear of death, he always sported a grin. Maybe this was a coping mechanism, perhaps a way to comfort the person he was talking to. Maybe Norm just had a smile stuck on his face from all the hilarious jokes he told over the years. Either way he made everything, even deeply troubling philosophical topics, lighthearted.

My escapades down the Norm Macdonald YouTube rabbit hole led me to an interview with Larry King in which Norm cited the Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov. The Nabokov passage Norm refers to tells the story of a chronophobe who felt terror when he viewed a picture from before he was born, as it made him consider a world in which he didn’t exist. I don’t have this exact fear, the fear of not existing, but I did look up what “chronophobia” means.

Chronophobia is the fear of the passage of time, which makes sense lexically when you consider the word “chronological” or the ancient Greek titan Kronos, who was the God of Time. But learning this new word gave some meaning to the anxiety I feel when gazing upon old pictures, home videos, or thinking about what lies ahead. When mentally venturing too far into the future I experience a powerful wave of stress that results in me closing my eyes, shaking my head, and moving on to more pleasant thoughts. I’m a total chronophobe.

So now you might be asking yourself “where does sports betting fit into all this?” A valid question, and the answer points back to Norm Macdonald. Norm was an avid gambler, frequently wagering on sports, playing poker, and hitting the tables whenever he was in a casino. He once bet $400,000 on the underdog in a Super Bowl game, and he went completely busto three times. But that didn’t seem to bother Norm. In fact, the way he spoke about it, it sounded freeing**. He once said “gambling is not about wasting money, it’s about wasting time”.

Norm’s aforementioned fear of death was something he constantly tried to escape from. One of Norm’s escapes was gambling, because in his words: “I’d rather fear losing money on a football game than ruminate all night about my upcoming illness and death. My biggest problem is ruminating about death, if I could get over that somehow.” So in this context, gambling is heavily linked to thanatophobia, or in my case chronophobia.

For those who don’t know, I work in the sports betting industry and am a sports bettor myself. I stay within my means, so I don’t have to worry about going busto, but Norm’s words really got me thinking about what I do and why. I bet on sports, I watch YouTube, I scroll Twitter, I read books in the park, I go to the gym to work out, I go out with friends and drink beers. Are all these things just attempts to waste time and not think about the invisible clock that never stops ticking?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. The purpose of this piece was mainly to spill my thoughts out and organize them with some level of competency. With that goal in mind, I think I’ve succeeded. And besides, life is all about figuring things out and better understanding ourselves and our surroundings, right? It wouldn’t be any fun if we had all the answers already.

I’ve always enjoyed philosophy and, as dark as it may seem, this topic has been an interesting puzzle I’ve been trying to piece together. There’s no escaping time, but I can at least do my best to understand my own perception of it. I’m sorry to get all negative on you, but writing this actually made me feel great. I’d been thinking about this for the past week or so, and getting it down on (digital) paper has been really relieving.

That’s all I’ve got for you! Thanks for reading.

**This is my interpretation of Norm’s words. Gambling is addictive and this is not a promotion of that activity.

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