Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Soccer Sidelines

The Encirclement | Granta 107 | Magazine | Granta Magazine

A funny thing happened at house league soccer this summer. Kevin took Albus to most of his games, and got to know some of the other parents. During one conversation, late in the season, a dad politely asked Kevin what I do, and Kevin said, "She's a writer," like he always says, bless him, and the other dad said, "No way! I'm a writer, too!" or something to that effect. When Kevin brought this discovery home, I realized how excited I was by the thought of having a sideline soccer chat with another writer. And it turned out that we did get to talk shop during one of the tournament games. Which made me realize how rarely I talk shop. And how lonely this writer journey has been. And how totally I've been responsible for my own isolation.

I've been thinking about the blog, recently, because a friend and new-to-blogging-blogger had questions for me, very interesting questions about maintaining privacy, deciding how much to reveal about the day-to-day major and minor life-changing events that affect our writing, about shaping a blog entry, and choosing a focus, and et cetera. I wish I could claim to have thought deeply about these issues; but the truth is that I've flown by the seat of my pants, and this blog exists and is maintained by instinct. Even the blog's title was not something I spent hours pondering; in fact, it was the first thing that popped to mind. (I had been considering the possibility of blogging for a long time before I began, however; so maybe my subconscious had already worked everything out). I am surprised, now, that I was brave enough to choose a title that would out me as a writer, having spent a good portion of my writing career shrinking from that identity. I was not comfortable claiming to be one. On the other hand, I was extremely happy and comfortable with my identity as a mother. So, I preferred to answer the question, and what do you do?, by saying, I look after my kids.

In retrospect, I think my discomfort came from my exalted view of what it meant to "be a writer." How could I claim to be something so wonderful and mysterious? Well. Sometime during the past decade, I've come to understand that being a writer is like being anything else, that it is a craft to be learned and practiced, and that talent is relative, and that saying "I am a writer," does not mean the same thing as saying, "I am a writer of brilliance, and here are my many proofs and prizes." It means saying, I practice, I keep at it and I haven't given up, I am prone to moments of reverie and calm, I sit my butt in front of the computer and I translate experience through the lens of imagination into a structure that relies on words.

So, I'm a writer. I write.

And let me tell you how much fun it is to talk to someone else who does the same thing. This must sound fairly obvious to all of you who enjoy talking to your colleagues about work. But it's only been very recently, just this spring and summer, that I opened up to the possibility whole-heartedly. Why has it taken me almost a decade to come around to appreciating this? If I'm honest, I'd say my barrier was basic insecurity. I was afraid of not being good enough, of my own competitive instincts to be the best (stupid competitive instincts; though I thank you for making me work hard); of competition itself, quite frankly, because a writer is self-employed and potentially fighting for a spot on limited lists with other writers, who are equally hungry. I can't identify precisely what happened to change my point of view, but I don't see it like that anymore. There is room for many. There is no "the best." There is a good deal of luck involved in success, as well as talent and hard work. Anyone who sticks it out in the arts has my deepest admiration. And I celebrate all writers who break through into literary stardom (if there is such a thing).

All of which makes me a happier writer, and a happier person, too. And excited to talk shop, whenever the opportunity arises, be it on the soccer sidelines, over a bottle of beer, via email, or here in Blogland.

The link above is to a story written by the soccer dad, whose name is Tamas Dobozy. I'll admit straight away that it is quite unlike the kind of story that I write, but it is damned interesting, and plays with ideas of identity and reinvention, of heroism and cowardice, and at the end you may be wondering, like I was, who is telling the truth.

4 comments:

  1. Bless you for your words of wisdom, Carrie. You speak for me too, as a mama writer.

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  2. Hello. I enjoyed reading this. A few years ago I wrote a novel using the NaNoWriMo method of showing up at the page every single day for hours at a time until it was done. Or the first draft anyways. People knew I was up to something (disappearing for five hours a day) but it killed me to actually say, I'm writing a novel. Worse than my own (totally justified) insecurities were other people's reactions. I was inundated with offers to read it, edit it, advise on it, and so on. What a relief it was, midway through the writing, to stumble upon another writer who, upon hearing of my endeavor, simply said, I feel your pain. lol. (The other monkey(s) on my back were the fact that my parents were both professional, self-employed writers.) I have deep praise for anyone who keeps the self-doubt goblins outside the gates and just simply works on their writing each day.// I enjoy your blog. I too experiment with/on my family to see how far I can go with things made from scratch and non-consumerism. And my laundry hangs out all year round (pun intended). Cheers.

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  3. I love the idea of you and Tamas talking writing over soccer. He writes great stories and is also a really nice guy I've had the pleasure of meeting through my (publishing) work.

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  4. I'm glad to hear this resonated with you, Nathalie.

    Melissa, welcome. I've not heard of the NaNoWriMo method, but anything that gets a writer sitting and writing is likely to be effective--especially at the first draft stage.

    Clare, lovely to hear from you again, here in Blogland.

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