Thursday, March 13, 2014

Golf, Alligator Wresling, and Other Near Impossibilities

It was the last time I was with my brother Jeff, just three months before he died in a car accident — 20 years ago now. He was driving through town on a business trip, and decided to leave early enough to stay a few days. His arrived with ladies' left-handed golf clubs in his trunk because his latest athletic conquest was golf. Jeff never met a sport he didn't love and excel at. Mike was already an avid golfer, so the three of us headed happily to the driving range that night.

With my bucket of balls, I promptly made a few gorgeous 220-yard drives straight into the swath of green polka-dotted with golf balls. Neither Jeff nor Mike could believe it. But my form was terrible, so Mike, ever the coach, began teaching me better technique. But adjusting my swing caused me to miss the ball altogether. It was an instant fun-killer. I got so aggravated that Jeff laid aside his driver and came over to talk me off the ledge. His arm around my shoulder and his gaze philosophically surmising the driving range, he told me why he loved golf so much: nobody has mastered it. Even the pros hit slices, land shots in the water and sand traps, and miss puts.
That was the reason Jeff loved golf?! A guarantee of not mastering the art? No thank you! My pink pin-striped golf clubs have hung from a peg in the garage ever since. Jeff was out of his mind.

* * *

There's an exchange that happens between a writer and a reader. It's intangible, invisible, and elusive. It's hard to describe or define, but almost everyone recognizes it when they see it. It's the reason people love to read. They pore over pages, some of them not even good, in search of another one of those elusive exchanges. Readers want beauty laid bare, life heightened, and the deepest engagement of their hearts and intellects (see Dillard, p. 72). Need I say writing is hard work?

Annie Dillard lays out the mission in chapter five of The Writing Life, should we writers choose to accept it:
  • magnify and dramatize the reader's own days
  • illuminate and inspire with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness
  • press upon the reader's mind the world's deepest mysteries so he feels again their majesty and power
It's downright near to impossible.

She says of the writer, "This is your life. You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence's head while its tail tries to knock you over" (Dillard, p. 74-75).

Put like that, I don't know what would possess me to continue in pursuit of it, the perfect sentence, and then wrestle down another. And yet I do.

"At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then—and only then—it is handed to you" (Dillard, p. 75).

I finally understand Jeff's pursuit of golf, his obsession with the seemingly impossible. What golf was to my athlete-brother, writing is to me. It's the art I will strive after for a lifetime.

To write a piece that is crafted well enough to resonate with a reader and create that ever elusive exchange? It's as exhilarating as a hole-in-one. Has to be.

Because I keep swinging my words left-handed thinking I must be out of my mind.


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