Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Writing. The hard way.

About five years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of being in a pre-pro with the fearsome director, Joe Pytka, who decided he liked me mostly because I refused to be intimidated by him. 

There are a lot of Pytkas in the world. They try to scare the crap out of you. If you let them, you're little more than a month-old Vienna sausage.

Joe reminded me somewhat of a right-handed pitcher I faced in the Mexican Baseball League named Rene Chavez. Chevez was only 5'6" and 170 lbs. but he lasted 12 years in the league because he owned the inside precincts of the plate.

Chavez was a decade older than I, and in 1975 when he had his best season, he pitched for the Dorados de Chihuahua. That year, he went 18 wins against just 10 losses and had an ERA of only 2.35. Those numbers in a hitters' league.

Chavez knew how to take the measure of a man.  In my case he took the measure of a boy (I was 17). He saw me as someone who hated the ball in on my fists. A lot of tall guys are like that. We get our power not from our wrists but from our long arms and wide shoulders.

Chavez threw one outside to me, a pitch as fat as an elephant's ass and I lunged but stopped myself from fishing for it. Having set me up outside, now he came inside. Pitch two came in around my front elbow and hard--I could hear the horsehide burning through the sultry air. 

I held off and was up 2 and 0. His next pitch also came inside--about halfway between me and the black of the plate. But by that time I had already had enough of Chavez. I turned my wing into the pitch and got nicked on the meaty part of my forearm. They sent me to first for that maneuver.

That afternoon, I learned something about myself from Chavez.

No matter how good you are--I'm not going to concede anything to you. Pitch me inside all you want. I don't care, I'll let one hit me--I'll take a dozen on the chin. Ten or twelve years and you're over the pain.

I took the same posture with Pytka that I did with Chavez. You can try to cow me, you can tower over me, but I'll outlast you. I'll find a way to get on regardless of the heat you're throwing.

Pytka grabbed me when I walked into the pre-pro. 

"Sit here," he ordered. The rest of the assemblage--nominally my colleague situated themselves as far away from Darth Vader as possible.  

"Did you write this shit?"

"Who else?" I stammered.

The large, scary man grabbed my Mac away from me with more than a little force. At the time this picture below was my screen saver.

"What's this," he barked.

"A reminder," I purred.

He looked at my screen saver and smiled. He looked at me, and I smiled. Then I said something like,

"I'm no Edward DeVere," I said, sotto voce. 

I quoted Malcolm Cowley. "I work at the writer's trade."

After that, he left me alone. He'd actually compliment me now and again.


Writing a blog every day is no easy job.

I'm not complaining--because writing, and writing every day is something I choose to do. It's my thing. It's my choice.

Nevertheless, when you write every day, you have to constantly be on the lookout for ideas. Because of my prodigious memory, I haven't taken to walking around with a steno-pad to write things down. I don't dictate ideas into my phone. I usually hit the keys before what I have vanishes. Or as Edwin Dowson wrote so long ago,

Out of a misty dream 
Our path emerges for a while, 
then closes.

I usually get to things before the emergent path closes.

This morning, nervous that I had nothing written for tomorrow, I sat at my computer and thought. 

I break down writing into three parts.

1. Thinking.

2. Typing.

3. Rewriting.

I thought of an idea.

Now, I did what I do with ideas. 

I tried to kill it. Had I seen it before? Was it dumb? Would it offend anyone? Was it too obscure--even for me.

No! It seemed to pass all those tests and more.

My wife came downstairs just then so we could go out for our morning walk along the sea. We walk a mile down to a dog beach with Whiskey, let her swim after her duck decoy, then walk her home. Then my wife and I do a couple miles more. We have more stamina these days than our nine-year-old pup.

There are many fine ways to start a day. None finer than seeing your happy golden retriever fetch her fake duck.

"I want to write tomorrow's blog," I said to my wife. I told her the idea.

"That's funny," she answered. "But I'm starting at nine today and need to be back."

"Me too," I answered. "But that's ok. An idea like this practically writes itself."

Four hours later, I had wrapped up a morning of calls, a week of writing and a month's worth of anxieties. It was time to write tomorrow's post.

I opened the blank doc I had opened first thing in the morning. There wasn't a single letter typed. Much less a sentence or a synopsis.

There was nothing.

And I couldn't remember a thing.

That copy that wrote itself? 

No, that's me.

It will have to do.

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