Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On writing (and bowling)

My senior year of high school I was short a P.E. class, so yep, I enrolled in the easiest one I could find: bowling. Now, I LIKE to bowl--I'm just not that good. I think it’s fun recreation and I especially love to take my kids. There’s something charming about watching them bend over and push the ball down the lane, see their eyes follow the big lumbering thing ping-pong back and forth between the blue, inflatable bumpers, then jump up and down, proud of themselves for just getting the ball all the way down to the vicinity of the pins.

My problem with bowling is that I’m left-handed. Left-handed and goofy-footed. And I was taught how to bowl right-handed. Needless to say, my feet are always in the wrong position, I throw the ball with a curve because the wrong hand leads (or at least my wrong fingers in the hole-thingies). The teacher (who knew me well because he was my brother’s wrestling coach) was patient with me and tried to teach me the “right” way to bowl. My friend in the class, who was also the basketball team captain, tried to help too—but I just never got it. So there it was. I wanted to get better, to bowl above a 100, but rarely did. And my competitive side burned that my athletic friend always bowled so much better than me.

I never did get over 100 more than twice that semester. But I did learn to enjoy the game more. Eventually I quit comparing myself to my friend and just tried to have fun. And I did—I lost that nervousness about stepping up to the line and I simply tried to do MY best without losing the joy of it. I found a balance between fun and the pursuit of improvement and made my peace with it.

When I first quit my PhD project to write (and stay home with my kids), I told myself I’d give writing a shot for 5 years and if I couldn’t “make a go of it,” I’d go back to work. After all, I loved studying wildlife and I loved writing—I could do either in my mind and be happy. That was four years ago and I’m no where closer to being published than I was then. And that’s okay with me now, surprisingly. Just like I did with bowling, I took writing as something I had to do perfectly, focusing on technique rather than forgetting it was something I should enjoy, a journey that should be fun. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always been something enjoyable, but I had begun to take the joy out of it. Once I realized what I was doing, I stopped trying to control the creative process—the journey. And I also had to recognize that I had no intention of quitting at my self-inflicted deadline. I just HAD to write and could not stop, published or no. Even if I went back to being a biologist, I would still have to write.

Now I bumper bowl and never care what my score is because I’m too busy clapping for my co-players, the five year old and the almost two year old. And I write—enjoying the sweet release and sheer entertainment of it. Come what may, I can not stop—I can only go forward with an internal peace in the effort rather than the result. I can’t control if anyone but me will like my writing, but I can control my own balance of writing my best and enjoying the process. Today I can honestly say I’m proud of myself for just getting the ball down to the pins, for just finishing the novels I set out to write.

For the few of you (two? one?) out there who read this blog, what is it that you can not stop doing? What is it that’s a pleasant journey, despite the end result?


  1. I may have to think about this one. I first thought of the next paragraph, but I don't think that is what you are looking for. So I will keep thinking.

    Does the daily tasks a mom does count? I am trying to learn to just enjoy each moment of the day. Despite all the "things" that need to be done. (It was a long day)

  2. To me, parental duties are number one on the "enjoy the journey" list. We only have them for so long.

    Besides, you're a supermom, Mari. If all mothers in the world were like you we would have peace and security everywhere.

    Sorry for the long day--just look forward to next month and a new house! ;)

  3. That's a good way to look at it! So do you know who you'll go to for publishing once your books are all set?

  4. I am in awe of the way you look at things and put things together!!!! Love it!