Last night I did something I haven’t done in years. I stepped inside a batting cage and took some healthy cuts with a bat at a local family fun place. I played a lot of baseball as a kid, either with my brother and our mutual childhood friend Matt, or during organized softball. My parents needed an outlet for the kid who wouldn’t stop moving, so they decided that baseball was it. I think part of it stems from my mom’s side of the family following the Cubs and my uncle playing since high school.
After my tee ball games were over, I watched my brother play with the older league to try and get a feel for what happened during a “real” game. I remember thinking that their coaches were way more vocal and harder on the kids than ours were. For tee ball, it was all about fun and running to first base as quick as we could. I’ve always carried more weight on my frame than I should, so running was something my mother thought would do me good (it didn’t but more on that later).
I’d hear people yell – “Keep your eye on the ball” or “Stay focused and dialed in” – without any real idea of what that meant. The teams my brother played on could do some serious damage at the plate, so we got to watch a lot of long balls leave the yard. As I grew older, I joined those leagues and the coaches tried to find the right position for me to play. First base was always an option, given how tall I’d gotten, but someone had to play catcher, and when you’re as big of a kid as I was, I guess they figured I wouldn’t have to run very far from behind the plate. I wouldn’t say I was good at baseball, but I did have a good arm and I could hit in the right circumstances.
Years passed and baseball gave way to summers spent with my cousin Scott and our motley crew of vagabonds who wanted nothing to do with sports outside of running from the imaginary creatures we were fighting in our D&D games. I went from playing baseball and watching the Cubs games with my brother and grandma to ignoring sports almost entirely. For a solid ten years I cared little about professional or even amateur leagues, mostly because my brain was fixated on role-playing games and figuring out those mysterious creatures called women (still lost when it comes to the latter but I do enjoy a good mystery).
My mom came to most of my games, something I took for granted at the time, but looking back I’m sure she sacrificed a lot of her own time and desires to make sure her kids had a group activity to keep them going. She always told me to keep my eye on the ball and not let the pitcher intimidate me. It’s still a true statement today, even though I don’t play baseball anymore, and if last night is any indication of how far my swing has fallen off, I probably won’t be looking for a rec league game anytime soon.
Yet the truth she imparted to me wasn’t wasted. The core of her teaching was to stay focused, and not let the situation overwhelm you. If life is the pitcher, then you have to be ready for the curve or change-up after a load of fastballs. Because life is going to throw them, and they might come at the worst time. There are going to be situations that try to take your eye off the ball and push your focus onto something other than what you’re here to do. Life and the trappings of your mental checklists can consume you, or maybe there’s that all engrossing family situation which becomes too much to bear. I’ve been there and when the time came for me to keep my eye on the ball, I’ve swung too late or not swung at all, because I’m human just like you.
The lesson is to recognize what’s happening in the moment and resist the urge to let yourself down. For creative folks that means setting aside work and falling back into bad habits which keep us from the art we’re here to create. That burning passion inside you can only be quenched by doing the work, nothing else comes close, so keep your eye on the ball and stay focused. The world (and you) need your art now more than ever.
Addendum 1: The book work is going far smoother after changing up the process and refitting how I looked at the characters. It was clear to me that the method I was using to craft this piece wasn’t going to work in the end. Far too many characters and disjointed ideas about where they would end up. For writers out there, it wasn’t the middle, it was getting them all to a satisfying completion point without hamfisting the ending. I couldn’t have the story fall apart in the third act, so I did some restructuring and now I feel like the product is much more concise. I understand there’s folks in our industry that do a Page 1 rewrite, but that’s not me (mostly because no one pays me to)
I spent time writing in a few notebooks during the development of this novel and last week I thought I’d lost one. I found it eventually but it had over forty handwritten pages for one character and I was in a panic to find and transcribe/revise those pages. Whew!
Addendum 2: Two weeks. Fourteen days from today Emalee and I will be married. In the past month tons of stuff has gotten sorted down and completed. All our vendors are paid at this point and I feel really good about where we are in the planning process, thanks to the Goddess of the Spreadsheet. Organization isn’t my strong suit, but it is hers. We are full steam ahead at this point and looking forward to the time we get to spend with family and friends.