As Mark McClusky noted earlier this spring, writing about how difficult it is to play baseball is a tired cliche. Still, as trite as it may sound, baseball-as-hard-work is a metaphor that suits me to a tee. More to the point, I am inspired by how much hard work it takes to play the game. When Derek Jeter can struggle as mightily as he has this season, I know it’s not because of a lack of effort on his part. He’s just got to eat humble pie like the rest of us. Actually, I feel good knowing how much work he puts into improving his game because it helps me push myself.
Sound corny? Maybe it is, but it works for me. One of the reasons is because of my own relationship to work. It’s not that I’m a poor worker–far from it–but I’m often a resentful worker. My sense of entitlement and grandiosity have a nasty habit of getting in my way: I’m too smart, charming and talented to have to work so hard, man. Aren’t I above this? Instead of looking at work as the key to eventual success and happiness I look at it as a form of punishment, an affront to my greatness. Plus, I get so wrapped up in what I want the results to be that I am unable to appreciate the process.
I struggle with this daily. It hasn’t kept me from busting my tail at my 9-5, or spending most of my free time writing a book. Yet I’m often so pissed off about having to do the work, that I exhaust myself, and find that I don’t have the energy I need to get everything done.
Writing is a lot like playing baseball in that it is simply very difficult to do well. There is some inspiration involved of course, but I find that writing is mostly a process of rewriting and editing and rewriting again. There is nothing glamourous about it, though it is extremely rewarding. My grandfather was a writer. He worked for the Brooklyn Eagle in the 1920s and later as a publicist for the ADL. When I was a kid he wrote a book about the history of anti-semitism in American called “A Promise to Keep.”
Recently, my father shared his enduring memory of watching grandpa write. “I don’t remember him at the typewriter, but I do have a clear image of him reviewing what he had written, sitting at the dinning room table. He made corrections by hand, and…he struggled. None of it came easily. It was very difficult for him.”
My grandfather wrote in a clean, succint style out of the E.B. White school. I was thankful to my dad for sharing that story because I’ve found that writing the Curt Flood book has been extremely hard. I felt comforted in realizing that for most people, writing is tough stuff. It ain’t supposed to be easy. Duh.
All of this started floating around in my head last night after I watched Joe Torre’s manager report on the Yankee pre-game. He was speaking about Bernie Williams and Torre mentioned that unlike Jeter, Bernie was not an instinctive player. Anyone who has watched Williams over the course of time knows this, but Torre meant that because he doesn’t have a natural feel for the game, it is that much harder for him to break out of a slump. Torre mentioned just how hard playing baseball is for Williams, and quite frankly, that’s why I Bernie’s been one of my favorites. I know how hard it is for him. That’s what has made his career so rewarding to follow. He had to bust his ass, and seriously apply himself, to get succeed.
I’m not ready to give up on Bernie yet, but even if he is close to the end, I’ll always look back on his career and be amazed by what he has accomplished, not by what he hasn’t done. And knowing that it’s such a grind for him helps me take it easy on myself when I find myself struggling, and fighting the process too.