Monday, September 10, 2012

Hook, Slice or Sinker


A sportswriter was once asked if he were to compare writing to a sport, which sport would he choose. Without even thinking, he replied, “Golf. Most definitely golf.”

The interviewer asked, “Why golf?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the sportswriter asked rhetorically. “Golfers golf for the love of the game. Writers write for the love of their craft. Do you understand?”

The interviewer started to nod, but shook his head instead. “No.”

The sportswriter laughed. “Golfing offers personal satisfaction and fulfillment, adventure, discipline, structure, freedom and leisure.”

“But what does all that have to do with writing?”

“You don’t golf, do you?”


“What about miniature golf?”

“Well yeah, I’ve done that.”

“There you go.”


“Come on. It’s almost my tee-time. I’ll walk you through the analogy while I’m waiting for my teammates.”

Together the two men walked out of the Country Club bar and around back towards the golf course. His waiting caddy looked at his watch. “You’re early.”

“We just came back here for some fresh air.”

The caddy nodded and walked off.

The sportswriter gestured, “This is the first step.”

“What’s the first step?”

“Second base.”

“You know, Abbott & Costello Who’s on First, What’s on Second? I’m sorry. OK, I’ll get serious. The first step in golfing is deciding to play. The first step in writing is making a decision to write. Do you agree?”

The interviewer nodded.

“It's a nice summer day and you decide to play miniature golf. You drive to the most popular course and park your car next to all the others. You walk past the vending machines and video games to the back of the arcade where you pay five bucks to get a putter, a colored golf ball and a scorecard. You walk out the back, down past the driving range up to the first hole. The flag says 'par 3', but you don't let that intimidate you. Now you study the hole, picturing in your mind where you want to put the ball and mentally selecting the spot along the side to bank it against. You take a 'walk on the wild side' by not putting the ball in the worn depression, but in a new spot at the edge of the putting green. Your hands start to sweat ever so slightly as you straddle over the ball, legs slightly bent, hands gently wrapped around the faux leather grip of the club. You take a deep breath as you glance to your left, mentally envisioning a dotted line down the worn Astroturf to the crack in the wood beneath the pots of purple petunias. You look down at your golf ball, exhale slowly, and glance down the runway again one last time. You shift your weight slightly, slowly draw back the putter, then you strike the ball. It rolls down the green pathway, striking several inches from the crack causing it to bounce off the course all together. Some may say you hooked the ball while others may say you sliced it. Whatever it’s called, you hit it wrong.”

“I’ve done that.”

“Exactly. Everyone has done that. Now you have to run after the ball and start all over again. This time, the ball hits the crack, ricochets correctly, rolls under the lighthouse, right into the hole. A sinker! A hole in one! Well, a hole in two, but who’s counting? What matters is you made the hole under par and you move on.”

“That’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with writing?”

“As I said earlier, the first step in writing is making a decision to write. Once that decision is made, you choose where you’re going to write.”

“What do you mean where?”

“Do you have an office? Maybe you’re more creative at sunrise and you bring your laptop into the sunroom where the morning rays inspire you. Maybe you prefer the old-fashioned way: using paper and pencil. Maybe you jot notes while riding the train or subway or talk into a micro-cassette recorder while you’re walking the dog. The key is to write where and how it works for you. That’s your putter, your ball and your scorecard. Are you with me so far?”


“Staring at a blank page or monitor can be overwhelming. You know—like a ‘par 3’? But you go on. Maybe you’re the kind of writer who has the whole idea in his head. You know exactly how the story will go; exactly what will happen. You just need to coax it out. You start writing, but a bit of new dialog pops into your mind. You like it and suddenly, not only do the new words come to life, your story now veers off on a tangent that never existed before. You hooked or sliced the ball!”

“I’ve done that too.”

“Sure. You’re not alone. Do you like the new plotline? If you don’t, just hit that delete button and start all over again. If you do, keep going. Before you know it, your story is done. A hole in one!”

“That makes sense. I never looked at writing that way. But what about adventure, freedom and leisure?”

“Personal satisfaction and fulfillment in golf is completing the game to the best of your ability. In writing it’s completing the piece from start to finish. Golf can be very leisurely—not to be rushed. It’s more than the game. It’s enjoying the weather, the walk, the companionship. Writing can be time consuming, but unless you’re under a deadline, you work at a speed comfortable to you. When you hit a golf ball, the slightest turn of the club can change its flight and direction. That’s why body position and posture is so important. Writing is the same way. You may know where a story is going, but often it will surprise you and take on a life of its own. You not only need discipline to keep a story on track, but the discipline to keep working even if you think you have nothing to say.”

The interviewer nodded again. “I’ve had writer’s block in the past. It’s not fun.”

“No, it isn’t, but you persevere. My favorite things about golf are that it’s both an adventure and an escape. You’re at the mercy of the weather and the condition of the course. Writing allows you to work on a variety of subjects. You can expand you knowledge base and challenge yourself by writing is styles different from the norm. Writing is a learning experience, and like golf, you can always improve your game. And, it’s an escape--an escape from the daily routine and a chance to get out in the fresh air. Writing is an escape because you can submerge yourself in your story. You can be whatever or whoever you want to be: a spy, the president, a writer, a chef, a soldier, a robot, a boxer, even a golfer.”

“Can I quote you on that?”

“You can have every word. There are plenty more where those came from.”

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Memorable Easter Sunday

This being Easter weekend, made me remember back to one of my favorite Easters…

A specific Easter Sunday holds a special place in my heart. It was April 18, 1976 and I was fortunate to have been in New York City that weekend. It wasn't a planned trip. Oh no, it was quite the opposite.

I remember I was ironing clothes. Yes, in those days clothes were still ironed and starched! Anyway, there I was ironing away when one of my BFFs stopped in for a visit. He sat on the couch and said... "I know you're going to hate me, but..."

I stopped ironing because this sounded too serious to listen with one ear. "Say what?"

Joe started again. "I know you're going to hate me, but I'm going to New York City this weekend."

"Are you crazy?" I asked him. "It's a holiday weekend. It's going to be crazy trying to make arrangements."

"I know, but the Tony Awards are there this Sunday and I want to go."

I discussed all the reasons not to go and he countered with all the reasons to go. Long story short, we both went.

Anyone that knows me knows that NYC is my favorite city in the whole world. It's dynamic. It's alive. It has Broadway and Central Park. It’s a great place to visit. Jeez, what more could you ask for?

We left Saturday evening on the bus from Pittsburgh, rode all night and arrived Sunday morning. I always liked the view of Manhattan as we rode through Jersey towards the tunnels. The skyline came into sight and as we continued south, the Empire State Building stood magnificently above all the rest. A short time later, the twin towers of The World Trade Center came into view. I got goose bumps every time I saw those buildings.

We left Port Authority and stopped in a corner deli for a bagel piled high with cream cheese before checking in and leaving our carry bag at the hotel. Then we went off to play!

Our first stop was Shubert Alley. That narrow street was already abuzz with news trucks and technicians laying the cables for the evening's extravaganza.

We hung around for a bit, but it was too early for the stars to arrive. We strolled up 7th Avenue to Central Park. We walked under Dipway Arch and headed for Heckscher Playground. I loved that slide. How easy it was to forget you're an adult when surrounded by all that stone and grass. After playing there, we headed for the Carousal, then found a nice outcropping of basalt to sit for a while and absorb the atmosphere. Afterwards, we wandered to our other favorite haunts (not necessarily in order):  Bethesda Fountain, Cleopatra's Needle, The Boathouse, Wolman's Rink, The Reservoir, and the Pond and emerged at the Grand Army Plaza at 5th and CP South. The red tulips were in full bloom. By then, the heat was getting bad. Ultimately it hit 105 degrees! Someone on the news the next day commented that the heat generated by all the air conditioners running in the city that day could boil water filling the astrodome in Texas. I often wondered who compiled statistics like that.
We continued down 5th Avenue.
I don’t know if it is the same today, but in 1976, 5th Avenue was blocked at two cross streets creating a traffic-fee area for the Easter parade. People strolled down the Avenue in their Sunday finest, some were in costume, and a lot were tourists. I remember someone dressed as the Statue of Liberty complete with a foam crown. She wore twelve inch platform shoes shaped like the base of Lady Liberty and had robes draped over her shoulder. What I remember the most was her green make-up that was melting and running down her face.
We grabbed a strawberry Julius and a hot dog from the Orange Julius stand on the corner and headed back to Shubert Alley.
A larger crowd had gathered, but with a little perseverance, a lot of patience and a little nudging, we worked our way to the front. It was only mid afternoon, but celebrities were already arriving for the evening’s big event. We saw Cloris Leachman, posed for pictures, and Marlo Thomas, Hal Linden and Richard Burton, who slipped by.
I know we left our imprints in Shubert Alley that day. Because of the extreme heat, the asphalt softened and our shoe prints were left there for all time. Or at least until they paved it over.
We stayed several hours, then after a little more enjoying the city, we each bought an extra large strawberry Julius and 3 single cuts of genuine New York pepperoni pizza for supper and headed back to my room at the Taft Hotel on 7th Avenue. After eating, we sat back and enjoyed the Tony’s. It was three hours of fantastic music and bits of the best plays and musicals of the season.
After the show, I was ready to head back to Shubert Alley like we planned. Joe, however, was tired and went to his room. So there I am sitting in a hotel room in NYC barely ten blocks from Shubert Alley and all those people. I called Joe and told him that’s were I was going. He said be careful and to call when I got back.
I grabbed my camera and headed back down the Avenue.
Oh my God. There were no other words to describe it. Shubert Alley was a virtual who’s who. Despite the hour, there were so many people. The entire cast from Pacific Overtures was there in costume mingling with everyone. I spotted Carole Bishop, who won a Tony for A Chorus Line. I waited to talk to Donna McKechnie, who won Best Actress in a musical, for her role as Cassie in A Chorus Line.
I can’t remember everyone I got to talk to, but I took more pictures. As time went on, the crowd started to disperse. On their way out to cast parties, I saw Marvin Hamlisch and Celeste Holm. Finally, someone from the theater came out and said all dressing room keys had been turned in and everyone had gone to the after-show party at Sardi's. Almost everyone left at that point. I was going to leave too, since I needed to head north, but that little voice said to wait.
Sure enough, a tall woman wearing a white flowing gown hurried out the stage door towards a waiting limo. I followed, having one of those mental arguments: That’s Diana Rigg… No it’s not... Yes it is… No it’s not. All the room keys had been turned in.
But it was Diana Rigg and I got to talk to her again. She was always a nice lady. I took a photo—with her permission—and watched as the limo drove away.
I was happy. It was worth walking back down to Shubert Alley. I called Joe when I got back to the hotel. Despite all the walking that day, it was hard falling asleep.
The next morning, we were back on the bus heading home. I was so glad Joe didn’t listen to me to stay home but instead was able to convince me to go with him. What a trip; what a memory.
Wishing all of you a blessed and Happy Easter.