A Game in a Rented House

I gathered with a group of friends recently for a long weekend of eating and drinking and talking and playing a game around which we had all met when we were boys. Our adulthoods have taken us to different corners of the country, and our arrivals are staggered. Those first hours are filled with reacquaintance. Each freind you meet again is different because you are resuming your relationship where it left off, and yet each friend you meet is similar because there is something about meeting a friend that is always like meeting yourself as well.

That first night time is irrelevant. It is Thursday, and Monday morning is too distant to concern your imagination. Still, it is possible to let yourself dwell on it. It will come, after all. You arrived here knowing it would come. This weekend is like a cocoon within the rest of your life, and you can feel that life pulsing at the edges of the house you’ve rented. That other life is fine, but you’re here now, and dwelling on ending would only spoil the pleasure of beginning.

And then there is the game. The game means nothing unless you let it mean something. The worst thing you can do is think about the game. If you think about the game, you believe it is absurd that you are even playing it. It’s just a game. The best thing to do is enjoy it. Some enjoy the story of it, some the strategy, others the jokes, others the camaraderie. There are many ways to enjoy the game, but you must enjoy it only as you enjoy it. That is why you play it.

The ending begins before Monday morning. Cleaning the house Sunday night feels like a half-goodbye. You talk about who will be catching which flights and to where. When the morning comes, everyone leaves at different times. Saying goodbye you cannot believe it is already over, and yet you are ready for something else. The last hour before you leave is the hardest. There is always a moment of surprising and profound despair. For a moment, the weekend feels like a waste. It came and went and nothing seems to have changed. But to stay would be feel worse than leaving, and so you are out the door, and the rented house and the game are just a story now as you return again to your family.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

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The Friendly World

If you’ve ever watched a world-class sprinter sprint, you may have noticed how relaxed his face muscles are. In fact, although a sprinter must use every muscle in his body to propel himself as fast he can, he must do so in a state of focused relaxation. In this way a sprinter allows himself to run as fast as they can run. The same is true of singers. The temptation when trying to hit the highest notes would be tighten throat, but in fact just the opposite is true: the more challenging the note, the more you must relax.

And so it goes with writing. So many times I have come to passages where I either don’t know what I want to say or am not sure how to say what I want to say and have clamped down, as if I could put my brain in a juicer and wring the right word or scene from it. Yet when I don’t know what I want next it is because I am not relaxed enough, because I am trying too hard—or simply trying period, as if writing were somehow a mountain I have been forced to climb.

In this way, writing does sometimes feel like a test of faith. Jesus said it is all very well and good to love your brother, but go and love your enemy—now you’ve really learned something. Just so it is all very well and good to be loose while it’s flowing, but can I let go when it’s not coming? Can I let go when I don’t know how the story will end, when it’s been several days since it’s flowed, when my agent wants to see the latest draft and it’s not done? Can I let go then?

When all these things are conspiring it feels as if I am on a ship being rocked by waves, and I must absolutely grab hold of the gunnel or be tossed into the ocean. If at this moment I let go without giving up, if at this moment I surrender to not knowing, writing becomes more than a means to share what I wish to share, but instead a portal through which to view life. At this moment it is exactly as if an enemy has been made a friend, that the hounds chasing me were only my loyal companions calling me home.

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