Non-Writing Things that Nevertheless Help Me Write: The Boston Red Sox

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Photograph of David Ortiz in Boston Red Sox uniform and helmet

When I told a friend my idea for these posts, she said, “That’s great. Post 1: beer. Post 2: scotch.” This rather snarky answer actually reinforced one of my goals for these admittedly egotistical pieces: All writers have their crutches and vices, and while alcohol is often one of them, there are others. I swear.

I’d also like to discuss the fact that while reading books and short stories inspires me a great deal, it’s only part of what makes me want to write. It’s fine for people to imagine me (though why one would ever imagine me at all is beyond me, but please go with it) sitting in an oak-paneled library surrounded by leather-bound tomes, chewing thoughtfully on a quill as I read through the fictions of the day, and of course, I do. Like many, I have been critical of the sudden proliferation of aspiring writers who don’t like to read. However, I get inspiration from music, movies, art, and even, gasp, television. Writers don’t have to look down on all other forms of art. Reading is, by far, the best way to learn to be a writer, but it can be supplemented by other, more lowly forms of expression.

The Boston Red Sox 

This empty feeling is so familiar. After the Red Sox completed one of the worst collapses in major league history Wednesday night (trumping Atlanta’s collapse, also completed Wednesday night), in stunning (even for them) fashion, I felt a combination of inevitability and despair that I hadn’t since Aaron Boone launched a home run off Tim Wakefield in 2003. And before that, of course, there was 1999’s questionable umpiring, and before that Roger Clemens melting down in 1990 and getting himself ejected, and, most of all, 1986. I’m not old enough to remember 1978, but it’s in my DNA somewhere. I don’t know where 2011 will rank, because I’m not quite through the Kübler-Ross model, but it’s bad. It’s very bad.

Winning two World Series titles in the last decade has been a strange thing. In 2004, the entire being of what is probably an unhealthy portion of my life changed completely overnight. Suddenly the looks I got when I revealed my fandom went from those of sympathy to those of disinterest, irritation, or downright anger. It was bizarre how quickly fortunes turned. I was happy, of course, but I felt guilty, especially if faced with, say, a Cubs or Indians fan. Hey, I wanted to say, I know how it is. Oh sure, they would answer, I bet. My street cred as an unlucky loser had been revoked.

That’s why last night felt reassuring in a terrible way. There was a moment that will hang in my mind forever, where the Red Sox were one strike away from winning and the Rays were one strike away from losing. Then, well, the world went hazy.

This was the Red Sox I used to know, not just losing, but losing in an unimaginably spectacular way. It’s trying to imagine these spectacular losses, I think, that helped make me a writer. (Finally, you’re thinking, this has just been therapy up until this point. Can’t disagree with you there.) In New England, we have these lovely winters that leave us with a blank page and nothing to do but fill it up until the snow turns to mud. We also have a baseball team that consistently finds new ways to break our hearts.

What bigger driving force could there be for an artist? Heartbreak is the highest octane gas to throw in that engine. Knowing that your heart will in all likelihood be shattered, and trying to figure out how it’s going to happen, while still carrying around with you that tiny speck of hope that everything will turn out well, makes it even more powerful. By the time the Red Sox lost last night, they’d already lost a million times in my mind, but they’d won as well.

Hope is critical. For every piece of heartbreaking fiction, and for every heartbreaking love song, there’s always that slight tinge of hope. Even in the darkest pieces of writing, there’s the hope that everything will turn out great. We think there’s a chance that Llewelyn Moss will get back to his wife with the money in No Country for Old Men, or that two lovers from different social classes will somehow survive the sinking of the Titanic together, mostly through dancing and having sex in a car inside a boat. I hoped that a team that bumbled through September with horrible pitching, defense, and baserunning could go on to win the World Series. Now that is strictly the realm of fiction.

Even though it seems ridiculous to say so now, I’m glad I can feel this way. That I feel passionate enough about the Red Sox, or music, or movies, or Steve Martin and that they sit me down at my desk and push in my chair and open a blank document is critical to me. I know it is for other artists I know, who live and die with the Mariners or the Cubs or David Mamet or Bjork or Emily Dickinson. Whatever it takes to get the emotions and the imagination churning is productive. I also know that if in a few months there’s an influx of art from Boston and Atlanta, we’ll understand where it came from.

Image: David Ortiz (Keith Allison, 2013)