Growing up across the street from an empty field, I never watched television sports long without feeling the pull to go outside and play. I wanted to participate instead of observe, to answer instead of listen.
But I didn’t say I was good at football or baseball or whatever games were underway, and so, when I ran from the TV, I only found another sort of escape, fleeing into another fantasy world. The color commentator kept talking in my head, praising my puny moves and replaying them moment by moment in loving analysis. He placed me very near the top of the greats, and, in my imagination, my name rung like the tolling of time immemorial.
Yet, even if I’d had the self-discipline, unassailable confidence, and drive of athletes I admired, I could never equal them physically. I had no reasonable hope of being 6’5” and 250. My body would never cover 100 meters under nine seconds or a mile under four minutes. No crusty coach would ever curse me to the top of the boxing world.
Some years ago, on the first day of my MFA program, the director asked us why we were there. I answered that I was tired of listening without speaking. My classmates nodded approvingly—they understood—but I wonder if they did really. I wonder if, then, they knew the burden of needing to play, of drawing on a dwindling battery of patience as you leaf through collections of poetry, turn another page of a novel…or scroll through someone else’s post.
Turns out, MFA school, like all school, relies on paying attention. If you aren’t interested in watching, watch you must, for what hope do you have of being anyone’s equal if you haven’t the perseverance to listen? Without input, there is no output, and being a writer means standing on whatever parts of giants offer footholds. It means exploiting every anxiety of influence until you find yourself in uninfluenced territory.
And the need to speak, it turns out, is more curse than blessing, an urge you’d gladly outgrow or exhaust…because no one ever promises you’ll be good at it. You might never know if you have the skills to excel or ever hear your name outside your own imagination.
“Signals to Attend” is my fourth blog, another resolution for another year. I start it with the same familiar questions, wondering why listening is never enough, why watching even the best grows old, why silence doesn’t become me more.
I guess I can’t help thinking I have something to say.
Dear reader, I hope you’ll find I’m right.