Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What It Feels Like to Win

Okay, so this is what it feels like when you've put a cover story to bed. It feels like making a great play at shortstop.
In all my life, even after 100, 200 cover stories, there have never been enough of them and each one has scared me to death. So today I finished one today for a paper with a staff full of prize-winning journalists who take their cover stories pretty seriously.
Anyway, despite all the deadlines I've had and deadlines I've made on cover stories over the years, each time one approaches I get cold. I start to sweat. I realize I have to clean the kitchen or feed the goats or give some quality time to my kids: anything but face a deadline on a cover.
Why? Because if you fuck it up you may never work for that mag again. And every person you work with at that mag or paper will move on and wherever they land they'll tell everyone that you blew a deadline and left a mag or newspaper with an empty front page they had to fill at the 11th hour with some drivel and so you're not to be trusted.
So I was fretting it again today, my stomach empty and aching the whole time I was going over it, filling in the blanks, making the last phone call interviews.
And then, maybe at mid-afternoon, I suddenly flashed on playing shortstop for the High Times Bong Hitters, our softball team in the New York Journalism League. I'd been with the magazine as an executive editor dealing with drug war issues for maybe 10 years before we put the team together. We had a couple of bad years, and then went wild in our third, going 17-0 and we followed that with either 16-1 or 17-0 again. In any event, we kicked ass against Playboy, Penthouse, The New Republic, The Nation, WBAI Radio, Fortune, Money and a host of other teams who had staffs of 100 or more to cull their team from. Us? We had a staff of six or so and then some part timers. We filled out the squad with pals who came to the games to drink a little of the lightly dosed LSD punch that somehow magically and frequently appeard on our bench, or smoke some weed that always seemed to appear at the right moment.
Anyway, after the first year with the Bong Hitters, Steve Bloom, our music editor, and a great one still, decided to manage and turned shortstop--where he was very good--over to me.
There were games where I was fine. We had one game where I was involved in 14 of the 21 outs in the game. There were also a couple of games where I blew a grounder through my legs or my arm froze with fear and I threw the ball way over first baseman David Peel's head two or three times. (Peel was a hippy/yippi/zippi who did some work with John Lennon and penned our Take Me out to the Bong Game song, written after Take me out to the Ball Game. (Take me out to the bong game, take me out to get stoned; buy me some reefer not crack or smack, I don't want that monkey on my back; and it's smoke, smoke, smoke for the home team, everybody get high; and it's one, two, three tokes your high at the old bong gaaaammmmeeeee!!!)
Anyway, I loved being part of that team and I loved that every magazine in town was coming at us with ringers, and I loved playing shortstop and in the middle of the action, tested constantly.
So today, while I was facing my fear of another cover story I could potentially blow like a missed popup, I remembered Peel's song, and then thought about the team, and then remembered how, in close games, at the end of close games I'd find myself thinking:"God, don't let them hit it to me. Please don't let them hit it to me." And on the heels of that another me would roar: "WHAT ARE YOU THINKING? YOU'RE THE SHORTSTOP. IF YOU DON"T WANT THE BALL WHAT ARE YOU DOING THERE?????" And then I'd catch myself, and ask for the ball, even silently demand the ball.
And it always seemed to come my way. And those last two outs or that last play would always come at me in slow freaking motion. I nearly always pulled it off. And it felt great.
And so I remembered that today and finished the damned story and it's as good a story as a good play at shortstop.
After all, if you're gonna play shortstop or write cover stories, it's not expected that you won't be scared, but it is expected that at the last moment you will be praying to let it come to you. That way if you lose, you have only yourself to blame.
Ain't this a great life to be living? Even with all the junk? It's still the best.

3 comments:

Non Prophet said...

This, what you have described, has been perhaps the major challenge of my adult life. Success has always seemed to fall in my lap in most any pursuit I undertake but that doesn't seem to keep me spending way too much time worrying about when the shit is all going to fall apart. With success comes an enormous amount of responsibility. I have a lot of folks at work and kids at home all counting on me to live up to my potential. The hard part is in dealing with my own self-judgment and skepticism.

Much of my dilemma and trepidation seems to be the result of wanting my life to be easy and stable. But at what cost? A Carl Jung quote I recently ran into seemed to sum up my inner conflict so very well:

"The nearer we approach the middle of life, and the better we have succeeded in entrenching ourselves in our personal attitudes and social positions, the more it appears as if we had discovered the right course and the right ideals and principles of behavior. For this reason we suppose them to be eternally valid, and make a virtue of unchangeably clinging to them. We overlook the essential fact that the social goal is attained only at the cost of a diminution of personality. Many -- far too many -- aspects of life which should have been experienced lie in the lumber-room among dusty memories; but sometimes, too, they are glowing coals under grey ashes."

I feel that if my experience has shown me anything it is that I typically only regret the things that I opted out of, and when I go for something it has a way of working out for the best, even if it is initially a rocky road. So based on that learned axiom do I have it within myself to stop being so stressed-out half the time?

So far the answer seems to be a resounding "no", but it is something that I'm working on.

Peter Gorman said...

Thanks for that. I'm glad I'm not alone. I almost took down that post because it is so self-indulgent but then it produced a response like yours so I guess I'm gonna leave it up.
The fear thing: If I could just get over it.
Working at it. Working at it.
Hit me the damned ball, won't you?

7ft Sky said...
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