by Ron Hayes
As I write this, I’m sitting on a cheese bus with two dozen teenage girls, a fellow assistant coach, a chatty middle-aged bus driver, and a handful of teenage boys who, as football players of mine, want to “help out” with things like videotaping, filling water bottles, and being close to their girlfriends. It’s early in a snowy December, another nascent basketball season again underway on the heels of my tenth season as a football coach, and I just closed an email on my phone about the lacrosse showcase my son’s playing in next week. The white lines that perforate the center of the interstate roll blinkingly by, and with the rush of a whisper I leave the din of giggles and gossip behind.
[CUE WACKY SCOOBY DOO FLASHBACK MUSIC]
Six months ago. Most school buses have been retired for the year. Half the kids on the bus I’m riding now have no idea who I am. It’s a balmy 74 degrees, and Coach Ford (my coaching boss) and I begin a marathon summer of head-to-head golf matches. Simultaneously, I’m reveling in the end of yet another school year while fretting over what I’m going to say in my first regular blog post for 5writers.com. While it’s not my first contribution to 5writers (I’d guest-blogged in April), it is my first post as a full-fledged member of the group. I call it “Voice Lessons” and talk about the dangers of looking too closely at one’s own work when trying to cultivate a sense of one’s own “voice.” Not bad. Good beat, I can dance to it… I give it a 78, Dick.
A month later. I’m 5-1 on the golf course. The birds are singing and the bedroom air conditioner is getting a workout. I offer “A Cure for What Ails You,” a blog post about the value of experimentation and crossing genres as a potential kick in the pants if you’re feeling stagnated as a writer. I’m beaming a little bit because I’m two-for-two in posts with a comment attached! Blog life is good.
I hit a slump. Coach Ford catches fire and we’re knotted up 6-6 on the golf course. Football camp begins. Our beloved Chocolate Lab, Jasper, succumbs to cancer, my son’s lacrosse team takes the Hershey Laxfest title in their division, and I offer not one, but TWO 5Writers blog posts. “Here and There…Or Maybe Just Not Anywhere” advises you that poetry is like alcohol, that, when writing you should trust your gut, and to keep in mind that pomes aren’t like stories—they don’t need a setting necessarily. Which, thankfully in retrospect, turns out to be true. At the end of the month, “Beyond Edgar and Ezra” posts as a back-to-school edition of 5Writers. In it I recommend that those who teach poetry take some time this year to consider breaking free of the traditional close looks at the canon and branch out a little. It’s still good advice. Teaching Shakespeare and Poe? Mix in a little Pound and/or Plath. Break out of the rut. See a wider world. Start school. Again (sigh).
In the face of a full-fledged football season, Coach and I continue our weekly grudge match on the links and we surge forward neck and neck. He leads 10-9 as the month ends. The leaves begin their glorious transmogrification (to borrow from Watterson’s iconic Calvin), my Warriors remain winless on the gridiron, and I again offer two posts in one month. In one of my favorite posts, I delve into what I call “The Great Schism” in poetry: performance poetry vs. poetry on the page. It’s an issue that hits close to home, as the poetry scene in my town is at once spirited and talented and passionate and, yes, divided. It’s not an ugly divide, but it’s palpable. I do what I can to explore it in my post, and ameliorate it in my town. My second term as Erie County Poet Laureate begins. I write “Tennis Anyone? or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Handcuffs,” a post that celebrates the value of constraints in writing. Some of my favorite advice, but not one of my stronger posts, I think. Still… write a sestina! It never hurts!
Warriors still winless. The rains come. Golf slows and Coach Ford and I close out October resigned that we’re too evenly matched, 15-15. Basketball workouts begin. I post “Ma? Ma! We’re all Crazee for Negative Space, ” a horrific title, but one I just couldn’t seem to resist in discussing the idea of white space/negative space/what isn’t on the page—or what the Japanese call “ma.” I like this topic, I liked my ideas, but I’m not sure how effective the post was. Sorry, Dick. This record falls short. I give it a 65.
Football season comes to a merciful, winless end, as does our run of golf dates. I pull out my finest round of the year, shooting an 87 to take the overall lead from Coach Ford, 17-16. Basketball preseason kicks in, my son hits a couple Fall Ball lacrosse tournaments, and I offer “The Ins and Outs of Furthering My Craft.” I like this post, though I think it could be stronger. I particularly enjoyed coming to the realization that I am constantly at work, be it internally or externally, at pushing other writers to be better, which, in turn, makes me a better writer. I fondly look back on some of my work with my students, and bookend it with a “reunion” of sorts—an ex post matriculation series of exchanges with fellow Queens University of Charlotte writers where we workshop again the way we did back when. Poetry Out Loud comes to my school and takes with it our first regional competitor ever. I come to a startling realization: Dear Lord, I played a lot of golf this year!
This ridiculous cheese bus finally gets warm—just about the time our driver realizes she might be lost. Perfect. The girls get increasingly giggly in the face of impending competition. Sidewalks and side-streets have replaced interstate monotony and my highway hypnosis-born reverie draws to a close. Time to go to work.
These girls are an inspiration. They stink, but they don’t give up. They keep coming and keep working and keep battling. They lose by 40—but they’re improving. From their work on the court I take a lesson for my writing life: winning and losing isn’t as important as playing. The thing I think I love about sports—and, in particular, about coaching sports, is that it truly does echo the writing life. The precision I have to grind into the steps my football players take in practice so that they translate it onto the field is not unlike the precision I must demand of myself as a poet and a writer. The economy of motion on the field echoes into the economy of words I must force myself to find in revision. Rough drafts. Practice. Same thing.
My first year as a full-time 5Writers member was only half a year, but it was packed! I’ve loved it, like I love coaching. Thank you to Jennie, Brad, Darlene, Linda, and Emilia Fuentes Grant whose success at writing caused her to step aside and give me a shot. I hope 2014 is as brilliant and exhilarating as 2013 was—all due to this blog. And of course, thank you readers! Have a tremendous holiday and a fantastic 2014. See you there!