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on-golfing-and-writing

On Golfing and Writing

on-golfing-and-writing

If I look back at the woman I was twenty years ago…

I never thought I’d love golf. I also never thought about the day I’d be staring into my sixth decade on the planet. When you are in your thirties, it’s hard to find joy in a slower tempo. In the same way yoga didn’t appeal to me at that age, neither did a four-hour activity mired with frustration.

It’s only been in the last ten years I’ve come to appreciate the compassion and brain health that comes from a beginner’s mentality. It is so much easier to stick with what we are good at, but there is no growth in that. No matter how much golf I play, I’m always filled with humility and the sense that I have so much to learn. As a writer, reading great books evokes the same feeling. German classes and years of bridge lessons have also put me in the shoes of a beginner, but those practices didn’t stick the way golf has.

That’s because I also love being outdoors. I’ve come to crave the green grass and fresh air, the camaraderie walking the course, my heart rate slowing with the measured, even, pace of the game. A four-hour walk with good friends and no phones: such a luxury in today’s world. Golf teaches me that success comes from taking time and studying my options. Ever try to putt quickly without reading the green? I am a type A personality who multi-tasks and juggles multiple projects at once. Golf has taught me something about concentration and clarity. It has taught me to value precision over power.

Golf benefits my squash and my writing in the same way yoga or meditation does. I like to think of a golf outing as an extended practice in even breathing and intentional thinking. It begins with gratitude for just having the time and the access to play the game. Then, every swing, every new hole is an opportunity to put the past behind and visualize greatness and use positive self-talk. It’s taken me many decades to face down the critic in my head, but rounds of golf have given me millions of opportunities to tell her to go away!

I never thought I’d love golf, I never understood what people liked about it. I can’t believe I’m at an age where I feel this way, but I really do love golf.

Thirty Day Challenges- Life as a Laboratory

Thirty days is the perfect amount of time to experiment with something new and different. How often do we look back at a month or four weeks and think, “Where did it go?” Thirty days is a long enough period of time to really accomplish something, while its short enough to convince your mind to stick with a little discomfort. Some people can learn a language in thirty days. I have even heard of some who have written a book!

Over the last several years my husband and I have conducted various thirty-day experiments. We woke at 5am every morning to meditate. We were gluten free for a month and tried various other diets. I swam in the ocean every day, and I wrote a poem or a letter to a friend every day on other go rounds. Some practices stuck, others were tossed out as no fun (see gluten free).

Most recently I conducted a thirty-day experiment in Utah… a self-induced retreat where I detached from my regular life. I planned to ski every morning, write the rest of the day, and go to bed early. First of all, let me state that I recognize how fortunate I am to be able to choose such a thing, but in various ways, big and small, everyone has the ability to make a thirty day change. In January 2017 we leased a house in Park City for March 2018, and it was a good thing we did it so far in advance, because for a period leading up to departure, I was filled with regret and doubt: a combination of having to decline fun invitations and worrying the snow wasn’t good, and then there was the underlying expense of it all.

A month can get committed away if the calendar isn’t safely guarded. That it is why it is important to plan ahead and create an intention around a thirty-day experiment. I’d always loved the idea of being a ski bum out west, and am actually considering it full time (ssh that’s a secret), so I tried the life for thirty days – bought a pass – and was the first one in the lift line to the point where the operators started to recognize and expect me. I’d always envied locals who enjoyed the liberty of skiing as little or as long as they felt like. It’s the opposite vibe of family weekends where we had only two days and we’d paid a fortune, so we were going to ski all out no matter what the conditions were.

I was excited the rental house was close to a lift, but it was the slowest ride ever. As the fresh air cleared (some of) my type A personality away, I used the time to meditate, or to just absorb the colors – blue sky, white snow, green pine trees. Despite a blanket of snow, birds chirped every morning. The clocks changed, the spring equinox arrived, and the sun grew warmer. The altitude was something I had to adjust to, my heart beating a little faster and my body thirsty for water most of the time. The landscape dragged me back to the basics.

Meditation on the lift was useful, but nothing forces me into the present moment like downhill skiing. When carving and picking up speed, there can be absolutely nothing else on one’s mind except where to make my next turn. Returning to my desk, it was easier to approach writing with the same single-mindedness.

My motto for the thirty days was simplicity: dress simply (long johns), eat simply (loved the burritos at El Chubasco), and enjoy being alone (with my dog). I experienced solitude while a vibrant town buzzed around me. And I made a brilliant decision while I was there – to do it again in March 2019!

How Squash Powers my Writing

I’ve been touched by the way my squash community has supported the launch of EDEN: A Novel (and my new writing life, for that matter).  I’m also extremely grateful for the thoughtful review James Zug wrote in June’s Squash Magazine and the support of Ivy Pochoda and Louisa Hall, world class squashers who played for the Crimson in the 00’s, for reading advance copies of EDEN and writing its first endorsements.

Besides that demonstration of support, and the fact that I’ve approached this publishing journey with the determination of an athlete, I thought I’d use this blog to describe the other ways my new writing life has been shaped by the sport I love.

Squash and writing can both be solitary pursuits, but to approach them as such is a shame. Both are done better with the support and encouragement of community. My experience with US Squash taught me to seek out a writing community and to get involved. Thank goodness for the comradeship of Grub Street, or I’d still be puttering away at a draft of EDEN, alone in my house, wondering if it would ever be good enough. And without the feedback and challenges of fellow GrubStreet work-shoppers, it wouldn’t have been!

Excellence in athletics requires a consistent practice and desire to improve. Not that every time I go out and play, I play my best, but it’s knowing the potential exists, that my talent can be summoned, that keeps me going. Same with writing, sometimes I feel like a day’s output is no good, but it’s the knowing that cleverness and insight can be summoned in future drafts that pushes me along.

When it comes to squash, I’ve lost way more matches than I’ve won. Nevertheless, I am a highly ranked player and have won two National Championships. Still, it is the knowing that, in the arenas in which I choose compete, I will face very tough competition, which drives me to practice.

I’ll equate all those squash defeats with the multitude of rejection I faced trying to get my book published. Thankfully, squash made me relatively immune to taking set backs personally. I treat rejection like feedback which can dictate what my next course of action should be. Rejection is not a judgment on my worth as a person, but makes me rethink and improve my writing.

In squash you learn to never give up, because it only takes a couple of smart, well-executed shots to win a series of points. Those points can result in the momentum of a entire match swinging, and maybe an unexpected win. And it only takes a couple of great wins, strung together, to win a tournament.  Similarly for all the rejections I experienced during the publishing process, it only took a few well timed “wins” to change everything, shift momentum, and create some buzz around my book.

Even though I am a good squash player, I enter most tournaments as a huge underdog. As the great Canadian player, Jonathan Power, likes to say, “There are lots of levels of good.” In other words, you can be good and there will still be somebody better, and then somebody better still. Sometimes I’ll be reading one of my favorite authors before bed time and the writing can be so moving, so spot on, I’ll close the book and start to think, “What right do I have to even try?” I gather up my courage again by remembering there are a lot of levels of good, and just because I’m not going to “win” a Pulitzer prize doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be part of the field which colors the landscape.

Squash has taught me courage and how to be a positive inner coach. I guess this is why the sport has been such a powerful tool for teaching our SquashBusters students life lessons, and why junior squash is a great training ground for mental toughness. Its lessons are transferrable in myriad ways – a satisfying writing life is really just the least of them.