Volume 3, Issue 68: Born Alone
"Will you weather, join the cold, come before I die, more aware of it than me?"
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An old friend of mine once described what it was like to talk to me in person, and how it contrasted with the experience of reading my writing. He came up with an impressively detailed metaphor that always made me look at him a little differently afterward. He’d been paying closer attention than I’d realized, and he had noticed something that I had not.
Basically, he said, listening to me talk is like watching me be in a room with a series of doors, some of which are locked and some of which are not. My conversational style is not to sit back and ponder the locked/unlocked status of each individual door, to try to make sure I have the right key before I start moving. My conversational style is just to start opening doors. I basically just try every door I can until I find one that’s unlocked. Is this one locked? Yes. How about this one? Yes. This one? Dammit. Let’s try this one. Hey, cool, it’s unlocked. Let’s walk through this one. This can make conversations with me sometimes feel disjointed, even rambling. I do not have the ability to pause until I have the exact right word before speaking, so listening to me talk, as anyone who has listened to me on a podcast knows, is witnessing me rifle through my brain to figure out what I’m trying to say, in real time. This can be exhausting, I have no doubt. I wish I could be like, say, Barack Obama, who is always careful and deliberate about each word he uses, who pauses and holds until he lands on the correct one. (This is one of the very few ways I am not exactly like Barack Obama.) I have no such elegance or precision. Listening to me speak is to see someone flailing around for the right direction, quickly, wildly, until he finally finds the right one.
My writing, though, disguises this whole process. You don’t see the search; you only see the result. All those locked doors, those red herrings, you never see those. You only see the correct door. Every sentence, as I sit down to write it, is a constantly reversing itself, and erasing itself, and starting over. It’s a mess: There’s flour and butter and milk and syrup and just bloody madness splattered all throughout the kitchen. But I’m able to hide that. By the time it gets to you, you don’t see any of that. You just see the end result. You just see a guy casually, confidently walking through a door, like he always knew the right door to walk through, like he always had the key.
I didn’t realize, until my friend said it, that this was how I navigated the world, and what writing does for me. But he’s right. I’m able to edit out all the chaotic, inefficient mess of the real world and just hone in the stuff that matters. Writing allows me to say, finally, exactly what I’m trying to say. It’s how I try to corral the world into something manageable—how I try to get my arms around it. It’s the only way I know to make sense of anything.
This week, we got some good news about How Lucky, which continues to churn its way through the planet one month after being unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. Amazon Books—which, whatever one’s thoughts about Amazon, is run by serious book people; that place did get started selling only books, after all—chose How Lucky as one of its Top 20 Books of 2021 So Far. That’s all books, not just novels, not just books by dopey Midwesterners who still cannot grow a beard. All of them.
There are some heady freaking names on that list. It was very exciting, and an undeniable honor, and it has led to more attention toward the book, which is supposed to be the goal, after all. But I’ve been a little surprised by the most common question I still get asked about How Lucky, one month in: How does this book exist at all? How do you possibly have time to write a novel with everything else you write?
Books are hard to write, for a modicum of reasons, but for me the only real issue is simply one of time management. (Occasionally I’d like to see my family.) As well as How Lucky has gone, I have not yet sold enough books to concentrate solely on writing books, but to be honest, even if I had, I wouldn’t want to stop writing about all the other things I write about. I love writing about baseball, and the larger sports ecosystem, and movies, and politics, and I love writing this newsletter, which is probably the purest distillation of “trying to make sense of the world by writing through it” as I could imagine. I’ve discovered that writing fiction allows me to try out new ideas, and forms, and it lets me get out of my own head and enter someone else’s, in a way that’s exciting and new and sort of limitless. I plan on doing it as long as they will let me. But it is still, at the end of the day, just writing, just me tapping my fingers against this keyboard in a pattern and order that conveys meaning and attempts to communicate ideas to thousands upon thousands of people that I will never meet. I will write something today, and I will write something tomorrow, and I will write something every day until one day all my organs stop working and my body can no longer move to make things because I am dead.
Part of this is an old blogger’s mentality, which isn’t particularly different than an old newspaper mentality: You make something, and when you’re done with that, you make something else, and then you keep making things because there’s a blank white space just sitting there and it’s your job to fill it. Roger Ebert once said the muse visits during the act of creation, not before, which is a fancy way of saying, Shut up and start writing. You’ll figure it out. If what you wrote today is not perfect, do not worry, because you can just write something tomorrow and push it a little farther down the page until it’s gone. (The newspaper version of this is yesterday’s column is today’s birdcage filler.) You have to keep creating things that weren’t there before. Otherwise, jeez, what are we doing here?
People are often asked, in the context of their careers, what their goal is. Where is this all going? But every day, I get to wake up in the morning, sit down at my computer and try to cobble together some order out of a world that violently resists it. This is where I wanted it all to go. If I get to keep doing this, writing about the things that I care about, for a living, until I die, the thing is … that’s the goal. I’m already here. I just have to keep it going.
The world is terrifying and harsh and sometimes unfeeling place, or, at the very least, indifferent to our whims and our thrashings about. To find a place to step back from it, to find some peace and focus and calm, is all anyone could hope for. Some people find it it in friends, or family. Some find it through meditation; some through physical exercise. Some take solace in the simplicity of routine tasks; I have friends who find their Zen in Excel spreadsheets, or home construction, or stacking the meat aisle at a grocery store. Some find it in more perilous places, through the bottle, or drugs, or high-risk behaviors. Some find it through their God; some just binge watch Bravo. I find mine by sitting down, right here, like this, and typing things until, at last, I find that correct door, the one that’s unlocked, and I can walk through it. Sometimes I think finding that place is as close to heaven as we can find in this life. I wish it for you, and for all of us.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
Jon Rahm Is a Walking Vaccine PSA, New York. Vaccines will not only save your life and the life of people around you, they will save you from costing yourself more than a million dollars in prize money.
Trae Young Is an Incredible Supervillain, GQ. His games are absolute must-sees, even when I want him thrown off a cliff.
Five Sub-.500 Teams That Aren’t Done Yet, MLB.com. Cardinals about to join teams in this designation, sure looks like.
Internet Nostalgia: Susan Boyle, Medium. Has the Internet gotten meaner, or nicer?
The End of Mask Shaming, Medium. We should probably be there now.
Jeff Bezos Isn’t Going Into Space, Medium. He’s just floating around for a few minutes.
Weird Players Who Won the Fan ASG Vote, MLB.com. Look, Rich Aurilia! Shea Hillenbrand!
The Thirty: The Best Player on Every Team Who Has Never Made an All-Star Game, MLB.com. This list is longer because it has been a couple of years since we even had an All-Star Game.
Grierson & Leitch, we discussed “All Light Everywhere,” “Undine” and “Lords of Dogtown.”
Seeing Red, Bernie and I have noticed that the Cardinals are now very bad.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, no show this week.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
“A Slice of the Sky,” Justin Davidson, New York. Architecture writing strikes me as the most difficult possible genre of writing. The level and depth of information you have just to get started strikes me as an impossible hill to climb. Justin Davidson does it as well as anyone, in this conflicted rave about the new Billionaire Castle on 53rd Street in Manhattan.
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
National League Teams, Ranked By My Unfounded And Irrational Personal Animus Toward Them, Built On 40 Years Of Slights And Frustrations And Petty Nothingburgers
Cardinals (though not if they keep losing like this)
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
I am sorry I have fallen behind on these. I have a lot of bookplates! I will return! They are piling up, but once I get the bookplates done, we’ll get caught up. Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Tornadoes,” Drive-By Truckers. That Drive-By Truckers/Jason Isbell show from 2014 that I was telling you about a few weeks ago is finally on Spotify. I cannot recommend it enough.
Remember to listen to The Official Will Leitch Newsletter Spotify Playlist, featuring every song ever mentioned in this section.
We picked the younger son up from his week-long sleepaway camp this week. He handled it better than I did.
Have a great weekend, everyone.