I once read a comment that I recall as having been attributed to the fascinating author Robert Cormier, best known for his books for young adults such as The Chocolate War and the especially heart-wrenching Tunes For Bears To Dance To. The premise of the comments were that people who want to be writers should realise that like any other job, writers must learn how to write well even when it’s the last thing that they want to do. Set aside consistent and regular time, he said, because if you only wrote when you felt like it, there’d be long expanses of time when you’d never achieve anything. Good writers can fight through such malaise and write consistently well regardless.
Meanwhile, there is a wonderful, intelligent and consistently engaging American sports podcast on Slate called Hang Up and Listen which I listen to each week. The three panellists – Stefan Fatsis, Mike Pesca and Josh Levin – are all excellent, with a wonderous and insatiable desire for a breadth of sporting knowledge. Levin, I learnt one week very early this year, is just a little younger than I.
Amongst other things, it was Cormier’s comment and Levin’s age that brought me last February to the experiment that is this blog. I promised myself that I would write 52 columns, to be posted each Monday, to show myself that…
Well, I still don’t know how to actually finish that last sentence.
Was it to show Mr Cormier and myself that I could write every week if I wanted to? Was it to show that like Josh (for we listeners know our podcast hosts by their first names), I am now old and wise enough to provide a relatively educated commentary on the sporting issues of the day?
I’ve lived a life in which the names of the greatest of sports writers are as revered as the names of the greatest of sportspeople. Indeed, I have just begun an eagerly anticipated reading of a book commemorating the work of the man who I regard to be Australia’s greatest sports (and political, for that matter) columnist: the late Matt Price.
In the introduction to the section containing his writings on AFL, Price is said to have regarded footy as a “magnificent distraction,” and his columns on the sport are described as “an escape from the pointy end of the paper and things that really mattered.”
I once started a Masters degree in Sports Humanities, however within six months of beginning my studies, I decided that I wasn’t nearly devoted enough to the task as I felt that researching sport was far too frivolous a pastime. This was only emphasised by the fact that many of the final-year university students whom I was tutoring had problems with their literacy and research skills which I felt I could help improve if I were a high school teacher.
In many ways I was right, of course, although clearly I believe that sport is of great value to the world as well. And I and Matt Price’s devoted readership would argue that good sports writing also matters, even if it is appreciated purely in an escapist sense.
But the thing that I have loved most about this blog is precisely that it doesn’t matter.
I love the fact that I can provide some hopefully educated and occasionally well-worded opinion on topics of interest to this sports-nut without any great feeling of pressure or concern about how they will be received. I love living in a world where I can escape from any other troubles for a few hours and be permitted to watch, discuss, argue and write about sport without having any pretense that it (or I) is more important than it is.
The fact that one piece of my work elicited an off-the-record response from the CEO of an Australian sporting organisation, and the fact that Sports Illustrated gave me the honour of having one of my pieces published by their highly esteemed organisation are but beautiful stories that I am sure Mrs EPO will one day argue that I re-tell too often.
A few weeks after being published by Sports Illustrated, I forwarded one of my stories to BackPageLead, seeking publication. It was dutifully accepted and published on their website with no editorial alterations whatsoever.
Occasionally, someone asks me whether or not I’ve sent out any more of my pieces for publication and the answer has always been “No”. I like to believe that their consequent surprise is associated with the fact that they think my writing is of a standard that deserves a wider audience rather than the more likely cause of them questioning the point of taking the time to write such pieces for a small audience of family and friends.
But for me, this experiment has never been about anything more than it is. It’s been an entertaining hobby, where I have permitted myself to partake in the beautiful world of make-believe that is sport and my faux-literary accomplishments. And one of its greatest joys has been my own editorial control: no editors to force subject-matter upon me, no sub-editors to criticise my phrasing.
It’s an experiment that has permitted me to debate the issues I am interested in with family and friends. Some are debates that I most likely would have had in person if I lived closer to certain folks, and others are debates that I have been able to raise with a broader audience than I would have without the blog’s existence. Many of the topics have generated conversations that have continued over email, the phone or in person.
But now, I am somewhat looking forward to this experiment being over. Not that EPO will necessarily disappear from the blogosphere in 11 weeks time once the year is complete. However, his self-imposed, Cormier-inspired weekly deadline will certainly evaporate. “I don’t want to be a writer, Mr Cormier,” he will argue, “so I don’t need to practise as you say. But there is still something special about the feeling of writing something that people find engaging…even if I can never tell which pieces people will love and which ones people won’t care for at all.”
And so, on EPO will go. Perhaps occasionally permitting himself to venture outside the sporting field, or perhaps not. But there will be no deadlines. He will forever write what he wants to when he wants to.
And, blissfully, none of it will ever matter.