In the fifth inning of Game 3 in the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth was up at bat. After two strikes, he held his hand high and pointed toward the center-field bleachers. On the third pitch, Ruth whacked the ball into the air. It sailed across the field in a perfect rainbow arc, forming a tiny dot as it disappeared behind the outfield walls. He had done it. Ruth had called his fifteenth, and last, home-run.
Sounds legendary, doesn’t it? There’s a bit more to that story, but I’m going to pause there and use the image to begin.
I have a fantastic friend who’s also my accountability buddy. Our relationship usually entails us meeting on gchat, naming what we have to do that day, and then updating as we gradually check things off the list. Last January, my friend found herself in very trying circumstances. She was down to the wire with needing to turn in her dissertation draft, and she was weeks away from giving birth. There was no wiggle room in her schedule. Those were the do-or-die days. On those mornings, she would swagger into our gchat (I have no idea how one swaggers into a gchat, but believe me, she does it) and not only name the tasks on her list, but specifically call her shots. I could almost imagine her pointing to her finished dissertation the way Ruth pointed to his home-run. Her resolve and determination were things to behold that month. Watching her accomplish so much was incredible.
What I love about my friend is that her inclination to lean into her struggles, to call her shots and believe in herself, some future self… is so different from what I’ve done my entire life.
Let me explain.
On the day of my high school graduation, I arrived home from the ceremony an hour after my parents and announced to my family that I had obtained a summer job.
“What summer job?” my mom asked incredulously. “I didn’t know you were applying for jobs.”
Of course my mother didn’t know I was applying for a job. No one did. I had applied in private. I had set up the interview on the sly, scheduled half an hour after my graduation ceremony. The idea was, if I didn’t get the job, no one would be the wiser. If I had good news, it would be shared. If I got bad news, I could sweep it right under the rug behind everyone’s backs. That was the method to my madness:
I only called the shot once I knew I already had it.
My habits of pretending like I didn’t want anything and acting surprised when good things came my way continued long after high school. I auditioned for shows, but told my friends I wouldn’t care if I got in (lies.) I started on college assignments early, but if anyone mentioned I seemed to be working hard, I shrugged the insinuation off. I had to finish it early for a trip, I would say. Or maybe I would act like I was bored and had nothing better to do. I desperately needed people to think my good grades came easy, not from the countless hours of work I put into every assignment I received.
I pretended to be like the Great and Powerful Oz. But really, I was the fretful man behind the curtain.
My rather flawed philosophy was, if people only saw brilliant things coming from me, almost out of thin air, they wouldn’t be able to smell the rejection and heartache that slid down my skin like sweat. How awful, I thought, to publicly reach for something and not get it. For the only thing that seemed worse than rejection was having to share news of rejection over and over with everyone.
My writing journey, as you may have noted from my earlier blog post, began in this same vein. I hid my love of writing because I didn’t want to fail, and I especially didn’t want to fail in front of others. It took me a long time to call myself a writer. But even now I continue to struggle with being open about pain and rejection. I’m trying to change, little by little. I’m trying to see the beauty in failing with flair.
Over the last year or so, I’ve began drawing back the curtain. It hasn’t always been rewarding.
In the first half of 2017, I battled a horrible, lasting bout of depression. I went to sleep every night to escape from myself. I woke up every morning disappointed. I was creating art and revising and trying to partner with another literary agent, but my bottomless pit of despair seemed to precede me at every turn. Every setback I faced was amplified with the feeling that I deserved it. Meanwhile, I posted photos of my art on Instagram, acting like I was focusing on art and only art, since that was the only channel of my life I had control over.
My good friend, the one I mentioned earlier, advised me to start thinking about a future outside of writing creatively. I had been a decent critical writer and student in graduate school—had I ever thought of going after a PhD in literature?
Applying to a doctorate program was terrifying for many reasons, the main one being that I would have to tell people about it. I needed three references for my regular application. Another two references for my teaching apprenticeship application. People would have to know I was putting myself out there. But I followed my friend’s suggestion.
This time, I told everyone about my plans.
I spent nearly a year pulling together an application. I sent my letter of intent to colleagues and past professors for review. I met with my references in person. I submitted and was accepted into several conferences where I shared my critical work on panels and did my best to network and put my name out there in the Children’s Literature academic circle.
And then I didn’t get in to a doctoral program.
What a whirlwind. To open a curtain so someone can see all your intentions, your process, and then be forced to share news of subsequent failure. What a moment. But something magical happened from sharing my journey in applying to graduate school. When I ultimately failed, this time I wasn’t crying alone. I had a community of people to lean into. I also had a community to lift me up again, and later, to celebrate with me when I reached other milestones. I realized that my friends and family felt closer to me when they knew what I was working toward. Lowering the curtain was like lowering a wall between myself and my loved ones.
I absolutely adore blogs and newsletters from authors like Julie Dao because she’s always called her shots publicly. I get goosebumps when I read blog posts of hers from years ago talking about how she wanted to be published someday. It makes me all the happier when I see her celebrate her current much-deserved success as a published author.
As much as calling my shots have helped me feel closer to the writing community, I have to admit I still find it difficult to pull my cards away from my chest. Even some of my closest writer friends expressed surprise at my book deal when it was announced last December.
“I didn’t even know you were writing a book on roller derby!” some of them said, echoing my mother’s reaction from that summer job so many years ago.
The truth is, I do want people to know what I want.
I want to reach for goals publicly. When I fail, I want to use the failure as an opportunity to grow within my community. So here are some shots I’m calling for this year…
· I want to go out on submission with my ant graphic novel
· I want to finish and feel spectacular about THE DERBY DAREDEVILS Book 2
· I want to start on a completely new project
Remember how I said there was more to that Babe Ruth story? Apparently, it’s false. In an interview about the famous home-run, Ruth scoffed at the idea that he was calling his shot. He was telling the pitcher he had one pitch left. He held up a finger to show it.
“I never knew anybody who could tell you ahead of time where he was going to hit a baseball,” Ruth said.
Somehow I love that this almost mythical tale of Ruth’s called home-run turns out to be just that, a myth. No one can actually call a home-run. You can’t predict it for certain. But I’ll bet that when Ruth readied his bat for a final swing, he wanted a home-run. And maybe when he held up his finger he wasn’t outright saying “I’m going to hit the ball out of this park…” but he was hoping for it. And those are the kinds of moments, where someone reaches for something in front of thousands of people, knowing it’s not a certainty they’ll get it, that most inspire me.
My husband and I have been trying to have children for over a year now. My old plan was to tell no one until we were already pregnant or in the middle of an adoption. Or better yet, I would think, I’ll tell them once I’m already holding a baby in my arms. But month after month have gone by, and we’ve faced very difficult health problems, and in the process I have realized that I am denying myself comfort and community in the name of self-preservation. I’m behind the curtain again, pretending I don’t care if things work out or not. And I don’t want to sit behind a curtain feeling sorry for myself and licking my wounds. I want to be braver than that.
To be clear, I don’t want to share all the hairy details here. I promise I don’t need advice. I promise I won’t steal a kid from the grocery store. I’m hopeful, not on the edge. But I’m moving forward with my chin held high, the way my friend carries herself into our morning gchats. I’m going to call this shot. I might not make it. But I’m pointing to the outfield anyway.
· I want to be a parent.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for looking behind my curtain and seeing me for the messy struggle I am and not the perfectly polished person I wish I were. Thank you for listening.