a swing at the fences

There’s a small photo studio in town, right off the main drag. This morning, I noticed that they’ve lined their front window with examples of the work they’ve done for other inhabitants of this fine little burg. Among these sample images were photos of a local teen done in the style of those post-commercial host portraits on Saturday Night Live, all the way down to the SNL logo. Judging from their placement in said store window, I imagine this option is available to all customers. As a gag gift? It wasn’t clear.

These images, of a teen in a cheap suit making a wacky face next to that legendary logo, were in current parlance a little “cringe.” At least, that was my impression. I tried to imagine my own SNL-obsessed teenage self consenting to the public display of such images, where they would inevitably be seen by all my peers, and quailed at the thought. Quailed!

Here’s the thing, though. Of those rare few across the country who’d have not only the temerity to request the SNL treatment but the sheer brass to let them post the results on Main Street, one talented teen will host SNL for real. I mean, in theory, if the show makes it another decade. You can easily imagine a monologue making reference to this youthful chutzpah: “You’ll never believe this, but I was such a fan of the show as a kid that…” In light of reality lining up with the fantasy, we’d cheer their early ambition, wouldn’t we?

They say Babe Ruth pointed at center field in the 1932 World Series before hitting the ball nearly five hundred feet in that direction, scoring his second home run of the game. Party-poopers now say Ruth was pointing at the pitcher or even the Cubs dugout. The story’s better if he called his shot, of course, and in any case, people call their shots all the time. It’s a rule in eight ball, for example. It’s a thing. And sometimes, they even pull it off.

Scary stuff. Simply saying you’re a writer out loud is a called shot, even if you’ve been published. After all, the last book you wrote may be the last book you ever write. Are you still a writer ten years later? Twenty? How long are you still a writer after the last time you wrote? Or got published?

If you type a proposal in the forest and no one’s around to offer you an advance…

Let’s not get lost in the ontology here. My point is, it’s tough to say you’re a writer. It’s tough to say you’re going to write something, especially if you’ve called and missed that particular shot in the past. It’s easier to say you’ve published something, of course, but the moment it’s out, the clock already is ticking—what’s past is past. What are you going to do next, if anything? Are you willing to tell us? If you aren’t, what does that say?

I’m still uncertain about the value of announcing your intention to write something. “Hey guys, I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year for real!” Does the social pressure you experience drive you to follow through? Or make you that much more likely to hide when you don’t?

I dunno. My gut says to chase the fear. When it comes to any aspect of writing, I’ve found that the more frightening path is nearly always the interesting one. Call your shot. If you miss, you can say you were pointing at the dugout. And when they ask the inevitable question—what dugout?—that’s when you run.

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