January 29, 2004

Of books, dreams and writing

Last week, I found myself on Amazon.com, searching for and then purchasing The Associated Press Stylebook that I will need for my News Reporting and Writing class this semester (and hopefully for many other things in many other years down the road).

I frequent Amazon.com quite often. I buy books - lots of books - and sometimes even CDs and DVDs. It is, for someone like me, who enjoys writing and reading and watching and listening, a place to get lost for hours. It is also a place where someone like me can quickly part with a lot of money, which is perhaps why I don't always visit as much as I'd like to.

My short list of great passions in life, on which baseball has gradually advanced to the top, has always included reading. I become easily distracted when trying to absorb text books and I often find myself bored by the "classics," but if I can get my hands on something with a subject matter that interests me, the book simply doesn't stand a chance. I devour them.

Like most, I have several goals in life. Actually, they're more like dreams. One in particular that I have had for quite a while now is the thought of me, in my old age, sitting in a large but intimate home-office, surrounded by pictures of the things I have enjoyed watching in life, and immersed in stacks and shelves of books.

In fact, to get specific about my old age/home-office dream, the books that are stacked and shelved all around me are almost all about baseball. I envision a dog-eared copy of Ball Four always within reach, for instance.

As far as I can tell, there is no real deep meaning to this dream scenario of mine. It seems fairly simple and something that almost anyone would love to do, which is to surround themselves with the things they have loved, the things they have been passionate about in life.

Of late, I have added to my little baseball library/sanctuary. It always included me, in a cozy room, flanked by books and comfortable seating, outside light seeping in through a big window. There's a nice sized TV, a radio, perhaps some stacks of newspapers if such things still exist when I'm of the right age for this to take place.

Lately though, when I think of this dream room of mine, it has a big wooden desk near the window and I'm sitting at it, typing on a laptop computer. Somewhere along the line I have gone from wanting to be surrounded by the books I've read, to wanting to do that and also write my own additions to my vast collection.

I bring this up today for two reasons. Well, three actually, if you want to count the lack of interesting baseball news as a reason. The first is that what you're reading right now is being written on Thursday afternoon. I just recently returned from my morning class: News Reporting and Writing. Like nearly every class I have taken here at the University of Minnesota that involves learning to write, talking about writing, or anything along those lines, I find myself in a sort of writing frenzy when I return to my room and my laptop after class.

In the past I have experienced this same feeling after Literary Non-Fiction classes, in part because of the stimulating discussions about writing, in part because of the writing exercises, and in part because I've been able read the works of great writers during class. In the case of News Reporting and Writing, there is no wonderful group discussion of the process of writing and no in-depth talks about other writers' work. Instead, I am spurred on to write immediately after returning from class because of the passion of the instructor.

A long-time professional journalist, he talks about the magic of filling that blank screen with a story or getting that perfect quote, and he does so with as much passion as I've ever seen someone do anything. I look at him and listen to him, and it not only makes me want to write immediately, it also makes me want to share that same passion.

Each day thus far in this class and in past non-fiction classes have been like little shots of assurance, little shots of confidence that this thing I have been chasing, this writing thing, is what I am good at, what I am passionate about.

The class is less than two weeks old, but if I don't learn a single thing and even come to dislike it immensely (both highly unlikely), it will still have given me an incredible amount of value. Listening to the teacher talk about writing and reporting in the manner he has thus far makes me want to run home and just start typing, furiously, and if that's not what a college course on writing should do, I'm not sure what the purpose is.

The other reason I bring this whole topic up is that last week, while I was on Amazon.com ordering the book I needed for class, I surrendered to my urges and bought a "non-school" book. It came in the mail yesterday, via UPS, and I brought it to my room and placed it, unopened, on my desk. My plan was to save it for a point when I actually had some time to read a book, perhaps during the weekend, perhaps during the summer. Certainly not a Thursday afternoon during the second week of a semester.

So it sat there, in the UPS packaging, for a little less than 10 minutes. I kept stealing glances at it, in the same manner I imagine a drug addict trying to quit looking at their remaining stash. I gave in, opened the package, slipped off the dust jacket and hopped into bed, propping the pillows up behind my back. I stretched out my legs and did the first and one of the best things someone has to do while reading any book, which is crack it open for the very first time.

It's like scooping up that first slice from a perfect looking pizza or lacing up that brand new pair of shoes. After I cracked it open, I read. And read. And read. I got around 100 pages in when I realized I was reading a phenomenal book. Lying in bed, alone in my room, I gave a quick look around, like the one little kids give before crossing an empty street, to see if any of the non-existent people in the room also recognized the greatness of what I was reading.

I paused then, and adjusted my pillows. I began to dive back into the book, but stopped. While I wanted to quickly re-immerse myself in the story, I had a more pressing desire to put the book down and start writing myself. It was the same feeling I have when I am leaving a writing class.

My mind just sort of opens up, ideas start flowing freely and easily, and I want to start typing. Typing, not even in an organized way, just typing. Free form, stream of consciousness and...well, whatever what you're reading right now is called.

I may never become a successful writer. I may try and fail, I may not even try at all. I may end up working in an entirely different field for my entire working life, or I may spend all those years barely working, but always writing. Who knows. The one thing I am sure of at this moment, having just returned from a writing class and having just blitzed through 100 pages of a great book, is that writing is always going to be my passion in life.

Well, one of my passions at least. Writing and baseball. If ever those two things should meet in a situation that involves me getting paid enough money to live on, then I've hit my own personal lottery. That's the jackpot, the brass ring, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It's negative 12 degrees outside right now and it was colder this morning, when the wind burned my skin on the way to class. But it's a good day. A writing day. A reading day. And as the end of January is upon us, another year of baseball is peaking its head around the corner.

I'll see you Monday, when I'll get back to basics with some writing about baseball, okay? Sounds good to me too.

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New England 24, Carolina 14

Oh, and here's the book I was talking about (it's great!)...


Positively Fifth Street: Murderers, Cheetahs, and Binion's World Series of Poker

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