It was a few weeks ago and I was feeling particularly bummed about life. Well, one part of life in particular. I had received some news I didn’t want which sent my thinking down a no-good track from which I couldn’t break free. I was alone in the house and I probably should have been working.
Instead, I curled up in bed with my computer and Netflix and watched “Nacho Libre,” a Jack Black movie I have only seen once, years ago. I remember laughing at its ridiculousness and this day was no different.
If you aren’t familiar with the plot, Jack Black plays a Mexican monk named Ignacio who has a dream to become a luchador, a Mexican professional wrestler. He pursues his dream even though it is in conflict with his vows as a monk. He is not a great luchador, but he cannot give up his dream.
After a string of losses, Ignacio, in frustration, prays these words:
“Precious Father, why have you given me this desire to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?”
I belly-laughed. Alone.
It was just what I needed.
Part of my funk that day was directed at my writing, and I could identify with the prayer of a fictional movie character.
I could pray those same words, and sometimes I pray/wonder something similar:
God, why have You put this thing in me to write and yet I see no real success?
Or, in Ignacio’s words: Why have you given me this desire to write and then made me such a stinky writer?
Don’t ask me my definition of success. Ignacio has me beat there. He, at least, knew what success at his dream looked like. Me? I’m not so sure. Will I be “successful” if I have a certain number of blog subscribers? If a blog post goes viral? If I sign with an agent? If a publisher wants my book?
I don’t know.
Years ago at a used book sale, I picked up an old volume of poetry. It is one of the only books in our house that smells old, and every time I open it, the scent surrounds. They are a collection of religious poems, but I can’t say I’ve ever read any of them before. I have a renewed interest in reading poetry, so I’ve been trying to read one of these each day.
Not long after the Nacho Libre day, the selected poem I read was by Robert Burns. (Can we just pause a moment here and recognize how ridiculous it is that I just used the words “nacho libre” and “Robert Burns” in a sentence?)
O Thou Unknown, it is called, and I will admit that some of these poems contain theology I’m not sure I agree with. Still, there are turns of phrase that are works of beauty.
This stanza stopped me as I read:
Thou know’t that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And listening to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.
I could not help but think of how I was feeling about my writing. I echoed the poem’s cry: You know You’ve made me this way!
And though I did not want to admit it, my passion for writing sometimes leads me wrong. Especially when I dwell too long on the results and what I think I should get from my writing. I am drawn back to the words I started asking myself months ago: What would it look like if I only wrote for God’s pleasure, with no “result” in mind?
Yes, my passion is often wild and strong, and yes it often leads me down an untrue path, but it is still part of me. Something I cannot rid myself of, even if I wanted to.
On Tuesday nights this summer, my husband has been on an adult men’s soccer team. The guys are all mostly like him, passionate about soccer, in their 30s and 40s, and with bodies that won’t quite do what they want them to do, at least not without pain.
But they love every second of it. I mean, they all complain about their aching body parts but they don’t stop, not really. They rest when they need to and they rub medicines on their muscles and pop pain relievers and talk about drinking beer to numb the pain afterward.
Honestly, I was a little worried the first time he came home from a match and could barely walk the next day. Really? We just paid money for you to hobble around and maybe not be able to work this week? That’s what I thought. But when I started going to the games, I saw that they were all, mostly, in the same state and for some reason that made me feel better.
Several of his teammates are foreign-born and that gives me an extra fondness for his team. They have a lot of fun and they play hard but they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s a joy to watch.
I don’t know a lot about the rules of soccer, though I’m picking it up a little after several weeks of watching. During a recent game, the play from the opposing team was not as honorable, it seemed, as it could be and the official did not always intervene. During one play, a shot on goal, our team’s goalie seemed to think a player was offsides before he shot. I don’t remember if they scored a goal on that play, but our goalie had maybe given up a little because he thought offsides was going to be called.
An English (as in born in England, not the “not Amish” version of English; in Lancaster County, you have to make this distinction) teammate of my husband was on the sidelines at that point.
“You’ve got to play the whistle,” he said to himself, although I overheard.
And I understood immediately. On the field, you play as if the game is going to proceed until you hear the whistle called stopping play. The players can have an opinion, but the official is the one who gets to decide when play stops. If you want to win, you can’t let a couple of missed calls stop you.
Somehow this also made sense to my attitude about writing. I think I’ve been taking myself out of the game while play continues around me. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a call in my favor while the other players on the field keep working the ball toward the goal. Then I get upset when they score.
I’ve not been playing the whistle.
As long as I can still write, I need to be writing, not sitting around waiting for something to happen to my writing that gives me an advantage. It might never come. But the words are always there and no matter what happens, the words together make something and it is not wasted effort.
The only way to “score” is to get on the field and play the game. And not everyone can score but everyone contributes. Maybe I will never score that goal I want, but that doesn’t mean I’m out of the game. And if someone else scores, that doesn’t mean it’s over for me, either.
Gosh, I hope that all makes sense. It clicked together in my mind, these strange pieces of wisdom, if I can call them that.
God made me a writer. (I can tell you more about that someday.)
I can’t always trust my writing desires to lead me in the right direction.
And I have to keep writing, even if I think the “game” is unfair.
I know not everyone who reads this will be a writer, but maybe you can apply it to your dreams, too. Maybe there is something that was put inside you from a young age that you can’t not do. And sometimes it goes wrong and sometimes it’s not fair.
Keep playing. Keep doing that thing you were meant to do.
We need all the players on the field.