Friday, September 1, 2017

Hummin'; or, How To Walk Tall

Pretending there are no time constraints, would you ever get the urge to sit down with your own published work and read?

This week's topic moved me toward introspection. To break on it, I needed to stimulate the air in the crib with the appropriate vibrations. Feel free to enjoy it with me. The mighty, majestic, Cannonball Adderley Quintet's "Hummin'."

So I've done stuff in a bunch of areas, and mostly to less than my satisfaction, but I've always Walk(ed) Tall. Sometime in my thirties, when I was exhausted with feverishly plotting and laboring to make a life that manifested according to my sense of self and potential, I discovered golf. Quite honestly, this tells me I had a hand in my own creation before I arrived here because anyone who knows me for five minutes will tell you that the last thing I would dare look inside to find my joy is a game that generally epitomizes everything about life that bugged a black kid from the South side of Chicago. Of course, I'd put it there. 

Now I stand on the area rug in my living room watching movies and practicing chip shots:

60° Wedge on a Sunday Afternoon from Danny Gardner on Vimeo.

Something in the game triggered a self-ideation I had never experienced before. I wound up quitting everything to do it full time for around four years, centering my life with it and allowing it to unfold without haste. I practiced hard, but also smart, instead of killing myself with internal pressure. I took lessons instead of retreating to a cave to learn on my own, which had always been my modus operandi. If I pushed it too hard, say, with playing a difficult course or entering a tournament with competition that was stiffer than I could handle, it wasn't a crushing blow. It was just an indication that more time taking care of my game was required. I'd heal from the smarts I took and just went right back to the range. I learned how to build my own clubs. Got paid to build clubs for others. Spent four days per week mowing the fairways and tending the greens and tee boxes at the Westwood Veterans' Administration Golf Course as the hardest working volunteer they had ever seen. Three hours of work per day and I'd be locked inside the grounds, having it essentially to myself. They even set up a smallish driving range for me.

One day, after I picked up a new set of blade irons with which quality ball striking is particularly hard for even the lowest handicapper, I stood alone on a beautiful day, put down my orange soccer cones to mark off distances, gave myself a five yard-wide area to miss from one hundred-fifty yards out, emptied my ball shagger into a mound of assorted balls—both purchased and found in the early morning fog and dew—and got to it. Each time I missed my target, I checked my alignment. Each time I mishit a shot, I checked my setup and stance and practiced my impact position. My misses were good enough, but not for me. I wanted that sound and feeling of biting into a crisp apple. I wanted the finish to feel like a yoga pose. Like a pirouette. I wanted to feel like a swan as I watched the ball sail up high and fall where I decided it would. Basically, I was insane. Beautifully, gloriously insane.

And then I got one.

The world felt like it was created for me. It seemed that time's only intention was to progress to that moment so it could finally take a break. I looked up. A falcon was teaching its young how to hunt from the sky. Squirrels and moles came out to clap for me. The air stilled itself until it allowed a soft breeze that flowed with such grace it was most certainly providence. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the cool. I picked up my golf balls, grabbed my clubs and left. All I did was wipe my tears in the driver's seat of my car for the next two hours, smiling like the village idiot. The one who really knows what's goin' on. The best description of the phenomena I can gather is, finally, I got in touch with ME. And ME said, "Dawg, I like you." And I said, "Know what? I like you, too." And ME and me got some tacos and a beer, just the two of us, and we talked shit and laughed a lot.

"So, we're not going to discuss this week's topic?"

Aight, aight.

Before my current stage of life, where I so enjoy writing and interacting with writers and readers,  I couldn't indulge myself with my own work. I had absolutely no stomach for it, whatsoever. In acting, during screenings, I'd sink down into my seat. If I had to be sociable, I'd divert my gaze and just laugh along with everyone else. If something I was in aired on television, I'd change the channel. I couldn't watch myself. I couldn't listen to myself. In the beginning, sure, because I was getting to know myself. I suspect that somewhere along the way, I realized that I wasn't being authentic and therefore couldn't handle the reconciliation of my approximate self with my actual self. Lord knows it ain't because I'm shy.

Writing, tho'? Y'all, I won't just read my own work, but I'll actually quote myself. I snatched my galley copy of The Obama Inheritance off the shelf to cite a passage in my story "Brother's Keeper" to flesh out a discussion about the nature of politics in the lives of young people. In a discussion with my son, I read from A Negro and an Ofay so he could hear the words of the grandmother he never knew but speaks to him through me every day. I'll pour a bit of bourbon and flip through the pages just having a ball, wondering what shit I was on when I wrote certain lines. Trippin' off my attitude, not caring whether or not I'd ever get published starting such trouble. I never did that with anything else.

Why is this? I can't really say. God knows I love acting, which is why I've devoted so much time to training and exploring the craft and avoiding work that doesn't help me feel its fullest richness. When I step out on the scene, my comedian homies always say, "Yo, D. Where you been?" My usual reply is, "Not in 'Soul Plane,' that's for damned certain." Stand-up gives me life, which is why I'll sneak out on occasion without telling anyone and do 5-10, sorta like how Michael Jordan will show up to a random pickup basketball game, drop 25 points on cats, get back in his Bentley and speed away, satisfied with lettin' 'em know he still could if he wanted to. I just can't indulge in it beyond the moment of doing. The mic goes back in the stand and I walk and I leave whatever I put up there where it lay.

My writing? Perhaps that's more me. Perhaps it's a different, purer me. Perhaps I just dig the people and the process and the environment. Or perhaps I finally dig me. No golf clubs required.

So, given enough time, not only would I read my own work? Of course. In fact, even without enough time, I do that already. It doesn't feel like self-aggrandizement or tending to ego needs. It really feels like that day at the Westwood VA, where I realized that I didn't need to practice so much, that I knew enough to fix my game if things went wacky, and that I take ME with me wherever I go. It's oddly restorative to find yourself within the pages of a book. In fact, perhaps that's further evidence of my hand in some preordination of my individual existence. Writing a novel is the second least likely thing I figured I'd do. Within the pages of books scattered throughout the world, in the hands of people I'll never know, lay little pieces of me that folks would never see if I hadn't put them there. I only hope they bring joy, comfort and a little pause for the cause. They certainly do for me.

For those interested in the works to which I'm referring, check out these couple of titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

- dg


James Ziskin said...

Fine piece, Danny. And I know the feeling of hitting that one perfect golf shot. Great job.

Unknown said...

Well, all these answers have been helpful this week, yours especially Danny. Thanks all for your thoughts on this question!

Paul D. Marks said...

Good stuff, Danny. And definitely an interesting analogy to reading and writing with the golf, but I guess it's really all just about life.

Susan C Shea said...

As always, your take on a question comes from another place and shows me something new - not just about you, but about me. Good piece, Danny.