Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Practice, Not a Competition

I am a horrible sports fan. My husband is a die-hard Giants football fanatic and I have really, really tried to bring myself to some level of enthusiasm for the game. I have dedicated Sunday afternoons to watching football or made a point of reading the sports page to pick up some Redskins coverage. But I can't seem to spark any interest. The same goes for the mixed martial arts fights he now follows with intensity.

One reason watching the games is so difficult for me is that I have a hard time with the losers. Without a compelling personal reason to root for a particular team (unlike my brief years as an enthusiastic Tar Heels basketball fan), I can easily see that they both want to win. And it's so sad when one team's ambitions are crushed. It's hard to feel unalloyed excitement for a player who gets a chance to prove himself because it always comes at the expense of someone else who is benched or injured or stuffed. All of this is even more the case for the MMA fights, and in that case the guy losing is getting his nose bashed in.

Yoga by contrast is a practice, not a sport. You can't win yoga. And any competitive spirit, any jealousy that someone else can hold a pose "better" than you goes entirely against the spirit of yoga. We are only competing against ourselves, recognizing that everyone's body is unique and striving to work within our own bounds.*

Writing, I think, is similar. Although we may try to determine the best writers it's truly impossible. That's why those end-of-year lists are so interesting, why literary prize decisions are so controversial, and why book club discussions can be so contentious. Taste is subjective. That's ok.

It's worth thinking of writing as a practice, I think. It's something we as writers return to as often as we can, each time thinking only of trying to write the way that we each individually write. Anne Lamott addresses the need for each of us to find our own, unique voices in Bird by Bird: "Every time Isabel Allende has a new book out, I'm happy because I will get to read it, and I'm unhappy because half of my students are going to start writing like her." She continues, urging writers to open the doors inside their lives that are accessible only to them. "The truth of your experience can only come through in your own voice."

And the only way to get there, I think, is to practice. Not trying to win, or be the best writer in your writing group, or to prove yourself to that mean girl in the 7th grade who said smart kids were losers, or whatever. Just trying to deepen your own practice.

*I'm not trying to argue yoga is better than competitive sports, only explaining why it works for me!

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Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma