Holding My Breath

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I have a lot of bad habits.  Most of them I’m aware of: eating too much red licorice, not using conditioner. (Using conditioner just seems like a Madison Avenue scam to me—like those “wash twice” directions on shampoo bottles.) And then there’s the whole wardrobe thing.  I never met a pair of shorts or a National Park T-shirt that I didn’t like.

But then there’s this one.  I hold my breath.  I didn’t even know I was doing it until my friend and get-down-and-do-thirty-push-ups-personal-trainer James told me so. Then other people started pointing out moments when I’m not breathing.  I hold my breath when I’m driving over bridges.  I hold my breath when I’m writing a particularly difficult sentence.  I sometimes hold my breath when I’m cracking an egg.

What’s that all about?

My hunch is that it’s a form of concentration, but—to tell the truth—I have no idea why I do it or how long it’s been a bad habit.

But since James pointed out that I hold my breath when I’m exercising, I’ve been thinking about other forms of constriction.

Take my desk, example.  It’s a beauty.

New desk with fancy pull-out shelf invention.

About five years ago, I told myself I deserved a better desk than the five-foot length of counter top perched atop two metal filing cabinets that I had been using since grad school days. And did I splurge on a new desk!  It’s a wrap-around with multiple drawers and lots of smooth surfaces and my friend, Peter, built a pull-out shelf that I can write on when I’m doing telephone interviews and need to take notes. Peter whipped together the pull-out invention with scraps of wood from his barn. I just love New England recyclers.

But here’s the deal.  My desk is too great.  Too functional.  Too comfortable.  Everyday I spend hours at it.  I can write for 10-12 hours a day and not feel the slightest need to get away. Friends shake their heads at the stretches of time I put in down here in the “cave,” as one of them so lovingly put it.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

Sitting at my desk for long stretches of time is like holding my breath.  At hour five, I think I’m concentrating, but really I’m turning blue.

“Relax your scapula,” James told me today when I was doing bicep curls. He might as well have been talking about my brain.

Get up.  Walk around.  Maybe see what those phoebes are doing in the bird nest next to the garage.

The flipside of concentration may just be inspiration.


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Last Sunday I taped the Boston Red Sox pre-game radio show. The show is scheduled to air this Sunday, June 27 on WEEI–some time between 3:15 and 3:55 p.m. EST, I’m told.

Fenway Park, Boston

Now let me tell you, taping that show from the broadcast booth at Fenway was a thrill.  Perched over home plate with its sweeping view of the iconic Citgo sign, the Prudential Center building and, if I really squinted, Boston Harbor off in the distance–was simply spectacular.  Throw in a warm summer evening with the sizzle of sausage and peppers grinders heating up on Lansdowne Street–and the moment was nothing short of heaven.

And that’s what I love best about baseball at Fenway Park or–for that matter–any ballpark.  Stepping into a ballpark fires up the senses. I’m engulfed with all the tastes, the sounds, the sights, the feel (nothing like heated-up Bostonians pushing you through the turnstiles!) and even the smells.  Especially the smells.

When you enter Fenway, for example, the park smells like a cave. Damp. Cool. Earthen.  To be honest, I think it’s the concrete ramps, wet with sloshed Sam Adams beer. But there’s something else to that smell. Like entering a cave, there’s a trace of expectancy to it. It makes me feel on the edge of something. Smellbound.

I’ve been doing a lot of speaking lately—to writing students, book clubs and fans of baseball history.  Readers sometimes ask me what I try to achieve in my writing. The answer is: I want you to read my books!  Sail right past those Hollywood memoirs and addiction sagas that clog the front tables of Barnes & Noble and head on back to good ole, real-life non-fiction.

But to be serious for a moment, I hope when you read my books that you’re inspired by the people whose accomplishments have amazed me: people like the Mercury 13s Jerrie Cobb who wanted to be the first woman in space and Curveballs Toni Stone who set her sights on playing professional baseball.

And when it comes right down to it, what I most want to achieve in my writing is to give you that feeling I have when I walk into glorious Fenway Park:  anticipation.

There’s nothing better than being on the edge of your seat, is there?  Whether it’s perched in a press box, walking up the cave-like ramps at Fenway or eagerly turning the page of a good story. You just can’t wait to find out what happens next.