Here’s your headline: we stunk. The readers came in with a disruptive game plan and they executed it to perfection. We just weren’t prepared for some of the exotic looks they showed. We wilted under the harsh glare of the Tuesday night lights.
As signal caller and captain, a lot of the blame for our performance falls on my shoulders. My transitions were shaky, my metaphors were wounded ducks, and my story didn’t actually begin until around page 5--by then we were in such a deep hole that it was too late to claw our way back. I was playing hero-ball, trying to do too much, and the more pressure the readers put on me, the more losses I took. I even blew my cool a couple times, which I admit wasn’t sportsmanlike. It’s a game of emotion, but you don’t want to get emotional. You gotta execute with precision, be coachable, and follow your script. If something’s not working, you make a change at the line. And if things continue to break down, there’s nothing wrong with throwing it away. Sometimes you gotta take your carefully diagrammed X’s and O’s, crumple them up into a ball, and fling them toward the sidelines if you wanna to stay in the game.
There were some positives we can build on. My o-line did a great job of giving me space and time to create. Thanks, big uglies—I had all day back there. I’m just sorry so many of my attempts went sailing over everybody’s heads. I also wanna tip my hat to my skill positions guys—the whole cast of characters—for adjusting on the fly when I started scrambling around trying to make something happen, even though most of the time I ended up losing the plot. Once we figure out how to stay on the same page, nothing’s gonna stop us, and pretty soon we’ll be stringing together W after W after W. Till then, we’re gonna grind tape on all the greats—I’m talking about Hemingway, Munro, Chekhov—until we learn their tendencies, inside and out.
This won’t be the last time we face the readers this season, so we need to be ready. We’ll lick our wounds, correct our mistakes, and treat tonight like it never happened. Sports-shrinks call this “motivated forgetting”. It’s a little like amnesia. Some come by it naturally, while others may require a few blows to the head for it to take effect. Bottom line, if you wanna get better, you gotta learn how to forget. Readers knocked you around? They do that to everybody—pick yourself up off the turf and move on. Writer’s block? Suck it up and play through it. Personalized rejection from a dream journal? Hey, it’s all part of the game. To perform consistently at a high level, you need a short memory. Build it up the same way you would a muscle. Just don’t ever forget about all the people who cleared a path for you, the folks who opened up nothing but daylight between you and a dream.
John Waddy Bullion’s fiction has appeared previously in the Texas Review, Five Quarterly, Cowboy Jamboree, Revolution John, and the Daily Drunk. Follow him on Twitter at @jonwaddy.