Sunday, October 26, 2008

Starting a Novel (Part 1)

In the last few weeks I've made a push to get more people reading this blog, and in the process, received many congratulations (thank you!) from people who hinted that they, also, have entertained the possibility of starting a book or novel someday.

For those of you harboring similar aspirations --- we'll call it the "large writing project itch" --- let me encourage you by first confirming the obvious: Starting is the hardest part.

Seriously. And I'm not talking in terms of having your plot mapped out or your characters thought out or finding your voice. All that will come. And I'm not talking developing your idea sufficiently before actually starting, because in my opinion, if you have an idea that you think could take the form of a book, you have enough fodder to begin writing one.

Here, I'm talking about the only hurdle to writing your first book that really matters, which is confidence and motivation --- the simple act of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard, writing the first words, paragraphs and pages of a single continuous narrative, and (this is the important part) fighting through the feelings of disgust and loathing over what you have written, the voices urging you to stop and scrap.

Before going on let me acknowledge that some people thrive on setting goals and deadlines when writing a first book --- just look at the crazies at National Novel Writing Month. Even if you don't go that extreme, setting rigid deadlines may be the best path for you. This absolutely did not work for me. When I first started writing my novel I vowed I would finish in a year. It took me two years and a lot of guilt to even start getting out of that mindset.

Try setting deadline for yourself (e.g. a novel in one year), or imposing similar structure (like 2 hours per day, or one page per day, etc), if that feels right to you. Give it a real chance, a couple months perhaps, but don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out the way you'd hoped. There's another way, the Jim way, and you can switch over any time. Or if deadlines, even self-imposed ones, scare the shit out of you, you can adopt my philosophy right away! Here it is.

A first chapter, especially of a first book, will almost certainly suck --- I base this theory on personal experience of course and I elaborate here.

In writing my first chapter, I now realize what I was really doing was laying a foundation --- in fiction, laying a foundation may mean introducing a few characters, an environment, a catalyzing event; in non-fiction you may be articulating a thesis statement, outlining points of argument, setting a context. The point is, my second chapter was superior to the first, and not because twenty pages of writing practice improved my style (style improves more gradually than that). No, it's because the first 20 pages, shitty as they were, supported what came after. I had context, I had greater focus, I could even identify some semblance of "voice" that I tried to keep consistent.

In short, I had direction --- I went from trying to swim a straight line in an ocean, to swimming down a wide river, still overwhelmed, but at least I could measure my progress a little.

Part [1] [2]


Starting a Novel (Part 2)

[Continued from page 1.]

Here's my promise to prospective book authors. Write the first 20 pages (and not just any 20 pages but the beginning 20 pages) and see it through no matter how awful you feel it's coming out. Then, write ten more, and see if they feel any better.

And somewhere in there, whether it's on page 3 or page 30, you'll have a moment: you write the first thing you actually like, the thing that makes you say, "I knew I was this good!" And it's true, you are. If you weren't, why else would you have started writing? This won't be the last time you feel this way. This feeling is called realizing your potential, and it's absolute heroin.

You like that? You want some more of that good shit? Yeah you do, you little crack whore.

When you have thirty pages, thirty pages that now include a gem or two, you'll no longer view your manuscript like a deformed arm, for it has become your baby. And the thing about your baby is you can always make it bigger and better, a little bit at a time. Even if you have to leave it for a while, it will be there when you come back (barring fires or computer crashes of course --- back it up!).

I'm jumbling a couple of metaphors here, but let me introduce one more. I've often thought of working on my book like building a model city in my basement. I descend the stairs, and first take in all I've done so far --- I mean, really try to appreciate it --- then start thinking about what to add next. The adding isn't always satisfying, and sometimes it's a real struggle, but the ratio of satisfaction to struggle improves with each new bridge or building I add.

And there, in the middle of my city, I can see the first little tower I made, the one that started it all. Sure, it's crooked, the paint's gooey and blobby... truth be told it's ugly as sin, but it doesn't ruin the whole city. I can barely tell it's there unless I look for it. Probably I'll replace it at some point with something that does the rest of the city justice, but I'll save that old rickety structure, that kernel that sprouted everything. Why? Because I'm sentimental. I won't show it to anybody --- it's a little embarrassing to be honest. Okay, maybe I'll show it to other beginning model city builders just to demonstrate that it's okay to start by producing something below your standards. Not just okay, but necessary.

One day at a time, one building at a time. Sooner or later it will be "finished," and I've got some idea of how that might happen, but it's aways off and I've got more towers to build, and that's satisfying work. Live for the process, not the result, which will happen in it's own time. Your work has acquired a life of its own. Respect it, nurture it, love it.

Part [1] [2]


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Magical Fairy Penguin Princess

[In the 10-18 post Diana Brown comments: "In your spare time, can you write me a story about a magical fairy penguin princess?"

Let it be known forthwith that Jim Cooney writes for the people.]


One morning a handsome young Bostonian was walking down Commonwealth Avenue when he spotted a penguin. For the most part, it appeared similar to any other penguin he'd ever seen, except that this penguin had a sparkling little tiara on its head—also it was waddling pedestrian-like down Commonwealth Avenue.

The young man expected the penguin to dart away at any moment, but no, it kept on its path, just as he kept to his. To his delight the penguin stopped only when he did, when they were no less than two feet apart. It looked up at him curiously.

"Hello there, penguin," he smiled. "Did you escape from the aquarium?"

The penguin first looked at him dubiously, like he was an idiot.  Then, to his astonishment, the penguin shook its head no.

"Did you just shake your head 'no' to me?" he asked.

Slowly now—like he was a real, super-duper idiot—the penguin nodded its head, yes.

"What kind of penguin are you?" the young man asked, disbelieving.

"I'm a Magical Fairy Penguin Princess," the penguin said—or rather, the penguin thought and the man heard. Because the penguin was magical, it did not need to speak in order to communicate.

The man bent his pinky finger, stuck it in his ear and rattled it around to make sure he wasn't just hearing things the way schizophrenics hear things but that he was, in fact, hearing the thoughts of a penguin.

Then in a moment of spontaneous but lethally misguided irony, the man said, "Aren't all fairies magical? Kinda redundant to call yourself a Magical Fairy Penguin Princess, isn't it?"

The penguin clapped its flippers together (mostly for effect, as this gesture was not necessary to generate penguin magic), and the young man was consumed by a plume of pink smoke.  The smoke cleared, revealing that the young man had been transformed into a VHS cassette player.

The penguin pondered the VHS cassette player, which sat idly on the sidewalk, the plug and cord trailing behind it like a withered garter snake. The penguin waddled up toward it. It tried to hop on top, didn't quite make it, then hopped again, scrambled and flapped, finally catching its balance atop the flat, boxy device.

It looked down, raising its wing-flippers in the air. "What'd you say?" the penguin thought, thinking the thought as loudly as it could toward the obsolete gadget below its stumpy orange feet.  "What'd you say, bitch?"

The young man did not respond, because he was now a VHS cassette player.

"Yeah, that's what I thought!" thought the penguin.

And with that the Magical Fairy Penguin Princess hopped down from the cassette player to the sidewalk, shook itself off (using both flippers to keep the tiara steady upon its head), then resumed its waddling journey down Commonwealth Avenue.

As far as we know that's the last time anybody ever saw the Magical Fairy Penguin Princess.

A Note on the Excerpt

...for those who have read it already. The excerpt I've posted includes the Prologue and Chapter 1.

It's a total of 20 pages (not 3 pages).

Unfortunately, I had a page break in between the two sections which has caused some confusion about where the excerpt ends --- confusion that was exacerbated by the fact that the prologue is a dream sequence that is very abstract and bizarre on its own (but which I hope is illuminated somewhat by the context that follows in Chapter 1).

So, after a mere 10 days on the road I am recalling Excerpt - Alpha Series, and have posted Beta Series with the page-break nixed. Thanks Amanda for guiding me to this problem!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Welcome!

Thanks for coming to Ink and Beans! Now that I have an excerpt posted I'm going to put more effort into promoting this blog, and if this is your first time here, I thank you heartily for checking it out!

Some of you I haven't spoken with for quite some time, and I hope this blog remedies that, if only slightly. Partly I'm trying to build a little advance notice for the book, but I also view this as an opportunity to connect with my many friends who have encouraged and supported me (whether you knew you were or not) throughout this process, and perhaps to make some new ones.

You're certainly not obligated to read everything I write --- my only wish is that you allow me the opportunity to remind you every once in a while that I'm out there, and maybe a headline will catch your eye now and then, and make you want to read more. I aim to make the posts I write interesting, humorous, and (mostly) brief and digestible.

If you do like something I write, please:

1. Leave a comment.
2. Forward the post to others!

I thrive on feedback. Truly, it may be the primary thing that drives me to write in the first place, so keep it coming! And thanks for reading.

*Important e-newsletter tip - Add "feedblitz@mail.feedblitz.com" to your address book to prevent Ink and Beans from going to Spam!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Exorcising My Facebook Demons

I bitterly created my Facebook account two years ago so that I could look at some pictures a friend of mine had posted there. I say bitter, because here I was compelled to sign up for yet another faddish social networking site. I was already on MySpace, Friendster, LinkedIn, and was constantly prodded by friends to approve me, approve me, approve me, though I utilized none of these sites myself. Why did we need another "look-at-all-my-friends" tool? What was so special about this one compared to all the others?

I don't have an answer to that last question, but Facebook has obviously demonstrated a certain staying power, and somewhere in the intervening years I went from skeptic to raring horse at the starting gate, all but pissing myself to start hunting down people I hadn't seen in years.

It wasn't so much that I wanted to revive contact with them. I just wanted to peer voyeuristically into their lives. To justify this kind of behavior and the amount of time I'd inevitably dedicate to it, however, I needed a practical excuse, and now that I have my excerpt posted on the blog, I had one. I wasn't spying on old acquaintances, I'm just promoting my book.

Many friends had found me over the years but I resisted seeking out any friends myself until late Friday afternoon. Thus, I don't have to tell you how I spent most of my Saturday and Sunday.

Things ramped up pretty quickly. I started by using the "People you may know" tool which makes guesses based on mutual friends between the Facebook-friends you already have. A useful start, but my appetite grew steadily and this was hardly cutting it.

The real juice came from poaching friends of my friends, and truly it felt like I was stealing them, not sharing them. And it felt good. As the confirmations came back and I watched my network total climb ever so steadily toward 200, I grew frenzied. I wrote on walls out of decency but it was hard to pull myself away from the name search and picture viewing. I was now "friending" people from high school I hadn't seen in ten years, and with the memory of them still fresh in my mind the photos they displayed on their Facebook page were like a time warp. The people who had grown decidedly unattractive fascinated me just as much as the people who became striking, who in turn fascinated me just as much as the people who stayed exactly the same. There was no photo I did not find mesmerizing.

I was on a roll now, and grew angry when confirmations didn't come back instantly. I was Arnold Schwarzenegger begging of the Predator: "Come on! Do it! Approve me!! Approve me naaugghww!!!!"

I grew even angrier whenever I discovered that someone I searched for did not have a Facebook profile. They were holding me back, hindering my network magnitude. What was wrong with them?

After scouring every list of every friend I sent another Facebook application to infiltrate my e-mail address book and --- rapture! --- a whole new world! Keystones into untapped networks I hadn't even thought of --- old jobs and intramural teams, non-credit classes.

There was no stopping me now. Not even ex-girlfriends or brief flings were off limits. I observed that some of my friends had networks 500 large or more --- it plagued me. How did they do it? What was their secret??? I was obsessed, and getting a little out of control. Now I was friending people I hadn't exchanged more than ten words with, ever. Clicking "add a friend" became such a reflex I was starting to make bad calls. Sometimes really bad calls. "Oops," I would mutter to myself as I emerged from my intoxicated haze, realizing with awkward shame the person I'd just inserted back into my life.

It was a wild ride, but by Monday the confirmations being returned were down to a trickle, and I had exhausted each and every friend's network. Today I can sense my honeymoon with Facebook is wrapping up, and I'm relieved that my addiction promises not to extend long into the future.

And, true to my original intent (I swear), I've been posting links to my new blog entries and it's getting some people over here. Nice!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Excerpt Rears Its Lovely Head

The day we never thought would come has finally arrived. Thanks for reading!

Max Underground - Synopsis

Stirred by the death of his cynical father Max Underwood vows to find purpose in the adult world, but looks in the most dangerous places. Fresh out of college, he’s confident destiny awaits him in Boston; his new boss, a social entrepreneur with ambition to match his own, seems the perfect mentor but increasingly leaves him out of the loop as she builds her afterschool empire. Meanwhile, his subterranean apartment never gets comfortable as tensions build between his two friends—one a dashing romantic, and the other a brooding cynic who creates an internet groundswell when he posits that young men of their generation are destined to destroy themselves. As Max finds it ever more difficult to draw inspiration from his job, his friends, or his broken family, two new figures enter his life, both as alluring as they are detrimental. A prison inmate, presumably Max’s to tutor, ends up teaching Max a thing or two about spirituality—and about powerlessness. And a quirky, but unavailable, medical student seduces Max with her relaxed atheism and tendency to rhyme like Dr. Seuss after two glasses of Bordeaux.

Discontent turns to desolation when Max’s idol dies in a thrill-seeker suicide. Unable to sleep, spiteful of his privileged life, he roams the city streets at night seeking alternative sources of wisdom, but answers elude him. His dangerous acquaintance with two Roxbury gang members, a daunting encounter at a swingers club, his botched attack of a South Boston rowdy and a drug-induced tour of a desecrated graveyard (and his own mind) give him no peace but rot his soul, and he considers whether discovering his end might be the enlightened path. On his most desperate day Max sets these wheels in motion but discovers, to his horror, that he’s not ready to die.

Read the first chapter.

Max Underground is registered with the United States Copyright Office.
Unpublished work. © 2008 James R. Cooney.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Submitting Short Fiction to Literary Journals

Since my epilogue/short story has now been roundly rejected by 10 magazines and journals, yesterday seemed like a good time to start the next round of submissions.

I submitted to 9 additional literary journals --- 7 by standard mail and 2 by electronic submission. The process took me four hours from start to finish including: adding a few polishes to the draft, printing 7 copies, looking up 7 mailing addresses, editing and printing 7 copies of my cover letter, labeling 7 mailing envelopes plus 7 self-addressed stamped return envelopes, determining postage then buying and printing stamps, double-checking, packing, and sealing.

When you add this to the time it took me to mail to the ten previous journals (another 4 hours) plus the time to generate the cover letter and the list of journals where I'd be sending the piece (maybe another 4 hours?), the time I'm spending submitting the work is about half the time it took me to write it in the first place. Oiy.

Thankfully, the process is getting easier and I've grown far more systematic about it. My fellow writers out there have probably established their own method for submitting short works --- and in fact may be submitting multiple works at a time, which I'm not doing, thank God. For what it's worth, I thought I might share my personal method here, on the off chance someone finds it useful or at least encouraging.

I wanted to submit to journals with the best reputation first, because the better the journal, the greater the bragging rights when I start submitting my full novel, right? But what determines which journals have the best reputation? Good question.

Circulation might be a good indicator. The major commercial magazines, for example, like Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, and the New Yorker, have a high circulation (about 200,000, 400,000, and 1.1 million respectively). Also their stories are regularly featured in anthologies (see below), so the prestige is high if you get accepted for publication in one of these magazines. But as you can imagine, this is quite difficult. The acceptance rate for many top-tier journals is less than 1 percent (example), so just imagine how low it is for the commercial magazines where everybody wants to get published.

Outside of the commercial magazines, literary journals, even the highly respected ones, have a low circulation (50,000 down to 5,000 or less), and are obscure to the general public. Google "best literary journals" and you'll find lots of lists out there, with many of the same journal titles repeated, so that's a reassuring indicator, but in most cases I found no particular rationale behind the list --- they are simply one knowing person's opinion.

*Bear in mind I'm speaking here of literary fiction journals, not those that primarily publish genre fiction (mystery, sci-fi, etc). I'm less familiar with those.

To generate the list of periodicals where I would send my piece, I looked to see which journals were publishing stories included in well-known serial anthologies, namely, the O. Henry awards and Best American Short Stories. The list I created (link below) includes every journal that has had 2 or more selections in O. Henry and/or BASS in the last ten years, roughly 35 journals:



I then went to each journal's website to view their submission guidelines, which are usually accessible and clear, and took down all the relevant information.

I separated my list into those who accept simultaneous submissions versus those who don't, because why submit to 1 and wait when you can submit to 10 at a time? In each sub-list, the ones that appear more often in O.Henry or BASS tend to be near the top (I didn't record the actual number of appearances however... sorry!). Hence, these were among the first batch I submitted to.

There's also a few I couldn't submit to because of thematic limitations (e.g. looking for African-American themes), length limits, limits on accepting novel excerpts, etc.

It's also important to pay attention to reading periods, which can be anywhere from 3 months to 8 months, or year-round, and if you submit work outside of these reading periods the manuscript gets returned unread. You'll see from my list that now was the perfect time for me to send to multiple journals because their reading periods overlapped.

I've recorded the response time for most journals on the list as well, so if I see that more than that amount of time has passed and I've not heard from them, I can send a quick follow-up. I've had to do this only twice, but in the end, I have heard back from every journal I've submitted to, eventually.

I should note that there are web services, like Writer's Market, that compile all this information, but I found that I often ended up visiting each journal's website anyway, because some of the information was outdated. I'd rather get my info directly from the journal's website (call it paranoia). Also, Writer's Market doesn't give much clue as to the reputation of each journal, so if my search returns a list of fifty journals, how do I decide where to start? At least with my method I have some logic to the order.

There you have it, a keen plan for submitting short fiction from somebody who's never been published in his life. But just you wait! Please let me know if any of this ends up being helpful. Here again is my submission list, plus my cover letter, for your reference:



Is this the most boring post I've ever written? Yeah? Well who asked you jerkface?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Romance and the Red Sox (Part 1)

[I've rewritten and posted this piece as a stall tactic (first chapter still being finetuned), but hopefully you'll find it a timely treat --- Sox are up one game in the first round as of this posting. I originally wrote this piece 4 years ago, in October 2004, weeks before the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.

I admit my interest in the Sox has waned since that milestone, but I can let myself get nostalgic. Interested in baseball or not, though, the prospects for October courtship in Boston remain the same.]


I keep saying this to myself, the way I might say it to her, hoping that it will keep me sane till the end of the month: "Right after the Sox win it, I’m going to cook you a quiet, romantic dinner."

I’d seen the girl often, tending bar in what was becoming my Monday night dive. She was very pretty, and exuded an indiscriminate, intoxicating warmth that seemed unaffected by shifts lasting late into the night, dealing with the same smarmy regulars day after day. It made me wonder if somebody new didn’t fall in love with her every single night.

I was excited when she agreed to go out to dinner with me, and it wasn’t long into our first date that I started to see a lot of other things I really liked. She was intelligent and well-read, confident yet modest She took eccentric pleasure in simple things like candy stores, objects colored yellow, and watching strangers let loose on the dance floor. Seeing her smile over these things, I smiled too, and the night lasted hours and hours. It was one of the most enjoyable I can ever remember having.

It took just that one date to know I was interested in this girl the way I hadn’t been in someone for years. I was committed to discovering how far the potential reached, and in a few days I was dying to see her again.

There’s just one problem. It’s October. And I live in Boston.

Other prowling singles may find this issue counterintuitive. After all, you say, October is the perfect month for love, isn't it? Can one do better than the prime of autumn in an old New England town? Trees are bursting into flame, you say, and as the air crisps it inspires in every warm body a longing to cling to another. What more could you want? Romance must be the first thing on everyone’s mind.

You're obviously not from around here.

Of course, this time of year isn't always off limits to flirts and flings, but this year, right now, is the worst time to get weak at the knees over some girl. Boston is, at present, a city at war, and it's all hands on deck.

Baseball's regular season has ended, the playoffs are here, and the Red Sox have once again secured the wild card spot. This achievement alone would be enough to stall any courtship, but it's even more hopeless than that, because after years of playing the plucky underdogs the Sox have entered the American League Championship Series, against their age old rivals from New York, favored to win. At stake is the chance to witness history, nay, to see an ancient and epic prophecy come finally to fruition: The Boston Red Sox, baseball's original champions, after being raped, pillaged and burned for a near century, after finding redemption at their fingertips again and again only to see it slip away each and every time, finally rise from the ashes and charge over the imperial Yankees on the road to the—(gulp) am I even allowed to say it?—World Series, where they will finally smash the evil curse that has for generations oppressed us Bostonians.

It’s an opportunity that comes less than once in a lifetime, as thousands of fans, who cheered for decades and died without ever seeing a championship, might beseech us from that sunny, neatly clipped ballpark in the sky.

Part [1] [2] [3] [4]

Romance and the Red Sox (Part 2)

[Continued from page 1. This revised piece was originally written in 2004]

Now you see my problem, because how does one who’s smitten compete with the Red Sox when a World Championship is on the line? The simple answer is you can’t.

Before raising any undue suspicions, I declare to you now that I, too, am in love with Red Sox baseball, but I confess it's a troubled love as late. I also confess to you that until last year, I couldn't have cared less. The story of how the Red Sox and I came together is, itself, a timeless love story, perhaps the only kind of love story possible right now.

I grew up in northern New Jersey about fifteen minutes outside of New York City, and was still in high school when the Yankees renewed their dynasty. New York was building an army, and growing up so close to the Lion’s Den, one would think the conditions perfect for baptizing me, a neophyte, into the ranks of imperial loyalists, but in spite of the fanfare I continued to think baseball the most boring of all sports.

Several years later, upon moving to Boston after college, I still felt that way. But I loved living in Boston, and from the start I’d always regarded the Red Sox with respect. It didn’t matter if you weren’t a sports fan, nor did it matter whether you were a New England native, or a new arrival like me. Truer of no other cultural phenomenon, the Red Sox were the glue that held the city, my city, together. It was on the tip of everyone's tongue, the most reliable common ground between total strangers. Just ask some stone-faced fellow on the subway, "Hey, how'd the Sox do today?" and watch that famous Boston iciness melt away. This was the magic I admired, even if I didn't care to watch them in action. Love for the close-and-close-and-close-but-no-cigar Red Sox was universal, and it was (obviously) unconditional.

When the playoffs arrived last year, however, and the Sox squeezed in by the skin of their teeth, I found my options for how to spend the evenings grew limited. I could, for instance, follow my friends to a venue to watch the game, or I could spend the night by myself watching a movie. There were no bars that didn't have the game on, and there were no friends who were doing something else. Even the friends I knew to be privately indifferent fell in line, unwilling to fight the tide.

This vexed me greatly. I'd seen a handful of games on TV. I’d even watched one or two Fenway. I watched with the same enthusiasm that a father might have listening to his son fart out trumpet notes at a fourth grade band assembly, but I watched. I’d put in my time.

I fell in line too (what else could I do?), and was perplexed to find my fingernails digging deep into my chair by the sixth inning of each game. Oakland fell, New York marched up to the horizon. Without knowing exactly when it happened, the space between home runs ceased to be dead time, and suddenly each pitch was significant. What was happening to me? I was yelling. I was cursing. Each time they pulled victory from the depths of their souls it was methadone relief. And when Aaron Boone, a Yankee I didn’t even know by name, cracked his home run in the extra innings of game seven, my heart broke.

The day following their defeat, I walked slowly, without purpose. I'd forget what I was doing, why I walked into rooms. It was hard to know what to make of the whole experience. I’d watched more baseball games from start to finish in past three weeks than I had in my entire life previous. The affair had been intense, tumultuous. It hardly left time for reflection.

Part [1] [2] [3] [4]

Romance and the Red Sox (Part 3)

[Continued from page 2. This revised piece was originally written in 2004]

Time heals all wounds, however, and healing brings with it new wisdom. I observed as people emerged out of mourning, and their strength became mine. The bars, the streets, the subways came to life. Smiles returned to faces. Time not spent watching the World Series was time to seize and cherish. Books were read. Bathrooms were cleaned. Kids and pets were fed. Within days, life for Bostonians returned to normal, and as for me, I came to a reckoning that quelled the last and lingering ache in my heart. The Red Sox had managed to make me enjoy baseball. My sleep was sound that night, and the next morning I awoke vowing that, come next season, I would love again.

The past year has not proven me wrong. Now I was on board. I watched games at Fenway with the same belligerent fervor as the rest. When Jason Varitek mashed A-Rod’s liver lips in, with his dense catcher's mitt, I tasted blood. When Nomar was traded, I bid him a melancholy farewell, believing that if you love a butterfly, you set it free. The Sox and I traversed the season's peaks and pitfalls and our relationship grew stronger. I entered this playoff season with renewed hope. Last year we'd been flying by the seat of our pants. Now, we had a history.

Who needs human love when you’ve got high stakes baseball to keep you heated up? I’d figured that as long as the Sox stay alive in the playoffs I had plenty to keep my passions occupied. Now then, I am not opposed to romance that defies my expectations, and shatters my best laid plans. I am open-minded. I cede control over my love life to Cupid and go with the flow. But Cupid, I've learned, is a merry little prankster. Just as I was regrouping from his first sniper attack of infatuation, tending as best I could to this new baseball fetish, I yelped at feeling my rump pierced by a second arrow, and whipped around just in time to see that pudgy whore retreating to the bleachers at Fenway, wagging his red bow at me like a giant foam finger.

Scheduling the first date with the girl from the bar had been challenging enough, but it's only getting harder. Every conversation on the phone begins with “We should definitely hang out again,” and ends with, “Hmm, well, I guess we'll try for something next week... maybe?” Two out of every three nights is game night. There are pre-game events and post-game events. The spare hours in between are dedicated to recovery and playing minimal real life catch-up (work, errands, marriage counseling, etc). There's no time for quiet, candlelit ambiance, and for that matter, in this town for the next few weeks there's no such thing. Wandering the city, actively trying to avoid Red Sox pandemonium, I can't help but feel like Indiana Jones retreating from the Inca temple with his golden idol, dodging darts and leaping over chasms before finally getting steamrolled by a boulder that, curiously, resembles a gigantic baseball.

I feel you raising a skeptical eyebrow again. Surely, you say, no great amount of ingenuity is required to reconcile your wish for a second date with your desire to look at the playoff schedule with excitement that is pure. Is the solution not simply to suggest to this girl that you watch a game together? After all, you say, she loves the Sox, and so do you.

I've pondered this, and decided it’s a recipe for disaster. If the ultimate goal is for us to get to know each other better, then what happens if she’s telling me about an ex who didn’t pay attention to her, and I’m distracted by a wild pitch? What if I start sharing some long anecdote about self-discovery, and she politely listens while privately wondering, “When will this guy shut up so I can watch this thing?” And what if, god forbid, she’s disappointed by my novice knowledge of New England’s most important sports franchise? Even if none of these fears are realized, what masquerades as a relaxed evening on the couch in front of the TV is, in reality, a date with enough pressure to crush a confident man like a beer can on a batting helmet.

Part [1] [2] [3] [4]


Romance and the Red Sox (Part 4)

[Continued from page 3. This revised piece was originally written in 2004]

So I wait, impatient, desperate, with no control over the matter. Mercifully, I was granted a brief lunch with her in Harvard Square this past Thursday. It had been over two weeks since our first date, and despite its success, much of the momentum had dissipated, at least in my mind. My anxious desire to make a good “first” impression had been entirely renewed, except that now, I had less than an hour to do it, and it would likely be my last opportunity for another few weeks.

I entered into this lunch with a handicap far greater than anxiety or limited time however, namely, a private and profound sense of guilt. The Sox had lost their first two games to the Yankees, and I wondered whether I wasn’t responsible. There was dark, deep wish inside of me so evil I feared it might have the power to alter air currents surrounding a pitch, or affect an umpire's critical thinking. Part of me wanted my team to lose, wanted the Yankees to sweep them even, so that all of Boston, and I especially, could get on with our lives.

No man should have to bear the burden of such sin, especially not on an important date.

We met at the subway kiosk, and within a minute of walking to our lunch stop, she said she had something to show me. Reaching into her pocketbook she produced a thin, colorful strip of cardboard. My heart sank. ALCS, Game Four, Fenway Park. “A tip last night from one of my regulars,” she said (I told you everyone loves her). I stared hard at the ticket, desperate to avoid notice of her beaming face. Of course, I told her that I was so, so happy for her, and I was, but I wept inwardly, knowing that any impression I made that day would be overwhelmed by her anticipation of the game the following night.

I tried to smother my despair with a Bartley's burger and frappe, but they only weighed on me further. She was as gracious as one could be under the circumstances. I smiled, let her change the subject back to the game whenever the urge overtook her, sympathizing. I tried my best but in the end, my best was not to jeopardize a chance for a third date, however deep in the distant future it might be. Through no fault of hers or mine, I’d become just another passing hour that brought her closer to Red Sox euphoria.

It's not fair, but I know that life isn't fair. I have moments of rationale, when the right course is clear. I must remain patient and wait, take nothing personally, and enjoy watching the Red Sox make history in the meantime. Soon enough, win or lose, this season will end, Beantown will experience another return to normalcy, and Cupid will leave Fenway, sober up, and continue where he left off, tending to the newly christened, hopeless romantics he's left neglected the past few weeks.

Perhaps for some of these blossoming relationships a unique prospect lies ahead, the promise of standing alongside a loved one, arms wrapped around waists, free hands holding five-dollar domestic drafts, sharing in cheers and jeers hurtled from the bleachers. These privileged few may find they have unwittingly negotiated a blissful ménage a trois, one that trumps those found at Midwestern college campuses or even filthy European hostels, a rapture that unfolds only in the plush red velvet bedroom of old Boston town.

Part [1] [2] [3] [4]