Monday, June 8, 2009

Out of shape and out of sorts

This may come as a surprise to those who know me well, but I’m not in very good shape.

My trip to Duluth last week added a few pounds to my waistline, further obscuring whatever abdominal muscles I have hiding behind my belly.

Then today I nearly fell over when I climbed out of bed. I walked around the room hunched over, moving with stiff legs as if I was a distorted combination of Igor and Frankenstein’s monster. A dull pain throbbed in my right shoulder.

A mid-morning trip to the chiropractor helped matters, but I was still left with a sad realization about my participation in a church softball league each Sunday. That realization is I need to spend more time preparing to play than actually playing. I guess that’s what happens to a guy in his 40s who rarely exercises.

The same thing happens to a guy who stops writing regularly. This point – that writing is a muscle that has to be developed and maintained – was reiterated to me Saturday morning during the Printer’s Row Lit Fest (do we really need to call it a lit fest? Wasn’t Printer’s Row Book Fair a good enough name?).

For the first time, I caught some of the sessions held in conjunction with the book sale. I attended a morning talk about memoir writing that featured three gifted writers – Rick Bragg, David Carr and Neil Steinberg.

When the session ended I ran into Dan McGrath, the former sports editor at the Chicago Tribune who is now a senior writer there. I’ve gotten to know McGrath over the years at various sports writing conferences and seminars, including the annual APSE national convention.

We only talked briefly, but long enough for me to tell him I’m no longer working at the Sun. He offered encouraging words about the future of journalism, while admitting the current situation is worse than any he’s experienced in his long career.

Then he reminded me to keep writing. “It’s like a muscle,” he said. “You just have to keep exercising it.”

This was certainly not a revelation to me. I’ve heard or read similar sentiments in many places. But it was good to hear it again, especially because it made me realize I hadn’t written anything in several days, other than a quick blog entry while in Duluth.

I also realized I’d been in a funk for several days. Part of that was being tired from the drive to Duluth and back. Part of it was the gray, cold weather at the book fair (sorry, but I'm with Mr. Steinberg on this one – I’m not calling it a lit fest).

But more of it had to do with letting my writing muscle go soft. As a reporter, that was never a concern. Even if I didn’t love everything I wrote, I was still writing every day, especially in the last two months at the Sun.

So while I try to work off all the pizza I ate in Duluth, and remember to stretch before playing softball, I also must keep exercising that writing muscle. Before long maybe I’ll even be in shape.

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