While in Iraq I took up golf.
I love saying that. I enjoy strange juxtapositions: golf in a war zone. Take cover! Take cover!
Now I have to tell you that we didn’t have a course; we had a driving range. We didn’t have grass; we had packed silty dirt. We didn’t have any groomed greens; we had some areas of packed silty dirt that were a little higher than the surrounding packed silty dirt and they didn’t have any tire ruts, mud holes or craters in them. Temps were around 110 -120F, and the trucks and tanks driving by on the road often threw up terrible dust storms, but a line of trees along the road shaded the tees in the morning, so all in all it wasn’t too bad a deal.
Honestly to say that I took up golf is a silly exaggeration. All I really did was take up a club. I didn’t set out to learn to hit a ball well. All I wanted to do was hit the ball. I wanted to relax my mind, to use my body in a new way. I wanted to concentrate on something that I didn’t give a shit about – that had no dire consequences at all. No drive was worth ten or forty or sixty million dollars, for instance, like the projects that I was responsible for administering. My simple goal for golf: relax and hit the ball every time.
I love setting reachable goals. It’s so satisfying to succeed. I reached my goal on day two.
After another three or four morning sessions at the range (lol – “the range” … there’s a war zone pun in there alongside the stupidity of calling it a range rather than a big empty lot of dust! But I digress … ) … another three or four sessions at the range, and I began to hit the ball to nearly the same spot every time.
Since I wasn’t expecting this to happen, I was surprised and extraordinarily pleased. Consistency! The hobgoblin of little minds? Not in sports! I felt like I’d made grand progress without even trying. I felt like a solid success. Even if every drive was an atrocious slice! It didn’t matter. I was relaxing, and I was hitting every ball.
A friend recently stated that he has been successful all his life because he didn’t do things if he didn’t think he’d succeed at them. If he thought he was going to fail at something, what would be the point of trying it?
I applaud the simple logic and lack of apology with which my friend said this. In some way I suspect that most people do this without ever having articulated it. We weigh our chances of success, and if it looks unlikely we take a pass. I can think of any number of times I’ve bowed out of trying something because I doubted that I would succeed.
Yet within some categories I move without fear. Golf in Iraq, for instance, was so beyond reason to me, and anyway Iraq itself was so far past the safety barrier, I ignored anyone who might have scoffed or teased me about my atrocious golf skills. I didn’t give a flying fuck, when normally I would have been shy or embarrassed. I’d have felt obligated to “improve.”
And almost every time I confront a blank sheet of paper or canvas, there’s a little thrill: will I create something beautiful, or will I fail? People seem to think that artists don’t fail, that everything that we set out to create is a success. I assure you that even the most accomplished artists sometimes make horribly ugly things. Within art and writing, though, I’m like a soldier. If I fail, without thinking about it I’ll pick myself up and ask myself or a friend some questions: what worked and what didn’t? What might I do differently? Then I try it again.
With art, writing, and golfing in Iraq I’m fearless.
Why confine it to these situations?
The goals that we set for ourselves are the only true measure of a success or a failure. If I set aside fear in order to try something that I’d like to do, even if I don’t think I’ll succeed I’ve always found satisfaction in the attempt. If the goal that I set for myself is to try instead of to succeed, what kind of freedom does that give me?
If we set ourselves goals that we know will bring satisfaction of some kind, how can we fail? Even if we don’t reach the goal, we might find a surprise along the way. We might discover or experience something of value, something funny, or something purely and pointlessly delightful. That seems worth it to me.