Bowling for Words – How the Number of Pins You Knock Down Might Just Be Related to Your Writing

The last time I bowled with people who were taller than three feet, and whose attention span lasted until their ball reached the end of the alley, I was eighteen. I was in Japan, the honored guest of a Lions Club hosting family, and — unbeknownst to me — temporary repository of their family’s dignity.

This did not go well. I am not athletic. I lacked experience. Because of the language barrier, there could be no easy, “You’ll get ’em next time, Jan ” to diffuse the tension of my recurrent gutterballs.

I could see the way my host family’s gazes slid from mine, hear the half-hearted nature of their cheering. I felt their shame.

So imagine my surprise when I bowled this weekend and found my scores solidly in the upper end. I think what happened was this: Having gone in expecting exactly nothing, I was freed to screw up and experiment.

It also gave me a chance to observe how other people approach “the lane” and “failure,” and provided take-home writing lessons.

I saw several kinds of bowlers:

A post-bowling-trauma’ed Jan – young, trim, and as per usual, thinking of filling her belly

  • Those with gusto: When they connected, boy did they! They were practically guaranteed a strike. When they were off, though, well, let’s just say that people in the nearby lanes had cause to object.
  • Analysts: They tended to hit center pins, then have to cope with a gap-toothed lane. Their score trended average and consistent, but never wow-o-wow.
  • Some took setbacks personally:  A strike meant temporary euphoria; a low score sent them slouching to their chairs, where their Coke tasted warm and dilute.

The person who won my heart, though, did this: She started off the lowest of all. No score for three entire turns because she delivered the ball consistently too far right. She still laughed, cheered for others, boogied to K$sha. (For this article’s sake, we’ll assume that indicates open-mindedness rather than dubious taste. 😉 )

When I had the gall to offer unschooled solutions, she gave them a try. Let me tell you, that woman might have begun the evening in the lowest bracket, but she improved consistently and more than all players.

Oh, a few characteristics you might care to know about my role model?

  • Her balance is off, making an issue of the two-inch transition from seating area to alley.
  • She can see only from one eye at a time.
  • She’s an educator, sought by principals all over this city when they have a particularly challenging class and need someone with hope.
  • She’s almost seventy.

Yep, if you haven’t guessed it already, my heroine-bowler is my mom. 🙂

Next time you sit down to write, if you get stuck in a pity-party, if you begin to believe you have failed, think of her. An almost-seventy-year-old, monocular-ed wonder. One who learned to do a knuckle-bump this weekend, and who’s probably exchanging one with her students as  you read this.

I plan to “bowl” for her this morning as I strive to make my word count.

How about you? Who serves as your model of life-long learning? What did they teach you?  Where do you stand on the matter of rented bowling shoes, anyway?

16 thoughts on “Bowling for Words – How the Number of Pins You Knock Down Might Just Be Related to Your Writing

  1. Tell you what – I love the metaphor/anology of the beginning of this when you compared your score from both instances – this is so true in my writing and I didn’t realize/recognize how much until this book I’m writing now — the way I always wrote with fun and abandon and “wheee” and love has been replaced by pressures I’m putting on myself. Perfect perfect.

    Now, I am smiling thinking of your mom! 😀 … wish I had been there bowling with y’all because I suck at it and I know I do (haven’t bowled since ??? can’t even remember!) But I’d be there right with her – with the “who cares! I’m having fun” attitude! wheee!)

  2. Kat, I know this book has been giving you some heartache, and I’m sorry for that. I’m told the “hard” books don’t read differently than the easy ones in the end, but that’s no comfort when you’re writing them.

    On a slower day, maybe you could give bowling a try. 🙂 Maybe it would help you write a Pulitzer-winner, and then we could write your bio and cash in. Or maybe you could just have fun and dance to bad music videos. 😉

  3. This post made me laugh, and I’m still smiling. Quite a feat, Jan, as I spent the morning at the dentist’s office – one of my least favorite places on earth.

    As far a role models, my dad is who I keep going back to, in spite of his passing 18 years ago. He was the one who taught me how important it is just to show up (it’s half the battle). Once you’re there, you take one step at a time. Definitely an attribute of many ‘Greatest Generation’ members having survived the depression and WWII. He always had a kind word for everyone he ever met, and even at the end, in the hospital, in pain, he was known by all the nurses as the favorite patient in the ward. Grimacing, wearing a respirator, he would crack a joke or pass along a compliment. The guy wasn’t wealthy or highly educated or great at sports (although he played one of the fastest nines in golf – pulling a cart, yet 😉 ). But literally hundreds showed up for his wake and/or funeral. At those events, listening to complete strangers tell me story after story of his kindness and gererosity made me realize that his was the kind of life I should aspire to. His example is a big part of my writing journey too.

    I will bowl for my word count this afternoon, late start, painful mouth and all, in your mom’s and my dad’s honor. I’m not going to buzz-kill this post with my feelings on bowling shoe rentals. Nice job, and good reminders, Jan!

  4. I admit I could not imagine any possible connection between bowling and writing, but what a lovely analogy. And a fabulous tribute to your mum!

    My Dad has definitely been my role model, and still is 15 years after he passed away. He was “blessed” with four daughters, when clearly he would have loved at least one son, but it didn’t stop him from raising us as independent women. He taught us all to play sports and imparted life lessons we have never forgotten. He made us all believe there was nothing we couldn’t do. At 73, months before he died, he was still madly bashing through the moguls on the most advanced ski slopes and I’m sure he would have still been doing that if he’d lived to 90. He had a zest for life that was never diminished through good times and bad and my experience at his funeral were very similar to Vaughn’s with the attendance and stories of kindness. It was a surprise to us when the mayor wrote a letter to my mother describing him as “a visionary” and there is a street named after him in the town he helped so much. I always feel he’s looking proudly down at me when I succeed, and I like to think he’s not looking when I fail. He was far from perfect, my dad, but he never stopped trying to make a difference and his example makes me strive to be a better person.

    BTW, what a gorgeous photo of you in Japan!

  5. Vaughn, ow-ow-ow. I have a dentist phobia, so my condolences. Your dad sounds like a wonderful man. As you know, not everyone made it out of the Great Depression with spirit and warmth intact, but those who did? Well, we can learn a lot from them. A lot. Wishing you a productive writing spell, and thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate it, and if my mom reads this later, I know she will too.

    Deborah, with that larger-than-life kind of personality, I suspect your dad had his own share of failures. Probably big ones too. From the bit I know of you, who’d most certainly be proud. And thank you for your comment about the photo. It’s probably the one which most captures Molly’s and my resemblance. 🙂

  6. Ah, love the analogy and the photo! I’m not sure I can pick one role model since I tend to look up to people for different reasons. But since you have me thinking about writing, I’ll go with the person who first comes to mind when I think about my writing journey. That’s my grandfather.

    I inherited a lot from him, including the infamous family temper, a lack of patience, and a broad-shouldered, stocky build that was more befitting of him than it is of me. But I digress. Why do I consider him a role model for writing? Not because he wrote; he didn’t. But he was stubborn. Like mule stubborn. For example, he started smoking during WWII, and when the reports about how bad cigarettes were for you health started really showing up in the 60s, he quit cold turkey. Never smoked again in his life. He was the same way about losing weight when he started having issues there. Got on a healthier diet, never got off it. And he loved life, too. Lived it up in other ways and never complained. I think about that when I start to wonder why I keep bothering with writing. I can give up, or I can dig my heels in and keep going. (And, of course, I also think if my grandfather could get the guts to enlist in WWII and jump out of plane in France, then I can certainly send another query letter. ;-))

  7. Tracey, stubbornness is a very good quality to have as a writer. If you’ve claimed half of your grandfather’s, you’d have done well. 😉 And thank you for nicely framing the the relative risks of words-on-the-page to real drama. I have nothing to add. 🙂

  8. Jan, I tried to post once before but my comment was eaten. I loved this post — I’d never thought to equate bowling with writing — but it makes a slightly twisted kind of sense. Your mom sounds amazing. I was lucky enough to have fabulous teachers in elementary school, and I hope they knew what a difference they made. (My kindergarten and fourth grade teachers came to my book signing — that’s the kind of people they are.)

    I remember bowling with my cousins as a child, and it was always the highlight of my vacation.

  9. Wow, I’m so glad I came back! Deborah’s and Tracey’s tributes are just lovely. Sounds like the three of them were guys cut from the same cloth, as was your mom.

    Great idea, Tracey, to think in those terms. If my dad and his unit could take the bridge at Remagan, under a torrent of shelling, how hard could it be to face a little rejection. Especially when I know in my heart he would be proud of my work.

    You really struck a chord today, Jan. And I do feel better, and laid down a pretty nice word count to boot. Thanks for the sympathy, as well as the heartening post.

  10. Liz, I’m so sorry. WordPress is having “issues” today. I see it won’t even link to your gravatar. 🙁 Your “slightly twisted kind of sense” made me laugh. Don’t you think that sums up my blog? I’ll admit to being envious of your teacher-love. I doubt any of my elementary teachers would remember me, though I most certainly remember most of them.

    Vaughn, my pleasure! Honestly, it’s you guys taking it away in the comments that made my day.

  11. Lovely post, Jan.
    You know, I’ve been the gusto bowler, the analyst, and the “that bowling ball hates me” take-it-personally kind of girl. It certainly helps to be in a game with someone like your mother, humble and willing to laugh and learn.

    I have a couple of good friends who help me see the funny in everything serious, and that makes all the difference on those set-back days.

  12. Oh, I love it, Jan! YAY for your mom! I happen to LIKE bowling… I am not particularly consistent, probably because I believe strongly that part of this sport has to do with beer, but AIM and PHYSICS combine to make this one that is POSSIBLE for a nerdy person… I actually know where I ought to aim, line ’em up right, and then see if my coordination can follow through… top score ever is probably 160 or so, so it isn’t league bowling, but it falls into impressive party tricks… when I’m on. (my last round bowling, I think I had one game under 100 and 2 in the 130 range.) I like your breakdown though… I think when I’m off, I can at least laugh at myself (like with the book I’m trying to write right now)

  13. I went bowling once. Don’t really remember much about it except I had fun talking to everybody. I didn’t really think it was sport though. More like a game of chance.
    Enjoyed the analogy. And – now that I think about it – maybe that is the way I treat writing. As a game of chance. But, it’s a lot of fun to play, so I keep playing.

  14. Christi, I’ve been all those things too, sometimes before breakfast. Er…you knew what I meant, right? But yes, people that have humor as their default position are rare and wonderful creatures. Glad you have a few of them in your life.

    Hart, I don’t mind bowling NOW. I was 18 and away from home for the first prolonged time in Japan, so that didn’t help with my sense of security. Now I’d probably laugh and be a clown. 🙂

    Suzanne, you’ve only bowled once? That is unusual. It does require a certain athleticism, actually. Hand-eye coordination, balance, core strength. Upper body strength, too. And there’s a strategic component, I guess, if one can target effectively. You can turn a round into a spare if you know how to have the ball hit the pins with controlled force. But yes to persistence regardless, both in bowling and in writing. 🙂

  15. What a great post, and the comments were just as inspiring. It really made me think how others have embraced their life, with courage and exuberance. My mom was like that, and she was definitely a role model, being a single mother before that term was even invented. LOL She died too young, which is sad since she knew how to wring so much joy out of every day.

    The description of the bowling reminded me of once when my sister and I went to a pub-style place for lunch, and they had several dartboards in one area. I had never played, and my sister assured me it was easy enough. We had a great time, and I was scoring very well, and then a guy started playing next to us, and he had his own darts, in a fancy schmancy case. He commented how well I was doing since I was holding my arm wrong, and my feet weren’t in the right place. I tried it his way, and ended up doing worse. LOL So I went back to my own method, deciding that enthusiasm is just as important as any other skill, especially when trying something new. 🙂

    1. You know a story isn’t going to turn out well when one of the parties possesses anything described as “fancy shmancy”. 🙂 Thanks for the laugh, Donna.

      And an exuberant single mom? Wow. Now I know where you get your joie de vivre.

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