Like everybody else on much of the planet, I’ve been watching the Olympics. It’s awe-inspiring to see what those athletes can do, whether or not they hit the medal podium. They are high level performers, on the biggest stage of their lives. They’re determined, hopeful, hungry.
Many of them are also very young. I wonder how hard it will be to settle back into more mundane lives after this huge spectacle. I suspect most will be back in training right away, aiming toward a new set of goals and performances.
For serious athletes, there’s always more work to be done.
The same is true for artists. Thousands of hours go into really mastering a skill set. Thousands more go into tracking opportunities, gathering resources, carrying gear, and cleaning up afterward.
A spectacular performance requires all those hours of work, but an audience rarely wants to witness all that drudgery. We want amazement, we want that sense of magic. Often we want to share our judgement about quality, delivery, value of a performance too. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it’s important that we exercise discernment about what we consume.
But every time I power through a novel, I have this rueful feeling. I know from experience that what I read in a minute has taken a writer hours to craft, and that doesn’t count all the false starts, hesitations, interruptions, and revisions. It doesn’t count the research and dreaming. It certainly doesn’t include the years of training.
A celebrated writer I know recently published a novel that took eighteen years to write. I read it in under a week.
All this makes me think of a conversation I had last winter at The Cool Wednesday Night Hang. It had been a rowdy night, full of great music and lively chatter. As the last few people shrugged into their coats and left, I headed up to thank the band.
Quincy Davis was packing up his drum kit. It’s a serious commitment, pulling apart all those components, packing them carefully into carrying bags, then hauling them out to the trunk of the a cold car. When the party spirit has drained out of a room, there’s not much to buoy up a task like that.
“This is a big job,“ I ventured, “and you have to do it every time you gig…“
He laughed. “They pay me to do this,“ he said. “This is work. Playing? I could do that all night!“
Performance: it’s just the tip of the iceberg, the fun part, the part that makes all that preparation and follow-up worthwhile.
So I’m offering this salute to the athletes—and the writers, musicians, dancers, painters, and masterful home cooks—who provide us with so many memorable, inspiring, uplifting moments. We are grateful for all the inglorious, unsung work you do.