Writing Like Riding Bulls
When telling the story becomes painful...
When one feels the need/call/desire/urge... to pen on paper the various products of his or her heart, mind and spirit (past, present and future), the immense project is sometimes given less than the respect it is due. Committing the internal resources necessary to such a task can be a grueling, sweaty battle between the The Good and The Evil that all humans entertain thoughts of. Before the dust settles, one might feel like he's just ridden a raging bull. Yes, writing can be like riding a bull sometimes; and when the bull presents itself, it must be ridden.
The unknown... the competition... the eye contact between opponents... the deafening crowd noise... the heat... the swing of the gate... the pounding and bucking... the weightlessness... the unbreathable dust and the unfathomable pain. Amidst all of the "cowboy blood" and "bull spittle" rages nature's violent battle to decide who will GO and who will GO HOME... best and worst... good and evil... live and let die. The scene conjures images of rampaging hooves and horns, balancing and twisting, impact and injury. At the end, if it lasts eight seconds, the judge gives a score which adds to the joy... or to the pain. Will it be a silver belt buckle, or a 1-night stay at the local urgent care center before the bus ride back to 4-corners?
A prayer is said...
Before excitement takes center stage, and before foolish thoughts of turning back and going fishing soothe the scalp like tender fingers under the heavy hat, prayers are murmured. The sounds of heels and spurs cover the whispers of faith, and family, pride and humility, determination and resignation.
The noise under the grandstand grows, and the blinding white light of the arena slices like so many flashing swords through the seam of the double doors that lead into the stock pens. They pierce the quiet darkness of the tunnel and chase away the remaining peace that tends to linger in the corners of the eyes of the experienced; and the pounding heartbeat joins the welling rhythm of applause like the beating drums of war in the canyons of South Dakota. Someone out there knows the confusion and fear that the drums cause when quiet prayers are interrupted. The enemy knows well...
So, how does the writer find himself? How does he find and bare the soul looking out through his eyes at the world... the soul that sees God's creation and man's creation and judges them good, bad, beautiful, grotesque, sweet, sour, etc.? When this particular writer looks inside he sees a husband, father and grandfather; and he sees them as the same person. He's the man that is up by 4:45 AM and on a Southern California freeway by 5:45. He's the man who comes home every night for dinner and a few minutes of family stories before bed. He gets the news about the kids and the grand-kids, and then slides between the sheets until the alarm clock signals the re-run to start again.
This is the individual who is the most effective. This is the guy who fixes the plumbing and mows the grass. This is the guy who changes the oil in the car and sometimes vacuums the house before the grand-kids come over. This is the man who takes the dog out in the morning, and asks the blessings over the meals. This is the man who watches a little sports, a little "classic TV" and a little PBS; and on the radio listens to a little PRI, a little sports, a little classic rock, and a little Bible teaching.
This is also the man that is "slowing down"... very quickly. I feel the years heavy on my back, and see them in the wrinkles around my eyes. Words don't come nearly as quickly as they used to, which is often a blessing for the hot-tempered egotist in me (but not necessarily for a writer); and the eyes aren't as useful for seeing the world as they used to be. The great lover and the fearless bull rider laugh at this guy; but the fearful guy in me holds on to him for dear life. Inside looking out is a collection of all of these parts of a man that have developed over the years. Bringing all of these parts to the surface, individually or in summation, to answer the call can sometimes be the ride of the century.
There is no backseat in bull riding...
As the last private breath is drawn and the doors burst open, no secrets remain secret. No fears remain hidden. No mistakes remain covered. All is bare. Any words spoken at this time need not be whispered. Spoken words are not heard or recognized. Only motions and gestures are effective. Back slaps from the friendlies, leers from the others. The enemy waits. Younger, stronger, faster, ambitious. Knowing the small cage he's confined to; impatient and anxious for release. The climb up the rails has gotten harder with time; at the top there is no longer joy. The enemy looks up, attempting a leap, reaching, making contact; making the climb down the rails slower, more cautious for the rider. Settling on the hard bare back of the beast he methodically prepares the rope and beats his stiff gloved fingers into position around it. The beast heaves huge breaths, and presses his weight against the complaining gate.
There is no peace. Only the heartbeats are audibly recognizable; and all heaven and hell is focused on a dirty stall in a crowded arena where one man and one beast prepare to do battle. All observers are fascinated. It's a spectacle. Tension peaks; and with a nod the gate swings everything into motion.
In bull riding, and in writing, motivation and preparation make all the difference. The long walk down the dark runway is where the game is won or lost. What I've learned since my daughters have left the house and the father and husband in me has lost some thunder, is that I need to bring the many parts of me together more than ever. Oh my days are numbered; I am convinced that God has already planned the glorious outcome and the last breath. But, the dash on the grave-marker between year of birth and year of death is something meaningful to be developed carefully. It will be either healthy and effectual or regrettable and wasted, based on how any person chooses to live. On those days when I look inside and see the beaten and dusty rider who has lost battle after battle, it will be the determined writer who has to get up off the dirt and move on having made, and then learned from his mistakes. I need to draw strength from those experiences, without being overtaken by the fear. Getting ready for the next bull will have to be a daily regimen.
There's a song by Gary Allan that the Professional Bull Riders association has adopted for their television broadcasts. It's called "Get off On The Pain". I'm a fan of the PBR tour, so I know what he means when he says "pain". When a 175-pound man is stomped under the hoof or bounced on the horns of a 1500-pound bull, physical pain is the result. You don't have to feel it to know it. When a rider is balanced and in sync with the twisting bucking beast beneath him, he can stay on for the eternity that the full eight second ride may seem to be. A rider who isn't balanced will never be in sync with the beast, and only the bull will receive a score.