Finding Your Other Thing on the Golf Course
Last week, I played a round of golf for the first time in 20 years. I went with my friends Paul Harding, who sculpts for DC Direct and Sideshow, among other clients, and Darren Carrara, who owns Comic Depot, a great comic shop in Saratoga Springs. It was literally my first time on a course in two decades. Stepping up to the first tee felt like stepping onto an alien landscape. What am I doing here?
Two decades ago, I played golf on occasion. The first time I ever played the game was the morning after a keg party my senior year of high school. A few friends and I woke up and decided, "We should go golfing." No idea how or why we reached that conclusion, but it sounded like a good idea at the time, so off we went. We had enough fun to go back. I eventually bought my own clubs, and hacked around local courses with friends. I never really got any good at it; I can drive okay, and putt okay, but everything in between is pretty rough.
Once my father retired from IBM, he took up the game too. My father was not a "golf" sort of guy at all. He was more apt to take a hike in the woods, or go ride a horse. As far as I know, he'd never played golf in his life. But after retiring, he thought he'd try it out. My brother-in-law gave my father a few clubs and an old bag that he had in his garage, and my father started playing, mostly by himself. No lessons, just started playing. My father liked being outside, he liked the natural splendor of a golf course, he liked the quiet of it. He had only four or five olds clubs in his beat-up bag, but he didn't care. He just liked playing.
My father didn't like keeping score. Or, maybe a better way to put it would be that he didn't see the point of keeping score. He wasn't golfing for a score, he was golfing because he liked the experience of playing the game. Keeping score was immaterial. My father would pay for nine holes at a neighborhood course, but half the time he wouldn't even finish. He'd play six or seven holes, decide he'd had enough for the day, and just pick up his ball and go home.
The first royalty check I ever got from Marvel, I went out and bought my father a complete set of golf clubs and a new bag. Still some of the best money I ever spent. I think maybe that was his first inkling that comics might be a viable career.
My father and I golfed together a few times. Not as often as we should have; he was retired, but I was still on staff at a newspaper, in addition to writing comics. Now, of course, I deeply wish we'd played together more often, but in your youth, you never understand how fleeting time is.
When we did play, my father never let me keep a score for him. I couldn't understand it. I wanted a way to measure how I was playing, I wanted to know how I was competing against the course. But my father didn't care about any of that. He was just doing it because he liked doing it.
Once we started our family, my own clubs sat in storage, unused. Having a freelance career and a new baby didn't leave any time to play. There was always something else to do, other demands for my time. When we moved to Florida, so I could take a staff position with CrossGen Comics, my clubs went onto the moving truck. They never came back off the truck. I assume one of the movers plucked himself a decent set of clubs. By the time I realized they were gone (along with a dinosaur painting that Bernie Wrightson had given us as a wedding present, and a few other pieces of art), it was too late to file a claim.
I honestly didn't miss the clubs (though I'm still frosted about the Wrightson painting). I hadn't played in five years or so, and I certainly didn't have time in Florida. CrossGen demanded a lot of hours, and our family grew by a daughter and another son in our time there.
Nothing really changed when we moved back to New York State, despite moving to an area with a plethora of golf courses. Too much to do, not enough time. But after plenty of badgering by my friends Paul and Darren, I was convinced that I should get back to whacking small white balls with metal clubs.
I asked my wife to get me a set of clubs for Father's Day, figuring that actually spending money on clubs would force me to use them. New clubs, bag, shoes, tees, three dozen balls. I at least looked the part, even if I hadn't swung a club in two decades. We played at a par-3 course called Whispering Pines, not far from my house.
The first tee was at once familiar and entirely alien. I grabbed a 7-iron for my first shot, mostly because that's what the other guys hit. After a couple practice swings, I knocked the ball into the air and it plopped onto the green, just like it was supposed to. I was stunned, even though I was probably 35 feet from the hole. My first putt was on line, but slid about two inches past the hole. Apparently a 20-year layoff was just what I needed to make my golf game awesome!
Everything after that was downhill, of course. Sometimes literally, slicing drives from uphill tees off into the woods. But I had enough good shots... or at least decent shots... to be entirely satisfied at the end of 18 holes. Halfway through our round, the skies opened up and the soaking rains swept the course. We walked through the raindrops back to the clubhouse for a beer, watching the weather radar on our phones, seeing that the storms would pass before too long.
The rain chased everybody else away, so we played the back nine as the only golfers on the course. We had the entire place to ourselves. It was fun. It was perfect.
And it was a reminder that doing a creative job, and expecting to be any good at it, means you have to get up and walk away from it. Do anything except obsess about your job. As a writer, that means not thinking about the story you're trying to write, the plot hole that needs to be plugged, or the dramatic direction you're trying to solve. It means doing your Other Thing.
The easiest way for a writer to become stale is to look at the same four walls, or the same computer screen, day after day. It's a seductive trap to fall into, and I'm certainly as guilty of it as anyone else. There's always something to do, always some writing that beckons. But you have to walk away. Go out and do something. Get the hell off the internet. It doesn't have to be golf, but find your Other Thing. The times you feel like you can least afford to step away are likely the times you most need to.
This past weekend I went to the driving range and hit a few buckets of balls. The repetition of the swing, the quiet except for the impact of the club smacking the ball, the bucolic setting, the gentle breeze; my mind wandered, unfettered. Within 15 minutes, a thorny plot point that had been vexing me for weeks resolved itself... because I hadn't been thinking about it.
I'll keep going to the driving range, where I can disappear for an hour and recharge. I'll keep playing golf. Once a week might be a little ambitious -- deadlines have to be maintained -- but it's going to be a regular pursuit. I need my Other Thing.
But I don't think I'm going to keep score anymore.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics, his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.