Monday, June 11, 2012


Dear Spike,

In the end, your arms were shaking. Your hands were unsure. Beads of sweat had formed on your brow.

But you just wouldn’t give up.

It struck me as strange. You’d been working at the playground rings for a few days. And finally, today on your second attempt, you had completed the challenge. A little leap from the platform. Six swings forward. Six swings back. One last swing and you were back on the platform.

You ran to me, jumped into my arms, nearly knocked me over.

“Did you see that?” you asked.

I most certainly had.

“Were you proud of me?” you asked.

I most certainly was.

But you weren’t content to do it just once. And for ten, then twenty, then thirty minutes to come, you tried to repeat you playground triumph. But your hands were slipping. Your arms were quivering. You fell and fell and fell.

Your mother arrived. “How long has she been doing this?” she asked.

“A long time,” I replied.

We sat and watched as you worked your way across the rings. In one attempt, you made it to the end and almost back, but could not grasp the final ring. You fell.

Ultimately, we had to pull you away. Not for your sake, but for ours. We were tired of sitting in the sun and wanted to get home to start dinner. But I suspect that, if we’d let you, you’d still be out there right now.

And that is good. For this grit will serve you well.

You’re smart and athletic and artistically skillful. Many things in life will come easy to you. But proficiency and expertise are a grain of sand and a glass of wine. And the latter only comes with skill, determination, craftsmanship and practice.

And practice.

And practice.

This weekend I left you and your mother for a cabin in Montana, where I spent the better part of three days with an incredibly gifted band of writers from across the western United States.

Among us was a young and brilliant scribe named Jamie Rogers, who shared an essay he’d written about fly fishing, family and a certain novel, regarding those two things, that means a lot to many Montanans and plenty of others, too.

He wrote: “It wasn't just about catching fish; it was about the going, about the time spent and about the idea. Fly fishing offered the opportunity to know about something, and in knowing about something, to become an expert. And being an expert feels good.”

That night we stayed up late, drank good and bad whiskey, and spoke about our craft.

“Do you think that becoming an expert in one thing allows you to more easily become an expert in others?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he said. “Absolutely. Once you know the dedication it takes, the struggle, the pain — but also what it feels like once you’ve succeeded in mastering something — then you know the way.”

Already, you appear to know, my determined daughter, that even when you are doing something that you love, the way to mastery is not always fun. It can be drudgery. It can be lonely. It can be exasperating. It can be maddening.

But being an expert feels good.

So practice. And practice. And fall. And fall. And when you fall, remember that you must fall. Your hands must slip. Your arms must quiver. Then you must practice some more.

Then, you’ll succeed. And when you do you must do it again. Again. Again.

And then you’ll know the way.