The Parade of Athletes in the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics is one of my favorite events to watch. Period. I anticipate this with the same fervor as the Final Four, the season opener of Mad Men, or the first weekend of summer at the lake. It's that good.
Why? Why would anyone care about watching a bunch of athletes walk in a big circle and wave? They're not competing. Nothing is being scored or graded. So why care?
For many of those athletes, the Parade represents something magical. Think about all they sacrifice for the right to walk around in a circle. Day after day, year after year, they get up at oh-shit-hundred for the sake of their training schedules. They make their bodies hurt on purpose from exertion, and sometimes they break parts of themselves in the process. Because of the rules governing amateurism, they must hold down jobs and pay their own bills, and frequently pay for gym time and training and sparkly sequined skating dresses for many years before they make the Olympic teams. You think sequins are cheap? Yeah, not the good ones, and you basically need a new set of spangles for every competition.
They opt out of cable tv because they need the money for equipment, and anyway, they're never home to watch the box. When they travel home for family events, they worry about how many pairs of sweat socks to pack and how little control they'll have over their diets. They consult professionals and read medical journals for enhanced understanding of human ergonomics. It's almost like an obsession.
They work for it. For what? A teenage athlete chooses to forego the Friday night football game, even though his friends and that one cute girl from biology class will be there, and instead goes to the gym for an extra set of reps with the weights. Does he make this choice because he knows that someday he'll be in the Parade of Athletes? All he's really got to go on at this point is hope and faith in himself. He knows if he works hard and makes the right choices, he'll get a shot. Whether he'll make that shot is another question. But that hope and that faith can't exist without doing the work. The end results are beyond their control. But they control what they can, and their reward is internal.
You all have something in common with that athlete, that potential future Olympian. There's a long learning curve in fiction writing. Some of you get up very early in the morning to write. Some of you sit at your desks, BICHOKMOM*, until your muscles shake with the need for relief. You know what it's like to turn off the tv and get back to work. You know how to do your work even when it isn't fun anymore. You risk carpal tunnel and sitter's spread, and you hold down a day job in between writing sessions. Many of you even live on the special writer's diet of ramen, chocolate, coffee, and whiskey. Not that we recommend that.
You really can't know whether you'll ever get published, but if you write every day, and take the classes and join the crit groups and do the thousands of other things that can help you advance your craft, you get to dwell in hope. That hope may swell and crash at times, but it will always be there as long as you're doing the work. The work creates the hope, and the hope sustains the work.
Think about the nature of that hope when the Olympians parade and wave tonight. So many of them won't even get to compete, let alone stand on the podium. But this parade is the moment when hope reaches its zenith. The events themselves will be their opportunity to compete, the moment when all those years of physical exertion and struggle reach their culmination.
But that's the external. The internal, the hope and faith that they survived on for years, reaches its peak when they get to walk forth before the cheering hordes, in a TV shot seen around the world, and smile and wave. Watch their faces. Look for the bliss. It won't be hard to spot.
And then let it motivate you. You might live on corn chips instead of protein shakes, and in fuzzy slippers instead of sneakers, but you have a lot in common with those athletes. Find your hope, and hold fast to it while you do your work. Find your dream, the one that fills your heart -- maybe a book signing to a packed house, or a fan recognizing you on the street, or that magical day when you finally get to quit your day job. That will be your shining moment, your parade. There will be a lot of groans and pains between now and then. Forget about those. They're temporary. But that parade, that will stick with you forever.
What is your parade moment?
*BICHOKMOM = Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard, Mind On Manuscript. Try it. :)