My morning in this lovely AirBnB cottage near Venice Beach has been made reading a couple of Joe Posnanski’s pieces. (This west coast time zone had me up early, watching my kids sleep as we continue on our California vacation.)
Posnanski is a sportswriter, but it’s his stuff about fatherhood and family that gets to me.
He wrote most recently about taking his teenage daughter to see the musical Hamilton. (Go read that piece now. It’s so, so good.)
I’ve never been a big fan of Broadway musicals. I had been underwhelmed years ago by Cats (hated it) and Phantom (meh). But we took our young daughters to see Wicked earlier this year, and I was wowed and truly moved.
Then I heard some early hoopla about Hamilton and was intrigued enough to listen to the soundtrack. I’ve since listened to that soundtrack repeatedly and can quote key lyrics. And I’ve begun reading the Ron Chernow biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create a hip-hop infused stage production telling the story of an under appreciated founding father. And I know who Lin-Manuel Miranda is and have watched YouTubes of his commencement speeches and his beatboxing with Emma Watson. And I know I will regret not having seen the original cast perform Hamilton live.
And Posnanski’s endearing story of taking his daughter to see this show resonated with me as an admirer of all things Hamilton right now and as a dad of daughters. I got all the feels and could imagine sitting in that theater with my older daughter and making a memory that endures.
I then read an older piece of his about taking his daughter to Harry Potter world in Florida. Also a delight and evocative of my experiences with my daughters.
Posnanski’s writing sneaks up on the reader. He’s just casually unspooling the threads of a story. It’s conversational and earnest. And then—Pow!—without warning you feel something. You’re moved. It’s clear he’s been moved, and he takes you with him.
The great Braves pitcher, Greg Maddux, my favorite baseball player, pitched kind of like that. He didn’t have jaw-dropping stuff. His fastball was average. He wasn’t imposing. But he was an artist on the mound. He was subtle and cerebral and his pitches moved in surprising, yet strategic ways. It wasn’t power or speed, it was movement and careful, precise placement that was thought through before the batter ever approached the plate. The pitch counts and the innings would unspool innocuously with lots of balls in play and runners scattered here and there. And then, all of a sudden, you had a complete-game shutout.
Maddux was more of a craftsman than an artist. But the parallel to mastery of a hard skill seems apt to me.
Movement. Artful placement. Beautiful stuff.
The key in writing, I think, is to feel something that truly moves you and find a way to express it in such a way that your reader feels that same thing.
Seems simple, but so few pull it off well.