It takes the Oxford English Dictionary 26 pages to define the word set, and I’ve found that exploring the various meanings of a word allows us to contemplate our own multitudes and contradictions in interesting ways.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much my relationship to writing is contained within the many definitions of the word practice.
Some days, writing feels like the kind of practice that a doctor or lawyer might speak of – not just a hobby but a profession. Even on vacation, I wake up a few hours before anyone else with goals in mind. I’m aware of deadlines and book sales. I network. There are benefits to this, of course, but it also beckons my ego in ways that I don’t particularly like. I feel a discomforting need for validation. If I’m not careful, I just might start Googling myself.
Other days, it’s as though I’ve channeled my inner-Allen-Iverson. Practice? Practice? We’re talking about practice. The whole morning is a giant scrimmage, without pressure or urgency, crowds or clocks. I read random articles on ESPN and tell myself that it’s all material. Writing, then, feels like an exploratory process of discovery, but I’m also a step away from becoming that kid who slacks off when the coach isn’t looking, who needs the competition of another team to play at his best.
And then there are those days when writing feels like a centering practice – the kind of ritual that keeps me grounded and engaged in the world. I enter a relaxed but focused state of mind, where images and ideas begin to play with one another. I find portals within the language. Everything feels interrelated.
And for a few hours before the sun rises, I understand what Frost meant when he described the work as play for mortal stakes.
Ben Berman’s first book, Strange Borderlands, won the 2014 Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry and was a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Awards. His second collection, Figuring in the Figure, was recently selected as a Must-Read by the Mass Center for the Book. And his new book, Then Again, came out last November. He has received awards from the New England Poetry Club and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Somerville Arts Council. He teaches at Brookline High School and lives in the Boston area with his wife and two daughters. www.ben-berman.comSee other articles by Ben Berman