Sunday, September 9, 2012
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach
This book worked as one heck of a transition for me -- the last book I picked up while living in Ireland, the one I started while grounded in Europe, read the entire trans-Atlantic flight, and finished with my feet back on American turf. It was recommended by my favorite Irish bookseller (tip o' the brim to you, E) and it circles around my favorite sport. How could I go wrong?
I couldn't. The novel is fantastic -- one of those books that makes me happy to be a reader and a writer.
Part of my general motivation for writing is that I want to be a doer. The old adage goes that those who can, do, and those who can't, teach. I fear being "just" a teacher, especially an academic -- never mind that some of the most inspirational and impressive folks in my life have been teachers and scholars. The burning in my brains is to create, to contribute original material -- not to work with the creations of others.
I will never knock teachers (by which I mean those who teach, not necessarily always the same as those individuals hired by our schools and universities). The effort that true teachers put forth every day, even in those so-called summer vacations, shames many of the best of us. Thinking that they lack some essential trait of doing, though, is perhaps understandable. Teachers have to know the theory, the whats and the whys and the hows; but if they had the ability, wouldn't they be putting their talents into practice?
The Art of Fielding is full of this juxtaposition of teaching and doing. Its main characters are all doers (ballplayers and lovers) and teachers (academics and coaches). They are each defined by what they do and teach -- or fail to do and teach. Some of them struggle to harmonize their deep knowledge and understanding, and their yearning for more than their God-given portion of talent. (I think particularly of Schwartz, the baseball captain who sacrifices his own athletic and law-school goals to further the baseball career of his friend and teammate.)
The way I read the novel, what Schwartz realizes is that coaching is not a role to succumb to. Not when he's so good at it. Sure, some people who can't do teach. But the really good teachers? For them, that is doing. Teaching is as difficult to do well as playing baseball or writing a book or loving another human being. When teaching becomes more than the mere conveyance of information -- when it helps learners develop the framework to think and act on higher levels for themselves -- it requires a true set of abilities.
Those who can, do. And those who can, teach well.
(I almost wrote about the comparison of baseball to aikido. I'd never thought about it. But the way Harbach writes about baseball is often reminiscent of what little I understand of the gentle martial art. I've had baseball on the brain since I was seven. Anyone who can make me think of the game differently is doing something effectively.)