All this is to say that what is interesting about Pedroia, Brady and others is their work. When they are at the top of their games, they are dazzling. It might be argued that those moments represent a confluence of athletics and art, moments when the player and the game are inseparable. One is reminded of the lines from W. B. Yeats’s “Among School Children”: “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?” If those athletes did not give us such samples of near transcendence, of near perfection, we’d pay them no mind and would never purchase chances for lunch and a round of golf.
If this is so with respect to athletes, it is also the case with respect to writers. Of course, as far as I know no one is out there peddling chances for lunch with Philip Roth or Richard Russo. If they were, the conversations might be brighter, for writers are wordsmiths after all. But the talk might not be. It might be as strained and difficult as those at the athlete’s table and it’s easy to imagine the same mismatch of idolatry and tolerance.
As with the athlete, it’s the work that matters. We know the names of the writers—and musicians, dancers, painters and so on—because of the work. It’s the finished thing that shines, that leaves us enchanted, spellbound, charmed, those words borrowed from magic. It’s the art that counts, not the artist. It’s the performance that matters, that distills and perfects effort. The artist, sloppy human that he or she is, fades, recedes into the quotidian, the humdrum of eat and drink, of sleep and visits to the dentist, the world so familiar to us all. And what a relief that is. Imagine the impossible strain of living each moment at one’s Super Bowl, World Series, and Great Gatsby best.
Lunch with Brady? Lunch with Russo? No thanks. I’ll tune in on Sunday and watch Brady pick apart his opponent’s defense and I’ll read the next novel that Russo produces and will do these things with pleasure. But I’ll leave them both alone at lunch and if they have the usual good luck, they can share the meal with people who love them for the faulted, frail creatures that, aside from their shining moments, they must be.