Literature with R.A. Dickey, Scrabble with Teju Cole

by Steve

R.A. Dickey pitching, and being awesome and stuffI’ve never really been comfortable with the idea of meeting my heroes in person. A few years back I was sitting in a bar in Austin (long story, and not a particularly interesting one), and who should walk in but quite possibly my favourite singer-songwriter/alt-country guy, Ryan Adams. I decided against going up and speaking to him. First, he seemed like he was having a fun, relaxing evening and didn’t need me annoying him with how much I loved Heartbreaker or Cold Roses or whatever. Secondly, what if it wasn’t a pleasant experience for me? If that were to happen would it ruin all that great music I loved? Would it spoil the memories I had of his songs pulling me through my sadder moments and soundtracking some of the happier ones? I couldn’t risk it.

And even when it comes to non-heroes, but still famous people, I think they are best avoided. I met Emma Bunton, Baby Spice, a year or two ago. She seemed perfectly pleasant and polite but I pretty much froze. How do you make small talk with a famous person? I couldn’t exactly use my trusty small-talk gambit of “So, what do you do then?” She’d think I was taking the piss. And if I acknowledged the famousness, she’d probably think I was taking the piss too. It was a small taste of how odd it must be to be a well-known face.

So, I probably need to work on my famous-person-small-talk-plan, for if and when I meet someone else well-known.

Or, alternatively, I can hide indoors and play around on the internet. But whaddya know? The internet is full of famous people too. Especially Twitter.

However, the inherent anonymousness, or at least detachment, of the internet makes it less scary. I can plan and plot my sentences. And Mr or Mrs Famous Person has put themselves out there. They are happy to be pestered. Or they can just ignore it.

R.A. Dickey plays baseball for my favourite team, the non-all-conquering New York Mets. He is a knuckleball pitcher. For those unfamiliar with baseball, a knuckleballer is much like a spin bowler in cricket, using a slower ball with added movement to fox their opponent, rather than relying on sheer pace. They are also, much like many spin bowlers, quite often lively characters, and sadly a bit of an endangered species.

Dickey is certainly a fascinating character. He is not your average sportsman. He is missing a ulnar collateral ligament and so really shouldn’t be in any position to throw a ball, let alone be an elite pitcher. He is also an English Literature graduate and a big reader. And he appears to be the most eloquent sportsman ever.

And…he is on Twitter and regularly answers questions from his followers. I figured I’d feel my famous person fear and do it anyway. I’d take the plunge through the safe confines of Twitter.

So, I started with…

And was surprised and delighted to get a reply right away…

…and so responded with…

…because I’m polite and stuff, and I had got a genuine buzz from getting a pretty much instant response from one of my favourite sportsmen – and a great reply too.

And Mr Dickey wasn’t finished…

I was discussing literature with R.A. Dickey!

He signed off from his Q&A session soon afterward. I hope it wasn’t my incessant tweeting that sent him away. Or a fun Q&A developing into a minor discussion about holocaust literature.

But it was an incredible exchange. Just a few years ago it would have been pretty much inconceivable for me to have this kind of access to a high-profile professional sportsman, let alone one who lives halfway around the world. I suspect that is the same for many people. I’m guessing it would have been unlikely for Mr AN Sportsman to proactively want to engage with his fans on a daily basis, let alone be able to in the comfort of their own home/hotel room/locker room/etc. And even now, I can’t imagine many sportsmen replying to a “What has been your favourite book this year?”-type question with such an interesting, unusual and challenging choice.

If R.A. Dickey wasn’t my favourite ballplayer before (and he was certainly up there already), he most certainly is now. And I’ve got yet another book to add to the “to read” list.

After such a lovely experience I was somewhat emboldened.

Teju Cole is another author on my “to read” list, and in the meantime I’ve been following his rather idiosyncratic missives on Twitter. Rather than the usual day-to-day stuff he tends to boil down news article he has read from Nigerian newspapers, in a pithy and interesting way. It makes for excellent,unusual reading.

And on Sunday he challenged his followers to attempt their own “small fates“, saying he would retweet the ones he liked best.

I took on the assignment to summarise the rather odd article Scrabble: Akwa Ibom bars 9 players from Akpabio Classics.

My attempt was…

I thought it might have been a little corny, but Mr Cole clearly liked it as it was one of the efforts that he chose to retweet. As silly as it might sound I got a real kick out of it. It might only be a few words, but for someone published and acclaimed to actually, actively, like it felt quite special. Perhaps my writing wasn’t so awful after all. Although I do worry about my comma use in that last sentence. And I think I’ve been muddling my tenses. But I digress.

While I’ll remain wary of approaching famous people in the big, bad scary real world I think I just might brave reaching out digitally again. I might even write a letter. If I can decide on who to write to, and what on Earth I might have to say to them.

Any tales to tell?

Image by Paul Hadsall, via Flickr