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Saturday, June 16, 2012

JAPAN LITE

The midlife crisis hotline — dreams to fulfill before you get too old?


I've recently been reading books about athletes. Lance Armstrong's "It's Not About the Bike," Andre Agassi's "Open," and more recently, Scott Jurek's "Eat and Run." All these books are memoirs, but they have something less obvious in common. They all had ghostwriters.

The reason they do is simple: Writing is a skill. To become good at it requires training and discipline, just like sports do.

To write a bestseller requires talent as well, just like making it to the top in sports does. While some people may be gifted and can write well without any formal education, it's extremely rare. As rare as the person who goes out and wins races or tennis games without any formal training. It's not that it can't be done, it's that most people get there the hard way — through pure self-discipline, experience and extraordinary talent.

Speechwriters, stunt men, pinch hitters and joke writers all do similar tasks. They put their skills together for others who act as their double. And of course, when it comes to looking for someone to do such tasks, you want the best person you can get.

Writing and sports share similar, insane characteristics. As with the arts, they are highly competitive, the failure rate is high, and there is no promise of ever being able to make a living at it.

It's even more insane that they are both considered dream jobs. Who wouldn't want to be a professional athlete? Who doesn't dream of writing the great novel of the century? So when fans start asking Lance Armstrong, Andre Agassi or Scott Jurek, "Have you ever thought of writing a book?" as if this was the most obvious next step for an athlete to do, these athletes can be forgiven for thinking, sure, why not?

But writing a memoir is not easy. I know because I just crawled out of a year of darkness while writing my own travel memoir: "Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage: 900 miles to Enlightenment." Over a year, I lived inside a paper cocoon, crawling around inside my manuscript, rearranging it, combing over it, polishing it. It was a cocoon bound together by words, sentences, and punctuation; paragraphs, anecdotes and chapters; character development, dialog and plot; research, writing and rewriting. And that was just the writing part. The meat of the story, the running part, was another event altogether. My husband was patient and threw in food scraps to the larvae a couple times a day.

I doubt most professional athletes have an entire year to dedicate eight to 10 hours a day to crafting a memoir. Yet their fans ask them, "Have you ever thought of writing a book?" And these athletes will be forgiven for thinking, sure, why not? And they even add "author" to their bios. Yet no one has ever approached me and asked, "Have you ever thought of becoming a professional athlete?" Not once!

So, recently, upon the realization I would turn 50 this year (how this can happen without my consent, I'll never know), I decided I should mark this milestone in my life. I mean, when we're young, we don't bother worrying about turning 50 because not in our wildest dreams did we ever think we'd make it that far. Especially when misfortune abounds: Murders, wars and natural disasters; tobacco, alcohol and drugs; cults, terrorism, and the end of the world; super bugs, disease and malpractice; plane crashes, accidents and lightning strikes. It's a wonder anyone makes it past childhood.

But here I am, for better or for worse. And I feel I need to celebrate having made it 50 years. But how? By going heli-skiing in Alaska? Or hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand? Running the Mount Fuji 100-mile ultra-marathon? These are just a few of the things I've considered. But wait! Why not strive for something greater? A gold medal in the Olympics, for example?

It's not too late to become a professional athlete! If Lance Armstrong can "write" a New York Times bestseller, then maybe I can win an Olympic event. I just need a ghost-athlete! This person will coach me, help me train, and when it comes time for the event, they will jump in and compete under my name! At the medal ceremony, however, I will step up to the podium to receive the medal. We can go 50-50 on the lucrative contracts for TV commercials. They can deal with all the sponsors, but I will do the media interviews and signing autographs.

I was so pleased when I came up with this idea that I ran out of my office and downstairs to tell my husband. I walked into the living room and proudly announced: I'm having a midlife crisis!

We sat down together and quickly went through a list of athletes who might be interested in ghosting for me. Living in Japan, we thought a Japanese athlete would be perfect, but Japan has so many fabulous athletes to choose from, it was really tough to narrow it down. Would it be baseball's Godzilla: Hideki Matsui? Golfer Ryo Ishikawa? No, I don't really have experience in those sports. How about Homare Sawa of Nadeshiko Japan soccer? Or Tae Satoya who won the gold medal in mogul skiing in 1998 and the bronze in 2002? Or Yuko Arimori, two-time Olympic medalist in the marathon?

Yes, one of these women would be perfect. Of course, we don't know if any of them would agree to take me on. But I think that for the right price, they just might, especially because many athletes offer coaching and sports camps on the side.

And we can do all our collaboration over email and Skype. They can ask me questions about my skiing, running and soccer backgrounds, my childhood, my early successes in these sports (much less so soccer but surely we could embellish that part). All she has to do is the games or competitions! I'm sure I will find someone who is willing to lead me to the gold medal in satisfaction. Or at least to the top of my sport.

No one should give up their dreams, even if they are about to reach 50. If you have urgent dreams to fulfill before you get too old, please let me know. I am standing by at the phones on the Midlife Crisis Hotline.



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