I am from the South—and right now, I am in the South—so from time to time, I write about football.
Unless you live in a cave, under a rock, surrounded by molten lava that messes up your Wifi connection and prevents you from logging onto Facebook, you know this past Saturday night’s Iron Bowl will go down in college football history, legend, and lore.
This post isn’t about the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama. I wrote about that once before, on the Working Stiffs blog, contemplating the poisoning of the trees at Toomer’s Corner, and how obsession can turn criminal. It’s not about karma or hubris or getting cocky, although it could be. It’s not even about bad decisions. I teach a workshop for writers called Decisions, Decisions, the crux of which is that every mystery novel is a series of bad decisions.
Saturday night’s Iron Bowl left me with two takeaways. One was new. Another was a reminder of something I know.
The new takeaway? Auburn football fans have a battle cry: War Eagle. The etymology of this phrase is murky, so maybe that is a post for another day, but when an Auburn fan says, “War Eagle!” that means it’s time to rally up.
The reminder takeaway? Every second counts.
In about an hour, I leave for a two week residency at an artist colony in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This will be my second time at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. When I was here in February of 2012, we had a few days of snow, and I was charmed by the countryside covered in white, the horses kept warm by their blankets, the view outside the window of my studio, which I called The Ark.
This year, I don’t expect to get snow, but that’s all right. I’ve been awarded two weeks in a private studio, with no meals to prepare, no outside duties to perform, and nothing to do but write.
It’s great. It’s also terrifying. A residency is a gift. A gift is not to be wasted. Already, mixed in with my excitement and anticipation, I feel trepidation. What if I can’t write as much as I plan to write? What if what I write should be scrapped? What if I choke? What if I waste my time?
This, surely, is how the Auburn football team felt Saturday night at the start of the Iron Bowl.
I drove from Delaware yesterday to Charlottesville-where I am now-down US29. US29 is known as the Seminole Trail in some places and Lee Highway in others. Its official name, designated by the Virginia General Assembly, is the “29th Infantry Division Memorial Highway” to honor one of the Virginia Army units that landed on Omaha Beach, in Normandy, on D-Day. The highway goes from the border of North Carolina to the Potomac River.
There’s a strong sense of place driving down US29. At stop lights, signs are posted on the roadside so you can read about Civil War sites while you wait for red to turn green. There are churches advertising Cowboy Church services, and wineries offering tours and tastings. There are bales of hay decorated like Santa Claus and, inexplicably to me, statues of cows in the middle of fields mingling with the real beasts.
I love Virginia. I’ve been to Manassas and Monticello. Both of those places are maintained as national treasures, but they also live on in words, in the Declaration of Independence and in the many novels about the Civil War. Words keep history alive.
This, of all places, seems like a good place to adopt a battle cry, and to remember something I already know: Every second counts.
The pressure is on, so off I go, with my newly adopted mantra: War Eagle!