Thanksgiving evening, we are visiting my cousin and her family. The Patriots vs. Jets games starts. We groan when the Patriots fail to score in the first quarter. Worry creeps in. This game might not go so well. My cousin’s son turns his Patriots jersey inside out and there is talk of linking arms (for field goals only). We talk about what else we do to help the Patriots win. My ten-year old daughter pipes up, “If you want something good to happen, you have to think of kittens.”
We laugh, and then shrug, why not? We all think kittens.
And the second quarter begins. The Patriots score three touchdowns.
We will now think of kittens every time we watch a Patriots game.
The things we do for good fortune.
Fans wear a particular shirt (or turn them inside out), eat certain foods, or sit in a specific chair on game day to somehow help their team win. Even the athletes, themselves, have their rituals. During a 16 game winning streak, the New York Giants wore the same clothes in each game without washing. They feared if they changed clothes, they would lose.
And these (sometimes) bizarre behaviors do not just happen with sports. Writers have their own rituals to keep the words flowing. Ernest Hemingway had to write standing up, Truman Capote had to lie down. Phillip Pullman only writes with a ballpoint pen on A-4 lines paper with two holes (not three). Dan Brown uses an antique hour glass and stops writing after 60 minutes to do calisthenics. Victor Hugo wrote in the nude, a practice he used not necessarily to invoke the muse, but rather to keep himself from leaving his house. It was the only way he could make himself stay inside and write.
Rituals give us a sense of power. We do what we have to do (or rather what we think we have to do) in order to give ourselves the illusion of control in an unpredictable world. A silly as some rituals may seem to be, we do them because we believe they work.
I do not have any ritual for writing, though I do prefer to use a roller-tip pen. Something about the way it glides better over paper gives me the sense that my thoughts can flow just as freely. And I do like to keep my clothes on. I’ll plan to wear them the next time I send a manuscript out to an agent or publisher, and of course, I’ll be thinking of kittens.