If you time traveled back— that’s what fifty years requires; it’s no longer just a memory— and popped into my junior high, the song on everyone’s lips was Gimme Dat Ding by The Pipkins. It was a short-lived hit. There was no hope for it to be anything else up against singles by The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Temptations, and James Taylor. But before it bottomed out at 86 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Singles chart of 1970, it was the only refrain my classmates wanted to sing as they dashed between classes, to the cafeteria, or afterschool clubs.
Odd, isn’t it? At a time when the country was up in arms about the war in Viet Nam, racial injustice, and women’s rights, when songwriters like Bob Dylan were offering lyrics that raised consciousness and empathy on a global scale, my classmates perpetually chanted Gimme Dat Ding. Perhaps, we flocked to it because it was a relief from the dark doings in our world— a much needed form of escape, a way to unload the stress that comes after realizing everything is not coming up roses for everyone.
I don’t know why Gimme Dat Ding resurfaced for me— maybe because of the Sunflower Lecithin supplement I’m taking to ward off memory loss, which is obviously working, on a certain level. But it got me thinking about writing. Because the song reminds me of the people who poke. “Are you still doing that writing thing?” That question gives me porcupine prickles. A while back it made me angry. Not anymore. Today it makes me sad— not for me, for the people asking the question. Because, obviously, they’re not writing. There’s no law saying they have to. But if they’re not writing, what are they doing? Streaming, shopping, going down the social media sink hole? This doesn’t keep me up at night— nothing keeps me from falling into dreamland; I get cranky without sleep, so I’m committed to seven hours a night. But I can’t help believing the world would be a happier place if everyone found some labor to love.
Yes, I’m aware there are people who love to shop. My sister was one of them. Once she became a bank teller, she shopped every day on her lunch hour, and after work; and after she married, she went to the mall every day, and turned into a bargain shopper; she was good at it. But once upon a time, she talked about becoming a journalist and working at The Washington Post like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Took classes at University, and night school, but never followed through. Is it possible she enjoyed shopping more than writing? Absolutely. Shopping is a breeze next to figuring out the best next sentence. Or maybe writing just wasn’t her Ding?
Finding your Ding is no easy task. I’ve gone through several dings over the years. At one point in time, I dreamed of life as a concert flutist. The flute came into my life when I was eight. Practice time was fifteen minutes, increased to thirty within six months, and by the time high school rolled around it was an hour a day. That was on top of daily band and orchestra rehearsals. My skillset kept me seated in First Chair for a decade. My teacher was convinced I’d land a spot in the Chicago Symphony. But no matter how much I loved the idea of earning a living as a professional musician, I couldn’t get myself to go beyond an hour of practice. Once the clock ticked off the sixtieth minute— Quitin’ Time.
When I write, there is no such thing. I started to write at age seven. My desire: to be the next Alfred Hitchcock, then Emily Dickinson, and then the next Thoreau and live in my own Walden. But I never actually imagined myself living life as a published writer. Sure, I toyed with the idea, early on, when I sent my poems off to Random House. But once rejected I shrugged it off. And yet, I kept scrawling out the “personal petty bourgeois and self-indulgence” poems Yuri Zhivago is accused of writing by his half-brother in Dr. Zhivago. Plays about dysfunctional relationships and disastrous careers followed, as did short stories. Then, I wrote to save my life. And, I did— and that could’ve been Quitin’ Time.
But I didn’t stop. Still can’t. Because the mastery of this craft escapes me. Writing is the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do, other than— Oh, no, you’re not going to trick me into sharing; I’m in the midst of that challenge now and don’t want to jinx it.
The act of writing. The challenge of figuring out the best next sentence, unlocking the secrets of developing a compelling heroine, and a page-turning tale dares me on a daily basis to rise up— “go to the mattresses” as they say in The Godfather. No matter how hard I try, my skill as a writer may never reach the level of mastery. But that’s okay, because the possibility still fizzes inside me. Writing keeps me buoyant amidst the current dark doings in the world— “keeps the light on in my soul and a bluebird in my heart.”
Writing is Dat Ding I do.
It’s the Ding me and my classmates were searching for— or maybe not; it’s possible the song was nothing more than a roundabout way of talking about sex, and I was too naïve to get it. But in this moment, I believe my classmates gravitated to Gimmie Dat Ding because we were hungry— not for the Ding-dongs and Ho-Ho’s we raced to get out of the vending machines during lunchtime— for the one Ding that would challenge us to brave through the world that felt like it was unraveling around us, the Ding that would demand all our attention, so we’d be happy to devote our lives to it, and our growing mastery would satisfy us so completely on the inside, we wouldn’t need external praise, and that nourishment would open our hearts, and our individual inner peace would lead to peace in the world around us.
So, this is my prayer for everyone on the planet.
Please, use this time of social distancing to listen to the bluebird in your heart and go after your greatest challenge. Step into a daily practice. Maybe it is only ten minutes a day. Great. A commitment to ten minutes a day is long enough to find out whether you’re just waiting for Quitin’ Time, or if you have the chops to go further. And if it’s the former, go ahead and quit, but then pick something else. Keep experimenting until you find the Ding that won’t let you go, and then give it room to breathe.