I want to write something that’ll make you stay.
Rather, something that would make you consider visiting, even just for a bit.
Since I don’t have a fable or personal experience that would click the gears in your head to call your feet to pace back here, I’ll have to settle for the other thing I’d like to write.
Re-reading some of the posts we’ve got here reminded me of the events that got me from being overwhelmed in the old sea of possibility to swimming with a place in mind.
Back when I was dating the poli sci department head’s daughter, I found myself making plans for our summer together post-graduation. I had nothing to contribute. Most of my thoughts about what I could do for the summer felt too private to share with anyone, and doing anything that didn’t involve making some kinda money felt selfish and wasteful after 4 years of gestation for the professional world.
She ended up dragging me along with her on her own adventures.
I was excited to see what we’d see and meet who we’d meet but I was just an ancillary in her little summer-trip-steamship. I wasn’t an active participant in what was going on around me but passively walked about being courteous and speaking when spoken to. I spent most of the time observing the new people I’d meet. They all functioned outside of the 9-5 structure and outside of what I’d consider an “average” lifestyle (in varying degrees). There were plenty of moments with little revelations that seemed to spur out of mindless chatter.
For instance, I was helping unload a container full of art books for my host’s esoteric vintage bookstore. I’d been asking about the ins and outs of the business, trying to get a grasp of what his day to day must be like and how it must play out through the years. He’d filled an entire shipping container with bookshelves packed with old, rare, one-of-a-kind art books that were out of print and each contained some awesome art. There were thousands of books and the thought of moving all of them to his new office in town between us was pretty daunting to me. When I asked him how we would do this he gave me a little smile – as if he was hoping I’d ask – he paused and quipped, “How do you eat an elephant?” Like a kid I pursed my lips and looked up into my memory bank for some possible nursery rhyme that I’d forgotten or a Wikipedia article on elephant meat. Then the obvious answer came as I returned the smile “one piece at a time.”
One piece at a time was all this man needed to turn a container full of somebody’s junk into his search for adventure – and a lifestyle for his family.
It was nice to see someone take on a task that at first glance may seem insurmountable. This didn’t really give me the roadmap I was in need of at the time. In fact, I was still struggling with how to assemble this roadmap. I figured most people just picked things they were passionate about and followed through with the steps needed to have said thing in their lives. I still didn’t know how to feel passionate about anything though. How do you know that you’re fighting for the right thing? How do you know you’re on the right path?
I was hoping to figure this out from characters that seemed to have chosen a different path than what I thought was conventional. Later on in our trip we visited my girlfriend’s cousins in Northern California. Her cousins had left their respective families along with their general disappointment with what a “normal” lifestyle was asking of them, to join a commune in Mt Shasta. When having dinner together on a couple of plastic chairs in their friend’s yard, I got to hear the whole story of how they came to this place together. It seemed like there was a conscious decision to leave the habits, people, and places of their previous homes in order to work for something more in line with what they identified with. The man told me about how he was very interested in what he’d studied in college but found work life very unsatisfying. Generally we talked a bit of how it seems people keep rather shallow unquestioned goals and blueprint their lives upon them. Like a thought process that said,
-let’s have a baby.
-Okay, what do we need to have a baby?
-A steady job.
– ON IT!
-Now that we got the house and the baby, we could use a hot tub.
-Let’s work hard so we can get a hot tub.
…and so on, with no regard for a higher meaning or maybe a desire to tackle on some bigger problems drawn in their life schematic. So I got the chance to put forth the question, “how did you know you wanted to come here?” The man looked at me and tried thinking about it. He furrowed his brow and squinted his eyes. Then he said something pragmatic along the lines of, “well Athena was coming here and talked me into coming too. I thought about it for a little and came.”
When you spend a year or two wanting there to be a calling, wanting to have a pre-ordained destiny or just to feel a spark kindle from within that could validate your searching and give you purpose, hearing that somebody chose this fringe lifestyle for as simple a reason as his girlfriend wanting to do it (along with not being happy with what was immediately around him in regular society), can be a bit of a letdown.
I mulled over this phrase. I mulled only to get it eventually.
Wanting to receive an epiphany or to have Jesus come down and blind you with purpose is a bit selfish. You’re essentially wanting all the glory of a battle won without the struggle of learning what’s worth fighting for. You’re saying that you’re too ready – too prepared to take arms – to the point that someone else should be in charge of telling you why you’re fighting. Really, it’s wanting to be free of the burden of choice. Free of the possibility you might be wrong or that you might regret something you’ve done. Waiting for a higher calling, wanting the stars to align, biding your time till it shows you how to vindicate the millennia of apes and savages that had to evolve and withstand a history of unfathomable struggle to make way for your indecisive ass, is lazy.
I thought I’d been a little extra-inquisitive and introspective, and that this gave me a deeper appreciation or understanding of life than others. At least that’s how I justified my lack of initiative in my own life.
It was around this time that I stopped hiding from myself. I accepted the ideas I had which I’d felt were too private to share with anyone. I’d been quieting the voice asking to create life stories that could be my own, and now I did my best to bring myself to listen. I knew what it was saying. Finally, for once, simply wanting something because I did, didn’t seem like such a stupid reason. The ideas I had were pretty dramatic, they called for tying loose ends. I didn’t quite know when I’d be able to get to where I wanted to be, but I now knew how to get there – one piece at a time.
I felt that, strangely, it’s possible to hide your selfish ways behind a veil of selflessness. Growing up requires a lot of shedding off old skins and letting go of ideas you held a tight grip on. Thinking I was helping others by putting what I perceived to be their needs before my own, was one of those skins I had to molt.
Suddenly, wanting to do something in my life that didn’t have a defined end in mind, didn’t have to feel selfish. I could let myself like things and one day – dare I say – even be passionate about something. I put together a bit of a roadmap. I didn’t have to sit down and weigh the things I potentially could pursue, I had a good idea of what I wanted in the near future and what I’d like to have down the road. There wasn’t a looming feeling of watching my life go by, no more paralysis. Just the same struggles we all face in our days, but it didn’t feel so enervating when I could still tell myself I was picking away at my own little sculpture. When I’d lose faith in myself I’d take a breath and keep going. I knew that I had a degree of control over every situation I was in and that it was my job to mine it for what I was looking for.
And that’s a bit of what I did the summer after college. I learned that Earth-shattering epiphanies are overrated. How you make up your life is a conscious decision you take daily – not some alien Popsicle stick you draw from a hat with you destiny printed on it. Also, sitting around quieting your brain to find what’s right for you isn’t necessarily the way to go about finding that sort of thing. What you want, is mostly built up by you.