Thursday, October 4, 2012

Paddling upstream

Stand and feel your worth

A friend and I were paddling upstream in kayaks when I started wondering what I was going to write about for this week. I looked around for ideas, and saw the same outdoor material I usually consider using. I was looking at the banks of colorful trees, the rippling Flambeau River water, the beaver houses, the cars whipping past on North River Road. I began considering how to use each as a symbol, or how I might personify one of them to draw a conclusion I couldn't yet see.

While the journey upstream was on the challenging side, the float back down was more leisurely, and left room for us to talk. We started with the latest sports scores and weather predictions, but eventually got down to brass tacks, discussed where life was heading, what work there was to be done. He admitted to me a few thoughts he was just preparing to admit aloud, things I could have told him about himself years ago. I smiled, and assured him I understood, that I was happy for him.

He was struggling a bit, grasping for straws if you will. The revelation that the current we're riding is not quite what we'd envisioned is a frightening one. When it comes down to choosing a career path in life, it's a bit more complicated than the board game. There are some very big decisions laid in front of us, and we need to be prepared to either accept the consequences or chose something else. Sometimes it's just about the angle you take something on, a different point of view that changes your opinion entirely. That's how it was for me.


After graduating with a BFA I began working in jobs that were related to what I had gone to school for. My rationale was that I better get my money's worth; better use that expensive piece of paper to negotiate a living wage and a meaningful career. I focused on climbing the ladder, taking industry advice on how to advance. I was paddling upstream, telling myself not to fight, keeping my mouth shut, when all I wanted was to follow the current I believed in, run the rapids as I came upon them.

Eventually I had to make a choice. I spent time writing about my progress, about my successes and failures in my work and personal life, and how a lot of both didn't sit right with me. One night I sat down and drew a Venn diagram. In one circle I wrote "fulfillment", in the other I wrote "income." Where the two circles intersected I wrote "life's work: inspire." Then I made a list of things I love, a list of things I hate, and a list of adjectives that describe me. I went further and took a couple of online personality exams. I read those results and yes, they offered some angles to consider.

What's important is that I was getting active about change. Life is not a Chinese proverb; we can't always sum it up in one phrase and expect things to turn around for us.

Now, I don't claim to have it all figured out, and I hope I don't come off that way. Far from it in fact, this column is about learning to share experiences, so that by writing them out perhaps you and I might find a few answers along the way. Putting a piece together on a weekly basis forces me to analyze the day-to-day. I'm constantly looking for my next story, an adventure to go on, a memory to share, or a new way to look at something. While this can be uncomfortable, painful, and always challenging, I like to think it's worth it.

It's worth it to me because I've never had this opportunity before, never even knew I wanted it. Before I took this job I wrote my thoughts in journals, in the margins of school notebooks, in emails I never sent, on scraps of paper kept in a dusty shoe box - anywhere nobody else would read what I thought. I wrote a lot of bad teenage poetry, many overly conceptual songs, started a few fictitious stories, and even tried my hand at copywriting. Eventually though, I began to see some validity, some value in what I was doing. I started a blog and learned how to make some of those ideas public. It didn't matter to me that few people outside my friends read the blog (no disrespect intended as this was a huge help), it was a learning experience, and every piece of writing before then and since then has been a single step in the right direction.

For whatever reasons, I learned to deny, avoid, or dismiss the notion that writing was something I should pursue. I had no idea how I could translate English into dollars - how would I support myself? Rest assured, I'm still working on that part, but what's important is that I am working on it. No longer am I simply spinning out thoughts over beers and leaving it at that. No, now I write what influences me, the symbols I see, the inspiration that slaps me in the face or bites me in the hand. I’m making a record of all this because I believe the world and the people in it are inherently luminous beings, and that we all glow brighter in the pursuit of true light. All of us grow from new experiences, even if that means something as simple as shifting our perspective. Doing right by you does right by others.

There is no such thing as being set, that is to say there is no point in life at which you simply shift to neutral and coast. Let me put it this way - the biggest, most complex mystery that you will ever be introduced to is yourself. Different people and times and places will shape parts of you, and your definition will change. You will relearn you, over and over again. It is surely a blessing then, to see how adaptable we are, and to share ourselves as passionately as possible.

Here is where I want to tell you don't be afraid, but I'll refrain from that, as just recently I revealed my own horrific fright of the unknown. I guess what I can tell you is that you are just like me. Your brightest days make your hands shake, your eyes go wide, and your voice crack, and your darkest hours have you sinking in a black ocean under a moonless sky. Put them together, friend, and know that both are unavoidable.

“Wake, stand and feel your worth, oh my soul.”
- Dustin Kensrue
See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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