Fishing for Meaning

Today I sit in a cabin looking out over the Canadian waters we drove ten hours to take in.  The men in my life left me at the crack of dawn, convinced there are other fish in the sea.  In this case, I sincerely hope they find them.  After all, it’s these fishing expeditions that bring them unfathomable joy and bring me to a place of peace and quiet where I can read, write, nap, or do nothing.

So far I’ve been spent most of the day observing my own dysfunction looking for stuff and avoiding the very thing I came here to do.  I warmed up by journaling long hand with my favorite pen and select journal and thought I was off to a promising start.  But my progress was foiled when I attempted to fire up my laptop and discovered the power outlets in our cabin require an adapter to plug into any one of them.

This in turn required a trip into the unchartered territory of the local bait and tackle shop, followed by a hike to the hardly handy hardware store, and a side trip to Lake of the Loons grocery.  Feeling sufficiently discombobulated by the unfamiliar layouts of each store, I was in serious need of a sandwich and a nap upon my safe return to Cabin #5 at the Borderview Lodge 

Unfortunately the sandwich seemed to dull my sixth sense so locating the adapter the clerk cleverly hid inside the collapsible coozie prompted a further delay.  I had no choice but to espouse the 12 step approach and admit I was powerless over my writing day, my writing habit had become unmanageable, and that only a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.
By declaring this vacation a writing retreat, I may have unwittingly subjected myself to too much pressure, thereby leaving myself vulnerable to distraction.  Especially since the Wii Resorts game, which hasn’t been used for six weeks at home, seemed to insist I engage in just one round of Swordplay instead of finishing this blog post.
The funny things is, when my world is crammed full of commitments, all I can think about is creating the spaciousness that an uncommitted week near the lake provides.  Now that I’m lucky enough to be in such a place, I realize I need more discipline than usual to make the most of my time here.  

Writing requires the kind of solitude, silence, and space that is hard to come by at home.   Home remains a juggling act between time intensive work, continual home improvement projects, quality relationships with family and friends, and the need to write about how these things shape me or the world I live in. 

For awhile, six months to be exact, I tried to convince myself that not writing didn’t matter to anyone other than me.  But I was wrong.  I discovered life makes more sense when I am writing.  It helps me metabolize the events that baffle, surprise, or delight me and give meaning to ordinary occurrences that might otherwise go unrecognized as the minor miracles they are.  Sharing these insights might shed some light on a similar situation you may be experiencing as well.

We are wired to connect through stories and recognize patterns and potential and plots.  You may intuit where I’m heading long before I figure it out, but the fact that we eventually get there together is an incredible thing.  And hopefully, we’re both better off for taking the journey.

Remembering this, I postpone Swordplay until this evening and work through my distractions so I can finally settle into a rhythm and write.  And though I may be on the Canadian border hanging with the loons, when my fishermen return with their catch of the day, I can say I, too, have had my “catch up” of the day with some of the finest fish in the blogging seas. 
If teaching a man to fish feeds him for life, teaching this woman to read and write, guarantees she’ll write for life, with only the occasional sabbatical. 


Sweat It and Forget It

Popular wisdom advises us not to sweat the small stuff.  This bit of advice is often followed by the big reveal that it’s all small stuff.

I’m all for not fretting and sweating unnecessarily.  But I’ve come to realize that left unattended, the small stuff can and will come back to bite me. I’m also aware that unless I sweat from time to time, I get lazy.  

For instance, my six month sabbatical from blogging or my reluctance to participate in several one minute bursts of activity throughout the day or my inability to produce the right receipts for an unexpected IRS audit for 2010 may not seem like things to get all steamed up about.  But the cumulative effects of not posting consistently, not exercising daily, or not keeping Quicken records up to date can lead to serious sweat later.  Or now, as the case may be.

Like the protagonist in any good story, we don’t want perfect. Even if we think we want our life to be all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, or at the very least void of IRS audits, our weapons of mass distraction will quickly convince us that the good life alone is a wee bit boring. We’ll start demanding drama.  Or it will hunt us down.

We secretly want what we want our heroes to be; challenged, flawed, quirky, able to overcome all odds, and capable of wielding super powers at strategic moments.  We want them to face the things we avoid at all cost and be forced to do the things we think we can’t so we can test the “what would we do” waters without getting in over our heads.

Of course our heroes must be just different enough from us so we cannot be expected to perform the miraculous feats we fully expect them to perform. Their stories must consist of big, dramatic, cliff-hanging stuff.  They must be agile enough to run backwards in heels without wondering where they are going or why and will naturally be accompanied on their life-altering adventures by sexy sidekicks who are always ready with clever comebacks or brilliant solutions.

By contrast our stories consist of small, mundane, every day irritants like lost keys or cracked windshields.  Despite impressive juggling abilities, we are middle aged, slightly arthritic, and unable to retrieve the name of everyday items and/or our youngest child at will.  However, we shall overcome.  This, in itself, is miraculous.

Because our brains are designed to figure out the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of stuff, we readily escape into our heroes’ story lines far more often than our own.  What we forget is fictitious characters have writers and editors who meticulously edit out anything that isn’t essential to the moving their story forward. These stories are supposed to be riveting.

The small stuff makes editing the events of our day to day lives more difficult, rendering our lives less riveting.  Many at midlife are fine with this.  We’re tired.  But we’re still wired for a good story. This brings me to the conclusion that a better motto for us might be, “Sweat it and forget it.”

An engaging story demands ongoing effort, i.e. sweat.  I’m not saying it has to be hard.  I’m just saying once we sweat it, we’d do well to “forget it”. (It being the attachment we have to things working out according to our plan.)  If not, we run the risk of sweating the small ego stuff.  Trust me, sweating that stuff is not attractive.

Regardless of the blood, sweat, and years I have already spent writing, exercising, or futilely looking for random receipts, the only thing that matters now is what I do now.  

Even though I have written a few books, if my royalties do not exceed my expenses, the IRS will call my writing a hobby.  Because I’ve now been a certified fitness professional for more years than I’ve not, if I don’t show up at the gym for a few month, people assume I’ve retired.  And who knows what the fallout will be to my unintentional blogging ban?  In an world of instant messaging and infinitesimal attention spans, what happened an hour ago is old news. In cyber years, I may already be extinct.

Clearly it’s time to get back to basics in hopes that paying attention to the small stuff now will prevent future perspiration when the tax man comes calling, the YMCA can use a senior fitness instructor, and friends mention that they haven’t seen a blog post since Christmas.

What about you?  What’s worth sweating this summer?